Too Much Democracy?

There is much not to like in Kurt Andersen’s recent NY Magazine article entitled, “Is Democracy Killing Democracy?” Beyond his abhorrent elitist attitude, his blind trust in benevolent technocrats to solve all problems, and his hatred of populism (which I share, so I guess I can’t blame him too much), most of the article is riddled with embarrassing mistakes, and the overall conclusion is wrong. I’ll single out a portion that struck me as egregiously wrong:

California is a big canary in this mine. Because the state makes it so easy to put policy initiatives on the ballot—a legacy of turn-of-the-century populism—the passage of the property-tax-limiting Proposition 13 in 1978 put the state on the road to fiscal ruin. And the fact that passing budgets in the California Legislature requires a two-thirds supermajority means the state has become almost ungovernable, especially since the recession. Reactionary, monomaniacally anti-tax populism—that is, too much democracy and too little elite wisdom—has crippled California. [emphasis mine]

Now, I’m as anti-populist as the next guy. I’m an avid fan of The Myth of the Rational Voter, and generally think that laypeople hold erroneous views regarding economics. But…just how much referenda has California proposed (not passed) in the last century? Turns out the answer is 789. Of that, only 281 have passed, for a 64.4% success rate.

White=Total, Magenta=Passed

However, it is true that California is an outlier (with Oregon and Colorado) within the United States:

White=Total, Blue=Passed

However, contrast that with the fact that Switzerland, a country of 7,630,605 people, roughly 1/5th the population of California, has staged half of all of the worlds referenda in history. Seeing how we are in a recession, I wonder how Switzerland is doing?

Not bad for the lumpenproles (Mr. Andersen’s words, I swear, check page 3, first paragraph). No, I believe that California’s problem lies with those enlightened technocrats who, because they obviously know what is best for the people, push through their own agenda regardless of the ability to pay.

P.S. To be fair, I do realize that Switzerland issues it’s own currency. In an ideal world, California would, as well. I also noted in a previous post that Switzerland operates a robust complementary currency system…which smooths economic fluctuations. Perhaps the knaves in California should start one, and leave the technocrats behind.

P.P.S. I know not everyone follows links, but I really want this to be clear, so I’ll quote the link here:

This volume suggests that referenda are not the threat to representative democracy and stability they are sometimes made out to be. Looking at the record of votes in Western Europe (including Switzerland, which has staged half the known referenda in history), Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Eastern Europe and the former U.S.S.R., and certain American states, this study concludes that referenda have seldom led to impulsive, irresponsible outcomes, and in several cases (for example, Chile and South Africa) have been positive forces for change.


6 thoughts on “Too Much Democracy?

  1. “I’m poor but I’m proud”

    Local currency systems are rising up all over the country but on a very local level. Neighborhoods, small towns, communities…this is where change begins. It will not take a major collapse to realize the value of local trade. We are rolling one out here in Portland, OR. If you are interested here are two of the best resources on the Net. They are both short:


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