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Blupete's Weekly Commentary


February 13th, 2000.

"The Dilemma of
Representative Government."

Given human nature and the political process, full democracy, beyond the smallest group size, may simply not be workable, at all. Each of us has a right to cast a vote for an individual to represent us in the legislative assembly. The elected person then goes off to represent all of his constituents, whether they voted for him or not, indeed, whether they even voted. How is he to look at issues and how is he to vote (assuming for the moment that he has an individual say in parliament). Should he vote on the basis of what he perceives the majority of his constituents want, right or wrong; or does he vote (as Edmund Burke did) his own conscience, vote as a "better and more informed person" than his average constituent; or does he, as it seems our system obliges, just vote the party line. This is the dilemma of representative government.

"Representative institutions are of little value, and may be a mere instrument of tyranny or intrigue, when the generality of electors are not sufficiently interested in their own government to give their vote, or, if they vote at all, do not bestow their suffrages on public grounds, but sell them for money, or vote at the beck of someone who has control over them or whom for private reasons they desire to propitiate. Popular election, as thus practised, instead of a security against misgovernment, is but an additional wheel in its machinery." (John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), Consideration on Representative Government.)

As for voting, well let me turn to Bruno Leoni:

"... the participation of individuals in the law-making process has ceased to be effective and has become more and more a sort of empty ceremony taking place periodically in the general election of a country ... the basic arguments in favour of simple majority rule rest upon the premise that every voter should have equal weight with every other voter. Hence, if disagreement occurs but action cannot be postponed until unanimity is reached, it is better for more voters to tell fewer what to do than vice versa. The only practical arrangement to accomplish this is simple majority rule. Any rule requiring more than a simple majority for a passage of an act allows a minority to prevent action by the majority thus giving the vote of each member of the minority more weight than the vote of each member of the majority. [In quoting Anthony Downs] ... when we consider the analogy at closer quarters, we realize that in assuming that 51 voters out of 100 are 'politically' equal to 100 voters, and that the remaining 49 (contrary) voters are "politically" equal to zero (which is exactly what happens when a group decision is made according to majority rule) we give much more "weight" to each voter ranking on the side of the winning 51 than to each voter ranking on the side of the losing 49."1

Following Bruno Leoni's reasoning one will again be lead to the conclusion, yet on an other and separate head, that government power needs to be restricted to its necessary areas, and its decision making cut back to the barest of minimums.

________________
[UP]

NOTES:

1 Freedom and the Law (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 3rd Ed., 1991) at p. 146 & p. 237.

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Peter Landry

February, 2000 (2011)