The Right to Vote and the Right to Leave
By Arnold Kling
Ibsen Martinez writes about the perception that Chile’s economic success is tainted by its origins in the Pinochet regime.
Sadly enough, many people in Latin America who believe in the virtues of free-market economies still argue that it takes a non-elected government to accomplish sustained economic growth.
Chile’s relentless success during the last twenty years strengthens the case for democracy by showing that good public policies may not only be understood by a significant majority of the people but also be put to good effect by their elected representatives.
Contrast this “Whig history” of Chile with Mencius Moldbug
Singapore, Dubai and China, for example, all have their secret police – as did the 19th-century Hapsburgs. Each of these governments is very different from the others, but they are all terrified of the W-force. Yet they manage to restrain it, without either falling prey to democracy or opening death camps.
Readers may have noticed that lately I have been inclined to agree with Moldbug. I think that there is a case for skepticism about democracy. The right to vote is not worthless, but people get carried away with the romance of it, as if the “voice of the people” has magical qualities.
Other things equal, it is better to be able to vote the bums out than to have them enjoy dictatorial powers. But other things are not equal. We have turned the right to vote into what CNN so aptly calls the “ballot bowl,” a collective religious ritual analogous to the Super Bowl. Except that unlike the Super Bowl, the ballot bowl has far-reaching effects. It sanctifies the power lust of the Universal Spitzer.
What really gives us freedom, and what really puts pressure on politicians to behave in our interest, is the right to leave. In the early days of the United States, I picture the political situation as so fluid that no strong central government was possible. People could move from state to state to evade laws that they did not like. And if they didn’t like any of the existing states, they could go west, beyond the boundaries of the United States.
To me, the best hope for libertarians is to strengthen the right to leave. Ideally, leaving would not require packing up and moving. We would have competing government franchises, just as we have competing cell phone networks, and we could change service providers just as easily. Larry Summers would predict that this would lead to a “race to the bottom” in terms of government. I agree that there would be competitive pressure, but I think that we would arrive at something quite different from a bottom.