Democracy: What We Want Is What We Get
By Bryan Caplan
Today I got a wonderful coincidental birthday present: I met Patri Friedman. I also got to enjoy his Cato Unbound essay on “Folk Activism.” It’s highly recommended, but here’s a passage I’ve got to criticize:
In the modern world, however, bad policies are the result of human action, not human design.
On the contrary, I’d say that if anything is the result of conscious human design, it is government policies. Americans want to exclude foreigners from the U.S. – and U.S. immigration law gives them what they want. The French want a 35-hour work week – and French labor law gives them what they want.
I admit, of course, they people often have false beliefs about the effects of policies. But democracy is quite good at satisfying widely-shared proximate desires. If most people want the government to try method X, method X is what we use. The problem with democracy isn’t that a massive change of heart wouldn’t lead to radical change. The problem, rather, is that it’s awfully difficult to inspire a massive change of heart.
P.S. If you read the rest of Patri’s essay, he basically seems to agree with what I’m saying here. My point is just that his Adam Ferguson allusion is a red herring.