Ways in Which the U.S. has Become Less Democratic
By Arnold Kling
My claim is that a number of factors have reduced the impact of the “voice” (voting or other forms of political participation) of ordinary citizens. You can argue that other factors have increased the impact of ordinary citizens. You can certainly argue that prior to 1972, 18-20 year-olds had less voice than they have today, and you can certainly argue that prior to 1965, African Americans living in the south had less voice than they have today. I would not challenge those assertions, nor would I claim that the issues that I am going to raise override them. I am just going to raise these issues, and invite people to react to them as they stand on their own.
1. More decisions being made by unelected “experts.” This could be measured by the growth in the number of pages in the Federal Register. It could be measured by the proliferation of agencies, as in the current Washington Post stories on the national security complex. If somebody has an indicator that they think shows movement in the direction of less autonomy for unelected experts, I would like to see it.
Instead, I think most progressives would be more inclined to argue that having decisions made by unelected experts is a good thing. I love unelected experts, but I have a problem giving them the power of the state. Anyway, that is a whole separate debate. In fact, it is the most important debate to have. Just not on this post (commenters should know that there will be plenty of opportunities to have this debate on other posts).
2. The average elected official allocates much more money than in the past. The number of dollars spent per constituent has gone up, and the number of constituents per elected official has gone up. I call these “scope creep” and “scale creep,” respectively. It means that power has become highly concentrated. It inevitably serves to increase the arrogance of politicians. Being a politician is like being the richest man in town–everyone wants to get close to you in order to ask for favors.
3. Because the number of constituents per elected official has gone up, the influence of an individual constituent has gone down. Numerically, your individual vote is less likely to matter. The letter you write is less likely to be considered, the campaign contribution you make is less likely to matter, etc.
4. Many Congressional districts are non-competitive by design.
5. Public sector unions have become political juggernauts in many cities, counties, and states. Even the Washington Post editorial writers have noticed how difficult it has become for a politician to stand up to the teachers’ union in Maryland.
6. The state and large corporations have become mutually dependent. They intersect on K Street, where influence-peddling is the fastest-growing sector of the economy. Large corporations enjoy bailouts, access to legislators and regulators, and numerous restrictions that stifle competition. Politicians in turn count on large corporations to comply with shakedowns for campaign funds and to voice support for political agendas.
7. Politics has become more professionalized. “Retail politics” is relatively unimportant compared with advertising and image management. The professional consultants are there to manipulate voters, not to respect them.
Having said all that, I do not aim for a solution that gives ordinary people more voice. Instead, I would like to see ordinary people have more opportunity for exit. That is what the third chapter of Unchecked and Unbalanced proposes.