Would you rather be free to buy a hot dog and a pack of cigarettes outside a king’s palace or stand in a bread line on the steps of parliament? That’s the question, in so many words, posed by Arnold Kling in his post discussing a recent book on foreign policy by Thomas Barnett. It’s an interesting and useful question that too my mind receives far too little discussion in contemporary American media.
Just this morning, Lily and I were listening to a piece on NPR talking about the infamous butterfly ballots from the Florida presidential election of 2000. The gist of the piece the increasing lack of trust Americans have in the ability of our democratic processes to reliably communicate the will of the people to men and women occupying the seats of power in the government. The main interviewee seemed very upset by the lack of transparency and wished to restore the confidence that had been lost. My assessment was not so uniformly gloomy. While I do believe that a lack of transparency is a bad thing, I am heartened by the potential that more and more people may find themselves driven to engage in the “eternal vigilance” advocated by Thomas Jefferson. As I see it, there are two primary solutions to dealing with a lack of trust in government: we can 1) attempt to get the government to institute procedures that will improve transparency and accountability, or 2) attempt to reduce the size and scope of the government so that potential corruption and incompetency are simply less troublesome because they have a smaller impact on our lives.
Democracy in America was originally conceived as a means to an end: namely, securing the widest scope of personal autonomy consistent with the preservation of equal rights among men. It has since been co-opted by the envious and elevated to a righteous end in itself in order to justify theft, redistribution and oppression. It is a simple fact that political processes are far less responsive to personal preference than free markets. Economic liberty is far more important than political enfranchisement. A house cannot stand without a foundation, but a foundation is worthless without a house. Both Barack Obama and John McCain seek to keep the population focused on constantly fixing cracks in the basement of political representation even as the roof of prosperity collapses on our heads.