The dictatorship of the majority

I’m a democrat. At least I prefer democracy to all the alternatives that have so far been tested: ruling monarchy, theocracy, dictatorship, etc.

But democracy has problems.

The worst thing about democracies is that they permit the majority to impose its will on minorities. After all, Adolf Hitler was democratically elected. John Adams first coined the phrase “tyranny of the majority” back in 1788.

But outright tyranny is just the most obvious problem. Even if things don’t get this bad, a normal functioning democracy throws up a lot of issues.

In a democracy, you have to put up with the actions of the government even if you voted against it. Even if “your” party wins, then half the population will be left feeling alienated. That’s not healthy.

I yearn for something better. But what?

There is a system that manages to satisfy all people, whether radical or conservative. It’s not very fashionable right now, but it has a track record of thousands of years. It’s called the free market.

The free market enables anyone to buy clothes that suit them, whether they’re rich or poor, tall or short, thin or fat, trendy or frumpy. Where there’s a demand, someone will supply clothing to satisfy the need. And there’s no requirement for someone to be in charge. In fact the system runs most efficiently when decisions are distributed. Suppliers and consumers come together freely in a market, provided no regulator steps forward to prevent them and no central planner decides how many woolly jumpers are to be produced.

I understand that this isn’t a system for government. But I wonder if it ever could be. A peer-to-peer system that satisfies the needs of everyone, however diverse those needs. And that doesn’t leave anyone without clothes to wear.

Here’s an example of how a peer-to-peer system operates successfully outside commerce: language. Nobody owns language – it’s free for everyone to use. There isn’t a Minister for English. The government doesn’t license new verbs. There has never been a Public Enquiry into the misuse of semicolons. And yet language works very well. It’s universally available and it grows and changes in response to a changing world.

Sometimes a peer-to-peer system needs rules to make it work effectively. Ebay invented a set of rules that made online auctions possible. But it didn’t require government intervention or legislation to make this happen. Other auction sites invented different rules and people decided they preferred ebay. That’s how the market works. If a minority prefers a different system, they can use that one.

I think that a lot of things could be done this way. If only people would stop demanding that the government “does something about it” all the time, then perhaps we could become free to decide more things for ourselves.

4 responses to “The dictatorship of the majority

  1. Hmm. I thought you studied game theory? We all opt for the least worst solution when given a free choice (by an unregulated free market). Government is bad, it never gets the best solution. But it usually enables us to get a better result than least worst. So democracy is surely preferable to unregulated free markets?

  2. Well, I’ve given two examples where an unregulated free market leads to the best possible outcome. I’m not saying this is applicable to every situation. I’m just thinking out loud.

  3. Pingback: Fast track to tyranny | Blog Blogger Bloggest

  4. Pingback: How democracy works in my house | Blog Blogger Bloggest

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