Dogma Premise # 31

Democracy is ineffective to check abuse of power or inefficiency in government.

Dogma Premise 31, that abuses of political power cannot be adequately remedied by elections, begs to be compared to its evil twin, Dogma Premise 14, which asserts that abuses of economic power CAN be adequately remedied by the free market.

That passive market controls would be more effective than direct political control is surprising. You'd think the risk that corporate executives could be directly voted into unemployment every two years if the business's customers were not satisfied with the business for any reason would have at least as great an impact as the indirect possibility that reduced sales might lower profits which might trouble the company's board of directors enough to change the management team.

I guess opponents of Democracy must think their argument is a slam-dunk:

1. The government in [my country] is democratically elected.

2. My country nonetheless experiences significant levels of inefficiency and misbehavior in government.

3. Therefore, democratic elections are inadequate to prevent inefficiency and misbehavior.

Well, that's ok as far as it goes: Indeed, democratic elections as they are implemented here fail to prevent significant governmental wrongdoing.

However, that does not mean that government is intrinsically inefficient or corrupt, or that wrongdoing cannot be reasonably controlled.

For example, all cities experience significant amounts of crime, including violent crime, but we do not conclude therefore that cities are bad or that the police are ineffective. Instead, we have to look to the benefits we get from cities, and the alternatives for eliminating crime. Maybe we cannot completely eliminate crime without seriously impairing civic life and privacy, and so we prefer to tolerate a certain amount of crime.

The alternatives available matter, too.  It may be that all bureaucratic structures (large organizations with hierarchical leadership to maximize accountability) suffer from inefficiency and misconduct. It might be that private corporations, governmental entities, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations all face the exact same difficulties and compromises. Unless there is something peculiar about the structure of government, or something unique about the level of observed inefficiencies, the mere fact of imperfections does not tell us that government is worse or better than the capitalist's preferred form of organization, the private corporation.

But certainly government could be better than it is.

Money influences politics.

Politicians respond to other considerations, like future employment, especially if term limits make future unemployment inevitable.

The electoral process favors certain types of candidates, leading to biased decision-making.

Civic watchdog organizations are inadequately developed to deal with technical issues.

Two party system squelches alternative views.

Regional issues create deadlocks.

Anti-governmental forces may take control with an agenda to misbehave -- equivalent to bombing a dam, and then pointing the to resulting floods as evidence that dams are unsafe.

Of course, not all delay and inefficiency is bad. Some gridlock is actually desirable, to allow for adequate deliberation, and is referred to as "checks and balances."

But to the extent that real problems occur, it is not evidence that government is bad or inefficient, but merely that we have not structured it right. And the solution is not less government, but smarter government.

Moreover, every one of these defects plagues private corporations. Private corporations are allowed to keep their inefficiencies secret, because unlike government, which is subject to Sunshine Acts and Open Meetings laws, private corporations need never expose to the public their internal processes. But those who have led private corporations know about the problems, which are universal, as famously documented in the cartoon "Dilbert," business school case studies, and of course the endless run of failed products, botched acquisitions, and bankruptcies described in the newspapers and trade magazines. All enterprises, both public and private, have every opportunity for error, and human psychology and the sociology of organizations pretty much ensure that problems will result in any kind of organization, public or private.

So the claim that Democracy can't check government efficiency is wrong for three reasons. First, it obviously can and does, as regimes change on a regular basis. Second, to the extent that the electoral process fails to check poorly run government, it tends to be based on structural issues in the electoral process that can be successfully addressed, and are not generally intrinsic to "government". Finally, the inefficiency and misbehavior in government does not establish anything at all except in comparison to some other institution that does better overall.

The basic evidence is that government performs with extraordinary efficiency, and corporations hate to compete with the government (or when they do, as with the postal system, there is nothing to suggest that the government entity is particularly inefficient or expensive). By contrast, the evidence of corruption, fraud, embezzlement, extravagance, and waste in private corporations are legion, and indeed that is who is buying the first class air fares and booking their conventions at the most luxurious spas, not tax-starved public entities.

Showing that government is sometimes inefficient or wasteful establishes nothing. The capitalists need to establish also that better government is not possible, and that their own private organizations perform better. This they will sometimes assert, but can never prove, and indeed the evidence weighs heavily against them.

Dogma Premise 32

All Dogma Premises