Advertisement
Merryn's Blog

Democracy is robbing us of our freedoms

Democracy doesn't protect our freedoms, claim Tom Miers and Craig Smith – it is steadily undermining them, as governments seek to win power by bribing voters with their own money. As a result, the West could be headed for a long, slow decline, says Merryn Somerset Webb.

With the state of our public sector and the expectations we have of our public sector in mind, I am reading Democracy and the Fall of the West by Tom Miers and Craig Smith.

It is short, simple, and offers a theory that to non-Daily Reckoning readers at least, will come as quite shocking. According to Miers and Craig, the idea that democracy somehow solves the great puzzle of mankind how to make sure that our rulers have a legimate mandate and work for the interests of the community has turned out to be nonsense.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Instead, modern democracy has undermined our freedoms to the extent that it is "undermining the foundations of the West's success in a way that will inevitably cause its decline and fall." These days the governments of the West don't work for us: instead they have returned our countries to the "normal condition of history," one in which "powerful governments compete to achieve political goals at the expense of both the individual and political society."

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

It is heady stuff but I think well worth a read. I've looked at a small part of the flaws in modern democracy here before, but this is a pretty comprehensive demolition of the system we currently think makes us free.

The basic point? "Democracy is no guarantor of liberty because voters often want to take away the liberties of others and will vote accordingly." It is contentious stuff but well worth a read.

Back to the public sector. Chapterfour of Democracy and the Fall of the West focuses on Democracy and the Big State. I think we have all figured out by now that democracy has been the driver in the explosion in the cost and scope of government. Politicians hoping to be re-elected have to promise stuff and then at least take a stab at delivering it, using tax payers' money to so: so much so that even back in 1985 Milton Friedman was noting that "since the 1930s the technique of buying votes with the voters' own money has been expanded to an extent undreamed of by earlier politicians."

Advertisement - Article continues below

So we all end up colluding in the expansion of the state and "democratic government results in a remorseless cycle of taxation and regulation." The effects aren't good. They have given us our horribly inefficient Soviet-style "free-at-the-point-of-delivery" health and education systems so bad that they both operate alongside shadow markets where parents and patients pay not to have to use them.

Then there is the benefits system which offers a "powerful disincentive not to work." That's bad for the economy in general, but it also means that the government has to indulge in "double intervention" introducing a minimum wage in order to encourage people to work.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

And of course it has a social impact too. We probably all agree that it isn't good for the able-bodied and minded to be dependent on the state, but when money is provided by the state which makes no moral judgement on its recipients a "culture of entitlement rather than duty" tends to creep in (something readers of the Daily Mail can see exemplified on its pages most days).

Advertisement - Article continues below

Next up? Social breakdown. And then more intervention. The state creates the conditions for "irresponsible lifestyles" and then intervenes to try and prevent them (via rules on smoking, alcohol licensing and a legion of freedom-restricting bans and regulations).

How do we fix all this? Miers and Smith think we could have a go at dealing with welfare at least by distributing cash to everyone equally. That cash could then be used to buy all the services of the state (health, education housing and so on) on an equal basis from private providers. Think of it as being a bit like child benefit used to be where everyone gets the cash and can use it to "freely buy essentials for their children from ordinary private suppliers."

But they don't see that as very likely to happen, or even as much of a start to putting us back on the right road. Instead, their conclusion is a pretty miserable one. The West might not "fall" in a catastrophic kind of a way, but odds are that we have set the stage for a "prolonged sunset" as the institutional advantages bestowed upon us by our "one-time liberalism are fully dissipated."

Advertisement
Advertisement

Recommended

How long can the good times roll?
Economy

How long can the good times roll?

Despite all the doom and gloom that has dominated our headlines for most of 2019, Britain and most of the rest of the developing world is currently en…
19 Dec 2019
Beyond the Brexit talk, the British economy isn’t doing too badly
Economy

Beyond the Brexit talk, the British economy isn’t doing too badly

The political Brexit pantomime aside, Britain is in pretty good shape. With near-record employment, strong wage growth and modest inflation, there is …
17 Oct 2019
Five ways to boost the economy
UK Economy

Five ways to boost the economy

Boris Johnson is making a bonfire of planning red tape. Here Matthew Lynn proposes some more rules for the flames.
9 Aug 2020
UK house prices hit a new record high – can it last?
House prices

UK house prices hit a new record high – can it last?

Despite the pandemic, UK house prices have hit a new high. John Stepek looks at what’s driving the surge in prices, and what it means for house prices…
7 Aug 2020

Most Popular

Eagle Lightweight GT: the reincarnation of the E-type Jag
Toys and gadgets

Eagle Lightweight GT: the reincarnation of the E-type Jag

Jaguar’s classic E-type sports car has been reinvented for the modern age. The result – the Eagle Lightweight GT – is a thing of beauty.
7 Aug 2020
Platinum: the precious metal that looks set to play catch-up with silver and gold
Silver and other precious metals

Platinum: the precious metal that looks set to play catch-up with silver and gold

Gold and silver continue to soar, but there's still time to get in. And there's another precious metal that looks set to go on a bull run too, says Jo…
7 Aug 2020
The MoneyWeek Podcast: how to age well and profit from the “longevity dividend”
Investment strategy

The MoneyWeek Podcast: how to age well and profit from the “longevity dividend”

Merryn talks to economist and author Andrew J Scott and discusses how we can profit from the "longevity dividend" as we live longer; why we need to re…
6 Aug 2020