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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Anthony de Jasay, How Many Cheers for Classical Liberalism? | Library of Economics and Liberty

In his justly famous essay Two Cheers for Democracy (1951), E.M. Forster has withheld from it his full approval. He was not ungenerous. Hindsight since he wrote shows some of the depressing results of confidently putting democratic principle in practice. Its mechanism confers political power by anonymous voting. This forces rivals for power into periodic bidding contests. The bidders offer resources to one part of society in exchange for its votes, and take these resources from other parts of society, a type of transaction that democratic principles find irreproachable and perhaps praise worthy. In this repetitive process, governments are driven to keep expanding the state, using it as a machine for absorbing resources, transforming them, and handing them out again to others in exchange for electoral favours. In the bidding, the sums involved do not stop at taxable capacity. They spill over into public debt. Ever heavier indebtedness renders government difficult and the economy sluggish. Welfare promises made to attract votes cannot be fully met. The electorate grows bitter and bloody-minded and willing to listen to hare-brained extremists.

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