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Creeping Socialism

I wrote about the scandalous cost of the Medicare prescription drug entitlement a few days ago. My pithy comment that "a creeping socialism is inherent in democracy" was shocking and/or witty enough to get a Catallarchy cite, so I think it's reasonable that I make a longer statement about the matter.

It's first necessary to recognize that the United States is not a democracy. It is a constitutional republic. (The fact that our two prominent political parties are named Democrat and Republican looks today like nothing more than an amusing accident. Yes, I'm easily amused.) Our government is clearly republican, not democratic, because very few issues are decided by referenda.

Democracy in its pure form is simply the rule of the majority.

Democracy is a terrible system because it doesn't recognize any limits on the power of that majority. Whatever they decide, goes. Thomas Jefferson described democracy as "nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine." I bought a button many years ago with a more abrupt formulation: "Democracy is four wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch."

The curious thing about democracy in politics is that nobody is ever attacked for advocating it. It's completely safe and uncontroversial, like praising motherhood or supporting "working families" or caring about The Children™. Democracy is a magic word. Politicians talk about "democracy" as if it meant "freedom" or "liberty" — and people make that mental substitution automatically as they listen!

The federal constitution as well as the constitutions of the states enumerate the powers of government. The government has no powers not specifically granted to it. The constitutions also provide explicit prohibitions on government actions by identifying individual rights to be protected from government interference. The restricted power of our government is its most significant feature. That's the thing worthy of praise and evangelism. The form of government (democratic or republican) is unimportant compared to the powers of government.

The limits on government power have been greatly eroded since the nation's founding. Today we have an income tax, a central bank, fiat money, public schools, and wealth transfer programs serving the poor, the old, the jobless, the disabled, the addicted, etc. — all of which would have been violently opposed by the nation's founders. All of these things are expressions of the will of the majority that infringe on the rights of individuals.

Our constitution has thankfully made the progression toward full socialism slower than it would have been under direct democracy, but the trend is clear. The tyranny of the majority is real and it steadily claws away at individual rights because most people have some form of collectivist ethics. They believe that it is good and proper to take from one person and give to another. It's always sold under the banner of compassion, of helping the downtrodden as moral duty. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

Collectivists do not permit disagreement. They are not satisfied with freedom, with the ability to be "compassionate" with their own funds and the funds of like-minded people — they aim to use the coercive power of the state to compel obedience from dissenters. I regard this as a monstrous evil. It is particularly perverse that the same intellectual movement that embraces nearly every form of diversity seeks to eviscerate the one that truly deserves protection: the diversity of opinion.

The only thing that can stop and reverse the collectivist trend is a revival of individualist ethics. Without it, the Constitution is a dead letter.

UPDATE 2004-02-17 00:57:48 UTC: Case in point:

My own preference would be for simply banning certain super-efficient technologies. We could outlaw the fish-finding sonar on the trawlers, return to traditional fish-finding skills and let the inherent inefficiency of the small fisherman help preserve our oceans' fish, not to mention the families and communities and related businesses that depend upon them. Ban the feller bunchers from the forests, localize electric production, go back to telling airplanes what towns they have to serve, put people and their needs before systems, and reduce the risks of massive systemic failure in the bargain. [source]

This luddite would happily impose their value preferences on everyone else. Incidentally, there's no acknowledgement of the fact that increased efficiency could be used simply to produce the same output with lower costs, not necessarily to increase production.

Hat tip to Micha at Catallarchy, who has much more to say about it.

Tiny Island