The Myth of the Magic Center

To expand on the point I made in today’s column, organizational principles based around individual actors (democracy in this case, but also, for example, capitalism) are going to trend away from equilibrium and towards entropy if there aren’t safeguards in place. The example of this most people like to point towards is how the laissez-faire capitalism of the Industrial Revolution morphed into something perhaps more accurately described as neo-feudalism. But I don’t think it’s hard to see how the same thing could happen in a democratic system where appeals to popular will are treated as a de facto justification for any sufficiently popular policy.

The problem is that popular opinion is extremely malleable, and often contradictory and strange. Which is why, rather than deferring to popular opinion, we invest decision-making authority in a smaller group of people whose wisdom, judgment and experience we put a special premium on. Too bad that quite  a few of them say crazy, irresponsible things, get their constituents to echo those things, and then act as if all they’re doing is deferring to the will of those same constituents.

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