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A Much Better Option

Here’s a letter to a correspondent who asks a frequently asked question:

Mr. Gordy Robicheaux

Dear Mr. Robicheaux:

Thanks for your e-mail.

You ask why I continue at my blog to highlight imperfections in majoritarian representative democratic decision-making given that “it’s our best option.”  My reasons are two.

First, even if some option is indeed the best available, it should be understood correctly.  Myths about it ought to be exposed.  People should realistically understand that option’s limitations rather than romantically cling to the belief that that option possesses splendid features that, in fact, it doesn’t possess.  A slice of cheesecake might be my tastiest option for desert, but I would suffer in the long run were I to convince myself that eating cheesecake is also a means of losing weight.

Second, for most its uses today majoritarian representative democratic decision-making in fact is not our best option.  Given the existence of the U.S. government, majoritarian representative democracy might be the best option for making some select few choices, such as the size of the state’s military budget.  But why must ‘we’ choose collectively the minimum wages that employers pay to employees?  Why must ‘we’ choose collectively the rate at which water runs out of the faucets of individual homes and places of business?  Why must ‘we’ choose collectively the minimum amounts that workers save for their retirements?  Why must ‘we’ choose collectively a set of substances that ‘we’ are not permitted to ingest?  Why must ‘we’ choose collectively what foreign goods consumers are permitted to purchase?  Why must ‘we’ choose collectively the professional qualifications of physicians, lawyers, and (in some states) cosmetologists and florists?  Why must ‘we’ choose collectively the terms on which money is funneled to producers of electric cars, to manufacturers of commercial aircraft, and to growers of corn?

The vast majority of decisions made today by majoritarian representative government are decisions that not only can be, but would be, made far better by each of us individually.  Individual decision-making by people each of whom spends his or her own money and each of whom enjoys (and suffers) the consequences of his or her choices is the best option.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercator Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030


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