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A Country Is Not a Country Club

In my latest column for AIER I do my best to debunk the myth that a democratic country is akin to a private club. A slice:

Another major difference between private clubs and national citizenship was alluded to above: private clubs that grow too large to give each member adequate voice either shrink or dissolve. Whatever is the particular decision-making rule used by a private club should therefore be assumed by third-party observers to be the rule that best elicits members’ preferences without putting excessive burdens on their time and resources.

The same cannot be said about decision-making rules in political society. It’s a grave error to suppose that just because the typical private club is successfully governed using majority rule, that a sufficient means of assuring successful governance of a nation – governance that is in the best interest of citizens as a group – is for political society to use majority-rule voting. As the size of the decision-making group increases, each person’s vote matters less. At some point, the number of voters is so large that it becomes ludicrous to describe any one voter as having a meaningful voice in governance.

If citizens could, like members of real clubs, easily opt out of their citizenship – including opting out of their ‘duty’ to pay taxes and to obey other state diktats – decision-making rules in political society would adjust to better ensure that each citizen has either a meaningful say in the rules by which he or she is governed, or that he or she isn’t unduly imposed upon by fellow citizens. To achieve these ends, either the size of the polity would shrink or, more likely, the range of issues subject to collective choice would narrow.

But no such easy opt out of citizenship is available. This reality alone is sufficient to discredit attempts to analogize countries to private clubs.


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