Democracy has created a political market where prospective providers of political packages challenge each other for the vote and indirect control of society. The perception that democracy is about equal expression of multiple voices within society creates an opportunity for prospective providers of political packages to delineate the market by creating different packages for a variance of voter: marital rights for the LBGTQ community; increased funding for and an increased number of social welfare programs; or progressive changes in affirmative action programs where greater access is created for middle to upper income white women. The reality of democracy, where democracy is an institution that allows more factions to vie for control of society in a bloodless transfer of power, would still result in factions delineating political markets and offering more packages only because the pot has to be sweetened to garner voters into a faction’s camp.
Is this expansion of the supply-side and demand-side of the political markets a bad thing? I believe the answer is yes for the following reasons.
First, the suppliers of political packages and the voters that demand them are creating an ever increasingly expanding State. As an instrument of the State, government has expanded way beyond what the framers of the Constitution intended. Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution provided limited duties for the government; limited duties that included providing post offices, a national defense, the regulation of domestic and foreign commerce, the coining of money and protection against counterfeiting, the regulation of bankruptcies, the promotion of science and useful arts, and establishing courts. Any other police powers would be left to the individual states.
Today, the federal government is involved in many parts of the individual American’s personal life. The federal government has weighed in on abortion; the regulation of marriage; on the use of contraceptives; the amount of privacy for sexual acts between consenting adults; the use of radio frequencies by individuals; who a proprietor may serve or not serve in her store; whether an individual must enter the markets to buy health insurance; the amount of information businesses must share with consumers; the amount of information companies must share with investors; and the manner in which a private corporation must manage its communications networks.
For the individual who is best able to determine and promote her personal and economic self-interests, this expansion comes with administrative rules and procedures. It comes with limits on individual experience, growth, and decision-making. It comes with limits on freedom.
The mention of freedom provides a segue to the second reason: taxation. Among Congress’ powers is the power to lay taxes. Even with the limited powers of the Congress, I would expect the amount of taxes levied and collected from Americans to grow along with the population of the United States and the infrastructure and other needs the government would be expected to provide. But along with extra-Constitutional supply of political packages comes the additional costs of supplying those packages and a heftier tax bill to go along with it.
The limited enumerated powers afforded to the U.S. government per the Constitution do not support social welfare programs such as social security, Medicare, or Medicaid, yet programs like these account for a significant and growing portion of federal government expenditures.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in fiscal year 2016, the federal government spent $3.9 trillion. Social security spending accounted for 24% of federal budget spending. Together, Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, and other medical aid subsidies accounted for 26% of federal budget spending. Safety net programs such as refundable portions of the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit, supplemental security income, food stamps, school meals, and low-income housing assistance contributed nine percent of federal government spending.
For those believing that defense expenditures and aid to foreign governments take a larger share, think again. Military spending accounts for 16% of the budget. In addition, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, interest on money borrowed by the federal government amounts to six percent of the federal budget.
Approximately 84% of the fiscal year 2016 budget was financed by government revenues including taxes. Whether debt financing increases or not, Americans will still be on the hook for paying federal outlays or paying the debt as increased burdens due to increased programs and policies are crafted.
And the burdens will increase. Analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that the federal debt load as a percentage of gross domestic product will increase from 77% today to 96% by 2029. Spending is expected to increase over the next ten years, from 20.8% of GDP in 2017 to 28.6% of GDP in 2027.
We have a political market place that is delivering tyranny. By creating more market participants, more issues are being spawned that lead to more expensive solutions chasing in some cases problems that do not exist. For the problems that do exist, the solutions that political packages promise are not blossoming. Democracy is failing. It is creating a society built on burden creation. A growing number of individuals no longer wish to carry the financial burdens the current representative democracy creates, especially when they are seeing no returns from their expenditures.
I propose one solution here for now: reduce the number of voters which will lead to a new voter base that providers of political packages will have to adjust to. The United States should require states to impose voter registration requirements every two years, with the registration closing one year before the midterm and general elections. Just like new immigrants are required to take a civics test in order to become naturalized citizens, Americans should be required to take a rigorous civics test in order to vote. Such a test will meet three goals.
First, a civics test will move the U.S. closer to ensuring a better-informed voter is entering the voting booth. In theory, a voter becomes a more effective citizen when they stay abreast of current political events and can apply critical thinking skills to assess those events. Today, this is just not happening.
Second, the required time to prepare and take the exam along with paying a nominal fee for taking the exam will leave the door open to only the most serious and informed voters. If democracy is to have any validity, shouldn’t participants demonstrate the concept’s importance by investing the time into taking the exam? Is this not the type of voter you want making decisions on leadership and issues placed in a referendum?
Last, a civics test challenges the very notion of democracy itself. I take to heart the following quote from Winston Churchill:
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
In today’s social media world, that argument extends into perpetuity given the overwhelming level of misinformation regurgitated by users of Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms. I at times wonder why these individuals are allowed into a voting booth and indirectly cause the creation of policies that for the most part work against my freedoms and liberties.
Democracy needs a reboot. It might just need to be tossed, at least on the national level. ….