“Less democracy, better government,” says Mason professor

Garett Jones, associate economics professor at George Mason University, says that there should be less democracy in the United States, according to a talk he gave on Feb. 24.

Jones says that less democracy and more epistocracy could lead to better governance. Democracy leaves power to the majority while epistocracy allocates power to the knowledgeable. Jones did not imply that democracy should be eliminated, but lessened by 10% for the sake of long term economic growth.

According to Jones, less democracy would lead to better governance because politicians would be inclined to work on long term growth rather than spending to impress constituents during election season. Politicians try to please the public at the expense of neglecting long-term policies because they are elected through a democratic process.

For example, Jones said senators act like voters have short term memories. They make decisions to get reelected rather than spending their whole term focused on long-term growth.

Alec Schwengler, a senior economics major at Mason, agrees that less democracy and more epistocracy would benefit governance.

“As unpopular as it may be to say, I think the average voter doesn’t understand certain policy fields,” Schwengler said.  “[…] I think having tax or criminal justice policy farther out of the reach of voters would lead to improvements in those areas because voters have a lot of misconceptions that elected politicians must listen to if they want to be reelected.”

However, not everyone agrees that less democracy is better for governance like freshman government major Kyle Rosenthal

“Less democracy is not good for government,” Rosenthal said. “Even if someone is more knowledgeable about matters they may not have the public’s interest at heart.”

Jones’s talk heavily relied on Mason economics professor Bryan Caplan’s book, The Myth of the Rational Voter where Caplan outlines four democratic biases which are worsened as elections near. These biases are the anti-market bias, make-work bias, anti-foreign bias, and pessimistic bias.

The anti-market refers to people seeing themselves as victims rather than players in the market. In reality, the market is composed of people trading and exchanging which creates wealth. People are participants in the market, not victims but since many voters do not view the market this way, politicians favor protectionist policies in the end of their terms to appeal to voters’ fears. Protectionist policies add barriers to trade.

The make-work bias is the tendency for people to oversee the economic benefits of conserving labor. Initially one might think that more labor is better, interpreting it as lower unemployment, but that is not the full picture. Technology and other factors do consume labor jobs, but that is good because it gives people opportunities to specialize and work in other sectors. And in the U.S. economy the service industry is larger than the manufacturing industry. This meaning more wealth is created through service related jobs than manufacturing jobs. However, during election season voters like to focus on jobs such as manufacturing jobs because there is a conception that making something tangible and physical represents the economy.

The anti-foreign bias explains that many voters feel that protectionist policies are pro-American and better for the U.S. economy. However, globalization is beneficial to the American economy as well as the global economy trade creates wealth.

Finally, the pessimistic bias is a lens at which many voters view of the economy. They think that things are worse than they actually are.  There are different alleged causes for this including social media.

These four biases are the downsides of democracy and politicians cater to these biases to gain votes.

Jones’s overall message was a proposition that less democracy would be better for the economy, but that democracy should not be totally removed. The problem with democracy is that politicians cater to the ignorance of voters to get reelected. But the elimination of democracy could leave intelligent people with bad intentions in charge of the economy.

Featured photo credit: Claire Cecil