The problems with a Direct Democracy
The state of California is in a lot of trouble right now. Their financial budget is completely spent and their revenue is not enough to support all the programs and spending. Although there are many different problems to blame for this, direct democracy is one of the main culprits of this problem. A direct democracy is a form of government that directly asks the people to vote on policy initiatives, recalls and referendums. Traditionally, the US is a representative democracy and a constitutional republic. We elect our officials into office and trust their judgement to benefit the people in the best way they can. However, many state governments, particularly in the west, have a combination of a representative democracy and a direct democracy. Since the 1978, California has had an exponential rise in ballots of initiatives that have been open to the public to decide on. Their government is becoming increasingly more of a direct democracy.
In 1911, California first implemented direct democracy and they had 2.3 million residents living there. The idea of a direct democracy was more manageable at that time. It was also used as a safety for when public officials proved to be corrupt or unresponsive to the citizens needs. Presently, California is closing in on 37 million people, according to the 2010 census. Also, the use of the direct democracy has changed since it was started in 1911. In 1978, proposition 13 was the first time California used direct democracy for public policy that were not a last resort due to corruption or unresponsiveness from the government officials. Now, many of the issues on the ballots are constitutional amendments, human rights, and other public policies. 37 million people making all of the decisions takes too much effort and is so complex that it is not a reasonable was to pass initiatives and referendums. On the ballots, the public likes to vote in support of government programs and aid, and do not consider the costs that it would have on them. They reject the initiatives to raise the taxes to support the funds for new programs, and this cycle just repeats over and over. When the public doesn’t understand and accept all of the consequences of the initiatives, they should not be held responsible to make the decisions. The idea of a direct democracy is great for small areas and can be proven to be the best way to productively create and pass laws. However, in a state the size of California, this is too daunting of a task and it ultimately leads to a tyranny of the majority.
Do They Really Know What is Best for Themselves?
John Stuart Mills argues that people know best what they want and they should have a right to vote. But when is it too much? People don’t always know what is best for them and should depend on experts/ higher authority for better judgement on complex issues, such as economic reform. In modern politics, this could be true for many examples. I would not go so far to say that we should always adhere to everything that government officials decide, but generally, they are working in the best interest of the people and have the resources and knowledge to make the best decision. Current issues are very complex because we live in a very complex world of technology, economics, and industry that is more confusing than the common public fully understands. Also, with the huge amount of initiatives that California has, few people have the time to sit down and study each initiative to fully understand each one. Between the years 2000-2008, California had more than 60 initiatives that were sent to the ballots.
(source: The Economist 12/09)
The majority of people are not going to think about the well-being of others and their interests. They will serve their own self interest before they think of others. John Stuart Mill strongly supports the public having a voice and a role in their government. Mills believes the government must protect all individuals, even the minorities. He also supports the public having a voice, but he would most likely argue that this amount of public power takes away the power and legitimacy of the government.
Tyranny by the Majority
With direct democracy, the majority wins every time. The minorities have no influence on the policies because the decision was not representative of the population. It is always what the majority wants. It also undermines the representative democracy because they are discounting the rights of the minorities, thus eliminating the representative part of the democracy. For example, in 2008, gay marriage went to the ballots for people to decide on it’s legality. The majority decided that it was going to reject this, and although the courts had just previously allowed gay marriage, they had to respect the wishes of the voters and they banned gay marriage once again. By allowing this law to be overturned by the public diminishes the legitimacy of the government. They cannot stand up to the public and dictate laws. They are trampled over by the public and they just let it happen. A government needs to have the power to create laws that may not always be strongly supported, but are necessary. Nobody wants taxes. It would be great if we did not have to pay taxes to support the government, however, there are laws and we must obey them. The freedom of speech is very important and is a core element of our government. But letting the public choose their laws- rather than just expressing them to their representatives in government- takes freedom of speech to a whole new level. They are the voice of the government.
The freedom of expression imposes a duty on individuals to test and improve their own beliefs. The citizens of California must prove that they are responsible enough to make educated decisions, or let others help them make these decisions. Otherwise, their government needs a reform so that the public officials have the final say. It sounds very un-American to say that the public has too much of a voice in government, but I believe that it is sensible to give the final power to the government. We cannot rule ourselves. It is a necessity that the government has legitimacy and the ability to enforce the laws that are reasonable and ultimately for the greater good.
What do you think? Do you agree that too much democracy is bad? If so, what changes can be made? Or do you believe that taking away this power would take away the freedom of speech of the public? Comment below!