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The Paradox of Democracy


A textbook of politics usually mentions the following as a defect of democracy: Democracy operates under majority rule, where those in the numerical majority are powerful and they tend to ride roughshod over the concerns of the minority. It is a problem of democracy to be solved how to protect the weak minority from the tyranny of the majority. Is this classical theory true?

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay and Photo by Caleb Perez on Unsplash

1. Why can the minority rule democracy?

When you observe the reality of representative democracy, you will find that the reverse is the case. It is a few pressure groups of the economically weak that cannot survive without any subsidy or regulation that actually control democracy.

How can the weak minority control democracy? Let’s simulate the control by means of a simple example. Suppose a representative governs 10 thousand inhabitants and they have equal rights to vote his decision, paying a telephone rate of 20 cents per call. Who will come out against his suggestion that he should charge every inhabitant 10 cents for subsidizing the weakest in the community?

If the inhabitants are economically rational, nobody will declare himself against losing 10 cents, paying 20 cents for call, while the weakest to be subsidized not only declare themselves for it, but also promise to donate part of subsidy to the representative so as to realize the subsidy. This is the mechanism for the economically weak minority to exploit the silent majority.

2. Why can’t the majority rule democracy?

Can the majority exploit the minority, as the classical theory assumes? Let’s examine it with the similar example. Who will approve of the representative’s suggestion that he should charge the richest in the community 1 thousand dollars for giving 10 cents to every inhabitant?

If the inhabitants are economically rational, nobody will declare himself for receiving 10 cents, paying 20 cents for call, while the richest to be charged 1 thousand dollars not only declare themselves against it, but also offer a bribe to the representative so as to stop the exploitation. This is the reason the majority cannot exploit the minority. The minority can control the majority rule based democracy, not though but because they are in the numerical minority.

Of course, it will not be the case, if participants in a majority decision are fewer. The larger the majority is, the less influence, whether preferable or not, the result has on each voter and the less significant he feels himself, the more are apt to abstain from voting, thinking the result will remain the same without his voting. In short, the more, the less powerful.

3. How to improve the voting rate

In fact, the voting rate among advanced countries is very low. It is because most of the silent majority consider the benefit gained from voting less than the cost necessary to vote that they abstain from voting.

Suppose a voter desires a bill B to be passed through the Congress. In representative democracy, he must face the following indeterminacy:

  1. Whether there is a Congressman C or not that pledges to pass B is indeterminate.
  2. Whether C, if any, will win the election or not is indeterminate.
  3. Whether C, if he wins the election, will honor the pledge or not is indeterminate.
  4. Whether B, if he tries to honor the pledge, will be really passed through the Congress or not is indeterminate.

However valuable passing B may be for the voter, its value will be reduced to almost nothing, multiplied by probability coefficients of these 4 uncertainties. This makes the opportunity costs of the time necessary for most of the silent majority to gather information and go voting surpass the benefit of voting.

We must decrease the costs of voting and increase its benefit, so that the silent majority can take part in public choice. The Internet can play an important role in reformation of election. The Internet removes many middlemen including the representatives as mere transmitters of public opinion. Internet voting enables direct democracy, reduces the indeterminacy of voting and increases its value, while it decreases the costs of voting, because you can easily gather information and vote on the screen of a terminal at home. As a result, more voters will participate in the decision making process and democracy will approach the ideal.