Democracy Doesn’t Work for the Minority   Leave a comment

“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” ― James Bovard, Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty.

Link to Medium article

The Problem

What is up with democrats who don’t understand why “majority rules” voting is dangerous to individual liberty and diversity?

At its root democracy is when a majority of lemmings vote to run off a cliff and expect all the lemmings to follow them, even if they don’t want to.

Through the whole of this article, I use the terms “democrat” or “democratic”. It doesn’t mean the Democratic Party, but people who believe in majoritarian election processes. This is a discussion of principles, not politics.

I recently had a Facebook conversation about why the Senate is composed of two seats from every state and a European tried to convince me this was voter inequality — that it makes the rural areas more powerful by “overrepresenting” them. In his opinion, this is discriminatory, evil and just plain wrong.

Democracy vs Republicanism

“One man, one vote” is an amorphous concept. What does it really mean when about 25% of the voting-age population bothers to register to vote and only about 30% of them actually show up at the polls? Still “one man, one vote” is often cited as a reason to oppose legislative schemes used in federal political systems. In the US Senate, each state is given an equal vote to balance out the interests of small states against the interests of large states. Large states dominate the US House of Representatives which is a population-based representation system.

The US is not the only country to use some version of this method. The Australian Senate has 12 members to each state. The Senate of Canada is composed of appointed members who represent regions rather than individual provinces, but regional representation is not based on population size as in the House of Commons. In the Swiss Council of States, each canton is represented by two members, regardless of size.

While the US Senate is now subject to criticism and discussions of reform, the American Electoral College system seems to really piss off democrats. I wonder if they’re also incensed by the Swiss method of “double majority,” in which some legislation requires approval by both the overall Swiss population, which is a process of direct democracy, and also by a majority vote in a majority of the cantons, which is more like how the US Electoral College works.

Naturally, systems like these give power to a relatively small number of voters from small cantons in an election. If a double-majority system was employed in US presidential elections, a coalition of small-state voters could deny the needed majorities from twenty-six of the fifty states even if a presidential candidate won an overwhelming majority in the popular vote. Committed democrats oppose this sort of system because they think straight-up majorities should have the final say in every legislative matter.


I’m going to take it out of the realm of the US government at the moment because it is sometimes helpful to look at other countries. Switzerland, which has a much smaller population than the United States (8.5 million to 340 million), provides insight into why simple majorities tend to be a problem. The Swiss confederation is a conglomeration of regions and cities with varying interests depending on the linguistic, religious, and cultural preferences of the population in each area. Some areas are Catholic and some are Protestant. Some areas are French-speaking, and other areas are German or Italian speaking. There’s also a region that speaks Romansch. At one time, all these areas had distinct cultures, although today the different cultures have mingled more.

These differences were more significant in the past, so the confederation was designed with some anti-majoritarian measures to prevent any small number of highly populated regions from steamrolling over the rest of the country. If the German-speaking cantons became very populous, a system based on majority vote would mean that the German-speakers could ram their preferences down the throats of everyone else. The same might be said if one religious group gained a majority.

Cultural differences have been historically undeniable in Switzerland. Italian-speaking Catholics in the south don’t agree with northern German Protestants on all important matters. Differences are real, and a healthy respect for self-determination and human rights suggests that local cultures shouldn’t be subject to the will of a distant majority.

The democrats want us to believe there is no need to balance these interests. If there are more pro-French voters in Switzerland, everyone must do what the French-speaking majority says. That’s fair … unless you’re a German-speaker and then it probably wouldn’t feel fair at all.

Applied to the US, the federalist measures designed to provide additional voting power to smaller states are denounced by progressives as “undemocratic.” If Californians and New Yorkers have an overwhelming number of votes, then so be it. The minority must do what the majority says, even if those people have very different interests from the majorities in New York or California.

Many on the left will insist there aren’t any real differences between people in, say, Alaska and people in New Jersey. If there are differences, it is because people are South Dakota are intellectual troglodytes and their opinions shouldn’t matter. This problem will be solved by forcing democracy on everyone so North Dakotans’ unacceptable political views are neutralized by far larger majorities in faraway cities.

Historically, that argument was considered disingenuous if not stupid. The United States has always been a large and diverse country. Americans recognized significant cultural differences between the Congregationalists of New England and the Catholics and Lutherans of the Great Lakes region. It was understood that the various regions of the nation had very different economic needs depending on what industries — agricultural, maritime, or manufacturing — were dominant in the region. It was recognized that agricultural areas ought to be able to offer legislative resistance to new laws designed to favor manufacturers at the expense of farmers. If one area became more populous than the other, it just seemed wise to put safeguards in place to prevent one region from dominating another.

Alaska vs California

Switzerland is a fairly small country compared to the United States and, in recent decades, it may have become less diverse. Living in a spread-out community of 100,000 in Alaska, I have almost nothing in common with people living in Los Angeles. We both speak English and presumably read the same Constitution, but our life experiences are very different. Alaskans tend to come from other states, to attend college at a much higher rate than Californians, to travel outside of Alaska more often than Californians travel outside California, and to be more libertarian in our mindset. In terms of diversity, Hawaii is the most diverse state, followed by California, followed by Alaska, which outlawed racial discrimination in 1945. When we disagree on subjects, Californians try to make the provincial troglodytes argument, but Alaskans don’t fit the profile, which throws the entire argument into question.

But just think of this in terms of fairness. In a majoritarian democracy, Alaska would need to band together with the other 15 small population states to veto a pro-California measure. Why does that matter?

Imagine if you will — California — the land of fruit trees and beaches. My daughter lives inland in the mountains and it snows there — for about a week every winter. Central heating matters, but not so much because it never gets really cold there. In the rest of California, home heating is optional. Just wear a sweater and put another blanket on the bed.

Contrast that with Alaska. The coldest I’ve seen is -76*F. Yes, that’s 108 degrees below freezing. It’s not year-round (or who would live in this place?), but for about five to six months out of the year, you must heat your home or it will freeze and you will die. It costs me about $300 a month to heat my home (about $1,500 a winter). We wear a lot of sweaters and blankets are required attire for watching television. What do most Alaskans heat our homes with? Diesel fuel. We’d love to use natural gas, but there are all sorts of barriers to that (many of them set up by Californians), so we’re shipping in diesel.

Now, let’s consider that Californians reject fossil fuel use by a large margin. That’s not made up. That’s a true statement. They want high taxes on fossil fuels. They want the elimination of fossil fuels. They want homes to be electrically heated — if heated at all — through the use of solar and wind energy.

It’s dark (or we have very short days) six months out of the year in my community and one of the advantages to living in Fairbanks is that it gets almost no wind in the winter. Solar and wind aren’t going to work for us unless we figure out a way to store the summer sun into the winter — which the technology does not exist as yet. Our electric generation plants are fueled by diesel and coal. Our local energy cooperative does have some wind turbines in the mix. Our bills increased when the wind-farm came online. I’m sure it gave someone somewhere a warm, fuzzy feeling to know we’re using renewable energy, but from a practical standpoint, it just meant we sit in the dark more because we can’t afford the electricity.

Heating our homes is not optional in Alaska. I currently pay about $250 a month (at 27 cents a kilowatt-hour) to power my home, absent heating it, in the winter. Back in 1974, my brother electrically heated a home here and it cost him $350 a month. By contrast, our mom was paying $40 a month to heat a conventionally-heated home in the same town in the same winter. Factored for inflation and that electric home heating bill would now be about $1700 a month. That’s $8,500 a winter.

That’s a $7,000 annual difference in home heating.

Can you perhaps understand why I wouldn’t want Californians deciding home heating policy in Alaska? I don’t want them to be able to decide how we’re allowed to heat our homes, what the price of diesel should be, or that we will be required to go 100% renewable by 2030, as some have suggested. They don’t live here. They have no idea of the impossibility of their statements. Artificially increasing the cost of home heating sounds great if you live in California. To Alaskans, it sounds like a death sentence to our way of life, if not to us personally.

That’s just one of many issues where Alaskans and Californians disagree on fundamental life issues. If California wants to price its energy beyond the point of affordability for its residents, I’m fine with that (though my daughter might not agree). So long as we have no power over each other, it’s okay if we disagree. The issue arises if we continue to down the path of a national democratic system to the point where Californians would be able to overrule Alaskans whenever we disagree, even though they know nothing about life here.

Democracy is a vaunted ideal on paper, but it doesn’t often work out in practice. History records democracy’s failures. It leads to a tyranny of the majority and that harms the minority. The United States Constitution was a compromise document between large-population states and small-population states and it never would have been ratified if the small-population states’ concerns over being steamrolled by the bigger states had not been taken into account. It assured that the residents of populous New York could not vote against the interests of the residents of sparsely-populated Rhode Island without any resistance. The Constitutional Framers created a federal system to assure that all voices in the United States could be heard if they wanted to be heard.

The fundamental reasons behind the federalist system created 240 years ago remain today because this is a diverse nation of 340 million people who live very different lives from one another. The democratic argument that the majority is always right runs up against the reality that the majority doesn’t always know what the hell it is talking about.

Maybe the minority are the smart lemmings that don’t want to run off the cliff.

Lela Markham is an Alaska-based novelist and blogger who is interested in a lot of topics. She’s also a registered non-partisan libertarian.

Posted January 29, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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