David R. Henderson  

Minogue on the Accountability Flip

Michigan State Debate... Do we need more antitrust?...
My concern with democracy is highly specific. It begins in observing the remarkable fact that, while democracy means a government accountable to the electorate, our rulers now make us accountable to them. Most Western governments hate me smoking, or eating the wrong kind of food, or hunting foxes, or drinking too much, and these are merely the surface disapprovals, the ones that provoke legislation or public campaigns. We also borrow too much money for our personal pleasures, and many of us are very bad parents. Ministers of state have been known to instruct us in elementary matters, such as the importance of reading stories to our children. Again, many of us have unsound views about people of other races, cultures, or religions, and the distribution of our friends does not always correspond, as governments think that it ought, to the cultural diversity of our society. We must face up to the grim fact that the rulers we elect are losing patience with us.
This is from Kenneth Minogue "Morals and the servile mind," The New Criterion, June 2010.

HT2 Instapundit.

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CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy

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This concern about "rulers losing patience with us", which the Minogue quote attributes to democracy, is a feature of most constitutions, I would claim, and not simply of democracy. Most orders which survive tend to grow spontaneously; most officers try to extend the reach of their organizations. Most people want more.

Over time most governments gradually give themselves more intrusive powers. And — this is the killer — the expectations of people who reside in such realms also evolve to accommodate this transfer of decision-making responsibility. There tends to be an ongoing evolutionary transfer of law: from common or customary law to government decrees.

Too many scholars remain blind to this bias in the direction of institutional evolution. In an article which I addressed to libertarians, I tell that this comes down to a question of how we fill each of our needs. For any given need, we may be habituated to expect fulfillment of that need from either:

  • voluntary institutions, or
  • coercive (government) institutions.

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