The Paradox of Representative Democracy

The paradox of representative democracy is that we elect representatives because we are collectively ignorant, but we can only evaluate and choose those representatives by the same ignorance.

[Video: Undecided Voters]

We elect representatives to get an in-depth understanding of the issues and make decisions on our behalf because most people don’t have time, resources, or ability to do it themselves; but it turns out that the same in-depth knowledge is needed in order to successfully evaluate and choose a good representative, which we are already by definition unqualified to do.

So we elect someone we think we can trust.

But when they get the in-depth understanding that we sent them there to get and it leads them to choose differently than we, the less informed, think we would have chosen, we feel betrayed and vote them out, even though theoretically that is exactly what we sent them there to do in the first place.

If we were qualified to evaluate whether our representatives were making the right decisions then we wouldn’t need representatives in the first place. That is why people fall back on party affiliation and ideology.

As Winston Churchill is purported to have said: “Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried…”

That is one reason why limited government, with issues being handled at the most local scope is superior to big, unlimited government. People are most qualified to evaluate candidates and issues closest to them. Big government brings one-size-fits-all solutions that will never be able to account for local differences and needs.

It is discouraging that low-information voters often decide elections.  But the fact is that few of us have sufficient information to make truly informed decisions. While we may not be low-information voters, it will always come down to intangibles and making decisions without sufficient information.

In other words, it comes down to an act of Faith.

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