Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mark Thoma — 'Democracy, What Is It Good For?'

Ask the question, Is democracy good for growth? Should precede this with the question, what qualifies as democracy? Democracy is kind of political institution that applies to many different forms.

I would disqualify the question in that there are no true democracies in the sense of government of the people, by the people and for the people (as advertised), and there have't been any in recorded history among societies with surplus economies, where a power elite consistently controls the political process and directs economic institutions. After all, economics is about allocation of scarce resources, i.e.,  distribution of the surplus.

There has never been anything remotely like equal distribution, which could be an expected tendency of a popular democracy. In fact, it is an expected tendency of popular democracy going back to ancient Greek thought as the origin of the Western intellectual tradition. Since then, the ruling elite has always regarded popular democracy as mob rule and assiduously avoided its inception and undermined it quickly after populist revolutions.

Economist's View
'Democracy, What Is It Good For?'
Mark Thoma | Professor of Economics, University of Oregon

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