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Advancing Austrian Economics, Liberty, and Peace

Advancing the scholarship of liberty in the tradition of the Austrian School

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Making Economic Sense
by Murray Rothbard
(Contents by Publication Date)

Chapter 30
Perot, The Constitution, And Direct Democracy

Ross Perot's proposal for direct democracy through "electronic town meetings" is the most fascinating and innovative proposal for fundamental political change in many decades. It has been greeted with shock and horror by the entire intellectual-technocratic-media establishment. Arrogant pollsters, who have made a handsome living via "scientific" sampling, faulty probability theory, and often loaded questions, bluster that direct mass voting by telephone or television would not really be as "representative" as their own little samples.

Of course they would say that; theirs is the first profession to be rendered as obsolete in the Perotvian world of the future as the horse and buggy today. The pollsters will not get away with that argument; for if they were right, the public has enough horse sense to realize that it would then be more "representative" and "democratic" to dispense with voting altogether. And let the pollsters choose.

When we cut through the all-too-predictable shrieks of "demagogy" and "fascism," it would be nice if the opponents would favor us with some arguments against the proposal. What exactly is the argument against electronic direct democracy?

The standard argument against direct democracy goes as follows: direct democracy was fine, and wonderful in colonial town meetings, where every person could familiarize himself with the issues, go to the local town hall, and vote directly on those issues. But alas, and alack!, the country got larger and much too populous for direct voting; for technological reasons, therefore, the voter has had to forego himself going to a meeting and voting on the issues of the day; he necessarily had to entrust his vote to his "representative."

Well, technology rolls on, and direct voting has, for a long while, since the age of telephone and television, much less of the computer and emerging "interactive" television, been technologically feasible. Why, then, before Ross Perot, has no one pointed this out and advocated high-tech, electronic democracy? And why, when Perot has pointed this out, do all the elites react in dread and consternation, as if to the face of Medusa, or as vampires react to the cross?

Could it be that--for all their prattle about "democracy," for all their ritualistic denunciation of voter "apathy" and call for voter participation--that more participation is precisely what the elites don't want?

Could it be that what the political class: politicians, bureaucrats, and intellectual and media apologists for the system, really want is more sheep voting merely to ratify the continuance and expansion of the current system, of the Demopublican and Republicrat parties, of phony choices between Tweedledum and Tweedledumber ?

For those critics who worry that somehow the American Constitution, that Constitution which has been a hollow shell and mockery for many decades, will suffer; the correct reply is the Perotvian: the vaunted "two-party" system, much less the Democratic and Republican parties, is not even mentioned, much less enshrined, in the Constitution.

The only possible argument against direct democracy, now that the technological argument is obsolete, is that the public's choices would be wrong. But in that case: it would follow directly that the public shouldn't vote at all, since if the public is not to be allowed to vote on issues that affect their lives, why should they be allowed to vote for the people who will make those very decisions: for the beloved President, the Congress, etc.? Perhaps this logic is the reason that the hysterical opponents of the electronic town hall confine themselves to smear terms; since to make this argument at all would condemn them to scorn and irrelevance. 

In other words: if the logic be unwrapped, it is the opponents of the Perot plan who are much more liable to the charge of "fascism" than are the Perot supporters.

Furthermore, making such an argument ignores the vital point: that the decisions of the parasitic bipartisan political class that has run this country for decades have been so abysmal, and recognized to be so abysmal by the public, that almost any change from this miasma and gridlock would be an improvement. Hence--to cite a poll myself--the recent sentiment of 80% of the American public that radical change in the system is necessary, and hence the willingness to embrace Ross Perot as agent of such a change.

And speaking of the Constitution, Perot has called for a Constitutional amendment that would prohibit Congress from raising taxes unless such a proposal were ratified by electronic direct voting. There are two points to be noted: first, for those of us strongly opposed to tax increases, we would be no worse off, and unquestionably better off, than we are now. And second, note the superiority of this tough proposal to the latest warmed-over Republicrat proposal of a "balanced budget" amendment to the Constitution: a proposal even phonier that Gramm-Rudman, a proposal doomed from the beginning to be nothing but an Establishment attempt to fool the public into thinking that something constructive is being done about the deficit.

For the Establishment amendment would only mandate a budget balanced in prospect, not in fact; would allow Congress to set aside the balanced budget as it deems necessary; and would also permit the government to make expenditures "off budget" that would not count in the amendment.

The absurdity of a budget balance in-prospect may be seen in this example: suppose that you are a spendoholic, and that your wife and your creditors set up a watchdog committee to see that you balance your budget, but not in fact, only in advance estimates that you yourself make. Clearly, anyone can balance one's budget under those restrictions. And if we bear in mind that government always underestimates its future costs and expenses, the absurdity should become evident. With schemes like these, it is no wonder that the public is turning for candor, and for genuine choice, to the billionaire from East Texas. 

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