Liberal Democracy: D- or B+?
Will Wilkinson doesn’t hate the (democratic) state. Which is great! Rothbard’s “Do You Hate the State?” convinced me of the opposite of it’s point, and I firmly believe that hating the state is bad for your blood pressure and productivity. But Will Wilkinson seems to find it far more tolerable than I do, and that is unfortunate (for me, at least), because it means he is less motivated towards change.
In a comment on Will Chamberlain’s post, Wilkinson writes:
I’m a liberal meliorist who doesn’t think nation-states are likely to go anywhere and who wants them to be governed in a way that does the best possible for freedom and prosperity. I understand the utopian aspirations that animate this blog, and I wholeheartedly support experiments in living and jurisdictional competition. But it is precisely the empirical spirit some of you profess to uphold (when in an evangelizing mode — some of the thousand blooming nations will be democratic!) that leads me to stand by the well-tested success of liberal democracy. If there is some non-state, or non-democratic mode of governance demonstrated to do better, I’ll happily acknowledge it. But, as one might say when throwing down, put up or shut up.
Yes, liberal democracy is well-tested – it is by far the best system at achieving a 6 out of 10 on my personal 1-10 scale of economic and social freedoms. Tons of liberal democracies achieve that coveted 60% D- grade, which puts them at the top of their class of morons and retards. Perhaps Will finds this world of D-minuses satisfactory – I do not.
I’m glad that he supports the experiments, and I fully agree that some (perhaps most!) of the thousand blooming nations will be democratic. I think our differences lie in whether we consider the current “success” of liberal democracy to have achieved a reasonable standard of freedom, or a miserable but tolerable one. Relatedly, whether we think it achieves close to the best possible governance, and thus how easy and how important we think it is to do better.
For example, I believe in Mencius’ claim that over the last hundred years, a vastly decreased quality in governance has been masked by a vastly increased level of wealth, knowledge, and technology. I think life in liberal democracies is good despite their governance, not because of it. For example, inner cities that look like war zones, where it isn’t safe to walk for a man during the day, and certainly not a woman at night, are a feature of liberal democracy that would have shocked urban residents in past societies.
Perhaps I am wrong, and liberal democracy is a B+ on the scale of possible governance. But I think this difference may be at the heart of why he is relatively democraphilic and I am relatively democraphobic.