The Three Stages of Democracy

As a society deteriorates, first elections don’t matter much, then they matter desperately, then they don’t matter at all.

1. When the central government regulates and legislates just enough to keep property safe from theft, elections are an important but minor part of life.

2. As the central government metastasizes so that any prosperity is only won by rent seeking and kept by bowing to the government, elections get more furious and violent, because each election has higher stakes. An election is simply a proxy fight for all the money, because the party that wins the election has the power to move the people’s wealth around. This is a corrupt, soul-killing political environment, and the high level of engagement you see in the electorate is like the last, desperate gasps of a strangled puppy.

3. The legislative body soon is making rules about all of life, and sees that this task is too complex, so they pass outlines of desired ends but hand the means over to huge, permanent bureaucracies. These unelected, nameless officials then rule the country by fiat, and even ossify against their own elected government. The electorate learns that the outcome of elections doesn’t matter any more. At first, they blame this on “gridlock” (a mythical entity), then they give up, and set about creating the shadow, illegal economy by which the official economy will exsanguinate. The country eventually collapses into bankruptcy and anarchy, and then centuries of petty dictators, or, if lucky, a new government of limited powers.

So: elections matter a little, then they matter a lot, then they don’t matter at all.

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