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Democratic Manifesto

By: Brian Andrew Roizen


Preamble: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Democracy, establish Justice, eradicate corruption, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Democratic Manifesto for the United States of America.

My purpose in writing such a Manifesto spurs not from hate of my country, but rather from the love of it and the pride I wish to take in it. The wise man Thoreau once said, “A government is best when it governs least”, so then why does the government of this great country do so much governing and exercise so much power? I truly detest oppression of any sort, and in this particular case, the iniquitous United States government is the oppressor. The role of the American government has constantly been changing since America declared independence from England in 1776. Consequently, human knowledge has also advanced and changed. Thomas Jefferson believed that “laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times” (Jefferson 5)1. It is very dubious as to whether the current government of the United States has advanced with the same rate of progress, or in the same manner as the human mind has advanced. Over two hundred years ago, our founding fathers instituted a system of checks and balances, which should have withstood the test of time. Could it be time for an updated, more efficient system? Is a real democratic system even possible in the modern day and age, where power can truly reside in the people, and not in the corrupt “representatives” of the people?

Perhaps the task of becoming a real democracy can only be accomplished when a better understanding of the word democracy is reached. Education is the key to the success and long life of democracy. Since the people have the power of enfranchisement, the people must also have a firm grasp of the democracy they live in. The schoolteacher Margery Harriss wrote that “Democracy depends upon intelligent understanding and understanding depends upon the precision and power with which our thoughts, our feelings, and our great emotions can be conveyed” (Harriss 677)2. Austin Ranney and Willmoore Kendall assert that while “most Americans “believe in” democracy […] Americans do not even have a clearly understood and generally accepted conception of what democracy is” (Ranney and Kendall 430)3. Harry Kriner, who believes that democracy is an “elusive term” (Kriner 158)4, only confirms this interpretation. Americans often equivocally say America is a democracy, even though in actuality, the American government is a constitutional republic. The discrepancy in the meaning of democracy is not only an American problem. Many prominent twentieth century totalitarian governments “describe their one-party elite regimes as “people’s democracies”: Marshal Stalin assures us, indeed, that they are the only “true democracies” in the world” (Ranney and Kendall 431)5. What Stalin did not say, was that his government was a government of the communist party, by the communist party, and for the people (of the communist party). Orwell’s 1984 only exacerbates the view that “modern technology has given the tyrant states a power for evil – for the destruction of truth and of human personality – never before seen” (Agar 86-87)6. Perhaps the more interesting question concerns whether modern technology can also give the people of a democracy a power for good – for the creation of truth, individuality, and freedom? Posing the antithesis to the Soviet system, is the Western concept of democracy, which “has never been better expressed than in Lincoln’s formula: government of the people, by the people, and for the people” (Timasheff 507)7. In this manner, the Soviet concept of democracy is social, while the Western concept of democracy is political. For the purposes of this Manifesto, democracy will mean government of the people and by the people.

Since the government will not be for the people, its power and influence are at a minimum. Where, however, does the government derive its power and influence in the first place? The military and police forces are obvious examples of the unquestionable power and force the government has at its disposal, which coincidently are both funded by the other dreaded tool the government so often uses, taxes. Currently, the federal and state governments have a monopoly on income and expenditure taxes. Joseph Pechman acknowledges that “the income tax is widely used primarily because it raises large amounts of revenue in a moderately progressive way” (Pechman 6)8. It seems fairly obvious that the income tax is progressive not only to generate massive amounts of government revenue, but also to reduce income inequality. Regardless of this socialistic motive, “the trend toward greater inequality has developed despite the existence of an income tax in the United States for seventy-six years and of an estate tax for eighty years. Clearly, the tax system never reduced inequality very much” (Pechman 3)9. One reason why the income tax is ineffective in reducing inequality is due to the loopholes the highest income earners exploit. The rich usually get out of paying their due taxes by creating offshore “trusts”, foundations, and offshore bank accounts. An IRS consultant reports that “the U.S. loses $70 billion every year in revenue to this sort of tax evasion” (Euler 1)10. If the wealthy are avoiding paying income taxes, then one of the main purposes of the income tax is not being fulfilled. What assurance do citizens have that our tax system is the most efficient, when the wealthy can simply use tax evasion methods? Income equality is very important to the success of a democracy, because “the mortality rate of democracy given high-income inequality, [is] 80 percent; whereas it [is] 4 percent, given low-income inequality” (Muller 990)11. While the graduated income tax is more socialistic than democratic, there is one method of collecting taxes that is more fair and equal to all citizens. Even the wealthy could not avoid the Value Added Tax (VAT), which is a flat tax rate on goods and services. Many economists support the Value Added Tax by arguing against the progressive income tax, which is less efficient and discourages work incentive. Indeed, “Economists have always liked the VAT because it is a highly efficient tax. That is, it discourages less output per dollar of tax than any other major tax in existence” (Bartlett 2)12. The current U.S. tax system has a deadweight cost of about 20 cents per dollar, while the VAT has a deadweight cost of only a few cents per dollar. (Bartlett 2)13. Since the expenditure tax, or VAT, is much more allocatively efficient than the current income tax, the VAT is the tax system proposed in this Democratic Manifesto. It will include two different types of taxes.

The first will be that which is required of all people, the proceeds of which will fund an army, inspectors, and diplomats, all of which are necessary on a national level. The army will be run by a private company (not the government), which will not make any profit, but will rather operate directly from money collected from national taxes. It is easy to notice that there is a strong bias towards peace, since the people would have to pay more money in taxes during war. Thus, people would be less inclined to make the choice to go to war, since they would have to pay more money directly out of their pockets, and consequently lower their disposable income. The army might initially be both offensive and defensive, however, as time and technology progress, the offensive protocol would eventually decline until complete eradication. The defensive part would survive because it is in accordance with the preamble of the Democratic Manifesto: to “insure domestic Tranquility, [and] provide for the common defense”. The inspectors would be in charge of watching over the way the diplomats and the army function, in order to make sure there is no foul play or corruption within the management. Most importantly, the inspectors would also make sure that the army is truly operating on a non-profit basis, and that no money in siphoned in potential scandals. Diplomats would meet with representatives of other countries, and conduct what they do best, diplomacy. They would be paid by nationally collected taxes.

The second category of taxes is similar to present day local and state taxes. These taxes include direct funding to the construction and reparation of roads, trash collection, and a police force to protect and maintain justice. A court system will exist on a local level, but is outside the scope of this Manifesto, and is a topic for another paper. This second category of taxes will be added on to the national VAT, and will vary from area to area, depending on population density, and the very things that will need to be funded at a local level. States will collect this local tax, however if this process is inefficient, the people can decide to break a state up into smaller regions, thereby making it more of a local tax.

If you have not guessed yet, this Democratic Manifesto does not support vast government expenditures. The rationale for this ideology is based upon the premise that government spending does not always represent the people’s wishes and desires. When the government decides what the people need, the idea of a true democracy is being subjugated, since socialism is at play. Thus, in order to be in agreement with a democracy, the people should be able to decide where their money goes. The eminent question arises of “How will the people decide?” arises. The people will not decide on a collective basis, but rather on an individual basis. For example, why should everyone pay taxes for public education? What about people who are single, elderly, or just have no kids? Why should these people be subject to pay for the education of other children, which they themselves do not possess? One possible solution to this problem is to make all education private. It can easily be argued that not everyone has the ability to have a private education. In the present day, it is true that private education is neither available nor accessible to everyone, however, in the not so distant future, it just might be. Private education will most likely become not the exception, but the standard, due to efficiency reasons. In the public education system, there is a combination of good and bad teachers. Is it possible to “weed” out the bad teachers, and have only the best and most talented teachers? I happen to believe it is possible, via technology that does not sound too outlandish even today. Imagine if companies ventured to record on video, the lessons of top-notch teachers. Not only would the companies record the lessons, but they would also record an extensive knowledge base of frequently asked questions. If companies took the initiative, public education would no longer seem feasible, because education would be able to be conducted privately, and at home! To be honest, the proposed methods are not even very futuristic, and are very possible in the modern day and age. In fact, two of America’s premier universities, Stanford and MIT, are already offering similar programs. A truly futuristic type of education would allow students to learn in a virtual reality classroom, even allowing teacher-to-student, and student-to-student interaction, directly from the comfort of home. Besides the obvious tax reductions from getting rid of public education, students would really have relatively equal opportunity to take the best classes possible, from the best teachers, for a very low cost!

U.S. government monopoly status does not only apply to taxes, but also applies to the United States Postal Service. USPS was originally founded in 1775. Interestingly, the founding fathers may not have wanted a postal monopoly at all. When compared with the earlier Articles of Confederation, the “language of the constitution seems to deny the power to provide service and to create a monopoly. Can the Congress charge postage and grant itself sole and exclusive power if the words “exact postage” and “sole and exclusive” were deleted by the authors of the Constitution” (Priest 45-46)14. Why would the writers intentionally leave out these important words, unless they did not want the government to have a monopoly on the Post Office? George Priest believes that “the authors of the Constitution intentionally drafted a postal cause that was vague, to allow the congress the option at some later date of withdrawing from management or of relaxing the monopoly” (Priest 50)15. Another possible answer is that Congress was in a financial crisis, and needed a temporary means of generating money for the army. There is no guarantee that Congress wanted a postal monopoly, as there was no potential competitor (Priest 48)16. Proponents of USPS often make the argument that the Post Office is a natural monopoly. A natural monopoly occurs when economies of scale allow only one firm to effectively supply a certain good. At first glance, the post office seems to be this so-called natural monopoly, however, “if an industry truly possesses natural monopoly characteristics, there is no need to prohibit entry. By definition the dominant firm will always be able to underbid, and thus eliminate, any potential competitor” (Priest 71)17. Thus, the natural monopoly argument is flawed in its very premise, since USPS cannot function in a competitive environment. The first major source of competition to USPS came in the 1840s, when Lysander Spooner “started the commercially successful American Letter Mail Company which competed with the United States Post Office by providing lower rates” (Wikipedia 4)18. The U.S. government successfully suppressed competition by taking Spooner to court, where he exhausted his resources by claiming that “government functionaries secure in the enjoyment of warm nests, large salaries, official honors and power, and presidential smiles […] are altogether too independent and dignified personages to move at the speed that commercial interests require” (Wikipedia 4)19. Fed-Ex and UPS are further proof that the Post Office is not a natural monopoly. Why should the government have a monopoly status, when oligopolistic companies can take over the first class mail industry? Even as Fed-Ex, and UPS are already starting to take it over, technological means of communication such as e-mail and instant messaging are gaining increasing popularity. In fact, in the long run, USPS will be beat not by competition, but by the increasing costs of sending mail. Not only is sending E-mail free, but it is also instant, and thereby more efficient. It is interesting to note that “USPS is the third largest employer in the United States (after the United States Department of Defense and Wal-Mart)” (Wikipedia 1)20. USPS employs about 700,000 people, and in 2004, made a revenue of $69 billion (Wikipedia 1)21. Since USPS has so many employees, the elimination of this government monopoly will by no means be easy. Nevertheless, the sooner steps are taken to allow for free competition in the First Class mail industry, the better. 

Laissez-faire capitalism is integral to the democracy proposed in this Manifesto. In its simplest terms, Laissez-faire is a noninterventionist, hands-off policy for the government to follow. As Thomas Jefferson says, “agriculture, manufacturers, commerce, and navigation, the four pillars of our prosperity, are then most thriving when left most free to individual enterprise” (Havens 86-87)22. If Jefferson is correct, why is it that we sometimes turn away from Laissez-faire? Eric Goldman writes that people only want laissez-faire when it is convenient. When people want to be left alone, they praise Laissez-faire, but when the public welfare is threatened, the masses bring pressure on the government. (Goldman 165)23. Since public welfare is not often aggressively threatened, we shift away from Laissez-faire “especially at periods of sudden embarrassment and distress […] But it’s the real duty – that duty the performance of which makes a good government the most precious of human blessings – is to enact and enforce a system of general laws commensurate with, but not exceeding the objects of its establishment, and to leave every citizen and every interest to reap under its benign protection the rewards of virtue, industry, and prudence” (Havens 87)24. The most famous example of embarrassment and distress in American history is the Great Depression. The government, under the direction of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “tried” to fix the situation by enacting very anticapitalistic measures, and thereby exceeded the objects of the government’s establishment. Since America is no longer in the Great Depression, the social security and welfare established during 1930s can be easily seen for what they really are: perversions of American interests that occurred during the lowest point of American history. The only reasons that they have not been discontinued is because one, they have been “grandfathered” in and two, they were part of the mistaken cure for the problem that a combination of WWII and normal economic factors got America out of. With Roosevelt’s New Deal, “unemployment dropped to 18 percent in 1935, 14 percent in 1936, and even lower in 1937. But by 1938, it was back up to 20 percent as the economy slumped again. The stock market crashed nearly 50 percent between August 1937 and March 1938. The ‘economic stimulus’ of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal had achieved a real ‘first’: a depression within a depression” (Reed 5)25. If socialistic measures did not help, why have they not been removed? The demoralizing effect of too lavish doles on the working class, and heavy taxing on investment and enterprise are problems that still exist in America (Bladen 6)26. To bring in the present day perspective, the United States economy has seen economic growth for nearly 5 years, since March of 2001. Social security and welfare are both examples of Socialism, which directly conflict with the intended economic policy of Laissez-fare. Furthermore, Socialism is the exact opposite of the American values of individualism and self-responsibility.

The benefits and disadvantages of Laissez-faire can be seen in Hong Kong, a comparatively free government that is assumed to be the least interventionist. While Laissez-faire is the dominant economic policy in Hong Kong, it also “provides the government with a convenient excuse for doing nothing when faced with public demands for government action” (Siu-kai and Hsin-chi 768)27. Even though Laissez faire can be used as an excuse by the government, is the alternative of Socialism any better? Clearly the people of Hong Kong are opposed to Socialism since “70.5% of [the Hong Kong] respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the political system of Hong Kong, though not perfect, was the best one could get in view of the objective circumstances” (Siu-kai and Hsin-chi 775)28. There are four main reasons why the Hong Kong people love Laissez-faire so much. First, Hong Kong has a very strong economy. Second, the people of Hong Kong are refugees, fleeing from communism. The people desire nothing more than to be left alone, which is exactly what Laissez-faire offers. Third, the political leaders of Hong Kong are too weak to be influential. Lastly, the general welfare of the bottom most level of society is still relatively well off.

In accordance with Laissez-faire theory, there can be no minimum wage. Textbook minimum wage theory asserts that a minimum wage can be set only above the free-market equilibrium wage for unskilled labor. If the minimum wage is below the free-market equilibrium wage, it would have no effect. Moreover, when a government enacts a minimum wage, people who are willing and able to work below the minimum wage, are not able to. The demand for labor decreases, and thus less people are hired. Is it really the government’s job to tell people how much they should work for? It is also interesting to note that “minimum wage workers account for 6 to 12 percent of those employed” (Brown 133)29. Since minimum wage workers account for so little of the workforce, the wage must be above the equilibrium wage, but definitely not below the equilibrium, because the minimum wage still has an effect. In conclusion, getting rid of the minimum wage would decrease unemployment, and would perfectly be in conjunction with Laissez-faire theory.

Another problem in our current Government is corruption. Political corruption is hardly a new issue, as it dates even further back than Boss Tweed and his Tammany Hall machine.  Unfortunately, the modern day has shown its own political defilers. The most recent example is Duke Cunningham, a Republican congressman from San Diego. Cunningham resigned after admitting to taking over $2 million in bribes. Other prominent examples of corrupt American political leaders include Robert Torricelli, Tom Delay, and Bill Frist. It is not in the scope of this Manifesto to analyze the misdeeds of each of the aforesaid politicians, however, maybe there should be several more recent studies on political corruption. John Peters and Susan Welch pose the question “If political corruption is in the mainstream of American politics, why is it not in the mainstream of American politics research” (Peters and Welch 974)30? Newt Gingrich believes that a way to decrease corruption would be to “shrink the size of the federal government and move power out of Washington and back to the 50 states, the 3300 counties and even more importantly to the American people” (Gingrich 6)31. The last part of Gingrich’s statement is in perfect accordance with the intent of this Democratic Manifesto. If the people have all the power previously afforded to government representatives, there can be no corruption!

Now comes the part you have been waiting for, the implementation and integration of technology for the next generation of true democracy. Sure a true democracy sounds splendid, but how will it work? The only way the democracy will be able to function is if the technology is accessible to every voter. The age requirement for voters will be 18, unless some other “intellectual” criteria were established for voting.  Voting will be conducted over the Internet. Even though most people are able to connect to the Internet from home, public voting locations would be made available and accessible to any eligible voters who cannot otherwise vote from home. Since the people would be voting on all the issues, corruption would be eliminated.

Somebody might argue that government by the people can never be a reality, however this is a spurious argument. A government by the people can actually be a reality, since modern technology can allow all the people to vote.

Somebody might argue that such conceptions as “common good” and “common will” are mystical notions. This argument is flawed however, since the majority of people will be able to vote on what they want. Thus the “common good” and “common will” will be expressed through the majority of votes.

Somebody might argue that in the absolute sense, liberty and equality are contradictory values. There is a kernel of truth in the absolute form, however the absolutes are not a part of this Democratic Manifesto. Unrestrained liberty and equality are not even components of the present system. Any proponent of unrestrained equality should read Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron.

Some people would argue that the current political system is working just fine, because everyone seems happy. The simple answer is that our current political system is corrupt, and even though many people are happy, the people of our great country can be much happier. Not everyone in America is happy with the current system (including me). Were humans not happy before the invention of electricity? But after the invention, people were much happier. It seems as if technology and science not only improve the human living condition, but they can also improve politics.

Some might argue that this Democratic Manifesto is more like an Anarchist Manifesto, given that there is no strong central government. This argument is fallacious, as anarchy will not exist in a true democracy, because there will in fact be a central government. Of course, the power of this central government would be at a minimum. If anything, the government would only function as a figurehead, with the noble goals of the preamble at its very base.

Somebody might argue that the minority’s rights will be taken away in a true democracy. Fortunately, the minority’s rights will not be taken away because this Democratic Manifesto builds upon parts of a limited majority rule system. All of a democracy’s “citizens possess certain rights that no governmental agency may violate – even in response to the wishes of a popular majority” (Ranney and Kendall 437)32. As Herbert Agar states, “all men have certain minimum rights and requirements which must not be denied – the right to look after themselves and their families in decency without being forced into a slave relationship toward a master or toward the state, the right to a chance to do as well for themselves and for their children as their endowments permit, the right to the great basic freedoms which go under the name of civil liberties, the right to a recognition that in a true sense (perhaps best stated by the phrase ‘in the eyes of God’ all men are equal” (Agar 87)33.

Somebody might argue that people are not smart enough to vote on important issues. Education is vital in a true democracy, and there is conclusive evidence that points to people becoming smarter. Wired Magazine reports “Average IQ scores in every industrialized country on the planet has been increasing steadily for decades” (Johnson 1)34. One of the primary reasons for this trend is the increasing accessibility of knowledge. Oral tradition and books used to be the only method of passing down knowledge from generation to generation, but electronic methods, namely the Internet, have augmented the availability of information. 

If democracy is veritably a work in progress, it is clear that we need to do a lot of work before we can become a real democracy. It is acknowledged that many of the proposed democratic demands are not easy to accomplish given our current state, but the sooner we work towards these ideals, the better. In conclusion, modern technology will allow a government to be of the people, by the people, but not for the people, since it will not be necessary.

Works Cited

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Works Consulted

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Rejai, Mostafa. “The Metamorphosis of Democratic Theory.” Ethics 77 (1967): 202-208. Jstor. Brentwood School Lib., Los Angeles. 15 Dec. 2005 http://jstor.org.

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