Democratically limiting government

New Zealands new local government minister, Rodney Hide, is looking into democratic ways to limit local government. I don’t much like the top down reality of government in places like New Zealand and Australia (and Britian and the USA and just about everywhere really). I’d prefer to see local governments calling the shots and having the power to formulate ways to limit central government. However the proposals being put forward are still encouraging in that they harness the power of democracy to limit government power rather than to enable it. 

The first proposal is to limit the spending of councils to core activities unless approval is received from the people. So no more spending rate payers money on opera in the park unless the rate payers decide in a referendum that this is a proper function of local government. One critic of the reforms remarked:-

many councils would not bother with innovative projects if they had to hold a referendum first  

Secondly Mr Hide wants ratepayers to decide directly on how much rates should increase by each year. Again I love the critics response:-

If it was such a great idea [requiring ratepayer approval] central government might like to apply it to itself, because we’re talking about quite small amounts of money.

In one local government area they have already trialed the intitative for themselves.

Under Mayor Laws, the Wanganui District Council has conducted annual referenda since 2005, including the option of local electors setting their rates increases.

This year the citizens of Wanganui were provided four different rate scenarios and chose a 3% rates increase. On Monday the Wanganui District Council trimmed its annual budget for 2009/10 and established a 3.2% average rate increase.

Over the past five years the Wanganui District Council has provided average rate increases of 2.5% per annum compared with the average rate of inflation of 3.2% per annum.

The proper function of democratic processes is to limit government power. It is nice to see democracy being promoted so close to home.

27 thoughts on “Democratically limiting government

  1. Terjep, you are such an innocent! The americans called their government a Constitutional Republic, because they didn’t trust democracy, or democratic inclinations. you need some sort of constraint on the majority doing what it wants, or minorities, like the rich, always get outvoted! I hope you never use that nine-letter swear word, the ‘D’ word, again.

  2. Supporting democracy doesn’t mean supporting a vote on everything.

    I think it’s reasonable to support citizen initiated referenda for removing laws, but not creating them, for example. This would allow democracy to act as a limit on government.

    Constitutional republics by definition require democracy. It simply limits the power of the democratically elected representatives.

    No one wants mob rule, but that doesn’t mean we have to be “against” democracy. I definitely wouldn’t consider it a swear word.

  3. I am all for “constitutional democracy”.

    John’s example of referenda to strike down but not propose laws (except for constitutional change) would be a good example of this.

  4. When you break down the word ‘Democracy’ into it’s roots, it means ‘people-rule’, so ‘mob-rule’ is a close approximation. Democracy IS mob-rule! What else is it but number-counting? That’s why you need constitutions and stuff to keep it in check. The French Revolution was an experiment in pure democracy- read about it sometime.
    My own minarchic preference is for me to rule my lands without any interference, then for local democratic councils to rule public properties (because someone will end up ruling the roads), and then for weak coalitions of councils to argue over ‘state’ and ‘national’ issues.

  5. I don’t see any automatic equivalence between people and mob. It seems about as meaningful as stating that judges are dictators or that constitutions are dead trees.

  6. I think Winston Churchill got it right when he said
    “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”

  7. What else is democracy but number-counting? Representative democracy just means that our ‘agents’ or ‘delegates’ get to claim to represent us.

  8. How you count the numbers and which numbers count is relevant.

    Imagine a society where instead of majority rule votes had to be unanimous. A 100% threshold ensures that a society is run in a voluntary manner. But it is still democratic.

    The kind of democracy can make a big difference to whether democratic outcomes are liberal or illiberal. All democracy is virtuous by its very nature, but some forms of democracy are more virtuous than others.

  9. Juries decide on the basis of a 100% vote. It seems to be a reasonably good democratic system given the context in which it occurs.

  10. Who are historically the two most important people in Western Civilization? Arguably, but I think agreeably, Socrates & Jesus Christ.

    Who killed Socrates and Jesus Christ?

    – Democracy did. *drum snare*

  11. In a perfect world the reason we elect politicians is to make decisions on our behalf as a community, based on their best reading of community sentiment, so you, as an individual, do not always get the result you would like. If you do not get your desired result often enough, there is an opportunity every 3 or 4 years to find somebody who a) reads community sentiment better or b)is more effective at arguing a case. Let’s face it, democracy is the least worst method of governance available to us, and the only way to improve the situation is to lessen the impact our leaders can have on our personal lives. The quickest way of achieving this is to limit their souce of power (money).

    Being too lazy to look it up, where in New Zealand is Wanganui, and how does one get there? I want to shake that mayor’s hand.

  12. Nicholas said: “What else is democracy but number-counting? Representative democracy just means that our ‘agents’ or ‘delegates’ get to claim to represent us.

    But you’re arguing for a constitutional republic, which, by definition, has democratically elected representatives. Am I missing something?

    If you claim that democracy in any form is mob rule, then you must be claiming that constitutional republics are mob rule, too. I’m all for a constitutional republic, but you can’t deny that democracy plays a role (either to elect the President or other representatives, senators, et c).

    Terje, in most Australian states, juries can come to a verdict with a majority, for example, 10-2 can create a verdict. Each state has separate thresholds.

  13. Daniel – I don’t believe that it is true in NSW and I’m surprised at the suggestion that it is true in other states. If two people out of twelve can sit through a court case and decide the accused is innocent then I don’t see the matter as being beyond reasonable doubt. Perhaps 10-2 would be enough if the majority decision was to acquit.

  14. As I understand it, a Constitutional republic puts limits on Democracy, just as a constitutional monarchy is not the same thing as a pure monarchy. My arguments were against pure democracies.
    Plus I would limit governments to roads and parks, and other public properties, and keep mobs away from private properties.

  15. In Australia majority verdicts are allowed in South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and New South Wales, while Queensland and the ACT require unanimous verdicts. Since 1927 South Australia has permitted majority verdicts of 11:1, and 10:1 or 9:1 where the jury has been reduced, in criminal trials if a unanimous verdict cannot be reached in four hours. They are accepted in all cases except for “guilty” verdicts where the defendant is on trial for murder or treason. Victoria has accepted majority verdicts with the same conditions since 1994, though deliberations must go on for six hours before a majority verdict can be made. Western Australia accepted majority verdicts in 1957 for all trials except where the crime is murder or has a life sentence. A 10:2 verdict is accepted. Majority verdicts of 10:2 have been allowed in Tasmania since 1936 for all cases except murder and treason if a unanimous decision has not been made within two hours. Since 1943 verdicts of “not guilty” for murder and treason have also been included, but must be discussed for six hours. The Northern Territory has allowed majority verdicts of 10:2, 10:1 and 9:1 since 1963 and does not discriminate between cases whether the charge is murder or not. Deliberation must go for at least six hours before delivering a majority verdict. Majority verdicts were introducted in New South Wales in 2005 (see Jury Act 1977 (NSW), s 55F).

  16. Pingback: NSW Labor’s legal legacy « Extreme Capitalists

  17. “If a State has to exist, the best system is actually a Monarchy. For a multitude of reasons.

    Hans Hermann-Hoppe: Democracy the God that Failed”
    I’m going to call BS on that. What does that mean? The early Capetians? The late Valois? Louis XIV? Henry II of England? The Dutch Staatholders? There is so much variability in those possible configurations. I’d say most genuine democracies have more civil liberties, freer markets and higher growth rates and less oppression. There is a lot of stupidity and waste in a limited democracy, but not wholesale nationalisation or systemic oppression. Oppression has been flushed out of these systems. What about the incompetence of the Nepalese monarchy? Democracy is simply an outlet for

    The power, prosperity and still existing liberty of the Americans shows their system to be best.

    The US Presidential system mimics what was proposed by Polybus, and also mimics a the Government of the UK at the time of the Glorious revolution until the death of Queen Anne. I would like it with a few alterations. CIR like the US States have, as well as direct election of other high officials. A TABOR. Unicameral, Hare Clarke PR Parliament [Tasmania could exercise power in other, less explicit ways – e.g by forming their own State based parties – I think this represents them more than giving power to a mainland based part machine a few extra Senate votes]. Preferentially elected President. Some Federal powers devolved to States by treaty. A beefed up just compensation clause. State powers devolved to the citizens (solves gay marriage etc in one foul swoop). The option to form States with local Governments or to combine both as “regional Govenrment” (solves the abolishment of States/councils issue).

    I think you’ll find US States with fair voting systems, a TABOR, CIR and strong constitutional protections are about the freest and most prosperous places in the world. Ditto the Swiss and their looser confederacy.

  18. “…the Government of the UK at the time of the Glorious revolution until the death of Queen Anne”.

    Actually, there wasn’t a government of the UK for the first nineteen or so years of that period, just the last seven (and even so, that didn’t include Ireland).

  19. Somehow I don’t think my sloppy retelling of history will change the past. If only I could retell race no 5 at Caufield the way I reckoned it should have happened…

    I think it is far more reliable than Herman-Hoppe’s claim that the only legitimate/competent State is in fact monarchy!

  20. “I think it is far more reliable than Herman-Hoppe’s claim that the only legitimate/competent State is in fact monarchy!”

    I believe his claim is that a monarchy is the better of two evils. Haven’t read the whole thing but IIRC one of his arguments is that as a monarch is in power for much longer they don’t fall prey to short-sighted policies that are destructive to the long-term prosperity of a country (such as keynesianism.)

  21. An independent central bank also is less likely to suffer from time inconsistency. Democracies might have wasteful policies, but in general are more free and more prosperous.

    The old “Republic of” Iraq under Saddam and DPRK can be considered monarchies.

    Bagheot’s “crowned republic” of the English/British is a far sweeter deal than the train wrecks of Nepal etc.

    Democracy, like free markets and constitutional rights, encourages peace and civility.

  22. Personally, I think politicians should be limited to two terms- one term in power, and then one term in Pentridge Prison! Cabinet Ministers should be executed. Since very few people will bother to be parliamentarians, power will be limited!

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