Democracy and Elections

Elections are the most visible of the external trappings of the institution called democracy. Democracy, like other important institutions that support a liberal civil society, has an inside structure — a deep back-end — that is not visible. What you see is definitely not all that there is. There is an internal structure to this institution without which it is only a facsimile and not the real object. It could be a cargo-cult democracy.

The market is another of those very critical institutions, perhaps older than democracy. Economists have figured out the conditions necessary for markets to work. When the conditions are not met, what happens is called “market failures.” Market failures have been studied and workarounds found for them. Perfect conditions for markets do not exist in the real world. But with a bit of care, the resulting market failures can be addressed. This is a widely appreciated fact.

I think that similar to market failures, there are democracy failures which arise when the conditions that are necessary for democracy do not obtain. For instance, what if there are information asymmetries or monopoly power? Democracy cannot grind out the socially optimal result in such cases. What if there isn’t freedom of expression? These matters are worth considering, now that the elections are around the corner.

Related posts: See Thoughts on Freedom of Expression and The Ownership Society.

One thought on “Democracy and Elections

  1. vishu Tuesday March 10, 2009 / 9:54 am

    Good Post Antanu.
    Markets have concept of failure.Democracy does not have well defined
    failure concept. At least it holds true in India. It can only mean losing elections or loosing power.
    A dacoit wins a election then it is hailed as the power of democracy.
    In India democracy is just a continuation of the Raja Mahrajas except that these Raja Mahraja’s are elected now.



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