During the 2016 presidential election, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders argued that elites were hurting the economy. But, drawing together evidence and theory from across economics, political science, and even finance, Garett Jones says otherwise. In 10% Less Democracy, he makes the case that the richest, most democratic nations would be better off if they slightly reduced accountability to the voting public, turning up the dial on elite influence.
To do this, Jones builds on three foundational lines of evidence in areas where he has personal experience. First, as a former staffer in the U.S. Senate, he saw how senators voted differently as elections grew closer. Second, as a macroeconomist, Jones knows the merits of "independent" central banks, which sit apart from the political process and are controlled by powerful insiders. The consensus of the field is that this detached, technocratic approach has worked far better than more political and democratic banking systems. Third, his previous research on the effects of cognitive skills on political, social, and economic systems revealed many ways in which well-informed voters improve government.
Discerning repeated patterns, Jones draws out practical suggestions for fine-tuning, focusing on the length of political terms, the independence of government agencies, the weight that voting systems give to the more-educated, and the value of listening more closely to a group of farsighted stakeholders with real skin in the game—a nation's sovereign bondholders. Accessible to political news junkies while firmly rooted and rigorous, 10% Less Democracy will fuel the national conversation about what optimal government looks like.
George Mason University economics professor Jones (Hive Mind) advocates for "democracy-reducing reforms" including longer legislative term limits, the reauthorization of congressional earmarks, stricter voting eligibility requirements, and the appointment of technocrats to design federal tax laws in this succinct and accessible proposal. Such refinements, Jones argues, would have an outsize impact on socioeconomic development in the world's wealthiest, most democratic countries. To bolster his claims that too much democracy can cause social and economic stagnation, Jones presents evidence suggesting that Americans typically consider only the "extremely recent past" when making voting decisions, and that politicians dramatically alter their priorities when they're up for reelection. He praises independent central banks in Europe and the U.S. and contends that a "more oligarchical judiciary" would have relatively low risks and high benefits. Jones presents Singapore as a case study in how a "low-democracy" country has flourished economically, and posits that the European Union's democratic structure, and not its bureaucratic nature, is largely responsible for its failure to effectively address Europe's recent immigration and debt crises. Jones skillfully draws on hard economic data, popular culture, and philosophical treatises to make his points, but he doesn't set a clear path toward achieving his goals and fails to fully reckon with the structural inequalities that persist in many so-called meritocracies. As a thought experiment, however, this informative and articulate book succeeds.