08 January 2010

Article: The Economic Critique of Democracy in Australia

Gregory Melleuish just had an article published on "Bruce Smith, Edward Shann, W.K. Hancock: The Economic Critique of Democracy in Australia", to be found in the latest issue of the "Australian Journal of Political Science" (44 [4], December 2009: pp. 579-95).

Abstract: "This paper argues that there were a number of writers in Australia from the late 1880s to the early 1930s who developed what is best described as an economic critique of the workings of democracy. The three writers considered by this paper, Bruce Smith, Edward Shann and W.K. Hancock, all developed critiques of Australian democracy along similar lines. The central feature of their argument was that Australian majoritarian democracy was making poor policy decisions because it attempted to override the laws of economics in the name of the popular will and ethics. They seemed to have believed that this problem would only be resolved once Australia possessed a mature and economically literate population."

Melleuish writes: "In a sense the works of these three men can be seen as constituting a free trade counterpoise to the more protectionist and statist conception of democracy that emerged out of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Victoria [...]. Democracy [...] pits the commonsense of the populace against the expert knowledge of economists and political scientists. [...]

"[E]conomic laws are largely counter-intuitive and therefore can only be understood after a considerable amount of study and reflection. Simple, commonsense moral reflection on economic matters translates into bad policy and poor legislation, the sort of legislation to which they believe democratic legislatures are prone because they lack adequate knowledge and understanding. [...]

"Majoritarian democracy is unable to stop this practice because to become a representative one has to be elected and to be elected means pandering to the electorate."

Gregory Melleuish is an Associate Professor in the School of History and Politics at the University of Wollongong.

No comments:

Post a Comment