Democracy appears to work, but why?


Back in the oldest days of democracy, the least fortunate set of people were always the largest set of people (workers / slaves). Today, if you are a minority, and you want something, your fate is in the hands of the majority voters.

Given many (most) people vote primarily out of self interest, since most people aren't minorities, few votes are in the minorities' interest.

Assuming we all want the same thing, The Wisdom of Crowds can explain some of how it all appears to work. I propose though, that for The Wisdom of Crowds to work, self interest must be eliminated, since it increases emotional biased factors.

In an attempt to remove self interest, what would happen if instead of voting for yourself and your own people, you vote for others, and them for you.


The people of USA voted policies and representatives for Canada, and vice versa.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Chris! Those are a lot of questions as every point in your list would have to be addressed separately. It looks to me like this question is "too broad". Can you narrow it down to make it more answerable in a single post? You can always wait a bit for answers and then write the next question in another post, linking to the former one. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Sep 1, 2017 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Secespitus, Yeah, I figured. The questions kept popping into my head as I was writing. I will save them elsewhere and see if the merit a question of their own. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2017 at 9:00
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with @Secespitus above. You are asking too many questions at once. Can you edit to narrow this down to a single question, one that we can answer and judge answers to on how well they answer the question? There seems to be plenty of good material for building an imaginary world in this question, but it's just too much to bite off at once. Keep in mind what expertise might be required to answer each distinct question, and do what you can to keep that set of expertise as small as possible; doing so will increase your chances of getting good answers. Glad to see you here! $\endgroup$
    – user
    Sep 1, 2017 at 9:02
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    $\begingroup$ I also do want to clarify that we don't put questions on hold to be "mean" in any way. We do it to avoid being mean. Putting a question on hold is how we keep people from wasting time answering the wrong question. Once the question has been fixed, as long as it's on topic for us, it's typically reopened fairly quickly. For future questions, you may be interested in the question sandbox, where many such issues can be worked out early. Using the sandbox is by no means required, but it is sometimes handy. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Sep 1, 2017 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ Some would say that this is exactly what Putin did in USA's presidential election. $\endgroup$
    – CaM
    Sep 1, 2017 at 12:12

3 Answers 3


I do not think this counts as democracy, but you ask what would happen:

Firstly, people are generally motivated by self-interest, so you need to consider how this plays out in this scenario.

If they see no particular benefit to themselves, they are less likely to vote or, if obliged to, to particularly care about the consequences in quite the same way as they would voting for their own government. In some cases this could be effectively random.

They may, altruistically, see this as an opportunity to do the best for another people and make what they consider as the best choices for another people of whom they are not a part. However, not being a part of the direct consequences, they will not have this particular perspective to inform their choices.

They may, malevolently or for amusement or for experimentation, deliberately make bad or suspect decisions. These do not necessarily turn out bad, but the motivation itself is bad and will sooner or later cause problems.

However, the full scenario is that the other people will be reciprocating, voting for the government of the first people. This establishes a feedback loop and this is very very bad.

Essentially, this creates a situation where the population of one state can blame the shortcomings of their government (and all governments have shortcomings and make mistakes) on the population of another state, over which they have a reciprocal control. Now we have the motivation of Revenge with the political system in effective collapse with even the government blaming an electorate over which it has no authority or control.

I think it would end in resentment, hostility, and finally war.

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    $\begingroup$ a people are more likely to tolerate their own mistakes rather than someone else's. $\endgroup$
    – Lee Leon
    Sep 1, 2017 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ I like the other answers for how they describe how it would fail because it doesn't include the good parts of democracy, but your answer very concretely states the consequences. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2017 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ Another option is that they altruistically pick what they would have for themselves but it goes badly because it doesn't work for the people it affects. $\endgroup$
    – jpmc26
    Sep 1, 2017 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ People aren't altruistic enough, if you design your government system for the dregs of society your government will work well. $\endgroup$
    – Pliny
    Sep 1, 2017 at 23:28
  • $\begingroup$ "They may, malevolently or for amusement or for experimentation, deliberately make bad or suspect decisions." Case in point: the US state of Nebraska held an online vote for their license plate design a few years back. CollegeHumor.com thought it would be funny to send all their users to vote for the "most boring" option. It worked--until the state figured out that the voting had been compromised and changed the winner. $\endgroup$
    – DLosc
    Sep 2, 2017 at 7:13

If people were eager to being ruled by foreigners, empires would last much longer.

The key of democracy IS the self interest (someone says Communism has failed just because it neglects people's self interest). When I, as a voter, use my right to vote, I choose the person who better can protect my interest.

The assumption is then that

  • the electors choose in a logic way


  • are able to balance long term with short term interest (i.e. do I prefer a higher salary with no government enforced pension saving, or a lower salary with government enforced pension saving?),

and that

  • the elected will stitch to their promises

I think we agree that this is more ideal than practical, but still the only reason why it works is that the same voters who did a choice will bear the consequences of that choice. Simply said, if I know that pushing the red button will trigger a hammer to hit my toe I will be cautious in not touching it. If the hammer will hit Joe's toe, why should I care?

If you remove this layer, you end up in pretty easy bribing and corruption. Whoever gets to vote for country A will simply sell the vote to the highest bid, who cares if he is a psychopath or a total incapable politician?

If you use a cross over to overcome this (country A votes for B government and vice versa), you still have to overcome the different culture. Now just think on the different sensibility on almost all given topics that there is among countries (i.e. weapon controls in USA vs Europe, with Texans electing the Norwegian parliament and Norwegians electing the Texas parliament), and you can realize that the mess you create is way higher than the benefit.

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    $\begingroup$ You would care because Joe has a hammer too. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2017 at 11:01
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    $\begingroup$ I think your pension saving example would be better as something like: do I prefer a higher salary with no government-required pension saving (meaning I have to save on my own if I want to have money once I retire), or a lower salary but the government takes care of pension saving for me (meaning I don't have to think about it)? When stated that way, I suspect it's far less clear-cut for most people, even if in the original case people (individually, not necessarily collectively) would choose one over the other. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Sep 1, 2017 at 11:09
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    $\begingroup$ "If people were eager to being ruled by foreigners, empires would last much longer." I would move that up to be a TL;DR; summary of that excellent post. :) $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Sep 1, 2017 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ "If you remove this layer, you end up in pretty easy bribing and corruption. Whoever gets to vote for country A will simply sell the vote to the highest bid, who cares if he is a psychopath or a total incapable politician?" Sounds like the world we have today in the US. Congress votes on laws that have attached riders/amendments that protect themselves and their aides from having to be governed by the same laws that they cast votes on. $\endgroup$
    – Beltalowda
    Sep 1, 2017 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling - You can't do what you did. You can't present both sides of an issue in a neutral way so the voter understands the difference between choices. That would shatter everything the modern day media and politicians have worked so hard to prevent. An ignorant voter is so easy to manipulate. An informed one..another matter...it could destroy the government. e.g. Do you believe every citizen should have access to healthcare coverage? Who is going to say no? Would you be willing to give upwards of $15,000+ per year so every citizen can have access would give very different answers. $\endgroup$
    – Dunk
    Sep 1, 2017 at 23:03

No, because it negates the good points of democracy

Any system of government works as long as people accept it, either because they want to accept it or they are forced to accept it. Democracy works because people are the most willing to accept that system over others. And the reason that people tend to accept it is because...

  1. you get a say in matters that affect your life
  2. no-one is given more or less of a voice in these matters than you.

Self-determination and fairness are the two big selling-points of democracy, which means that it wins over for instance meritocracy. Democracy is not a popular system "just 'cause". It is popular (pun unintended, but fitting) because it has these attractive qualities as a system of governance, and it aligns well with our universal human rights.

Your system however kills those selling-points. You do not get a say in the matters that affect your own life. And it is unfair because someone else gets a say in these matters that concerns you, while you yourself have no say in them. And vice versa, you are made "better" than the people in the area that you vote for.

Your system it kills the things that make democracy an attractive system of governance to begin with. It disables the good qualities about democracy, and you also get the downsides of democracy, such as the lamentable fact that voters are allowed to vote without actually being informed about the choices.

For the reasons mentioned above — all the downsides of democracy while killing the positive aspects of it — your system will not not be accepted by people, and as such it will most likely not work.

As a last note: if you are going to be forced to be ruled by others, I think you would actually prefer the aforementioned meritocracy rather being ruled by uninformed popular masses.


LATE EDIT: For a much higher level of discussion about what makes a populace accept their government, read the Wikipedia article on 'Legitimacy', since that is the concept we are essentially talking about there. I am just giving a really dumbed down version of it above.

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    $\begingroup$ Remember that essentially all self-proclaimed democraties and in fact more or less closer to being oligarchical depending on the country in question. So what you actually have to do is, not so much give people a political system which is equitable and allows for self-determination, but make them believe that it does. $\endgroup$
    – AngelPray
    Sep 1, 2017 at 9:50
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    $\begingroup$ @AngelPray Do not get me started on rhetoric like that because I hate it with a passion. Yes, I know democracy is not perfect. Yes I know that the intents and principles of democracy, versus the realpolitik of the implementations of democracy are not perfectly synced. I will just leave it at that and say that your final sentence aligns with my post: the systems that people accept are the ones that work. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Sep 1, 2017 at 9:56
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. Could you provide sources or evidence for the claim, that acceptance is more important that policy? $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2017 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ A bad policy will make people not accept the system. For example, there are non-democracies out there today — such as Singapore and China — that are highly functional and where the population is in relative contentment, because the policy works well enough to provide for people so they accept it enough for it to keep going. The opposite, where the policy is bad and the system fails because of popular discontent — despite being democratic — would be France, that are now on their fifth democratic republic since after the revolution. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Sep 1, 2017 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisWohlert I made a late edit. Check the link to the Wikipedia article on Legitimacy. As L.Dutch brilliantly put it above: if people thought that a foreign elected government was legitimate, then we would have a lot more empires remaining in the world. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Sep 1, 2017 at 12:25

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