Monday, August 11, 2008

Check and Balance

The US government is usually portrayed as a system of checks and balances. It occurred to me that much more of our system is based on checks and balances than just the 3 branches of government. For example:

Our market system is based on checks and balances -- consumers' unlimited demands are checked by producer's prices. Producers' unlimited desire for profit is checked by consumer choice. Producers' willingness to take shortcuts in ways consumers' can't identify or fight is checked by the regulators. Regulators are checked by the laws of the legislature.

It also occurs to me that the vote is better seen in terms of check and balance than as actually determining our leaders. Everybody knows an individual vote is never of any significance, because the margin of victory is always more than one. However, the vote does function as a check and balance -- because elected officials are (at least somewhat) checked by the reality that if they tick off the electorate, they'll get fired. We don't get to decide who leads us -- our leaders are selected by party officials, lobbyists, special interests, and connections of the rich. But the leaders we don't get to select are bound by the reality that if they piss enough of us off, they'll get fired. It's not really a representative government -- but it is a check and balance. Seen in that light, it seems less naively noble; but at the same time, it appears to actually accomplish its purpose.

Wittingly or unwittingly, our system appears to work because it makes sure nobody has unbridled choice, but everybody has an incentive to push their own agenda.

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