Have you ever been told that the guaranteed opportunity to make collective choices through the democratic process (one person, one vote) is an indispensable corrective for the system of capitalism where decisions are made in an inherently undemocratic way (one dollar, one vote)? Now you can tell your progressive friend that the exact opposite is true. In the political market you almost never get what you want. Democracy forces you to choose whole baskets of goods. In each of those baskets you may see items that you like while finding others totally repulsive.
Let’s say that you are a decent human being who values life as does Gov. Mitt Romney but, despite the evidence of the past four years, you still believe President Barack Obama is the man to fix the economy. Our democracy offers you only two combos. One of those contains the promise of more jobs but also a firm guarantee of abortion on demand. The other has all the unknowns of an economic policy swing in the middle of a lousy recovery from a global financial crisis but also the promise of saving the lives of millions of unborn babies. Since not every Christian would see this choice the same way, the Christian vote will be split in November.
Now imagine if the market for goods was as “democratic” as the market for politicians. You go to a restaurant and ask for roasted chicken. The waiter brings your plate and you find out that it comes smeared with peanut butter. What? You tell the guy that you are allergic to peanuts. He offers you the only other item on the menu: salad. Good, you think, just the diet the doctor recommended for your elevated cholesterol levels. Then you learn that to eat the salad you have to consume first three slices of deep-dish pepperoni pizza with extra cheese. You are Jewish and don’t eat pork? Cheese gives you indigestion? You think that it’s better to skip dinner? Sorry, even if you refuse to eat, one fifth of the other customers will pick one or the other and force you to consume it.
Providentially for us, says Madsen Pirie in Nine Lies About Capitalism, the market allows individuals to vote for their products “one at a time, preferring some, and rejecting others.” In November we will be forced to accept the choice of the majority of those who cast their votes. It is likely that 300 million Americans will live for the next four years with a president selected by 60 million of them. In contrast, capitalism allows me to replace the shoes that I find uncomfortable without obtaining my neighbour’s approval. I can do it at any time. And that, notes Pirie, is real democracy!