In Italy today, parties representing taxi driver unions or shopkeepers aren’t about to favor making their clients’ lives more difficult through open competition. Public employees will resist cuts in jobs and benefits. Bankers will use their influence with legislators to avoid regulation. The rich will block higher taxes.
Giving voters a bigger say through direct instead of representative democracy can’t be the answer either. If put to a popular vote, what pensioner would be in favor of trimming the generous social contract he or she has come to expect even if the collective Italian purse can’t afford it?
As can be seen in California, where the direct democracy of the initiative process dominates governance, rational self-interest expressed by voters at the ballot box can add up to the wholesale madness of unintended consequences. As the result of a series of initiatives over the years slashing property taxes and seeking to punish criminals, California now absurdly spends more on prisons than on higher education, undermining the building blocks of its future.
Direct democracy is an especially bad idea in America’s Diet Coke culture, where people seem to want consumption without savings and government without taxes just like they want sweetness without calories. To make the situation worse, special-interest money, sanctioned by the US Supreme Court as “free speech” (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) easily distorts and manipulates honest discourse in any political campaign.