Democracy: masses of voters selecting among bidders for power, with only their own interests to restrain the choice, and little to restrain the bids offered.
What's best for an individual is not always good for society, and vice-versa. When the decision is made by a citizen alone in a voting booth, that citizen's needs are in the booth with him; the needs of society are outside the curtain, and often enough, so is his conscience.
At the next level, where the votes are counted, the people who count them work for elected politicians powerfully interested in the outcome. Today's electronic voting machines are supplied by a small handful of specialists, some tinged with corruption, selected and paid for by those same political interests. There is often insufficient proof of the result of the machine counts, and the process isn't fully protected from hackers. Hand recounts of punched-card and paper ballots show both human error and political interference, a result of which is this Law of Close Elections:
A close election will be won by the party in power.
Democracy is an inherently corrupt process; it reflects the duality of human nature, the conflict between personal and social values. Plato disdained it. The Founders tried to reduce corruption with opposing interests -- separation of powers -- to check each other. That helps, but it but doesn't remove what Adam Smith said in The Wealth of Nations:
...they are likely to make a common cause, to be all very indulgent to one another, and every man to consent that his neighbor may neglect his duty, provided he himself is allowed to neglect his own.
Thomas B. Macaulay famously described the Constitution as "all sail and no anchor."
U.S. labor unions provide an example of the problematic blessings of democracy; union leaders elected by the members must be politicians. They promise benefits to voters in competition with other candidates, and elections follow elections, so benefits must always grow. They can never be enough. When the merry-go-round stops, another candidate will offer more. That helped the American auto industry lose competitiveness and jobs.
Unions shifted to organizing government, moving government employment from below- to above-average compensation of the private sector and moving the respective unionizations to a four-to-one ratio in favor of government. To do that, unions contributed heavily to politicians, who in turn supported the union goals with public power and resources -- a corrupt partnership.
With unemployment and falling tax revenue, both private-sector and public unions face shrinkage and have less to offer in exchange for dues. Private-sector unions are weakened by layoffs, business failures, and bankruptcy filings that abrogate labor contracts; public unions lean on politicians, demanding that the suffering be diverted to taxpayers. Thus budgetary paralysis in California, Illinois, and other states, counties, and cities, though many have raised taxes. A few are resisting their unions, resulting in demands for federal bailouts to follow the now-declining "stimulus." Public employees are protected as long as possible.
These show how democratic processes corrupt, how corruption progresses, and how resources shift from productive private hands to unproductive government as a result.
Now examine the federal government: The Progressive movement rode the distress of the industrialization of North America and the Civil War. Progressives wanted government to implement their programs; success began with the Interstate Commerce and Sherman Antitrust Acts of 1887 and 1890. The first Progressive presidents, Republican Theodore Roosevelt and Democrat Woodrow Wilson, both expanded government. Republican Progressive Herbert Hoover expanded government and spending against the Great Depression -- ideas that his successor, Franklin Roosevelt, campaigned against and adopted without success, as his Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. freely admitted to Congress in 1937. Roosevelt's now-insolvent, deficit-financed Social Security remains exhibit A of how democracy sickens on its contradictions -- politicians elected on-short term promises that cannot be sustained in the long term.
Democrat Roosevelt debased the currency by abrogating the gold standard, a process completed by Republican Richard Nixon, as the gold standard interfered with deficits. Roosevelt's advisor Harry Hopkins is quoted thus: "We will tax and tax, and we will spend and spend, and we will elect and elect."
That has followed, recently with George Bush's Medicare prescriptions coverage while conducting two wars, followed by Barack Obama's one-upmanship with ObamaCare, the same two wars, and a depression. Votes are bought at rising prices.
Democratic politics is expensive, so politicians need money. Business and unions supply it for favors. Taxpayers pay too much for goods and see their jobs head overseas in resulting economic distortions. Spending has reached deficits; the Treasury borrows to finance them. Taxpayers will repay with interest, and as long as they have received their benefits, they don't care.
Margaret Thatcher called it socialism. She said that the trouble is, sooner or later you run out of other people's money. Socialism or not, it seems inherent in democratic government. History has yet to supply a long-lasting democracy, which is one reason why the Founders gave us a federal republic with separation of powers.
Progressives convinced voters to give up three basic bulwarks against centralized power in 1913: taking senatorial selection from the states, vastly expanding federal revenue with the income tax, and setting up the Fed, the country's third central bank, to control money and banking.
Progressivism has progressed; now the president can take over the auto industry, hiring and firing executives and handing the leftovers to the unions while refusing to pay bondholders what they are owed; he can force Congress to hand him the entire field of medical care plus the student loan industry. He can run up or back off wars almost at will, and his regulators decide much that citizens are allowed or denied.
He can't spend the country rich; there is no money, only debt, but he spends anyway. Bernard Madoff lied, spent other people's money, and went to jail; the president says we are recovering by spending taxpayers' money and is considered a savior. The economy, not knowing how to do what he tells it to, pays no attention and sinks.
No politician will stop the wild ride to sort out the finances; the pain from immediate greater unemployment will cost him election. He will keep his job while awaiting ultimate collapse and much greater but later pain. The democratic process rewards him for corruption and punishes him for honesty.
Freedom and government are contradictory. Democratic processes have favored the growth of government power in U.S. history, and individual freedom has diminished. Unless a lot of voters disagree, that looks like the way which will prevail.