Unanimity without conformity (or: Democracy is not our goal)

One of the worthiest insights I picked up on while reading the works of Milton Friedman recently deals with the nature of democracy, or majority rule, as it relates to the decisions made by individuals as they go about their daily lives. Living in the United States, we are taught that democracy is the most effective political arrangement, but how far should the rule of the majority apply? I’ll quote one of the excellent passages from Capitalism and Freedom:

The ideal is unanimity among responsible individuals achieved on the basis of free and full discussion… From this standpoint, the role of the market, as already noted, is that it permits unanimity without conformity; that it is a system of effectively proportional representation. On the other hand, the characteristic feature of action through explicitly political channels is that it tends to require or to enforce substantial conformity. The typical issue must be decided “yes” or “no”; at most, provision can be made for a fairly limited number of alternatives.

And this quote from Free to Choose:

The ballot box produces conformity without unanimity; the marketplace, unanimity without conformity. That is why it is desirable to use the ballot box, so far as possible, only for those decisions where conformity is essential.

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