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Political Confessional: Democracy Is Overrated. I Want An Oligarchy.

Welcome to Political Confessional, a column about the views that Americans are scared to share with their friends and neighbors. If you have a political belief that you’re willing to share with us, fill out this form — we might get in touch.

Here’s Matt, a 32-year-old white man from Massachusetts who works in publishing. When Matt first got in touch, he wrote:

Democracy is pretty overrated. I would be totally content with a benevolent oligarchy making policy decisions for me. I’m not an expert in medicine, so I don’t decide who gets to be a doctor, and I’m not an expert in engine repair, so I don’t decide who gets to be a mechanic. Since I’m also not an expert in government, so why insist that I decide who governs me?

As Americans, we are so thoroughly conditioned to hold voting rights sacred and to insist that we have a say in our government. I think we’d all be a lot happier if we worried less about who was running for what office and let someone else make those decisions for us, but to a lot of people that sounds downright un-American.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Clare Malone: How did you come to this position about democracy?

Matt: Something that got me started thinking about this was all the nastiness that happened after the last presidential election. There’s this guy who was my best friend growing up and apparently he no longer speaks with his parents because of disagreements over politics. And to me, that’s just absurd. I have a particular religious conviction that the family is the fundamental unit of society. And I think that if our politics are getting in the way of that rather than enforcing it, we’re doing something wrong.

I think a lot of people get worked up over things that they aren’t in a position control, and that makes them really unhappy. People would be a lot happier if they gave themselves permission not to care about election outcomes.

CM: Do you have examples of things that people get really worked up over that they can’t actually control?

Matt: There are certain public figures who become very well-known nationally, especially in the age of having information available instantaneously. People like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for instance. She’s not my congressperson. It shouldn’t really matter to me what she’s doing. But I think most marginally informed people have heard of her, and probably all of those people have a very strong opinion of her. I’m not immune to that. But if you take a step back, why should I? Why is it worth me getting invested in what this person from a different state is talking about? I think the instinct is to take being informed as a per se good. I don’t know if that’s the best thing because, in the end, what are you going to do about that?

CM: What should people be doing with all that space that politics and news inhabits in their life?

Matt: I think attending to making yourself a better person, improving personal relationships. You could look to your community, strengthen bonds with your neighbors and local businesses and education and that sort of thing.

CM: Let’s talk about your benevolent oligarchy. What do you mean by “benevolent oligarchy”? What does it look like? What kind of policies are they enacting? Who are these people?

Matt: These are people who are genuine experts in the things they’re tasked with running. I want an economist who is going to make data-driven decisions about doing things with the economy, and I want that person to be in charge of the Federal Reserve. I want someone who has a lot of expertise in military strategy to be in charge of the armed forces, etc. I wish that we valued expertise.

CM: Don’t we have those things right now? Economists in the Fed, people in the military running the military. What would you propose, for instance, should take the place of Congress and the presidency?

Matt: I don’t know if I’ve thought that far about it. But I think in terms of listening to politicians, I really don’t like ideological, emotionally-driven arguments. Like, “Oh, we should do this because it supports freedom or supports equality or whatever.” And I really do like things that have results or things that have numbers behind them. And I think that’s a lot more of an objective way to look at things rather than, like, rhetoric.

CM: How would we select these people?

Matt: Boy, I don’t know if I’ve thought that deeply about that.

CM: Are there any countries in the world right now that you think have the right idea about their form of government?

Matt: I think a lot of it has to do with scale and how different things work better for small or big places. I was recently in Singapore. I really like the way they do things there. It’s a bit too harsh of a system for a lot of people. There’s severe fines for littering, for instance, or you can be caned for bringing drugs in the country, but on the flip side, the county’s really clean, and there’s no drugs. I don’t know if you can implement that somewhere as big and as grand as the U.S., but it’s a good experience to visit a place like that.

CM: What would be the ideal population for the democracy we have right now in the U.S.?

Matt: I think on the size of a local community. That’s something a small group of individuals can actually influence, and I think on that scale you can actually get to know your representative and there’s more of an incentive for them to represent you rather than be answerable to a party or to a radical wing of a constituency.

CM: So you’re sort of arguing that the only time our form of democracy worked was back in the 1700s when the country was actually that small.

Matt: I don’t know that I’d go that far. I think you can find counterexamples, but I think it probably works best when it’s as decentralized as possible.

CM: When you spoke about political vitriol earlier, does that have to do specifically with our democratic form, or does it stem from other things in American culture?

Matt: It’s certainly a combination. The idea that you have all the information in the world readily available when you want it is pretty new still. I don’t know if we as a society have become mature enough to use it properly. I think that would persist no matter how we’re governed. The idea of thinking you can control the outcome of an election, combined with this technological advance that we’re not really sure how to use properly, leads to a lot of emotion and things like that.

CM: You’re OK with the benevolent oligarchs making decisions for you. What happens if the oligarchy turns out to be not so benevolent and people don’t like what’s happening — at that point isn’t the only recourse to change things with violence or revolution?

Matt: I would hope not. That’s the obvious flaw in the plan. It only works out if the decision-makers are looking out for everyone’s best interests. I suspect that not everybody would be as satisfied with it, but I also just can’t help but wonder if a lot more people would be a lot more content knowing that things are well and truly out of their hands.

CM: How would you describe yourself politically?

Matt: I would describe myself as a Libertarian-leaning moderate. I used to be a lot more Libertarian, and I sort of drifted back toward the center. There’s a lot of things on both the left and the right that I’m pretty sympathetic to. But I definitely don’t think that either fringe has it right, and I don’t think that them yelling at each other is a constructive way to do things.

CM: Have you shared your anti-democracy, pro-benevolent-oligarchy opinion with other people? How do they respond?

Matt: I’ve talked to my wife about it, a few friends. As Americans, we’re conditioned from elementary school to think that the right to vote is sacred. People tell me, “Oh, you should vote anyway, it’s your duty.” I don’t agree with that.

CM: How would you respond to someone saying, “Listen, Matt, you’re a white guy, your demographic was never disenfranchised in the United States, so you don’t have the same emotional attachment to voting that we do.”

Matt: It’s true and I can’t blame them for wanting to exercise that as much as possible given, say, a person of color’s history. But I also think that the right to vote should not be the same as the compulsion to vote.

CM: Are there democracy tweaks you would make that would give us a healthier democratic system?

Matt: Abolish political parties. Emphasize local institutions, emphasize working things out at a community level instead of expecting state or federal governments to do it for you. I think any situation where somebody is guaranteed to be elected to Congress based on the party letter next to their name is not good.

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Clare Malone is a senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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