Propelled by the belief that government has slipped out of the hands of ordinary citizens, a surging wave of populism is destabilizing democracies around the world. As John Matsusaka reveals in Let the People Rule, this belief is based in fact. Over the past century, while democratic governments have become more efficient, they have also become more disconnected from the people they purport to represent. The solution Matsusaka advances is familiar but surprisingly underused: direct democracy, in the form of referendums. While this might seem like a dangerous idea post-Brexit, there is a great deal of evidence that, with careful design and thoughtful implementation, referendums can help bridge the growing gulf between the government and the people.
Drawing on examples from around the world, Matsusaka shows how direct democracy can bring policies back in line with the will of the people (and provide other benefits, like curbing corruption). Taking lessons from failed processes like Brexit, he also describes what issues are best suited to referendums and how they should be designed, and he tackles questions that have long vexed direct democracy: can voters be trusted to choose reasonable policies, and can minority rights survive majority decisions? The result is one of the most comprehensive examinations of direct democracy to date—coupled with concrete, nonpartisan proposals for how countries can make the most of the powerful tools that referendums offer.
With a crisis of representation hobbling democracies across the globe, Let the People Rule offers important new ideas about the crucial role the referendum can play in the future of government.
John G. Matsusaka is the Charles F. Sexton Chair in American Enterprise at the Marshall School of Business and the Gould School of Law at the University of Southern California, where he also serves as executive director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute. He is the author of For the Many or the Few: The Initiative, Public Policy, and American Democracy and lives in Los Angeles.
"John Matsusaka, America's leading scholar of direct democracy, makes a powerful case to the world: Don't dismiss today's critics of democracy. Engage them in the work of enhancing the democratic power of regular citizens everywhere. This is a great book."—Joe Mathews, copresident of the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy
"Let the People Rule proposes a provocative yet compelling remedy to the populist challenge to modern American democracy: make it more democratic by expanding direct democracy to the national level. Building on a vast body of scholarship, hundreds of real-world examples, and three decades of experience as a preeminent direct-democracy scholar, Matsusaka systematically dispels misconceptions about direct citizen participation in lawmaking and carefully builds his case for reform. The result is a practical guide with powerful potential."—Elisabeth R. Gerber, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan
"In a post-Brexit world, where government by the people is questioned even in the most democratic circles, Matsusaka presents an original counternarrative supported by careful empirical work, providing a feasible path forward for representative democracy."—Luigi Zingales, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and cohost of the Capitalisn’t podcast
"Is the cure for populist anger around the world giving voters a greater say in governance through direct democracy? In Let the People Rule, John Matsusaka makes this counterintuitive argument by resorting to evidence and reason, not inflammatory rhetoric. A crucial, clearly written book for those who care about the fate of advanced democracies."—Richard L. Hasen, author of Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy
"Let the People Rule is the defining political book of our era. Drawing on evidence from the United States and other democracies, it shows how initiatives and referendums provide a safety valve for populist discontent. This enlightening book proves that democracy is best taught by practicing it. An instant classic!"—Matt Qvortrup, editor of the European Political Science Review