What’s behind the dangerous new notion that democracy should be left to the well-educated?

Screenshot_20230503-140157 Asks Democracy, a Journal of Ideas. They are less than complimentary about that nice Bryan Caplan, but it is his twat that alerts me to the article. But then again, they haven't understood what Bryan, or the Libertarians or the Free-Marketeers are saying; so their attempts to have a conversation are doomed to failure.

To give the overall answer first, Bryan's view - well, and mine, but he is rather more famous, and for all I know I got it from him - is that democracy doesn't work very well in a number of respects1, that free markets are to be preferred when possible, and so the ideal direction to aim in is to push more decision-making into FM and out of D. This is of course entirely against the tenor of the times - so much so that the authors of our piece aren't even able to read it.

I continue with some quibbles: railing that Donald Trump was elected against the wishes of the majority of American voters is foolish. He was validly elected, get over it, stop whinging. Worse, this is an unreasoned attack on anything-but-simple-majoritarian-D and that is bad, because of the amount of unreason in that area is already too large. My view is that you have bigger problems; and especially if you're trying to start a conversation, leading off with partisanship is foolish.

The main bugbears of the article are Some right-wing intellectuals... argue that democracy should be shrunk down or even replaced by new systems of rule, where the intelligent and knowledgeable (i.e., those who believe in neoclassical economics and efficient markets) would be privileged over those too foolish and uninformed to understand their own best interests. Firstly, the "i.e. those who" is wrong; but that barely matters because while there are those arguing for limited francise (or so I assume; I don't read them) there are few and they aren't important, because - duh - it just isn't going to happen. There are far too many dumb schmucks out there who know very little, but they know that getting their pork off the state depends on them having a vote - in some obscure way that they don't understand and don't need to - and so are not going to give up that token-entitlement.

The solution to D's woes? Fixing democracy will require a myriad of reforms. Just in the United States, this includes preventing gerrymandering, getting rid of the filibuster, guaranteeing voting rights, and constraining the power of an anti-democratic Supreme Court. This is nonsense of course: the Supremes aren't anti-democratic, indeed technically they come to their decisions by voting; they just aren't elected by the bulk of the population, thank goodness. Putting them under democractic control would be a bad idea. As to the rest of the wish-list, I would be happy to see less gerrymandering; hating the filibuster just smacks of impatience; and you have all your voting rights already2. Further down he posits the brilliant idea that we should start experimenting with new institutions that might better harness disagreement; but this works rather better unconstrained by govt.

Penultimately, our authors have got the std critique wrong: it isn't that pols and voters are stupid and that clever people could do better; it is that pols are human beings; voters rationally put little thought into their voting; and people do better looking after their own affairs than other people's; that the right answer is seldom obvious and will rarely be found by something imposed top-down but is more likely found by experiment.

Anyway, that's enough ripping up their stuff. To return to what I'm pushing: coercion is bad, monopoly is bad, therefore govt is bad. And yet, some govt is needed. And yet, that doesn't mean that all the govt we have is needed; indeed, most of it isn't, and we would be better off served by people acting freely.

Oh, and lastly, I forgot to throw out the usual: D is a means to and end - flourishing society - not an end in itself; it has no intrinsic virtue, unlike freedom which has. See-also Meritocracy, democracy and competition.


Two views of democracy.

* What to DO about big problems?

Aristotle's politics.

* The Tyranny of Merit?

In Defense of Merit in Science twat Dawkins.

Political Capitalism: How Economic and Political Power is Made and Maintained.

Comparing Physician and Artificial Intelligence Chatbot Responses to Patient Questions Posted to a Public Social Media Forum.

Book review: Saving the Appearances - Owen Barfield.

Book review: Eversion.

All the arguments against EVs are wrong.

* The Volokh Conspiracy: A Flawed Attack on "Libertarian Elitism" About Voter Ignorance: ILYA SOMIN.

* And just so I can maybe find this one day in the future: delegitimising the Supremes / SCOTUS for your own political benefit because "the other guys" are in control is bad / reckless / foolish; e.g. see Michael Shellenberger (for it is he) criticising Pelosi.


1. Anyone mindlessly quoting Churchill in response will be spammed, as a sort-of Godwinning. Incidentally, in a jibe that I've only just thought of: that politics works badly is shown rather well by the sort of people you see at the top.

2. Recently, the UK has introduced photo-ID for voting. This is a shameless attempt by the Tories to disenfranchise some Labour folk but I don't care; voting is taken entirely too much for granted; anyone who can't be bothered to get themselves one of the many valid forms of ID doesn't deserve to vote.


Tom said...

Rather than Churchill, let's try Heinlein:

"Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How's that again? I missed something. Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men. Let's play that over again, too. Who decides?"

William M. Connolley said...

My teenage self couldn't read TEFL, RAH's wish-fulfilment gets a bit too strong there. I'll defend Starship Troopers though.

As to the thought: well it is very RAH-in-a-bar kind of stuff; and its wrong, obvs. Representative D, which is what everyone means by D, makes no such assumption, if anything the reverse: it hopes that the one chosen man will be wiser than the million that chose him. "is based on" is unclear; does he mean the theoretical, or practical justification? The practical justification for Autocracy is generally brute power. I know, its just a crappy novel, he doesn't have book space to define his terms; but this is cowardly of him. He was famous. Had he wanted to, he could have written down a political philosophy as a book. I suspect that he realised that he'd fail at that, and so stuck to wisecracking.

Tom said...

You do have a habit of highlighting the weaknesses of people and, umm.... weblogs that I like. And here, as usual, you're right (although JC is not a bozo!).

The Heinlein book you would defend reserves the voting franchise to those who serve. Would that suit you better?

William M. Connolley said...

I'm always glad to help. Although as I've said myself, picking flaws in other people's work is much easier than creating your own; I have in mind a project for that, but it will be slow. I don't know who you mean by JC referred to here... if you mean Judith Curry I might venture to disagree.

As to Starship Troopers: I would defend the book as a whole, see the linked article. The franchise-limited-to-veterans is a thought; though it has severe problems as I note in my review and, despite the length he describes it at, is more of a throwaway gesture than a fully fledged proposal. I doubt it can be rescued, and I doubt even more that there is any path from where-we-are-now that ends up there.

William M. Connolley said...

A nice analogy from Following Their Leaders: Anchor and Derivative Preferences comes to hand: "If shopping were done in supermarkets as it is done in elections, competing candidates would fill shopping carts with items they wanted to offer the voters, and voters would then be offered the choice of a cart filled by one candidate or another. Rather than shoppers personally deciding what would go into their carts, candidates would decide, and shoppers would be offered only the choice of carts filled by one of the candidates. To extend the analogy, supporting a party or candidate means expressing a preference for everything in that candidate’s cart. If shopping were done this way, it’s all but certain that everyone’s cart will lack many desired items and contain other items they’d never buy if it were up to them. But since the contents of the cart isn’t up to them, voters simply go along with whatever the bundle contains". I'd hope we could all agree that this is correct, and represents an undesirable feature of politics; you're also free to assert that it is inevitable.

William M. Connolley said...

Incidentally, since I now realise I reviewed it recently, in Glory Road he has yet another go at proposing a system of govt, which is even worse.

Tom said...

Well, you're correct again, but I think it's kinda cool that we're talking about his ideas in 2023. He was just a storyteller for teens for such a long time. And he was kind of a one-trick pony at that. But I gotta say that Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress were as good as sci-fi gets.

William M. Connolley said...

It looks as thought Vivek Ramaswamy has been reading Starship Troopers too: Vivek supports a constitutional amendment to implement Civic Duty Voting amongst Americans aged 18-25. In substance, this amendment will increase the standard voting age to 25, while still allowing all Americans to vote at age 18 if they meet a national service requirement (at least 6 months in the military or a first responder role) or else pass the same civics test required of naturalized citizens. But its the usual mixed-up wishlist wish-fulfilment stuff. Apart from anything else: the choice of 6 months work or a civics test is mad. The test is clearly waay less work, for anyone not to dumb to fail it, and who would want anyone dumb enough to fail it in the military?

Tom said...

Ummm... their leaders?