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20131124 Democracy and Ignorance


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It’s a very interesting analysis of American democracy from the point of view of voters’ competency and its consequences in the management of the country. First of all it establishes the level of political ignorance as very high based on questionnaires conducted over significant period of time. Obviously there is now surprise here.

However it goes not just beyond usual laments about stupidity of the voters, but into much more interesting discussion of rationality of voters’ low level of political knowledge. It reviews various theories of democracy such as retrospective voting, Burkean Trusteeship, Majority views representation, Deliberative Democracy, and Pure Proceduralist Theories of Democracy.

Another interesting and unusual approach is to look at the problem when voters know too much. The interesting conclusion here is that yes, voters could know too much when knowledge is combined with “bad” values. There is seems to be not completely conscious assumption that there is somebody outside who knows what the “good” outcome should be. Here I think we are going into very core issue with democracy – whether democracy is acceptable, as simple rule of majority or it should be tempered by “elite” so non-elite would not do evil due to its bad values. The example is racist population deceived by elite politician who pretends to be more racist that he is in order to get power. For me there are two big problems here. One is that elite usually has a lot worse values then regular people. The second one is that deception in itself is not a good value whatever justification politicians could come with. For both of these reasons I believe that pure majoritarian democracy is not much different then tyranny. Only democracy restricted by external set of non-violable values either religious such as 10 commandments or humanitarian such as American bill of rights could provide for a system leading to freedom and consequently to prosperity.

The next discussion is pretty convincing essay on rationality of political ignorance due to the simple fact that it is not rational to spend much time on knowledge acquisition of resulting improvement in decision-making has negligible impact on reality, because one vote is not deciding anything.

Another highly insightful analysis is provided for Foot Voting vs. Ballot Box voting. In other words people are moving to another place where conditions are better for them. Being immigrant, this discussion is very close to my heart. I more then fully agree that such voting is immeasurably more effective and knowledgeable because of high stakes involved. I think we all would be a lot better off if this kind of voting occurred with higher frequency and more information about results provided to everybody.

The weakest part of this book, in my opinion, comes at the end when different solutions provided to improve voting process. I think that it is completely wrong approach. What we really need, if we are serious about improving lives, is movement away from big decisions made based on majority rule and towards maximization of individual freedom, the only way when individuals could possible pursue their happiness successfully. There is no need really to justify it in any way other then simple pointing to the fact that all individuals are different and therefore it could not possibly be one size of happiness that fits all.

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