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People Aren’t Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say - Open Knowledge — LiveJournal

Feb. 28th, 2012

11:10 pm - People Aren’t Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say

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Originally published at craschworks. You can comment here or there.

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Via LiveScience:

 

The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens (the majority of them, at least) can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea, when they see it. But a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies.

The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people’s ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify thecandidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments.

As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, “very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is,” Dunning told Life’s Little Mysteries.

You often see laments that most people don’t vote.  However, that’s probably fortunate–most people are ignorant, irrational, and systemically biased toward bad policies. Just one example: according to a recent poll (1), the average American thinks that foreign aid makes up 25% of the Federal budget. It actually makes up about 1%. Do you really want people so ignorant influencing how your tax money is spent?

 

Rather than focus on encouraging more participation by irrational rubes, I think we should be thinking more about how to design a system that heavily weights the opinion of the well-informed, rational, and fair-minded experts. The two that look the most promising to me are futarchy:

 

http://hanson.gmu.edu/futarchy.html

 

…and social impact/policy bonds:

 

http://socialgoals.com/spbs600words.html 

http://www.socialfinance.org.uk/work/sibs/criminaljustice

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/09/business/economy/09leonhardt.html

http://www.economist.com/node/18180436

 

(1) http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-foreign-aid/2011/04/25/AF00z05E_story.html

Comments:

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From:bandicoot
Date:February 29th, 2012 06:22 am (UTC)
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Elitist bullshit from the left side of the aisle. You need "experts" to run government and tell you how to live. And who picks the "experts"?? Other "experts". Obviously they're the only ones (self) qualified. Pfffth.

As far as I'm concerned, you could pick some ignorant non-expert person at random from a random phone book to serve as President and have them do as good a job as the one we're currently burdened with.
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[User Picture]
From:crasch
Date:March 1st, 2012 07:47 pm (UTC)
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As anyone who reads my blog is aware, I'm for getting the government out of our lives as much as possible.

However, to the extent that we have a government, policy should be made by informed experts, not irrational dunces. If you follow the links I provided, I'm not at all for a self-selected cabal of "self-proclaimed" experts, but for people who have repeatedly proven themselves right by wagering their own money.
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[User Picture]
From:crasch
Date:March 1st, 2012 08:02 pm (UTC)
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I'm a voracious consumer of information and quite intensely interested in politics. Yet I feel qualified to judge only a small number of political questions. I think expecting people to be adequately informed about all the issues they're expected to vote on is an impossible task. It's sort of like saying people should be their own brain surgeon or their own mechanic. Instead, I think that we should be finding systems to identify and follow the people who are actually informed, rational experts on any given issue.
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