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People Aren’t Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say

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

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