Man Without Qualities

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Deliberation Day

Someone at OpinionJournal thinks that Deliberation Day is a bad idea, and I agree. I started composing a post outlining why I think it is such a bad idea and how the ideas that lead to it's proposal are intertwined with lots of other really bad ideas, and then I realized that Richard Posner had already done a lot of the work and said a lot of the things I would have said, only better:

The proposal by Professors Ackerman and Fishkin for a Deliberation Day, on which citizens lured by federal financial incentives would engage in collective deliberation over issues and candidates in the forthcoming national election, seems to me to misunderstand what modern political democracy is and should be. ... It was a genuine and in many respects progressive and attractive system of self-rule, but one utterly irrelevant to a vast and complex modern polity such as the United States or, for that matter, a small and complex polity such as Belgium.

Modern democracy, for reasons of efficiency and feasibility, is representative democracy, which involves a division between rulers and ruled. The rulers are officials who are drawn from—to be realistic—a governing class consisting of ambitious, determined, and charismatic seekers of power, and the role of the citizenry is to vote candidates for officialdom in and out of office on the basis of their perceived leadership qualities and policy preferences. The system exploits the division of labor and resembles the economic market, in which sellers and consumers constitute distinct classes. In the marketplace, the slogan “consumer sovereignty” signifies that the essentially negative power of the consumer—the power not to buy a particular product, a power to choose though not to create—constrains the behavior of sellers despite the vast gulf of knowledge and incentives that separates sellers and consumers. The same relationship exists between politicians and voters.

There is no Deliberation Day on which consumers engage in collective deliberation over competing brands of toasters or about whether to use microwave ovens instead. Consumers economize on their time by responding to alternative sales pitches and using their experience of particular sellers and products to guide their evaluation of the pitches. It is the same in the political marketplace. Voters are guided by their reactions to the presentation of issues and candidates in political campaigns and by their experience of living under particular officials and particular policies.

Arthur Lupia also has good observations.

One might also note that Judge Posner's thinking can be extended to explain why many (perhaps most) people simply should not vote at all, just as many investors should be satisfied with being "free riders" on an efficient securities market. The parallel is not perfect, of course, because the political market ("marketplace of ideas") is not nearly as transparent or efficient as the American public securities markets. But there is a lot of efficiency, and, to the extent the market place of ideas is inefficient, that can in some circumstances be reason to leave the voting (pricing) to the relative experts.

Something for many (but, obviously, not all) people to remember when the Goo-Goos come a-calling near election day: Support Democracy. Don't Vote. Fortunately, lots of them do remember. [MINOR UPDATE: These two last paragraphs are, obviously, not criticisms of Deliberation Day itself, and it is quite irrelevant to what is said here that A&F are well aware that political activity has low utility for most citizens. Further, the problem identified and addressed by classical portfolio theory is not that investing in public stocks is of low utility for most investors. The problem is that most investors cannot and should not try to make individualized investment decisions because other investor know so much more - so most investors should simply buy a market-weighted basket of securities and hold them. One cannot "solve" the portfolio creation problem by holding an "Investors Deliberation Day" and having everyone talk about stock investment issues. The stock markets are never-ending "Investors Deliberation Day" in which the people who are best at picking stocks do most of the talking - and everyone else just listens and takes the market price. To some (highly imperfect) extent the "marketplace of ideas" is like the stock market - and that suggests that many voters should do something other than trying to make personal individualized decisions about individual candidates. Staying home and letting more knowledgeable people vote is one possibility. Voting a straight party line is another. Following the advice of a trusted political analyst or friend is a third.]

I'm sure Jim Fishkin is well intentioned. But, actually, I think his (ex-?) wife, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, one of the world's great champions of Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn, in particular, is more likely to leave the world a better place.

MORE: From Robert Prather, and, through his post, Steven Taylor and Chris Lawrence.

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