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Polls on politics, news, current affairs and history.

Can We Elect Our Own Leaders?

Yes, we're smart enough.
3
9%
Yes, intelligence doesn't matter.
7
22%
No, we're not smart enough.
16
50%
No, we have other big problems.
4
13%
Other
2
6%
#13910231
The Wisdom of Crowds wrote:One day in the fall of 1906, the British scientist Francis Galton left his home in the town of Plymouth and headed for a country fair. Galton was eighty-five years old and beginning to feel his age, but he was still brimming with the curiosity that had won him renown—and notoriety—for his work on statistics and the science of heredity. And on that particular day, what Galton was curious about was livestock.

Galton’s destination was the annual West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition, a regional fair where the local farmers and townspeople gathered to appraise the quality of each other’s cattle, sheep, chickens, horses, and pigs. Wandering through rows of stalls examining workhorses and prize hogs may seem to have been a strange way for a scientist (especially an elderly one) to spend an afternoon, but there was a certain logic to it. Galton was a man obsessed with two things: the measurement of physical and mental qualities, and breeding. And what, after all, is a livestock show but a big showcase for the effects of good and bad breeding?

Breeding mattered to Galton because he believed that only a very few people had the characteristics necessary to keep societies healthy. He had devoted much of his career to measuring those characteristics, in fact, in order to prove that the vast majority of people did not have them. At the International Exhibition of 1884 in London, for instance, he set up an “Anthropometric Laboratory,” where he used devices of his own making to test exhibition-goers on, among other things, their “Keenness of Sight and of Hearing, Colour Sense, Judgment of Eye, [and] Reaction Time.” His experiments left him with little faith in the intelligence of the average person, “the stupidity and wrong-headedness of many men and women being so great as to be scarcely credible.” Only if power and control stayed in the hands of the select, well-bred few, Galton believed, could a society remain healthy and strong.

As he walked through the exhibition that day, Galton came across a weight-judging competition. A fat ox had been selected and placed on display, and members of a gathering crowd were lining up to place wagers on the weight of the ox. (Or rather, they were placing wagers on what the weight of the ox would be after it had been “slaughtered and dressed.”) For sixpence, you could buy a stamped and numbered ticket, where you filled in your name, your address, and your estimate. The best guesses would receive prizes.

Eight hundred people tried their luck. They were a diverse lot. Many of them were butchers and farmers, who were presumably expert at judging the weight of livestock, but there were also quite a few people who had, as it were, no insider knowledge of cattle. “Many non-experts competed,” Galton wrote later in the scientific journal Nature, “like those clerks and others who have no expert knowledge of horses, but who bet on races, guided by newspapers, friends, and their own fancies.” The analogy to a democracy, in which people of radically different abilities and interests each get one vote, had suggested itself to Galton immediately. “The average competitor was probably as well fitted for making a just estimate of the dressed weight of the ox, as an average voter is of judging the merits of most political issues on which he votes,” he wrote.

Galton was interested in figuring out what the “average voter” was capable of because he wanted to prove that the average voter was capable of very little. So he turned the competition into an im-promptu experiment. When the contest was over and the prizes had been awarded, Galton borrowed the tickets from the organizers and ran a series of statistical tests on them. Galton arranged the guesses (which totaled 787 in all, after he had to discard thirteen because they were illegible) in order from highest to lowest and graphed them to see if they would form a bell curve. Then, among other things, he added all the contestants’ estimates, and calculated the mean of the group’s guesses. That number represented, you could say, the collective wisdom of the Plymouth crowd. If the crowd were a single person, that was how much it would have guessed the ox weighed.

Galton undoubtedly thought that the average guess of the group would be way off the mark. After all, mix a few very smart people with some mediocre people and a lot of dumb people, and it seems likely you’d end up with a dumb answer. But Galton was wrong. The crowd had guessed that the ox, after it had been slaughtered and dressed, would weigh 1,197 pounds. After it had been slaughtered and dressed, the ox weighed 1,198 pounds. In other words, the crowd’s judgment was essentially perfect. Perhaps breeding did not mean so much after all. Galton wrote later: “The result seems more creditable to the trustworthiness of a democratic judgment than might have been expected.” That was, to say the least, an understatement.


Or if you prefer a musical interpretation:



The idea being that people don't have to be all that smart individually in order to function well as a group.

Obviously it doesn't work perfectly (some ways it fails are listed in the book about this) but on balance I'd say it does pretty well. There's also the consideration of the alternatives - it's a lot easier for an authoritarian system to be destructive to its own people (in any number of ways) than a democracy.
#13910232
Begs the question whether politicians have to be experts. IMO they just shouldn't mess things up and make sure good officials are in charge.

Besides that lets not forget that when people don't know anything about an issue (i.e. they probably vote randomly or along party lines), the ones who are knowledgeable will tip the vote in the right direction. Unfortunately when it comes to electing politicians sympathy plays a big part.

Regarding wisdom of crowds:

Sharing Information Corrupts Wisdom of Crowds

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/ ... more-60299
#13910238
If you're ever on the show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," and you're not sure of an answer, you're better off asking the audience than phoning a friend. Why? Because the audience members who are just guessing will cancel each other out, while the ones who know the answer will boost it above the noise of the other answers. That's the wisdom of crowds.
#13910243
Paradigm wrote:If you're ever on the show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," and you're not sure of an answer, you're better off asking the audience than phoning a friend. Why? Because the audience members who are just guessing will cancel each other out, while the ones who know the answer will boost it above the noise of the other answers. That's the wisdom of crowds.


That's useful on easy questions, but on hard questions, you can end up with multiple honest answers.

You see this in politics a lot. A middle group will try to drive two honest groups against each other to make the middle group seem necessary for compromise. In reality, if the middle group didn't exist, the honest people could come to consensus.

What's fascinating in American politics is how this has been inverted. The middle group is the political establishment filled with moderates. The polar opposites are the populace filled with "ideologues" who have been brainwashed into believing they can't honestly communicate with the other side.

As a libertarian, it was easy to see this because progressives and conservatives really stand for the same emotivism, historicism, functionalism, pragmatism, consumerism, and so on. They just have different tastes, and they don't like libertarians because libertarians don't use the same methodology to make a choice. Libertarians get made fun of like monkey in the middle.
#13910254
Baff wrote:That's because they are conservatives in all but name.

It's difficult not to laugh at people who give themselves funny names and take it seriously.


Yea, I think it's because most of them are really fascists. Social conservatism was lost long ago to political correctness.

A lot of today's fiscal conservatives are also socially liberal, so they'd make good libertarians themselves, but then they go fuck all on rights to privacy and duty of care.
#13910321
No people are not smart enough for democracy. In any country the vast majority of people are thoroughly apathetic towards affairs of the state. Their overriding concern is not with politics but their own personal well being. Economics priorities thus reign supreme and as long as people have jobs and aren't going hungry they don't think much about what the government does. It's all about bread and circuses.

Even the U.S.'s founders were wary of mob rule and common people making meaningful decisions which is why we have representative republics instead of direct democracies. How democratic any state today really is itself a matter of lengthy debate. I'd argue that in any country it is truly the elite who control the affairs of the state and most democracies are in reality thinly disguised plutocracies. That's not to say voting is of no consequence, of course, but is it necessarily what's best? There is some say over which member of the elite you wind up with but that’s about it. Voting plays some role but the mechanisms for who is in power more stem from economic dominance.

With that in mind the democratic process typically winds of with cowardly, pandering and short sighted politicians. Their concern becomes less with rational affairs pertaining to the running of the state and more with trying to get through the next election cycle. Afterwards they can simply move on and dump the problem in the laps of their successors without really solving anything. This is a conundrum that exists in modern democracies where the electorate gets to pick between which status quo member of the elite they want for the next couple of years. Does this really result in a desirable outcome?

Now why would an alternative prove any better? With a leader that is less subject to the passions of the general populace, one could better take long-term, real results into account. The elites are in charge either way but now they can actually lead instead of being sniveling cowards about it. The best way to assure that this would lead to desirable outcomes is to have leaders who understand that advancing the long term national interest is also in their interest. As I mentioned people mostly care about economic prosperity and will generally ignore politics until they are knocked out of their comfort zones. Thus the best way for the leaders to legitimize their rule and be successful is by promoting rational pro-growth economic policies above all else. The elite get better off, the general populace is satisfied and nation as a whole becomes more prosperous.

As for succession the best way to the do that is to have a smooth mechanism for generational replacement. This is why monarchy has historically been such a widespread and successful form of governance. Thus agreed upon terms of office generally about 10-15 years is sufficient to allow for long periods of coherent, long-term solutions to be put in place and then for younger leaders to step up, replace them and move forward without hassle. Add in a system that favors merit and technocratic forms of governance and you wind up with more competent leadership then our current crop of boneheads who no-one seems to actually care much for anyway.
#13910330
Rugoz wrote:Regarding wisdom of crowds:

Sharing Information Corrupts Wisdom of Crowds


Right, I mentioned that it's not perfect but even with its imperfections it does pretty well. I definitely would bet on a flawed democracy than an autocracy that would have nothing stopping it from going berserk.

Alpha/S. wrote:With that in mind the democratic process typically winds of with cowardly, pandering and short sighted politicians. Their concern becomes less with rational affairs pertaining to the running of the state and more with trying to get through the next election cycle.


True...so how about just longer terms in office?

Alpha/S. wrote:Now why would an alternative prove any better? With a leader that is less subject to the passions of the general populace, one could better take long-term, real results into account. The elites are in charge either way but now they can actually lead instead of being sniveling cowards about it. The best way to assure that this would lead to desirable outcomes is to have leaders who understand that advancing the long term national interest is also in their interest. As I mentioned people mostly care about economic prosperity and will generally ignore politics until they are knocked out of their comfort zones. Thus the best way for the leaders to legitimize their rule and be successful is by promoting rational pro-growth economic policies above all else. The elite get better off, the general populace is satisfied and nation as a whole becomes more prosperous.


Or...the leaders team up with a group of elites and turn the system into a vast system of cronyism to enrich themselves and their friends. To be honest, that would actually not be the worst possible outcome - the worst possible outcome is that they go berserk and pull a Pol Pot, a Hitler, or a Mao.

Alpha/S. wrote:As for succession the best way to the do that is to have a smooth mechanism for generational replacement. This is why monarchy has historically been such a widespread and successful form of governance.


So successful that virtually everywhere on the planet it's either been overthrown or turned so constitutional that the word "monarchy" no longer applies. Any ideas why that happened and why democracy has persisted?

Alpha/S. wrote:Thus agreed upon terms of office generally about 10-15 years is sufficient to allow for long periods of coherent, long-term solutions to be put in place and then for younger leaders to step up, replace them and move forward without hassle. Add in a system that favors merit and technocratic forms of governance and you wind up with more competent leadership then our current crop of boneheads who no-one seems to actually care much for anyway.


I am less optimistic that running a country like a corporation (which is basically what this idea is - corporations are geared to run like technocratic, meritocratic machines; the most technocratic and meritocratic win) is going to work well.
#13910366
Dr Lee - I use "Priesthood" as the metaphor for being governed by unaccountable "experts". The priest traditionally was the only one to read Latin, to have studied the scriptures, to be in correspondence with the broader Christian Church, and hence he had a claim of "divine knowledge" which no one in the community could contradict. From this arbitrary source he draw temporal power and authority.

Today secularism has done its work to, in most places, purge the Church from formal political power. I have no problem with priests whose power is solely that of the word and operate based on voluntary donations. Other Priesthoods - in Frankfurt and Langley Falls - still exist and are provoking untold harm with their power.


Oops. My bad. I missed it. Makes perfect sense.
#13910496
Lexington wrote:True...so how about just longer terms in office?

Well at least we can come to some agreement that current politicians are short sighted. Longer terms would certainly be nice but I think the general pandering, timidity and lack of expediency of the current process leads me to favor discarding it entirely. Just look at all of the horrid gridlock in our 10% approval rating Congress with gigantic bills riddled with so many compromises that nobody cares for them anymore. The saddest thing is that I've actually seen some people claim this is a good thing since it prevents Congress from passing even more unpopular legislation.

Lexington wrote:Or...the leaders team up with a group of elites and turn the system into a vast system of cronyism to enrich themselves and their friends. To be honest, that would actually not be the worst possible outcome - the worst possible outcome is that they go berserk and pull a Pol Pot, a Hitler, or a Mao.

All political systems have potential for corruption and cronyism. Democracy is no exception to this by any stretch of the imagination. In fact I would argue that it's great for catering towards special interests over long term national interests.

It's important of course to have rule of law under any system. I would argue that by having leaders who realize that by making the country stronger would also secure themselves politically would help to stem this problem. Furthermore, combining rule of law with a strong sense of merit, civic duty and national pride would help to combat this problem. An authoritarian state can do that. It is a matter of enforcement and vigilance. Again this is a problem in any system and modern democracies are filled with corrupt politicians.
Lexington wrote:So successful that virtually everywhere on the planet it's either been overthrown or turned so constitutional that the word "monarchy" no longer applies. Any ideas why that happened and why democracy has persisted?

Monarchies existed for thousands of years and were pervasive all over the world. That is far more than what democracy can claim, which has "persisted" for a comparatively much shorter period of time. Monarchs remain the heads of state of many countries and while it’s true that few have real power anymore they remain respected by many people as well as being important figureheads. One should be careful to avoid the hubris that democracies are the "End of History" as Francis Fukuyama arrogantly proclaimed it as opposed to simply being the current trend before moving on to something else.

That wasn’t my original point at rate - I was merely commenting that monarchies showed that an authoritarian state can have viable means of succession. The criticism that they lack such a means is one of the few somewhat compelling arguments I've seen in favor of democracy.
Lexington wrote:I am less optimistic that running a country like a corporation (which is basically what this idea is - corporations are geared to run like technocratic, meritocratic machines; the most technocratic and meritocratic win) is going to work well.

And what exactly would the problem with that be? I wasn't strictly suggesting that countries should be run like corporations but I fail to see how a model where the most technocratic and meritocratic win is a bad thing.
#13910521
Alpha/S. wrote:Well at least we can come to some agreement that current politicians are short sighted. Longer terms would certainly be nice but I think the general pandering, timidity and lack of expediency of the current process leads me to favor discarding it entirely. Just look at all of the horrid gridlock in our 10% approval rating Congress with gigantic bills riddled with so many compromises that nobody cares for them anymore. The saddest thing is that I've actually seen some people claim this is a good thing since it prevents Congress from passing even more unpopular legislation.


I quite agree with you but this is because the House has a 2-year term on every member. The Senate (which, as you know, has overlapping 6-year terms) is I think much more respected. At least I respect the Senate much more.

I think it would be a tremendously positive step to make the House more like the Senate in that. The House is running constantly for re-election.

Alpha/S. wrote:All political systems have potential for corruption and cronyism. Democracy is no exception to this by any stretch of the imagination. In fact I would argue that it's great for catering towards special interests over long term national interests.


I don't argue that democracy eliminates corruption.

It's a lot easier for it to happen in an authoritarian system nevertheless. You're taking out all of the counterweights and trusting it to a group of people, however smart they are. That's a dangerous scenario.

Alpha/S. wrote:It's important of course to have rule of law under any system. I would argue that by having leaders who realize that by making the country stronger would also secure themselves politically would help to stem this problem.


What politician, democratic or otherwise, doesn't want that, to secure themselves politically?

In an authoritarian government, they have so many new ways to do that.

Alpha/S. wrote:Furthermore, combining rule of law with a strong sense of merit, civic duty and national pride would help to combat this problem. An authoritarian state can do that. It is a matter of enforcement and vigilance. Again this is a problem in any system and modern democracies are filled with corrupt politicians.


It would be great if that were possible - a strong sense of merit, civic duty, etc. Yet how is it accomplished?

An authoritarian state cannot instill these virtues without having them in the first place, and even then, they will be corrupted as quickly.

Alpha/S. wrote:Monarchies existed for thousands of years and were pervasive all over the world. That is far more than what democracy can claim, which has "persisted" for a comparatively much shorter period of time. Monarchs remain the heads of state of many countries and while it’s true that few have real power anymore they remain respected by many people as well as being important figureheads. One should be careful to avoid the hubris that democracies are the "End of History" as Francis Fukuyama arrogantly proclaimed it as opposed to simply being the current trend before moving on to something else.


I don't have that hubris, I think the freedom of humanity should be held in constant vigilance.

Nevertheless, I have a thousand crowns of a thousand nations at my feet as evidence that monarchy was rejected as the rule of law.

Alpha/S. wrote:And what exactly would the problem with that be? I wasn't strictly suggesting that countries should be run like corporations but I fail to see how a model where the most technocratic and meritocratic win is a bad thing.


No, on the contrary, the most technocratic and meritocratic should win. This really is my core point.

But would you trust Exxon or Apple to run America? They're some of the best run, most meritocratic, most technocratic companies in America - top #1 and #2. But would you want America run like Exxon? I personally think that's a poor model for governance.
#13911417
Lexington wrote:The idea being that people don't have to be all that smart individually in order to function well as a group.

Obviously it doesn't work perfectly (some ways it fails are listed in the book about this) but on balance I'd say it does pretty well.

The problem is that dumb people don't vote for politicians at random, like they do for trivia. On trivia, uninformed people vote blindly, which means the correct answer is easily arrived at as the plurality of smart votes. In elections, dumb people vote emotionally, which means they can be swayed. Which means that politicians can focus on emotionally pandering to dumb voters, and forget substance, since dumb people are obviously more numerous than smart people. The only way an election can be effectively decided through crowd wisdom is if campaigning and parties are banned.
#13911950
Dr House wrote:The problem is that dumb people don't vote for politicians at random, like they do for trivia. On trivia, uninformed people vote blindly, which means the correct answer is easily arrived at as the plurality of smart votes. In elections, dumb people vote emotionally, which means they can be swayed. Which means that politicians can focus on emotionally pandering to dumb voters, and forget substance, since dumb people are obviously more numerous than smart people.


I don't dispute this. I question the magnitude of this problem relative to the alternatives.

And just - to state something that should be obvious - 250 years ago democracy was nowhere, now it's the government of choice for all the wealthy and successful countries of the world (well, aside from the handful of sheikhs that bribe their populations with oil money). It's survived, defended, and even propagated itself in the face of two world wars, and a Cold War.

I think that's a pretty phenomenal track record for a system of government based on dumb people.

Dr House wrote:The only way an election can be effectively decided through crowd wisdom is if campaigning and parties are banned.


So there was this election. It was kind of like what you're asking for - no campaigning, no parties (this was after all a party primary, so no parties in a party) and a patently unqualified candidate came out because the constituents knew nothing (there was no campaigning!) but liked one guy's name better.

In contrast, though, let's consider the 2008 election: a guy named Barack Obama won the election against a guy named John McCain. If there had been no campaigning as you suggest, the "guy whose name I like better" dumb vote would overwhelm the "smart guy who analyzes based on the issues" vote. But that didn't happen because there was a campaign, so a guy with a bizarre name introduced himself to all those stupid Americans and got elected president.

I would argue that, on balance, campaigning and parties do more good than harm.

I also know how boring all this treacly defense of democracy must sound.
#13912205
Lexington wrote:I don't dispute this. I question the magnitude of this problem relative to the alternatives.

Obviously nondemocratic governments are more prone to abuse than democratic governments, but the extent to which this is actually true is somewhat exaggerated. After all, elected governments only really have an incentive to be kind to their constituency, or people their constituency likes. Persecuted minorities (and even disenfranchised majorities) are fair game. On the flipside, nondemocratic governments lack the political incentive to refrain from instituting radical policies that would over the medium to long term help the electorate, but which are unpopular. Making sure an undemocratic leader rules in his nation's best interest would simply require their interests to be aligned with those of the general population.

Lexington wrote:And just - to state something that should be obvious - 250 years ago democracy was nowhere, now it's the government of choice for all the wealthy and successful countries of the world (well, aside from the handful of sheikhs that bribe their populations with oil money). It's survived, defended, and even propagated itself in the face of two world wars, and a Cold War.

Inaccurate on both counts, actually. On the first, the British House of Commons has existed since 1707 and was democratically elected; albeit only 3% of the population held franchise. On the second, universal suffrage was not implemented in any sovereign nation until 1882, most European countries continued to be ruled by an empowered monarch until the latter half of the 20th century, and (more importantly to your assertion) democracy did not survive the Great Depression throughout most of Europe. It did in the US because the US was established as a republic and has had democracy (with franchise limited to white land-owning males) as a stable and established institution since is inception.

Lexington wrote:So there was this election. It was kind of like what you're asking for - no campaigning, no parties (this was after all a party primary, so no parties in a party) and a patently unqualified candidate came out because the constituents knew nothing (there was no campaigning!) but liked one guy's name better.

In contrast, though, let's consider the 2008 election: a guy named Barack Obama won the election against a guy named John McCain. If there had been no campaigning as you suggest, the "guy whose name I like better" dumb vote would overwhelm the "smart guy who analyzes based on the issues" vote. But that didn't happen because there was a campaign, so a guy with a bizarre name introduced himself to all those stupid Americans and got elected president.

I would argue that, on balance, campaigning and parties do more good than harm.

Not a very good comparison to make, given that Obama had a wafer-thin resume and no campaign platform to speak of; he just rode a tidal wave of media hype and Bush-inspired GOP hatred to victory. I would say this argues for disenfranchising dumb voters rather than in favor of crowd wisdom, since it's clear that the circumstances that make crowd wisdom possible in trivia cannot be reproduced for elections.

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