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The Priority of Democracy
March 6, 2013 12:21 AM   Subscribe

Dissent Is the Health of the Democratic State - "We live in big, complex societies, which means we are thoroughly interdependent on each other, and that we will naturally have different ideas about how our life in common should go, and will have divergent interests. This means that politics we shall always have with us. It also means that political problems are largely ones about designing and reforming the institutions which shape how we interact with each other..." (via)
But because political problems are so hard, even if we could agree on what we wanted our institutions to achieve (which we don't), we can basically never know in advance what the best institution for a given problem is. (That markets should always and everywhere be the default institution is a claim Knight and Johnson carefully examine before rejecting, whereas I would simply mock.) We also can basically never be sure when changed conditions will make existing institutions unsatisfactory. Put this together and what we need is, as they say, experimentation, with meta-institutions for monitoring how the experiments are going, and deciding when they should be changed or stopped.

This is where democracy comes in... But remember that democracy is going to work better the more people can and do really ("effectively") contribute, especially to the debate... To participate in the democratic debate, people need a lot of skills and cognitive tools: literacy; numeracy; knowing what other people are going on about and why it matters to them; the cultural knowledge and rhetorical skill to argue effectively with fellow citizens[2]; knowledge of the world in general. Gaining all these skills and tools takes teachers and time... Making sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in democracy would be very demanding, and we are very far from doing so. We are even far from making sure everyone has some non-farcical minimum of opportunity. We can and should move towards spreading those opportunities, and make democracy more of a reality and less of a mere promise.
Labour markets: Real robot talk - "Technological progress sufficient to cause these kinds of dislocations should also generate overall economic gains large enough to make everyone better off. But just because everyone could be made better off by progress doesn't mean that everyone will be made better off. There must be an institutional framework in place to ensure that the gains from growth are shared."

Why Congress can't seem to get anything done - "The basics of it are that in every political system, there is a group of actors that need to agree in order to change the status quo."

Is America a 'kludgeocracy'? - "A program or policy qualifies as a kludge if the fundamental policy mechanism is substantially more complicated than the problem it is trying to solve dictates."

Policy wonks, pitchforks, and the contradictions of capitalism - "A good society depends on an active public, first and foremost. A society that has allowed the predations of the powerful to become purely private matters mediated via 'markets', courts, academies, and bureaucracies, that has delegated 'activism' to a mostly protected professional class, is nothing more than a herd hoping that today it is somebody else who will be slaughtered."

The ontology of power - "We might define coercion very simply in terms of an actor's ability to influence the terms of choice that confront another actor... We can then broaden this concept to groups in society by postulating that certain groups have greater access to the levers of coercion than others. So we might say that 'capitalists have more power than workers' because capitalists have access to the lever of unemployment, whereas workers have access only to the power to withhold their labor at substantial personal and familial cost."

How a Trust Deficit Is Hurting the Economy - "Research has shown that measures of trust in society are closely connected to economic growth and the effectiveness of government."

Bill Gates' Plan To Fix The World's Biggest Problems: Measure Them - "From the fight against polio to fixing education, what's missing is often good measurement and a commitment to follow the data. We can do better. We have the tools at hand."

Rise of the Empiricists - "What narratives am I telling myself today? Is there any data set or analyses that can prevent me from fooling myself? Empiricism will be moving more and more of the US economy forward."

Reality breaks through the Overton window - "When the hired gun occupying the most prestigious single position in the right's intellectual parallel universe accepts growing inequality and social immobility as uncontroversial background assumptions, we have at least won the battle of ideas. The 1 per cent have entrenched power, but even they can no longer pretend to believe that their huge wealth benefits everyone else."

A few reasons to be optimistic about the U.S. economy - "it's possible that the political system is improving. If we can simply claw our way back to 'mediocre and ineffective', well, that will be a big improvement from 'damaging and unpredictable' "
posted by kliuless (9 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
If we can simply claw our way back to 'mediocre and ineffective',

Then the Tea Party will have achieved its fundamental goal: A smaller, less intrusive, less expensive Federal government whose endemic and indeed designed-in disfunction will become less of a drag on economic growth and opportunity. Pity that those who oppose this necessary political change are making the journey so unnecessarily difficult.
posted by three blind mice at 12:47 AM on March 6, 2013


To participate in the democratic debate, people need a lot of skills and cognitive tools: literacy; numeracy; knowing what other people are going on about and why it matters to them; the cultural knowledge and rhetorical skill to argue effectively with fellow citizens[2]; knowledge of the world in general. Gaining all these skills and tools takes teachers and time. (Some people learn such things under extraordinarily bad conditions; expecting everyone to do so is like expecting every middle-aged office worker to become a marathon-runner.) Gaining these skills also takes a brain which is not too damaged by malnutrition, lead poisoning, chronic stress, etc., or simply too inflexible with age. Even citizens who have these skills need free time, not taken up by getting a living, if they are to use them.
Right. No democracy for the poors until they are raised up by the kindly, well-educated "teachers."
Economic barriers matter too: if the cost of making oneself heard is owning a TV station, effectively we’ve limited debate to the friends and servants of TV-station-owners. But since democracy works better the more minds it can draw on, and the more diverse they are, that is not apt to be a good situation even for station-owners.
Well, you could hardly get not get paid to write this obvious bon mot: owning and controlling the mass media is against the self-interest of the owners... He should get a job at Fox News.
It also means that political problems are largely ones about designing and reforming the institutions which shape how we interact with each other.
And this sentence alone illustrates why "pragmatists" and utilitarians are the well-kept pets of the plutocracy we live in.... yammering in their gilt cages.

also, you should keep in mind:
So Knight and Johnson recover the usual civil liberties — freedom of speech and of the press, universal suffrage through secret ballots, etc. — as conditions for making democracy work.
Pragmatists don't actually believe in human rights outside of whether they make for a more efficient state.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:29 AM on March 6, 2013


I can never tell what books they are talking about on Crooked Timber. Why doesn't that post even mention the book directly - which seems to be:

The Priority of Democracy
Political Consequences of Pragmatism
by Jack Knight and James Johnson
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011

http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/reviews/knight-johnson.html
posted by mary8nne at 5:49 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Then the Tea Party will have achieved its fundamental goal: A smaller, less intrusive, less expensive Federal government whose endemic and indeed designed-in disfunction will become less of a drag on economic growth and opportunity. Pity that those who oppose this necessary political change are making the journey so unnecessarily difficult.

No, the pity is that "more efficient" keeps getting defined as "destroy the safety net" and "less intrusive" keeps getting defined as "deregulate ALL the things!!!"

Pretty much everyone in Washington is singing the wrong songs. The two parties are fighting each other to a standstill and dragging the country down with them, but the irony is they're getting more similar every day.
posted by Foosnark at 6:29 AM on March 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


The problem with some of the common assumptions about democracy is that elections essentially replace millenia of hardened religious and cultural positions with a process that politically organizes such tribalism, and then relies on easily corruptible means to select leaders, from ballot stuffing to paid sponsorship. It depends on many factors if this ever ceases towards manageable unity, and there might be better ways, or so we can assume.

I would start at the bottom and encourage new states to experiment with randomly selected representatives for the lowest chamber, with a minimal set of qualifications (rather than ever place these restrictions on the voters). They could run on their experience for a higher chamber later, or be selected for government posts if they perform well. This is basically sending the type of people, across many divides, who would never be voted in, nor would have enough votes to govern as electors.
posted by Brian B. at 6:47 AM on March 6, 2013


ennui.bz you put a bunch of words Shalizi's mouth.

You take:
'Gaining these skills also takes a brain which is not too damaged by malnutrition, lead poisoning, chronic stress, etc., or simply too inflexible with age. Even citizens who have these skills need free time, not taken up by getting a living, if they are to use them.'
..into an argument that that only the rich and well to-do 'makers' should participate in the democratic process.

I read that as a plea for better nutrition, health care, wages, and support for all - other wise no - you don't get a working democracy where the majority take part.
'Making sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in democracy would be very demanding, and we are very far from doing so. We are even far from making sure everyone has some non-farcical minimum of opportunity. We can and should move towards spreading those opportunities, and make democracy more of a reality and less of a mere promise.'
Do you agree with that assertion, yes or no?

I'm tired, increasingly frightened, of more and more folks digging into ideological trenches instead of sitting down at the table with one another and finding ways to work together.
posted by kmartino at 9:03 AM on March 6, 2013


Bill Gates is right. Arguing theorys based on assumptions is a total waste of time. Having good, easily accessible data is the single best way to get a group to move forward.
posted by fshgrl at 12:30 PM on March 6, 2013


House of Cards - "I'm enjoying House of Cards. But the central problem with it is it falls prey -- in fact, it's premised upon -- the worst of all Washington myths: That politicians in Washington are ceaselessly, ruthlessly, effectively scheming. They're not. Maybe they started out with a scheme, but soon enough they are, at best, reacting, and at worst, failing, and always, always they're doing it with less information than they need."

The Tyranny of Political Economy - "There was a time when we economists steered clear of politics... Then some of us became more ambitious... we turned our analytical toolkit on the behavior of politicians and bureaucrats themselves... Thus was born the field of rational-choice political economy... there was no economic malfunction that the two words 'vested interests' could not account for... But there was a deep paradox in all of this. The more we claimed to be explaining, the less room was left for improving matters. If politicians' behavior is determined by the vested interests to which they are beholden, economists' advocacy of policy reforms is bound to fall on deaf ears... In reality, our contemporary frameworks for political economy are replete with unstated assumptions about the system of ideas underlying the operation of political systems. Make those assumptions explicit, and the decisive role of vested interests evaporates. Policy design, political leadership, and human agency come back to life... Expand the range of feasible strategies (which is what good policy design and leadership do), and you radically change behavior and outcomes."

The discontents of post-democracy - "Professional politicians have (mostly) become disconnected from the popular will. This doesn't matter for their electoral chances due to corporate funding, and because there is usually little alternative. The result is increasing distrust of the political process; but we only have ourselves to blame if we do not engage. This state of affairs cannot get worse forever so either some charismatic popular politician will capture the popular imagination and the other party(s) will have to follow them; or we will see some more damaging failure mode."

The Market State - "The role of the state is to determine which provider shall collect rents for delivering a service to consumers... Judging by performance, we can conclude that human life is not the uppermost concern for the provider collecting the rents in a market state regime."

Why Capitalism? - "In Janeway's view, governments have a responsibility to insure that innovative capitalism thrives. They must actively regulate markets that need policing and that are prone to breakdown; they must support long-term R&D; they must serve as lenders of last resort; they must intervene when things blow up, particularly when demand flags... So much of this is commonsensical, though he does leave some issues hanging... He does not deal at any depth with regulatory and political capture, often by interests that have been empowered by markets. He does not deal with inequality or the effects of a financial capitalism that has become so large, complex, speculative and global."

Why fiscal problems don't have fiscal solutions - "The solution to all these problems has to be to maximize the number of people with jobs; to maximize the amount of money those jobs pay; and to maximize the number of years that people are earning money in those jobs... The amount that the government spends on national parks, or on FBI salaries, or even on mine-resistant, ambush-protected Army vehicles, is of course irrelevant to the question of how to create an economy which can afford medical care for all over the long term. But it also creates a framing problem — making it seem as though government expenditures are the nail, and that therefore budget cuts are the necessary hammer. Even as, all the while, the deep and real problems become that much more structural, embedded, and intractable."

Why America's Growth Is Slowing, and a Solution - "There are no solutions under current conditions. Our forefathers were a skeptical and recalcitrant people. Reform remains impossible for America until we change. We all must work clearer vision for ourselves and those around us (family, relatives, coworkers). That will lead, potentially, to widespread recognition of our core problems — and hopefully bring forth ideas for next steps..."

oh and speaking of dissent...
Why Israel Is Different - "In no other Middle Eastern parliament or public square could such a speech be given and such truths told to power – by an eloquent, unveiled, unafraid woman. That's one reason Israel is worth saving from its currently unhinged leaders. The quote that leaped out at me from this member of a long Zionist dynasty was the following: 'Israel the strong continues to fight with the Palestinians for the title of victim.' [...] The full speech from Merav Michaeli is below. I found it moving beyond words, proof of hope in the state of Israel, from a woman intent on rediscovering the healing of the world that the Jewish religious tradition is rightly honored for."

Lawrence Lessig on 'Aaron's Laws – Law and Justice in a Digital Age' - "That's what love means. It means working, acting fiercely against the odds. And then my next thought was, you know, even we liberals love our country. [audience laughter] And so this observation of the impossibility of this challenge is irrelevant, because we love. And we love means we act regardless of how impossible this is."
posted by kliuless at 3:33 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Global Electronic Connectedness - "A half-century ago, Marshall McLuhan wrote about the previous century of electronic interconnection (telegraph, radio, telephone, television) and what was to come. He argued: 'The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.' [...] I suspect that in the global village, my personal life and my environment are going to be shaped more and more by abilities, activities, and interconnections that would have been inconceivable before the global village."

Crozier on actors and organizations - "Crozier and Friedberg's premise is that actors within organizations have substantially more agency and freedom than they are generally afforded by orthodox organization theory, and we can best understand the workings and evolution of the organization as (partially) the result of the strategic actions of the participants (instead of understanding the conduct of the participants as a function of the rules of the organization). In fact, they appear to look at organizations as solutions to collective action problems -- tasks or performances that allow attainment of a goal that is of interest to a broad public, but for which there are no antecedent private incentives for cooperation. Organized solutions to collective problems -- of which organizations are key examples -- do not emerge spontaneously..."

This is why Obama's having dinner with Republicans - "The number of Republicans who don't know what the White House is actually offering is stunning... The White House's much-discussed 'charm offensive' is also an information offensive. A lot of congressional Republicans have an idea of who Obama is and what he's willing to do that's quite distant from who Obama thinks he is and what he's said he's willing to do. And the Obama they believe they're negotiating with and arguing with is a highly partisan, extremely unreasonable figure — a figure whose actions and positions justify the GOP's radical intransigence. If the White House is going to be able to get anything done, it needs to close the gap between the Republican Party's imaginary Obama and the actual Obama... I'm something of a fatalist about American politics. I believe that most of what happens is the product of larger structural forces. That's particularly true for the disagreements between the two parties right now... But at least the president will have done everything he can..."

Different framings when people agree - "Let's take two cases, namely higher infrastructure spending for the United States today and looser monetary policy for the eurozone. I favor both, but often I am left discomforted by the endorsements I see, in part because I wish to see those issues framed differently... Ultimately, I think that these differences in framing are more important than any agreement over the conclusion, although of course both should be reported... The bottom line is this: I am happy to read that there is a 'sensible middle' position on both infrastructure and monetary policy. I am happy to hold some version of that position. But I am unhappy when that broom is used to sweep some very important underlying issues under the carpet. The insistence on a sensible middle position, while true, is very often a cloak for partisan reframing of the issue itself and a somewhat Orwellian forgetting of what is really going on. If we could get the underlying issues right, better policy would have a greater chance of coming to pass. And we would understand the world better."

Left's big mistake about real wages and the economy - "[H]ere's my big hazy generalization about what the left gets wrong about the economy. The left is rightly concerned about the real wages and incomes of ordinary working people. But the left fallaciously analogizes from a bargaining dynamic at a single firm to the entire economy. The way a given worker or class of workers improves his real wages is by persuading his boss to give him a nominal raise that outpaces the growth in the cost of living. But the way the economy as a whole works is that my income is your cost of living... if everyone's boss doubled everyone's salary starting on Monday, we'd just have one-off inflation. As it happens, a little inflation would do the macroeconomy some good at the moment. But the point still holds that while 'you get a raise' is the way to raise your living standards, 'everyone gets a raise' is not the way to raise everyone's living standards. To raise real wages across the economy rather than for some favored group of insiders, what you need to do is make things cheaper... the way to raise real incomes across the board is for that same wave of technological change that's transformed the media to start transforming the health care, education sectors, and transportation sectors. Cheaper health care and college and better transportation is a raise for every janitor, short-order cook, yoga instructor, and nurse in America."
posted by kliuless at 11:43 AM on March 10, 2013


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