Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Deliberation Day run-down
Robert Musil has a useful link to Richard Posner, and he amplifies Posner's linked argument a little bit. I'll follow the Posner link next, but I want to note that it appears to contain a misreading of Ackerman and Fishkin, and that misreading seems to be repeated in Musil's amplification:
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.
As I made clear in an earlier post, A&F are well aware that political activity has low utility for most citizens. Musil is merely pointing out the problem A&F have set out to solve. This objection fails. Follow up
Posner seems not to have committed a misreading. He sees that the best strategy for objecting to A&F is to question their articulation of the democratic ideal. Or, at any rate, he sees that some of the time. It's difficult to tell because his general theme seems to be that markets are better than elections, and this tempts him to say things that make it look like he doesn't understand A&F's dilemma. His best shot:
I do not believe that private concerns are petty and that people are fully human only when they are deliberating about the “common good.” I do not even think such deliberations are productive of much except sound and fury...I will be called cynical for doubting the value of political debate among ordinary citizens, for casting them in the role of passive onlookers of a struggle among ambitious politicians, and for questioning the possibility of meaningful reform of policy. I am merely being realistic. Reform does not well out of deliberation, but reflects passions and interests...People are intelligent and engaged about issues that concern them directly and that do not require abstract analysis to understand. The more local and concrete the issue, the more meaningful deliberation by average citizens is; the more remote and abstract, the less meaningful such deliberation is. People know when they are hurting, and the knowledge motivates and engages them in political struggle.
Stripped of the market rhetoric this begins to sound like a denuded civic republicanism. Posner denies, contra civic republicans like Rousseau, that political activity (as currently understood) is a necessary part of a fulfilling life. But, with civic republicans, Posner locates the value of democratic institutions in the fact that they provide an arena for political action.
I would like to believe that Rousseau is right, that having a voice in the institutions that direct one's life is an essential part of the human good. But this is a difficult thesis to maintain in the face of widespread political apathy. A&F have a response ready for this objection, but it isn't convincing as it stands. They want to say that apathy is the result of the fact that the mainstream political parties are not responsive to the concerns of citizens. The difficulty with this response isn't, as Posner alleges, that deliberation would lead to discord (how could he know? And what a silly thing for a supposed pragmatist to say!) but rather that responsive parties would reduce dissatisfaction and this, it seems to me is likely to increase apathy. After all, why bother with politics in good times?
Can the response be strengthened? Perhaps. A&F would have to show that political engagement under a regime of responsive political parties would be, in some sense, intrinsically interesting. This would solve the opportunity cost problem, but how would they know? Politics as it is now is bloodsport and that accounts for a lot of the interest. If the bloodletting gets worse, and more people are interested, well, that doesn't seem like progress. So assume A&F have something else in mind. What could it be? I think I know the answer, but I don't think you get it by having a national deliberation day.
It will help to note an agreement and a disagreement I have with Posner. I agree with Posner that the focus of deliberation in most people's lives is with issues that involve them directly, and that they tend to be effective deliberators in these areas. I disagree that, when hurting, people have adequate recourse through the American political system. Drawing on these notions, I suggest that the way to make political engagement relevant to citizens is build political institutions that address, on a day to day basis, their particular and local concerns.
Deliberation day won't do this - the solution isn't to insert deliberators into democracy, but to insert democracy into the locations where deliberation takes place. So this is pretty much the line I've been pushing in a couple of recent posts. (here and here.
Insults Unpunished repeats the WSJ's dumb paternalism argument. I've already addressed that. Does better replying to comments, but doesn't go past noticing that people are apathetic.
PoliBlog earns my respect by noticing that there's a dilemma to be addressed. go him! Has two versions of the paternalism argument. One just repeats the mistake I've dealt with before. The other is more interesting, because it alleges that there's no way to run deliberation day non-paternalistically.
Actually, I think paternalism is the wrong word here. Let's call it the bias argument. It goes: During deliberation day and the lead up to it, citizens will be provided with briefing materials to inform them about the issues. But these briefing materials, no matter who prepares them, will be biased by the preparer's own view. The biased materials will affect the outcome of the deliberation, so the result won't be truly democratic. Hence, deliberation day will fail by its own lights.
I'm not so sure about the inevitability of bias, and I seem to recall that A&F's answer is to have both parties prepare materials. But leave those worries aside. Suppose that the result is affected by bias in the way described. This is only a fatal difficulty if the goal were to achieve some sort of democratic ideal. But it isn't. Rather, the hope is to do better than we are doing now. So the question is, would the bias be so severe that it would prevent that (assuming, of course, that the rest of DD worked as A&F argue it would)? I see no reason to think so. (perhaps the reason is that when A&F have run workshops the deliberators have become more liberal. Now, you could argue: (1)A&F are liberals;(2) A&F prepared the briefing materials; (3) since A&F are liberals, the materials must have been biased; (4) this bias must have altered the outcome; (5) there is no other explanation for the outcome; (6)-(10) the bias argument. But 4 and especially 5 are contentious. It could be, after all, that the leftward movement is explained by the merits of the left's positions. There's also probably an increased likeliness that people with a real voice in govt will trust govt action.)
Last poliblog: proposes that we just teach more govt classes in school. I say: Mr. Mountain, meet Mr. Ant.
Signifying Nothing 1 doesn't have much substantive comment, there are a couple of links that might be worth following later. Does have a Posner quote (from the article linked above) that blatantly commits the ad hominem fallacy by suggesting that supporters of deliberative democracy are motivated by their own imagined argumentative prowess. Fallacy or no, Posner might have a point. I'll think about it.
Signifying nothing 2 presents Iowa caucus madness as an example of the breakdowns that one might expect on Deliberation Day. Good rhetoric, but not much of an objection. Juries work.
Signifying nothing 3 some fruitful links, but I've already followed them.
left to do: Go through the 4 OpinionJournal arguments, follow the links in SN1