Wednesday, March 31, 2004
more deliberation day
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.The new:
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.Let me say, first, that I don't buy the claim that Musil isn't trying to object to Deliberation Day itself. Given the context, that just doesn't make any sense. So I'm going to understand him as claiming that he's saying more than merely what A&F acknowledge, namely that most citizens have, from the point of view of instrumental rationality, good reason not to become politically informed. This might be unfair as a reading of Musil, but what I'm trying to do here is see if the material he's generated can be used to generate a powerful objection to A&F. If the objection, once constructed, is something he doesn't want I'll just keep it for myself.
So what might this further objection be? Well, it's clear that it relies on an analogy between investor activity and political activity. Musil admits that the analogy is imperfect, but thinks that the imperfection has to do with the lack of transparency or efficiency of the 'political market'. One thing to notice is that to say that the concepts of transparency and efficiency apply seems to require that one already be licensed in thinking of political discourse and activity in terms of markets. (side note - what explains the lack of efficiency of political markets? Is it just the lack of transparency, or are their other factors?)
To develop this objection, then, we need to know what it is about political activity that licenses the analogy. One clear point of contact is the fact that the incentives for engaging in either can be explained in terms of instrumental rationality. Is this sufficient to say that there is a market? If so, we should be able to say what it is that is being traded. We can, I suppose, say that the citizen seeks to exchange political activity for some political benefit (that is, we can describe the citizen as a rent seeker). But who is the citizen's trading partner? I guess you have to say the state.
If this is right then the relevant question for the participant in the political market is, 'how do I get the highest rent for the least cost?' This formulation makes it sound as if the analogy merely identifies one horn of A&F's dilemma.
The point of Musil's clarification, I take it, was to avoid this result by amplifying the point made in his original post that, "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."
The point of bringing up the inefficiencies of the market is, I think, to show that the citizen's total utility is affected less by the cost he pays than by the rent he receives. So the worry isn't that you won't get a sufficient return for your investment of time and effort. In fact, I think Musil means to describe the political market in a fundamentally different way. The idea seems to be that you have instrumental rationality operating on two levels. At the first level the citizen is involved in a political market with the state and the citizen trades her vote for the services of the state. The question, from the point of view of instrumental rationality, is what vote should be cast in order to obtain the highest rent. At the next level the citizen must decide how much time and energy to expend in deciding how to cast her vote.
The analogy with stock markets is at this second level. Musil points out that most investors do worse by devoting time and energy into deciding what stocks to buy at what prices. They're better off if they just trust the experts. Similarly, Musil argues, for many citizens increased deliberation (and especially not only on a single day) is unlikely to improve the rents they obtain. This calculation is different than that referred to by A&F, because the cost paid doesn't lie in one's own loss of time, but rather in a degradation of benefits.
If all this is right, then we can at least see where the disagreement with A&F lies. Previously, I laid out A&F's motivation for their project as follows:
The democratic ideal, as they see it, is for the policies and practices of the state to be guided by the considered opinions of the public. When the public is not well-informed about political matters this ideal will not be realized - either elites will manipulate public opinion to serve their own ends or the nation will be guided by unreflective public preferences. That is, an uninformed citizenry yields either bread and circuses as the whole of public policy or bread and circuses as a mask drawn over public policy by a decision-making elite.The disagreement, if there is one, is with the democratic ideal espoused by A&F. On Musil's view, things will be worse if govt policies more closely reflect the considered preferences of citizens about those policies (I think this is fair even though Musil talks about candidates rather than policies).
Since these results seem to be a bad thing, you might expect that each citizen has good reason to become informed and to deliberate about public policy. But doing so has a cost. Time spent reading newspapers and debating the finer points of NAFTA could instead be spent on other projects and interests. Moreover, the influence any individual citizen has on the direction of policy is likely to be quite small. As a result, unless an individual happens to find politics intrinsically interesting, the utility of civic engagement is quite low.
If all this is right, then we face a serious dilemma. Our democratic ideal requires that the state be responsive to the considered preferences of citizens, but individual citizens have little reason to acquire such preferences. Deliberation Day is intended to dissolve this dilemma by providing incentives for citizens to become informed.
The key claim for Musil is pretty clearly the claim that deliberation about politics won't generally yield better judgment. The analogy with stock markets doesn't establish this claim (in fact, the evaluation of this claim will determine our answer to the question of how close the analogy is). Nor does anything else Musil says provide much by way of support. For my part, I think the prospects for establishing such a claim are dim, and would note that the parallel result in classical portfolio theory was counter-intuitive.
But even if it were shown that increased deliberation had bad effects from some instrumental point of view this wouldn't be enough. The ideal appealed to by A&F is not that of democracy as a modus vivendi. Instead, their claim is that political participation is, in some sense, intrinsically valuable. From that point of view, the elevation of the considered preferences of the public is desirable even if such an elevation has material costs. So it would also have to be shown that political participation isn't intrinsically good.