« Inflation targeting: some questions | Main | Confusion about QE »

May 07, 2009




But more than that - there is the problem of what alternatives are there? Seriously - what other form of government comes as close in terms of legitimicy?

P.S. One idea I think could be tried is to have the constitution come with an expiry limit - and a long consultative process started to create a new one requiring a super majority. It is easy to vote in a new constitution whole (with all the necessary compromises) rather than modify an existing one (where single issue fanatics tend to find a way to derail it).


"Human beings may not want the kinds of autonomy that liberals presume they do"

This a rather presumptuous statement about Liberals. Liberals don't presume anything for anybody. Generally they just want to be left alone. If someone else wants their life dominated by some higher body that's down to them. So long as I'm left out of it.

Also there is the typical problem of the left placing too much weight on democracy. Most liberals recognise that democracy is a tool not the be all and end all.


'There’s a conflict between liberty and democracy'

Not only that, but it is very possible to have the second without the first.
In the case of Athens, whose often called brief democracy lasted more than any in continental Europe, there was a higher degree of democracy than anyewhere now(*) and, at the same time, nothing that we would today call individual liberty.

(*) We must remember that for them, even for the adversaries of democracy, it equalled with selection by draw. In Aristotle view, election implies oligarchy.


Democracy tends to give people what we can agree about; not exactly what they want nor what I think is going to be good for them. I suspect that Will Wilkinson and Gordon Brown (among others) could forgive the former fault but find the latter one irritatingly presumptuous.

Democracy is a way of forming common values and taking common decisions in a way which leaves not too many of us dissenting so violently as to make common decision impossible. To assent, many of us have found that we require the protection of law and legal rights against the common will of the moment. In the process of assenting, we cede some claims to liberty but not the parts which matter most to us.

It is, as Chris suggets, the process of deliberation which is critical. Considered over decades and generations, the votes cast may be a vital part of that deliberation.


You're also ignoring the simple Darwinian advantage of democracy. By chucking the rotters out, we can get someone better, or at least less bad. That way new Labour does not become Robert Mugabe...


CD: "I’m surprised this issue isn’t more prominent. The growing interest in cognitive biases within centrist politics - be it Cameron’s embracing of 'Nudge'..."

When italicised, Malcom Gladwell's book Blink reads as Bunk, short for bunkum. If you want to read uplifting homilies, read Gladwell, books about cognitive biases constructed on biases. Don't take it seriously.


Part of the problem appears to be one of method. The public want services that work well, when they need them. They want the health service to fix them when they are unwell, the want benefits when they need them most and the current regime isn't delivering.

I believe that politicians want to deliver these things but they seem unable to escape ideology and good ideas

Politicians are surrounded by lots of bright people who have good ideas about how services should be improved. You hear it now - they have to have 'choice' or its needs 'targets' or shared services. These are ideas from people who don't work in the work.

The problem being that these don't deliver what service users want. If you go to your doctor you want to be healed - 'please fix me' - 'in a place that is convenient to me' - not give me the choice which doctor or which hospital to fix me in.

The same with shared services as a method to save money. John Seddon has highlighted as much in Systems Thinking in the Public Sector and in The Systems Thinking Review that shared services reduce quality and increase costs.

To understand how to improve, you need to study your system as a system (each individual organisation) and work in the work with the workers to improve. It takes humility and understanding.

Ideas pushed-down from above, quality inspected in, targets don't deliver. If services began to deliver, the public would regain faith in politicians pretty rapidly!

Bob B

"The broken-spirited poor get too little whilst the rich, with their over-inflated sense of entitlement, get too much."

That phenomenon may help to explain the rise of "fascist" movements, as in Italy after WW1:

Note: "Mussolini held great admiration for Plato's work."

Another example:

"Perón and his second wife, Eva, were immensely popular amongst many of the Argentine people, and to this day they are still considered icons by the Peronist Party. The Peróns' followers praised their efforts to eliminate poverty and to dignify labor, while their detractors considered them demagogues and dictators."


Great post, Chris. Thank you.

Eric Dewey, Portland, Oregon

good point, Chris. But it seems as if it is the deliberative aspects of democracy that people are least likely to engage in - at least, not for very long, because it's very difficult to sustain being calmly deliberative unless one has been trained to it, and unfortunately, most aren't.


The phenomenon of motivated skepticism in evaluating political beliefs and even facts sort of derails the effort at deliberative democracy in important ways.

And the findings of Diana Mutz show that those most active in politics are least likely to be open to deliberation - they are more closed minded and confined to their 'side' than the apolitical. Rather sad. She asserts a tradeoff between deliberation and participation.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad