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June 10, 2010


Luis Enrique

v. good. I like the feedback loop, a bit like path dependency + noise. You end up with some weird set of of policies (or more generally, not policies per se but set of things that people even think fall within the policy domain) not for any reason that can be rationalised, just because you have a process with persistence that moves in mysterious ways. I think much cross-country variation in policy is explained by that.

the credibility thing is tricky, because there is some genuine variation in what policies are sensible/credible (that is to say, feasible, effective in a cure better than disease sense) ... how does one separate your explanation (bashing immigrants 'mainstream' genuine redistribution 'not mainstream') from the alternative (bashing immigrants actually sensible, genuine redistribution actually not). I don't think that, and think you have picked a good example, but I have no more basis for that than my judgment, which differs from that of others.


Quotas for women is only "mainstream" in the intellectual sewer of the left.


Isn't it a case of democracy being the worst political system, apart from all the others? For all its flaws it has in this country delivered strong improvements in the welfare of many previously marginalised groups.

Interesting what you have to say about immigration, but using your style of analysis I come to exactly the opposite conclusion. 'Mainstream policy' in relation to immigration during New Labour's rule was to have unprecedentedly high levels of it, year after year. How did that policy become 'credible'? Precisely because it was perceived to be in the interests of those who are powerful in our democracy - the middle classes and owners of capital who benefit from lower wages at the bottom of the pile. The interests of unskilled domestic workers were disregarded because those workers are (or were) electorally unimportant.

If the political tide has turned on this particular issue it's probably because Labour has realised that it now needs and risks losing the votes of the people who lose out from high low skilled immigration. I can't think what else accounts for the sudden conversion of Ed Balls, Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham.

Chris Bertram

See also

VAN PARIJS, Ph., Justice and Democracy: Are They Incompatible ? , Journal of Political Philosophy, Oxford & New York, 4 (2), June 1996, pp. 101-117.



Luke R

"And I fear it is too glib to say that this is because democracy is capitalistic or inadequately realized."

With that in mind, I'm going to say that this is because democracy is inadequately realised by capitalistic representative government. The real crux of your argument, it seems to me, is point 1 - that power resides largely with organisation. But if 'democracy' is defined substantively as 'equal distribution of political power', the fact that some groups are organised and others not becomes a lack of democracy not rectified by the formal equality of suffrage - and the fact that our economic system generates and augments such disparities renders it undemocratic.


All that and no mention of the phrase "entrenched constitution".

"The notion that one can make piecemeal, gradual progress towards justice, I fear, means that one rectifies minor injustices which win votes whilst ignoring larger injustices which the public tolerate."

Well, better you make the piecemeal progress that the democratic system allows, than storm the Winter Palace.

Luis Enrique

The notion that democracy is incompatible with justice is quite compatible with the notion that it is the best available form of government. Especially when your notion of justice is perfection. Unless I'm misreading him, I don't think Chris is arguing against democracy, merely pointing out some of its characteristics.

Peter Risdon

This argument is only possible, though, because you're misusing the word 'justice', which rather than being a synonym for Marxist conclusions about the proper ordering of society is in fact a word that denotes an appropriate consequence for a given action.

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