Opposite Day: The case for democracy
Let me introduce my twin brother Ilarum, who of course tends to be wrong on a lot of things. Nevertheless, Today is his day to
make a fool of himself shine. My twin is a lot better at words than I am, but do not get beguiled by his smooth tongue. Let him say his piece and then please tell him why he is deluded.
Hi, I’m Ilarum and of course its a great honour to be given a chance to write for the league. Of course, my brother will probably have told you that I am deluded and probably have ill intentions, but I put the question to you gentlemen. Let you judge who is the fool or knave. I will tell you, it is fairly obvious who the evil one is. After all, it is my twin who thinks he knows better than others. It is my twin who rejects everything that is sweet and good and true i.e. democracy. It is my twin who thinks who spits upon what you good fellows do on this beautiful place. Does he not say that deliberation is wrong, that it would be better if people were not politically curious in the first place? Does he not ask you not only to stop voting, but also to withhold judgement on everything and defer to experts? But then, I am not here to cast aspersions on my brother, I am just here to make my case for democracy.
The lack of feasible alternatives
My twin fails to present any feasible alternatives to democracy. The very fact that he presents futuarchy, neo-cameralism, sea steading, charter cities and pure technocracies as alternatives says that he is scraping at the bottom of the barrel.
In futuarchy, there is a basically a futures market on the success of different policy measures. Of course, this has two major problems.
1. Participants need to be trained. Over time in any kind of futures market, the dominant players are those who are best on average at predicting market trends. Of course when you just start off, almost everyone is a naïf when it comes to good policy. Lots of people are going to lose money initially. But that also means that lots of disastrous policies are going to be se initially.
2. We might say that after an initial lag period, things will get better. No really! Prediction markets can be subject to gaming and manipulation. While ordinary manipulation in an efficient market is usually temporary, and over the long term counter-productive to long term profit, manipulation can still result in disastrous policy.
Neocameralism is basically about running your country like a corporation. You have a bunch of shareholders appointing a CEO to run the country in order to extract as much profit as they can. Coups are prevented by securing all fire-arms with cryptographic security. Now of course, even here, there are so many problems
1. No security system is un-hackable. As a failure point, this is massive. Anyone with sufficient motivation and resources almost certainly will be able to obtain the means to hack the system. And the CEO certainly has said resources.
2. While it is likely that the best way to extract rents from a population is to widen the tax base by making the country a pleasant place to live and work in, the examples of North Korea and Myanmar show that elites can do well enough by crushing everyone else under grinding poverty and keeping everyone in by force.
3. There isn’t anything (other than the elites’ good will) that prevents the government from liquefying those who would otherwise be net liabilities to the government. (i.e. indigents and vagrants)
The problem with sending out a floating platform on your own is that any such platform will not get recognition by the international community. While any such platform is protected under international laws, other countries marine vessels can approach can come as close to the ship as they want short with impunity. Any private attempt to prevent passage of ships over its “territorial waters” will be counted by the international community as piracy.
Charter cities basically involve third parties being given plenipotentiary powers over particular cities or even larger regions. This may be a good idea in an abstract sense, but no country is willing to give up sovereignty or part thereof over some part of its nation. Also, its just colonialism warmed over and we know how that ended.
Its not clear that a pure technocracy which has not been under democratic control has ever existed. Even in Singapore where one party dominates most of parliament, the ruling party has to deliver or else it will lose seats to the opposition.
So, none of the various options that my brother could possibly consider are viable
The irrelevance of the criticisms
My twin argues that democracy is problematic because people who find themselves disagreeing should either demote each other from peerhood or reserve judgement, either which are supposedly devastating to democracy. The question is, why should we care whether citizens are individually epistemically rational in this particular way? Democracy seems to do well enough even with this “irrationality” going on.
My Twin’s Hypocrisy
My Twin thinks that extensive disagreement should make us withhold judgement. However, he refuses to budge even though lots of people he respects think that democracy is the best alternative we have. Being the distinct minority in this case, he really should budge because so many people disagree with him.
He also thinks that people should invoke public reasons when justifying policy, but he has no way to justify this except with recourse to principles that would justify democracy as well. After all, the best explanation for invoking something like public reasons is that laws should be justifiable to the people it is going to affect. But if laws are to be justifiable in that way, they can only be so if we not only have public deliberation, but the results of said deliberation be binding.
A positive case
The key mistake my twin makes is supposing that there is his unjustified consequentialism. It seems like he has not considered the possibility that democracy could be justified as a matter of pure procedural justice. Anything that is the product of democratic procedures is prima facie just.
In order to justify democracy, there must be some feature of such procedures like voting (at least on some sets of issues) which make the outcome more just no matter what the outcome of the vote is. As earlier indicated, one key part of being a policy being just is that it be justifiable to the populace. What this means is that it invoke reasons that the people find prima facie moving. Of course, some reasons move more people than others. What this means is that where there is a majority in terms of a particular type of policy preference, it is prima facie the case that more people reason towards that conclusion than otherwise. That means that we can presume more popular policies are supported by reasons more people will accept than otherwise. This would especially be the case when people deliberate before voting.
Moreover, as the institutional structure is just one more thing that people can legitimately have a preference for, any reasonable balancing and satisfaction of said preferences is going to have to involve at least to some extent on people’s policy preferences. Therefore, allowing everyone to have some kind of equal say in the institutions and policies that form the basic structure is just one of the things we owe each other.