Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Worst System Except for All Others

As Eli mentioned, infra digging has fractured and has been moving along both interesting and uninteresting lines, here Eli starts another thread with comments by Richard Tol and Flavius Collium:

Richard Tol said...

@Flavius
Thank you for the clarification. I would think that the probability of delusional rule gets smaller as more people have a say in policy making. . .

Flavius Collium said...

@dr Tol:

Not so, if the majority are delusional or misled. If the majority has a counter-reality view of the world on an issue, a flipped coin might make better policy decisions on it.

Of course, if the majority are delusional AND malevolent, then they can create benevolent policy by the accident of double negation. ;)

Your position is illogical.

Richard Tol said...

@Flavius
There is no doubt that democracies make mistakes. A quick glance at history suggests that disastrous mistakes are more likely in autocracies -- even if many autocrats started with the best of intentions.

Have at it - Eli



42 comments:

Neven said...

Richard Tol, have you watched (Astro) Turf Wars yet?

Flavius Collium said...

@Tol:
You're still avoiding the issue. Do you view that the public's grasp of reality is irrelevant when they determine policy by voting?

Adrian Cockcroft said...

I thought we lived in a plutocracy nowadays? We get the government that the highest bidder paid for... And right now the highest bidders with the most to lose are the fossil fuel industry. They just bought the house, but in California there was enough green tech money to fight them off.

Adrian

Greg said...

I think an important clarification to make is that more people voting is not equivalent to more people having a say in policy making.

If the voters are essentially voting to express a cultural identity rather than a slate of policy preferences, then the number of people voting has no relation to the number of people having a say in policy making. See "What's the matter with Kansas".

Richard Tol said...

@Flavius
So who will decide whether the electorate can be trusted to do the right thing?

Anonymous said...

Distrust of the democracy has a long and honourable tradition. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyranny_of_the_majority We have no better system available than democracy, but people have long been aware of the need for checks and balances as well, because the majority can be wrong. You have to do no more than look at the blog of the long suffering scienceofdoom to watch him slowly cracking under the strain of trying to get people to accept even the most basic climate physics.

Anonymous said...

I know I am being Austral-centric here, but I don't see how the US can truly call itself a Democracy. Hardly anyone votes! It's crazy.

We few who live in blessed Australia know the true joys of Democracy. We have to show up on election day and the number of valid votes is around 90%...

Sure Democracy is flawed, but the real problem would be the media and media ownership... Just look at Faux News in the States...

Nathan

Anonymous said...

Jared Diamond is "Collapse" shows how hierarchical societies with an emphasis on excess consumption and luxury for an elite class can make disastrous environmental decisions. His prime example is Viking Greenland, which was not a democracy.

But authoritarian societies can make good environmental decisions - his prime example being 17th century Japan and the Tokagawa Shogunate. The Shoguns, leaders of the somewhat ascetic samurai, preserved Japan's extensive forests by wise policies.

So it may not be the decision making process, but the wider ethic of society and what it sees as important.

Democracies do make better decisions in general - India, for all its faults, has had almost no major famines since Independence while China has has a few, including Mao's genocidal "Great Leap Forward". An Indian government that tried to limit family size through an authoritarian process was thrown out. Communist China just imposed the "2-child" family law, with no protests.

If the Western elites want to hold on to their SUVs, and if the development want to ape that lifestyle, then we're screwed. It may be that peak oil will impose some commonsense.

Toby

Anonymous said...

http://www.ted.com/talks/jared_diamond_on_why_societies_collapse.html

Jared Diamond fives a TED talk.

Toby

J Bowers said...

Richard Tol -- "So who will decide whether the electorate can be trusted to do the right thing?"

Schools?

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

Folks, folks, folks.

The alternative to a democracy isn't an autocracy. The alternative to a democracy is a better democratic process.

Can one seriously dispute that the current general system of voting every few years for a candidate drawn from a very small pool is too crude a system to actually 'give people a say in policy making'?

-- frank

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Frank raises an important point. The current winner-take-all voting systems are in fact anti-democratic. Many candidates are elected with less than 50% support among voters, let alone among citizens. And the Media-driven system in the US is better termed a mediocracy than a democracy.

Richard Tol asks: "So who will decide whether the electorate can be trusted to do the right thing?"

Wrong question. The proper question is who decides whether the electorate has DONE the right thing?

Answer: Nature and History

John Farley said...

Hey, bunnies. Check out this one: climate scientists are fighting back against the skeptics.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/la-na-climate-scientists-20101108,0,3784003.story

It's about time.

John Farley
Professor of Physics, UNLV

Richard Tol said...

@J Bower
Only people with a GPA>3 may vote?

Anonymous said...

Very slick, Mr. Richard Tol. I gotta-say?:o)

Martin Vermeer said...

Richard Tol, "So who will decide whether the electorate can be trusted to do the right thing?"

Ray gave the right answer to your intentionally toxic question: Nature will -- afterwards.

...and no, before you try flippancy, he doesn't mean that only the good-natured may vote...

Horatio Algeranon said...

It's interesting that what started out essentially as a question about the influence of climate scientists on policy has morphed into a debate about "authoritarianism" (a word which usually evokes visions of Stalin or his ilk) vs "democracy."

Remember: The actual argument is not nearly as important as how it is framed.

L. Carey said...

The democratic process is based on certain ASSUMPTIONS, which may or may not actually be applicable in a given historical circumstance. Two of those assumptions that come to mind as pertinent in the current environment are: (1) that voters have adequate truthful information upon which to make an informed choice, and (2) that the power of monied elites to control (directly or indirectly) policy outcomes is in some way controlled or subject to competing input (remember the 19th cent. Robber Barons?). Those are key issues confronting the continuation of democracy in the U.S. today -- in both those cases, global corporate interests, very wealthy individuals and rightwing media are at liberty to interfere with and corrupt both of these aspects to their benefit, with no significant offsetting compensating mechanisms in place. Dealing with those issues is the crux of the problem - not smug snark about how pointy headed liberals want to limit voting rights based on IQ tests. (The Citizens United case just makes a bad situation a lot worse.)

Neven said...

Democracy is an illusion as long as state and corporations aren't separated like they did with church and state. Furthermore, if you let an economic concept of exponential and infinite growth be the foundation of your economy and by proxy your society and culture, things will turn very ugly after a while. You see, nothing can be infinite in a finite system.

I do not wish to be harsh, but somehow I think economists cannot deal with this idea. Add to this the allergy most Dutch people have for being told what to do (even if it is the right thing) and you start to understand Richard Tol's reactions.

Our current Western democracy is very feeble at best, and it will not change for the better if we do not change the system that favours economic growth and corporate profit at all cost. If we cannot impose limits ourselves, then it will be done for us.

To quote from Andrew Weaver's latest book:

If we reach the stage of crisis management, I can’t see how our western democracies will survive unless we move toward a War Measures Act or despot style of governance with centralized power in the hands of a few. I doubt many of us would want to head down that path.

Richard Tol, who will you blame when that happens?

Anonymous said...

L Carey, Not to put too fine a point on it... Would you and Neveen, teach us a little; about the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States. Just where will we all find the words written, in these documents, like you said are in them; that says in effect..."separated like they did with church and state." I have read both & am unable to put my finger on it.

How-a-bout-U-2
by-by

L. Carey said...

How-a-bout-U-2 -- perhaps you might wish to take a look at Federalist Paper No. 10? Regards.

Kevin McKinney said...

Analysis of democracy's virtues and vices is fascinating, no doubt, but I find it hard to concentrate upon just now. Most things can be dealt with nearly as well in the next election cycle as this one--well, except for those who are actually harmed as a byproduct of the inaction, of course. Too bad for them, no doubt--but even if they were (God forbid) actually to die, at least most would leave families to mourn for them.

But, see, this whole climate thing is a bit different for me. 'Cause the science (excluding the 19th-century phase, which IMO really was brought to an end by Callendar in 1938) is 5-7 decades old now, depending; concern about the consequences of the anthropogenic warming about 30 years; Kyoto is fer-gawd's-sake about to expire; and the denial machine is still debating if it's even warming, though Arctic sea ice is running about 2 SD below "normal." And by 2050 I'll probably be safely dead, so with a bit of luck my declining years won't be all that much worse than they would have been anyway.

But those coming behind me--the two I have particularly in mind are both college students right now--well, I'd like it if they had leisure to mourn. I'd like it if they could afford a memorial, and a burial, and if they could have some music--maybe even some of mine. I'd like it if that music could have a future, if the world had time for remembering all that delightful obscure sh*t that nobody normal has time for--you know, stuff with a "cult following." I'd just hate it if there were no time or energy left for that. I'd really hate it if nobody--especially my two college students--had time to care.

And I'd hate it even worse if something "premature" happened to them. Or their kids.

Cause when I think about how the sea ice looked this winter (even as its "recovery" was loudly proclaimed in certain quarters), and think about what happens when *it is GONE*--and what follows that--then this is what comes to my mind:

http://i1108.photobucket.com/albums/h402/brassdoc/4Horsemen.jpg

And I hate it. And I won't apologize for writing emotionally--unbounded risk to everything one holds dear merits some emotion, if anything at all does.

And someone's "opinion" that the risk is lower does not contitute a valid bound to that risk. If there is in fact a way to bound that risk, I'd gladly write more music and spend less time blogging about stuff that my grandfather would have had at his fingertips, were he still with us, but which I am (let's face it) less than optimally prepared to understand. Bound the risk in a credible way.

Please. I swear I'll shut up if you can. But nobody has so far. And that 390 ppm keeps heading north. . .

J Bowers said...

Richard Tol -- "Only people with a GPA>3 may vote?"

No, Richard.

Richard Tol said...

@J Bowers
So, care to elaborate what you meant then?

Anonymous said...

L. Carey, So with that logic my friend, Climategate emails are now science?:o)

Neven said...

How-a-bout-U-2, there you go. But I wasn't just speaking about the US of A. You might be surprised to hear there are other countries in the world as well.

Anonymous said...

J Bowers & Richard Tol, Please keep it Light?:o)
by-by

Neven said...

What Richard Tol basically is saying: may the best propaganda win. For him that's democracy. Way to go, Richard.

Anonymous said...

It's debatable whether the US Constitution was intended to create a democracy. At the time the term "democracy" itself was closely associated with "mob-rule". What the US Constitutionn seems to aim at is an oligarchy, which is certainly what has resulted.

An informed democracy is no doubt a good thing but that's a very rare bird, not least because most people can't be bothered to get informed. On a local scale they may know what the issues are but on a national scale not so much.


Cugel

EliRabett said...

Richard Tol has more of a point than he knows. Universal education was developed when the franchise was broadened in order to avoid an ignorant polity. Look it up here or here

J Bowers said...

@ Richard Tol
A highly educated population makes for better and more informed decisions when making decisions; for example, voting could be seen as part of a decision making process. I do believe a knock-on effect of an enhanced ability to think critically may start in schools. Or so I've heard.

Someone said -- "It seems the more we learn the less we know."

Or could it be: "The more we learn the more we realise how little we may know, so must strive to learn more, and those who believe they have nothing more to learn are just plain stupid."

EliRabett said...

U need to insert brains before commenting. - The Management

J Bowers said...

Me? Thanks.

EliRabett said...

U2 and friends, not J

J Bowers said...

Ta for the clarification.

Anonymous said...

OK Eli, I kind get it... How about this?:o)

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...
Folks, folks, folks.

The alternative to a democracy isn't an autocracy. The alternative to a democracy is a better democratic process.


what he said.

Phila said...

What Richard Tol basically is saying: may the best propaganda win. For him that's democracy. Way to go, Richard.

That's not entirely fair. I suspect that if the public were calling unanimously for immediate climate action, Tol would suddenly take a much more "nuanced" view of democracy.

Richard Tol said...

@J Bower
I guess we agree on that. I would add that adults should be given the opportunity to learn more, if they want to, about the topics of their choice.

J Bowers said...

@ Richard Tol
I agree with your addition.

EliRabett said...

Add that all children should be educated. Eli's view is that schools should be local and standards national and strict if a democracy will thrive.

Jhon said...

These policies are alway in the process of improvement, complain against these is obvious because policies can't satisfy all the people.

Magento Themes

tania said...

All problems are because of people and but they are not all for human beings they are also affecting animal life.

- Tanya
Web Design Firm