Monday, March 5, 2012

Are We Too Stupid For Democracy?

Professor David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, thinks humans are too stupid to make democracy work. Well, yeah. . . duh. But that doesn’t mean democracy is a bad idea. Observe.

Dunning claims democracy can't work because “incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people.” Translation: when a person does not know how to do something (i.e. they are incompetent), they are also incapable of determining whether other people are competent or not. In other words, if you don’t know how to fix a car then you are also incapable of distinguishing between good mechanics and mechanics who don’t know what they are doing. Since politics requires problem solving in many fields in which few people are competent, the public is incapable of picking quality leaders. Ergo, we end up with “mediocre leaders and policies.”

Let’s blow this puppy away. . .

For starters, Dunning is no expert on logic. Indeed, he makes two fatal mistakes right out of the gate. First, his entire theory is a tautology (circular reasoning): he assumes people are incompetent at picking leaders and thus concludes they pick incompetently. That’s circular and it’s logical nonsense.

Moreover, he provides no support for his assertion that we pick incompetent leaders except his further assertion that we get mediocre leaders -- another tautology. Nor does he quantify how we should conclude that our leaders are mediocre. . . nor does he show that the alternatives offered were better. . . nor does he explain some of the primo talent of the past 30 years like Reagan, Thatcher, Clinton, Paul Ryan, Helmut Kohl, Tony Blair, etc.

Secondly, he assumes that people must be incompetent at picking a leader because they can’t possibly know everything there is to know about tax policy and economics and social issues and environmental law, etc. In other words, since no person can be an expert in everything, we must be incompetent at picking leaders to handle everything. But here’s the flaw in that. We aren’t picking leaders who handle everything. Instead, we are picking leaders who will find the right people to handle the various issues. Hence, the only competence we need in picking leaders is competence in picking someone whose judgment we trust to find the right experts.

So Dunning’s premise and argument is simply wrong.

But I’m going to run with it anyway because there’s a bigger point here. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that his assumptions are right. Should we then get rid of democracy? Well no, because the alternatives are worse.

If people are by definition unable to pick someone to lead in an area about which they know nothing, then how would socialism work better than democracy? Guys like Dunning pretend that “panels of experts” would make decisions, but how do we determine who is an expert? The only difference between democracy and socialism in that regard is that a smaller pool of people (not a smarter pool of people) pick the leader. So even if his argument is true, it does not argue against democracy. . . it argues against trusting the government.

Moreover, my experience with expert panels is very much what Ayn Rand predicted. You end up with a committee of blowhards with little actual knowledge or ability, who are appointed because they speak the nomenclature and they have insider contacts. These people then spend their time trying to stop the genuine experts from plying their craft because the genuine experts represent a threat to the panel: in effect, the experts become a cabal that seeks to keep out anyone with the skill to expose the panel’s defects.

Thus, whereas democracy MAY result in the wrong leaders being picked, any system other than democracy will INVARIABLY result in the wrong leaders being picked. So it’s 50/50 under democracy or guaranteed 0% under the other systems. That’s where you get all-stars like Hitler, Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Mubarak, the Ayatollah, Mugabe, Castro, Amin, Chavez, etc.

Further, politics suffers from an adverse selection problem. Adverse selection means the worst people will gravitate toward the positions where they can do the most harm. That’s why the unhealthy want insurance, but the healthy don’t. That’s why child molesters gravitate toward being priests or Scout Leaders. And that’s why the very people who should never be trusted with power go into politics -- because they crave power, and they end up satisfying their own desires to dominate rather than making decisions for the greater good.

Making this worse is the ego/arrogance aspect of this. In a democracy, politicians know their power is on loan. In other systems, where people are appointed because of connections or because they believe they are “experts,” the power is considered a divine right as a result of being superior to the public in some way, i.e. “I’m better than you because I’m an expert.” When you combine the adverse selection problem with a sense of divine right, you will end up with megalomania.

Finally, under democracy, politicians remain answerable to voters who can toss them out if they become abusive. No such check exists under the other systems.

So we may be too stupid for democracy, but we’re certainly too stupid for anything else.

82 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

I always liked the notion that the founding fathers decided on a representative democracy. The notion is that the average person was too busy with other things to get into the nitty gritty of legislating.We try and pick good leaders who inspire and who have the courage to do the right thing rather than the popular thing. One thing I liked about "W" was he did what he felt was right and often that hurt him politically. But yeah, just like our justice system is the worst system in the world except for every other one, I think democracy is the same when it comes to systems of governance

Doc Whoa said...

Andrew, Excellent, excellent breakdown of why democracy is better! :)

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think that's 100% right. Our system was set up with checks and balances so that average people didn't need to worry as much about the day to day activities of government because each of the branches is meant to slow the other down. Unfortunately, that's all come apart recently as they started working together.

Doc Whoa said...

Also, have you tried the new Discus system at BH?

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Doc! I find it interesting that this Dunning guy say "well, people are stupid, so Democracy can't work" and it never occurred to him that his argument actually goes the other way and explains why we shouldn't put all of our eggs in one basket -- one leader.

Of course, he actually thinks that he's brilliant and so are his friends and thus, they could rule us all. That's what this really is. But his argument is flawed and arrogant.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, I've seen it in other places and haven't been thrilled with it. But it is what it is I guess. I finally got my account sorted out last night so I'm ready. We'll see.

What do you think?

AndrewPrice said...

By the way... for Facebook users.

I've been trying to find widgets to make our site work better with Facebook. Are you having any problems or do you have any suggestions in that regard?

talnik said...

The Founding Fathers thought humans were too stupid to make a democracy work too. That's why they set up a republic. A federal constitutional republic, to be precise.

AndrewPrice said...

Exactly talnik! And welcome! :)

Our system was set up because our Founding Fathers were bright enough to know that humans are neither smart nor should they be trusted with power. So they created a system where all the worst instincts are kept in check and where the government could really only do things when a broad consensus existed that it should be done.

That system worked perfectly until the people inside the system started finding ways around the various checks and balances, which has gotten us to the problems we have today.

Moreover, these same problems beset socialist systems, only they don't have the checks and balances because they are premised on the idea that geniuses or people of goodwill will rule all of us benignly. That is the system that is laughably out of touch with human nature and which humans can't make work.

Democracy (republic) is not perfect, but it's head and shoulders above the alternatives!

Doc Whoa said...

Andrew, I'm not thrilled. I think ID for all its problems was a cleaner looking system. I like much of the redesign as well, but I note some things that are missing. I miss the links.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, I plan to give it time and see how it goes. I miss the links too. But we shall see.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, your article puts me in mind of another subject that fascinates me: Fractals. If you are unfamiliar, just google it, b/c it's too much to put into a comment. What fascinates me is that fractals can be applied to almost any system, natural, mechanical, organizational.

I've stumbled across an article here and there about "fractal democracy" or "fractal government" and I have to laugh. The articles speak as though they've rendered a whole new concept, but in reality they are each describing some sort of federalism.

AndrewPrice said...

Ok... now you've done it. Explain fractals to me. I am aware of them, I've seen them, and I don't know what use they are.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. The link to the Bigs has been updated.

LawHawkRFD said...

Those who have commented on why the Founders chose a republican form of government have it exactly right. Dunning and his ilk forget the one thing the Founders understood completely as a result of the Enlightenment: enlightened self interest. People get real smart real fast when their own interests are involved, and seek out those who are best able to help them with their interests.

Shrinks should stick to their never-ending therapy sessions and leave group dynamics to people who live in the real world. No wonder somebody wrote a book awhile back entitled: One Nation, Under Therapy.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, That's exactly the problem -- they don't understand self-interest. They see self-interest as "selfishness," which has negative connotations. And they think it is better to try to find leaders who "care about everyone" rather than selfish leaders. But there's no such thing. At their cores, all people are motivated by self-interest. The proper way to deal with it is to recognize that fact and then to design the system to harness the self-interest for its better aspects and to impose checks and balances to control its worst aspects. But hoping to find someone who isn't motivated by it is idiotic.

ScyFyterry said...

Great read Andrew! This is stunningly arrogant:

1. People are stupid. We know this because I say so.

2. Thus, we can't let them make their own decisions. I should make decision for them instead because I'm smarter.

What an ass!!

How is this any different than, "I should be the leader because I'm stronger!"?

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: And I guess I could add that it all relates to that elusive trait that theoreticians tend to ignore--human nature. Ignoring human nature is the main reason they had to invent the expression "it looked good on paper." Psychologists logically should be the first to recognize it, but since they can't define it or quantify it, they simply ignore it.

AndrewPrice said...

Terry, That's exactly right. It's a justification, not an argument. It's a justification for why one person believes they are entitled to dominate and control others. It's the same argument you've always gotten about "inferior races" or "inferior classes" and how some self-appointed superior needs to run their lives. It's pretty disgusting actually.

Not to mention, it's just wrong in every single way.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Very true. Anyone whose theory starts with the assumption that they can keep human nature from applying is offering total fantasy, nothing more.

What I find so fascinating in this case is the hypocrisy in the argument. Everything he says applies equally (and more so) to systems other than democracy, but he attacks democracy because it allows the peons to have a voice. This is pure elitism, not any sort of science.

ScyFyterry said...

I'm ok with the redesign at the Bigs, but I don't go over there much. I wonder if their content will be chaning?

Joel Farnham said...

I am not too happy with the change there. I can understand changing it to be under one group, but the way they have done it is more of a mish-mash and not that clear. Oh well. I would have preferred they kept intense debate. That I could understand. This disqus things are too wierd.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, as it applies practically (as opposed to mathematically) the fractal concept is simply that the whole represents the parts and vice-versa. Federalist democracy is a good and handy example where each level of government bears a semblance of every other level.

This concept is so completely natural that it is in the DNA of all creatures. For as complex as DNA is, scientists were at first baffled because it didn't seem complex enough to be the blueprints for even simple organisms. The answer was fractals. Rather than being a blueprint, DNA is actually a set of directions.

Think of a branching tree. The tree's DNA doesn't have a picture of a tree in it. Instead it says, "Grow so far and then split. Repeat." Of course, environmental factors play a role, which is why we don't have "perfect" trees. But the same concept applies to all DNA. It may or may not surprise you that the behaviors that bees, ants, and other colonizing animals can be described through fractals, not just in how they interact, but in the structures they build.

But here is where fractals get weird: even non-biological things obey fractal rules. Mountain ranges exhibit fractal patterns, as do ocean tides. The four seasons are just a small fractal of much larger climate patterns. And the technological applications of fractals are practically endless. Fractals are the reason why everything keeps getting smaller.

tryanmax said...

Also, CGI relies heavily on fractals to achieve random effects.

AndrewPrice said...

Terry, I don't know yet.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I've deal with disqus at other places and haven't been thrilled with it. My bigger concern is that I'm finding it hard to follow what is going on at the site and I'm concerned a bit on Terry's point. But we'll see.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That makes sense. The thing I've never been able to figure out before is that when people talk about fractals, they often show a photo broken down into fractals and they say, "there it is." In fact, some of my paint programs work in fractals. But it seems pretty meaningless.

It would make sense if this was just, as you say, a set of directions on how to recreate the image.

Not coincidentally, I now feel like my head is going to explode.

AndrewPrice said...

Arg... "Also, CGI relies heavily on fractals to achieve random effects"... there you go again!

This is where it all goes wrong for me. I know they talk about creating landscapes and clouds with fractals, but if I convert an image into fractals with my computer, what I get is gibberish. This is what I don't understand.

Tennessee Jed said...

I decided to try commenting on the G.C.B. post at BH. Needless to say, it didn't recognize my Tennessee Jed username or password which I guess was tied to IB. Tried to sign up and it failed. Probably due to too much traffic, but I feel no particular urge to try again. I comment here because, well, it's Commentarama :)

tryanmax said...

Well, there's more to it than that, and you have to be running the right software. The idea when it comes to CGI is that, rather than drawing every cliff and crag, you simply draw a mountain and a program using fractal mathematics will put in natural looking cliffs and crags for you.

When you think of it, the process of creating such software is rather fractal, as well. Labor is divided such that those who understand the mathematics do the programing while others with more aesthetic sensibilities build the landscapes. Each of these guys probably works within a larger framework that only differs in the product they put out, but ultimately both are working to put out the same product.

Bringing it back to democratic federalism, fractal government can mitigate a lack of individual expertise by harnessing the collective expertise without actually forcing individuals into being a collective, which diminishes expertise altogether.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I struggled with signing up all night.

I finally got it to work by creating an account at Disqus (which took some doing because it's geared toward installing on websites rather than opening accounts), and then going back to BH and trying to sign in with the Disqus account name. Only then did it accept my account and my avatar.

Then it tried to merge my Google account.

It's not an easy system to use.

And looking at BH, a lot of people are half-signed up right now. They may want to put out a tutorial or they will be losing people over this.

Now I need to figure out how to find the people I was following.

T-Rav said...

These are the words of a born technocrat. Obviously, in his opinion, the masses are too stupid to be politically involved and should therefore be managed by him and his fellow "intellectuals." I wonder if this guy has had any experience with governing anything beyond a tenure committee, if that.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I have to say that I'm honestly not sure I follow you regarding fractal government, but I do agree that it's certainly possible to design a government which minimizes the negative effects of stupidity.

But even more to the point, the best way to limit those effects is to limit what the government can do. Because it's better to have a million try to do something and then have them all start copying the people who made it work than it is to have one person tell everyone that this is how it will be done and then everyone is stuck with a bad solution.

That's the idea behind the state's being "laboratories" for democracy. They get to try things to see what works and what doesn't. When the Feds call all the shots, you lose that power to experiment.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, That's exactly what he is. And in his world, he and his "smart" buddies will tell all the rest of us what to do because they know everything.

Of course, it never crosses his mind that he's not as smart as he thinks he is, or that the entire human experience with centralized government is a horrific one. Nor does he realize that people who actual do something have vastly more accurate knowledge than people who only claim to expertise through study.

This is arrogance presented as a scientific treatise.

Anonymous said...

CrisD said...

I am officially incompetent with the comment system at commentarama!!! I enter my name and it says that it cannot "verify my ID" and yet....I enter my comment as anonymous and get through...so I must be good at making do :)

This is a very important argument to respond to, Andrew! I feel like the socialists get this one out from time to time and give it a whirl!!

PS. am willing to take directions for getting myself properly in here (I tried different avenues and will keep toying with it so I may possibly post "testing") :/

tryanmax said...

Andrew, I think you follow me perfectly. The trap that is easy to fall into when discussing levels of government is to think of them as a hierarchy. But that's missing the point entirely. What's more important? The singular massive brain or all the tiny nerve endings that feed it information and distribute its commands? Every level of the system is codependent of the rest. Right now there is a tumor (liberalism) in our brain (Washington) which threatens to shut down all other systems to sustain itself. We all know how that ends.

If you're brain is exploding too much, I recommend this NOVA documentary: LINK. It's hosted in parts on YouTube, so I'm pretty sure it's not legit. If you want to watch it, I suggest doing so soon. Who knows when they'll re-air it.

AndrewPrice said...

Cris, Let me revise this to be clear:

There are two ways.

Method 1: Get a blogger account. Go here: Blogger and hit "sign up" in the upper right hand corner. That takes about a minute and will let you use a photo for an avatar if you want to.

Method 2: In the drop down box below, click on "Name/URL." Then enter your name (ignore the URL line) and then hit "continue." After that you can write your comment and his publish and it should use your name.

CrisD said...

testing

CrisD said...

:) Tx.

AndrewPrice said...

This is a very important argument to respond to, Andrew! I feel like the socialists get this one out from time to time and give it a whirl!!

Cris, Thanks! I agree. I think the left trots this thing out ALL the time. This is the basis of their entire attack on the right, that we're somehow too stupid to be trusted and they need to be put in charge because they will appoint "experts" who will tell us what to do.

You see this in everything they do from how they propose to structure government to their love of committees to relying on parenting experts. They just don't trust average human beings.

And when I saw this article, I had to take this guy down because this is the same lousy, arrogant argument presented as being somehow scientific. Yet, he's wrong in every phase of his analysis and his conclusion is backwards.

AndrewPrice said...

Cris, Excellent! :)

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Thanks, I will definitely check that out.

So you are saying the problem needs to be looked at on an individual employee basis rather than say at the agency level?

If I'm reading you right, then things like taxpayer advocates within the IRS fall into that category, where someone is actually appointed within the agency to work against the rest of the agency?

I think the big thing that needs to be considered, when structuring the government, is to align the incentives correctly at all levels. Each worker should have an incentive to make sure that power does not get abused, to make sure actions are taken efficiently and justly, and to make sure they are done right.

The best way to do that is to make people responsible for their own actions. Unfortunately, for the last 40 years, government employee unions have pushed the exact opposite -- insulating employees from the consequences of their decisions.

DUQ said...

tryanmax, I think I know what you mean, but I'm not certain I'm reading you right. Are you talking about making government jobs more mechanical? In other words, rather than looking at a job as covering a set of responsibilities, instead defining the job as a series of tasks?

Ed said...

Great take down of this clown Andrew!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ed! I love the avatar, by the way. LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I'm not sure that's what tryanmax means. I think he means that we need to look at the abuse of power at each level, not that we need to take away the discretion from each employee.

Ed said...

I found the picture in one of your old articles. It seemed appropriate.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I do recall the picture. Here's the article it came from: Rage Against The Nanny State.


P.S. It took some serious brainpower to remember that. I think I sprained a lobe! ;)

tryanmax said...

Andrew, it gets a little bit tricky when you start looking at how to modify what already exists. I'm not even certain that a fractal model of government would support something like the IRS. Rather, something like the IRS would also exist at multiple levels (again, not hierarchical levels).

DUQ, Rather, I'm talking about a division of responsibilities, very much like what the founders envisioned. As I said before, some folks who are full of themselves think they've stumbled onto a new idea, but really it is quite old. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!"

tryanmax said...

This thought just occurred to me: How much you wanna bet that Professor Dunning wouldn't understand a lick of what I've been saying?

As to the Commentaramans, I think you are all understanding me just fine. It's sort of one of those concepts that just has to "click" and then becomes nearly impossible to describe once it does.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, So you're proposing a complete redesign... like some business guy coming in and reforming some ailing corporate division? I can get behind that.

It's an interesting idea to divide the responsibilities among different people. I've seen that done in some areas. It's not particularly efficient, but it does reduce the chances of someone being abusive, especially if the people involve rotate so you can't end up working with the same guy each time.

I think though, the biggest weapons to be used are to limit the power of government itself so that there is nothing which can be abused. Then they need to make it harder for individual employees to abuse that power. And that could very well include a division of responsibilities mixed with the power of oversight and the power to fire employees who abuse their power.

CrisD said...

That was a good "Rage.." posting! and I went to the "How to blow your nose" link! I never knew from where that newfangled practice arose! LOL

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I doubt Dunning would understand a word because you're talking about things in which he simply doesn't believe.

For him, the answer is: the public is stupid, only experts can make good decisions. All else is irrelevant to him. In fact, he would hate what you are saying because it would limit the power of the very experts he thinks need a free hand to make his system work.

T-Rav said...

Ed, I'm very scared of your avatar. :-O

AndrewPrice said...

Cris, Thanks! That was one of my better rants!

I'd forgotten about the swine flu until I re-read the sneezing article. Boy was that a joke! (Here's the link if anyone is interested: Hampocalypse).

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, LOL! If there is a Satan, the internet is probably where he belongs.

Ed said...

T-Rav, I was going to say the same thing about yours! Obama is more evil after all! ;D

DUQ said...

tryanmax, Sorry to keep going back to this, but can you give an example of this would work?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I like to think of Satan as more competent than Obama, but that's just me.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I'll take a stab at it, and tryanmax can tell me if I'm wrong.

It would be like having an IRS auditor, who reports to an attorney in a separate agency, who then lets another attorney try the case. Each person along the way would have a different set of goals. For example, the auditor's job might be to find the money. The first attorney to make sure a valid legal case is made. And the final attorney would only accept the case if it could be won at trial. That way, each person along the line would essentially act as a check on the prior person.

T-Rav said...

I fell behind a while ago. So I'll just limit myself to the observation that the only economic plan Obama and his liberal buddies seem to understand is a pyramid scheme.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I know the feeling. tryanmax has been making my brain swell trying to think through all of this!

I hope you're ready for tomorrow night! :)

tryanmax said...

Sorry to keep everybody hanging. I'm moving next weekend and making preparations ahead.

"Fractal democracy" is not really a redesign. It's just federalism by another name. It simply is the concept laid out by our founders. The Constitution only covers the federal level so it's up to the more local levels to determine what they emulate and what they do differently. Ideally, each step further away from the federal level and closer to the local has more authority and autonomy. I believe the due process clause of the 14th amendment has been interpreted too broadly, thereby hindering this order somewhat.

So I guess the argument I am trying to forward is that, given the prevalence of fractals in nature, federalism of some sort is the most natural form of human government. Any resistance to that natural form will inevitably lead to breakdown.

So, in response to DUQ's question, the example I would use is our own system of government if it were properly realized. In order to return to such a state, I believe that the 17th amendment needs to be repealed, and probably the 16th if not others, as well as a narrower understanding of "due process," so there is an uphill climb.

As to the IRS, I suppose I am suggesting an overhaul at least. What that would look like, I am at a loss to say. Suffice it to say, the original Constitution scarcely addresses how the government ought to raise revenues.

Try not to let your brain swell too much, guys. I'm really just advocating for civics 101 but using a scientific justification.

tryanmax said...

BTW, I love the brain-in-a-jar pic!

tryanmax said...

P.S. When thinking of the word "fractal" it shouldn't be associated with "fracture" or "fragment" so much as it should be associated with "fraction." Maybe that will help.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, The brain in the jar isn't my creation, but I liked it too when I saw it. I think it fits the article quite nicely.

You've raised many issues and sadly my free-range brain is not equipped to handle them at the moment -- too tired. So I'll have to get back to you in the morning on those.

Good luck with the move!

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I foresee a massive cerebral hemorrhage. I'm just not sure whether that's a bad thing at this stage.

AndrewPrice said...

Ah... fraction as is less than the whole.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, A little massive cerebral hemorrhage now and then might be a good thing? ;)

Individualist said...

I once read this in a dark scifi story that I found intriguing. It was a monologue by a criminal type on democracy. To paraphase it stated:

Democracy is not the best system, no it is the only system available. Somne say that the public is too stupid and lazy to decide correctly for themselves and they need a benevolent dictator to save them.

I say why do a bunch of stupid lazy people deserve a wise dictator to save them from themselves. Democracy is the only system that is thinkable because it is the only one to ensure that people get exactly what they deserve.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, That is thoroughly twisted... but it makes a lot of sense. In fact, it completely reverses the morality argument, which is "people should be free to make their own choices" and presents it from the other end "people should be forced to bear the consequences of their actions."

Fascinating!

Of course, I would take issue with the idea that the wise dictator would be better, but it's still a fascinating interpretation of the morality of democracy. :)



(p.s. Sorry I haven't gotten back to you about the draft, I've been really swamped.)

darski said...

The problem is with (true) democracy. it is always a transitional form of govt until Totalitarianism is installed.

If you are using Democracy as a word for representational government... well we'll have to see what happens to that. Even in Canada under a monarchy we have representative govt. Need to go off and think about this for a bit. will browse the comments now and get back to you.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, The idea of narrowing due process or the other rights in the Constitution is an interesting one which I doubt many people would accept. Personally, I'm in favor of anything that keeps the government from having power.

In any event, you've raised some really interesting issues and I may hit those in a post soon. :)

AndrewPrice said...

darski, I mean democracy in the sense of letting the people decide, whether it's true democracy or representative, as compared to letting a small group of self-selected experts make decisions.

To me, the argument Dunning makes is a strong argument for keeping power out of the hands of government, not for giving government more power, because the same things he complains about with "representative government" apply even worse to unrepresentative government.

rlaWTX said...

[1] is there a link to the original article? I'd be interested in seeing his "thought process".

[2] Some one said that democracy (Representational gov't) is an awful system, but it's better than all the others. (Churchill?) Anyway, in that regard this guy's thesis is OK, but he doesn't seem t accept the second half of the above axiom. And y'all are correct, this type is usually one of those who think that they (or people like them) are smart enough to do it "right". But also correct is the fact that they forgot that none of those folks "like them' know enough individually either. So, it's not that the "right"folks make the "right" decisions, it's that the "right" folks make decisions that resemble HIS decisions!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Here's the link to where I saw it: LINK

rlaWTX said...

awesome! thanks!

AndrewPrice said...

You're welcome. Please let me know if anything strikes you differently. :)

rlaWTX said...

I couldn't find an article more recent than 2005, but Dunning's past work is based on overconfident self-assessment. The one article that I read over made sense. Basically, people rate themselves higher than actual tests of performance results show. Everyone consistently rates themselves as above average. That research didn't go into how that goes along with not recognizing incompetency in others.

So, based on what I've read, there is probably a sensible correlation between not seeing one's own incompetency and not recognizing (in)competency in others.

However, I think that y'all have hit the nail on the head when it comes to our system of gov't - we aren't a democracy in order to avoid this exact situation. A multiplicity of opinions should result in a better choice than a single opinion. And the representational concept over straight democracy also avoids a single group overtaking the system.
And, without seeing their actual article, I agree that it sounds like they are turning their argument upside down by wanting "competent" people to make the choices - aren't those folks still likely not to see their own flaws or not recognize (in)competency in others?
I have a feeling that they drew the "elite" conclusion and pop psych liked it and ran with it... Adding John Cleese and a dig at Fox News helps their self-importance.

from the Daily Mail article: "In one study, the researchers asked students to grade quizzes that tested for grammar skill. 'We found that students who had done worse on the test itself gave more inaccurate grades to other students.'"
Well, no kidding!!!!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, It's certainly possible there was more to the study and "pop psych" just ran with it. I know that happens. And I definitely agree that people generally lack the competence to spot experts. I've seen that over and over in my own profession where people not only can't distinguish between good and bad attorneys, but are actively drawn to the bad ones.

But I do think beyond that fact, all of their conclusions are wrong. What they should have concluded if they wanted to be accurate is that individuals are unable to pick quality representatives when making the decision in a vacuum. But that's about it. Anything beyond that is pure politics rather than science. And even there, I think it's just a generalization which doesn't take into account dozens of other factors.

Yeah, shocker isn't it that students who don't know what they are doing can't grade others. But on that point, I think they have vastly oversimplified the skill set used to determine who is good at grammar and who isn't, and they have basically used a tautology to reach the result they wanted. That's flawed science.

Individualist said...

Andrew

That's OK - did you get the second version where I cut pages out of it. Not sure the eamil went through

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, No, it hasn't come through?

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