Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Brennan Against Democracy

From the New Yorker article I linked earlier, this passage does a good job of challenging the universal regard shown for elections:
In a new book, “Against Democracy” (Princeton), Jason Brennan, a political philosopher at Georgetown, has turned Estlund’s hedging inside out to create an uninhibited argument for epistocracy. Against Estlund’s claim that universal suffrage is the default, Brennan argues that it’s entirely justifiable to limit the political power that the irrational, the ignorant, and the incompetent have over others. To counter Estlund’s concern for fairness, Brennan asserts that the public’s welfare is more important than anyone’s hurt feelings; after all, he writes, few would consider it unfair to disqualify jurors who are morally or cognitively incompetent. As for Estlund’s worry about demographic bias, Brennan waves it off. Empirical research shows that people rarely vote for their narrow self-interest; seniors favor Social Security no more strongly than the young do. Brennan suggests that since voters in an epistocracy would be more enlightened about crime and policing, “excluding the bottom 80 percent of white voters from voting might be just what poor blacks need.”
I have immediately obtained the book "Against Democracy" - I intend to read and blog about it.

However, here's an immediate thought regarding the quote. Brennan claims that "[e]mpirical research shows that people rarely vote for their narrow self-interest". Would that still be the case if you gave voting rights to a competent minority?

I am reminded of the self-serving votes about MPs' salaries in various parliaments all over the world.

I applaud with enthusiasm to come up with alternatives to democracy but I'm skeptical as to any system of governance can succeed with an uninformed electorate. As Kant said, "out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made."

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