April 2, 2012

BETTER TO ALL GET IT WRONG TOGETHER:

Democracy and its discontents (DARON ACEMOGLU AND JAMES ROBINSON, Why Nations Fail)

We live in a much more democratic world than our great-grandparents. But democracy has always had its trenchant critics, often people of high educational attainment and income arguing that important social and political decisions cannot be left to the uneducated, manipulable masses, who could not be trusted to make decisions for the social good let alone for their own good. Ortega y Gasset, though a liberal and supporter of republican ideals, raised the alarm bells at the beginning of the 20th century, warning of the dangers of mass participation in politics in his The Revolt of the Masses. The American intellectual, Walter Lippmann, articulated this idea by writing in Public Opinion:

the common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality.

These voices have become even louder recently by those who contrast the speed with which authoritarian China has been able to deal with the global recession to the raucous wrangling in the US. So has democracy run its course?

We don't think so. In fact, inclusive political institutions must be truly democratic, giving voice to every segment of society, regardless of education and income. Though democracies are sometimes captured by elites or special interests and often disorderly, non-democratic systems are much more likely to be captured and serve as the foundation of extractive political and economic institutions.

Of course, the decisions that democratic systems take will sometimes be misguided. But then again, so will the decisions taken by any other political system, any group, or any individual. Democratic politics will also lead to decisions and procedures that elites of all types dislike. Yet this is often not because the electorate's ignorance or shortsightedness, but because their interests diverge from those of elites, and also because the educated elite doesn't like giving up its monopoly on preaching what society should do.

One of the best things about including the unwashed masses in decision making is that they have to accept their fair share of blame for the messes we make. Well, other than the Tea Partiers and Occupiers, who imagine themselves unFallen.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by at April 2, 2012 6:26 AM
  

blog comments powered by Disqus
« IT WOULD BE A START ANYWAY: | Main | THE GREATER CHINA GROWS IN THE IMAGINATION...: »