Economic Juries — whatever next?

Daniel McFadden of UC Berkley produced a paper in 2011 which is mostly about what he calls Economic Juries. This is just like the German CJs that we have heard about previously from Antoine Vergne which were tasked with deciding whether to go ahead with new public infrastructure projects. So it’s interesting to see economists picking up on this idea.

McFadden’s paper has the anodyne title The Human Side of Mechanism Design, and you can read the paper on my website www.conallboyle.com

I found it the paper his website, but academics could obtain it from Athens. McFadden is one of the better guys, an economist who understands a bit about real humans.

The main ‘mechanism’ he investigates is the use of a jury to decide issues of public spending. Apart from a passing reference to deciding if a new park should be established at Boulder, Colorado, no actual examples of Economic Juries are given. But the theoretical reasons for using an EJ, they methods that could be used to inform them and elicit their real opinions are explored — in other words can a jury work? can it decide correctly? can it evade the human failings of bias, framing, short-termism etc. etc.?

Warning! This paper is a bit wonkish (to use  Krugman’s phrase).

So CJs (or EJs to use McFadden’s term): They would be an alternative to the democratic, elected representatives deciding. Would EJs work better? At what? Discovering the General Will perhaps???

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3 Responses

  1. >So CJs (or EJs to use McFadden’s term): They would be an alternative to the democratic, elected representatives deciding. Would EJs work better? At what? Discovering the General Will perhaps???

    There is no way of determining whether a jury would discover the general will or simply indicate the preferences of individual jurors. But it doesn’t really matter, just so long as jurors receive balanced information, vote independently, and the jury “describes” the politically-salient features of the target population with a reasonable level of statistical confidence. Besides which the general will is a metaphysically-dubious entity of religious provenance — a secularised incarnation of the “will of god to save all men” (Riley, 1986). If there is such a thing as the general good it’s hard to imagine a better way of discovering it than by asking a cross-section of our peers for their considered opinion/preference.

    Patrick Riley (1986), The General Will before Rousseau, Princeton UP.

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  2. Does he explore the ideas behind an “economic parliament,” their strengths, and their weaknesses?

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  3. An economist interested in democracy? Don’t be silly! All they seek is ‘revealed preferences’ which ‘proves’ satisfaction is maximised.

    (Although you might say the market IS highly egalitarian — all you need is cash, and no matter your colour, creed, sexual orientation, criminal record etc. etc. you can have whatever is on sale. No bureaucrats deciding!)

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