Dr. Ron Prestage thanks Congress

Forbes reports:

On Friday, Congress repealed the country-of-origin-labeling rule (COOL) on beef and pork after the World Trade Organization (WTO) imposed $1 billion in retaliatory import tariffs against United States if the rule was not overturned.

90% of those surveyed in 2013 favored country-of-origin-labeling for fresh meat sold in stores.

Dr. Ron Prestage, president of the National Pork Producer’s Council, released a statement expressing gratitude to Congress for repealing COOL. “I know tariffs on U.S. pork would have been devastating to me and other pork producers,” he said.

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41 Responses

  1. No doubt this post was intended as an ironic reference to pork trading, but the subject is globalisation (WTO), not the lack of democracy per se. From a macroeconomic perspective the loser would have been the United States, not just pork producers. I doubt if the National Pork Producers’ Council is a major source of funding to congressional representatives. An allotted legislature would have reacted in the same way, as 90% of those surveyed wanted to protect home-reared pork (and those who earn their living in the pork industry).

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  2. no 90% wanted to keep country of origin labelling. The the tariff threat only comes as a secondary effect of prior WTO rules.

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  3. Don’t quite understand your point Paul. Isn’t the tariff threat tied to country of origin labelling as it is viewed as an impediment to free trade? If so, then I don’t see why an allotted decision body would have come to a different decision in that the $1 billion tariff would have a broader impact on American interests, not just those of the NPPC. It’s one thing expressing a preference in a survey, but it’s entirely different when a legislature has to balance raw public preferences against macroeconomic considerations.

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  4. The polls showing separation between policy and popular preferences should probably be phrased, “in a perfect world with no consequences XX% of people would prefer to….”

    I’ve seen absolutely no compelling evidence on this blog or anywhere else for that matter that healthy party governments are not democratic in practice. Elected politicians have to balance both preferences and outcomes.

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  5. Yes, I think the real problem is the aggregation of preferences when political parties assume a governance role. This means that electors who (for example) voted for a party’s fiscal policies also have to accept social policies that may not be to their taste. This was particularly the case in the UK under New Labour. In the election/sortition hybrid that we are proposing this should not arise.

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  6. Naomi,

    > Elected politicians have to balance both preferences and outcomes.

    Yes, the claim that politicians really want to please the voters but unfortunately cannot do it due being too responsible to ignore the horrible consequences of doing so is standard apologetics. Somehow being responsible always boils down to policy that benefits the elites (including the politicians themselves) at the expense of the average citizen.

    > I’ve seen absolutely no compelling evidence on this blog or anywhere else for that matter that healthy party governments are not democratic in practice.

    If you have “seen absolutely no compelling evidence” that elected government is not democratic then I suspect that your hypothesis is simply non-falsifiable. Can you describe a set of observations that you would consider as compelling evidence that “healthy party governments are not democratic in practice”?

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  7. Yoram,
    “Hypothesis” is perhaps not the best word for pointing out a lack of serious evidence. The thing to be established is the degree of separation between the people and elected governments. Perhaps I hold an excessively high standard for what constitutes compelling evidence in this area. I would say your standard is much too low. In any case, it may well be the true that my core position is unfalsifiable. Your position is no different. What set of observations exactly would convince you electoral democracies are adequately democratic in nature? The behavior of political actors and institutions is complex. Too much depends on subjective definitions, values, and goals. I don’t claim there is zero agency loss in the electoral mechanism. That would be silly and plainly false. It would be every bit as false as the opposite extreme, claiming that the elites in government *always* act in own interest or the interest of their class. Progressive tax structures aren’t in their interest. Fighting their own pay increases (like the British MPs) is not in their interest. Inheritance taxes and property taxes are not in their interest. They still exist. Giving up the ability to draw their own electoral borders is not in their interest, yet independent redistricting commissions are the norm outside the US. It should go without saying any government, be it elected or allotted, is going to be somewhere between perfectly democratic and not democratic at all. I would make the claim that in a healthy, competitive party government the degree of agency loss is small enough to be perfectly acceptable to the average person in most cases.

    Keith,
    I have mixed feelings on policy bundling. It may well be the case that the electoral mechanism forces more compromise than would be optimal. But some compromise/bundling is probably better than none. More troubling is the possibility we might bomb Iran because one candidate has a more trustworthy smile. Bundling policies and personality surely does no good at all. Then there’s the unnecessary policy oscillation from one election to the next when a consistent middle ground would be much smarter.

    Switzerland solved these problems with more conventional tools. The only thing we really need sortition for is to make up for the public’s limited attention. There’s a lot of stuff that politicians handle on their own where there really is no proper public will to speak of. It’s easy to imagine agency loss being very high in these cases. Plus there’s good old fashion rational ignorance as well. If we could reasonably expect the average person to spend a hundred hours studying and voting a year we could probably forget this whole lottery business.

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  8. Yoram:> Somehow being responsible always boils down to policy that benefits the elites (including the politicians themselves) at the expense of the average citizen.

    In the context of this thread (adherence to the WTO rules) my impression is that with the exception of Pat Buchanan and the Front National, most politicians and economists are of the view that global free trade is of net benefit to the average citizen — in particular those of modest means who like to eat bacon and cannot afford the high prices that would result from protectionist policies. Are you suggesting that Fortress America would better serve the interests of the average citizen? If so, presumably the referent is the average American citizen, and ignores the benefit of free trade to the average citizen in America’s trading partners — mostly in the developing world.

    Naomi:> More troubling is the possibility we might bomb Iran because one candidate has a more trustworthy smile.

    Yes indeed, that’s why my proposal includes a key role for independent expert advisers, rather than leaving all advocacy in the hands of elected politicians. In fact my preference is to restrict the politicised input to the party/parties with the general election mandate, leaving opposition to an independent house of expert advocates.

    >If we could reasonably expect the average person to spend a hundred hours studying and voting a year we could probably forget this whole lottery business.

    Agreed, but there’s a greater probability of hell freezing over.

    Happy new year to one and all (including post-Marxist conspiracy theorists).

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  9. Naomi,

    > it may well be the true that my core position is unfalsifiable. Your position is no different.

    And your evidence for this is?

    > What set of observations exactly would convince you electoral democracies are adequately democratic in nature?

    That’s easy. Any of the following is an indicator that a given system (an electoral system or any other system) is democratic:

    (1) Most people living under the system testify that they feel that their government promotes their interests.

    (2) Most people living under the system testify that they trust the people in power.

    (3) Independent juries tracking government work generate positive reports about the way government works and the resulting policies.

    (4) Certain objective measures of the welfare of the people living under the system are high and/or trending up: economic security, education, leisure time, longevity, self-reported health, self-reported happiness, self-reported sense of belonging to communities.

    (5) Certain objective measures of political empowerment and equality of the people living under the system are high and/or trending up: ability to access relevant information, ability to disseminate political opinions, equality of a-priori status in society.

    (There are probably additional relevant measures of democracy. There is probably some value in thinking a bit more thoroughly about the indicators above and about other possible ones.)

    > I would make the claim that in a healthy, competitive party government the degree of agency loss is small enough to be perfectly acceptable to the average person in most cases.

    So even though you admit this claim is non-falsifiable you still present it as if it has some role in a rational discussion?

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  10. Interestingly, with the exception of (5), all of Yoram’s indices would hold true in a benign monarchy, theocracy or aristocracy. None of 1-4 have any unique reference to democracy, as conceived by political scientists from Aristotle to the present day. Perhaps this is the reason that we always seem to talk past each other as Yoram’s unique focus on “interests” (as opposed to traditional concerns with the number of rulers or the nature of the rule) is not shared by anyone else, to my knowledge, studying this field. There is no reason why the “interests” of most people cannot be well served by any political structure, the difficult task is discovering what those interests are. Most political scientists argue that democracy translates “interests” into “will” and this requires voting, and most of us on this forum would add that if this voting is undertaken by a stochastic sample of all voters a more reliable picture of true interests (or the general will) is uncovered. Merely consulting public opinion polls on whether or not people prefer their pork to be labelled according to its country of origin or whether or not people trust Congress tells us nothing whatsoever about the interests of the people and whether or not they are well served by government.

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  11. Keith,
    It’s entirely possible the members of the sampling will intrinsically trust/favor their elected officials over appointed experts/bureaucrats. It’s also possible they will despise the elected politicians as people often do now. My concern is there’s no fundamental reason to believe the pro/con arguments will be balanced when the supporters and opponents are selected in different ways. As long as the pool of elected politicians is reasonably diverse I don’t necessarily see a problem. It’s the safe bet, I’d argue.

    By the way, your terminology might be a bit confusing. For the first six months or so I was here I thought you were proposing a bicameral or even tricameral arrangement, what with talk of an advocacy “house” and a party winning an election mandate.

    Yoram,
    1 and 2 would not hold true under any democratic system—including an idealised sortition-based system—if the people themselves were very divided, as is very much the case in most of the Western world now. Quality propaganda makes them kinda pointless on their own. Nazi Germany passed these two criteria with flying colors. 3 depends as much on the degree of contentment of the people and their ideological leanings as anything else. Nazi Germany would have done well on this one for sure. 4 could easily depend on circumstances out of the control of government. Most conventional elected governments would have passed this criterion for most of the 20th century. This was, of course, one of the big selling points of electoral democracy. Oh, and Nazi Germany scores reasonably well on this one too. 5 is met by healthy elected governments today (assuming a reasonable choice of “objective measures”). In fact, I’d say the US or the UK in the second half of the 20th century would have met more of these criteria than a pure sortition-based government in either country would today.

    If the Nazis pass (or would have passed) 4 out of 5 of your list of criteria for a democracy… it’s a bad list. Also, you have a habit of blurring socioeconomic factors and political institutions. While there is a relationship, the two are very different beasts. We are where we are today (regarding the role of the government in the economy) because of a long period of optimization. It is far from perfect, but overhauling the political system won’t change the fundamental equation.

    >And your evidence for this is?
    Your posts, my friend.
    Your posts imply your underlying hypothesis is that elected politicians are in it for themselves, that they act in their own interests at the expense of everyone else. It is plainly false that they always act for themselves at the expense of everyone else. We both believe the electoral mechanism is somewhere between being perfectly democratic and completely non-democratic… just like sortition. No? So your position, really, is very similar to my own, even if you don’t couch it as such. You believe the agency loss inherent in the electoral mechanism is too great to be acceptable. The two positions are equally unfalsifiable. They both depend on the very non-trivial and probably unmeasurable relationship between policy preferences and outcome preferences.

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  12. Naomi:> My concern is there’s no fundamental reason to believe the pro/con arguments will be balanced when the supporters and opponents are selected in different ways.

    Fair point. I don’t have a fixed view on this, I’m just a little uneasy that political point scoring will undermine the epistemic value of the deliberative exchange. The deliberation in the House of Lords is much better informed and the decorum more respectful than in the bear pit of the Commons. I don’t want to sacrifice this by overpoliticising the exchange.

    >By the way, your terminology might be a bit confusing. For the first six months or so I was here I thought you were proposing a bicameral or even tricameral arrangement, what with talk of an advocacy “house” and a party winning an election mandate.

    Yes, this is all work in progress. In my book I do make it clear that all “houses” meet in the same chamber but it’s a very bad use of metaphor as houses normally contain chambers, not the other way round. I need to come up with better terminology.

    Agree with all your responses to Yoram.

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  13. Naomi,

    I am somewhat disappointed (although not completely surprised) to see that you are unable to keep a rational conversation going. After admitting that you make claims that are not falsifiable, you accused me of doing the same. In reply I presented concrete empirical criteria, which are straightforward to verify or refute, for falsification of my claims. To this you now respond by saying that these criteria are not to your liking. Obviously, whether or not you think those criteria are the right ones is completely irrelevant to the question of falsifiability. The fact that they are empirical objective criteria is all that matters for this purpose.

    It makes no sense to change the topic we discuss until we reach some closure on the existing issue. If you concede that, unlike you, I present falsifiable positions, we can then proceed to discuss the separate issue of whether or not the criteria for falsification that I presented make sense as tests of a governmental system being a democracy.

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  14. Yoram,
    There are two issues here. One is the list of things that would convince you electoral democracies are in fact democratic. The second is your underlying hypothesis, which is very analogous to mine.

    One could well be convinced that having at least one unicorn per capita is the ultimate test of a democracy. Such a thing would be quite objective. And certainly, as a personal list of criteria you are well within your right to include whatever you’d like. I suspect if a global economic downturn caused a pure sortition-based government to fail (4) you would still defend the democratic nature of the system.

    Anyway, it is your underlying hypothesis regarding the nature of electoralism that is plainly non-falsifiable, as I said in my previous comment. Perhaps you care to couch it yourself in a fashion which could be proven wrong by objective criteria?

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  15. Yoram,

    We can only have a rational conversation if we can agree on the meaning of words, and I’ve never before come across a similar understanding of the word democracy as yours. As Naomi pointed out, it’s just as applicable to the Third Reich.

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  16. Naomi,

    > One could well be convinced that having at least one unicorn per capita is the ultimate test of a democracy. Such a thing would be quite objective.

    Indeed. And it would therefore render the claim falsifiable (and in fact, due to the absence of unicorns, not only falsifiable, but false).

    So, again, are you conceding that your original claim that my position is non-falsifiable is wrong?

    > Perhaps you care to couch it yourself in a fashion which could be proven wrong by objective criteria?

    I have already done so. I provided objective criteria that allow to judge any governmental system (including an electoral system) as being democratic or not. As far as I am concerned, if the electoral system met those criteria it would be democratic. The fact that you are unhappy with those criteria is completely irrelevant.

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  17. Yoram:

    >The fact that you are unhappy with those criteria is completely irrelevant.

    It would be if the criteria had anything to do with the term “democracy” as everyone else uses it. As Wittgenstein pointed out, all languages are public, and this engenders a (social) constraint on all of us to seek to agree on the meaning of words, otherwise we will just continue to exchange insults such as your “you are unable to keep a rational conversation going”, which is relatively polite compared to some of the brickbats that you have lobbed in my direction.

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  18. Yoram,
    Not every discussion has to be a verbal chess match. Your position that politicians represent themselves, not the people, is just as unfalsifiable as my own position.

    Perhaps you personally define democracy as any system that meets those criteria, regardless of any other issues. In that case you might personally consider any failed criteria to be indicative of separation between the people and the government. Fair enough. However, you can surely see that an arbitrary list of standards for what constitutes a democracy is personal—not objective. As such it does not make falsifiable your hypothesis. It is simply something which would personally convince you your current position is wrong. Surely you can see the difference. And surely an index of democracy that would rank Nazi Germany above the US or the UK is too flawed to be a useful standard. Unless of course you actually do believe the Nazi regime was more democratic?

    Presumably, you define “political empowerment” in (5) to mean “having an equal chance of becoming a politician.” Because if I try hard enough, I could probably find a few electoral democracies that meet or would meet every item in your list, save perhaps for (3), as such juries are not all that common. If I did, I assume you would remain consistent in your position and agree that the electoral mechanism can in fact be fully democratic?

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  19. Yoram,

    I’m really trying to understand your position — this isn’t made any easier by your refusal to engage with me, nevertheless I’m going to make an effort to outline it in terms that I can understand:

    1. “Democracy” is any system of government that enables rule in the interests of the broad mass of citizens, rather than a small elite or a single person.

    2. According to a three-step syllogism that you outlined some time ago, rule by a stochastically-representative sample of ordinary citizens (with strictly limited tenure) would lead to rule in the interests of the population that they represent.

    3. Therefore (2) satisfies the requirement of (1). There is no reason in principle why other institutional arrangements should not also fulfil condition (1), but this is empirically unlikely as persons always act in their own interests. It would be possible, for example, to design a computer program to fulfil condition (1), but in practice it would be more likely to lead to rule in the interests of the programmers (or their paymasters).

    Is that correct? A simple “yes” or “no” would suffice. If my summary is correct then let me introduce three criticisms:

    1. I am not aware of any other serious theorist (or political scientist) who would agree with a definition of democracy purely in terms of interests. Generally it involves a combination of institutional and ideological factors designed to vest decision power, either directly or indirectly, in the hands of “the people”. Your perspective is purely qualitative and democracy generally involves a quantitative element.

    2. We have had many long debates over your three-part syllogism which I won’t go into again. Suffice it so say that the maintenance of ongoing representativity requires serious constraints on the mandate of the stochastic sample which will mean that such an arrangement could only ever be one element of democratic governance. No need to respond to this criticism as I don’t anticipate any progress.

    3. Naomi and I have pointed out that monarchy, aristocracy and even National Socialist Germany (or a computer program) could be democratic according to your criterion (rule in the interests of the people), and this would tend to invalidate any single-criterion approach in the eyes of most observers.

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  20. Keith and Naomi,
    To be fair, I think Yoram was not providing a definition of “democracy,” but merely some falsifiable “indicators” that would convince him that a system that claimed to be democratic was not actually democratic… In other words if these indicators are NOT met, he would doubt its claim to be a democratic state. Your subsequent posts instead flip this point and argue that these indicators are not SUFFICIENT to prove a system is democratic (e.g. Nazi Germany). I (and I assume Yoram) would agree… For example, most people trusting their leaders could obviously be true in an authoritarian state with absolute control on the flow of information and education (maybe even North Korea). The point is that a system in which MOST people do NOT trust their government is probably NOT democratic.

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  21. Naomi,

    > Your position that politicians represent themselves, not the people, is just as unfalsifiable as my own position.

    This is clearly false. I provided empirical criteria for establishing that a government is democratic. If elected government met with those criteria it would falsify the notion that elected politicians do not represent the people.

    Terry,

    > Your subsequent posts instead flip this point and argue that these indicators are not SUFFICIENT to prove a system is democratic (e.g. Nazi Germany). I (and I assume Yoram) would agree…

    Actually I tend to disagree. I think that any system that consistently meets the criteria I presented is essentially by definition democratic. I don’t think authoritarian regimes meet those criteria. This point can be argued separately (and I’d be happy to discuss it with you).

    However, whether or not Naomi (or you) agree with me on this point is irrelevant to the question Naomi and I originally discussed: whether my claims regarding electionist systems are falsifiable. I provided clear criteria for falsification which clearly refutes her claim that my position is non-falsifiable. If Naomi refuses to concede such a concrete and simple point in the face of incontrovertible evidence then I don’t see any use in trying to carry on a discussion with her on any other matters.

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  22. Thanks for the clarification Yoram, but would it be too much to ask for a simple “yes” or “no” response to my question (is my 3 point summary of your position correct)? If that’s too much to ask, perhaps Terry might answer it on your behalf.

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  23. Yoram,

    >I provided empirical criteria for establishing that a government is democratic.

    If your list is simply your own personal definition of democracy, then that’s perfectly fine. It’s a list that is largely verifiable. So, it is possible to say whether an particular country meets the standard you have set out.

    However, we should be clear we are talking *strictly* about your own internalized definition of democracy, not the word “democracy” as literally anyone else would use it. Which is fine, but I have no interest in semantics. You might want to come up with your own term, so as to be more clear.

    If your claim regarding elected governments is that they don’t usually meet all the standards listed (read: not “democratic”) then… fair enough. That doesn’t tell us anything at all of course, for reasons that have already been covered. And it doesn’t mean they aren’t democratic (as pretty much anyone else might use the word).

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  24. Naomi,

    > It’s a list that is largely verifiable. So, it is possible to say whether an particular country meets the standard you have set out.

    I accept that as a retraction of your claim that my position is non-falsifiable. It is a pity it took so long for you to acknowledge such a simple fact. It really discourages constructive discussion. If you find it so hard to admit errors then in the future it might make sense for you to be more careful about claims you make.

    > not the word “democracy” as literally anyone else would use it.

    “Literally”? Really? Have you asked “everybody else”? It seems you are being careless in your claims again.

    Hyperbole aside, I of course disagree. I think that the criteria I presented are common-sensical and are to a large extent definitional.

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  25. Yoram:> Have you asked “everybody else”?

    Is anyone prepared to rise to Yoram’s challenge and defend his “common-sense” criteria for democracy? Let’s hear from the 420 other followers of this forum.

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  26. Yoram,
    You really need to learn how to approach things more diplomatically. You may well enjoy pointless bickering for its own sake, but I do not.

    If you were setting up a formal definition, you should have said so. It goes without saying you can define anything as anything you want in a formal context. You’d be better off using a less ambitious term than “democracy.” Let’s use “Gatist.” Failing to meet a criterion on your list makes a country non-gatist. That’s all you establish, because a Gatist state is defined as one that meets the Gatist state list of criteria. That’s objective. Sure. What you do not established (but take as a given) is that a Gatist state must also be democratic and a non-Gatist state must also be non-democratic. Let’s go back to my unicorn example. I could define a unicornist state as one where the per capita population of unicorns is above 1. I could also take as a given that a unicornist state is democratic and a non-unicornist state is necessarily non-democratic. Such a thing would be just as useless for any practical purpose. The relationship between the definition of a Gatist state and democracy is what is to be established here.

    Given that “democracy” is a semantics nightmare I don’t see how you plan to objectively and rigorously demonstrate the relationship. You’d might as well cut out the middle man and formally define democracy as government by a statistical sampling of the people. No elected government is run by a statistical sampling of the people, QED, elected governments are not democratic. This would save considerable breath.

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  27. Naomi,

    >You’d might as well cut out the middle man and formally define democracy as government by a statistical sampling of the people. No elected government is run by a statistical sampling of the people, QED, elected governments are not democratic. This would save considerable breath.

    Daniel has come to judgment, yes, a Daniel!—Oh, wise young judge, I honour you! (Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice)

    Yoram,

    I’m still awaiting your yes/no response as to whether or not I’ve accurately described Gatism (third request).

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  28. Naomi,

    > You really need to learn how to approach things more diplomatically.

    It is laughable that you see fit to give advice about acting diplomatically. It is you who made a completely baseless negative claim about me and then retracted the claim only grudgingly, and only after a long exchange, despite having been provided incontrovertible evidence of its falsehood.

    > You’d be better off using a less ambitious term than “democracy.” Let’s use “Gatist.”

    This is silly. I’d might as well say that your own usage of the term “democracy” is “Naomist”. It seems to me that my usage matches the common understanding of the term.

    Now that you have retracted your baseless and transparently false claim that my position is non-falsifiable, we can address the substance of the matter. Throwing around such silly-isms is not conducive to a substantive discussion.

    How about if we start by you offering your own falsifiable criteria for the representativity of a governmental system? We can then see what the differences in our thinking are.

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  29. Naomi, please don’t let this sort of rudeness drive you away from this forum. I, for one, hugely value your input and would be very disappointed if you voted with your feet. As for myself I’ve had to grow a very thick skin, and I trust that you are equally robust.

    Yoram:> It seems to me that my usage matches the common understanding of the term.

    Yes we know that. Unfortunately you have yet to produce a single person to agree with you. You even rebuffed Terry’s attempt to introduce a positive gloss on Gatism (by claiming that Naomi and myself had misunderstood it). As for my own question, Jeremy Paxman asked Michael Howard a simple yes/no question 12 times before giving up, so that gives me 8 more chances:

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  30. I would say that the five examples that Yoram gave of falsifiable indications are reasonable expectations for a democratic state, BUT they are far from sufficient. There are many other tests i would want to consider… As pointed out, a benevolent dictator or computer program might meet those measures for some period of time.

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  31. Yoram,
    I have provided you with a robust and perfectly falsifiable definition of democracy already. Which is having at least one unicorn per capita. I would say this measure is common-sensical and to a large extent definitional.

    In all seriousness I don’t think it is possible to frame something like representativity (or democracy for that matter) in a falsifiable way without losing all usefulness of the term.

    One could say that representivity is having a body that looks like the people, demographically. That would be measurable. But what matters more is how the body acts. Or so I would argue. We could look to policy polls. But then again, policy polls have the same problems of mass politics that you like to bring up. The don’t represent the people’s informed and considered judgement. We could use approval ratings. But approval ratings are going to be terrible in any country that is divided internally. This would still be the case if the government was a perfect and idealized mirror of the population. If a quarter of the population wants to go left and a quarter wants to go right and another quarter wants to forward and the last quarter wants to go back… the best you can do in principle is make a quarter of the people happy. Realistically, you’ll end up standing still and everyone will be pissed off.

    If we say that a representative government is one that acts as the whole of the people would given ideal circumstances (no rational ignorance, equal opportunity to communicate with the population at large, equal access to information, time to discuss and consider the matters at hand etc.) then we have a definition which probably comes closest to my thoughts. It is, of course, entirely non-falsifiable.

    Some concepts cannot be made measurable. This is a fact of life.

    Keith,
    When I was younger it would have bothered me. Now it amuses me to no end.

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  32. Terry,

    > There are many other tests i would want to consider

    Such as?

    > a benevolent dictator or computer program might meet those measures for some period of time.

    An ideal “benevolent dictator”, i.e., someone who consistently manages the country in according to the informed and considered will of the population is no dictator at all. This person has no will of his own to dictate. There is of course the issue of how such a perfect person might be found and unless there is a method to find such a person then this can hardly be called “a system of government”. It is merely a coincidence that cannot be reliably reproduced.

    If however we hypothesize that a computer program that is able to consistently produce such outcomes can be created, then this solves this difficulty as well. I would certainly call this (hypothetical) system a democracy.

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  33. Naomi,

    > I don’t think it is possible to frame something like representativity (or democracy for that matter) in a falsifiable way without losing all usefulness of the term.

    Then these terms have no meaning – they are merely terms of propaganda. I would agree that this is often how those terms are used in elite discourse.

    > If we say that a representative government is one that acts as the whole of the people would given ideal circumstances [then i]t is, of course, entirely non-falsifiable.

    I agree. The notion of “acts as the whole of the people would given ideal circumstances” is so remote that its interpretation is unrestricted.

    However, if “democracy” (or any other term) is to mean anything it has to be associated with notions that are concrete enough to allow us to say something about it. I believe, as most people do, that “democracy” means something. The criteria I offered reflect my understanding of this term and, again, I believe that this understanding is common-sensical. I have seen nothing in the objections raised so far that requires reconsideration of this understanding.

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  34. Terry:> I would say that the five examples that Yoram gave of falsifiable indications are reasonable [but insufficient] expectations for a democratic state.

    For a criterion to have any analytic value it should help us distinguish between (say) a cat and a dog. Yoram’s criteria — the greatest good of the greatest number — are derived from moral philosophy, not political science. As Quentin Skinner put it they reduce “democracy” to a hurrah word or (less charitably) motherhood and apple pie.

    Yoram:> An ideal “benevolent dictator”, i.e., someone who consistently manages the country according to the informed and considered will of the population is no dictator at all. This person has no will of his own to dictate.

    You’ve morphed your definition from interests to will. The benevolent dictator is the model for the Christian prince, who desires nothing other than the well-being of his people . Such a regime would be compatible with your first four criteria, which have nothing to do with the will of the people, merely seeking their approval of the actions of their governors. But perhaps I’ve misunderstood your proposal — I’ve no way of knowing as you still refuse to answer my question (5th request). Here it is again, in case you’ve forgotten it: https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2015/12/29/dr-ron-prestage-thanks-congress/#comment-17466

    >If however we hypothesize that a computer program that is able to consistently produce such outcomes can be created, then this solves this difficulty as well. I would certainly call this (hypothetical) system a democracy.

    At the risk of anachronism, I think this was C.S. Peirce’s view of the ideal system of government. But, notwithstanding his pragmatism, I doubt if Peirce would have referred to it as a democracy.

    >The criteria I offered reflect my understanding of this term and, again, I believe that this understanding is common-sensical.

    But you have still to find a single person who agrees with you.

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  35. Yoram [responding to Naomi’s] “I don’t think it is possible to frame something like representativity (or democracy for that matter) in a falsifiable way without losing all usefulness of the term.”

    >Then these terms have no meaning

    So that makes you a logical positivist. When combined with your utilitarianism, pragmatism and adherence to post-Marxist conspiracy theory, that makes for a heady mix (especially for someone who claims that his only guide is “common sense”). Personally I think we need to re-focus on the accepted meaning of words, then we can start to make some progress in our analysis of political problems and how best to resolve them. Wildly eccentric definitions of standard concepts like “democracy” make this task a lot more difficult.

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  36. I guess I need to part ways with Yoram on his understanding of the term “democracy.” There HAS to be some elements of the HOW and WHO of decision-making in the definition, rather than only looking at the satisfaction of the population. The good computer program being a democracy was the final straw… In some future with artificial intelligence, it might be possible to have a computer make policy decisions on behalf of the people that meets with general approval… but that would not fit the nearly universal understanding that democracy has something to do with groups of people making decisions on their own behalf.

    I seem to recall an episode from the original Star Trek TV show where the crew of the Enterprise comes across a society run by a benevolent computer that made good decisions that the people abided by, but with no human involvement … It would be fun to track that episode down and see if Yoram considers it a democracy.

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  37. Terry:> I seem to recall an episode from the original Star Trek TV show where the crew of the Enterprise comes across a society run by a benevolent computer.

    Interestingly the episode was called The Return of the Archons:
    http://www.startrek.com/database_article/landru

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  38. Terry,

    > There HAS to be some elements of the HOW and WHO of decision-making in the definition

    How would you do that without simply asserting that certain selection methods of decision makers are good and others are not? Most people today, conditioned by a lifetime of electoralist indoctrination, would assert that elections are the crucial ingredient of democracy. The Athenians asserted that sortition is the essential ingredient while elections are oligarchical. How do we tell which of the two assertions (if any) is correct? In fact the essence of democracy is representation of interests. Democratic methods of selection of decision makers must be derived from that core.

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  39. Yoram:>How would you do that without simply asserting that certain selection methods of decision makers are good and others are not?

    Democracy, oligarchy, monarchy etc are descriptive, rather than a normative concepts, so whether a selection method is “good” or “bad” is irrelevant. The concepts normally have something to do with the number of archons so Terry’s claim is certainly correct in this respect. But perhaps I’ve misunderstood your position — I can’t know until you answer my original question (sixth request). And we’re all still eagerly holding our breath for waiting someone coming to the defence of your “common sense” definition of democracy which you claim is widely shared.

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  40. Terry:> the nearly universal understanding that democracy has something to do with groups of people making decisions on their own behalf.

    Yes I think that’s right. Democracy is a mix of ideology and institutions designed for this purpose and the concept is entirely devoid of normative content. Ted is correct in his assertion that a democracy might very well take decisions that are entirely opposed to the interests of the people — indeed it’s very hard to know what those interests are in real time, they can only be adequately judged with hindsight. That’s one reason that Burke claimed that “society is a contract… between those who are dead, those who are living, and those who are to be born”. The interests of the present generation are frequently at odds with the interests of generations to come and that’s why “good” governance generally relies on a combination of democratic and other mechanisms.

    Yoram — we’re all trying hard to understand your perspective and the first step towards verstehen could well be your response to my earlier yes/no question (seventh request). The question is a serious (and sympathetic) attempt to get to grips with your position. It’s ironic that your decision to boycott “Sutherland” was partly on account of the evasiveness of this fictive troll wrt your comments and requests. I don’t recall ever ignoring repeated requests for a single binary response from you or anyone else. For the benefit of anyone interested here’s my earlier summary of Gatism:

    1. “Democracy” is any system of government that enables rule in the interests of the broad mass of citizens, rather than a small elite or a single person.

    2. According to a three-step syllogism that [Yoram] outlined some time ago, rule by a stochastically-representative sample of ordinary citizens (with strictly limited tenure) would lead to rule in the interests of the population that they represent.

    3. Therefore (2) satisfies the requirement of (1). There is no reason in principle why other institutional arrangements should not also fulfil condition (1), but this is empirically unlikely as persons always act in their own interests.** It would be possible, for example, to design a computer program to fulfil condition (1), but in practice it would be more likely to lead to rule in the interests of the programmers (or their paymasters).

    Is that correct? A simple “yes” or “no” would suffice.

    [** I don’t believe you’ve ever fully explained why this is the case — does it presuppose some sort of Dawkins “selfish gene” perspective, or is it on account of structural factors?]

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  41. Hello? Is there anyone out there prepared to endorse Yoram’s definition of democracy? If not, then I assume he’ll drop his claim that his purely interests-based perspective is “widespread” and “common-sense”. I know that etymology isn’t everything but the standard translation of demokratia is some variant on “the people have power” (this is what Terry alluded to). So the verb is active, whereas in the case of “rule in the interests of the people” the masses are arrogated a purely passive role, which happens to accord with Leninist notions of “real” democracy, where the true interests of the masses are divined by the vanguard party. I don’t see the analytical value of a definition of democracy that would also include Marxist-Leninism, Nazism, aristocracy, monarchy and an all-powerful computer program. We might as well, as Naomi pointed out, count unicorns, as it’s more readily quantifiable.

    Of course I can’t know if this really is Yoram’s perspective as he refuses to confirm or deny (eighth request), even though I seem to be the only person still willing to engage with him.

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