Beyond adversarial politics?

If you want to succeed in business, the basic thing that is needed is to offer a good product. So you must see to it that the various elements of your production and distribution teams work together to that end. If they fall into an internecine conflict in which each element is competing for power, the enterprise will fail.

Similarly, where a public good is concerned, success in getting a genuinely public good depends on focussing attention on the integrity of the good to be produced, not on the interests of the parties involved in designing it. I shall illustrate what I mean from an actual example, necessarily somewhat simplified. There is no lack of other instances.

Case study

Some years ago a consortium of developers (CD) proposed to build a n east-west tunnel under the Sydney CBD to relieve the city centre of traffic trying to bet from east to west or west to east, It was not to cost the State Government (SG) a cent, but the SG would use its power to acquire compulsorily any land needed, eg for entry and exit, and sell it at cost to the CD. The tolls they charged would reimburse the CD. Interested parties were invited to make submissions about how they were likely to be affected by the project. Perfect!

In conversation with some friends who had a long history of protecting the interests of the Inner Western suburb at the western end of the tunnel. They said they would fight to stop it being built because it would increase the traffic on PB Road, an old artery that ran through tier suburb. I suggested that their policy was not realistic, given the attractiveness of the project to so many others. They simply disqualified themselves from any chance of influencing the project, which went ahead anyway.

The problems of entry/exit at the Eastern end were easily resolved, but the western end proved difficult. CD insisted that all it could do was to deliver the tunnel to the western boundary of the CBD, where there was a great problem for SG, because the E-W traffic had to negotiate its way through the major N-S artery leading to the Harbour Bridge and the N-W distributor. Obviously, what was needed was to continue the tunnel under the N-S traffic and link it with the main western arteries. If my friends had adopted a more constructive approach, they might have insisted, before the design was finalised, that the problem be faced.

Meanwhile, it became clear that remedying the problem would demand some changes to the tunnel and a lot of other works at its western end. The tunnel proved a nightmare to use and revenue to CD was very disappointing. So CD refused to put any more money into it. SG insisted that it had pledged that the project would not cost the taxpayer a cent and that the problem was due entirely to culpably poor planning on the part of CD, or perhaps to a devious attempt to unload its problem on to the SG. So everybody, including the public, lost, because everybody on the production side concentrated on their own interest in the matter, instead of on designing a good product.

Moralism versus structure

The standard reaction to such cases is moralistic: greedy developers, vested interests, governments that evade responsibility. So there’s really not much we can do about it except try to shame them into doing better.

A more promising and constructive approach is to insist on better democratic control of public goods. But how? The tunnel is a single public good, but different elements of the public have different interests in it. The SG thought it was the voice of democracy, duly elected and acting in the common financial interest. My friends represented their local community, and so on. Each different democratic interest clashed with others based on different publics. If each plays hard, similar unsatisfactory outcomes will emerge. No wonder the libertarians get away with the claim that politics is an inefficient way of deciding anything, as compared to the market! Not that they are right. And monarchist or dictators claim there has to be somebody who stands above all those petty interests to represent the real common interest.

Fundamentally the problem can be seen as a certain view of freedom of opinion.

Everybody is entitled to his or her own opinion on anything without being required to justify that opinion. Indeed, any person is entitled to insist that their opinion is as good as anybody else’s, simply because it is theirs. In private matters they can do what they like, as long as it does not interfere with the similar right of others. When it comes to matters that demand collective decision, democracy on the basis of one person one vote respects the equal right of everybody to have a say on everything. The decision must be arrived at by an impartial process, normally a majority vote. If the decision is delegated to representatives, the validity of such decisions depends entirely on the strict fidelity of the pattern of opinion in the representative body to the pattern in the larger body it represents.

That procedure is absurd if our aim is to find effective ways of dealing with the real world that operates independently of our wishes. By contrast, a conception based on the authority of objective truth as the key to understanding our problems and arriving at sound decisions about them in a completely impartial way, would insist that the truth is not to be arrived at by counting heads. It is a matter of evidence and rational procedures for evaluating that evidence. Such procedures may not always lead to a correct decision, but they are the only basis to arrive at collective decisions that are not just the arbitrary imposition of unfounded opinions on everybody.

Unfortunately for this view, what is to be done inevitably often depends on what we want, which is incurably a subjective matter. Not entirely, though. If we are at all sensible, we will try to shape our desires to what we can realistically hope to achieve. We have to try to introduce a degree of consistency into them, and we need to have regard to how they affect our relationships with others. All these aspects of desire involve rational discussion. To the degree that we all shape our desires in these ways we can hope to achieve mutual adaptations that enable us to live together harmoniously while pursuing our own ends. In the many communities to which we belong in virtue of shared activities and interdependencies we come to accept being judged, even in our own eyes by the conventions that have become entrenched in the practices of that community. That introduces another danger, the power of elites to dominate the interpretation and enforcement of those convention.

Because of the subjective element, a final practical collective decision, especially where it is to be enforced by punishments, inevitably is to some degree arbitrary, needing to be decided by some such clear and decisive procedure as voting that is agreed in advance. No such procedure can claim to be unique or a reliable way of arriving at acceptable decisions in all circumstances. Notoriously, majority rule can be tyrannical where there is an entrenched majority. The agreement on any such procedure will often be open to criticism on many grounds, but it will normally persist until a clearly advantageous alternative emerges in practice.

Given the margin of arbitrariness in the ultimate practical decision-procedure, it is clearly desirable that, as far as is humanly possible, even at considerable cost in time and effort, its role should be reduces to ratifying decisions already widely accepted on rational grounds. What procedures will prove effective, fair and efficient in what circumstances cannot be discovered by theoretical analysis alone, but sober use of theory can, as I have tried to show help a good deal. What matters in the long run is what works as accepted as best practice. Many particular communities have managed to find such means of conducting their affairs with a minimum of reliance on enforced decisions. Usually that is the case because all concerned realise that their interests are best served by focussing on the particular good of the community, rather than extrinsic considerations that may be very important in some wider context. So, for example, scientists working in a particular field agree to ignore nationalistic considerations in organising collaboration. A rich national culture may acquire some distinctive general characteristics, but it consists of many strands, almost of all of which operate on an international scale, in specialised international communities.

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23 Responses

  1. John,

    > Many particular communities have managed to find such means of conducting their affairs with a minimum of reliance on enforced decisions.

    Can you give a few instructive examples?

    > for example, scientists working in a particular field agree to ignore nationalistic considerations in organising collaboration.

    Don’t decisions as to funding, hiring, promotion and publishing count as enforcement mechanisms?

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  2. I must say, I’m having trouble understanding how your vision of politics is supposed to work. Your example sounds like it involves most of the elements that are needed to get good public policy. You have the people with the strongest interests in a public good coming together to make policy. But it turns out that they each fought very hard to get a solution that was particularly good for them, and the result was suboptimal in many ways. Why should anyone expect anything better when you put all the people with axes to grind together and ask them to sort out a solution that works for them?

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  3. John,

    >If you want to succeed in business, the basic thing that is needed is to offer a good product.

    Not so. All you need is to beat the competition (by fair means or foul). Gerald Ratner boasted that his (successful) business was based on selling “total crap”. The reason that public goods are often expensive and sub-optimal is that they are generally delivered by state-sanctioned monopolies and don’t benefit from competitive antagonism.

    >the authority of objective truth [sic] as the key to understanding our problems

    Spoken like a true (lapsed) Catholic, but a tad difficult to reconcile with your overall constructivism, and presupposing an act of metanoia:

    >To the degree that we all shape our desires in these [rational] ways we can hope to achieve mutual adaptations that enable us to live together harmoniously while pursuing our own ends.

    I would suggest that the successful design of political insitutions requires accepting people as they are, rather than presupposing a spiritual transformation (hidden within a tautology)

    Peter:

    >Why should anyone expect anything better when you put all the people with axes to grind together and ask them to sort out a solution that works for them?

    Exactly, and this is particular problematic in that demarchic councils have no statutory powers, they are merely civil society groups seeking to influence electoral outcomes via the mediation of public opinion.

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  4. Peter (and Keith) Why should my lot not fall into the same adversarial trap?

    Answer: Because they have no power. Whatever influence they acquire has to be won on the merits of the decisions they come up with. If they are to have any influence, they must come up with what is fairly generally recognised as at least as good a solution to the problem as is possible in the circumstances. If they are just trying to push their own interest ( and remember everything they say is up there for anybody to scrutinise and comment on) then nobody will take any notice. They have nothing to contribute.

    Remember, too, we are talking about public goods, which are not just worth the sum of what each interest puts in or gets out of them, even when they happen to emerge from people pursuing their own interests. Our languages arise out of many people attempting to communicate for very limited purposes, but the languages open up possibilities that have enormous social and individual significance, far beyond the horizons of the people who gave rise to them.

    When it comes to organised decisions to construct certain public goods, the sort of felicitous mutual adjustments that arise in naturally produced public goods are overshadowed by the perfectly natural tendency of each party to pursue its own interest at the expense of other interests, even when they know that that is going to be worse for everybody in the long run. Paradoxically, democracy can make it worse. Reps are bound to represent the interest that put them there, not some elusive public interest. If their collective decision automatically acquires binding force, the astute will concentrate on getting deals that deliver to them at the expense of the rest.

    Members of my councils have no authority and no responsibility to represent anybody. But they will realise is that they do have an opportunity of proposing an arrangement that could constitute a genuine public good, the sort of arrangement that not only offers as much as possible to each of the competing interests affected by it, but typically, in being accessible to anybody, turns out to offer possibilities that nobody foresaw. What constitutes a genuine public good cannot be assessed by cost-benefit analyses based on market prices.

    Prices are what we have to pay to get products we want, but they are no measure of the value of what we get out of those things. I could go on and on, as I do in the book. I can argue endlessly, but it may not work in practice as I postulate. On the other hand, past experience has always supplied overwhelming reasons why a new good could not possibly emerge. Even Newton could not possibly have imagined that modern physics was possible. Universal suffrage would be a prescrption for chaos, and so on.

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  5. Yoram > examples

    All the conventions that govern social life, few of which, like traffic rules, need to be enforced by authorities.
    All sporting bodies, most professional bodies.
    Most public interest bodies, like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, Doctors without borders , Red Cross, International Olympic Committee etc, which exercise a lot of authority without any power to impose adventitious punishments.They mainly rely on shaming malefactors.

    Undoubtedly hiring etc are sometimes used as deliberate enforcement mechanisms. But normally the convention applies that these things are done impartially on merit, and where they are not the enterprise not only is criticised, but tends to fall part as an organisation.

    Of course, it may turn out that what is commonly regarded as merit is very mistaken. It is necessary that such things be open to scrutiny and debate.

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  6. Keith competition (and Peter)

    If you really believe in that crude view of competition, I’m glad I have no investment in your business. A classic story: many years ago “engine Charlie” Wilson got up in front of his minions in General Motors and said: GM is not in business to make cars but to make money. So the minions went away and cut corners and maximised glitz. Meanwhile in a provincial backwater in Japan Mr Toyoda told his minions: We will make the best value cars possible in each price range.
    GM was on the road to near bankruptcy. Toyota was on the road to challenging GM for the top spot, in spite of being utterly unglitzy.

    Curiously, you go on to say that competition ( in spite of it’s unconcern with value) produces better outcomes than state monopolies, with which I agree to a certain extent. But I don’t find much enthusiasm in Britain for ditching the NHS in favour of the much more costly and ineffectual US system.

    However, among my aims has always been to disentangle the provision of public goods from the monopolistic state.

    As for presupposing a spiritual transformation, I have shown in great detail how that is not necessary.

    Of course, I postulate that what the councils will decide will in fact influence electoral outcomes via public opinion. They will do that only if it is crystal clear (to anybody who cares to look at the process that is entirely on record) that there is no possibility of any conspiracy to rig the outcome in favour of a political party. You persistently refuse to acknowledge that not only is the remit of the councils entirely subsidiary to the open forum, but its operations are equally fully transparent.

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  7. John,

    > All the conventions that govern social life […] All sporting bodies, most professional bodies. Most public interest bodies

    I don’t see what you are claiming. Could you be more specific about what policy is being implemented and who are the group members who choose to follow the conventions without any enforcement? Certainly many conventions are maintained by punishing deviants in one way or another, and where there is an advantage to not adhering to conventions the punishment must be large enough to offset the advantage, or the convention collapses.

    > normally the convention applies that these things are done impartially on merit

    Do you really not realize that “merit” means nothing more than “adhering to established criteria”? That “decisions based on merit” is equivalent to “enforcement of community rules”?

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  8. John,

    We should careful to avoid equating “democracy” and elections (a common by habit). When you wrote “Paradoxically, democracy can make it worse. Reps are bound to represent the interest that put them there, not some elusive public interest,” you seem to be only imagining elected representatives who have constituencies (interests) that elected them. With democracy through sortition and mini-public representatives, they are able to pursue that elusive public interest because it was CHANCE that put them there, and not interests.

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  9. John,

    Demarchic councils are likely to behave in a similar way to politicians seeking election, for the following reasons:

    1. We are all partisans in our own cause, or at least would be if we had the opportunity (such as by nominating ourselves for a demarchic council). Political parties in large constituencies have to moderate their natural partisanship in order to win elections, via appealing beyond the party base — just wait and see how Trump and Sanders would soften their rhetoric if they received their party nomination and then had to win the real election. Not so with self-nominating partisans as all they get to do is argue and can insist on ideological purity. At least with political parties everyone gets to pick the partisans they prefer, rather than having them foisted on them by some obscure foundation.

    2. Both political parties and demarchic councils can only succeed in their goals via securing the support of a plurality of the electorate. Given that most voters have no time or motivation to study the arguments behind existing policy proposals (who reads election manifestos?), why do you think they would suddenly find the time to read the proceedings of demarchic deliberations? It’s just not feasible.

    >Demarchic councils will not “not fall into the same adversarial trap . . because they have no power”

    Au contraire. The only thing that secures compromise is when political representatives have real power and need to get things done (and are accountable for their actions to their principals). It’s remarkable how easy it is for parties to moderate their position when they enter into coalition government, but demarchic councils would have no incentive to compromise as all they get to do is talk — just witness the deliberations on this blog over the years to see how elusive is the compromise that you seek. Why do you think the proceedings of a demarchic council would be any less adversarial than the deliberations on this website? The parallel is apposite because kleroterians nominate themselves and end up just talking to themselves, while nobody else takes the slightest notice. And we all believe in sortition — we just have different approaches and priorities — so there is much more to unite us than divide us. This would not be the case in most demarchic councils where there is a divergence of interest — for example between producers and consumers of public goods. A council dedicated to energy and the environment would find it extremely difficult to compromise, given the inherent tension between the need for cheap power and the need to protect the environment. Some would argue that nuclear power is the best solution but others would rule it out on account of long-term externalities. Why should they compromise, given that no-one is going to hold them to account if the lights go out?

    >You persistently refuse to acknowledge that not only is the remit of the councils entirely subsidiary to the open forum, but its operations are equally fully transparent.

    If by the “open forum” you mean public opinion then I certainly don’t refuse to acknowledge that — the take home message of this comment being that this is why demarchy will be ineffectual. As for competition in (car) manufacturing, it’s for consumers to decide what is of value (price, reliability, quality, aesthetics etc) and manufacturers have to compete according to these criteria. In my own printing business we have to balance similar considerations.

    >Universal suffrage [is] a prescription for chaos

    As I mentioned before, not only do you view democracy as impossible, you also believe that it is undesirable.

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  10. Terry,

    >With democracy through sortition and mini-public representatives, they are able to pursue that elusive public interest because it was CHANCE that put them there, and not interests.

    That assumes that persons chosen by lot are in some sense blank slates, rather than being bearers of interests. Some of us (for example Yoram and myself) would claim that legislative decision-making by minipublic is democratically legitimate in so far as it represents interests statistically and that the notion of the “public interest” cannot be separated from the interests of the persons that go to make up the public. Your suggestion of a causal connection between CHANCE and the public interest looks a bit like a secularised version of the argument for the religious origin of lot. Are you suggesting a connection between the blind break and the Blind Watchmaker?

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  11. All

    If everybody goes along to a power struggle that is supposed to end in a public good with their minds made up about what they want and determined to do whatever they can to get it, you are pretty sure to get a poor outcome. They will compromise, of course, but only on the irrelevant grounds of how much power they can muster by wheeling and dealing.

    If they go along to an inquiry mindful to their common interest in getting as good a public good as possible as their first priority, but also concerned to promote the things that matter most to them, they will find two things:

    1. Taking part in an open debate where not jus people’s personal decisions, but every aspect of the problem is debated without any power dealing, opens up perspectives that a concentration on their own particular situation distorts. It is characteristic of genuine public goods that they amplify the range of opportunities open to people, and hence the range of their interests.

    2. That attempting compromise by finding ways of offering others as much as possible at least cost to one’s own concerns in the context is a good way of developing a practical agreement about what to do.

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  12. Terry,

    Democracy has acquired a lot of connotations, because of its sacred cow status in political rhetoric.
    I too once thought exactly what you claim, and appear as an apostate from the true faith, because I have come to agree with the “realists” that being selected by lot is not enough. Crudely, if you put people in positions of power, they will be forced to end up playing power games, instead of looking for a sound basis of compromise between inevitably conflicting or competing considerations.
    I now think, as I have said in my earlier post today, that the deliberation about the best solution needs to be taken our of the contest of power.

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  13. Yoram > conventions

    Social policy is embodied in the conventions that govern daily life, people’s actions communications , values, entitlements and liberties. I’m a very old man. My memories go back to the 1930s, and I’m very conscious or how much all those conventions have changed, almost always against the wishes of the establishment, very often by people acting deliberately to change them for quite specific reasons.

    That great world-wide movement has been mainly in the direction of increasing personal freedom (the personal is the political), and has sometimes led to less responsibility. But there have also been many ways in which we have come to accept new responsibilities,especially towards the disabled. Not so long ago people felt sorry for the disabled, but left them to their own devices. Now we recognise a social responsibility to do everything we can to enable them to take as full a part as possible in all the normal activities the rest of us enjoy. People are not entirely selfish. The amount of their resources and time that modern parents are required to give to their children is by historical standards extraordinary. Far from expecting anything in return oldies feel obliged to pay their own way in retirement.

    Behind these changes is an enormous amount of discussion and social pressure. The establishment resists by parodying “political correctness”, sometimes to good effect. Public opinion is not infallible, but neither is it set in concrete. But by and large, in an open society, things do improve, at least in matters that really are governed by conventions that ordinary people can change. When it comes to formally entrenched systems of monopoly or oligopoly power popular movements are only sporadically effective.

    The money masters are out of control. It is incredible that S&P gave AAA rating to bonds that it knew were worthless and the collapse of those bonds led to the near collapse of the financial system , affecting millions of people, and yet neither S&P nor anybody connected with it has ever been punished for such a world-shaking fraud! And it is still in business, making and breaking firms and even governments, because it alone, with its few brethren , is supposed to have all thinformation relevant to assessing their financial situation.

    Political and economic institutions are not very vulnerable to popular pressure. As you say in such matters “merit’ is often reduced to conformity to established rules. Occasionally we do succeed in breaking through. In Australia we elected as PM a woman, not much good on TV, an atheist, living in sin with her hairdresser! But she had a reputation of being an effective conciliator, legislator and administrator.

    The great coup that the rich have pulled off is to make it virtually impossible for anybody to reinstate the sort of controls on their activities that the old social democrats managed. So they have flourished while the poor have got poorer and even the middle class is shrinking. I do not believe we can go back to the old systems or even sustain them where they still exist. The structure of money and of trade has been internationalised, and only international authorities can deal with the problems as they have now emerged. An international state is an absurdity. We are going to need to be very inventive.

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  14. John,

    >If they go along to an inquiry mindful to their common interest in getting as good a public good as possible as their first priority . . .

    That’s almost as big an If as in Kipling’s poem. Demarchy would appear to reduce to the tautological claim that reasonable people deliberating together in a power-free context where reasons predominate will come to reasonable decisions. But this begs at least two questions:

    1. How do we identify these 21st century aristocrats? Your claim is that they should be selected from those who declare themselves as having a substantial interest in the outcome of the decision (Dahl’s principle of affected interests). I would respond (with Madison) that such people are more likely to be ruled by passions rather than reasons.

    2. Why should an absence of power lead to a republic of reasons? This is standard Habermasian doctrine, based on the distinction between instrumental and communicative action, but what evidence is there for for this strong claim? The evidence of the deliberations on this forum would suggest the opposite. All of us (with the possible exception of yourself) believe passionately in sortition, and would like to see it put into practice. But we have no power whatsoever, so all we do is argue and have made little progress towards resolving our differences, which are modest in comparison to the examples that I provided earlier (the clash between producer/consumer interests in the delivery of public goods and the difficulty in reconciling the need for cheap energy with long-term environmental concerns).

    I would hazard a guess that if this forum had some real powers then we would very rapidly converge on some common ground. If, say, the EU wanted to implement some form of sortition to overcome its perceived democratic deficit then we would be able to come up with a compromise that Burnheim, Gat, Bouricius, Sutherland and the other hotheads agreed to, and the stimulus would be the pressure applied on us by the 400 plus silent witnesses to this blog — i.e. those who have only a passing interest in sortition.

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  15. John,

    > Political and economic institutions are not very vulnerable to popular pressure.

    This is true for those institutions as they are currently constituted, but this is not an invariant property of political and economic institutions.

    > The structure of money and of trade has been internationalised, and only international authorities can deal with the problems as they have now emerged. An international state is an absurdity. We are going to need to be very inventive.

    I disagree that there is some sort of an inherent reason – “globalization” – for modern plutocracy. Rather, “globalization” is a tool for the oligarchy to enhance its power.

    Yes – the struggle for democracy is never easy, especially in large scale societies. Yes – achieving and maintaining democracy require constant vigilance and inventiveness. That said, it is clear that moving away from electoralism and toward a sortition-based system is a necessary condition for democratization of society.

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  16. Yoram,

    We disagree only at one point. I agree heartily that globalisation is in fact a tool for the plutocracy to enlarge its power, but it also is necessary to arrive at something like a fair labour market in which labour everywhere gets much the same price. The only alternative is to allow complete mobility of labour, which is socially unacceptable. Country after country has scaled the ladder from selling labour cheap to living standards comparable to the old plutocracies. The point I want to make is that global operations must have global regulation. Our politics are stuck in nationalist myopia.

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  17. > [globalisation] also is necessary to arrive at something like a fair labour market in which labour everywhere gets much the same price

    Why is worldwide competition of labor a desirable thing? If the objective is to provide benefits for laborers in poor countries, surely there are much better ways to do that.

    > global operations must have global regulation. Our politics are stuck in nationalist myopia

    There do exist various forms of global regulation, but these are tailored, like domestic policy, to the interests of the global elite. We are not “stuck in nationalist myopia”, we are stuck in an oligarchical system.

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  18. Yoram:

    >Why is worldwide competition of labor a desirable thing? If the objective is to provide benefits for laborers in poor countries, surely there are much better ways to do that.

    There’s little historical evidence to support your supposition, but no doubt that’s on account of the ubiquity of oligarchy across all continents, political systems and historical eras. But why should we care about banal things like evidence when we are in possession of the magic bullet that would transform the lives of the masses everywhere?

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  19. Yoram > globalisation

    The alternative is aid. It has its uses, but can’t manage take-off. People want jobs . I could explain in some detail why only international trade brings jobs not just to sell labour cheaply to the rich, but, more importantly, to get the local labour market going.

    Oligarchies are there to be tackled. But it is wrong to think their ideological dominance is just the result of exercising power. It has to have an independent base in social life that it exploits. To fight it you have to get to grips with that base.

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  20. > The alternative is aid

    Asserting that “globalization” (i.e., global competition of labor) and “aid” (some specific small scale programs that have been tried, which were designed and implemented by the global elites and inevitably shaped to serve their interests) are the only alternatives is completely baseless. (Just as an example of additional alternatives that have never been pursued, it could certainly be that gradually eliminating all trade between first world countries and third world countries would be beneficial for all.)

    To believe that “globalization” is the best policy for labor in poor countries, one has to believe one of the following two statements:

    (1) “globalization” has been pursued because it was perceived to be a way to help labor in poor countries, or

    (2) “globalization” has been pursued for other purposes, but just so happens to be the best thing for labor in poor countries.

    It seems to me the first is patently false, and for the second to be true would be a coincidence of cosmic proportions.

    > I could explain in some detail

    So, again, you believe that you have enough understanding of the complexities of worldwide economics to be able to prove blanket statements about it. How does this match with your deference to the experts?

    > [Elite ideological dominance] has to have an independent base in social life that it exploits.

    I don’t know what you mean by “independent base”.

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  21. Yoram,

    I’m genuinely puzzled as to why you choose to focus uniquely on motives as opposed to consequences. Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees would suggest that coincidences do happen and they don’t have to be of cosmic proportions. Anyway why would it matter, if the unintended outcome was benign for all parties? As for your own proposed solution, the intended outcome would appear to be to keep third world countries in a state of permanent penury.

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  22. Keith > your questions (march14, 2016)

    1.
    Whatever passions rule their hearts, they will only get agreement from others if what they actually say has some appeal to considerations that those others recognise as deserving attention. And the outcome of their deliberations has no point unless it makes a plausible claim to be a good solution to the problem it addresses. In this context, as in countless others, individuals are just the bearers of ideas.

    2. The mere absence of power certainly does not guarantee rationality. That requires special motivation. Nor have I ever denied the importance of conflicting and competing interests, or even assumed that all such problems are in fact solvable by sweet reason.

    What I want to suggest is that sortition is a means of filling offices, and its value is a function of those roles are required to perform. You tend to assume that very little change is needed in the structure of roles and associated procedures that we now have.

    I am very critical of them and the assumptions that underlie them, as well as of their actual performance. But I want to put aside many important questions about institutionalised power and you don’t want to allow me to do that. Fair enough, if you can show that it’s impossible.

    If we were placed in a situation that imposed on us the responsibility of coming to a practical conclusion, we might cobble together an agreement, but I doubt whether it would get far, even with our fellow travellers, let alone anybody else.

    On the other hand I see my role as trying to get people to ask questions they have not asked before. My book is all about trying to get people to think outside the ruling frame and ask the question: How is it possible to get good public policy where collective action is necessary? If I am right, that shift of focus is very important. Only actual experience can settle that claim, and it’s most unlikely anybody will give my proposals a trial.

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  23. John,

    >Only actual experience can settle that claim, and it’s most unlikely anybody will give my proposals a trial.

    But we can draw inferences based on similar cases and that’s why I keep referring to the activity of this blog. None of us have any power and the only constraint is our own time, leading to an outpouring of hot air and there is no incentive whatsoever to compromise. It would be entirely different if we had a formal role to play.

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