Saturday, September 14, 2019

How Democratic is Your World?

Robin Hanson read a book called 10% Less Democracy, an argument against populism, and this inspired him to ask how democratic our society really is:
In a 100% democracy, all citizens have an equal say and can vote directly on all government choices, and government can control all other choices. In a 0% democracy, citizens can only vote on own self/property and organizations they are in, which doesn't include government. What do you guess is ideal % democracy? 
I'm going to go for 80% percent.

And my own question: where are we now?

I say 70%.

Thoughts? I'm more interested in quick reactions than long arguments.


Mário R. Gonçalves said...

I think he is mistaking 'democracy' for 'state control'. In a 100% democracy as I would like to have, government does NOT control all other choices. Switzerland is the country that mostly approaches full democracy.

pootrsox said...

The larger (in both geographic and population numbers) the nation, the less Athenian democracy is possible and the more necessary a central state becomes. I'd expect that even 70% is too large a percentage to provide truly equal opportunity and access to essential goods and services.

Shadow said...

You mean what works in the Netherlands -- or should I say Athens? -- doesn't necessarily work in the U.S. 🙂 Instead of the economies of scale, the inefficiencies of scale?

Shadow said...

I had to navigate an entire transportation system -- buses, cars, crosswalks, traffic lights, and even fire hydrants -- to authenticate. Both times.

Mário R. Gonçalves said...

I would say Canada is over 80% democracy. 38 million people and huge territory.

I LIKE all security and control measures on the net.

pithom said...

We're at less than 20% democracy. Probably less than 10%.

Mário R. Gonçalves said...

who is "We"? Are you Russian, or Venezuelan, maybe ?

G. Verloren said...

This line of thinking misses the forest for the trees.

Democracy is just another system for making decisions, with strengths and flaws unique to itself. But what ultimately matters in any such system are the decisions that are made using it and the actual results of those decisions.

Democracy (or any other system) isn't somehow good in and of itself - it is only ever good in terms of the actual outcomes it produces.

If humans weren't so fallible and there was a reliable way to produce a true Philosopher King who held absolute power in a system if "Enlightened Despotism" which could ethically meet the disparate needs of invidual citizens and balance their interests fairly, what sane person would vouch for Democracy instead of that, with all its flaws and potential for abuse?


Of course, humans ARE fallible, and despots trend toward abuse of power with overwhelming regularity, and so we instead appeal to the moderating effects of Democracy - it has a certain inherent power to deter or prevent abuses of power.

But that power comes with tradeoffs - democracies are far less efficient in terms of time taken to make decisions, and they are also highly susceptible to corrupting forces like Populism. Democracy is a specialized tool for a specialized purpose, but it is also a tool that requires a great deal of maintenance, and an inherently dangerous tool that requires careful application lest it cause unintended damage.

We can argue all day about how many things we should be deciding with democracy, or what percentage of our lives is truly democratically decided, but none of that matters when we're not performing the maintenance that democracy needs to function properly, nor taking the care to apply it safely.


Democracy only really works properly when everyone involved is highly educated, highly principled, and highly involved in particaptory government.

But the average American is depressingly ignorant, shockingly unprincipled, and dangerously uninvolved, only ever speaking up in their own selfish interest, and shirking their civic duties and responsibilities to their fellow citizens.

The problem with American democracy isn't how we vote, when we vote, or what we vote about. The problem with American democracy is the people doing the voting.


It's a fallacy to assume that just because the system is producing faulty outputs, that the system itself must be faulty.

A system operating flawlessly will still return faulty outputs if the you feed it faulty inputs. Garbage in, garbage out.

Mário R. Gonçalves said...

That is a long argument. I disagree.
In your line of reasoning, then slavery (under a goood master!) can be better than freedom; colonial dependence (of a gooood nation) can be better than independence.

No. Democracy is really a value in ITSELF , not just another system. Any dictatorship is BAD. Various systems can be adjusted to democracy; what maybe we are talking about is the vicious system of capitalism: that is quite another matter! That, yes, should change someday. Not democracy: we have to keep it FOREVER ! And a day!

G. Verloren said...

@Mário M. Gonçalves

Absolutist thinking is nonsense.

There are circumstances where the morally correct choice is to lie, or to steal, or to kill, or to do any number of other things that we humans normally call "bad".

Why, then, would there NOT be circumstances where a dictatorship would be the correct choice, despite normally being bad in most other circumstances?

Principles cannot be valued above people. Theory cannot trump reality. If the reality of a given situation is that Democracy in a given scenario would produce worse results than Dictatorship would in the same scenario, then we have a moral obligation to embrace the more practical, pragmatic option.

If you don't agree, simply look to Iraq. Saddam Hussein was an evil monster who did attrocious things to the Iraqi people - and yet, usurping his regime and installing a weak and ineffectual democracy instead only took Iraq from bad to worse.


Democracy is only a tool, and any tool misused can do great harm, no matter how much potential it has to do good.

Every medicine is a poison when used improperly; life giving water can still drown people or batter them to pieces; the very oxygen we breathe can kill us in the wrong circumstance; and even precious Democracy can prove Tyrannical at certain times.

We cannot allow ourselves to foolishly trust to absolute notions. We must always consider the possible exceptions to every rule. Standing to principle instead of impartially considering all available options and embracing that which the evidence suggests will prove best, regardless of ordinary preferences, is madness.

Mário R. Gonçalves said...

In fact, that kind of relativist thinking is nonsense, and fatal, deadly nonsense. Of course there are absolute truths.

There are NO circumstances where a dictatorship would be the correct choice. That is the f*****g argument of comunists to defend their proletarian dictatirship, or the islamic to defend ISIS state.

You can only kill to save lives, to save the the right of other people to live. German soldiers in WWII. Isis mercenaries. Someone who threatens you or your family. Somehow, you are defending democracy (people's rights) against someone who wants to impose you his power.

I only believe your arguments if you defend the right to kill just for violence, just for power, just for the sake of it. That, is dictatoship mentality.

G. Verloren said...

@Mário M. Gonçalves

"I only believe your arguments if you defend the right to kill just for violence, just for power, just for the sake of it. That, is dictatoship mentality."

The problem is that you are conflating two different things.

Nothing inherently forces a dictatorship to kill for the sake of killing.

Yes - the overwhelmingly majority of dictatorships have seen such abuses. But that doesn't mean a dictatorship could not exist in which such abuses do not occur. In fact, there have been historical examples of exactly this, rare as it is.

The only thing that defines a dictatorship is that decisions are made by a single dictator. Everything else is a different issue.

There is nothing inherently right or wrong with dictatorships.
There is problem is with dictatorships that abuse their power.
There is nothing inherently right or wrong with democracies.
There is problem is with democracies that abuse their power.

Everyone objects to the abuse of power. You're just making the mistake of thinking that "dictatorship" automatically means "abuse of power". This is false.