25 June 2012

Pegged it

So there have been a variety of political psychology works coming out over the last few years. Generally speaking, people of different political persuasions have different brains. The more amusing one was Haidt's work had to put in an entire moral dimension in order to figure out what the hell libertarians were doing (they/we didn't appear to use any of the standards they'd chosen). Along those lines, there's this test here. 
And its accompanying write-up.

What's worth examining, and I suppose explaining, is why libertarians don't seem all that fond of "democracy" or "political freedom". What I would say is that if we have a system whereby most of our mores, customs, behaviors, and basic liberties are determined by a political structure, then a level of participatory democracy seems fine and (at least sometimes) preferable to arbitrary decision making where accountability to the public is non-existent. There at least is the opportunity to convince people to let things slide rather than legislate them away, to elect different people to make different decisions, etc. Where I differ is that I don't think most things ought to be or even need to be limited, controlled, confined, or restricted by popular mandates as in a "politically free" environment or to be subject to elected representatives and appointed bureaucrats' decision making. That is, that most things are more free and more ably determined without using the institutions of governance to rule on them. I don't particularly think people should frequent prostitutes, consume most illegal or mind-altering substances, educate their children with creationist nonsense, and so on. But I'm not at all convinced that this desire is best satisfied by compelling other people to share these preferences through force of law. Hence I don't find it convincing to have political freedoms to exercise this as a power if it is a power I don't want to have in the first place.

As a further problem, I find that most people get to exercise their preferences on all manner of items but only have self-interested concerns that intersect on a handful, if any. This means on most ballot lists, people won't be very well informed as to what will satisfy their interests, or those of the community as a whole. This problem is amplified where many issues are concerned with more complex items (economic policy, trade, foreign policy, etc). Where very few people are at all educated to any level of expertise, and those that are have often vastly divergent views from the general population. For example support for trade or immigration barriers or minimum wage laws or various corporate subsidies is very low among economists because none of these is a particularly effective way of advancing human prosperity, or in some cases is actively harmful, and over 50% in all cases for the general public thinks they're great ideas. Exercising this kind of political freedom is not particularly beneficial to a society.

I would look upon this part as the general concern with the idea that somehow people not voting is a problem worthy of attention itself. Usually through requiring or calling upon people to turn out to vote rather than exhorting them to learn about the issues or reducing the scope of legal actions available to simplify their options and increase the likelihood of an informed electorate and resulting self-interested voter responses. Given the prominence also of obscure methods of changing national policies influence over state and local matters (eg, that most people think in terms of Presidents rather than mayors or governors), the problem of voter ignorance is magnified rather than reduced and I'm not encouraged by continued public concern with voter turnout.
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