Home > Politics (general) > Against epistocracy

Against epistocracy

I’ve finally been got around writing something about US philosopher Jason Brennan’s arguments for “epistocracy”, that is, restricting voting to people who are well-informed about the issues. For a long time, I assumed that such an idea would be ignored, and fade into oblivion, as most academic ideas do. But it’s popped up here in Australia. And, with democracy under challenge all around the world, it’s obviously not enough to say that it’s self-evidently a Good Thing that everyone should have the right to vote, and exercise it. So, I’ll try to offer some more specific objections.

First, suppose for the moment that university/college education was the criterion for having the franchise. What difference would that make to the outcome of recent elections? The answer, as far as I can tell, is “not much”. Other things equal, more highly educated people tend to be more likely to vote for left or centre-left parties. But other things aren’t equal. Higher education is correlated with higher income, and people with higher incomes tend to vote for right or centre-right parties. Historically, the income effect dominated, so people with more education, on average, voted more for the parties of the right. Nowadays, the two effects roughly cancel out. For example, exit polls from the US Presidential election suggest that most college-educated white voters supported Trump, though the margin wasn’t as great as for white voters without a college education. Divisions on age and race have generally been sharper than those based on education.

Under current conditions, restricting the franchise wouldn’t make a lot of difference. But even if it did, the discussion above points up the obvious problem. Whether more or less informed, voters are likely to support policies that benefit them personally (for example, by reducing their taxes) or reinforce their prejudices (by enacting their preferred cultural policies). Given the right political alignment, an election confined to college educated voters might produce outcomes that were more socially progressive (in the way this term is usually used) and more economically regressive (favorable to high income earners), than we see at the moment, simply because those are the policies that would suit the restricted electorate. I don’t know whether Brennan supports such an outcome (from what I’ve seen of his writing, I suspect so), but there is no justification for loading the political dice in its favor.

So far I’ve focused on the decision of which party to vote for, and what kind of broad policy platforms we might expect. But what about specific policies? Brennan holds out as an example the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was politically unpopular and was abandoned by Trump. According to Brennan, “most experts” agree that the TPP “is good for the global economy”.

That depends on what you mean by “most experts”. Certainly, experts from thinktanks that specialise in these deals supported the TPP, but that’s not very surprising – it’s what they do. Also, a lot of foreign policy experts backed the TPP as a way of enhancing the influence of the US at the expense of China, but that’s not obviously “good for the global economy.” At least as far as the Australian economics profession is concerned, I’d say the range of opinion ranged from lukewarm support to strong opposition. For those who focused on traditional trade issues, the TPP represented the final abandonment of the global approach represented by the long-stalled World Trade Organization negotiations. Most were unenthusiastic at best about the emerging bilateral and plurilateral deals. For those concerned with intellectual property issues, the TPP was seen as a disaster, embodying even more monopolistic protections for the owners of such “property”. And on the left, the Investor-State Dispute Settlement procedures, and the closed-door negotiations, were seen as entrenching corporate power.

There’s no need to resolve these divergent positions here. The crucial point is that Brennan has chosen to illustrate his argument for requiring voters to be better informed about the issues by picking an issue on which he himself is clearly not well-informed.

Finally of course, Brennan’s casual reference to “most experts” raises the obvious problem with epistocracy. Who gets to decide who is well-informed? And who gets to decide who gets to decide?

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:
  1. Peter Chapman
    June 17th, 2017 at 14:45 | #1

    Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away (Queensland in the 1970s) a certain politics lecturer (a US expatriate) suggested that emerging technology would shortly make it possible for everyone to have a voting machine installed in their own home, which they could use to vote on the issues of the day. Elections would become obsolete, and decisions would be made according to a quantifiable majority as registered on the voting machines. History tells us this idea did not get very far, and I am sure most of us think that’s just as well. Meanwhile, as has been pointed out in the USA, efforts to restrict voting rights of citizens amount to the lawmakers choosing who their voters should be, rather than the voters choosing who their lawmakers should be. Epistocracy seems to fit that description. And like that earlier suggestion that democracy could be mechanised, it begs so many questions about control, access to information, and the other issues you raise that I for one am happy to stick with the basic features of our present system of universal suffrage and compulsory voting.

  2. D
    June 17th, 2017 at 15:36 | #2

    Thanks to the internet, everybody is in a position to be well informed on the issues and no longer reliant on the lying MSM – problem solved!

    Although that is probably the opposite of what he had in mind.

  3. ElPoppin
    June 17th, 2017 at 16:00 | #3

    ” more highly educated people tend to be more likely to vote for left or centre-left parties. But other things aren’t equal.”

    I find that with university graduates the political leanings tend to be bipolar: socially they tend to be progressive (pro-gay marriage, pro-euthanasia, internationalist, non-racist, pro-science, etc) but economically they tend to be conservative (low taxes, minimal welfare net, etc). Tony Abbot presented a real challenge for many of them because of his socially conservative attitudes but were not fussed by his economic views. In reality Turnbull is their man but of course he is not measuring up t their standards either.

  4. Smith
    June 17th, 2017 at 16:16 | #4

    Objecting to this proposition by analysing its likely outcomes, as the OP does, misses the point. Restricting the franchise in this way is bad in principle, regardless of the consequences. The right of the citizenry – all of them – to vote for the government is a fundamental democratic right, and that is that. If the voters elect the ‘wrong’ government, too bad. In a democracy you can always oppose what the government is doing, and there will be another election in a few years.

  5. June 17th, 2017 at 18:07 | #5

    What an extraordinary revealing example he chose – the TPP. Where we give up our court system for one bodgied up by the bussiness class travellers.

  6. Lyn Gain
    June 17th, 2017 at 18:07 | #6

    I am glad you are picking up on this issue, John. It has been exercising my mind for some time – not in terms of epistocracy (which suffers, as you say, from the who chooses the experts problem), but just in terms of compulsory versus non compulsory systems, and is it better to have governments elected by people interested enough to vote or by everyone however well or badly informed they are. Have not got an answer to this – there probably isn’t one.

  7. Svante
    June 17th, 2017 at 18:47 | #7

    I believe JQ’s take on what Brennan put forward recently on the ABC is somewhat skewed. Rather than, as JQ has it, “restricting voting to people who are well-informed about the issues” it seems the idea is to calculate a weighting for each vote cast. The definition, “epistocracy, the rule of the knowledgeable”, given in the linked blurb on Brennan’s book ties it to the knowledge base of each individual voter and not to a class claiming non specific higher education credentialism to the exclusion of those who cannot make such a claim. In any case such a claim to the franchise is an empty one as Brennan makes clear in a quote pasted below.

    Further, supposing that Brennan’s weighing a vote by demographic combined with a simple questionnaire score on knowledge of politics/civics amounts to the same as “university/college education was the criterion for having the franchise” is a stretch. It may be a reasonable extrapolation of the sketchy ABC news article linked above, but it is ruled out by Jason Brennan in the ABC Future Tense program that news article is based on and which it takes some quotes from:

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/futuretense/what-future-democracy/8589702#transcript

    “Antony Funnell: So there’s an issue here though, about the broader matter of political education for our society, of getting people to have a better understanding of the basics of the mechanics of a democratic society in the first place.

    Jason Brennan: Right. And really the reason people are like this, it’s actually an incentive problem. So when you vote, your vote has a vanishingly small chance of making a difference, and when you poll voters they actually recognise this. So in a sense, voting for your interest, voting for against your interest, voting for your country’s interest, voting against them, they are all the same from your perspective. Staying home is the same from your perspective. So voters, even though the outcome of the election matters a great deal, your individual vote does not matter, so you have no incentive to use it wisely or to check your prejudices and so on. So it’s an incentive problem. And even public education doesn’t seem to work. Voters…typically people remember only about 20% of what they learned in school, and so the effect of, say, civics education, even in college, is really quite minimal on how much voters actually remember. It’s not like we can educate our way out of the ignorance problem.” ..

    “Jason Brennan: An epistocratic system is any kind of system in which one way or another votes are weighted according to knowledge. A cartoon version of it that no one actually advocates would be Plato’s rule of philosopher kings. But really the most workable system, the one that I think is actually worth experimenting with is a system in which come election day everybody votes but when they vote they don’t simply put down their political preferences, you also give them a quiz of basic political knowledge. And at the same time you get their demographic information. And when you have those three sets of data you are then able to determine statistically what would an enlightened public want if only it were fully informed, while controlling for whatever effects demographics has on our votes. And so this way you can estimate…like, if the Australian public suddenly could get 100% on this quiz, what would they want. And it you’re not biasing it according to, say, income or race or any these other things because that’s taken care of through this method. Political scientists have been using this kind of method for a long time to study how knowledge affects our behaviour, and so why not just use it to run the show.”

    Again, Brennan said, “It’s not like we can educate our way out of the ignorance problem.” Not at any level of education, or so it would seem.

    Brennan’s system aside, I’m attracted to the proposals by Nicholas Gruen as outlined in the Future Tense link for an upper house appointed by sortation, or representation by random selection, and similar to a jury in selection and informed, deliberative function.

  8. Donald Oats
    June 17th, 2017 at 18:50 | #8

    Far from epistocracy, I believe that virtually everyone who is deemed of voting age should be able to vote, and that includes mentally ill people, prisoners, etc. Everyone has a stake in democracy.

    Where reform is truly needed is in who may present themselves as a candidate; and, political donations of all sorts should be banned, replaced by an independent body that controls funding of all political parties, including nascent ones. The current system leads to ridiculous situations where the two major parties duck argument on the policy and stick with lousy policy because of concern for where their political donations are coming from. It doesn’t improve democracy in any way, so why do we continue to allow political donations, of any stripe.

    Another area where reform is desperately needed is in how information on policy issues is disseminated. We tend to leave it to journalists to break things down and to explain them on our behalf, but the entire MSM model has ruptured, and the promise of the Internet has morphed into this Frankensteinian agglomeration of little echo chambers, to which the politicians feel they must pander in order to secure their votes.

    Compulsory inclusive democracy: people often object to the concept of a compulsory democracy, but it is like tolerance in society, i.e. the one thing we must never tolerate is intolerance. Voluntary democracy exposes itself to ways of discouraging certain societal segments from exercising their right to vote, and banning of prisoners—as one example—from voting is to exclude the very people affected by the conditions within prisons, and that could see prisons become extreme in their nature, far from the original goals. In a democratic system where there is some proportional representation, the voting behaviour of one group—again, the prisoners—is countered by the voting behaviour of other groups—victims of crime, police, judicial system members—and ultimately the democratic process is a weighing of the scales…

    If we have dopes or rogues as the elected members though, then we have significant hurdles to the production of good policy: that’s where our current Australian federal system is inchoate. Perhaps we should have an entry exam that potential candidates must take, and if they fail the exam, they cannot be nominated for that election cycle; the goal is not to stop the non-geniuses from getting into politics, but to ensure that our would-be politicians have at least a cursory understanding of how the political system works, and what their responsibilities and duties would be. Surely some entry test isn’t too onerous for our esteemed political class?

  9. Peter T
    June 17th, 2017 at 18:53 | #9

    A maxim universally accepted in medieval times was “what touches all should be decided by all”. Sometimes progress seems like an illusion….

  10. Moz of Yarramulla
    June 17th, 2017 at 18:57 | #10

    How does this apply to the current restrictions on the franchise?

    In Australia we already restrict by competence (very loosely defined), age, citizenship cf various visas (it’s not enough to be a taxpayer!) and to a somewhat smaller extent than many countries the weight of a vote depends on where the voter live/votes. Surely if everyone should be allowed to vote all of those restrictions should be relaxed or eliminated? As examples, the UK let 16 year olds vote in the Scottish referendum, Aotearoa lets any legal resident vote if they have been in the country for even a femotsecond in the last 3 years (embassies etc don’t count), the US has a proud history of declaring people mentally incompetent if they’re likely to vote the wrong way.

  11. Moz of Yarramulla
    June 17th, 2017 at 19:04 | #11

    FWIW I think an epistocratic system could and should be better than what we have now, but it could also be much worse. As with Aotearoa and the USA disenfranchising (some) felons then massively targeting certain groups for criminalisation, any system can be misused.

    But I think a basic “pre-voting test” that prevents the most grossly inadequate voters from voting would be great if it completely replaced the current restrictions other than “show you’re lawfully in Australia”. I’m thinking something extremely basic, like 5 multiguess questions along the lines of “who is allowed to vote in Austraia?”, “who is the ruler of Australia?” or “which animal from the coat of arms tastes the best?”.

    It would need to be available in any Australian language. The great thing about not having an official language is that the voter gets to decide what language they want, if the AEC can’t produce the test in that language they can’t disallow the vote 🙂

  12. Geoff Edwards
    June 17th, 2017 at 22:05 | #12

    I believe that Donald Oats has placed his finger on one limb of the problem. When people put themselves forward for pre-selection, their party branches assess their personability, communication skills, profile in the electorate et cetera. Skill in high policy is not usually a criterion. Yet from this cohort are selected those who go on later to be ministers and exercise the top level of discretionary decision-making in our society. This is not an argument to require candidates to have tertiary education, which can lead to narrowness and hubris, but all candidates should go through at least a short training course dealing with government, philosophy, frames of reference, basic science, evidence-based policy-making and a cluster of other subjects that form the foundation of decision-making in public affairs.

    I was surprised by Prof John’s assessment of the attitude of the Australian economics profession to the TPP. If it hasn’t been the economics profession cheering the wretched thing on, it could only be big business. How thoroughly captured by big business is our political class!

  13. Know Teeth
    June 18th, 2017 at 09:28 | #13

    Prof Q. Would you perhaps detail another example than tpp?
    Nicholas Gruen, same.
    Start education early about politics.
    None excluded.
    Citizen jury style house.
    Practice ethical civics from nine years of age. If we only retain 20% better that 100% is embedded early.
    Use a better system.
    Would anyone know of a better voting system simulator than nicky case “ballot”?
    http://ncase.me/ballot/

  14. John Quiggin
    June 18th, 2017 at 10:15 | #14

    @Smith
    Reread Para 1 of the OP.

  15. Ernestine Gross
    June 18th, 2017 at 14:26 | #15

    ” no one has a fundamental right to any share of political power”. Agreed. Since this premise applies to ‘experts’ (well informed) and non-experts, it follows that the theory of epistocracy is empty.

  16. Karl Marx
    June 18th, 2017 at 18:16 | #16

    The materialist doctrine concerning education and the changing of circumstances forgets that circumstances are changed by men, and that the educator must himself be educated. This doctrine has the effect of dividing society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.

  17. June 19th, 2017 at 07:49 | #17

    An important side-issue here is the civic status of children. We deal with this in practice by an arbitrary date of adulthood, but that’s a kludge. Parents or guardians are deemed to take account of the interests if the children in their care, but we know they often do thus rather badly. In addition, childless adults have as many votes as those with children. Why? I don’t have a simple answer.

    However, experience with young people’s parliaments suggests that it may be possible to consult children directly on issues they understand, as part of the rational deliberation the democratic process ought to be.

  18. Jandra Beeston
    June 19th, 2017 at 09:08 | #18

    Even as a thought experiment, Jason Brennan’s conception of an “epistiocracy” appears rather less than enlightening – I have no doubt he’s well aware that “education” is not a synonym for “wisdom” (both sides in the UK’s Brexit debate being a recent compelling example of this discontinuity).

    If Brennan proposes epistiocracy as some solution (which I doubt), then both it and the the problem which it purports to address – the quality or lack thereof of democratically elected governments – are highly contested. Even Brennan’s own assertions appear contradictory:

    “… citizens have a right to competent government.” Yes, ok.

    ” … no one has a fundamental right to any share of political power” Ah, farewell broad franchise democracy, then.

    Furthermore, even if his assertion that “… exercising political power does most of us little good.” is merely an analysis of the direct affect on the agents of political power, that’s rather discredited by the sheer number of individuals who seek it. If he intends it in the broad sense of how the populace are affected by exercising their occasional vote, then it demonstrates an extraordinary misunderstanding of history and a colossal undervaluing of the civic institutions and systems on which western society depends.

    I can’t escape the conclusion that Brennan needed a marketable (i.e. controversial) subject as bait for his book and subsequent talk tour. Judging by the references & comments on this thread, he’s hooked us all.

  19. June 19th, 2017 at 09:39 | #19

    I began the article fired by enthusiasm for a defence of democracy:”with democracy under challenge all around the world, it’s obviously not enough to say that it’s self-evidently a Good Thing that everyone should have the right to vote, and exercise it.”
    I find, however, that it’s all criticism of epistocracy rather than a defence of democracy. If it was intended to be the latter, a line like “exit polls from the US Presidential election suggest that most college-educated white voters supported Trump” comes close to selling the pass. Post-trump, why is it self-evidently a Good Thing that everyone, or, indeed, anyone, should have the right to vote, and exercise it? Why don’t we just concede that Joseph de Maistre was right?

  20. June 19th, 2017 at 14:12 | #20

    While agreeing with the author that the epistocracy concept has many bugs which may well be insurmountable, there seem to be a certain simple procedure which could start us off on the road in that direction. Dare I say, voluntary voting. Those who have little or no interest in politics, and have very low levels of political knowledge, described by Jason Brennan as the Hobbits of society, could be mostly eliminated from voting, and thus political influence, in one clean stroke. Most importantly, this classification would not be arbitrarily declared by the elites, with all its attendant suspicions of abuse of process, but self-selected.

  21. Moz of Yarramulla
    June 19th, 2017 at 15:33 | #21

    @Edward Carson voluntary voting

    Voluntary voting has known horrible flaws though. “Only the right people vote” is normally used as a condemnation of epistocracy or other more limited franchise systems rather than a selling point of democracy in general. Count me as someone who would rather see the franchise extended than further restricted (I have said this before, including this thread, since ChrisB apparently missed it the first time).

    Specifically, parties in optional voting systems focus considerable effort on dissuading voters for other parties from voting at all, and often there’s a grand coalition united in suppressing minority voters.

    It’s worth noting that making other duties of citizenship optional is almost never discussed except when dismissing it as a strawman. I refer to “if you made paying taxes optional”* and “we don’t have conscription, but we can’t ban it because we might need it” type discussions.

    * which we do for the very rich, but we’re starting to have that discussion.

  22. Collin Street
    June 19th, 2017 at 20:55 | #22

    + Voting is a collective-action problem, and conservatives have always had conceptual problems with collective-action problems.

    + Self-selection is no solution to the problem of ill-informed voters, for reasons set out at length in a certain famous paper.

  23. D
    June 20th, 2017 at 00:47 | #23

    Time for a ‘Godwin’?

    The first wave of legislation, from 1933 to 1934, focused largely on limiting the participation of Jews in German public life. The first major law to curtail the rights of Jewish citizens was the “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” of April 7, 1933, according to which Jewish and “politically unreliable” civil servants and employees were to be excluded from state service. The new Civil Service Law was the German authorities’ first formulation of the so-called Aryan Paragraph, a kind of regulation used to exclude Jews (and often by extension other “non-Aryans”) from organizations, professions, and other aspects of public life.

    At their annual party rally held in Nuremberg in September 1935, the Nazi leaders announced new laws which institutionalized many of the racial theories prevalent in Nazi ideology. These “Nuremberg Laws” excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of “German or German-related blood.” Ancillary ordinances to these laws deprived them of most political rights. Jews were disenfranchised (that is, they had no formal expectation to the right to vote) and could not hold public office.

    Contrary to popular myth, the nazis were not ‘democratically’ elected in their own right. They got power, in a coalition, because there was no functioning press or opposition.

    That’s the problem we have today, not the fact that ‘stupid’ people can vote.

  24. June 20th, 2017 at 00:48 | #24

    @Edward Carson
    “Those who have little or no interest in politics, and have very low levels of political knowledge, described by Jason Brennan as the Hobbits of society…”

    WTF? Tolkien’s Shire is presented as a rural Utopian polity, with well-functioning institutions of self-government sustained by a strong culture of civility and limited inequality. The ignorance of the generally admirable hobbits is about the dangerous world that surrounds them, including their powerful enemies and friends. When the Shire is corrupted by Saruman, it is by force and fraud. It’s a very strange and ineffective analogy.

  25. June 20th, 2017 at 01:20 | #25

    Should phrenology evidence be accepted as evidence in criminal trials?

    We assembled a panel of phrenologists to find out!

  26. Paul Norton
    June 20th, 2017 at 10:12 | #26

    James Wimberley @24, the Shire is the only polity we encounter in LOTR in which the head of government is democratically elected, and as far as we can infer from LOTR and The Hobbit it is the only one with a functioning legal system roughly resembling those of modern states including a body of contract law and property rights, and a postal service.

  27. Paul Norton
    June 20th, 2017 at 10:13 | #27

    And by our standards its political culture is far more modern than that surrounding the absolute monarchy, ideologically buttressed by superstition, of Gondor.

  28. GJT
    June 20th, 2017 at 10:56 | #28

    The American education system varies from state to state. I am certainly not a fan of some State education systems that try to impose rigid censorship of library books, set minimum standards that become the norm, use parent based selection committees for teacher hiring and/or mandate curriculum narrowed syllabuses. But I am a fan of the Californian state education system. Particularly the version practiced in primary schools around San Francisco. Here there is a verbal teaching tradition. Students are encouraged to verbalize their cerebral stimuli and discuss a wide range of opinions. This may lead to better informed voters. Democracy has had as many failures as successes. It should be nurtured by a well thought out education philosophy. I am not a fan of either, Australia’s national curriculum, or, its political mandates, as far as the use of NAPLAN testing is concerned, Instead I would urge a rethink of education philosophy. this may be a better way to educate our children to be responsible voters. Edward De Bono once suggested that schools should have a dedicated syllabus that include lessons on how to think. This may be worth considering.

  29. may
    June 20th, 2017 at 14:05 | #29

    what, you mean you would have to take some kind of exam to qualify to vote?

    the way the candidate list was pruned after too many stood independently for the BTR to stomach was bad enough.

    there seems to be some kind of reflex horror twitch when so called hung parliaments emerge.

    the idea that talking and debating potential legislation, for me, is good.

    the longer the talk and debate goes on, the more a subject becomes known, the more the extreme or just plain silly are on view and even the “unenlightened” or just uninterested have a chance to make up their mind one way or another.

    our system does seem to allow one person every now and then, though, enormous power.

    eg.
    Harradine and Telstra, which was a pity.
    and
    Muir and the renewable energy thingo, which was and is great.

    we are not stuck with them for life.

    like the religious blasphemy laws, apparently in our secular system we still have this throwback
    legislation.

    for real? aaargh.

    with all the micks on the front bench of both sides of the house we are in trouble.

    (i have Irish ancestry)

  30. jrkrideau
    June 20th, 2017 at 23:45 | #30

    Sorry I’m pressed for time today so have not read all the comments and as Canadian I don’t know Brennan but is he not just recycling Nevil Shute’s arguments from the 1950s where a person got more votes depending on career? IIRC, you could get the coveted ‘third vote’ for some distinguished behavour

  31. Moz of Yarramulla
    June 21st, 2017 at 07:45 | #31

    @jrkrideau

    Kind of, although the number of votes suggested is zero or one. Currently in the US and the UK they use floating point to weight votes by electorate, which is kinda of similar (the UK has some electorates almost triple the size of others).

  32. Ikonoclast
    June 21st, 2017 at 08:55 | #32

    @Paul Norton

    But in Gondor and Middle Earth, superstition is not superstition. There, magic is real, kingship is real as a moral good, the Undying Lands are real and Illuvatar is real. We don’t have these comforting magical and spiritual realities on Actual Earth. 😉

    Here on Actual Earth only physics is real not magic. Kingship, along with all autocracies and dictatorships is a clear moral bad – the word “evil” is tainted by theocratic implications. There are no Undying Lands that anyone has reached and reported back from. Certainly there are no proven cross-emigrations and tourisms between between any Undying Lands and Actual Earth.
    Finally, there is nothing all to show that Illuvatar (or any of “his” illusory avatars) is real in our Cosmos.

    It’s a bummer. You live with imperfect knowledge. Then you die. Welcome to the “laws” of the known cosmos. 🙂

    To comment on the topic. Give the vote, one vote of equal value in every case, to any adult (18 and over) who can manage to register a valid vote. In places like prisons and asylums ask inmates if they want to vote. If they say “no” or clearly don’t understand the question then grant a pass on voting. But retain the compulsory vote, at about the current level of compulsion, for compos mentis adults at liberty (not committed or incarcerated).

  33. Moz of Yarramulla
    June 21st, 2017 at 10:38 | #33

    @Ikonoclast

    Why should a 17 year old who can meet your other requirements be denied the vote?

  34. Moz of Yarramulla
    June 21st, 2017 at 10:48 | #34

    “equal value” is also very hard to measure, making it difficult to implement and maintain. Australia arguably does better than many countries, but we still have weirdness. Most obviously in the senate where each state gets 12 senators leading to my vote in NSW being worth about 1/10th as much as a similar vote cast in Tasmania. But just using fractional representatives elected, proportional systems generally win over our single-member preferential ones (and both win over first past the post systems).

    But there are other ways to measure value – is a vote for a single MP cast in a safe seat worth the same as one cast in a marginal one? Does it matter who that vote is cast for? Is “federal dollars spent in the electorate” a better or worse measure than “fraction of a representative elected” (and in the latter case, is a Derryn Hinch worth the same as a Brian Harradine or a Scott Ludlum?)

  35. Ken Fabian
    June 21st, 2017 at 11:43 | #35

    Elected representatives, whilst having a degree of immunity in practice, are still bound by the rule of law and there are strong expectations around those holding positions of trust and responsibility that are intertwined with common law principles and precedents – including seeking, considering and acting on expert advice. Harms arising from failure to do so can be considered negligent and actionable under law. A popular vote does not give licence to take illegal actions or act negligently – although it may allow specific legislation to legalise previously illegal acts or impart legal amnesty for negligence.

    The appropriate part expertise plays is not as a requirement for voting or even for candidacy but as an element in the policy and decision making processes of those who hold positions of trust, responsibility and decision making power on the behalf of citizenry.

  36. Svante
    June 21st, 2017 at 14:29 | #36

    Epistocracy – a weighted vote? Weighted by how well a voter’s comprehension of the electoral politics in play at the time and place aligns with their actual best vested interests? We have that already for those happy swingers in marginal seats.

    And how is a pork barrel best weighed for a rusted on electorate?

  37. sunshine
    June 22nd, 2017 at 10:53 | #37

    In this modern era of Humanism special private truth resides within each individual (human) being . These truths guide choices in the various market places our lives have become. There is no higher authority .

    I like the idea that only people who know a bit about what they are looking at should have a say in its fate . However anyone set to benefit from a dumb electorate could easily use human rights arguments to keep it that way.

  38. Kyle
    June 22nd, 2017 at 12:05 | #38

    The funny thing is if the electorate was restricted in this way Brexit would win in a landslide which I assume would horrify this person !

    TPP shows what is wrong with anti democratic politics.

  39. Svante
    June 22nd, 2017 at 14:30 | #39

    @Kyle

    Nope. Kyle, voters in your ‘restricted’, or a quizzed and weighted epistocracy electorate, who “know a bit about what they are looking at” as sunshine said above, would likely have delivered a vote to remain. They more likely wouldn’t have succumbed to the veritable bombardment of personal individually targeted fake news and sophisticated military grade electoral psyops that are now delivered by various media platforms on a huge scale, eg., the role of Facebook in securing the Brexit win:

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy

    “The company, SCL Elections, went on to be bought by Robert Mercer, a secretive hedge fund billionaire, renamed Cambridge Analytica, and achieved a certain notoriety as the data analytics firm that played a role in both Trump and Brexit campaigns…

    It also reveals a critical and gaping hole in the political debate in Britain. Because what is happening in America and what is happening in Britain are entwined. Brexit and Trump are entwined. The Trump administration’s links to Russia and Britain are entwined. And Cambridge Analytica is one point of focus through which we can see all these relationships in play; it also reveals the elephant in the room as we hurtle into a general election: Britain tying its future to an America that is being remade – in a radical and alarming way – by Trump….

    What’s been lost in the US coverage of this “data analytics” firm is the understanding of where the firm came from: deep within the military-industrial complex. A weird British corner of it populated, as the military establishment in Britain is, by old-school Tories. Geoffrey Pattie, a former parliamentary under-secretary of state for defence procurement and director of Marconi Defence Systems, used to be on the board, and Lord Marland, David Cameron’s pro-Brexit former trade envoy, a shareholder…

    Facebook was the source of the psychological insights that enabled Cambridge Analytica to target individuals. It was also the mechanism that enabled them to be delivered on a large scale.

    The company also (perfectly legally) bought consumer datasets – on everything from magazine subscriptions to airline travel – and uniquely it appended these with the psych data to voter files. It matched all this information to people’s addresses, their phone numbers and often their email addresses. “The goal is to capture every single aspect of every voter’s information environment,” said David. “And the personality data enabled Cambridge Analytica to craft individual messages.”

    Finding “persuadable” voters is key for any campaign and with its treasure trove of data, Cambridge Analytica could target people high in neuroticism, for example, with images of immigrants “swamping” the country. The key is finding emotional triggers for each individual voter.”

  40. Ikonoclast
    June 22nd, 2017 at 16:39 | #40

    @Moz of Yarramulla

    They don’t have enough education and life experience m8. The line has to be drawn somewhere. Quite a few grade 1 children could vote validly and give you an almost passable reason for their decision (usually by a parroting a parent’s view). But would you give them the vote? The line is drawn at about the point where it is judged that a good majority (maybe 80%) have enough nous and independence of thought to vote meaningfully. Keep dropping the age and this rule of thumb will no longer be true. But I suspect you know all this. 🙂

  41. Ikonoclast
    June 22nd, 2017 at 16:42 | #41

    @Svante

    Is a rusted barrel heavier or lighter (for weighting of course)? It’s an interesting question. I guess it depends whether the rust is flakey or not. 😉

  42. James A
    June 22nd, 2017 at 19:40 | #42

    When I did the NSW HSC in 1991 they had a 1 Unit subject called ‘General Studies’ that whilst interesting, anecdotally most people took to round up their units to the mandatory minimum requirement (i think it was 11 units?). Notable people to top the state in this unit i believe includes [former premier’s husband] Ben Keneally and [TV’s] Andrew O’Keefe).

    I think they should introduce something similar in Politics (including ethics) that would be mandatory for all year 12 students so as they approach voting for the first time, they have a better appreciation for voting, and better insights into what to examine in candidates and parties before they vote. The subject could be national and mandatory however counting the marks towards your ATAR or equivalent need not be.

  43. Moz of Yarramulla
    June 23rd, 2017 at 22:48 | #43

    Ikonoclast :
    The {age} line is drawn at about the point where {most} have enough nous and independence of thought to vote meaningfully.

    You’re suggesting we already have epistocracy, just a really stupid form of it? Rather than even trying to test for the thing we care about, we just guess at a whole population level then assume the least competent 20% don’t matter? Sounds as though that 20% were the ones making the decisions (which would explain some other things).

    I felt happier thinking that the age requirement came from relaxing the land ownership, race and genital requirements. We are on the path to universal suffrage but we haven’t got there yet.