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The Rational Republic
morans
kent_allard_jr
This is a bit of pie-in-the-sky political philosophizing. It's based on a contradiction between two principles.

On the one hand, a good government is one that acts in the best interests of its people, and the only way to ensure this (that we know of) is to hold the government responsible to those people through free, fair and regular elections. On the other, a good government is a well-informed government, one that studies the issues it's involved in.

Traditionally, we've hoped or assumed that representative democracy fulfills both criteria: We elect leaders who then learn all they need to make intelligent decisions, because failing to do so could lead to disasters that they would be held responsible for. Is this, however, a safe assumption? I don't think it is, particularly when dealing with issues of great public interest but limited public knowledge. What's the point of learning about an issue if you're responsible to an uneducated public, that will punish you for taking the correct, well-informed position?

Note that when I say "uneducated" I mean "about a specific issue." Everyone is poorly informed about some matters, and well informed about others. This is not a question of college degrees or anything like that. It isn't about credentials, but a willingness to learn.

My solution to this problem would be, first of all, to have a limited bicameralism, with one elected (and more powerful) chamber, and another made up of technocrats elected from professional associations or something like that. The latter would be able to veto the decisions of the former, but only with a supermajority vote (say, 3/4th of the technocrat chamber); they would only be able to veto if there was a broad professional consensus. (In practice, these vetoes would have to be made by specialist committees, rather than the chamber as a whole. So there'd be one made up of economists, one of national security specialists, and so on.)

In addition, the second chamber's veto could be overridden by a draft lottery legislature. This would be a group of randomly selected citizens, who would listen to arguments from representatives of both chambers before deciding whether to sustain or override the veto. So in my vision, the constitution would be both more technocratic and more democratic at the same time, with the purpose of creating, and putting more power in the hands of, a well-informed public.

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Who decides what professions get represented? It's amusing to contemplate a chamber composed of people whose professions were all important in the 18th century, with the farriers and carriage-makers and so forth forming a voting block to keep computer programmers from being recognized as an important profession.

A good question, and one I can't answer for sure. My guess is there'd be a budget committee made up of economists, a judicial committee made up of lawyers, and so forth, and these committees would select members to a grand council of sorts that would be like the House Rules Committee. Professional associations would only have a say in matters that effected them. Exact qualifications for membership would be set by legislation, not by constitutional amendment, but obviously committees would veto any drastic change so they'd have to be defended before DLLs.

I don't have time to critique this, but kudos for putting this kind of thinky stuff on LJ. I'd do more of the same, except snarking about the Mets gets actual comments.

By far and away the biggest problem here is capture.

I mean, you could argue that branches of the government responsible for, say, regulation on banking and various industries fulfill a similar (if not the same in many cases) function. And regulatory capture is a well-known, and very difficult to solve, problem.

What would prevent a chamber of professionals from being captured by industry?

By far and away the biggest problem here is capture.

Agreed, but I used "professional associations" as something of a shorthand. What I'm really thinking of is more of a lifetime appointment, like a Supreme Court justice but one elected by his peers rather than elected officials. This wouldn't completely exclude the possibility of capture, of course, but at least it would allow for independent judgement.

So this is a House of Lords of the Professions?

I think this is an interesting idea but probably too dangerous to be workable. The issue is that regardless of capture, professions are often trapped in backwards and even downright idiotic paradigms. I'll speak to economics, as that's what I spend most of my internet time reading about. Heterodox ideas -- e.g. Modern Monetary Theory -- are quite likely to be right, but would be totally shut out of the public discourse by something like this legislature, even more than they are today. At least under the present system there's hope of trying something new...

ok, definitely too late for me to make a coherent comment.

That's the biggest symptom at a particular level of the problem, but I don't think it's the root cause. Our social temperature--our mobility--has dramatically increased. Professionally, recreationally, and sometimes in our families, we spend most of our time with people who are not permanent fixtures in our lives. That has had good ramifications in allowing bring our sexual mores into modern times more quickly than we otherwise would, But the terrible cost is that we don't know whom to trust and we have less incentive to be trustworthy.

If corporate executives say they don't want to screw their suppliers because the relationships it would ruin are worth more than a short-term bump in profits, shareholders say they have no way to evaluate if that's bullshit so if the executives don't raise the profits now they will be fired. The investors don't trust brokers. The brokers don't trust executives anymore, either, because they don't stay with the same corporation for more than a few years.

Similarly, voters don't trust experts because the news media present people as experts based on how polished and photogenic they are, otherwise the voters will turn the channel. And the so-called experts are often less trustworthy because they know the whole notion of trust has broken down and they can always find a job with someone who wants to propagate what they are saying, regardless of their track record.

Political science used to make a big deal of opinion leaders--meaning local figures who were trusted by segments of the populace. But who's got a true locality now? Or an organization like a union that actually provides a social home as well as source of information? Our institutions grew up in a society of interlinked tightly woven communities. They are ill-adapted to a society of individuals who spread their networks so widely but without permanence.

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