Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bad Philosophy can produce good ideas

I have been appalled by an article(restricted) written in The Philosophical Quartely, of which I will copy the abstract:
The practice of unrestricted universal suffrage is unjust. Citizens have a right that any political
power held over them should be exercised by competent people in a competent way. Universal suffrage violates this right. To satisfy this right, universal suffrage in most cases must be replaced by a moderate epistocracy, in which suffrage is restricted to citizens of sufficient political competence.
Epistocracy itself seems to fall foul of the qualified acceptability requirement, that political power
must be distributed in ways against which there are no qualified objections. However, it is less
intrinsically unjust than democracy with universal suffrage, and probably produces more just
outcomes. Thus epistocracy is more just than democracy, even if not perfectly just. 

I will probably discuss the article in its entirety later on, but I have not made my mind yet on whether it requires discussion or not. Basically, two comments on the post from Brian Caplan   which linked to the article destroyed the article in approximately 3 seconds

Kevin H writes:
Who decides who is fit to vote and from what is that authority derived?
MikeDC writes:
But determination of competence is a power itself. 

The paper is a succession of words that sound complicated like "epistocracy", or false wisdom like defining thing as a "competence principle", of not-defined words such as "morally reasonable", "ignorant", "competence" among others. Also, you have a Godwin's law violation, and some sentences worthy of middle-school dissertations. It is published in a top-ranked philosophy journal. It is sickening. But as I said, it is so ridiculous that I do not know if it warrants discussion. We'll see. To finish on it, just look at this sentence and keep in mind that "competence" is never defined:

the competence principle requires each decision of a certain sort to be made competently by competent people


In any case, it led me to an interesting discussion on the right to vote. I have always been puzzled by the rule of having an age-based rule for the right to vote. However, it is hard to find a better-suited objective criterion. Now, consider the French educational system. Education is free and mandatory until you reach 16 years-old. Assume that you mandate an civic instruction course at the first year of middle school(those classes already exist). Everyone gets the right to vote after having finished this first year(importantly, you allow students to repeat the year, but grant them the right to vote after the first year).
The advantages of this, in my opinion, are

  • You somewhat relate the allocation of the right to vote to some change in knowledge. The assumption is that people do not know less before than after taking the class
  • You include people in the political decision process early, and close to the time they have actually learnt what the political process was about(there is a difference between hearing/learning about voting/institutions and doing the voting for those institutions)
  • As usually discussed, including younger voters means that politicians would have an incentive to consider larger horizons(e.g. climate change, energy policy, etc).

One drawback was one thing that I mentioned in one of my earlier posts: political preferences are rigid, at least from the evidence in the US(the 9/11 story). So if we assume that a voter is prone to error(information is not perfect, ...) and that the likelihood of error is higher for younger folks, the process might be worse(yet, there is still to define "eroor"). The possibility of an independent decision by a 12-year old is also a question, but it is hard to use it as a good argument since we have, now, a similar rule that raises a similar question.

The thing seems simple, so it must have been previously thought about. Since nobody cares, it might have been debunked. So what are the other issues?

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