[EM] affects of IRR(V) and meaning of democracy

RLSuter at aol.com RLSuter at aol.com
Mon Sep 20 09:19:17 PDT 2004

Steve Eppley writes:

> Under IRR, on the other hand, parties would not have 
> a strong incentive to nominate only one candidate, 
> and there'd be strong incentives to nominate more than 
> one: they could increase turnout of their supporters 
> on election day by nominating a diversity, they could 
> avoid the fratricide of primary fights, and they could
> avoid putting all their eggs in one basket.

I have doubts about that, Steve. Nominating more than one
candidate would mean splitting the available campaign funding,
plus it would make it more difficult for voters to become
familiar with all the different candidates and decide which
ones they prefer and in what order. Any voting method or
other decision procedure must take into account the burdens
it would place on voters or people involved in a carrying out
a decision procedure. That's a problem most advocates of
direct democracy have failed to address at all adequately.

> Democracy is not about being fair to each 
> voter, as one member of this list recently asserted 
> during our discussion of the electoral college; it's 
> about aligning the incentives of society's leaders 
> with the well-being of the people.

That's debatable as well. Democracy has always been
understood as a general means for making decisions that
affect everyone in a particular group or organization or
polity. Alternatives to democracy (rule by the people) are
anarchy (rule by no one), monarchy (rule by one individual),
oligarchy  (rule by a politically privileged group of people),
plutocracy (rule by the wealthy), aristocracy (rule by
hereditary elites), and majority tyranny (rule by majorities
with no minority rights). Other alternatives that have been
proposed by political philosphers are polyarchy (Robert
Dahl's term for rule by multiple interest groups engaged
in complex patterns of competition and cooperation) and
demarchy (John Burnheim's term for a system in which
collective decisions of all kinds are made by many groups
of different and in most cases specialized kinds that are
chosen by random selection from among citizens.)

My preferred definition of democracy is "rule by all of the
people," which requires (ideally, at least) that all people
have equal collective decisionmaking power, or equal
power to participate and determine the outcome of
collective decisions about matters they care about and
that affect them.

But no definition can do more than provide very rough
guidelines about how decisions are to be made. The
"devil is in the details" with regard to both democracy
and all of its alternatives. I suspect  some forms of oligarchy
or even monarchy would do a better job than some forms
of democracy of "aligning the incentives of society's leaders
with the well-being of the people." My own strong opinion
is that good forms of democracy would do much better
than any of democracy's alternatives but that no nation
(and in particular, not the U.S.) has yet come close to
adopting or creating the best possible democratic
procedures and institutions. Better voting methods would
contribute a lot, but they are far from all that is needed,
and perhaps not what are most important. That is, better
voting methods are, at most, necessary for improving
democracy but far from sufficient.

-Ralph Suter

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