Uber Menschen

by Henry on October 5, 2016

This, screencapped by Ryan Cooper right before Jason Brennan suddenly and inexplicably deleted his Twitter account, gives the game away a bit.

screenshot-2016-10-05-09-45-58

Brennan, of Bleeding Hearts Libertarians, recently wrote a book advocating epistocracy – the argument that politics ought to be restricted to those who know enough to participate in it. Specifically, he suggests among other possibilities that voting ought to be restricted to those who demonstrate in an exam that they have sufficient knowledge of politics to be allowed participate.

One possible interpretation of Brennan’s contribution (if so it may be described) is that it’s a concerted effort to concern troll political theorists interested in epistemic democracy. Certainly there’s some internal evidence suggesting as much. Under a more charitable interpretation, Brennan is being entirely sincere – the problem is that his sincere beliefs reflect a basic flaw in how he thinks about politics. He doesn’t want to restrict voting to people who know enough to be good citizens. Instead, the tweet suggests that he wants to restrict voting to people who know enough to realize that Jason Brennan’s own political views are the right ones to hold.

Two things are going on here. First – the claim that some people are simply far better at thinking clearly than others – in Brennan’s version, ‘vulcans’ as opposed to apolitical ‘hobbits’ and nasty partisan ‘hooligans.’ Naturally, Brennan’s classification is a self-flattering one – no hooligan or hobbit he. Second, the intimation (see Bryan Caplan also, explicitly and passim) – that some truths are self-evident – markets, efficiency and the awesomeness of surge pricing.

Both are less well worked out intellectual claims than symptoms of the condition of much modern American libertarianism. The first results from the fact that when one doesn’t have a political party worth talking about (most libertarian intellectuals are embarrassed about or dismissive of their purported representative vehicle), it’s very easy to fancy oneself as a cool and disinterested ratiocinator, situated well above the heaving fray, and thinking more clearly by virtue of that fact. The second is the characteristic stance of libertarians who were struck at an impressionable age by economics 101 with the force of a revelation, a revelation that they were right all along.

Obviously both are problematic. Everyday empiricism would suggest that libertarian intellectuals are no better than others at discerning the flaws and blind spots in their own perspectives. Not only surge pricing – but also the benefits of markets themselves – are contingent and uncertain, creating a disjuncture between the natural rights that libertarian philosophy favors and real world outcomes.

Uber style surge pricing is an excellent and salutary example. One can make a good argument for it on the basis of economic theory (Uber is rationing a good so that it is allocated to those who want it most) – but one can also make strong counterarguments, without even starting to get into moral economy issues. If Uber is a wannabe monopolist as it surely is, then the price discrimination involved in surge pricing may appear as a nascent effort to squeeze consumer surplus from its consumers, which those consumers might reasonably want to object to before the monopoly becomes established. If one notes the common day fact that some people are rich, and some are poor, a host of other objections begin to materialize about the differential consequences of surge pricing for different potential users.

To belabor something that I hope is obvious to most readers but may not be obvious to all – the point is not that surge pricing is necessarily evil. It is that Econ 101 does not pre-empt the politics – people with different perspectives, interests and values may reasonably support or oppose surge pricing, depending. We do not know what the right answer is, and the best way we have discovered to even arrive at a rough approximation of the best answer that we can live with is to have people with different perspectives argue it out.

Brennan’s ideal epistocracy would strain a lot of those diverse perspectives out (he admits that e.g. African Americans in the US would likely be under-represented). His tweet furthermore suggests that, to take a few examples, people like Astra Taylor, the late E.P. Thompson, James Scott and Tom Slee (who, in fairness, has been denounced as an economic dunce by a prominent libertarian economist) should be barred from voting. I hope that it’s not too offensive to say that I would expect the contribution of any of these people to democratic debate to likely be more valuable than that of Jason Brennan.

This whole intellectual effort, of trying magically to reconcile bedrock libertarianism with an ersatz version of democratic theory, so that one would arrive at a population that would, through sheer force of combined erudition and intellect, arrive at the correct answer, reminds me of Peter Thiel’s notorious complaint that giving women the vote was a major mistake, since they didn’t have the right libertarian attitudes. It also reminds me, more indirectly, of one of my favorite bits from Randall Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution:

From The Wealth of Nations one learns that the interest of each is, in the end, the good of all; if one observed President Robbins one saw that the good of all is, in the beginning, the interest of each … About anything, anything at all, Dwight Robins believed what Reason and Virtue and Tolerance and a Comprehensive Organic Synthesis of Values would have him believe. And about anything, anything at all, he believed what it was expedient for the President of Benton College to believe. You looked at the two beliefs and lo! the two were one. (Do you remember, as a child without much time, turning to the back of the arithmetic book, getting the answer to a problem and then writing down the summary hypothetical operations by which the answer had been, so speak, arrived at? It is the only method of problem-solving that always gives correct answers – that gives, even, the typographical errors in the back of the book).

One could make further arguments – for example developing on the fact that more knowledge apparently makes conservatives more rather than less opposed to climate science, but that’s enough for the moment, I think.

{ 154 comments }

1

JW Mason 10.05.16 at 3:34 pm

Would central bank independence be an example of epistocracy?

2

Brett 10.05.16 at 3:43 pm

@JW Mason

No, because it’s second-order authority. They’re still ultimately under the control of a democratic government, and have to be re-nominated every so often for most Central Banks. Supreme Courts that are very difficult to override and have life-long terms would be a better example.

Side-note on the OP, but the Uber monopoly claims are bizarre. Uber has tons of competition, both from ride-share services, similar taxi and black car style services, public transportation, and private ownership of vehicles. Entry into the market is relatively easy once you get past the regulatory barriers – meaning that Uber would have to re-erect those barriers behind it to ensure the high profitability it needs to pay off all that investment capital it has burned.

3

Henry 10.05.16 at 3:43 pm

I think that many of the good roads that question might travel along lead to Peter Mair (was coincidentally yesterday having a conversation about Mair with Kate McNamara, who wrote an excellent book on the ECB).

4

RNB 10.05.16 at 3:44 pm

So the surge pricing algorithm is Plato’s captain of the ship?
http://web.cerritos.edu/tstolze/SitePages/Plato%E2%80%99s%20Ship%20Analogy.pdf
_______
Philip Kitcher is, in my estimation, one of the most important critics of epistocracy
http://logosjournal.com/2013/kitcher/

5

Thomas Beale 10.05.16 at 4:14 pm

Reflecting on recent ‘democratic’ events in which it’s not hard to find evidence that voting was uninformed and/or not about the intended choices (to wit: Brexit referendum 2016; UK AV referendum 2011) or that the vote itself was the wrong instrument, advocated by the arguably uninformed (again, Brexit; Slovak 2015 ‘family values’ referendum [real goal – ban gay marriage] – low turnout invalidated result; Hungary 2016 referendum on refugees – low turnout invalidated result). The FARC referendum is an interesting question. To that we can add any general election poll in which tactical & protest voting is widespread.

If politics is to be restricted to those who ‘know enough’ to participate, that would clearly have to work through the whole machinery, not just end of the line voting. Anyone standing for pre-selection would have to pass some sort of exam (political philosophy 101-based?); governments in representative democracies would not be able to call a referendum that did not meet some sort of criteria (there is much analysis that shows that the Brexit and other referenda I mention above were the wrong instruments); indeed, many archaic elements of existing political structures could be found wanting, and constitutional and other earth-shaking reforms might be needed.

All sounds impossible. And yet, I can’t help agreeing with the idea that noone who is not ‘informed’ should be allowed to vote, particularly based on the Brexit and AV referenda outcomes in the UK. However, it can’t make sense that being ‘informed’ means having a particular economic worldview, rather than an understanding of a) the (democratic) political structures of society or b) the actual issues at hand in any particular vote (how to prove that?).

One theoretical problem with the idea: there is nothing to prevent people who can pass the putative democracy/politics exam nevertheless protest or tactical voting.

I’m reminded of an infamous interview with Joh Bjelke-Petersen, premier of Queensland for 20 years in my youth, in which the interviewer asked what he understood by the term ‘separation of powers’. It very quickly became clear that he didn’t know what it was. But on the plus side, he was an expert in gerrymandering.

6

William Timberman 10.05.16 at 4:15 pm

Reminds me of George S. Patton — or maybe it was Robert A. Heinlein. (Ah, the swamp of memory): Save the fucking for the fighting men. The franchise as scarce commodity seems to arouse an almost sexual excitement in these guys. One might almost conclude that a prolonged adolescence rots the mind. C’mon, social scientists, is there any lowdown here to share with us?

7

lemmy caution 10.05.16 at 4:47 pm

One theory is that informed citizens just learn to better support their parties political positions:

http://prospect.org/article/where-public-opinion-guns-headed

If your party has a bad position, then the more educated you are the more likely you are to support the bad position.

8

Anderson 10.05.16 at 4:50 pm

The closest I come to agreeing with this guy is that a democracy ought to make universal education a top priority – as the U.S. obviously has not.

9

SamChevre 10.05.16 at 4:51 pm

the argument that politics ought to be restricted to those who know enough to participate in it

As I read Brennan’s arguments, I keep thinking that yet again, the BHL crowd ends up on the left.

What could be closer to the ultimate version of the above claim than the role the Supreme Court plays in the US, cheered on by the left and reviled by the right?

10

Marshall 10.05.16 at 4:51 pm

(2) The claim that Uber is not a monopoly because it has plenty of competition is stupid. “Entry to the market is easy once you get past the regulatory barriers”–what about the pre-existing two-sided platform and its de facto exemption from both labor and antitrust law, not to mention its multi-billion-dollar pile of cash?

http://prospect.org/article/uber%E2%80%99s-antitrust-problem

11

lemmy caution 10.05.16 at 4:51 pm

When it comes to voting for specific candidates, the problem for those who want to restrict voting rights is not really that the uneducated are going to vote wrong. It is that the uneducated are going to vote in their interest.

12

Rich Puchalsky 10.05.16 at 5:07 pm

Thomas Beale: “I can’t help agreeing with the idea that noone who is not ‘informed’ should be allowed to vote, particularly based on the Brexit and AV referenda outcomes in the UK.”

Oh wonderful. Every now and then I start to wonder whether the idea of the class interest of professionals is a bit overblown and then I read something like this.

There are plenty of other conclusions one might draw from these referenda. For example, one might draw the conclusion that all of our democratic institutions are too large scale and routinely call on people to decide on questions that are outside of their direct interest and really involve them deciding what is best for other people. But no.

13

phenomenal cat 10.05.16 at 5:28 pm

Eh, coming from a remote coastal inlet along the vast archipelago that is social science, there’s not much said archipelago can tell you, Timberman, that you can’t already intuit for yourself.

Per usual, I find the naivety of libertarian thinking touchingly adolescent; right down to choosing uber surge pricing as the hill to stake one’s flag, make a stand, and die fighting. It’s analogous to a nerdy teenage boy deeply pondering the greater injustice: his mom not letting him stay up past 12:00 am on a school night to watch a rerun of Night of the Living Dead, the girl in algebra 2 who made fun of D&D that one time (she knows not whereof she speaks) or institutionalized, systemic racism.

I guess one could claim this guy’s idea for an epistocracy has none other than Plato on its side. Still, when I imagine him at the Academe the only thing that comes to mind is Plato patting him on the head and saying: “Yes, very clever, now be a good boy and run along before Alcibiades comes by and decides to sell you to the Ephesian slave traders.”

14

Rob 10.05.16 at 5:43 pm

The problem will always come down to determine what exactly is the “right” information and how much of “it” do you need. Its very subjective and prone to manipulation.

The problem of low info voters can be tackled from the opposite end and still maintain democracy. Simply create incentives for people to inform themselves. the low hanging fruit would be to diversify our public representatives, bringing to light issues that are relevant to a larger portion of the populace. Its a much harder solution to implement but so often any simple solution (such as creating an epistocracy) wont actually solve the problem of encouraging a more effective government.

15

Rob 10.05.16 at 5:51 pm

Remember, a government’s role isn’t to maximize the economic output, or to push a certain political doctrine. It is at its most basic an Arbiter for the people. If the people under the government cannot participate in it can we expect it to arbitrate effectively with respect to the population’s will?

16

engels 10.05.16 at 6:01 pm

Both are less well worked out intellectual claims than symptoms of the condition of much modern American liberalism
FTFY

https://twitter.com/lukewsavage/status/783047835092738048

17

Thomas Beale 10.05.16 at 6:25 pm

Rich Puchalsky@11

Every now and then I start to wonder whether the idea of the class interest of professionals is a bit overblown and then I read something like this.

I’m tempted to say that’s the category error of the Marxist view, mistaking a socio-economic category for a political movement. But I won’t ;) Instead I’ll just say that there’s no barrier (certainly not a ‘class’ one) to ‘being informed’. The Brexit post-mortem showed that there were many (possibly millions) of people a) hoodwinked by campaign lies b) who didn’t understand what the EU is and/or c) who really are economically ‘left-out’ and used the vote to protest. (There were legitimate reasons for voting out as well; Alan Sked’s analysis was credible I think). Then there were at least some real xenophobes. I see no barrier to any of these people being more ‘informed’ on the issue at hand, even if the real argument here would be that we should never have had a referendum.

There are plenty of other conclusions one might draw from these referenda. For example, one might draw the conclusion that all of our democratic institutions are too large scale…

Exactly right. As I said in my original comment: a referendum can be entirely the wrong instrument. And institutions are too large. And so on. Just listing the relevant aspects of the system to question would take several pages. But that’s a different topic.

18

Donald A. Coffin 10.05.16 at 6:42 pm

“To belabor something that I hope is obvious to most readers but may not be obvious to all – the point is not that surge pricing is necessarily evil. It is that Econ 101 does not pre-empt the politics…”

And, as you already pointed out, Econ 101 can provide a cogent argument (Uber as monopoly) as to why surge pricing ought not be allowed.

Econ 101 is not, at least as I have taught it for more than 40 years, a subject in which one concludes that markets work perfectly all the time. Markets, in my view at least, work pretty well most of the time, and can work very badly some (or perhaps more often than that) of the time. I spend a lot of time exploring when markets fail in my courses. (Makes some of the students more than a little upset when I do that.)

19

Mike Furlan 10.05.16 at 7:17 pm

Markets work just fine, until you really need what they are pricing.

Surge pricing falls somewhere between the sale of cat calendars online and the guy who has control of the water jug on the life raft.

20

Rich Puchalsky 10.05.16 at 7:19 pm

Thomas Beale: “I see no barrier to any of these people being more ‘informed’ on the issue at hand […]”

Really, no barrier at all? Let’s imagine that there is one group of people that from an early age is given the best adjuncts to education that money can buy (from their parents, who tend to be moderately wealthy and well educated), selected out for advanced training because of perceived ability to do symbolic manipulation tasks, and given advanced education through college and graduate school degrees in doing exactly the kind of evaluation of large, abstract projects that is at stake in this case. Finally, the terms of the entire public debate are set so that some kinds of evaluations are deemed respectable and some aren’t, some in fact demonstrate that one is “uninformed”. That’s not a barrier because it’s conceivable that some individuals could surmount it?

The principle that I hold to is that people who are strongly affected by something should get to decide on it, whether they are judged to be informed or not. Making the test of whether they get to decide on it whether they are properly informed has a long political history, but not one that I really expected to encounter in a CT thread.

21

Scott P. 10.05.16 at 7:19 pm

“Remember, a government’s role isn’t to maximize the economic output, or to push a certain political doctrine. It is at its most basic an Arbiter for the people. If the people under the government cannot participate in it can we expect it to arbitrate effectively with respect to the population’s will?”

Agreed, but Brennan seems not to have read a word of Rousseau.

22

Thomas Beale 10.05.16 at 8:00 pm

Rich Puchalsky@19

your characterisation does slightly sound like the children in Ender’s game rather than the UK (or where I was educated, Australia), but I get where you are coming from. However I am dead sure that many of those highly trained symbol manipulators left university knowing little or nothing about political theory / history, or how the EU functions (just sticking to the Brexit referendum topic area for now), other than those who specifically chose the right courses. No engineers or doctors will have encountered these basics. So everyone pretty much, apart from political scientists, has to educate themselves on these matters.

Now I suppose you will say – ah but, the highly trained symbol manipulator class will be much better at this, and all the relevant materials are written by people like them. Not completely untrue, but a lot of stuff written by the professional class is also obscure and sometimes downright waffle (give me a scientific realist over a post-Marxist anyday). And there are perfectly good materials of the ‘xxx for beginners’ variety, on every possible topic today. I happen to believe any natively intelligent person can learn about any topic to some level, with the right educational approach.

The logical conclusion of what you are saying is that ‘getting informed’ on subjects affecting the polity is simply beyond a whole class of non-trained, non-symbol manipulating non-professionals … which would indeed be a serious problem for any democracy.

Are you seriously advocating that people should vote in principle on such weighty matters as the UK leaving the EU without knowing anything about the subject matter of the question?

[FWIW: I don’t seriously advocate making people do exams to vote. But I would seriously advocate not having most referenda in a representative democracy, and also requiring the entire education system to include politics 101 in secondary school, and probably some kind of test for elected politicians…]

23

Asteele 10.05.16 at 8:01 pm

The best argument against these schemes is that all of the other political ideas of the various proponents are totally moronic.

24

merian 10.05.16 at 8:07 pm

Beyond what Anderson says in #7, it is also an argument against the instrumental paradigms of education-for-job-readiness or education-for-personal-development. Grappling with complicated questions of political decision-making or social policy (which you can find in children’s literature if you look for them), or with history, can’t be relegated to a select few or happen outside obligatory schooling. (Of course, in the past, patriotic partisan indoctrination — sometimes counteracted or extended by left-wing popular education and/or Sunday school) unashamedly took on this role. Blatant partisan ideological curriculum content has, rightly, lost in favour. But replacing it with insipid texts used for training kids in reading comprehension drills is leaving a vacuum.

25

bruce wilder 10.05.16 at 8:10 pm

Donald A Coffin: Econ 101 is not, at least as I have taught it for more than 40 years, a subject in which one concludes that markets work perfectly all the time.

Econ 101 is a subject where you are taught to pretend that markets exist and tend toward an equilibrium in price even where they do not exist and there is no equilibrium in price: in short, to ignore reality in favor of stylized abstractions with dubious referents.

Uber, in fact, is proposing “surge pricing” as part of an administrative apparatus that also manages elaborate gambits for price discrimination. And, all of that is embedded in a grift of investors, massive regulatory evasion, and who knows what they are doing to their drivers.

Perhaps we could devise a test of Econ 101 knowledge and disenfranchise anyone who gets a grade of B or better. Keeping the likes of Bryan Caplan away from the voting booth altogether might work even better than running Gary Johnson on a platform of government by wilful ignoramuses.

26

Ronan(rf) 10.05.16 at 8:11 pm

I dont know of much evidence that says that electorates that are led by people who are ‘better informed’ (whatever this means to Professor Brennan) develop ‘better policy’ (also whatever this means to Professor Brennan) I’m not saying this evidence doesnt exist, I am not a political scientist, but my impression is it’s really much of a muchness in terms of ‘informed’ electorates equaling better policy outcomes .(People vote primarily on identity and interests, and even ‘high information voters’ have limited understanding of policy beyond a trivial level.)
So as an empirical matter, does Brennan’s argument hold water?

27

Ted K 10.05.16 at 8:15 pm

Uber is not a monopoly. In fact they broke the government-created taxi monopoly which actually was squeezing consumer surplus from consumers.

28

Asteele 10.05.16 at 8:15 pm

Well there are plenty of examples of societies that have very few decision-makers and those decision-makers have very good reasons to be well-informed, but it’s not like in general monarchies and dictatorships have better policies.

29

Ronan(rf) 10.05.16 at 8:18 pm

Electorates, though, not elites. Brennan’s argument (afaict) is still that policy would emerge from the benevolent self interest and banter of the (top 20%?) cognitive elite. So the question would be answerable by looking at whether this demographic does arrive at better policy outcomes (I guess)

30

Asteele 10.05.16 at 8:19 pm

Anyways uber is clearly a long-run bust, taxi driving is already a low overhead, low wage business, there’s just no place for uber to earn their cut without lowering wages and scaming their employees somehow. Amway with cars.

31

Asteele 10.05.16 at 8:22 pm

28. Well you also have the answer of early democracy in England and the United States where only property owners could vote. This seems to be basically what Brennan’s plan would get us, plus a few poor people that pass the test. Those societies didn’t have better policies either. The best argument for his scheme would probably be China where political descision making is left to members of the communist party, at least wages for everybody are going up there.

32

bruce wilder 10.05.16 at 8:23 pm

Are you seriously advocating that people should vote in principle on such weighty matters as the UK leaving the EU without knowing anything about the subject matter of the question?

For my own part, I question the meaning of not “knowing anything”.

How about simply, “Your EU is not working for me, bastard”. Is it enough to know you are being screwed, even if you don’t know all the nuts and bolts of exactly how and why, where and precisely when?

33

bruce wilder 10.05.16 at 8:25 pm

Ronan(rf) @ 28

Or, perhaps the idea is to restrict the audience to those who laugh at Brennan’s jokes?

34

Ted K 10.05.16 at 8:26 pm

“If one notes the common day fact that some people are rich, and some are poor, a host of other objections begin to materialize about the differential consequences of surge pricing for different potential users.”

Following the link did not actually provide any objections to surge pricing (though it did provide a good discussion of why one might get upset at the generally high prices of taxis). Could somebody please explain to me the main objection to surge pricing?

35

Thomas Beale 10.05.16 at 8:33 pm

Bruce Wilder@31

That’s kind of my point. I think anyone, university education or no, can understand the basic arguments of (say) an Alan Sked (Leave) or Varoufakis (Remain) or anyone else who articulates an informed position consisting of perfectly understandable facts and ideas. But voters should at least take the trouble to read at least this much, not vote ‘No’ in the belief that all those annoying Pakistanis will be sent home (yes, hard to believe, but documented). If you want your democracy to work for you, you have to take some personal responsibility to work with it.

36

Thomas Beale 10.05.16 at 8:35 pm

Ted K@23

What’s wrong with surge pricing – one analysis.

37

reason 10.05.16 at 8:37 pm

The excellent interfluidity (Steve Waldman) on Uber
http://www.interfluidity.com/v2/5822.html

38

Asteele 10.05.16 at 8:40 pm

33. The argument for prices generally, is that it allocates scarce resources to the people that would gain more utility from it, and you could tell they would gain more utility from it because they’re willing to pay more. But because wealth is unequal this signal breaks down, a rich person might pay 100 for a ride he gains close to no utility from and price out a poor person whose willing to give up all the cash he had on hand because he would gain a great deal of utility from the ride.

39

reason 10.05.16 at 8:47 pm

Ted K@26
“the government-created taxi monopoly” – No it is mostly not a taxi monopoly, it is a taxi cartel. Quite a different animal.

40

bruce wilder 10.05.16 at 9:07 pm

Thomas Beale @ 34 That’s kind of my point. I think anyone, university education or no, can understand the basic arguments of (say) an Alan Sked (Leave) or Varoufakis (Remain) or anyone else who articulates an informed position consisting of perfectly understandable facts and ideas.

I don’t know how what I wrote @ 31 — “Your EU is not working for me, bastard” as sufficient voter’s rationale — is in any way kind of your point. I have a university education earned at ruling class schools and I don’t understand half of what comes out of Varoufakis — how can that be a democratic threshold? Does Greece work any better for Greeks because Varoufakis was finance minister for two ineffectual heartbeats and the neoliberal apparatchiks in Brussels couldn’t stand his self-promoting noise?

I really cannot improve on Rich Puchalsky’s sarcastic reaction to your first comment: “Oh wonderful. Every now and then I start to wonder whether the idea of the class interest of professionals is a bit overblown and then I read something like this.

41

Ted K 10.05.16 at 9:28 pm

@35
That article seems to mostly be giving marketing and branding advice about how to better sell surge pricing to consumers who instinctively find it distasteful. It actually seems to agree that surge pricing is good in principle.

@36
“First, how price elastic is driver supply? If we presume that Uber is a Walrasian auctioneer, a disinterested matchmaker of supply and demand, apparently supply is not very elastic. Uber surges prices by multiples, two, three, even four times “typical” pricing in periods of high demand. That’s extraordinary! If supply were in fact elastic, small increases in price would lead to large increases in supply.”
I personally have seen Uber surge prices at 1.25x and 1.5x normal rates. This paper also shows that the supply of drivers is elastic: http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/faculty/keith.chen/papers/SurgeAndFlexibleWork_WorkingPaper.pdf
Therefore when Waldman goes on to say, “suppose, then, that supply is not elastic” we should not grant him his supposition. He then gestures towards arguments against “price rationing” that have nothing to do with surge pricing but are in fact stronger as critiques of the generally much higher prices of taxis. Waldman then claims that “Uber is a cartel” that lacks adequate competition and has a lot of pricing power. He makes a favorable comment about a company called Sidecar which apparently lets its drivers choose their own rates. Of course nobody is objecting to Sidecar, and if their model is actually better for consumers (i.e. their drivers choose to set lower prices) than Uber’s I see no reason why they won’t succeed in the market and be applauded by economists as they force Uber to lower prices (that’s called competition). Waldman then concludes by asserting that people often have a preference for price-predictability. If this preference is strong they can just use taxis which have stable (but higher) prices, so I am not sure what the objection is here.

@37
A good argument against high prices (like those of taxis). Nothing to do with surge pricing specifically…

@38
Ok

42

Asteele 10.05.16 at 9:37 pm

The argument for surge pricing sold to the customer is: the supply is limited lets ration by price so that if you really want a taxis you can still get one. But really want, does not equal can afford. If the point of surge pricing is just to maximize cash flow to drivers that’s fine, but you can see why people might prefer a service with flat rates.

43

William Timberman 10.05.16 at 9:47 pm

bruce wilder @ 24

…and who knows what they are doing to their drivers.

Planning to get rid of them at the earliest opportunity, I should imagine. Self-driving cars and all that…. Courtesy of Brad DeLong, who loves tidbit signifiers of the world to come, here’s what Ben Thompson of Stratechery thinks about the Coming War Between Uber and Google. The signal to noise ratio of the Intertubes may be getting iffier (evviva la democrazia!), but from time to time some tantalizing bits do float to the top.

44

Moz of Yarramulla 10.05.16 at 9:54 pm

Bruce Wilder@24:

Uber… who knows what they are doing to their drivers.

Anyone who cares to look for the information? There’s quite a lot online about it, including many instances of drivers observing that they get treated as disposable labour units. There are three long threads under articles by an Uber driver on Public Address, for example, discussing the fun’n’games taking place with Uber in New Zealand (where the PTB have actually be prosecuting drivers for operating illegally). The rating system is egregiously unfair by any standard: http://publicaddress.net/speaker/confessions-of-an-uber-driver-iii-how-do/ But it works perfectly from an Ubermensch/Homo Economicus point of view – the disposable peons who fail in any way are silently and painlessly removed from view.

45

Moz of Yarramulla 10.05.16 at 10:04 pm

This paper also shows that the supply of drivers is elastic

As noted above but stuck in moderation, reports from Uber drivers are that surge pricing is a lottery for them – if they happen to be in an area when surge pricing hits, great, but it’s almost never worth trying to travel to that area because by the time they get there the surge is likely to be over. The way Uber does surge pricing will always produce that outcome, since the surge ends when there are enough cars in the area.

The paper may have been accurate at the time they did their study (they don’t disclose when that was, only that they published in 2015), but Uber constantly change their systems to better obtain a maximum profit share for the company. Which means that by the time they’d finished writing it, the paper was outdated. To remain relevant they would have to have their data points be a constantly updated representative sample of Uber drivers reporting their activities in real time, leading the a paper whose final data also updated in real time… with the risk that their conclusions would not be supported by their data.

46

Ted K 10.05.16 at 10:21 pm

@41
If one is concerned about the affordability of a car ride it seems odd to direct one’s ire at surge pricing. Most of the time surge pricing helps keep prices lower than they otherwise would be (and much lower than what the taxis charge).

I can see why people might prefer a service with flat rates (in the same way I can see why some people might prefer zucchinis over cucumbers). Luckily they are free to choose for themselves. What I do not understand is why some (many?) people insist that surge pricing is somehow immoral and perhaps even ought to be illegal.

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Sebastian H 10.05.16 at 10:37 pm

The interfluidity comment is very odd. “It’s clear that in a lot of contexts, people have a strong preference for price-predictability over immediate access. The vast majority of services that we purchase and consume are not price-rationed in any fine-grained way. If your hairdresser or auto mechanic is busy, you get penciled in for next week. She doesn’t tell you she’ll fit you in tomorrow at double her usual rate.”

This is a weird comment because all of those people can call a cab, right? Great price predictability if you are willing to wait for however long the cab is going to take. Now in a surge pricing situation like a concert letting out they will probably wait an hour. In a surge pricing situation like a natural disaster the cab will possibly never come at all despite assurances that the cab is ‘on the way’. If you are willing to wait till tomorrow or next week you can surely avoid the surge anyway. The whole point is that you want your uber RIGHT NOW. At 1.5x to 2x surge you are paying as much as a cab anyway but likely getting it faster (especially if you are a minority requester). At a larger surge you are almost certainly in a situation where you won’t be getting a cab quickly–and if you were you would just take it. Yes, rich people can afford that more easily than poor people. But rich people can also afford drivers, and rich people are better served by taxis than poor people.

The comment only makes sense if you feel you are entitled to get the uber for some reason. Why do you feel you are entitled to get it?

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PatinIowa 10.05.16 at 10:38 pm

Also depends on what counts a “knowledge.”

My African-American friends know a hell of a lot more about policing the in the United States than I ever will, no matter how much I read.

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Sebastian H 10.05.16 at 10:47 pm

Sorry the uber thing is really clickbait and has little to do with the overall original post topic. Two things strike me about the Brexit vote and the Colombian peace vote:

1. They were close, but if they were equally close in the way that the power elites wanted, they would have been touted as totally legitimate. The epistocracy all wanted one thing but they didn’t get it. The epistocracy interprets that as “they don’t understand the issues”. But maybe the real answer is “we’ve lost trust in you on the issues”. The fact that these votes are anywhere near 50% much less more than 50% against the side the elites want to win should be troubling.

2. Why are the elite having so much trouble selling basic things to the population? Again the elites think that the issue is too many stupid voters (the early Brexit discussions even here flirted with the ‘we shouldn’t let them vote’ concept.) But what if they issue is “you’ve ignored us too long so we will take whatever chances we can to make you start listening”? Even if Remain or Yes on Peace with FARC had won by 50.5%, isn’t it a little disconcerting that the ruling powers have lost touch so much that it is anywhere near that close?

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Rich Puchalsky 10.05.16 at 10:55 pm

Thomas Beale: “Are you seriously advocating that people should vote in principle on such weighty matters as the UK leaving the EU without knowing anything about the subject matter of the question?”

Let’s say that they’ve lived in the UK for a while. How can they possibly not know anything about it?

I’m not saying anything about whether a wide range of people couldn’t self-train on some basic information about a subject: I’m saying that there is no reason why they should. You seem to have a rhetorical tic of writing “Exactly, and” but you should not think that we are agreeing in any way. In fact our disagreement is so basic that I don’t think I can even explain it to you in a reasonable amount of time.

Here’s what I can write in the time available:

1. The purpose of a democracy is not to make good decisions. The purpose of a democracy is to make decisions with majority support.

2. Your ideas about what knowledge is just aren’t justified. Read James C. Scott’s _Seeing Like A State_ and _The Art of Not Being Governed_.

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Thomas Beale 10.05.16 at 11:00 pm

Bruce Wilder @39

You are on the wrong track entirely. I only mentioned Varoufakis as a well-known person who publicly articulated a reasonably comprehensible argument for Remain (the EU is broken and undemocratic; stay inside & try to fix it; etc). Take your pick of other pro-remainers as you like. I don’t know why you are talking about Greece.

The point remains: voting on weighty matters without understanding the question is a serious problem in a democracy. I didn’t take your “Your EU is not working for me, bastard” literally as just that, but apparently that’s how you meant it; in which case, no that’s not good enough.

Lots of people think they ‘know’ the EU is not working for them, but they know nothing of the sort, even if it happens to be true. In fact they hardly know anything. I don’t believe it’s anything much to do with being a highly trained ruling class professional or otherwise; they just haven’t engaged with the subject.

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Sebastian H 10.05.16 at 11:08 pm

“Lots of people think they ‘know’ the EU is not working for them, but they know nothing of the sort, even if it happens to be true. In fact they hardly know anything.”

This is typical elite hubris. Most of the proof that the EU is in fact ‘working for them’ ends up being things like “it has been better for the UK’s GDP” (which is true on average but the fruits went to the rich and those not pushed out of London by housing prices), or “there was a 15 million euro project somewhere in your county so that should be enough to make up for all the lost jobs, shut up”.

Which is to say, wrong.

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John Quiggin 10.05.16 at 11:11 pm

SamChevre @8 This strikes me as one of the many ways in which people on the right haven’t updated their views in decades. Leftwing support for judicial activism was a thing in the 1960s, to be sure. But there have been plenty of decisions from the Republican Supreme Court striking down progressive laws and I haven’t seen anyone (literally, no-one) on the right complaining about this.

Basically, nearly everyone cares more about outcome than process.

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Chip Daniels 10.05.16 at 11:12 pm

@Rob #14

This is my argument as well.

Before we even leap into argument with Jason, there needs to be a discussion of the nature of what we want government to be and do.

He never states what it is that epistocracy is meant to accomplish. “It works better” leaves dangling the issue of “works to do what?”

Which could be said of the entire libertarian project.
Its proponents always dive immediately into the weeds of Econ theory, without asserting a vision of what end goal is to be produced.

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Thomas Beale 10.05.16 at 11:18 pm

Rich Puchalsky @47

I’m not saying anything about whether a wide range of people couldn’t self-train on some basic information about a subject: I’m saying that there is no reason why they should.

Sure there is, and it’s a very simple one: some people do think they should be informed and do make the effort to do so. According to you, those who take the decision process seriously are actually wasting their time since they should have no expectation that anyone else will take it seriously, and in fact, they should pretty much assume that everyone else thinks it’s perfectly reasonable to vote with no understanding of the substantives of the vote or election.

re: your point 1. You are confused. The mechanical function of a democracy is to enable society to make decisions with majority support. The social purpose of having such a mechanism is for most (at least prior to the current age of universal cynicism) to try to make good (collective) decisions; to assume otherwise is to assume that politics itself has no function and that democratic outcomes are meaningless, but nevertheless ‘good’ since they were arrived at by including everyone’s vote, no matter how randomly cast.

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Sebastian H 10.05.16 at 11:23 pm

John, “Leftwing support for judicial activism was a thing in the 1960s, to be sure. But there have been plenty of decisions from the Republican Supreme Court striking down progressive laws and I haven’t seen anyone (literally, no-one) on the right complaining about this.”

I don’t think this changes SamChevere’s argument even if we accept that your formulation as true. The Supreme Court is exactly the type of epistocracy that is condemned in this post, and its function in doing so is strongly advocated in political theory from the left. Further, the times when its rulings seemed most out of step with the general population (the late Warren and early Burger courts)are generally considered the progressive highlight of the institution.

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Lupita 10.05.16 at 11:24 pm

I wonder if Brennan would agree to relieving the US of its global hegemony until Americans learn at least one foreign language and pass a geography test.

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Sebastian H 10.05.16 at 11:29 pm

Thomas, “According to you, those who take the decision process seriously are actually wasting their time since they should have no expectation that anyone else will take it seriously, and in fact, they should pretty much assume that everyone else thinks it’s perfectly reasonable to vote with no understanding of the substantives of the vote or election.”

I think you misunderstand his argument. No one can become an expert on everything. It is perfectly rational to vote in areas where you aren’t an expert so long as you are informed by experts that you trust. It is perfectly rational to lose trust in experts who repeatedly are proven wrong, or who repeatedly ignore your interests. I tend to think that much of what we are seeing here is a loss of trust in the experts, some of it because bad politicians have sown misinformation–but in many areas much of it is because the experts were wrong, or were right only about people they were interested in (see especially economic ‘experts’).

Even left leaning mainstream experts such as Krugman didn’t wise up to the harshness of the differential and stratification sides of globalism until well after it was obvious to the common worker that things were going poorly for them. To those types of voters, it seems obvious that they were right all along–even in the 1990s when nearly all of the experts were saying they were wrong. The experts have lost trust.

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Thomas Beale 10.05.16 at 11:31 pm

Sebastian H @49

This is typical elite hubris.

This thread seems to be an exercise in willful misinterpretation … nevertheless … when I say: “Lots of people think they ‘know’ the EU is not working for them…” I am speaking epistemically – I’m talking about people who simply don’t know factually what connection there may be between the EU and the aspects of their lives which they find problematic. There is pretty clear evidence of this. My statement isn’t an opinion (unless you want to argue on the word ‘lots’) let alone hubris, it’s an observation. Indeed, widespread political disengagement is surely the question du jour.

For some reason you assume I think ‘the EU working for people’ equates to the usual aggregate metrics you mention. I don’t, nor did I say so (indeed such arguments for the EU are patently bad). I didn’t say anything about how I think the EU ‘works’ for people.

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John Quiggin 10.05.16 at 11:37 pm

Sebastian @53 Like Sam, you seem to be mixing your tenses here. Can you restate your position, without relying on what people might have thought last century? Where is the current left political theory or rhetoric that strongly supports a Supreme Court that overrides the legislature and executive, even when it’s a rightwing SC overriding left or centre-left actions by those bodies.

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Thomas Beale 10.05.16 at 11:45 pm

Sebastian H@55

Ok – can we agree that there is a continuum from knowing nothing on a question or policy, and being an expert? Nobody can be an expert on much, but I don’t think it is unreasonable for people to try to understand something about the key things they vote on, before voting. I don’t argue to expertise, only for being sufficiently interested to (try to) understand key causal relationships.

W.r.t. to ‘experts’… well there are many of those who are blinded by their own ideology, be it political or theoretical; some are arguably only ‘experts’ in their theoretical edifice and no more. If the latter doesn’t connect properly to reality, then their ‘expertise’ isn’t worth anything. But others who study the economy scientifically can be useful (gapminder.org comes to mind). Granted, it’s not easy to tell the difference sometimes.

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John Quiggin 10.05.16 at 11:47 pm

The climate change issue raised in an aside, is centrally important to any kind of argument for epistocracy. It shows that, in the absence of certain kinds of intellectual discipline, education and reasoning skills simply allow those who have them to make a sharper case for beliefs derived from tribal affilations. If you’re not willing to revise your views in the light of evidence (clearly true of the US right as a whole, and particularly of libertarians), having the intellectual ability to make a good case for those views is neither here nor there.

Of course, all this is obvious when you think about religion. Every religion has incredibly smart adherents, as does irreligion, and the idea of picking the right one by running an IQ test and then holding a vote is silly (even though I think my side would win by now)>

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Sebastian H 10.06.16 at 12:01 am

John, I’m not aware of many left wing legal theorists who suggest that it is an improper function of the Supreme Court to overrule legislatures and executive action on a regular basis, they just argue that it ought to be packed with progressives. I’m interpreting your argument along “both sides do it” lines i.e. conservatives are no better. I actually don’t think that is strictly true, but there are certainly plenty of conservative examples where they would rather be worried about outcomes than fidelity to the Constitution.

But for purposes of this discussion, it is the fact that lots of left wing theorists think the proper function of the Supreme Court is to strike down laws that the theorists think are ‘wrong’. They don’t care what the general population thinks. They want the experts to rule, they just want it to be their experts. Just like Brennan.

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Sebastian H 10.06.16 at 12:03 am

Which takes a bit of the sting out of “ha, ha libertarians”, or it would with a bit of self reflection.

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bruce wilder 10.06.16 at 12:07 am

Sebastian H: Further, the times when its rulings seemed most out of step with the general population (the late Warren and early Burger courts)are generally considered the progressive highlight of the institution.

Overlooking the anachronism alleged by JQ, you also seem to have a problem with agency. There were certainly reactionary vocal minorities averse to the Supreme Court upholding provisions of the Constitution as . . . well, constitutional, during the 1950s into the 1970s, but the Supreme Court was hardly tacking against the zeitgeist. The series of rulings that have taken personal autonomy and privacy as a guidepost to rights explicit and implicit, to the great irritation of the Right, have almost exactly mirrored the evolution of mainstream culture, right down to the most recent rulings on gay marriage.

If there was ever a time when the Supreme Court was resisting the popular will, it wasn’t the 1960s — it might have been the early 1930s, when they were striking down New Deal legislation during FDR’s first term. That was the tail end of the Lochner Era, when the Supreme Court used substantive due process to defend business against Federal and especially State regulation. Lochner is now used by conservatives as an example of judicial overreach, precisely to bolster the claim that they are not unprincipled partisans organizing the Federalist Society to coordinate a takeover of the judiciary by a political faction.

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Brett 10.06.16 at 12:26 am

@9 Marshall

You mean the platform that’s so difficult to develop that there are several Uber copycats doing essentially the same type of thing with vastly less venture capital behind them? There’s the problem – Uber may be rolling in billions of venture capital money right now, but all that money comes with the caveat that they’re promising massive profits and revenues down the line. That’s a promise Uber can’t keep, because as soon as they start jacking up the rates in a particular market just to break even they’re going to be dealing with new entrants in mere months to undercut them.

As I said, only way it works out for them is if they figure out how to raise protectionist barriers behind them so they can keep out competitors and raise their rates. I don’t see that happening any time soon. What I do see happening is Uber going through a massive shake-out at some point, falling back to key markets and pushing out Kalanick in a desperate attempt to reach profitability once investors start balking at throwing money down that rathole of a company.

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bruce wilder 10.06.16 at 1:03 am

Thomas Beale @ 48: I didn’t take your “Your EU is not working for me, bastard” literally as just that, but apparently that’s how you meant it; in which case, no that’s not good enough.

Why isn’t that good enough? If that’s that voter’s experience or her interpretation of that experience, . . . why shouldn’t she vote her dissatisfaction and resentment? She feels that dissatisfaction and resentment honestly enough. It seems like mere snobbery, like saying she doesn’t know enough about wine to buy and drink a good Chardonnay.

Politics consists of a lot more than people voting like they are choosing a meal in a box at Leon. I am all in favor of political campaigning, engaging with the voters and all that. But, it seems to me that the point of representative democracy is that the leadership elites are the ones who ought to be experts and everyone else is just a reality check on their claims to useful knowledge and integrity.

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Raven Onthill 10.06.16 at 1:22 am

Could we revoke the franchise of people who believe in neo-liberal macro economics and don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change? Along with the flat-earthers? Please?

Sebastian, the EU is first and foremost for keeping the peace. It’s hard to imagine anyone in Europe benefiting from war in Europe. Conservatives, sheesh.

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John Quiggin 10.06.16 at 2:55 am

@60 Again I ask, who are these theorists?

Obviously, most partisans would prefer each of the branches of government to be filled with their supporters. And, most partisans would prefer that, if the branch they control has a veto, it should be used. And it’s the standard view of the US Constitution that the Supreme Court should overrule unconstitutional legislation and executive action That’s not a leftwing theory, it’s central to the idea of divided government. The disputes arise from the view of each side that they laws and actions they (dis)like are (un)constitutional.

But who are the leftwing legal theorists who advocate, as a matter of principle, more power for the Supreme Court and less for the Presidency (this being the branch that the left has done best in)? I haven’t noticed them lately. On the other hand, I’ve seen lots of people on the right discovering a horror of the imperial presidency that was much less in evidence before 2009.

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Sebastian H 10.06.16 at 3:25 am

Again, the charges of hypocrisy are well and good AND they are supporting the idea that the political classes like their version of epistocracy. So long as people you agree with are agreeable, you agree with letting them have lots of power.

And then when they don’t agree with you, you suddenly discover the charms of denying them power.

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Faustusnotes 10.06.16 at 4:05 am

Sebastian where on earth do you get the idea that left wing voices like krugman have been silent on global inequality and the negative effects of globalization? Do you remember the wto and g20 protests of the 90s and early naughties, the black bloc,occupy, Naomi Klein? Almost all voices raised in opposition to free trade’s negative effects have been from the left. Even where right wing voices have spoken up – only in Europe- they have only cared about workers rights or welfare when they thought it politically convenient, and almost always as part of an anti immigration policy. You won’t find right wing or libertarian critics of globalize supply chains, outsourcing of pollution and waste dumping, or regularization of migrant workers.

Critics of this stuff have been from the left. These epistocrats appear to be largely from the class of commentators who carefully avoided talking about this stuff or who think union busters like uber are super smart. Can you think of any reason why that might be?

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bruce wilder 10.06.16 at 5:10 am

Faustusnotes, where did you get the idea that Krugman was a left wing voice on economic issues generally?

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Sebastian H 10.06.16 at 5:12 am

I didn’t say he was silent forever, I said Krugman was slow to it. He was very much a proponent of NAFTA in the 90s, without much worry about how to deal with those displaced by it until around the time of Bush II.

John, I didn’t express myself well on the Supreme Court. All of the modern left wing theories of how the Supreme Court ought to operate are aggressively ‘living constitutionalist’ theories. Those theories put the Supreme Court in a position much like that described by Brennan–the position of having the sages dictate their thoughts to their lessers. At least some of the conservative theories are not living constitutionalist theories–they claim to be bound by the text of the Constitution and put much more import on the idea that if you want to change Constitutions, you should amend them. Now it may very well be that such theories are more theoretical than actual–in which case both sides are pro-epistocracy. But at the very least the liberal and left wings are pro-epistocracy when it comes to the Supreme Court.

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Scott P. 10.06.16 at 5:15 am

How I would phrase things is like this:

Of course more educated voters are more likely to make better decisions than uninformed voters. I think that’s a general truism. The problem with reasoning from there to the idea of an aristocracy of the educated is that history shows that what the educated are particularly good at is selecting policies that benefit them. Being well-informed doesn’t mean one is virtuous. The Southern slaveholding planter class was pretty well educated, but for obvious reasons their decision-making was hardly beneficial to many Southerners.

However, that doesn’t mean that a wide franchise is guaranteed to make good decisions. That goes against the first principle. What that means is that if you have a poorly-informed electorate, you are kind of screwed. You can have all people vote, and make poor decisions, or you can have the better-informed citizens vote, in which case they will make the decisions that benefit themselves.

The moral is: institutions matter, and some institutions are better than others, but no institution will immunize you from systemic problems with the electorate. That’s not a flaw with democracy, that’s a flaw with humanity.

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John Quiggin 10.06.16 at 5:43 am

@74 The “living constitution” view says, as I understand it, the the SC should pay more attention to current realities than to the presumed wishes of the founders. That seems totally orthogonal to the question of whether they should be more or less willing to override the legislature, or, if anything more favorable to the legislature.

For example, my understanding of the Commerce Clause is that the SC has progressively expanded the scope of legislative power to regulate commerce, while conservatives have argued that the wishes of the current population should be overridden by those of dead men.

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Sebastian H 10.06.16 at 6:11 am

That is the living constitutionalist spin on what they do. Presumed wishes are one thing. But if you have a Constitution the written words mean something more important than the presumed wishes. It is interesting to compare methodologies in interpreting the 2nd amendment with that of the commerce clause. In the 2nd amendment the living constitutionalist (who is tribally more pro-regulation than a textualist) will argue that the prefatory “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…,” is to be extremely limiting on the right which is to follow. This is in direct opposition to how he interprets literally every other right in the Constitution. Yet when it comes to the commerce clause he will say that everything that comes after the word ‘commerce’ in “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” is completely extra verbiage–requiring no attention whatsoever.

An honest Constitutional scholar will sometimes find that his policy preferences are barred by the Constitution, or at the very least not mandated. So I think that it would be good policy to limit gun ownership at the level Australia does (I really do). The 2nd amendment doesn’t allow that and if I think it is a big enough deal I should amend the Constitution. I think that the death penalty is bad policy, but it is definitely not unconstitutional. There are all sorts of rules about how to conduct ‘capital’ trials and how to deal with ‘capital’ offenses, which make it clear that however much you stretch “cruel and unusual”, ‘capital punishment’ alone isn’t it. If your Constitutional theory never limits your policy options, you aren’t really engaging the Constitution. Other than pure structure issues like the existence of the Senate, or the minimum age of the President, I’ve never had a living constitutionalist articulate a policy they were personally for that they thought would be flatly unconstitutional. That’s motivated reading. Some, like Scott Lemieux, argue that that is all there is to Constitutional review so we just need to get over it. But if true, it is silly to laugh at Brennan’s ideas about epistocracy and support left-liberal ideas about living constitutionalism. They have been fleshed out and strongly defended for decades in the liberal and leftist academic views of Constitutional theory for decades.

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Thomas Beale 10.06.16 at 7:55 am

Bruce Wilder @ 68

Why isn’t that good enough? If that’s that voter’s experience or her interpretation of that experience, . . . why shouldn’t she vote her dissatisfaction and resentment? She feels that dissatisfaction and resentment honestly enough. It seems like mere snobbery, like saying she doesn’t know enough about wine to buy and drink a good Chardonnay.

If the voter is casting a vote on a question such as leaving the EU (or the FARC peace deal, or…), she needs to at least understand the basics of the causal relations between the referents of the question (the EU, etc) and the reasons for her own dissatisfaction on which she bases her vote. If she votes just to stick it to some ‘liberal elite’ she’s heard about, and has no clue whether her problems are anything to do with the EU, nor how leaving the EU will change things much less so as to improve things for her and her part of society, then her vote just doesn’t relate to the question. If a substantial portion of votes in a referendum are cast like that, the ability to reliably interpret the outcome starts to disappear. Something like this appears to have happened in the Brexit referendum.

Your stance implies that the Brexit outcome is somehow ‘right’ because it was democratic in a mechanical sense. But then you say that it should have been leadership elites (parliament or some MP committee or whatever) who decided the outcome. But we know that 75% of MPs across the house were against leaving the EU. So which version is ‘right’?

I agree that a referendum was the wrong tool to determine this decision, and is generally in a representative democracy; we covered that in the first couple of comments. Here we were talking about what to do when a plebiscite is nevertheless offered on a weighty question. (But my arguments would equally apply to a lot of general elections).

In the end, citizens who take no responsibility for their participation in a democracy can’t complain much when it fails them. There’s a reason voting is mandatory in some countries.

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Tim Worstall 10.06.16 at 8:06 am

“Brennan, of Bleeding Hearts Libertarians, recently wrote a book advocating epistocracy – the argument that politics ought to be restricted to those who know enough to participate in it. “

Not that we should be taking our political philosophy from mummers but how does this differ from Leonardo di Caprio’s recent statement. That no one who is a climate change denier should be allowed to hold public office?

No, not should not be elected, or don’t vote for those who are deniers, but should not be allowed to hold office.

” It is that Econ 101 does not pre-empt the politics – people with different perspectives, interests and values may reasonably support or oppose surge pricing, depending. We do not know what the right answer is, and the best way we have discovered to even arrive at a rough approximation of the best answer that we can live with is to have people with different perspectives argue it out.”

Or perhaps we could leave that very market to deal with it? Those happy enough with the arrangements do it, those not don’t? That is the modern, and entirely correct, method we deal with who has sex with whom (consenting adults only of course) so why not apply it to cab rides?

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reason 10.06.16 at 8:23 am

Re the discussion on the Brexit referendum.

I think this comes down to a needed debate about referendums are good at, and what they are not good at.

But one rule about referendums should always be that a small majority for a major constitutional change is not good enough. Nobody should want a constitutional referendum to only require a simple majority – a constitution after all is for all the people not just a (temporary?) majority. That is why there is a difference between constitutional law and normal law. Constitutions should have overwhelming support (which means that constitutions should limit themselves to issues of principles and get bogged down in implementation details).

That means of course that the way the EU was originally set up was also extremely problematic.

I do think, constitutions should be renewed roughly every 50 years, so every adult is involved in thinking about what the constitution should be once in their lives. The way they should have reworked the EU constitution, should have been the way that a normal Federation would have done it. The constitution should have been voted on at a Federal level (with the choice being keep the old one or move to the new one – you can’t have none) and the individual states could then have the renewed option of joining or not. Having each part of the Federation vote on the new constitution leaves it prey to a veto of special interests.

I’m not too keen on direct democracy for most issues – because I think it runs the danger of separating power and responsibility and that is always a bad idea. Laws don’t generally exist in a vacuum and can easily become incompatible with one another (no taxes yeah, more services yeah, no inflation yeah — if you get the point).

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reason 10.06.16 at 8:31 am

Not sure how we achieve all this though. Australia decided not to become a Republic for pretty stupid reasons (most people wanted a Republic – they just didn’t agree on the details). I think there was a simple solution – if you are voting on a figurehead for the whole country – it is most important not to elect the most popular candidate but the most widely acceptable candidate – so each candidate can be marked acceptable or unacceptable, and the biggest acceptable – unacceptable value wins. That would mean highly controversial candidates should have no chance. But people don’t think out of the box on these sort of issues.

Most people don’t really think much about these sort of issues in general (if people were told in school that one day they would have to take part in building a new constitution for all the people maybe people would be better prepared).

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reason 10.06.16 at 8:35 am

Tim Worstall @79
Yes, you are right, there are stupid people everywhere.

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reason 10.06.16 at 8:39 am

P.S. Re 81 and a acceptable – unacceptable vote.

Yes, I know it becomes exactly exactly equivalent to a first past the post vote is every voter votes entirely tribalistically (i.e. only their candidate is acceptable and every other candidate is unacceptable). But I don’t think most voters are like that (and if they are then forget democracy in the first place).

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Thomas Beale 10.06.16 at 9:25 am

One only has to consider how voting works in a preferential voting system, where numbered choices must be made , rather than a yes/no vote, to understand that it is reasonable to expect voters to be ‘informed’, since if they are not, they can’t write numbers in the boxes in any meaningful way. Related concept – the ‘preferendum’ of the de Borda institute.

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Manta 10.06.16 at 9:39 am

Lemmy @11 closed the thread.

The common lamentations about e.g. Brexit are the lamentations of those who didn’t like the result: in the opposite situation (a referendum giving them what they wanted), they would have extolled the virtues of direct democracy.

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engels 10.06.16 at 10:09 am

Sebastian where on earth do you get the idea that left wing voices like krugman have been silent on global inequality and the negative effects of globalization?

From columns like this, perhaps?

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ZM 10.06.16 at 10:48 am

Good to see you back commenting RNB :-)

In my State in Australia the Labor government recently moved to legalise Uber but the right wing Liberal opposition said any regulations would have to ensure that prices didn’t go up and add to the cost of living.

The State government is legalising the surge charging as far as I can tell, but is aldo charging an additional “more or less than $2 levy” per trip to passengers for a “fairness fund”.

Apparently the length of the trip decides if the levy is more or less than $2.

The Australian Taxpayers Alliance was outraged with this complaining that only Massachusetts has a similar levy, and their levy was 5 cents.

“The point remains: voting on weighty matters without understanding the question is a serious problem in a democracy. I didn’t take your “Your EU is not working for me, bastard” literally as just that, but apparently that’s how you meant it; in which case, no that’s not good enough.”

I think it’s the politicians work to explain the issue and the arguments to the public, if they aren’t doing this they aren’t doing their job.

If they have a section of the community saying the EU isn’t working for them, then they need to make the policies that address the issues the people are complaining about, or convince the people that they are worried about nothing.

87

Thomas Beale 10.06.16 at 11:24 am

Manta @ 85
there are possibly some who would have extolled the ‘virtues of direct democracy’ if the Brexit vote had been ‘remain’. They would be mistaken. The simplest possible question I can think of on the EU that could be put to either the people or parliament is: something like ‘how can the UK make its membership in the EU work properly to the benefit of its people, and those of other member states?’ (a possible answer is: it can’t.) You can’t use a referendum to answer that.

ZM @ 87
If they [politicians] have a section of the community saying the EU isn’t working for them, then they need to make the policies that address the issues the people are complaining about, or convince the people that they are worried about nothing.

Yes, but not only. In a participatory democracy; there has to be some responsibility on the part of the citizen to understand the issues as well, otherwise, how do they even know who to elect to represent them? Do you argue for rights with no responsibilities?

88

Faustusnotes 10.06.16 at 11:33 am

Sebastian your approach to the Supreme Court is ahistorical and seems to be denying the constitution. First, the Supreme Court is designed to override the legislature, that’s how he constitution works. It’s inevitable that people would use this for politics, because politics is about achieving your ends, and that’s easy if you win a Supreme Court case, with no downside. The most obvious recent example of this is the scotus rewriting Obamacare. Using the Supreme Court to achieve politics goals isn’t epistemocracy, it’s American politics, and it’s a favourite tactic of the right.

Secondly, the living constitutionalist of the modern left have nothing on the founders. A congress heavily stacked with founders mandated that all sailors by life insurance and the Supreme Court let them. Do you remember any recent cases where mandating insurance was considered unconstitutional, which side of politics appealed it, on what grounds, and the supreme courts decision? The reality is that the real “living constitutionalist ” are republican, and alito was their standard bearer.

89

Lee A. Arnold 10.06.16 at 11:49 am

Tim Worstall #79: “Or perhaps we could leave that very market to deal with it?”

Just as soon as we downgrade ALL software patents, including Uber’s, to copyrights — so that someone else can write DIFFERENT lines of code to perform the SAME task, to start a competitive business firm. Then and only then can you possibly have a “level playing field”.

This would be the intellectually correct way to deal with it, because software is NOT a machine; it should not be patentable. A generic computer is the machine. Software is an expression — like the words of a novel that bring you, the reader, to a conclusion.

You cannot patent the English language, but you can copyright an expression in the English language.

It is still unbelievable that people do not understand this distinction. It is a first rate intellectual scandal. It should be rung on all bells.

Kevin Drum, one of the few who understands, just now reports on a circuit court judge who has finally found his way to the (more-or-less) correct view:

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/10/circuit-court-judge-has-finally-had-it-software-patents

If you follow the links in Drum’s post, and then the links in these links and so on, then you will trace the whole shoddy intellectual history back to the people who brought us to this state of affairs.

As Dean Baker has written around a thousand times, misconceived (and overextended) intellectual-property protection is a big, big part of our current economic problems including some of the increasing inequality.

90

Thomas Beale 10.06.16 at 12:01 pm

On Uber and related to #90, Uber itself can be understood as an information broker (or a micro-contract broker). Currently it consists of two things: a centralised business and a technical (computational) platform. However, the delivered end value is rides in cars owned and run by other parties.

It’s not hard to re-imagine the business as a private taxi driver co-op with many members and that the software platform is essentially a commodity (as per #90) which the co-op buys or gets for free if open source, and then just employs a relatively small amount of cloud resource and call centre staff to do the contract broking. Then the real business owners can set prices any way they like, if they agree to do so; it’s no longer a central function.

91

stevenjohnson 10.06.16 at 12:14 pm

Re the topic of the OP: Brennan is the Robert J. Flanagan professor of something or other at a policy institute if I remember correctly. This sort of thing is why Brennan and his buddy Phil Magness are so convinced that adjuncts are losers who deserve less money, because the purpose of universities is “research.” As to his absurd epistocracy, any sensible version of knowledge includes experience and commitment. It is of course the owners who have the training in practical politics and administration as well as skin in the game, as the cliche has it. In short, epistocracy is just a pretend version of the same arguments against universal franchise, in favor of a class franchise. Fundamentally, all libertarians, like their anarchist cousins, are simply reactionaries.

Lupita @58 The US government has people who speak foreign languages and satellites that know geography far better than you do. Insofar as hegemony is a thing, it is not something owned by the people. The insistence they do is ridiculous, suitable only for hating the whole population. If the happy day when all the filthy rabble were slaughtered, however, there are plenty of branch banks all over the globe to continue, left untouched by the purity of your hate.

One reason many don’t learn foreign languages is that none are really taught for free in lower grades. And in colleges, where the teaching costs, there is very little pay off. Much foreign language education in the US is conducted in specialized institutes as job training. Learning by immersion in a foreign language environment generally requires travel for extended periods of time. But for the large majority of the US population, this is a privilege they will never be able to afford.

92

ZM 10.06.16 at 12:14 pm

Thomas Beale,

“Yes, but not only. In a participatory democracy; there has to be some responsibility on the part of the citizen to understand the issues as well, otherwise, how do they even know who to elect to represent them? Do you argue for rights with no responsibilities?”

I live in a pretty engaged town, lots of people care about various political issues even if they have different views.

I think it is difficult for someone to be well informed on every issue though, and I don’t think it should disqualify someone from voting even if they don’t have a lot of interest in politics, which is what Jason Brennan was saying.

Even someone who is not interested in politics much, still probably has areas they care about like education or health or business regulations or something.

93

lurker 10.06.16 at 12:15 pm

‘If they have a section of the community saying the EU isn’t working for them, then they need to make the policies that address the issues the people are complaining about, or convince the people that they are worried about nothing.’ (ZM, 87)
Yes, we must address their very real concerns…

94

Zamfir 10.06.16 at 12:22 pm

@67, I am tempted to believe you – that uber won’t achieve the dominant position that it needs to justify (to investors) its current valuation and expenditures. I am not sure about it though-surely it’s current wave investors aren’t all complete idiots.

When it comes to surge pricing, that becomes a weird argument. “ubers surge pricing is not a problem because uber will massively fail”. I can hope so, but it’s hardly a reason to cheer for surge pricing.

Let alone in this voting restriction context. “The only people who should get the vote are people who cheer for Uber’s surge pricing because surge pricing is not a problem because Uber will fail”

95

TM 10.06.16 at 12:23 pm

Krugman has written tons about inequality. He’s probably one of the first US voices to bring increasing inequality to the attention of a wider audience. And he has been steadfastly criticizing the rightwing labor and tax policies that enabled it.

I understand that is not good enough for some commenters here. And yes, Krugman wrote some terribly naive stuff about the WTO in 1999. Still, Faustusnotes 72 is exactly right. Criticism of inequality and globalization has come almost exclusively from the left (whether or not you want to count Krugman as left is beside the point), not the right. What exactly is the point of denying this easily verified fact? Rewriting history to be able to give legitimacy to the fascists? Great plan, will do the working class a lot of good (as it always has).

Who exactly can be considered “a left wing voice on economic issues”? Dean Baker? Jared Bernstein? Any views, remarks on this recent paper by Jared Bernstein & Lori Wallach: http://prospect.org/article/new-rules-road-progressive-approach-globalization

96

Manta 10.06.16 at 12:38 pm

@88 Thomas Beale
“Manta @ 85
there are possibly some who would have extolled the ‘virtues of direct democracy’ if the Brexit vote had been ‘remain’. They would be mistaken. “

That is not the symmetric situation: the symmetric situation is when there is a referendum changing the status quo to something that they like.
The reason why many people claimed that calling a referendum on Brexit was a mistake is that they LIKED things like they were, and saw no reason why people with opposing viewpoint should have a say.

97

ZM 10.06.16 at 12:39 pm

lurker,

“Yes, we must address their very real concerns…”

You aren’t going to convince them they don’t need to worry about anything with that attitude I am afraid to tell you ;-)

98

engels 10.06.16 at 12:57 pm

He’s probably one of the first US voices to bring increasing inequality to the attention of a wider audience

Puts Eugene Debs firmly in his place!

99

Lee A. Arnold 10.06.16 at 1:04 pm

Thomas Beale #91: “can be understood as an information broker (or a micro-contract broker)”

This is abstractly true of almost everything in the information age! Computers are glorified pens and pencils. You write, read, store & search, calculate, communicate.

A lot easier to put an end to software patents and make them into copyrights, or to put extreme time limits on software patents, e.g. 3 years, (and also encourage further innovation that way,) than to command every info-business to reorganize as a co-op, or to command them to dedicate to open-source.

100

Manta 10.06.16 at 1:11 pm

@56 Thomas Beale
“The mechanical function of a democracy is to enable society to make decisions with majority support. The social purpose of having such a mechanism is for most (at least prior to the current age of universal cynicism) to try to make good (collective) decisions;”

No: what is good for me is no good for you.
The difference between a pluralistic society and a “totalitarian” one (or, if you prefer, medieval society) is precisely that we agree to disagree: i.e., that we accept that often there is no “good collective decision”. That what is good for the wolf is not good for the lamb. So we have to choose winners and losers, in a way that the losers don’t rebel (since they can have a shot with the next decisions) or, if they rebel, they don’t have enough power to do actual damage.

101

Lee A. Arnold 10.06.16 at 1:14 pm

For what doth it profit the world, to give to a man 20-year rights to one-click ordering?

102

Lee A. Arnold 10.06.16 at 1:26 pm

Changing all software patents to copyrights would also massively reduce the amount of Dickensian lawsuits that for on for years and clog the courts.

This would be described in economics as an institutional change that reduces transaction costs, in this case to make production more efficient.

Let’s run this idea past Jason Brennan, to see if he should still be allowed to vote.

103

Rich Puchalsky 10.06.16 at 1:29 pm

I guess that Manta @101 had to remind Thomas Beale of some basics. JQ, what are they teaching people in Australia anyways?

But yes, it may come as a shock to people, but different people within the same society have different interests. “Good decisions” are those that, first and foremost, don’t lead to people killing each other, which is why good decisions are majority decisions. Of course any decision could in some abstract sense be made “better” by someone or some small group of people who had expert knowledge about it: these systems have been tried on both the right and the left and have failed for predictable reasons.

Thomas Beale: “The social purpose of having such a mechanism is for most (at least prior to the current age of universal cynicism) to try to make good (collective) decisions; to assume otherwise is to assume that politics itself has no function and that democratic outcomes are meaningless, but nevertheless ‘good’ since they were arrived at by including everyone’s vote, no matter how randomly cast.”

It’s kind of hard for you to say that your views are not elite / out of touch when you apparently don’t think that some people have critical interests in politics. If politics doesn’t go well for them, they will die. The function of politics for them is to preserve their lives. Not to make good collective decisions. “Good collective decisions” are a luxury for the elite class.

104

Manta 10.06.16 at 1:45 pm

If someone thinks that “experts” should decide important issues, he should have no objection to how the Brexit referendum was formulated, since it’s quite vague, and allows lot of latitude to the “experts” to decide how to implement it, how far to go, and so on.

Of course, the “experts” in question are David Davis, Boris Johnson, and so on: but I am sure we can agree that is a minor detail.

105

Thomas Beale 10.06.16 at 1:51 pm

Manta @101
when I say ‘collective’ I don’t mean it in any totalitarian / communist sense, I meant in the aggregate sense. If you have a single society (assume no region is trying to secede from the commonwealth) with its single democracy, then we are generally talking whole of society outcomes.

That doesn’t mean the same practical outcome for everyone by any means. A single ‘education system’ might cater very well for geniuses, the average and autistics, just as decent health systems cater reasonably well for the whole gamut of health and illness. It’s still a single education or health system that was the result of an aggregate democratic choice (plus or minus all other undemocratic modifications). We do agree to disagree, but the aggregate result of our choices and other machinations of the system are by definition what we all agree on in the aggregate.

Perhaps I should modify the statement to: the social purpose of a democracy is to find the best compromises available on the conditions of living with all opinions considered. These compromises might be fully watered down however. Hence Churchill – democracy is the worst system for making decisions, apart from all the other ones we already tried…

106

TM 10.06.16 at 1:53 pm

What the “anti-globalization” forces of the right want (in the words of David Davis, the Brexit minister):

“we can negotiate a free trade area massively larger than the EU. Trade deals with the US and China alone will give us a trade area almost twice the size of the EU, and of course we will also be seeking deals with Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, India, Japan, the UAE, Indonesia – and many others. …

And the vast majority of the world’s electronic components are manufactured in Asia.

Many of these components currently face tariffs, increasing their costs. The elimination of such tariffs will decrease the cost of manufacturing a car in the UK, increasing our industry’s global competitiveness. The same thing will happen across other industries as tariffs come down and the cost of doing business with the UK is reduced. …

the flood of new regulation from Europe will be halted. We can then look at structuring our regulatory environment so that it helps business, rather than hinders.

At the moment all businesses in the UK must comply with EU regulation, even if they export nothing to the EU. This impacts on our global competitiveness. Instead, we should look to match regulation for companies to their primary export markets. …

We should also continue with the programme of lessening the tax burden. In particular, I would focus on reducing taxes that have a deleterious or distortive effect on growth. This Conservative Government has already done good work in this area, with corporate tax rates cut from almost 30 per cent to 20 per cent, and with plans to cut the rate to 15 per cent. …

This leaves the question of Single Market access. The ideal outcome, (and in my view the most likely, after a lot of wrangling) is continued tariff-free access.”

http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2016/07/david-davis-trade-deals-tax-cuts-and-taking-time-before-triggering-article-50-a-brexit-economic-strategy-for-britain.html

Iow, there is nothing, nothing whatsoever in the Brexit playbook about rejecting globalization, neoliberalism, trade liberalization and deregulation. To the contrary, they want more of it, they want hyper-globalization, with a “free trade area” ten times the size of the EU (as Davis has hubristically stated). The one thing that they can’t stand is foreigners having rights.

And yet people on CT continue to claim the opposite. What’s the problem, reading comprehension or inconventient facts?)

107

Thomas Beale 10.06.16 at 2:06 pm

I respectfully suggest that both Rich Puchalsky & Manta versus me are talking about two different things. I’m talking about outcomes (the best agreements available, no matter how bad in absolute terms, are still the ‘best’); you’re talking about the input – the debates and vociferous disagreements leading up to decision events.

108

Manta 10.06.16 at 2:06 pm

@106 Thomas Beale
I understood quite well that you didn’t mean “collective” in the communist sense.
Yet it remains the facts that:
1) even if we did agree on what “good” means, many decisions in politics are (more or less) zero-sum: some gain, some lose. There is no compromise to be reached, only to decide who gets shafted.
2) we don’t agree on what “good”means: what you think is good for both of us I may think is bad for both of us; unless we institute the Inquisition, we have to accept that we don’t share the same vaules.

109

Rich Puchalsky 10.06.16 at 2:11 pm

Thomas Beale: “Perhaps I should modify the statement to: the social purpose of a democracy is to find the best compromises available on the conditions of living with all opinions considered.”

OK, we’re slowly and painfully working our way back to the 18th century at least. Now how are you going to make a compromise with all opinions considered when you’ve eliminated a majority of those opinions as coming from people who have no real knowledge of the subject?

110

TM 10.06.16 at 2:24 pm

99: Touché. Nitpicking is fine but do you really have nothing substantial at all to say?

111

Joseph Ratliff 10.06.16 at 2:24 pm

To the commentators who were using Brexit as an example…

Brexit’s result was a combination of problems, not just an “informed voter” problem. It was also an “information delivery” problem, a cultural problem, a media-bias problem etc.

You can’t have an “informed public” ready to vote on issues until the “information delivery” problem is addressed. Those who claim they are more informed than an “average person” either have specialized experience to filter information (and speak from that), or perhaps might think they aren’t human (like the rest of the “voting public”).

Since there are humans involved in the whole process, then bias – misinformation – etc. will be involved in the “information delivery” process all the way from point A to point B. The people cannot reasonably vote on an issue without reliable information delivery processes, sources etc.

Then we also have to look at “why” people vote when they “don’t care” (as one commentator put it). “Why” they don’t care is as important as the fact they “don’t care” in the first place. Could be a cultural issue (is the country worth “caring about”?). Could be a propaganda issue, could be … could be …

So the Brexit problem, and the resulting vote analysis, aren’t as simple as they sound on the surface. Rather complex actually.

As it applies to segmenting a particular group of people out of the voting in a political process … that seems wrong on its face. Who makes the decisions? Who decides who is and who isn’t “smart enough” or “informed enough” to participate? Or, does it boil down to the possibility that people aren’t patient enough to allow for the “voting public” to reach a conclusion?

If we “can’t be” patient enough (because of the issue), then should only “informed” voters be allowed? Shouldn’t everybody be involved if the issue is that important? (WITH all of the information delivery issues addressed?)

112

Thomas Beale 10.06.16 at 2:24 pm

Rich Pulchalsky @ 110
As per #22, I don’t seriously hold such a view (come on, this is a fun debate, right? Don’t take everything you read so literally). But there’s no escape from the problem that those who wish for perfect democratic form will often have to deal with very approximate and sometimes meaningless democratic content – that’s a standard problem in political theory.

All I argue for is citizens who accept some responsibility for the content and a polity that values the idea of ‘informed’ choice, as best that can be achieved, however bad that may really be.

113

CJColucci 10.06.16 at 2:38 pm

I’ve never had a living constitutionalist articulate a policy they were personally for that they thought would be flatly unconstitutional.

I don’t know what living constitutionalists Sebastian H. hangs out with, but I’ve found him to be an interesting, reasonable fellow, and I am inclined to take him at his word on this. So I’ll broaden his circle of acquaintance. Here are some things I favor as policy that I think flatly unconstitutional:

1. Federal control of the content of K-12 education (I do think the feds could use the spending power to bribe states into adopting a preferred curriculum, but that’s different from just imposing it);
2. Uniform federal laws on marriage and divorce;
3. Uniform federal laws on inheritance.

114

Rich Puchalsky 10.06.16 at 2:48 pm

Thomas Beale: “All I argue for is citizens who accept some responsibility for the content and a polity that values the idea of ‘informed’ choice, as best that can be achieved, however bad that may really be.”

You’ve written that you aren’t serious from the start, so I’m not saying that tomorrow you’re going to try to institute a voter literacy test like those from a few decades back. But your basic ideals are, from my point of view, wrong. The polity is for the citizens, not the reverse, and protest votes with apparently bad content are often the most useful votes that a citizen ever will make.

Parenthetically, I had no idea that the UK was such a Third World hellhole that mass political literacy was in question. It’s almost as if elites didn’t like what the people were saying and took any excuse to reject it, such as by saying that they were old, uneducated, poor racist proto-fascists and didn’t even understand anything to boot.

115

RNB 10.06.16 at 3:05 pm

I think that just as dangerous as epistocracy is populism in the way Jan Werner Muller has defined it. Epistocracts or technocrats falsely inform us of the necessities to which we must pay heed while populists portray themselves as expressing the soul of the true people so that if their visions are not electorally verified they can only suspect fraud and thus tend to want to eliminate pluralist politics so that they can speak directly on the behalf of the people. Trump is thus a populist while Sanders is not.

116

Ogden Wernstrom 10.06.16 at 3:27 pm

@79 Tim Worstall 10.06.16 at 8:06 am:

Or perhaps we could leave that very market to deal with [Uber]? Those happy enough with the arrangements do it, those not don’t? That is the modern, and entirely correct, method we deal with who has sex with whom (consenting adults only of course) so why not apply it to cab rides?

First, what would be the cab-ride equivalent of wearing a condom?

Second, all states in the USofA do restrict the sex market. (Which often makes the market-clearing price quite difficult to determine prior to selection of a vendor.)

On a different note, Lee A. Arnold (@90) has me thinking about looking into a patent for “A Method of Inducing Pleasure and Satisfying Desire”, or some such. Some research is in order.

117

Thomas Beale 10.06.16 at 3:39 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 115
protest votes with apparently bad content are often the most useful votes that a citizen ever will make

I think that statement would take some proving. You imply that someone is listening and can decode protest vote signals and do something ‘good’ in response. Perhaps you take the vapid content-free speech of Theresa May yesterday as such? The usual response is to interpret the result in the way that best fits the ideology of those in government.

A more obvious inference would be that an accumulation of votes with bad content over time simply leads to incoherence in policy and outcomes. Exhibit #1 – the UK NHS. Also the UK school system.

118

Sebastian H 10.06.16 at 6:04 pm

CJColucci I’m glad to hear that you personally think there are limits, but I’m not sure where you get them from, nor why you think that the current living constitutionalist doctrines would agree with you.

On public education, for example: the living constitutionalist dogma is that Lopez v. US was wrongly decided and that Breyer’s dissent should have controlled. His dissent said that anything which significantly affects interstate commerce could be controlled by Congress. He then went on to say that since crime could adversely affect learning outcomes, and because differential learning outcomes could affect interstate commerce, Congress could act. Doesn’t that logic apply even more directly with a curriculum? Doesn’t that logic apply to ALL crime that might affect school aged children?

Remember that the logic of Wickard is that growing your own corn for your own use counts as commerce and can be banned because it means you aren’t buying corn from someone else, which affects the price locally, which affects the price across state lines. (See also the more recent pot cases) Why wouldn’t that logic apply to inheritances? You get money and property from inheritances that you can use to buy things, affecting prices across state lines. Or you might choose not to buy things because you inherited the things. That also affects prices across state lines.

What in the modern living constitutionalist approach stops either of those things?

119

Rich Puchalsky 10.06.16 at 6:21 pm

Thomas Beale: “You imply that someone is listening and can decode protest vote signals and do something ‘good’ in response. “

“Uh oh if I don’t make people happier I might be thrown out of office in turn” == “something good”

120

John Thacker 10.06.16 at 6:32 pm

OTOH, I think that enormous portions of the press are prone to epistocracy of at least some form, at least when politicians start, e.g., proposing that the Federal Reserve be subject to political pressure. And certainly all of us have the idea that at least some things broadly in the realm of political power should be restricted to those who know something about it, especially if you favor, say, the Missouri Plan for selecting judges.

121

phenomenal cat 10.06.16 at 6:51 pm

Weird to me that in all this discussion of voter/democratic legitimacy no one has broached the apparently invisible elephant in the room that is equality, except perhaps Joseph Ratliff @112 with the following:

“Brexit’s result was a combination of problems, not just an “informed voter” problem. It was also an “information delivery” problem, a cultural problem, a media-bias problem etc.

You can’t have an “informed public” ready to vote on issues until the “information delivery” problem is addressed. Those who claim they are more informed than an “average person” either have specialized experience to filter information (and speak from that), or perhaps might think they aren’t human (like the rest of the “voting public”).

Since there are humans involved in the whole process, then bias – misinformation – etc. will be involved in the “information delivery” process all the way from point A to point B. The people cannot reasonably vote on an issue without reliable information delivery processes, sources etc…”

Absolute equality isn’t necessary for democratic legitimacy, but some value within a broad range of relative equality is.

Fiercely unequal outcomes in representation, distribution, and access to socioeconomic goods will create, uh, dissonance in the actions of the electorate. Yeah, “informational delivery” is a real problem, but that framing strikes me as technocratic, bloodless, and far too amenable to the rationality of mainstream economist types and others. As if it were merely the result of a few coding errors or essentially a malfunction in the “delivery system.” Agency is lacking; the multiplicity of actions and coordination on multiple fronts that has produced radical stratifications of wealth and power remains unacknowledged.

The unwashed masses do not lack for rationality. Given the range of choices, voting for Brexit or Trump is rational and responsive to available “information streams.” Both are crude, but direct signals–acknowledgement of grossly unequal sociopolitical outcomes. The effort the credentialed, managerial, political, and capitalist classes are willing to expend in actively avoiding the plain meaning of such signals is remarkable. Keep avoiding them and these signals will only become more crude and more direct.

122

CJColucci 10.06.16 at 6:54 pm

Sebastian H:
I could give long-winded explanations of why I personally conclude that these things are unconstitutional, and why I am right to think so, but that wouldn’t show that some other living constitutionalist couldn’t disagree. I know which side I would represent on a contingent fee basis if given the choice, but that assumes there is something to litigate. For my money, the best test we can have is the very lack of something to litigate. If nobody proposes something, despite its making eminent good sense and quite likely being popular, there is probably a reason. I don’t think most Congresspersons are particularly scrupulous about respecting such boundaries around Congressional power as there are, so if something is too much for them, that’s a pretty fair sign that it’s over the line.

123

Manta 10.06.16 at 7:21 pm

@122 CJColucci
I partly agree with your general position, but
“if something is too much for them, that’s a pretty fair sign that it’s over the line” (and the whole line of reasoning)
only proves (at most) that they think the Supreme Court will strike down these laws, not that a “living constitutional” scholar would find these laws unconstitutional.

124

Tim Worstall 10.06.16 at 7:37 pm

@ 90

“Just as soon as we downgrade ALL software patents, including Uber’s, to copyrights — so that someone else can write DIFFERENT lines of code to perform the SAME task, to start a competitive business firm. Then and only then can you possibly have a “level playing field”.”

Fine by me. I wouldn’t want to have to find it but I have stated the same thing. Copyright on s/ware, fine and just, patent not so.

“It is still unbelievable that people do not understand this distinction.”

I do.

Not that I’m all that happy to be compared to K Drum, and I’m damn certain he ain’t with me.

@91 “It’s not hard to re-imagine the business as a private taxi driver co-op with many members and that the software platform is essentially a commodity”

There’s a company doing exactly that. Called Karhoo in London. So, let’s see who wins the competition (a friend works for Karhoo, no one I know for Uber, but let’s see what everyone else thinks rather than what you or I might prefer).

@96. “Criticism of inequality and globalization has come almost exclusively from the left (whether or not you want to count Krugman as left is beside the point), not the right.”

Which inequality? Globalisation has reduced global and increased in-country.

Re that Bernstein paper, OK, I’ll play:

“Selecting appropriate trade partners: The goal of U.S. trade agreements should be to facilitate trade flow, create jobs, and raise wages.”

No, the aim is to raise *real* wages. Which can and is done by lowering the cost of goods and services consumed.

“Enforceable and substantive labor and environmental rights and standards: Global commerce absent a floor of enforceable international labor and environmental standards can produce a race to the bottom between nations in wages, working conditions, and environmental and health safeguards. “

Nope, people who are starving to death (say, cobalt miners in DRC, to use an example from this week) need higher incomes, not people shouting that they need higher, and more expensive, safety levels so as to not compete with American miners.

Poor places should have lower standards, because they’re poor. Who thinks that DRC day labourers on $2 a day should have to carry the cost of 24 months maternity leave as in Sweden?

@116 “(Which often makes the market-clearing price quite difficult to determine prior to selection of a vendor.)

I’m told the price is ones’ house. Although I’m told that is the price post selection of a different vendor.

125

floopmeister 10.07.16 at 12:17 am

55: Which could be said of the entire libertarian project.
Its proponents always dive immediately into the weeds of Econ theory, without asserting a vision of what end goal is to be produced.

Well of course.

You leave ‘outcomes’ up to The Market. ‘What is’ is ‘what was always meant to be’ – unless you don’t personally like that outcome, in which case b) it’s State interference!

126

floopmeister 10.07.16 at 12:18 am

127

John Quiggin 10.07.16 at 12:56 am

Sebastian @77 You’re missing the point completely. Your initial claim was that leftwing scholars wanted the Supreme Court to override the will of the people (presumably meaning people now alive). Now you’re saying (correctly) that they want to override the words of the Constitution as they were understood by those who wrote them (who are all dead).

You want the Constitution as written and interpreted by the SC to constrain the elected legislature, so your position clearly involves putting the SC above the people who elected it. Can’t you see how this contradicts your initial claim?

128

Sebastian H 10.07.16 at 3:52 am

Leftwing Constitutional scholars want both. They want to overrule the will of the people (present) AND the rules set down by the Constitution. They want to be able to use the concept of the Constitution to overrule the will of the people when they disagree with the scholars AND they don’t want to be constrained by the actual Constitution when doing so.

To be fair lots of Rightwing Constitutional scholars do the the same thing.

But that is why I say that they support an epistocracy–they want the experts (that they agree with) to make the rules far more than they care about the legitimacy of the process. But the process is supposed to mitigate the times you are wrong, which is why the Constitutional process has gotten so out of whack–both sides decided that amendments were too hard (which while they are harder than they ought to be, aren’t nearly as impossible as both sides claim) and would rather pervert the court system. The problem with that is that we have now over-Constitutionalized all sorts of things that almost certainly should have been left to compromises in the political branches.

129

Sebastian H 10.07.16 at 3:57 am

From a political economy perspective we have Constitutionalized questions through simple majorities in the judiciary rather than dealing with them through super-majorities in amendments. This seems like a fantastic approach when you control the judges, but as soon as the other side figures it out, every election becomes about who controls the judges. This reduces direct accountability (which is politicians think is great) and makes elections far more tribal because you can’t have an election focused on the problems of the moment without also risking the other tribe swamping you with judges.

All of this is because you don’t want to deal with the electorate, you want to remove the power that voting has from the voters you don’t like. Brennan’s approach is just the mask-off version of that.

130

Faustusnotes 10.07.16 at 4:40 am

No Sebastian, the constitution is the mask off version of that. The constitution specifies that this is how American politics work so people use it as it was intended.

And spare us the whole “left wing people want to overrule the will of the people” shtick. The heritage foundation was trawling right wing communities looking for people to challenge onamacare and they got their case up even though their applicants had no legitimate standing, because the scotus was stacked with right wing judges.

If your system is being exploited, then your system is broken. But don’t try and pretend the people exploiting it are the left.

131

Collin Street 10.07.16 at 10:41 am

Well there are plenty of examples of societies that have very few decision-makers and those decision-makers have very good reasons to be well-informed, but it’s not like in general monarchies and dictatorships have better policies.

Ah.

Something I’ve mentioned before, but… law-of-large-numbers. The bigger the group, the more closely / more likely its average reflects the population average. Conversely: the smaller the group, the more likely it is to diverge strongly from the population average.

If you want tolerablely competent and not-too-corrupt government, whether you want lots of rulers or only a few depends very strongly on how corrupt/incompetent the typical person-who-might-be-a-leader is: if they’re by-and-large fairly OK, then you want lots of them to minimise the freak chance that you’ll get a bad batch and they’ll all be crazy, but if by-and-large they’re mediocre or worse then you want as few as possible, to maximise the chances of getting a good one.

And this is exactly what you see! The more corrupt a country is, the more the pressure for single strong-leader governance; the less corrupt, the more the pressure for inclusive concilliar governance. Corrupt oligarchies lead to demands for strong singular leadership to clean up rentseeking logjams; improvements in social conditions lead to demands for more reflective / inclusive / conciliar process. All makes sense, no? People who back for dictatorship know they’re playing long odds of getting a decent leader, but the chances are — they think — still better than getting a half-dozen leaders lined up in the legislature.

132

SamChevre 10.07.16 at 12:39 pm

Sebastian H at 128 articulates my point better than I could.

133

Sebastian H 10.07.16 at 3:54 pm

No Faustusnotes, the Constitution specifically contemplates amendments for major changes. The whole problem is that both sides have abandoned amendments because owning 51% of the key judges is easier. The problem is that it is much less permanent than actually going through the trouble of forging strong amendment-supporting constituencies. So now we have constitutional level questions going back and forth on razor thin majorities. That is a recipe for disaster.

134

CJColucci 10.07.16 at 4:09 pm

@123Manta

Well, yes, I won’t dispute that there is some space between “best test we can have” or “pretty fair sign” and “proves.” But the Supreme Court has always had a majority of living constitutionalists, largely because nothing else is possible, so it comes out to the same thing. Not that someone won’t disagree. I remember some scholar insisting that the Constitution requires socialism and a number of people now insist that it forbids it. But most folks seem to think that it permits it — once you get over some procedural and compensation issues — but doesn’t require it. Again, I know what position I would defend on a contingent fee basis.

135

Manta 10.07.16 at 4:33 pm

CJColucci, a good test would be: (you or Sebstian) “name some judges that are living constitutionalist, and check if they rejected some law that fits their political agenda”.
Without naming names, there is a high risk of fighting a strawman.

136

Rich Puchalsky 10.07.16 at 4:53 pm

Variations of U.S. constitutionalism are different ways of interpreting a centuries-old text that has accumulated a series of influential commentaries and past decisions, and their means of handling contemporary problems must of necessity depend on highly tendentious readings of small parts of the text. In other words, this is a classic religious dispute within a tradition.

As such, it’s like all theological disputes: none of it really makes any sense when considered from outside, but no one can intervene and say that it doesn’t make sense because it can be and has been made arbitrarily complex by having had intelligent people work on it for centuries.

137

Manta 10.07.16 at 5:02 pm

Rich, but there can be a honest dispute, and a dishonest one.
If a judge position is “start from the result I want, and give some reasons for why the constitution allow/prescribes it”, he’s not being a judge, but a member of the legislature.

138

Rich Puchalsky 10.07.16 at 5:04 pm

I think that’s an illusionary distinction, Manta. Judges are just appointed politicians, and all of their reasoning is motivated reasoning.

139

Ragweed 10.07.16 at 5:16 pm

“No, the aim is to raise *real* wages. Which can and is done by lowering the cost of goods and services consumed.”

Well, no, because debt is always nominal. In a world where real wages rise by lowering costs of goods and services, with concurrent declines in nominal wages, then debt costs increase over time. And this applies not just to consumer debt overhang (mortgages and car loans) but to business loans and debt, with a corresponding drag on new business ventures. Money is not neutral.

140

Ragweed 10.07.16 at 6:36 pm

The whole discussion of the supreme court has gotten off into name-calling weeds.

But in terms of left-liberal views on the court, there are two broad camps. There is a radical-left view that sees the courts and law as just being another form of politics/class expressions of power (Rich P seems to represent that above), and is not particularly invested in maintaining the US judicial model.

But for the most part, left/liberals who are not looking for a revolution tend to support the idea of an epistocratic court in the context of a system of balanced government. The legislature and president should be elected by the most democratic means possible, with a professional judiciary “restricted to those who know enough to participate in it” as a balance to that.

That does not mean that the left/liberals don’t participate in a politicized court – indeed both left and right want justices who tend to side with their vision of justice. But to say that support for an epistocratic court shows that the liberal left is against-democracy is a fallacy.

141

lurker 10.07.16 at 6:58 pm

‘You aren’t going to convince them they don’t need to worry about anything with that attitude I am afraid to tell you ;-)’ (ZM, 98)
Maybe, on reflection, I should try to see this as one of those irregular verbs.
I’m sending a message.
You’re throwing away your vote.
They’re voting for a white nationalist because they’re ignorant bigots.

142

CJColucci 10.07.16 at 7:18 pm

Manta@135:

I think most judges do it quite often. Free speech cases come to mind. And certainly those judges who advocate a very broad commerce power or deferential review of economic legislation can’t possibly favor all the policies those theories oblige them to uphold. Of course, you can move the goalposts and say that the judge’s “political agenda” is not any particular policy, but, instead, the power of the government to enact all sorts of policies without judicial interference. At that point, however, you’re close to making your point true by definition, which doesn’t advance the ball any.

143

Manta 10.07.16 at 7:22 pm

Colucci, as I said, better to give names.
For free speech cases, Scalia? But he’s not a living constitutionalist (heh!)…

144

Rich Puchalsky 10.07.16 at 7:40 pm

Ragweed: “with a professionial judiciary “restricted to those who know enough to participate in it” as a balance to that.”

I’m not claiming that there’s no *skill* involved in being a judge. On the contrary, they have to master a large amount of specialized knowledge and technique. It’s just that this knowledge and technique can be turned to pretty much any political end. People from all parts of the political spectrum acknowledge this when they say that a really important reason to vote in the Presidential election is that the President gets to nominate Supreme Court justices. In other words, the election determines (very indirectly) what the law is going to be. If there really were binding constraints then this wouldn’t be so important.

Continuing the religious analogy, originalism and textualism share some characteristics with fundamentalism, the idea that anyone can open the text and obtain a single, definitive meaning. Living constitutionalism is more like religious doctrines that say that only trained interpreters using methods of analogy can interpret texts. Both of them are BS, of course.

145

Sebastian H 10.07.16 at 8:15 pm

“That does not mean that the left/liberals don’t participate in a politicized court – indeed both left and right want justices who tend to side with their vision of justice. But to say that support for an epistocratic court shows that the liberal left is against-democracy is a fallacy.”

Correct, I’m not saying that support for an epistocratic court is what shows that the liberal/left is against democracy. I’m saying that the fact that they support an epistocratic court means that they aren’t as far from Brennan as they think.

146

Ragweed 10.08.16 at 7:38 am

“Correct, I’m not saying that support for an epistocratic court is what shows that the liberal/left is against democracy. I’m saying that the fact that they support an epistocratic court means that they aren’t as far from Brennan as they think.”

No – that is fallacy of composition. The liberal left wants a government that is mostly (2 out of 3 branches) determined by open and inclusive elections, with only one branch that is epistocratic (though with a selection and vetting process that is part of the political realm, and thus has democratic input).

Brennan wants all government to be epistocratic – whole kit and caboodle. He is not talking about an institution as a balance to popular democracy; he wants to ditch popular democracy completely. He wants to scrap universal franchise and replace it with a system where the right to vote is based on passing a political litmus test. To equate that two misses the point entirely.

147

Ragweed 10.08.16 at 7:48 am

Rich – I tend to side more with the view that the judicial system is politics by another name, so I mostly agree with you. However, my main point in that bit you cited was to try to represent accurately what the different strands of the left actually express about the court, rather than the straw-man version presented upthread.

148

Ragweed 10.08.16 at 7:53 am

It is also worth noting that elected supreme courts are very common on the state level – 22 states elect their supreme court justices, and another 16 have retention elections for appointed judges, so the idea of direct elections of the supreme court is not that far fetched.

149

Tim Worstall 10.08.16 at 9:00 am

“In a world where real wages rise by lowering costs of goods and services, with concurrent declines in nominal wages, then debt costs increase over time.”

You’ve rather added something not in my original. Declining nominal wages. Which isn’t quite the situation in the US over recent decades, is it?

Sure if nominal wages do decline then debt overhangs would be a serious problem – this is why we don’t like deflation in general.

But even the likes of the EPI aren’t saying that nominal wages have been declining. The worst they say is that real wages have been static (not that I really believe them on that but that’s another matter).

150

TM 10.08.16 at 9:59 am

Once again re: “Criticism of inequality and globalization has come almost exclusively from the left”

One of the most important and influential books on the subject was Joseph Stiglitz, Globalisation and its Discontents. Highly recommendable his takedown of TPP, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/on-the-wrong-side-of-globalization

Oh and did anybody mention that Congress gave Obama fast-track on TPP with almost exclusively the votes of Republicans? Sure, Obama deserves a lot of blame for his pro-corporate stance, but also his politically incredibly naive belief in mainstream economics (which to make matters worse, seems to be sincere). Still there is a partisan divide with the critics overwhelmingly on the left and supporters overwhelmingly on the right. I quoted above the unquestioning loyalty towards trade liberalization and deregulation on the part of some of Brexit’s main architects. And still there is a narrative, unencumbered by empirical reality, that paints these advocates of hyper-globalization as the anti-globalists.

And Trump? Sure he has made noises against trade but only because it fits into his “us against foreigners”/ US against China/Mexico narrative. There is of course no anti-corporate criticism from his side. The most consequential issue with TPP and similar is corporate empowerment and subversion of governments’ ability to regulate. On that front, nothing from Trump. His delusional promise to slap unilateral tariffs on Chinese imports is in the same category as the promise to build that wall – it plays well with nationalists but would soon be forgotten if he were elected. he doesn’t offer anything resembling a real economically populist alternative.

151

Peter T 10.08.16 at 11:43 am

I can’t decide if Tim’s belief that sex and taxi rides are comparable experiences makes his life more interesting or more boring than mine.

152

bruce wilder 10.08.16 at 2:54 pm

TM @155

It is not a very effective partisan divide, if Obama and Clinton are on the wrong side. (Yeah, yeah Clinton side-stepped her history of advocacy of TPP to slip by Sanders with an expression of lukewarm skepticism.)

You ding Obama for his mainstream economics, but cite Stiglitz, the Chief High Priest of Mainstream Economics, as a principal critic of inequality and globalization.

The left has been remarkably ineffective so far in generating effective opposition or a program of reform proposals or committed leadership capable of securing office. It might be worthwhile inquiring into the sources of this ideological and political weakness.

One source of such weakness is the reluctance of the left to compete with demagogues like Trump for the political support of people who are hostile to globalization for what are deemed to be the wrong reasons. If you regard nationalism as an unacceptable form of racism and atavism and embrace a cosmopolitanism of open borders, it is difficult to see a way forward in terms of institutional reform or coalition building.

Another source of weakness is the embrace of political leaders like Obama, who openly work for the other side while you spend your political energies making excuses and arguing the expedience of lesser evils. It is not hard to see the key role of corporate fund-raising in the strategies politicians use to get elected, and you dance with the one that brought ya; the left isn’t bringing anyone, but pretends otherwise. Moreover, the electoral coalitions of the centre-left rely on the votes of educated professionals and managers, whose class interest in globalization and inequality leaves them ambivalent not opposed. So, we have the spectacle of the Labour Party split: the PLP putting up a Pfizer rep against the shambolic fossil who isn’t pro-EU enough.

Finally, there is the ideological: the choice of critics and criticisms. Everyone who wrings his or her hands over “inequality” is not necessarily interested in doing much of anything. The very bloodless quality of the label, “inequality”, is chosen to drain the issue of specificity, not to mention justice. That absolutely pathetic article by Jared Bernstein & Lori Wallach in the American Prospect you linked seems like a prime example: it is nothing more than virtue signalling; they call for no more in the way of institutional reform than goo-goo process changes and diffuse good intentions in a Clinton Administration. Good luck with that.

153

bruce wilder 10.08.16 at 3:45 pm

SH: I’m not saying that support for an epistocratic court is what shows that the liberal/left is against democracy. I’m saying that the fact that they support an epistocratic court means that they aren’t as far from Brennan as they think.

I admit I am not seeing the connection. Leaving Brennan aside for a moment, certain fundamentals of how and why politics is structured by law are being neglected and they are an essential part of the context.

Law and economics are rationalizing forces in post-Enlightenment political society. We do not just vote willy nilly our guts or our consumer preferences. We know that would be chaotic. We have an institutionalized politics built around enacting general rules and arguing on rational(ized) grounds both their adoption and administration.

Sure there is constant pressure to get specific concrete results for particular individuals in every immediate instance. That is the pressure of human greed, impulse, ambition our political institutions constrain and channel. It manifests as pressure because it is constrained. Unconstrained it would manifest as a Hobbesian flood, submerging everything in the war of all against all.

The living constitutionalists have a better argument than you are giving them credit for. Much of the text of the Constitution consists of rules phrased in highly general terms. Maybe we should have amended those general rules to accommodate the invention of the telephone, the automobile or the reinvention of marriage, but it is difficult to see why. What is wanted are not new general rules, but an elaboration of how the general rule applies to the new specifics of new circumstances. That a living constitution accommodates the evolution of political culture as well as technological innovation is troubling to reactionaries, but all I can say is: “sorry we have a liberal constitution, are you sure there is any other kind?”

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Robert Simmons 10.10.16 at 8:45 pm

“One could make further arguments”
Or one make one argument, and possibly even state a conclusion.

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