Decline of the Empire says it better than I can:
Democracies Always Fail
Many Americans believe they live in a democracy. They don't. Yes, there are names on the ballot, campaigns are waged, votes are cast, and the winners serve their terms in Washington. But some votes count more than others. Way more. Those who vote with their checkbooks have far more sway than those who do nothing but push buttons or pull levers in a voting booth. The further you move away from the "one person, one vote" principle, the less of a democracy you have. Here in America we've moved a vast distance away from this ideal principle. That is especially evident this year now that we live in the Age of the Superpacs after the Citizens United decision.
Unfortunately, there is no good word to describe what we've got in the United States. We could call it an oligarchy, but that implies a concentration of power that doesn't exist. The elites who make the rules in America are a relatively large, diverse group. Power is widely and loosely distributed, although most of the power broking goes on in Washington, D.C.
But suppose we did live in a democracy in which all votes were equal. It would fail anyway scientists say, for People Aren't Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish.
The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens (the majority of them, at least) can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea, when they see it. But a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies.The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people's ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments.As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, "very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is," Dunning told Life's Little Mysteries.He and colleague Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now of New York University, have demonstrated again and again that people are self-delusional when it comes to their own intellectual skills. Whether the researchers are testing people's ability to rate the funniness of jokes, the correctness of grammar, or even their own performance in a game of chess, the duo has found that people always assess their own performance as "above average" — even people who, when tested, actually perform at the very bottom of the pile. [Incompetent People Too Ignorant to Know It]
I have a lot more to say about people's competence to evaluate their own competence or the ideas of others, including mine, so I will return to that subject on Sunday. Let's stick with how their "lack of mental tools" affects democracy.
In an ideal democracy where "one person, one vote" actually holds, people's inability to judge ideas and issues would be a big problem. But we live in the Real World, not an ideal world. And the further away you move from an ideal democracy, the less rational the voting process becomes. Here in the United States, party allegiance and voting have become primarily emotional processes. And of course for candidates or those working directly for the political parties or those buying their allegiance, there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The issues are unimportant, being merely emotional touchstones for uninformed voters. There's hardly anything rational about it for most of these dupes. The advent of Mass Media in the 20th century changed the game in a profound way. Emotional messages can now be disseminated far and wide in 30-second or 60-second spots on TV or radio. Certainly it is not possible to intelligently address a real issue (e.g. tax policy or government deficits) in such a short period of time. Soundbites, not rational thinking, govern the election process from beginning to end.
Thus these scientists have committed the fallacy I called the Imputation of Rationality in my post Humans Are Not Rational Problem Solvers. If that were all there is to it, we could conclude that democracies always fail because voters can not distinguish between a good idea and a bad idea.
The most incompetent among us serve as canaries in the coal mine signifying a larger quandary in the concept of democracy; truly ignorant people may be the worst judges of candidates and ideas, Dunning said, but we all suffer from a degree of blindness stemming from our own personal lack of expertise.Mato Nagel, a sociologist in Germany, recently implemented Dunning and Kruger's theories by computer-simulating a democratic election. In his mathematical model of the election, he assumed that voters' own leadership skills were distributed on a bell curve — some were really good leaders, some, really bad, but most were mediocre — and that each voter was incapable of recognizing the leadership skills of a political candidate as being better than his or her own. When such an election was simulated, candidates whose leadership skills were only slightly better than average always won.Nagel concluded that democracies rarely or never elect the best leaders. Their advantage over dictatorships or other forms of government is merely that they "effectively prevent lower-than-average candidates from becoming leaders."
As I pointed out above, the real problem is that ideal democracies do not exist. Clueless voters are a secondary issue. In fact, I would go much further. I would say that ideal or close-to-ideal democracies are inherently unstable and therefore must fail. They are unsustainable. The reason for this is simple: ideal democracies are incompatible with Human Nature, i.e. power corrupts, governing inherently requires humans to wield power, and thus the democratic process must become subverted at some point or other.
American democracy failed decades ago—we could argue about exactly when that occurred—but we are seeing that process at work in Europe today. Greece and Italy are now run by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels who, along with the ECB and big private banks, will increasingly call the shots in other countries on Europe's southern rim. Great power is being wielded and corruption is part & parcel of that. The governing process in EU member states is becoming more and more undemocratic every day. If you doubt this, just ask a Greek or an Italian. Next year you can ask the Portuguese or the Spanish.
So my view is that democracies always fail sooner or later. Although the United States never had a pure democracy, it is remarkable how long the old Republic was sustained. But when America became a great global power after World War II, the jig was up. It was only a matter of time until the U.S. became as undemocratic as it is today. What's ironic about this is that the less we live in a democracy, the more those looking to maintain the status quo trumpet the idea of America-as-a-democracy and the importance of voting. Frankly, that's ridiculous, and provides us with yet another example of how crazy life in the United States has become.
In psychological terms, this looks like the biggest case of overcompensation in human history. In the media it is totally unacceptable to call a spade a spade and admit we don't live in a democracy. It is taboo, verboten. When a subject is taboo, that's always a strong indicator that deep psychological forces (i.e. basic instincts or defense mechanisms) are in play.
Read the rest at: http://www.declineoftheempire.com/2012/03/democracies-always-fail.html