Saturday, September 30, 2006

More from that Will Wilkinson article: here's the classic case against democratic paternalism.
In any case, if you really think people make systematic "mistakes" in judgment and choice, there is no reason to believe that democratic voters --who have less at stake when casting their ballots than when choosing what to have for lunch -- will be especially good at populating the government with Spock-like rational legislators interested in tweaking cognition through expertly targeted policy rather than with well-coiffed primates interested in hoarding status and power.
I do believe people make systematic mistakes (without quotation marks). I suspect that, if pressed, Wilkinson would admit he believes this too. Moreover, by the reasoning quoted above, any good argument for more paternalism is necessarily a good argument for less democracy. Isaac Asimov took such arguments and followed them to the conclusion that we should look forward to a future in which a benevolent, meritocratic elite subtly governs humanity while giving us the illusion of freedom. In one version, the elite were artifical intelligences. In another, they were a priesthood of "psychohistorians," where psychohistory is to neuroeconomics as quantum mechanics is to Plato's physics. Asimov was always fun to read, but after I would finish a book and think about it, his notion of dialectical progress towards perfect technocracy would rub me the wrong way. I suppose it comes down to how much one believes Lord Acton's dictum.


Blogger Kent said...

I really liked the Foundation trilogy the first time I read it.

Of course, I was thirteen at the time.

I liked it less each time I read it, until I reached the point where I didn't enjoy it enough to read it again.

10/01/2006 2:42 PM  

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