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Why Democracy?

FrameBenignly          23 September 2015 03:29 PM


I'd like to state a number of assumptions.

1) People are frequently unaware of major implications, causes, and reasonings of and for policies.

2) People are frequently biased against certain policy choices.

3) This unawareness and these biases results in a lot of random statistical noise that is frequently very far removed from optimal policy outcomes.

4) This problem is so great that even experts are unable to keep up with all of the policy implications and choices that they need to make decisions on when voting due to the extremely complex nature of government.

5) While no one can claim to be an expert in every area of government, many policy experts have a great deal of understanding of certain elements of government, and are capable of greatly improving upon the existing government systems by allowing them to control the noise while leaving just the basic elements to the voters.

6) Given the right incentives, these experts would choose these improvements relative to the status quo.

7) It is possible to design a system whereby these incentives for experts exist, and experts are given the power to create these improvements to government.

There are many possible mechanisms by which the goals implicit in these assumptions can be reached. You have probably heard of futarchy, but I am going to instead propose something related, but also quite different: technocracy.

I think the vote on values, bet on beliefs concept of futarchy is quite valid, but I regard this separation between values and beliefs to be much more important than the creation of a market system to make decisions based upon these beliefs. While decision markets may be superior to a panel of experts, the evidence in this regard is not overwhelming, and even if such an improvement exists, it is likely to be relatively small. Panels of experts have the benefit of being much easier to institute into an existing system.

Case in point: central banking.

Central bankers have a very clear and simple job description with little oversight from the democracy. The ECB is directed to maintain price stability. The FED is directed to maintain price stability and keep unemployment levels low. They are existing and highly effective technocracies, which are generally regarded as superior to democratic control of central banks.

Now imagine another system of government: health care.

Despite all that was said about the Affordable Care Act, how many American people could even explain the basic concepts underlying the changes made? I would guess less than 2%, at least by my standards of basic concepts. But what is there really to debate? Everyone wants the maximum life expectancy for all at the lowest cost. The only real debates worth having with the average person are how much to spend and the distribution of such expenditures between people of different backgrounds such as high life expectancy individuals vs low life expectancy individuals.

So what if a system was created where an organization was given a budget and a simple directive to maximize life expectancy for everyone with their given budget. The agency had free reign to spend that money however they chose. You might ask, what about laws? But if the agency had as much money as Medicare and Medicaid combined have now, they could control the laws simply by directing spending. They could refuse to give money to hospitals that didn't pass inspections or who employ uncertified individuals in certain positions. They could require all doctors in private practices to be licensed in order to receive government funding. In fact, the government could spend just a fraction of what it is spending now and still have this amount of control simply because as long as they're the biggest pockets around, almost the entire market would have to cater to them.

Sure, there might still need to be laws to cover health care black markets, but I'm not so sure if even this much is necessary. Even if it is, it doesn't really defeat my argument. The need for laws is separate from the issue of agencies have greater control over how their money is spent. This in turn is separate from whether congress or the agencies are better suited to writing those laws.

But if that can work, why can't more decisions in government be made like that?

Why not more technocracy?



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melian 24 September 2015 05:43 AM
76%


7) It is possible to design a system whereby these incentives for experts exist,

Can you elaborate on this?


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FrameBenignly 24 September 2015 09:13 PM
67%

Under a technocracy, the incentives would be the same as an for an individual in any job; comparable to many existing bureaucrats. Certain bureaucratic agencies are poorly designed, but others seem to be well designed. By contrast, EVERY legislature seems to be poorly designed. If the bureaucrats' job description is straightforward with easily graded metrics, like the way central banks work today, I predict it would also be straightforward to determine whether they are doing their job, and should be allowed to continue in it.

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melian 25 September 2015 06:53 AM
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If the bureaucrats' job description is straightforward with easily graded metrics, like the way central banks work

Central banks may have well defined goals (full employment and low inflation), but the achievement of these goals mostly depends on factors outside of their control. When central banks fail to meet their targets, there is usually no consensus among economists on whether the banks, government policies or economic cycles are to blame.
I predict it would also be straightforward to determine whether they are doing their job, and should be allowed to continue in it.

Who would make this decision?


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ChristianKl 27 September 2015 02:14 PM
67%

Under a technocracy, the incentives would be the same as an for an individual in any job; comparable to many existing bureaucrats.
In most jobs the incentives are promotion or getting a raise by pleasing the boss.

That doesn't help you with choosing the way the top works.
If the bureaucrats' job description is straightforward with easily graded metrics, like the way central banks work today
Central banks today work in a way where it's head have incentives to act in a way that the banking community wants to get consulting contracts after their tenure.

Do you basically want to copy China's system? Otherwise where do you think your suggestion differs from the Chinese model?

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Dahlen 4 October 2015 06:42 AM
74%

It is not for the "superior", "effective" policy decisions enacted through popular support that democracy is valued; it was always for the idea that it's much harder to ignore the well-being of 95% of the population when they have a say in the matter, that the people won't vote egregiously against their self-interest. Of course, power being what it is, it tends to find ways around this, but that's a discussion for another day.

A common objection against technocracy specifically is that in practice it is code for bureaucracy. The "-cracy" in both words indicate that it's a system of ruling; what was once meant to be an upcoming post of mine here argued that there are three components to ruling: leadership, domination, and administration. Leadership is gained and exemplified by the usual showmanship in the media: ideological fights establishing a direction for the country, the maintenance of personal reputations, alliances and so on. Domination is safeguarded by the integration of the military and police into the state hierarchy. Administration is bureaucratic in nature, and concerns the day-to-day maintenance of organisations.

Technocrats abstract out the first two dimensions of ruling, or treat them as givens, and imagine everything can and should be solved through the good judgment of administrators, and that it would work out smoothly. Even the systems of domination have been bureaucratised to a huge degree; however, the politicking has to go somewhere, and if the power of decision-making isn't centralised in a legislature, chances are it will go everywhere. It's good to have experts as counselors and even as decision-makers, but it's probably in the interest of everyone if the average expert is not so burdened with administrative duties that s/he doesn't have time to go back to making blueprints or discoveries rather than paperwork.

(Note: I'm trying to do justice to a view that's not 100% mine. Provided that administration entailed a less autistic form of organisation than bureaucracy, I might be more sympathetic to the idea of technocracy.)


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VoiceOfRa 23 September 2015 11:00 PM
67%


3) This unawareness and these biases results in a lot of random statistical noise that is frequently very far removed from optimal policy outcomes.


Statistical noise isn't the problem since it cancels itself out in the long term. The problem is that there is systematic bias that can be exploited by groups proficient in the dark arts.


7) It is possible to design a system whereby these incentives for experts exist, and experts are given the power to create these improvements to government.


This sounds like the "and then a miracle occurs" step.


Central bankers have a very clear and simple job description with little oversight from the democracy. The ECB is directed to maintain price stability. The FED is directed to maintain price stability and keep unemployment levels low.


And even here there are a lot of questions about how effective they are.


Despite all that was said about the Affordable Care Act, how many American people could even explain the basic concepts underlying the changes made? I would guess less than 2%, at least by my standards of basic concepts.


But, they are capable of noticing if their medical (and generally) experience has improved or worsened.


Why not more technocracy?


It was tried in the first half of the 20th century. The results weren't encouraging.


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ChristianKl 26 September 2015 02:30 PM
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Direct democracy is about letting voters make policy decisions. Representive democracy is about letting voters choose people who they think will represent their interests well and vote in a parliament for policies in their interest.


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Fwiffo 27 September 2015 01:56 PM
63%

Democrazy doesn't necesarily mean that everybody gets to decide. It means that those that do decide are trusted by the people. If a lot of people found what the leaders are doing unsuitable to running a country do you think they should still be allowed to lead in the same style because they can hit their easily defined metrics?

This would be a lot more viable if GDP would straight correlate how happy people are. However in practise a lot of key objectives do not submit to easy definition.

Do you think that if a election promise promised 10 percent decrease in unemployment they should be sacked if it decreased only 9 % when during their reign natural disasters happened 300% more often?


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FrameBenignly 27 September 2015 06:55 PM
68%

You seem to either be arguing the algorithm might be found to be poorly calibrated, in which case I would respond: then change the algorithm, or you're arguing we shouldn't use algorithms to which I give you

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FrameBenignly 27 September 2015 07:15 PM
68%

This link: http://lesswrong.com/lw/3gv/statistical_prediction_rules_outperform_expert/

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Fwiffo 28 September 2015 04:54 AM
59%

To change the algorythm we would need someone whos job is to manage them and then we need some algorithm to decide whether another algorithm is well-calibrated or not.

There is a hybrid system if in a democracy voters are principled voters in that they value that deciders publicly and explictly outline their decision procedures. This doesn't need a change in the state mechanics. If you argue that forcing such a mechanic will bring about such a focus on the process over single outcomes, I would say it is not clear that processes are easier to pick than outcomes. Once you get a good process you benefit more but it is harder to get there. Or there is an equivalent problem that once a metric has been fixed challenging it is hard if there appears a need to change it.

You are not even arguing that that some particular method of picking algorithms would consistently pick good ... read more


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