Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Populism Against Liberalism

For anyone that has read the classic political science treatise Liberalism Against Populism, then EconLog brings us a definitive skewering of how that book applies to public policy.

Riker's problem: He suffers from what I call "the Mathematician's Fallacy." For the mathematician, you have either proved your result or you haven't. There is no middle ground; either you have absolute certainty, or no business speaking. And that's crazy. Every day all of us makes insightful, useful, intelligent observations about the world that fall short of absolute certainty. More certainty would be good, but what we now have is a lot more than zero.

I guess I like economics a lot because it tries harder for objectively provable statements than most of social scientists and politicians, with quantifiable data and predictive power, but it also is fine dealing with uncertainty and statistical predictions.

And Riker’s argument is fine if you’re justification for democracy is that it reflects the will of the people, the only true good. But we know democracy is good for many other reasons. It allows people to settle grievances about policy through productive means. It stops rulers from doing things that harms 80% of the people, which is generally were a lot of the true badness in history comes from. The laws are more likely to be enforced well if the people doing the enforcing believe in them. Etc.


At 8:11 AM, Anonymous mad dog said...

"It stops rulers from doing things that harms 80% of the people"

But it can still allow for rulers to harm 49% of the people, when 51% happen to be nitwits. Direct Democracy is inferior to Constitutional Democracy, because a constitution with a bill of rights has the ability to fight against the excesses of spur of the moment, emotional mob rule.


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