Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Oligarchy of the interested

Kenny makes a good point about democratic systems of government: only a minority of people are really qualified to participate. Or, as the Onion put it in a recent headline: "38 percent of people not actually entitled to their opinion." And I, like Kenny, put myself in the category of the unqualified, at least for the vast majority of local elections and many national issues as well.

Unfortunately, it's very easy to go from that insight straight on to the sort of snooty, the-intellectual-elite-know-best kind of attitude that Al Gore and many New England-educated blueblood blue-state progressives evince. Underneath Gore's plea for a more reasoned government, I hear an intellectual's arrogant frustration: "Fools! Everything would go so much better if you just acknowledged that I'm right."

The weird thing is, in spite of the seeming collective stupidity of so many people, massive amounts of useful information can be extracted from collective opinions. For instance, predictive markets that allow people to wager on the outcomes of elections are incredibly accurate at predicting the outcomes. And free financial markets have worked for decades on the assumption that the market as a whole is going to be smarter than any single individual. Markets are messy and they are often wrong, but they seem to be pretty good at handling all kinds of complex calculations. So maybe the same principles can be applied to political decisions, as well. Any one of us might be pretty stupid, but collectively we may manage to make reasonably good policy.



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