[ExI] democracy sucks

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Thu Mar 3 12:21:59 UTC 2011

Here is an interesting, constructive and worrying finding:

Even biased and ignorant voters who are wrong about what policies will 
work can still have a positive effect if they vote for results rather 
than policies. If decisionmakers benefit from successful results, they 
will try to get more good results (rather than do the policies the 
voters think are great). But it turns out people have systematically 
biased beliefs about political influence. They do not know who is most 
responsible for what happens in particular sectors. This is bad news 
since it means they fail credit assignment: they will not be rewarding 
or punishing the right politicans or institutions depending on the 
success or failure of their policies.

It seems that while this undermines faith in current democratic systems somewhat it also suggests ways to improve them. If credit assignment becomes clearer - because of better civics education, transparent reporting, institutions helping clarify who is responsible for what result - then we can get better decisionmaking. 

(Incidentally, the credit assignment problem of course applies to non-democratic systems too. While a government composed of political scientists might be able to know who is actually to blame or praise for what, most non-democratic systems do not recruit just political science majors. In non-democratic systems the pool of credit assigners is also smaller, making biases more powerful - especially since the credit assigners are also credit assignees.)

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute 
James Martin 21st Century School 
Philosophy Faculty 
Oxford University 

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list