Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Garett Jones's "10% Less Democracy"

Garett Jones is Associate Professor of Economics at the Center for Study of Public Choice, George Mason University. He also holds the BB&T Professorship for the Study of Capitalism at the Mercatus Center. His first book, Hive Mind: How Your Nation's IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own (2015) was a Gold Medalist in the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards.

Jones applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, 10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less, and reported the following:
On page 99 of 10% Less Democracy, I discuss conspiracy theories. A survey of regular Dutch citizens—not college students—reveals that people with less education are more likely to believe claims like:
People never really landed on the moon

Radiation from mobile phones is bad for your health, and the government knows this, but keeps the evidence a secret.

The financial crisis was deliberately caused by bankers for personal profit.
And the pattern is a pretty strong one: On a 1 to 7 scale, with 7 being strong belief in all of the conspiracies, 1 being complete rejection, the gap between someone with a community college degree and someone who never graduated high school is about 1.5. That’s bigger than the typical gap between any two random Dutch citizens—the standard deviation—which was about 1.0. That link—correlation, not necessarily causation—between education and bad thinking is the core message of page 99 of 10% Less Democracy. And that captures a core message of that chapter, the only chapter in the book that focuses on ways to tilt the weight of voting power slightly toward the more-informed.


If your goal is to use page 99 of 10% Less Democracy to understand my entire book, however, the core message is the chapter title, printed at the top of the page:
This Chapter Does Not Apply to Your Country
We should think about political reforms the way medical doctors are encouraged to think about their patients—with some personal detachment. The American Medical Association suggests that doctors shouldn’t treat their own family members: likewise, political reformers should ask themselves, “If I wanted to improve the political system in another rich democracy, which of 10%’s reforms would I suggest?”

And while 10% Less Democracy offers dozens of suggestions for how to set political power just a little further out of the reach of masses, those suggestions are items on the menu, not commandments to follow. If you don’t like a reform suggestion, if you think it will undermine the political legitimacy of your nation’s government, then don’t order that item. There are many paths to 10% Less Democracy: so avoid the bad paths.

Throughout 10%, I remind readers that violations 100% pure democracy are in fact already part of modern political life—and that many of those violations already yield big net benefits to citizens, whether it’s:
Handing entire sections of government over largely to unelected economists and lawyers

[As with our independent central banks and judicial systems: Chapters 2 & 3 of 10%]

A warm embrace of political “bravery”

[As with long terms in office, which make elected officials less accountable to voters: Chapter 1 of 10%]

Handing over real power to a group of people with skin in the game and an interest in the long run—government bondholders

[We’ll listen to those bondholders in a crisis—so let’s give them a formal voice today: Chapter 6 of 10%]
In all of these cases, historical evidence, social science theories, and personal reflection together remind us that 100% pure democracy is not an ideal to strive for: it’s an error to avoid. The rich “democracies” already combine control by the masses with control by the few—they blend democracy with oligarchy. And a bit less power in the hands of masses, if chosen wisely, would offer those very masses a good and sound return on investment.
Learn more about 10% Less Democracy at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue