Thursday, October 5, 2023

Lisa Herzog's "Citizen Knowledge"

Lisa Herzog works at the intersection of political philosophy and economic thought. She works at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Groningen since 2019; since 2021 she is the Director of the Center for Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and as of January 2023, Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy.

Herzog applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Citizen Knowledge: Markets, Experts, and the Infrastructure of Democracy, and reported the following:
On page 99 of my book Citizen Knowledge I discuss what happens if market thinking enters social realms in which this is dysfunctional. I first discuss the problem of indicators (which have often been understood as a kind of simulation of market prices) and their potentially distortive effects on the practices they are meant to monitor. Then I turn to the problem of competitiveness – another central tenet of market thinking – being introduced in other spheres of knowledge production, where it often also does more harm than good.

The page is quite a good lead into the book. My central claim is that democracies need to keep up the knowledge structures on which they rely: what I call their “epistemic infrastructures,” which encompass institutions such as schools, media, or well-functioning online communication systems. In the last decades, the idea that markets are wonderful knowledge machines has undermined many of these knowledge structures. For example, if the scientific system is organized as a competitive race where success is measured in terms of publication output, it becomes rather difficult for researchers to turn to either fundamental problems in which they could really widen human knowledge, or to applied issues that address urgent societal questions. Or, to give another example: the idea of a “free market place of ideas” in which unregulated exchanges somehow lead to truth has, arguably, influenced the (lack of) regulation of social media platforms when these were first created. But it is quite naïve to think that unregulated speech would automatically lead to a careful weighing of evidence and arguments; it can also lead to hate speech and large-scale manipulation. This does not imply an argument for censorship – which I reject – but it suggests that we need to carefully consider the role that social media in democracies, and the rules by which both the corporations and their users should play.

The book as a whole argues that democratic societies need to manage the tension between the moral equality of all citizens and the differential authority that experts have in their respective fields of expertise. They need to find a way between a populism that would deny all knowledge differences, and a technocracy that fails to recognize that ultimately, democracy “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” as Lincoln famously put it. Managing this tension is not impossible, but it becomes all the more difficult if one assumes that the best way to deal with decentralized knowledge is the free market. Markets can play a certain role in some types of processing knowledge through the price mechanism, but only if they are carefully regulated. For many other issues, we instead need the interaction of expert knowledge and democratic deliberation.
Learn more about Citizen Knowledge at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Inventing the Market.

--Marshal Zeringue