Heath Responds to Tabarrok

Joseph Heath has written an interesting and thoughtful comment on my review of his excellent book Enlightenment 2.0 (fyi, we have never communicated but it turns out that Heath is a long time reader of MR.). Samuel Hammond concisely summarized on twitter part of Heath’s response:

In reply to @, Joseph Heath shares the dire Straussian reading of his own book: The US is Rome burning

Quite accurate but I want to focus on a different point.

Finally, Tabarrok suggests that I am “too sanguine about the role of politics.” I thought I was being fairly pessimistic about politics. I think the nub of the disagreement between Tabarrok and myself on this point – and certainly the basis of our major differences of political ideology – is that I am much more sanguine about the role of the state than he is. This is not the same as being sanguine about democratic politics. For example, he points out that:

In a large electorate, no individual’s vote is likely to change the outcome of an election. As a result, it doesn’t pay to be informed about politics nor to think about politics in objective and rational terms. Consider an individual who spends time and effort to be informed about politics. What does this individual receive in return for their investment? The same thing as the uninformed individual. Since better information doesn’t lead to better consequences, it doesn’t pay an individual to be informed.

I couldn’t agree more….Indeed, the sort of considerations that motivate Tabarrok’s enthusiasm for making decisions through betting markets are, I would guess, quite similar to the ones that motivate my own enthusiasm for cost-benefit analysis. The key difference is that Tabarrok (and Bryan Caplan) tend to assume that democracy gives “the people” much greater control over the behaviour of the state than it actually does. In the background there is, I suspect, a somewhat public-choicy picture of legislation as a complex process of preference-aggregation. By contrast, I follow Ian Shapiro in thinking that we need to get past these sorts of “general will” theories of democracy.

There is one point in the last chapter where I say what I really think, but again, it might easily be overlooked. So let me just say, for the record, that I was also dead serious when I wrote the following paragraph (and that it comes closest to summarizing my considered view):

It is important to recognize that modern democratic political systems involve a delicate compromise between, on the one hand, the desire for public control of decision-making and, on the other hand, the need for rational, coherent policy. Democracies need to be democratic, but they also need to work, in the sense that they need to produce a state that effectively discharges its responsibilities. Thus they have a variety of institutional features that allow them to function even when the democratic public sphere is completely degraded. They do so largely by shifting power and control away from elected representatives toward experts. Even in the United States, where this is difficult to do, one can find examples all over. The most obvious example is the enormous role that the Supreme Court has played in making decisions that, in most other democracies, would be left to the legislature. But one can see it in other areas as well, such as the amount of autonomy that government agencies have or the increased use of cost-benefit analysis in public decision-making (338).

So if you want to know what I really think, it’s that we are not going to be able to fix the problem of increased irrationalism in politics — at best we will be able to limit its most toxic effects. As a consequence, the legislature will increasingly become a sideshow, with the two other branches of the state assuming more and more of the responsibility for actually governing.

Heath has hit on an important similarity and difference in our views. We are both skeptical about democracy as a way of making rational, coherent policy. But in response to the defects of democracy I want to devolve more decisions to the individual and the market while Heath wants to centralize more decisions to the state and expert bureaucracies.

One of the reasons that I oppose the extension of democratic politics into every aspect of modern life is precisely that in trying to do too much, democracy delivers incoherence, gridlock and frustration, forces that eventually undermine its own legitimacy. I worry about democratic legitimacy because I see democracy as a check and balance on Leviathan (while Heath sees it as a check on government by experts).

The legislature has become a sideshow. But I worry, because the more Congress is held in contempt the greater the support for a bold executive that takes charge, makes decisions and gets things done. Under these pressures, executive power has grown not just in the United States but also in Canada and Great Britain (on this theme see F.H. Buckley’s The Once and Future King.) But for all its faults, the legislature and the rule of law are more conducive to liberty than the executive and the administrative state. Legislators are satisfied with reelection and a bit of pork but executives hunger for greatness and in so doing they promote the real dangers, idolatry, the centralization of power and war.

In short, I worry that the pathologies of democracy drive the demand not for rational, technocratic government but for Caesarism.


Democracy is, indeed, the worst form of government, with the exception of everything else.

Exactly. After reading this blog post I was left wondering about what Alex's preferred alternative form of government would be; and what evidence he has showing that form of government outperforms a democracy or representative republic. It seems to me just looking at anecdotal evidence that historically democracies and representative republics have easily out performed other forms of governments: autocracies, heretical monarchies, etc.

Also the supreme court justices aren't "experts" on anything practical except for lawyering. They're just lawyers picked on partisan grounds and have no practical experience or knowledge regarding many of the cases they decide. For example how much practical experience do the justices have in the fields of: Medicine [abortion, the death penalty, healthcare], Finance [campaign finance reform, Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley], Environmental Science [global warming, fracking regs], etc.

The Supreme Court is probably not the best example (although it is clearly the best example if you think of them as legislative experts) but there are plenty of other examples: FERC, FCC, FDA, EPA, OSHA, etc.

What ever his preferred alternative, it would include replacing us proles with imported labor. OPEN BORDERS uber Alles.

"After reading this blog post I was left wondering about what Alex’s preferred alternative form of government would be..."

I don't think he wants any alternative form of government (other than democracy) -- what he wants is for democratically elected governments to do much less than they do now and thereby leave individuals a much broader scope to make their own choices.

If a government has its hooks into fewer aspects of life, 1) It is easier for voters to track (and vote on) government performance in doing those few things, and 2) Even if that smaller government remains dysfunctional, the dysfunction has fewer effects and costs less, so it is safer to ignore. Oh, and 3) Life is much less zero-sum (a large centralized state inherently means an endless political war of all against all trying to grab the largest possible share of government dispensed goodies).

I think of "democracy" as presuming the polity already has the existential and ontological questions ironed out; that's why you exist as a distinct polity to begin with. Voting on whether you're going to be socialist or capitalist, for example, really just means tallying up which side has more firepower.

I think of “democracy” as presuming the polity already has the existential and ontological questions ironed out;

This is totally it.

Even the redistribution that the progressives so desire is premised on the notion of a coherent polity.

The enclaves of immigrants that the Democrats are seeding into the red states for strategic electoral purposes are not likely to stick with the Democrat program in coming decades if it means that they will have to pay taxes and sacrifice services to support millions of comparatively wealthy white retirees.

Alex prefers a sort of anarcho-syndicalist commune. People can take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.
But all the decision of that officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting.
By a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs, but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more foreign related.

Pithy and wrong.

I suppose a one-liner deserves as much in turn. How about this? The founders of our particular democratic experiment were well-acquainted with the vanity and corruptibility of people, including nobility and "experts," so they baked in the checks and balances that keep oligarchies at bay, and concocted the amazing Electoral College to protect smaller states. They also managed to anticipate and guard against the tyranny of the masses, so they threw in the Bill of Rights at the last minute to protect minorities. The combination makes it really hard for the federal government to do much of anything quickly, or to apply anything uniformly across the states. There are tons of ways for individuals, corporations and local governments to circumvent and subvert government regulation, such that in general, the law of the land follows the will of the people very slowly.

This is not a bug, it's a feature.

Yeah, man, I suppose it wasn't that bad of an idea—but it just turns out not to have worked. Read the constitution; then look around. The noble experiment got up and walked away, kind of like Frankenstein. Whoops. This entire paragraph of yours is just grade school boilerplate, maybe half a step more sophisticated than screaming the Star-Spangled Banner in my face.

Compared to what? Both Canada and the US are examples of federal systems that work reasonably well. Europe has tried to establish a similar system but has run into the real difficulty of aligning interests. Where else? Russia? China? India? Iraq?

I would suggest that the dysfunction so called is more a manifestation of the complexity of the issues as opposed to some flaw in the governing structures making it difficult to come to a decision. How do you reconcile the desire for a decrease in carbon emissions with an economy that depends on a vigorous oil and has industry such as Canada? Each side is right, has important interests that deserve attention, but one wins and the other loses in any scenario. There is no middle ground, so you end up with what the writer calls irrational politics, when in fact it is evidence of a serious battle where there are winners and losers and no one wants to lose. There are a number of issues like that. Abortion is either a woman's right or murder. Even in the realm of politics when your side wins your people get the plum positions.

The US voter has been extraordinarily rational. In response to governments that were corrupt or ineffective, voters have tossed out the bums. No majority is permanent, divided government is the rule. Even in the parliamentary system in Canada the provinces maintain a healthy opposition with the opposite parties being elected. Both countries have elected government that watch the purse strings, and we see a rather muddled and messy move towards cutting government spending.

I suspect we will see both the hereditary half wits in both countries summarily rejected in spite of enormous amounts of money and elite opinion on their sides.

Chinese leaders are executing their political opponents, all the while hard fought elections are waged and the losers go their way in both countries.

I think both Tabarrok and Heath make a mistake. Democracy isn't knowledgeable voters choosing wisely, it is a way of getting rid of the bums. Both sides need economic growth to accomplish their goals, so by necessity will stop doing stupid things. Reality intrudes eventually, good men and women show up from time to time and do the right thing in spite of themselves. Object lessons are really important, Detroit or Manitoba, Alberta and Texas, Toronto and New York.

And remember. Piketty is wrong, look how much money gets given to the Clintons.

But you're falling into the same trap as Heath. What about our system hasn't "worked?" Just because it's messy and inelegant and bourgeois? It really galls you, I suppose, that a system dependent on low information voters should be so damn prosperous and egalitarian.

It's almost like we're living on different planets, both called 'Earth.'

I just don't look at the government of the United States as an organization that 'works reasonably well.' There is nothing at all reasonable about it!—unless all you mean by 'works reasonable well' is, 'has survived this long and nobody has a plan for getting rid of it.' Which I suppose is a feat.

In particular I couldn't help but smirk at: the idea that this system of ours is bourgeois (or prosperous), that elections are a way of watching the purse strings rather than ripping them open, and that the mob effectively hounds the 'bums' out of positions of power and influence rather than crowdsurfing them into said positions.

Divided government is the rule—which means take everything you can while it's your turn. No majority is permanent—but shameless professional liars George Soros and Sabrina Rubin Erdely seem to be fairly secure in their positions... Meanwhile over in Libya, grateful citizens enjoy the bounty of our noble pro-democratic intervention there...

Nothing about this is working. A grocery store owner or football coach chosen at random could run this organization more effectively than it has been run. My little sister could do it. Either one of you could probably do it if we found a way to flush all this fanciful democratic schmaltz out of you.

That's a bold statement; everything else?

Democracy was taken out pretty early in Egypt, and I don't hear our Chief Democrat squawking about it. It may even be a 'democratic" result, as most Egyptians seem happier with the junta than with the parliamentary majority mustered by the MB. Of course, I'm not posting from Egypt so maybe I'm wrong. The Islamic State enjoys the support of its Sunni majority. But the Shia, Christians and Druze seem to prefer rule by Bashar Assad.

How are Hasidic townships and Amish villages governed? I don't think it's via the universal franchise.

The future may see more alternatives like the Late Medieval city-states. The franchise will be restricted, and the existential and ontological issues simply won't be up for a vote. If you find life too stifling in Venice, move to Genoa. If your credit score doesn't qualify you for Genoa, too bad.

Winston Churchill's famous statement that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried... makes a good point -- but he did not realize the more important point he was making with that statement.

He also may have said, “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”

Sortition is a better form of government.

I don't know that this is actually true it might well be possible to design an alternative system that delivers better results than democracy.
For example:
Government officials chosen by randomly selected jury
Government officials selected through difficult to game and rigorous examination
Government promotions gated based on achieving improvement in some metric (real median wage)
all of these have big obvious problems, but then again so does the status quo. Deciding our leaders based on who can make ads that best manipulate the elderly with classical conditioning anchoring effects, unflattering photos, and minor chord music isn't exactly without flaws.

Orwell, "Politics are essentially coersion and deceit."

The bitter end came when the electorate recognized the purpose of elections: to vote in corrupt incompetents that promise to provide them with other people's money.

This guy lost sane people everywhere when he proclaimed that the Supreme Court was a great example of "experts that allow the Government to function."

They are nine lifetime-appointed hacks chosen purely for their perceived partisan loyalty.

Caesarism, indeed.

At least the lifetime-appointed element undermines the partisan element. Once they're in, they're ideological free agents.

And yet they only ever migrate left. Almost like Washington is a party of its own.

It would seem to me that Ceasar rose to power in part due to the ineffective nature of the Roman government. Wouldn't having more power in the hands of experts help make the government more effective and therefore reduce the chance this would happen? Can we see an expanding role of unelected officials as a check against the executive office?
Also thank God presidents are now limited to 2 terms.

You'll recall the Roman constitution had an elaborate portfolio of legislative bodies with kludged voting systems, executives occupying their positions for as little as a year, and so forth.

Our real problem is a haphazard division of labor between center and periphery, hopelessly fragmented local government, bicameral legislatures with idiot parliamentary rules, facilities for obstructive veto groups, institutional barnacles left over from the Jacksonian period, and our ever officious judiciary.

The other big danger in ancient Rome is that outgoing executives were often entrusted with military commands in the provinces where they often enough gained the exclusive loyalty of the troops. This tempted more than a few to use those legions to seize power back in Rome. There is no analog to this in the US. Ex presidents go on speaking tours and found libraries. We don't hand over the seventh fleet to them.

"Wouldn’t having more power in the hands of experts help make the government more effective...?" Who gets to choose the experts, and why do we assume that just because someone works at OSHA they are an expert in occupational safety and health? And who determines how effectiveness is measured? The "experts" appear to be susceptible to regulatory capture, as well as political pressure. Moreover, the experts always need to have something more to do. No regulatory review ever comes to the conclusion that the regulations are working just fine as they are.

Well, Roman society was already impacted by Pompey's victory in Sulla's second civil war, and Pompey formed an alliance with Ceasar (and Crassus) in the Triumvirate. They were all generals whose power derived from the control of armies and provinces. If Pompey hadn't decided to turn on Ceasar, he would have been fine. But while Pompey sat in Rome, Ceasar conquered Gaul (and became very rich from all the gallic slaves he took).
If Pompey had simply respected Ceasar's victories and not tried to bring charges against him, he would have kept his head...
I think the only lesson there is that if you plan to take a shot at your leading general in the ancient world, you best not miss...

The role of the appellate judiciary in the United States (and now Canada) has not a goddamned thing to do with their "expertise" and everything to do with how the professional-managerial class looks at the rest of society (and in particular how the elite bar looks at it). Cowen, Caplan, and Tabarrock, because harbor some of the same prejudices.

I am sympathetic to this perspective. But there is also the problem that the people themselves seem to dislike democratic decision-making. The SCC is way more popular than any government, and the SCOTUS is substantially more popular than Congress or the President. There is popular distaste for particular decisions, but hardly ever for judicial power as such (see reaction to Kelo).

It seems the Western elite wants to invite the world in for labour and then restrict/overturn whatever democracy they have in favour of a technocratic authoritarian regime. A very disturbing trend...

For all intents and purposes this is happening. The elites feel they can insulate themselves from all the harms caused by their policies while weakening the more traditional middle class in the suburbs and flyover country that they see as the rivals who obstruct their control of the world. They want the US to resemble a large South American country but with a richer working class and isolated world capitals that can pretend they are a luxurious version of Sweden.

Find a group of law students in a seminar at any top law school and you will find people with a deep faith in technocratic rule. "If only smart people like me had the power to fine tune society, life would be so much grander!"

Of course, their ability to understand the world, and the results that will follow any given course of action, are quite limited. Their faith is not. These are the people who will control the levers of policy implementation in any technocracy.

Doesn't almost everyone at least go through this phase in their thinking? I sure did.

Hayek is counterintuitive. You need to experience the world for a while before you see it. Of course, many never do, but...

Yep, it seems kinda plausible as a smart 21 year old kid that you could run things better than the people in charge. After all, there's a lot of stuff we do as a society that's plainly just nuts. It takes some time to realize that this isn't right.

Oh come on. Some kind of technocracy is the only game in town. Hayek himself is popular with people who wish to introduce "market-style incentives" in to technocratic scheming.

Sure, I think a lot of people do, but the combination of the type of people who end up in law school and the subject matter really brings it out. Even among the somewhat older and slightly world-wearier set. I was occasionally tempted by the notions despite being in the latter part of my 20s and generally skeptical of experts.

Now I tend even more strongly towards the notion that if you can do a half-assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. That doesn't seem like great raw material for wide-reaching technocracy.

You can add in IT workers to law students...my roommate is convinced that the populous is too dumb to rule itself...and implied if they were only as logical as CS engineers :-D

'But in response to the defects of democracy I want to devolve more decisions to the individual and the market while Heath wants to centralize more decisions to the state and expert bureaucracies.'

Upton Sinclair's The Jungle pretty much illustrates the flaws of the first perspective, while the remedies implemented a century ago pretty much illustrate the advantages of the second perspective.

Seeing that we have a century in which to look back on, I'm pretty sure that the idea of decisions concerning food safety being left to the market is just the sort of idea that Chinese suppliers can wholeheartedly endorse. Who cares about melamine and the reason it was present in so many Chinese products, right? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melamine

'I worry that the pathologies of democracy drive the demand not for rational, technocratic government but for Caesarism'

If modern experience is any guide, a pathological democracy does not lead Caesarism (or Napoleonism), but instead to fascism - the creator of the concept being a fine example (Mussolini only dreamed of being a Caesar), along with Franco and Hitler. Oddly, though, it seems as if the pathologies of fascism lead to democracy, at least in the context of the nations each of those ruled.

Franco was a professional military officer who ran an authoritarian regime, or, as George Will put it: "He had no ideology. Nothing was necessary to justify his right to rule". His political organization was a fusion of Falangists and Carlists to which the Alfphonsine monarchists signed on. Once the remnants of the previous regime were put in front of firing squads, his government had no revanchist aspect whatsoever with regard to enemies external or internal. It sought no empire and engaged in no aggrandizement. Neither was intramural political mobilization a signature of the regime. No sensible political taxonomy would classify Franco as a fascist.

Much agreed. 'Fascist' has become a very prolapsed term.

I honestly think most people couldn't be fascist if they wanted to be, no more than modern Western man can go back to being 'pagan.'

If anything Franco is more like Caesar than a fascist. Skilled military leader banished from the centers of power returned to suppress tne governemnt that "exiled" him. He then proceeded to rule like Augustus with a pretty bland pro-family, pro-traditions and order government far more interested in stabilizing society than imperial conquest.

I see the risks hear of Heath's position as not so much Caesarism, but Mandarinism. Rule by an unelected, unaccountable, largely anonymous group of experts is going to rather quickly become rule FOR an unelected, unaccountable, largely anonymous group of experts. Oligarchy, in other words.

"here," not hear.

And as a plus after a generation or two the mandarins abandon their supposed legitimizing principle of meritocracy and start rigging the entrance exams. It's strange how the descendants of the people who were so sure that Mao had the tonic that China needed to get rid of Confucian mandarinism are taking us right back there. It's notable now the right-wing doesn't constantly find itself resembling the people it attacks. For some reason the left always does though.

But for all its faults, the legislature and the rule of law are more conducive to liberty than the executive and the administrative state.[citation needed]

I submit that Ron Paul, Elizabeth Warren and Robert Mugabe all believe in the 'rule of law.' They just subscribe to different laws.

Really? What laws do you think Mugabe thinks are above him?

That's like asking what does the sun think it revolves around. Mugabe and the law are one.

It seems to me that many things only work properly when they have social capital. Take my area of study...energy systems. Pipes, power lines, and plants are purely technological and often don't even need a huge amount of expertise to operate. Its the fact that we have socially accepted means of, say, paying for and expanding these systems that allows them to thrive.

In other words, to me, this post highlights several different ways of assessing the trees in the forest. It does not, to me, actually see the forest: the most important aspect of any governance system is its social capital. Which is why both authors run into the same problem: the only "feel" that such a system will eventually lead to some bad outcome.

Only slightly ironic (just kidding, its tremendously ironic) is that AT does not feel that experts should be left in charge of important decisions but advocates for an "expert" (or profession of experts) to tell us the most effective system of governance.

Cheers to experts...

There's no question that technical expertise is needed to keep the world running. But the people in charge aren't technical experts in all those areas, and can't possibly be. You inevitably end up with nonexperts making the final decisions about what regulations to apply to the power grid or what medical treatments to cover or what kinds of evidence to accept in criminal trials. And those decisions are often really awful, because the people making them don't have the requisite expertise, and probably also don't get particularly effective feedback when they screw things up.

White American culture is totally dead. There is no hope for it for the future. And that is a good thing, because it has become completely corrupt - it sold out - completely - to the Man. In art and politics and love and war and music and certainly in economics: every iota of human thought and experience has been directed at propping up The Man since at least Reagan.

The result is a system of laws which does nothing but preserve entrenched interests, a massive conglomerate commercial art industry protected heavily by intellectual property laws which does nothing but advance a system of ethics best explained by Marx, government which is best understood through satire, and economics which no intelligent person could take seriously. The result is a society which is fundamentally disconnected from itself.

Indeed probably the best art of the age - the film The Big Lebowski - is art precisely about capital's role in the modern anomie and the resulting extreme forms of alienation. Runners up for the best art of the age - hip hop music, Seinfeld, and the Simpsons - share similar themes.

This isn't exactly Athens in 491 BC or Virginia in 1775. None but the most foolish of our generation are willing to kill - much less be killed - for the shallow, dishonest husk of paternalistic commercial interests dominate government and most of culture. But hey, we weren't giving out trillion dollar handouts to Haliburton and big finance, we were advancing freedom, fighting terrorism and stabilizing the economy!

Does that qualify as a Straussian reading of The Big Lebowski? Or just gibberish?

The Straussian reading of Lebowski is that Richard Nixon saved America from itself.

The next honest husk I meet will be the first.

Ah what the hell— +1.

The most paternalistic element of the current American state is Social Security followed closely by Obamacare. Is that what you had in mind? I doubt it.

One of the interesting things about Heath's response, was the fact he felt compelled to offer the obligatory final chapters on "solutions" that the U.S. publisher wanted. Perhaps this is why - as an American - I have found so many half-hearted suggestions for "solutions" at the end of otherwise good non-fiction books over the decades. Certainly this oddity had some bearing on why - as a writer - I wanted to focus more on solutions, instead of the problems of which everyone has different commentary to describe.

What we should promote is not democracy per se, but experiments in government policy (up to a point). The reason markets and representative democracy tend to outperform is because of the diverse set of policy experiments that can be performed. I am fine if California and Texas want to go a different direction. In fact, I think we should encourage it. It may look like chaos. But over the long term, better policies will outperform. People will vote with their feet.

This is one of the great debates of our time and in many ways of all times.
I'm gonna side with Heath on this one - in the sense of "at least the trains run on time".

If you live in Singapore then you get to pay low taxes BUT the govt is actually "doing" a great deal there. Infrastructure, housing, energy, transport, utilities, health, schooling, etc. It's just that - they do it really well (at least that's my impression).
..and they're not very democratic really, and... it seems to be a bit conformist.

The best solution would be for votes to be linked to IQ, or something.
Come on, someone had to say it!

Yes, but that somebody should have the initials S.S. not S.V.

I know better, therefore only people like me should vote - said every elitist and tyrant, ever.

Isn't the usual tyrant's plan that he gets the only vote that matters?

Well, sufficiently specific values of "people like me"

Most people don't live in a tiny municipality where the government can be as intrusive as Singapore is without creating a corrupt system that elevates the political class above everyone else. The Singapore system could not work in NY State let alone the United States because, as that old Chinese saying makes clear, the mountains are high and the emperor is very far away.

I think you would find that the places where the trains do not run on time have government structures that are far more onerous and complex compared to Singapore.

You're definitely not going to agree with Heath. A closer reading:

"Second, on this IQ stuff, Tabarrok goes on to say that “Heath also glosses over the fact that in the modern era measured IQ scores have risen, not fallen. IQ scores have risen especially in tests of abstract reasoning ability.” This is a strange criticism, since in the very same discussion of Idiocracy that Tabarrok cites from, I point out that “In the United States, average IQ scores have increased by approximately 3 per cent per decade, for a total gain in average IQ of just under 22 points between 1932 and 2002”(209). Maybe by “glosses over” what he means is just that I don’t make a big deal out of it. And it’s true, I don’t make a big deal out of it. That’s because I think Keith Stanovich’s concept of dysrationalia is extremely important, along with the research he has done to show that performance on IQ tests is not predictive of rationality (see discussion on pp. 138-139 of my book, but also Stanovich’s What Intelligence Tests Miss). I actually think the fetishization of IQ is an incredibly pernicious feature of American culture, because it encourages so many bad habits of thought. To simplify greatly: IQ is basically about the quality of your hardware, while rationality is about the software you’re running. Too many people think that, because their hardware is so great, they don’t have to worry about what sort of software they’re running. Big mistake."

If rationality was simply orthogonal to intelligence, which is highly unlikely, it would nonetheless like intelligence be heritable.

You don't get it.

IQ is hardware and atleast 50% heritable.
Rationality is software that sits atop the hardware and is NOT heritable.

A certain non-trivial IQ threshold is a necessary but not sufficient condition for rationality.

Has there been any study relating IQ to decision making?


My concern is that Alex believes that there is 'better information' or that the typical voter can be informed about politics so that s/he can 'think about politics in objective and rational terms.' In the world in which we live the political class manages to control most of the information that voters use to decide what to do. While there seems to be disagreement as the media on the right swipes at the party on the left while the media on the left takes its shots at the party on the right very few actually question the big-government policies that reduce individual liberty. Note that when Dr. Paul ran for the GOP nomination most of the 'leaders' in the Republican Party would have supported a Democrat rather than support a candidate who argued that the level of military spending was unsustainable and dangerous. No institution that is part of the mainstream media dares question the incompetence of the Fed or the harm that it does let alone argue that it needs to be abolished. Which paper of TV network argues that education and health care are too important to let the market deliver those services?

The simple fact is that the Straussians are correct about a few things. Voters live in a cave where public intellectuals cast shadows for them to interpret as fact. Few in either group or even in the political ruling class has the courage to venture into the light and see reality as it is. The rational individual who understands this will determine that voters and the public intellectuals deserve all that they will get and plays along while going out into the light once in a while just to make sure that s/he understands what the real world is about.

Frankly, these types of debates are boring as people on both sides tend to refuse to speak and write clearly as they use complex sentence structures and ambiguity to show that either they don't understand or that they don't want readers to understand.

About 90% of the Republican primary electorate refuses to cast a ballot for Ron Paul because they recognize a conceited clown peddling crankery when they see it.

But they were willing to vote for W, McCain, and Romney?

Was Ron Paul willing to vote for them? Honestly the Randian posture of out out corrupt Pharisees but please come and vote for us is odd.

None of whom are clowns. Romney in particular is an exceedingly accomplished man. Paul made large sums selling newsletters whose contributors and editors he professes not to remember.

Serious question: in what way is McCain not a clown?

When McCain begins hemming and hawing over whether or not we should have entered World War II, promoting gold buggery, and attributing the political pathologies in the Near East to fairly unimportant interactions between the United States and local actors, I will call him a clown. He's done nothing of the sort.

"I worry that the pathologies of democracy drive the demand not for rational, technocratic government but for Caesarism."

Personally, I mostly worry that I will be unable to tell the difference. I suspect that "rational, technocratic government" is what happens when we all agree that Tabbarok should be Tsar.

Of course, Heath is certainly no better and probably worse.

"In the background there is, I suspect, a somewhat public-choicy picture of legislation as a complex process of preference-aggregation. By contrast, I follow Ian Shapiro in thinking that we need to get past these sorts of 'general will' theories of democracy."

Interesting that Heath should reference public choice theory-- my (admittedly non-exhaustive) reading of it is that it's a mechanism that completely ignores "preference-aggregation/general will." To that end, is Heath perhaps more in agreement with Buchanan than he thinks?

Forgive me for being late to the party but...isn't Heath's position just a warmed-over version of James Burnham's managerial state, sometimes also referred to descriptively as bureaucratic authoritarianism?

I mean, in fact I agree that these are the trends, and I sometimes wonder if we haven't gone past the point of no return in terms of rectifying the situation through a normal politics--I, too, share the concerns expressed regarding Caesarism--but it isn't as if no one could have seen this coming, or that the argument has any particular novelty.

Incidentally, I seriously doubt that Caesarism, if it comes, will do so in an obvious and shocking way: our military leadership is too well indoctrinated in military subordination to the national command authority for a military coup to seem plausible, at least in the near term. But certainly both left and right would point to recent actions by the last two presidents as evidence of creeping Caesarism.

And I think it may be assumed that, once crossed, it will be hard to re-establish those invisible lines. I remember when the Bush 41 administration was having trouble getting a new head of the Civil Rights Division through the Senate, and there was furious debate within the administration over whether to use the recess appointment power to circumvent the Senate's slow-rolling of the nominee, which, in the end, they did not do. Fast forward to the contemporary age, and we find that this sort of recess appointment has become so routine that it was a big shock when the Supreme Court said, in essence, kidding, right?

Finally, allow me--as one trained as a political scientist--to reveal one of the dirty secrets of political science. What is the best form of government, you ask? Well, ask a political scientist well in his cups and he'll laugh himself to tears at the notion that it might be democracy. Everyone knows that the best form of government is enlightened despotism: the only weakness of the system is ensuring a continuous, fresh supply of enlightened despots...

Enlightened Despots that have a background in Political Science, no doubt.

Loki's speech about being ruled in The Avengers was spot on. The Hunger Games is also timely.

Denizens of DC are the lifeblood of Leviathan, and when his thousand limbs stir not this bring to them a restless angst, but Americans prefer divided government for sound reasons. If Congress does little and is greatly hated, this does not suggest Americans pine for a dictator -- indeed we despise our masters precisely because we justly hate being ruled, and in modern times are uniquely cognizant of how unfit other men are to rule us.

Caesarism is much less to be feared than the thousand unaccountable petty dictators of an immortal, faceless state bureaucracy increasingly unconstrained by laws or morals. The Supreme Court itself is an example of the inexorable corruption of the state -- the interpretation of law should have no ideology in it, but pragmatic ideologues discovered putting an ideologue on the bench was much easier than amending the Constitution.

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