Friday, February 10, 2012

Mob Rule and The Perfect Democracy

Mob Rule and the Perfect Democracy

Ben O'Neill writes "Worship of the Mob" in the Daily Mises January 30, 2012:
"It doesn't really bother anyone who accepts mob rule as a desirable form of social organization.

"The reason is that democrats never regard existing democracy as their preferred political system — they regard it only as a transitory state to a democratic utopia in which the elected leaders will agree totally with their own values and social-political views"

"Mises has observed that "the critics of the capitalistic order always seem to believe that the socialistic system of their dreams will do precisely what they think correct."[2]
"Hence, when people talk about the importance of democracy, it is never democracy as it has ever actually functioned, with the politicians that have actually been elected, and the policies that have actually been implemented. It is always democracy as people imagine it will operate once they succeed in electing "the right people" — by which they mean, people who agree almost completely with their own views, and who are consistent and incorruptible in their implementation of the resulting policies. This is what allows an intelligent group of people to espouse mob rule as a desirable principle, even as they simultaneously commit acts that brand them as criminals worthy of imprisonment under the very social system they maintain."

Where Does the "Dream Democracy" Apply?

In the current circumstance it seems to make a simple leap to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Movement. OWS appears to be an intangible organization with varying demands, and a bad temper - basically the definition of a mob. 

What is a mob?

1. A large disorderly crowd or throng
2. The mass of common people; the populace
3. Informal, An organized gang of criminals; a crime syndicate
4. An indiscriminate or loosely associated group of persons or things
Cass Sunstein writes in "Infotopia" about the "Surprising Failure of Deliberating Groups". I would not immediately classify a mob as a deliberating group. But an interesting ingredient for high-performance groups is independence of the individuals. Of course, all of our individual failures, recognized and unrecognized biases, basic ignorance and our willingness to follow the outspoken few can lead to disastrous decisions. Sunstein also points to a failure of elective representatives to make better decisions - based on the normal frailties of every individual and compounded by the impact of constituents (lobbying groups) with big money. 

Is a Caucus a Mob?

When a vote is abstracted from pure democracy (1 person 1 vote) to a caucus it is assumed that the caucus will make a better decision. The same abstraction to the Electoral College is supposed to create results that are both fairer and safer. 

Caucus members are supposed to be intellectually engaged with the current issues and the strengths and weaknesses of a particular candidate - so they should be able to make good decisions. Sunstein provides nuance arguments posited in "The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, and Nations" by New Yorker business columnist James Surowiecki. But both have to have blinders on to ignore important challenges to the thesis that groups are better at decision making. 

While is temping to see Occupy Wall Street - (OWS) and a caucus as widely differing in their ability to make decisions, it is a short leap to a wrong conclusion. 

Which do you Trust: a Mob or a Bureaucracy?

Bureaucracy can (and does) cause destruction in two forms: intended and unintended. Does the team or group dynamic of "Group Think" or self-censorship make for good decisions? Plenty of military intervention examples exist - so let's try "Weapons of Mass Destruction" as a simple phrase to illustrate the point. Does a small group of experts make better decisions? I think the Federal Reserve Board is a good place to start a discussion.

So, are you Liberal or Conservative... or Libertarian? Or, American?

Clint Eastwood and the Super Bowl Half-time Speech

"I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. And, times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems like we’ve lost our heart at times. When the fog of division, discord, and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead.But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one."

Bottom Line: 

We have been polarized by a government that feeds on big money donors. The politicians win by polarization, the media wins by polarization, and the mob (eventually) wins by polarization. 
We just need a few good people to make a few mostly-correct decisions, to help us find our way.