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George Bernard Shaw also said democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve. Democracy is better than Saddam or Castro, to be sure, but I'm thinking it could be suboptimal. Voting rights legislation in the 60's got rid of literacy tests that in practice discriminated against blacks, in fact, that was their intent. So we got rid of them.

I don't like discrimination, and know with certainty that every race and creed generates people more intelligent, creative, and athletic than me (I like myself nonetheless). But I'm a bit nostalgic for some sort of literacy test.

I'm not sure that a society is better represented by ignoramuses who vote their own interest over nonignoramuses who vote theirs. That is, assume all voters were college graduates. Would their knowledge of logic and history compensate for their merely indirect interest in the non-college graduate universe? It is not obvious. But consider, the following from a survey of knowledge of random Americans (from Gregory Cochran in the May 23rd issue of The American Conservative available for trial subscription here)
- About 50 percent of Americans know that the Earth orbits the Sun in a year.

- Less than 10 percent know what a molecule is, while only 20 percent have some vague idea what DNA is.

- Some years ago researchers interviewed a random sample at Harvard graduation, asking them what caused the seasons. Twenty-one out of 23 interviewed were wrong, and worse yet, they all had the same wrong idea: they thought that the Earth's orbit is egg-shaped and that winter comes when we're farthest from the Sun... [Considering what strong and influential opinions Harvard grads tend to have on the extremely complex topic of Global Warming, it would be more reassuring if they weren't total idiots about the simple topic of Seasonal Warming.]

- In recent years, 45 percent thought the phrase "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" was in the Constitution.

- Half thought an accused person must prove his innocence and that the president has the power to suspend the Constitution.

- Only one in seven Americans between 18 and 24 could even find Iraq on the map in 2002.
The question is, how much a country gains in efficiency from the logic of the elite (those who qualify for voting, via some "elitist" criterion), versus how much a country loses when this elite ignores or even dislikes certain unrepresented groups. I recognize the trade-off, and think that the pareto optimum will vary depending on the intelligence and education of the citizens, and the proclivities of the elites. It seems probable that, optimally, less educated countries should have more representitives and fewer referendums or plebiscites.
AndrewDavid meinte am 2. May, 03:13:
Good thing the least-educated voters self-select and stay home on voting days. In general, voting populations are far more educated than a random sample of the population, which works against your hypothesis here... 
HedgeFundGuy antwortete am 2. May, 03:35:
voluntary abstention
Wolfang Pesendorfer wrote a neat piece on why it is often rational to abstain from voting if you are truly ignorant of the issues. This is how I rationalize not voting in obscure elections, and hate the "rock the vote' campaigns that equate voting with goodness, irrespective of one's knowledge base or preferences (I'm sure they wouldn't want Nazis voting, but of course they think every kid who votes will be a typical liberal American).

“Abstention in Elections with Asymmetric information and Diverse preferences”, Pesendorfer and Feddersen, American Political Science Review, 93, Number 2, June 1999 pp. 381-398. 
Aulus Gellius meinte am 2. May, 15:07:
The other side of the coin
Whether or not universal suffrage leads to more optimal electoral results, disenfranchising a significant portion of the population would lead to their no longer feeling any sense of citizenship, of belonging to the same nation and the same community as those who have the right to vote. Once you create two classes of citizenship, you have denied equality even in the most restrictive, libertarian sense of the word. When a crisis strikes, you cannot rely on the same whole-hearted support from second-class citizens who do not feel involved in government as you would get from those who do.

I think that such an outcome may not even be Pareto-optimal under your assumptions. In reality, the non-voting population would have to be bribed to acquiesce in the decisions of the voting portion. If the non-voters did not like the country's policies, they could offer resistance from small scale, passive non-cooperation all the way to outright revolt. So their preferences would still have to be taken into account, no matter how irrational, and the cost of meeting them may well be higher than when they simply have the right to vote.

Finally, historical evidence suggests that suffrage always increases. I am not aware of democratic societies that permanently and legally eliminated voting rights from any segment of the population who enjoyed them. 
HedgeFundGuy antwortete am 2. May, 16:15:
good points, but I think there's still a case
The essence of citizenship is not voting, but having legal rights to person and property. I think the non-voting may appreciate the rights in a more prosperous economy. Would you rather live in Zimbabwe or Venezuela, democracies in their peculiar way, or work as a non-voting citizen in a prosperous country? I guess I thinking its most relevant towards developed countries where the populace is very uneducated.

I think the bribe to the non-voters is that they can have more prosperity and legal rights but no voting, versus less prosperity and legal rights but voting. Do the ignorant really believe they will get the most out of the political redistributions? After all, redistribution is a zero-sum game, and the ignorant are likely to lose once they have worn the "pity the victim" ploy wears thin on the majority. 
abiola antwortete am 2. May, 16:40:
Of course ...
"Do the ignorant really believe they will get the most out of the political redistributions?"
Isn't this just what it entails to be "ignorant?" It's highly unrealistic to expect people who don't even know what a molecule is to cotton on to the game-theoretical subtleties of political patronage.

While I've bashed the "wisdom of crowds" nonsense several times in the past myself, I'm extremely suspicious of any claims that a better educated electorate will necessarily make more sensible choices: to illustrate, there is little doubt that America would be a socialist "Democratic People's Republic" today if voting had been restricted to only PhD holders in the 1940s and 1950s, and the very same set of people will *still* insist in the here and now that the lower growth, higher unemployment European welfare state model is much to be preferred to the "messy" and "heartless" capitalism of the United States.

We already have the seperation of powers, the constitution and representative democracy to save us from the worst instincts of the mob, and I'd like to see some hard evidence that the United States is worse governed today than it was during the era of literacy tests before I buy that they're something to be missed - a claim which is going to prove tremendously difficult to substantiate, given the extent of the abuses which said tests made possible. 
abiola antwortete am 2. May, 16:46:
By the Way
The following is a false dilemma:
I think the bribe to the non-voters is that they can have more prosperity and legal rights but no voting, versus less prosperity and legal rights but voting.
How exactly are they supposed to be able to safeguard those rights without the vote? Are they simply to trust in the benevolence of the enfranchised? That worked so well for African-Americans in the "Jim Crow" South, and it's working gloriously for the citizens of most Middle Eastern countries with their hereditary princes and presidents-for-life ...

The problem with a place like Zimbabwe isn't an excess of democracy but an absence of real choice: when Mugabe shut down the foreign food aid programs, he knew precisely what he was doing, and it ought to come as no surprise that he was returned in a landslide, seeing as the alternative for most voters was to either pull the lever for him or starve. 
Aulus Gellius antwortete am 2. May, 16:47:
If the ignorant truly understand that political redistribution is a zero-sum game, and that protection of legal rights to property are a foundation of a prosperous economy, what harm is there in letting them vote? And if they don't understand it, then you have to pacify them somehow, through bribes or oppresion.

I do understand the intuitive appeal of the argument that only people who agree with me should be allowed to vote (which is the underlying logic of all the plans for restricting suffrage by some qualification), but it does not stand up on closer investigation. What if the qualification was designed to disenfranchise you personally? Would you still support it? 
HedgeFundGuy antwortete am 2. May, 18:04:
I agree with William Buckley's famous statement that he would rather be ruled by the first 100 names in the Boston phone book than the faculty at Harvard, but that doesn't imply all voting criteria are suboptimal, just that you need to increase the base.

One good example (and I admit there are few) on the benefits of an anointed elite is Alan Blinder's obsevations while he worked at the Fed. He could not imagine many of issues they addressed would be better managed if we brought in the influences of more direct democracy to Federal Reserve management. Think about the social security stalemate, no one offering realistic solutions getting any say because of scaremongering. see article here

Perhaps I'm getting to the idea the we need more representatives, fewer elections. As Fareed Zakaria states, the western model of government' is best symbolized not by the mass plebiscite but the impartial judge. 
Adam Crouch meinte am 2. May, 18:13:
Puerto Rico and rent-seeking
I see two interesting considerations here:

1. Consider the referendums on statehood that Puerto Rico holds every once in a while. Those can essentially be boiled down to choosing between these two options: A) Being considered full-fledged citizens, being able to vote in federal elections, and having to pay federal taxes, vs. B) Maintaining the pride of nominal sovereignty, being exempt from federal taxes, and not being able to vote in federal elections.

Citizens of Puerto Rico have consistently opted for choice B. That suggests to me that in general, they consider the right to vote to be less valuable than the right to not pay taxes. So if one wanted to take away the right to vote for the less educated, they could be offered the same trade-off, and most would likely take it (of course, most well-educated people probably would too!). I still don't think I'd support it, but it's sort of an example where this choice has been given.

2. Which group is more intensively rent-seeking? I can see hypotheses for both ways. If in fact the less educated are less rent-seeking (if they act more emotionally, for instance), then policies could end up being worse. It's not clear to me which population is less rent-seeking though... like I said, I can see reasonable hypotheses for it going both directions 
pauln meinte am 2. May, 20:04:
You're treading on ground where many, many have gone before - but it's always an interesting topic for both thought experiments and statistical evidence.

I agree that there are some issues where lack of knowledge has a detrimental effect on public policy (e.g. protectionism, which correlates with dumbness more than it does liberalism or conservatism) but there are far more issues, typically more important to the average person, that don't require you to know that the Sun goes around the Earth (e.g. abortion, punishment vs. rehabilitation of criminals, level of taxation).

My feeling is that whenever you restrict power to a group, the group will vote to further increase its power, with any economic benefits being secondary, and likely negative. Also, dehumanizing one group of people, while deep-set in human nature, is a dangerous thing to start doing, which history illustrates repeatedly, and which other people have picked up on here.

More importantly - you talk about decreasing the voter base, but as your examples illustrate, the problem isn't really with the marginal dumb voter. The problem is with people that know some things, but not enough things - like people that think they're smarter than they actually are. As things are now, even if there weren't destabilizing effects from this new voting system, you'd essentially have to restrict voting to a very tiny base to get the results that you'd like.

But if I can try to help us find some common ground - instead of taking the vote away from people, let's allow free financing of campaigns, so that the most economical solutions will be touted strongest. 
HedgeFundGuy antwortete am 2. May, 20:20:
Financing everyone is impossible, there are too many people, views. So then you have to decide how to allocate the financing. It removes a key political decision further from democratic control, and seems susceptible to corruption. 
pauln antwortete am 2. May, 23:14:
One area were I find logic like yours more compelling is in arguing over whether jury trials are a good idea or a bad idea. Personally, I find it hard to imagine a situation where I would prefer my fate to be decided by a jury rather than judges (unless I were actually guilty, which is of course not the case that I worry about). But it's a similar problem where judges are more susceptible to corruption. I was surprised to learn, when I looked into it a few years ago, that juries are a strong part of the Anglo-saxon legal tradition, but are rare elsewhere (eg. Germany), especially in the extremely broad sense that they're used in the US. (Austria may have some jury trials?)

Juries really are a situation where the marginal stupid person can actually do a lot of damage. What's worse is that lawyers can screen out any smart people from serving on the jury with preemptive challenges, etc. 
Maxwellbailey antwortete am 1. Apr, 07:45:
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yarrovic meinte am 3. May, 02:54:
Don't let people control each other
The best solution is to have a limited government, so that even if the elitists or masses decide to vote, they're limited in what they can have others do. America's powers and freedoms weren't built on a democratic government, they were built on the lack of government. Voting is much less important.

I like where you're going with the 'more representitives, fewer referendums for less educated countries' though. The full extension is that the relatively uneducated world should be ruled by a supreme dictator of super-human intelligence - self administering and defining the intelligence test, of course. Obviously, myself when very, very drunk. Cheers. 
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