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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.



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