Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stealth Democracy by John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, Thoughtful Thursday

In this blog, I tackle what might be its greatest critic. "The processes people really want would not be provided by the populist reform agenda they often embrace; it would be provided by a stealth democratic arrangement in which decisions are made by neutral decision makers who do not require sustained input from the people in order to function," a democracy that is visible when the people want it to be, but otherwise does the work of forming and executing policies in the background. Hence the title, Stealth Democracy

Most Americans are moderates, they perceive the government to be moderate as well. As Figure 1.3 on page 28 shows, the United States government is at approximately the same place in the left-right spectrum as the voters.

They asked the following question:
"Some people say what we need in this country is for ordinary people like you and me to decide for ourselves what needs to be done and how. Other say ordinary people should allow elected officials to make all political decisions. Still others say a combination should be best. Imagine a 7-point scale with "1' being ordinary peple making all decision on their own and '7' being elected official s makeing elected officials making all the decisions on their own, while '2,' '3,' '4'H,' '5,' or '6' indicate opinions in-between the two extremes. Which number from 1 to 7 best represents how you think government should work. (See Figure One, scanned in from Page 47, Thier Figure 2.2) This is in contrast to the policy space where the people perceive themselves to be 4.4 on the scale from one (liberal) to seven (conservative). (See Figure Two, scanned in from Page 28, Figure 1.3)

In Chapter Six, they say that the American people do not want to be more involved in politics and Americans want are "Empathetic non-self-interested decision makers." First of all, perhaps Americans and many other countries and cultures, would choose to be governed by friendly space aliens like the Taelons in Earth: Final Conflict or the Quozl in Alan Dean Foster's book, or some kind of intelligent robot. But this is science fiction. We only have humans or as I advocate letting humans cast decisions and computer systems finding ways of combining them.

Yet the poll questions belie that notion. When asked, should we leave "decisions to successful business people" (This was a Gallup Poll in 1998 before Enron and many other business scandles), 59% disagree and only ten percent strongly disagree. 28% Agree and 4% disagree. (Their Table 6.2 on page 138). When asked if decisions should be left to nonelected experts, sixty percent disagree and nine per cent strongly disagree. Only 31 percent agree or strongly agree. (48 percent agree with at least one.) They found a correlation between the decisions to leave decisions with non-elected experts and a desire for more participatory democracy.

Thus, I am looking at mechanisms to combine experts and participatory democracy. One of these, is based upon Courteous Logic Programs. Also, such questions are abstract, people haven't truly tried any participatory democracy except maybe some referendum in their state or locality. Muhl07 experimented with online deliberation in their work and found that Americans became more interested in participatory democracy as the result. They found that online deliberation on a contentious issue of school consolidation reduces Vertical Collectivism. However, it had no effect on the two questions, "Should government be run by experts?" and "Should government be run by business leaders?" But this group like Dr. Theiss-Morse and Hibbing's had a very low agreement level with these. (I found that Dr. Muhlberger wrote a very long article on deliberation which cited this, so Dr. Muhlberger will get a Thoughtful Thursday posting some time.)

IN another survey by the Gallup report, they found that Americans said 77% of the time they were proud of the American People and only 41% were proud of the Federal Government. And to show that people can be angry and proud at the same time, they found that 52% were angry with the American people and 71% were angry at the Federal Government.

(Of course, Dr. James Fishkin and others have experimented with conventional face-to-face deliberation".

Stealth democracy is an additive index based on the following questions:

  1. Elected officials would help the country more if they would stop talking and just take action on important problems
  2. What people call 'compromise' in politics is really just selling out on one's principles
  3. Our government would run better if decisions were left up to successful business people
  4. Our government would run better if decisions were left up to non-elected independent experts rather than politicians or the people.
  5. (And in focus groups)
And they asked, among many other reforms, "People should be allowed to vote directly on policies through ballot initiatives and the like much more often than they do now."

In focus groups, they asked,

  1. "First what do you see as the strengths and weakness of ordinary Americans in terms of their ability to make good political decisions?
  2. Are they smart, informed energetic, interest in politics or are they dumb, uninformed, lazy, politically naive, uninterested
  3. Some people advocate moving toward a total direct democracy where people vote directly on import political decisions and we wouldn't even need to have elected officials anymore. Much like a large New England town meeting, the American people would be making all of the decisions themselves. What do you think of this idea?
  4. Would the decisions be better or worse in a direct democracy that they are in?
  5. Finally, we get the sense that people are really upset with our political system, but rarely are they asked what they think needs to be done to make an improvement. Do we neeed something major done to get the government back on track? Or do you think the changes just need to be small - like campaign finance reform?


MUHL07 Muhlberger P. Should E-Government Design for Citizen Particpation? Stealth Democracy and Deliberation. In Proceedings of the 2006 national Conference on Digital Government Research ACM Press. New York, NY 2007 53-61.

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