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D’oh!

March 4, 2012

According to legend Winston Churchill said, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." That came to mind when I came across this news item at Instapundit.

People Aren’t Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say

The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens (the majority of them, at least) can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea, when they see it. But a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies.

The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people’s ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments. […]

Now there’s a fairly gloomy – but actually somewhat intuitive – take on electorates. Trying to get a mass of people to act sensibly is like herding cats (depicted so well in this EDS ad).

So I was interested to see that the article concluded with this.

Nagel concluded that democracies rarely or never elect the best leaders. Their advantage over dictatorships or other forms of government is merely that they “effectively prevent lower-than-average candidates from becoming leaders.”

I think that "mere" advantage is actually quite a feature and it confirms Churchill’s opinion.

Now I’m wondering how he felt, being an elected leader in such a system.

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