Thursday, January 11, 2007

From Dictatorship to Democracy

Can Iraq be turned into a functioning democracy?

We still don't know the answer to that question. However Arnold Kling provides some guidelines for what needs to be in place in order for a nation as it existed in Iraq's case to an open democracy where everyone has equal rights and opportunity.
He takes off from where a few gentlemen (North, Wallis and Weingast) have gone before and identifies three different states of nations (like three different states of matter), Primitive, Natural or limited-access, and open access.

NWW claim that there are three types of societies. Primitive orders are small bands of hunter-gatherers, and they are of little concern here. Limited-access orders are societies that provide meaningful political and economic rights only to narrow elites. Open-access orders are capitalist democracies that give political and economic rights to most citizens. NWW argue that limited-access orders are the "natural state:" they are stable, they resist economic progress, and they only rarely make the transition to open-access orders.

Obviously, Saddam's Iraq was a limited-access society, where there were a limited set of elites who received certain privileges in order to maintain the balance of power enough to keep the regime in power. It's not hard to come to the conclusion that a certain level of corruption is absolutely necessary to maintain a limited-access society.
However, there are certain prerequisites that are necessary before a limited-access society can graduate to a more open access society.
1. Rule of law for elites. Elites must be held accountable to the law of the land in the same way as regular people.
2. Perpetual life for institutions. Agencies and organizations must be able to outlive the people who head them. If they don't, then people won't contract with them or invest in them.
3. Political control of the military. No other group inside the country may have the ability for mass violence. This agency must also outlive the current regime. This is definitely a problem in Iraq, as it is in many countries, like also Lebanon and Palestine.
Kling is pretty pessimistic about the chances for Iraq to overcome their deficiencies in these areas. However, the prerequisites necessary for a country before it can progress toward an open access state is a good thing to think about when we look at how countries in the world are doing and whether they are progressing or digressing.

Interestingly, although Kling implies that Open-Access societies are capitalistic democracies that offer political and economic rights to most or all citizens, I wonder if that implies that democracies are the only political system that can occur in an open society.
Think about this. Of all the government types in the history of the world, democracies have been the most inefficient, however the most benign. But there's no guarantee that any democracy won't dissolve into something worse, or even back to limited access, as we see happen over and over again in Latin America and elsewhere.
But, the ideal for a society would be an enlightened dictator, which has happened so few times in the history of the world that you might as well label it impossible when designing a government for the people. An enlightened dictator would truly want what's best for the people and would do things in a much more efficient way, i.e. they wouldn’t have to decide things by committee or congressional vote. Christians have the perfect answer for this, in that upon the day that Christ comes, he becomes the king forever. An immortal benevolent, enlightened dictator for sure.
This is something to think about, and leads into another point, about the stupidity of the masses.
There seems to be this tension between what the people want, and what certain educated elites think is best for them. I tend to waffle between the two opinions depending on the issue, but it stands to argue that letting the "crowd" determine outcomes directly usually ends up in some kind of mess. Which is why we have a republican representative type of government. So it's unfortunate that politicians spend so much time trying to morph their decision making into a conglomerate of public opinion instead of just trying to be statesmen, doing what they think is right, because that's what they were elected to do.

Of course most of what I've been dissing is the popular, rampant misinterpretation of Wisdom of Crowds, not what Surowiecki actually meant. Read the book and you'll see just how significant and powerful the aggregation of individual knowledge really is, and how in the right circumstances with the right constraints, the wisdom found in that group CAN be smarter than the smartest individual in the group. But he never says the group itself becomes smarter when they work together to produce a result as a group.

What he’s talking about is the difference between a group of people offering insight and opinion into the decision making process of an individual or smaller group of people, such as a committee investigating a topic for a president, CEO or legislative body, verses a large body charged with actually coming up with an answer or designing a specific policy themselves. The claim is made that large accumulations of ideas, like on the internet, will actually lead to better ideas, thoughts and eventually better actions. But, as Kathy Sierra argues on her post, accumulating the knowledge and ideas of a group magnifies their faults as well as their strengths. Only when you have a moderating force, or a smaller decision making body, can the bad be weeded out from the good.

"Meanwhile, an individual best achieves optimal stupidity on those rare occasions when one is both given substantial powers and insulated from the results of his or her actions.
"If the above criteria have any merit, then there is an unfortunate convergence. The setup for the most stupid collective is also the setup for the most stupid individuals.

Which lends credence to the statement above that a smaller decision making body or person is much more effective and the only good that committees and large brain trusts, like the internet, are good for is as an influencing force, not a decision-making force. Now think about how dangerous it is for congress people and a president or governor to make decisions based on what the polls say.
The ideal of this is an enlightened despot, who gets inspiration from the input of the masses, but can weed out the good from the bad and implement without bureaucracy.

One last thought before I finish. I noted in the news yesterday that our favorite fascist dictator in the western hemisphere, Hurricane Hugo, has once again won reelection. I’m just shocked. Anyway, after he was sworn in he made several actions and statements that bear looking at, like “Socialism or DEATH!” and vowing to centralize more of the nations economy, including eliminating the independence of the central bank. But this is the paragraph that caught me.

President Hugo Chávez was sworn in to a new six-year term at a ceremony here Wednesday in which he described Jesus Christ as "the greatest socialist in history" and pledged to speed Venezuela's metamorphosis into a socialist country.

As if socialism as an economic force hasn’t been shown for the farce that it is at this point in history, he has to bring Jesus into it.

Now, I just got done calling a government based on Jesus’ kingship the ideal for human kind, and a rudimentary reading of the book of Acts in the Bible reveals a Christian community that was based on sharing all they had. The correct term for that would be “Communism” not socialism, first of all. But it’s a communism that’s based on individual responsibility and individual giving, not state-mandated equality of net worth, or state run businesses. The path Chavez is on will destroy the economy, and then there will be nothing for the people to share. Is that what Jesus was about?

No, Chavez is disingenuous in his ploy to solidify some sort of popular support for his actions with a people that are very religious, or at least very Catholic. Bringing up Jesus is just a way to fend off dissent and criticism.

And Chavez will never be accuse of being an enlightened despot.

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