I’ve seen a few people reposting this article which claims that people aren’t smart enough to make democracy work. I wasn’t sure about the author of the study behind the article, so I did a bit of digging. Most of his work is not related to politics directly, but rather to self-evaluation of skill. And according to a UK radio interview he apparently does agree with the political application of the work. And I think they’re missing something critical, which makes the direction they’re going with this rather pointless.
Democracy, whether representative or direct, is about political decisions ultimately being made by the people affected by them, not the technical competence of elected leaders or enacted policies. “No taxation without representation” is a slogan from the pre-revolutionary and revolutionary decades of what is now the United States, and a close variant of that shows up on DC license plates. That’s not a cry for more technically competent leadership, that’s a complaint about not being involved in the decision making process. They may have wanted more technically competent leadership, but really, they wanted their needs tended to. And that is what democracy looks like. Democracy is the answer to “Let them eat cake,” not the answer to “How do we determine the optimal arrangement of taxes and services?”
Democracy is a system of political decision making, a way of resolving conflicting interests. We may aspire to perfect governance, but for that aspiration to even make sense, we have to agree on our values. And we have chosen to express those values through a generally peaceful, mostly democratic framework. While I might have ideas for how this system could be improved, those two principles at the very least seem well worth maintaining.
I agree that a more technically competent electorate would produce more technically competent leaders and decisions. I support the idea of increasing the electorate’s technical expertise, along with our freedom, security, compassion, curiosity, hope, and creativity. But I cannot support that at the cost of disenfranchisement. No matter how technically inexpert, I think citizens have a right to contribute their voice to the definition of their governance. I do not buy that there is a single “competence” factor that would magically produce better governance for all.