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The Tories seek out wisdom of the crowds


6:07 pm - January 3rd 2010

by Paul Sagar    


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Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt says he’s going to “develop an online platform that enables us to tap into the wisdom of crowds to resolve difficult policy challenges”. Marina Hyde thinks the Tories may have solved the problem of their lack of policies. But with what significance?

The wisdom of crowds phenomenon observes that if you get a lot of people together and ask them to guess something – the weight of a pig at a county fair, say – then the more people you have guessing, the more likely they are to collectively get it right if you average out all the individual answers.

For every ridiculously far-out over-estimate, someone else under-estimates by the same margin. Eventually, the over- and under-valuations even each other out. The more people guessing, the closer the collective guess gets to a remarkable degree of accuracy.

The problem with applying such theorems to the realm of politics is that they only have purchase if the crowd or jury is being asked to discover something objectively certain. But politics is essentially conflict and struggle between clashing world-views. Large groups of people cannot discover the “correct” political policies, because the notion of “correct” politics is a chimera.

Yet one need not be an ethical or political sceptic in this sense to find the Tory gimmick suspect.

They will be perfectly aware that a fact about real-world politics is that sometimes difficult choices have to be made. Values come into conflict, and genuine sacrifice between incompatible goals will sometimes be required. This, after all, is the tragedy of political decision-making: sometimes some people just have to lose and it’s up to the political decision-maker to choose which.

Appealing to large numbers of voters to reveal “correct” policy positions looks ludicrously naive in the face of tough political reality.

Tory apologists will now claim that this “wisdom of the crowds” rhetoric isn’t meant to be understood at this level of intellectual seriousness. That it’s just an attempt to get “fresh ideas” from outside of the “Westminster bubble”.

Top politicians (it’s less clear with non-pole-climbing backbenchers) are politicians because they want to tell us what to do, because they see themselves as the leaders who must make the tough decisions. All politics is struggle and conflict; the sacrificing of some values and people in favour of those you prefer. No politician who has climbed to the top of the tree wants to gift power to the people they have worked so hard to get into a position of coercive authority over.

The Tory wisdom of crowds policy formulation: an incoherent, dishonest and cynical misrepresentation of political reality and Tory intentions. Change we can believe in? Business as usual.

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About the author
Paul Sagar is a post-graduate student at the University of London and blogs at Bad Conscience.
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Reader comments


This post is too relativist for my taste.
Evidence-based politics works for the left / for greens. There is simple and unequivocal evidence that reducing inequality improves society for everyone (including the rich), that manmade climate change is destabilising the climate for everyone (including rich countries), etc.
The issue is only this: what are the issues where seeking ‘the wisdom of crowds’ will help to put the needful policies into place?
Well: One such issue, perhaps surprisingly, is reducing inequality and economic growth (i.e. the fact that we don’t need any more of it). Ask economists, and most of them will say we still need more economic growth. But ask real people, and it turns out that what they actually want is: not to be worse off than other people (See Solwick and Hemenway, “Is more always better? A survey of positional concerns” (Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation 1998 (vol. 70), 157-83)). If you offer people economic growth as the alleged means of them becoming less worse off than other people, then they will go for it. But of course, comparative judgements are a zero sum game; so, actually, the only way to get people what they want is to get them off the treadmill, and pursue policies actually designed directly to reduce inequality. And, as S & H show, if you ask people, _that_ is what they will tell you they want (i.e. not being worse off than other people, even if it means accepting absolute reductions in one’s own ‘living standards’, to achieve that goal, to achieve that improved quality of life).
Now that’s what I call wisdom. But I doubt it is the answer that the Tories will be looking for…

Indeed, it is precisely because our politics is so much more evidence-based than theirs [than the Tories’, UKIP’s, the DUP’s, the BNP’s, etc], that they are often driven to desperate expedients such as denying the facts about manmade climate change. As Sunny has pointed out, this will be their undoing. Which is all well and good; just so long as they don’t undo our whole ecosystem first…

I’m a little surprised that you don’t address the obvious response to this.

If you don’t approve of the “wisdom of crowds”, do you approve of democracy?

One rather loose approach to democratic decision-making is median voter theory, and is (in part) an argument that democracy implements the policies that the median voter wants, which is very similar to the “wisdom of crowds” approach. If you don’t like wisdom of crowds, you need to present a case for minority government.

I always find it amusing the horror with which those on the intellectual left recoil from the electorate they claim to care so much about. I blogged on this just yesterday, in response to a remarkably similar bluster from Marina Hyde over at the Guardian.

I hope you don’t mind me posting the link – http://wp.me/pJiP0-2z

Questioning the sincerity of Mr Hunt’s announcement is one thing, and perfectly valid too. It’s the sinister ‘mob rule’ undertones that I find think are instructive.

The wisdom of crowds sounds like a market discovery process to me. Which could do a lot for public services. But I am far from convinced that the Tories actually mean anything as determinant as that.

I don’t know, http://www.wisdomofcameron.com makes the case pretty well.

So it’s Have Your Say on a grand scale? Fuck me.

Sounds like nothing more than a variation of the invisible hand theory that the Right believes in. Follow the crowd, but just hope they don’t all run off the edge of a cliff.

“If you don’t approve of the ‘wisdom of crowds’, do you approve of democracy?”

Does all this mean a Conservative government would be holding regular referendums on controversial issues?

Will we all be able to vote on independence for Scotland?

How about major criminal trials broadcast on TV with viewers deciding on guilt or acquittal by pressing buttons on an electronic gizmo – which is entirely feasible with current technology?

A quick and sure way of reducing public spending to fund tax cuts is to prune public spending on the chronically sick and those with dementia with local death panels deciding social priorities when government is decentralised. How about a referendum on euthanasia?

10. Rob Knight

The basic idea – that “ordinary people” may hold tacit knowledge about things which bosses, politicians and other authority figures remain ignorant of – is sound enough. We could, as a society, benefit from having more ways in which those without power to change things can speak together in order to influence those with power (in the case of the government, power that we have granted to them to begin with).

The theory is great. The implementation is less likely to be so. But is it inevitably a complete waste of time? Past Tory governments have had good ideas every now and then, and even sometimes manage to pass good legislation once in a while, so the fact that it’s the Tories doing it isn’t a guarantee that it’s a waste of time.

Putting some rose-tinted glasses on for a moment, it is possible to imagine a system which, when confronted with some Tory equivalent of the 10p-tax-rate-abolition, would enable people to share the facts about the change (i.e. that it shafts fairly poor people) and to express, in some way, the degree of their concern about this. It could be a powerful deliberative tool and needn’t be HYS on a grand scale.

Do I expect it to work? Well, probably not. But in scorning the Tories (if that’s what gets you going) it’s important to avoid scorning what would seem like perfectly good ideas if they were being proposed by someone that you approve of.

Do I expect it to work? Well, probably not. But in scorning the Tories (if that’s what gets you going) it’s important to avoid scorning what would seem like perfectly good ideas if they were being proposed by someone that you approve of.

But that isn’t Paul’s point above.

It is that there is no ‘clear answer’ when it comes to politics, which a crowd can help get politicians to get to. There are only points of view depending on how you see the world.

Sure – there is evidence and rationality. But are right-wingers really driven by that? In which case there wouldn’t so many tin-foil hats wearers who think global warming is some scientific / leftist conspiracy.

OK there’s a slightly more detailed (and coherent, lol) version of this up at my place.

Rupert Read: “This post is too relativist for my taste.” Oh, the irony. (sorry, that’s a pedantic philosopher joke about relativism).

Richard @3 (and Michael @4): Hmm, democracy is rather complicated though, isn’t it? It’s by no means clear that finding the Wisdom of Crowds being applied to one idea means being sceptical of democracy. There’s much better reasons for that sort of scepticism:

http://badconscience.com/2009/12/15/simon-cowell-and-the-difficulties-of-democracy/

@sally – it’s not really “the right” that believes in “the invidisible hand” but more “economists”. And they’re probably right to “believe” in it rather a lot. Mostly because, like the Wisdom of Crowds phenomenon, it’s a plausible piece of theorising about the way the world works and certain aspects of it in practice. The problem in both cases it what politicians do with that theorising (or rather, rhetoric about that theorising).

@ Rob: fair points, but my intention was really to show that a) there is no way the Wisdom of Crowds stuff can be genuine in its current presentation, so b) it’s about political manipulation and spin.

I’m all for getting good ideas into politics. I’m much more sceptical about politicians being keen to let got the reigns of power and policy, in the name of abstract theorems especially.

Though I suppose I’m being a hypocrite. Labour are just as bad. “The Big Conversation” anybody?

Still, all politics is struggle. World-views colide, the state monopolises force. Better to have the meglomaniacs you like in power than the other side.

Whoops. I forgot it’s an election year.

Labour are great. Tories boo!

Vote vote vote.

Alex, that website is amazing!!

The wisdom of crowds does not really lend itself to formulating policy. When I mean by ‘ lend itself ‘ is there is no reason to suppose that a policy will be better because more people have been involved in the formulation. The wisdom of crowds does come into its own as a predictor of future events. For example, the bond market is an example of TWOC. The equity market can be subject to wild gyrations sometimes for no particular reason. Whereas the much larger bond market in the absence of large shocks consistently accurately predicts future inflation/deflation and interest rate movements. Even before the onset of the financial crisis the bond markets were flashing red for imminent recession.

The main problem of expecting TWOC to come up with good policy is the motivation of those involved. Conducting it online I suppose prevents the problem of those taking part having their opinions influenced by others and a certain groupthink developing. However, it is unlikely that a real cross section of the general public would take part. Moreover, the motivation of those taking part becomes a dominant factor and those are the people you would least want for an accurate WOC. To be motivated to take part they are likely to have read the same media and already coalesced around a dominant groupthink. Therefore, what you would get is confirmation bias of the dominant groupthink rather than TWOC.

That is not to say that politicians and advisors do not suffer from groupthink. However, in most aspects of life I am quite happy to defer to technical experts rather than TWOC. I am reminded of H. L. Mencken in this regard.

‘ For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. ..’

Oh come on, our politicians are surrounded by a retinue of experts and even they disagree about policy, so how can the crowds be expected to express an opinion which reflects ‘the social good’?
This is just another cynical marketing ploy for the tories plc, or maybe a ‘get out of jail card’ so that blame can be placed on ‘the crowd’ when their policies (inevitably) go wrong. And, in any case, the tories will continue to serve the interests of the economic elite, but they will express those policies as somehow reflecting the interests of the majority.

No politician who has climbed to the top of the tree wants to gift power to the people they have worked so hard to get into a position of coercive authority over.

And there lies the root of our problems. Our politicians have forgotten they are they to serve, not to rule.

The one positive is that there will be those who genuinely do want to gift power to the people, and should one ever manage to get into a position to do anything about it the political system will change so much as to undo decades worth of harm that generations of self-serving MPs have sat over, as it’ll be far quicker to gift power away than it was to take it (consider the European Constitution – it took over 5 years from drafting to get the essence of it into law in the shape of the Lisbon Treaty, but how long would it take to undo it if the power was given to the people?).

It seems to me that past complaints we have read about on the consequences of the Post Code Lottery in healthcare, medication and care of the aged will be as nothing if pervasive “localism” is introduced.

But it will also become increasingly difficult to learn about what’s going locally – just on the BBC news, last year more than 70 local newspapers closed down.

“This is just another cynical marketing ploy for the tories plc”

Exactly. On the “wisdom of crowds”, I’m reminded of those plebiscites in Germany in the 1930s:

“On 12 November 1933 elections to the Reichstag take place in Germany once again. However, the name of only one party appears on the ballots: Hitler’s NSDAP. Incorporated in this sham election is a ‘plebiscite’ on the German Reich’s withdrawal from the League of Nations. As expected, the National Socialists achieve an overwhelming result: With 95 per cent of the electorate participating, 92.2 per cent of the electorate vote for the NSDAP – all remaining votes are declared invalid. Thus, 95.1 per cent of Germans endorse a withdrawal from the League of Nations which Hitler’s government had already carried out the previous October. In reality, plebiscites serve the Nazis only as propagandistic endorsements of their policies.”
http://www.willy-brandt.org/bwbs_biografie/index.html?l=en&id=438&year=1933&month=11

“On August 19 [1934], about 95 percent of registered voters in Germany went to the polls and gave Hitler 38 million votes of approval (90 percent of the vote). Thus Adolf Hitler could claim he was Führer of the German nation by direct will of the people. Hitler now wielded absolute power in Germany, beyond that of any previous traditional head of state. He had become, in effect, the law unto himself.”
http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/timeline/becomes.htm

I haven’t seen anyone comment on the Government’s use of this theorem….eg today’s announcement by The Chief Twat that full-body-scanners will be introduced into all UJK airports, despite the testimony of experts that it cannot be guaranteed to detect combustible materials.

As it happens, I always pick the experimental queue at Heathrow, if I can, because it gets me through the screening fasrer. In practice, it takes longer than taking my shoes etc off and putting them in boxes ( but I don’t have to queue so long) and they never caught the cocaine i was carrying.

Of course the other theory is that the tories haven’t a fucking clue what they are going to do. Which is why you would come up with this.

I expect it will be fine until the crowd come up with something the old Etonion land owners don’t agree with , and then it we will be told that “the crowd are not always right.”

Sunny @ 13:

It is that there is no ‘clear answer’ when it comes to politics, which a crowd can help get politicians to get to. There are only points of view depending on how you see the world.

This isn’t always true. The 10p tax band was a good example – it wasn’t that the Labour party woke up one day and decided to screw the poor, most of the Labour MPs genuinely didn’t understand the effects of the measure until it was too late. Once they understood it, a fair few of them publicly called for action to put the situation right. Public pressure didn’t change the opinions of the MPs, it changed their knowledge of the facts. There are others and in fact it looks to me as if the government’s biggest blunders occur not because they have the wrong opinions but because they don’t have access to the truth.

I think I’m viewing this whole thing somewhat differently to the majority of people commenting here. I think you’re viewing it as a party political thing, but the proposal is to create a government system funded by the Cabinet office (and the Cabinet office already funds quite a few experimental projects already, and I’ve not seen anyone condemning those). Assuming the system was put in place, it could one day be in the service of (say) Ed Miliband’s government.

Although I imagine that a Tory government would change quite a few things, the old adage that “whoever is elected, the government always gets back in” holds true. The main purpose of a system of public feedback would not be to create Tory policy initiatives, but to provide input into the decisions of government departments, to highlight problems in how the government operates and to demonstrate public expectations about the likely impact of government actions.

I doubt that the Tories have really looked into this much, but the economist Robin Hanson has proposed an idea called “Futarchy“, which he summarises with the phrase “vote on values but bet on beliefs”. Essentially, politicians should be elected on the basis of their values (the clash of ideas with no objective right or wrong that you and Paul Sagar are talking of), but once elected they should commit to achieving certain measurable results and should select their policies for achieving these results based on a “wisdom of crowds” approach. Hanson suggests the use of a betting market as a means of aggregating dispersed knowledge about the effectiveness of certain policies, but there may be other options.

The problem with our governments isn’t that they are necessarily evil, it’s that they’re often completely clueless about how to make things better. When we elect the Labour party, we’re saying “we want a better deal for the working class and those who get a raw deal from present-day capitalism”. To the extent that they fail to deliver this, I think it’s mostly because they don’t know how to do it. They’re subject to all kinds of pressures and biases and lobbying and misinformation and whipping and all so forth. Dispersing the power over making the “how do we get there” decision makes it a lot less susceptible to these problems.

Anyhow, I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent as I seriously doubt that the Tories are thinking of anything close to this. But there’s substantial scope for new and better democratic institutions and I’d like to think that we can do more than mock the Tories for recognising this, however badly they’ll end up implementing it (which, as I pointed out earlier, isn’t guaranteed either).

The problem with our governments isn’t that they are necessarily evil, it’s that they’re often completely clueless about how to make things better.

Hmm, see Clark’s Law…

“I haven’t seen anyone comment on the Government’s use of this theorem….eg today’s announcement by The Chief Twat that full-body-scanners will be introduced into all UJK airports, despite the testimony of experts that it cannot be guaranteed to detect combustible materials.”

A police force cannot be guaranteed to arrest and convict all criminals, let alone stop all crime. Few of us conclude that we should therefore abolish the police force.

Well..this article and some of the responses sell short the principle of the wisdom of crowds. It is certainly not as simple as just being a giant HYS. It certainly isn’t going to cause the problems the OP suggests as it is not used in the form of a giant FPTP poll of opinion with the winner taking the policy hot seat.

For a start “objectively certain” is a bit of a misleading term. Everything that occurs is objectively certain, how certain we know it will be in the future is defined only by what we know. Wisdom of crowds aims to flesh out that area of “what we know” without necessarily alerting any of us to such enlightenment.

However, when it comes to policy, wisdom of crowds is more likely (and is actually) used to define what the “masses” see as action that will enable society to function most fluidly. Studies in to tax systems and how people choose to contribute or not contribute, based on how each other member contributes or not, are some of the most obvious correlations.These systems are, at their core, things that we all have very conflicting beliefs on politically and socially….yet depending on how they’re enforced, how they’re perceived to be enforced, and what benefits individuals themselves perceive they receive the system contributed to by a variety of different “sorts” can function just fine and with relative positivity.

When it comes to deciding what will be adopted most readily by the public you can’t really go much wrong with “wisdom of the crowds” thinking. But ultimately what such thinking focuses on is a means to impose the will of the masses despite the will of the few (at both ends of the spectrum); it can help to broaden the picture of problems and areas of conflict that can arise as well, but those bits of information aren’t likely to provide the kind of liberal outlook that most policy made by governments in modern times needs so desperately.

20. “I haven’t seen anyone comment on the Government’s use of this theorem….eg today’s announcement by The Chief Twat that full-body-scanners will be introduced into all UJK airports, despite the testimony of experts that it cannot be guaranteed to detect combustible materials.”

It’s a perfect use of the “theorem” really, the “system” is keeping the business of flying going. If people believe that there is danger in flying planes to the degree that it’s worth changing their plans then there is a problem. Equally if it means that people start complaining about government, business, etc, and come to the conclusion they’re not keeping the system running smoothly then there is a problem.

If you listen to the public what they want is yet more assurance that the problem is not going to occur again. It’s impossible, of course, but the perception of the public in being told (and eventually seeing) that these machines will be in full scale use will mean their fears are assuaged. They will go back to normal, perhaps better than normal, and the system will work.

Aside from the issue of how effectiveness scanners are, I’d propose that the security systems already in place to stop terrorist attacks on planes are extremely effective (as someone else in an article earlier on LC did) and the need to improve them is not really here, the only issue is that of trust in that security.

27. So Much For Subtlety

15. Richard – “The wisdom of crowds does not really lend itself to formulating policy. When I mean by ‘ lend itself ‘ is there is no reason to suppose that a policy will be better because more people have been involved in the formulation.”

If that were true democracies would not be better run, wealthier, less corrupt, freer, and more tolerant than autocracies. Dictatorships would produce as good if not better results than free elections.

As any eight year old child can see, despite a few cases to the contrary, democracy works. The more people are involved in decision making through voting, the better the results.

“The wisdom of crowds does come into its own as a predictor of future events.”

Like, for instance, which political party is likely to run the country better? You don’t say.

“That is not to say that politicians and advisors do not suffer from groupthink. However, in most aspects of life I am quite happy to defer to technical experts rather than TWOC.”

Well each to their own. My Grandmother didn’t get much schooling, had no formal qualifications, not even an O Level, never owned her own home, and yet she spotted the crap when she saw it, she had her head on straight and she gave me the best advice anyone I have ever known ever did. Somehow I don’t see the wisdom of disenfranchising her in favour of the Senior Common Room at the LSE. A left-of-centre blog is this? What an interesting world the Left has become.

Bob B – “On the “wisdom of crowds”, I’m reminded of those plebiscites in Germany in the 1930s: “On 12 November 1933 elections to the Reichstag take place in Germany once again. However, the name of only one party appears on the ballots: Hitler’s NSDAP.”

I am curious, are you trying to be obtuse or did you just miss the point? Giving the voters one choice is precisely putting the wisdom of the elite experts (and remember Hitler was most popular on University Campuses) ahead of the people. He did not trust them with, you know, a choice. The better question would be to look at previous elections. You know, the ones where the German people did not ever get close to giving Hitler and the NSDAP a majority of votes. If anything Hitler proves the wisdom of the crowd – who did not trust him with power – over the wisdom of elites – who did thinking they could manipulate and control him. Well. They were wrong weren’t they? The German people were not.

If you listen to the public what they want is yet more assurance that the problem is not going to occur again. It’s impossible, of course,

So the crowd isn’t particularly wise, then?

Can anybody suggest a political question for which this method might produce a sensible answer?

I ask because I can’t think of one myself – evry single policy issue I think of is far far too complex to decide on some sort of averaging basis. It might work for the weight of a pig, which can be measured and where the participants have no axe to grind (!!), but what do we imagine the WOC weight would be if the participants owned the pig and wanted to sell it by the pound?

@27: “The better question would be to look at previous elections. You know, the ones where the German people did not ever get close to giving Hitler and the NSDAP a majority of votes.”

Sadly, the evidence from recent historical studies, such as by Kershaw (Hitler-Hubris and Hitler-Nemisis) is that the NSDAP was increasingly popular in Germany from 1933 through to the late 1930s, understandably so in a way because of the huge success of the NSDAP government in reducing unemployment by applying neo-keynesian policies. Internal security before the advent of the war in September 1939 was evidently not a problem – not least because dissident political activists had all been put away in the camps.

Many were taken in by Hitler and the Nazis.

This is newsreel reportage of a meeting at Berchtesgaden in Germany between Hitler and Lloyd George (Britain’s last Liberal Party PM) in the summer of 1936:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_ApfE3Wjxg

On his return, Lloyd George wrote an article for the Daily Express of 17 November 1936 in which he said all sorts of amazingly flattering things about Herr Hitler:
http://www.history-of-the-holocaust.org/LIBARC/ARCHIVE/Chapters/Stabiliz/Foreign/LloydGeo.html

Very plainly, Lloyd George did not regard Hitler and the Nazis as a threat to the stability of Europe and noticed only the ways in which the German economy had been successfully revitalised by the Nazis.

The Nazis won a huge majority in the plebiscite of August 1034, effectively endorsing the merging of the functions of the Reich President and Reich Chancellor in the person of the Führer. Thereafter, members of the armed forces in Germany took an oath of personal loyalty not to the German state but to the Führer.

Of course, Lloyd George wasn’t the only leading political figure in British politics to be impressed by the Nazi government in Germany:

“After his first visit to Nazi Germany [Lord Halifax] told his friend, Henry (Chips) Channon: “He (Halifax) told me he liked all the Nazi leaders, even Goebbels, and he was much impressed, interested and amused by the visit. He thinks the regime absolutely fantastic.”
http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWappeasement.htm

27. So Much For Subtlety

15. Richard – “The wisdom of crowds does not really lend itself to formulating policy. When I mean by ‘ lend itself ‘ is there is no reason to suppose that a policy will be better because more people have been involved in the formulation.”

‘ If that were true democracies would not be better run, wealthier, less corrupt, freer, and more tolerant than autocracies. Dictatorships would produce as good if not better results than free elections.

As any eight year old child can see, despite a few cases to the contrary, democracy works. The more people are involved in decision making through voting, the better the results. ‘

There is a huge difference between choosing the political leaders and by extension their manifesto and actually formulating policy. Moreover, people vote for political parties for lots of diverse reasons with manifesto only one factor. For example, prediction polls can signal a likely result well in advance of a manifesto actually being produced.

In my experience, democracies are better run, wealthier and less corrupt because they have an independent strong justice system. The justice system underpins property rights and enforces contracts. This gives institutions confidence to lend against collateral and accept counterparty risk. Now you could point out that it is because they are a democracy that they have an independent justice system, and I would not disagree with that. However, it is also possible to be a democracy without the strong property/contract rights. I would contend that it is the civil law rights that leads to prosperity rather than the democracy.

I am not saying that I do not accept the WOC, nor am I saying that it is not applicable in some scenarios. What I am saying, is that there is no reason to suppose that a policy will be better just because more people have been involved in its formulation. Especially when one considers the motivation of those involved. For example, the former Republican POTUS deferred to the WOC of his party base banning stem cell research. I may be wrong but it is unlikely that the base knew very much about stem cell research. However, they did not like the idea of it so just ban the research. That is not to say that scientists and technical experts do not do stupid things. However, that is what I mean by deferring to those with expertise in the full knowledge that they will not always get it right.

29
This is why Plato did not support democracy, individuals/groups are likely to act in their own interests but this is not necessarily the best way for ‘the whole’ or, in the long term, for said individuals/groups.

“This is why Plato did not support democracy”

Plato thought philosopher kings would lead to more benign governments but then some wise sceptic had the insight about who then is to guard the guardians?

Our politicians in the 18th and 19th centuries who favoured extending the franchise nevertheless worried about the potential consequences of moving to popular democracy, or moving too quickly.

Edmund Burke made his famous speech in 1774 to the electors of Bristol:

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Edmund_Burke

And JS Mill pressed the case for Representative Government (1861):
http://www.efm.bris.ac.uk/het/mill/repgovt.pdf

As Mill put his concerns in his essays on utilitarianism:

“it is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”, which is all rather curious as this introduces the notion that some utilitarian benefits are qualitatively more equal than others.

28. “So the crowd isn’t particularly wise, then?”

The crowd is wise in their self preservation, while they believe their concerns are being tackled they put their faith in those claiming to tackle it. Whether the specifics are working or not individually is not the point, the point is that people feel they’re not being left unguarded. It’s simple reassurance really, just on a large scale.

This is also a complete aside from the act of predicting future results, actions or other “knowable” things, where studies have showed that experts are important, but only as part of a wider and more diverse set of opinions…putting lots of experts together and getting the correct answer is hard, they tend to agree more than they conflict (and out of conflict rises greater clarity over the subject at hand).

I’m all for experts, but experts that are involved in a larger process of opinion forming. I think groups such as the drugs committee (of Prof Nutt fame) are good examples of this, a diverse group of experts that have different experiences and the experience and practice of utilising wide ranges of data from peoples actions and beliefs.

29 “I ask because I can’t think of one myself – evry single policy issue I think of is far far too complex to decide on some sort of averaging basis.”

Except wisdom of crowds doesn’t suggest that anything is “averaged” when it comes to co-operation problems. If you only ask “what would YOU feel about X” to partisan participants then you’re never going to get the right answer, as it’s the wrong framing for finding answers. Wisdom of crowds is about asking people to explain what they think other people would do given certain circumstances, and perhaps then what they would do in response.

You’re not going to be able to use everyone, nor is it about being able to just pick people up off the street and expect them to be non-partisan and to not try to game the system. The theory would be to treat everyone as intelligent and integral parts of a system of gathering information, especially if there is *no* leading from the beginning as to what possible outcomes or solutions may be.

Of course I agree that in reality every party that did anything like this would a) try to form an answer they want from the beginning and thus influence the end result and thus b) be wasting money in order to justify policies to people, of which only those already “bought in” to the direction would agree with such justification.

37. So Much For Subtlety

32. Richard – “There is a huge difference between choosing the political leaders and by extension their manifesto and actually formulating policy.”

Really? Can you explain it to me because I have to say I don’t see it. What is more, I don’t think that the voters care much about the leaders or their political manifestos. They are judging them on some other basis. Whether they like them for instance, or think their character is up to the job.

“Moreover, people vote for political parties for lots of diverse reasons with manifesto only one factor. For example, prediction polls can signal a likely result well in advance of a manifesto actually being produced.”

Which goes to show voters are ignoring the manifestos. Why do you think they are important then? The crowd does not need to examine the policy details. I don’t think they do. I think that George Bush Senior having not a clue about the price of milk or George Bush Junior saying Jesus was his favourite philosopher is more likely to say more about a candidate. Rightly.

“Now you could point out that it is because they are a democracy that they have an independent justice system, and I would not disagree with that. However, it is also possible to be a democracy without the strong property/contract rights. I would contend that it is the civil law rights that leads to prosperity rather than the democracy.”

I would indeed be inclined to say that. Except I am not so sure. It is hard to maintain an independent and not-very-corrupt judicial system at the best of times. Certainly the only non-democratic example I can think of is Hong Kong but of course that was backed up by a democracy. On the other hand it is also true that democracies tend to subvert the judiciary too. As we can see in the UK. I think that the whole concept of a independent judicial system comes out of a particular culture, which was not very democratic, at a particular time and now that traditional British is passing into history it will go too. However it may also be true that democracies help maintain such judicial independence, at least for a while. I don’t know.

“I may be wrong but it is unlikely that the base knew very much about stem cell research. However, they did not like the idea of it so just ban the research.”

Yes but they took that decision after a full discussion of what was involved. You may not like the result but it would be hard to imagine the American public agreeing to the execution of the mentally ill. Such programmes tend to occur in secret. Public discussion tends to end what limited programmes there are.

There are several solutions in the works, but they have one issue which the Tories might not be happy with: they tend to castrate political parties in favor of direct citizen empowerment.
Here they are: http://www.metagovernment.org/wiki/Main_Page


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Eddie

    rt @libcon :: The Tories seek out wisdom of the crowds http://bit.ly/8D9QXq < By introducing proportional representation?! #Democracy #Votes

  2. Jane Fleming

    RT @libcon: :: The Tories seek out wisdom of the crowds http://bit.ly/8D9QXq =was that greek or roman technique? Oratory ar ora TORY

  3. topsy_top20k_en

    :: The Tories seek out wisdom of the crowds http://bit.ly/8D9QXq

  4. House Of Twits

    RT @pickledpolitics Why haven't Labour politicos ridiculed Hunt's £1m plan to replace civil servants with Wikipedia? http://bit.ly/8D9QXq

  5. Christopher McKeon

    RT @pickledpolitics Why haven't Labour politicos ridiculed Hunt's £1m plan to replace civil servants with Wikipedia? http://bit.ly/8D9QXq

  6. Adam Fish

    RT @pickledpolitics: Why haven't Labour politicos ridiculed Hunt's £1m plan to replace civil servants with Wikipedia? http://bit.ly/8D9QXq

  7. Jonathan Taylor

    RT @pickledpolitics: Why haven't Labour politicos ridiculed Hunt's £1m plan to replace civil servants with Wikipedia? http://bit.ly/8D9QXq

  8. Gareth Winchester

    RT @DailyQuail: Genius: http://bit.ly/7CRLsB via @LibCon comments on http://is.gd/5KUHu

  9. James Asser

    RT @pickledpolitics: Why haven't Labour politicos ridiculed Hunt's £1m plan to replace civil servants with Wikipedia? http://bit.ly/8D9QXq

  10. andrew

    Liberal Conspiracy » The Tories seek out wisdom of the crowds: Liberal Conspiracy is the UK's most popular left-of… http://bit.ly/4obKmy

  11. Todays' Politic

    Liberal Conspiracy » The Tories seek out wisdom of the crowds http://bit.ly/62l7qm

  12. sunny hundal

    @tomscott loved the Cameron site and 'breaking the news' video. Pls pimp your stuff to me, I'd love to blog it! http://bit.ly/8D9QXq

  13. Liberal Conspiracy

    :: The Tories seek out wisdom of the crowds http://bit.ly/8D9QXq

  14. House Of Twits

    RT @libcon :: The Tories seek out wisdom of the crowds http://bit.ly/8D9QXq

  15. Martin Warne

    The Tories seek out wisdom of the crowds http://bit.ly/8D9QXq (via @libcon)

  16. sunny hundal

    Why haven't Labour politicos ridiculed Hunt's £1m plan to replace civil servants with Wikipedia? http://bit.ly/8D9QXq

  17. Ryan Bestford

    RT @pickledpolitics: Why haven't Labour politicos ridiculed Hunt's £1m plan to replace civil servants with Wikipedia? http://bit.ly/8D9QXq

  18. David Cameron and the phantom of ‘national unity’ « Though Cowards Flinch

    […] between searching out the wisdom of crowds (i.e. the political centre-ground), rather than the wisdom of principled ideas, it seems that David […]

  19. The Wisdom of Cameron « Bad Conscience

    […] Hat tip to Alex. […]





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