Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lake Wobegon's government

"Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
Winston Churchill in the House of Commons on November 11, 1947

We may do well to keep that thought in mind, as science tests just how imperfect democracy may be.

Yahoo reports here about recent research led by David Dunning of Cornell University:
" incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people's ideas."

Along with colleague Justin Kruger, Dunning concludes:
"...people always assess their own performance as 'above average' — even people who, when tested, actually perform at the very bottom of the pile."

Garrison Keillor used to put it this way on the Prairie Home Companion radio show:
"Lake Wobegon ... where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

Mato Nagel, a sociologist in Germany, recently implemented Dunning and Kruger's theories by computer-simulating a democratic election, and found:
"...candidates whose leadership skills were only slightly better than average always won.

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."

Reacting to a link to the same story from Instapundit, reader Reader Barbara Skolaut objects:
"Didn’t work in our last election, did it?"
a sentiment Democrats may share regarding the prior two elections.

Personally, I agree with Glenn Reynolds that the greatest value of democracy may be the way unpredictably alternating power among multiple parties inhibits parasites.

I'm also comforted to learn choosing among imperfect candidates is normal for democracy.

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