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Philosophy / Politics

Democracy and Experts

This post is part of the series Expert Opinion

In the Western world, we tend to believe that democracy is the best form of government. We also believe that political problems ought to be solved in a democratic fashion. However, this is not always true. Democracy can only solve a certain kind of social problem. Democracy can only solve problems that do not require expert knowledge to solve.

There is nowhere to see this better than in the Occupy Wall Street movement. This movement is democratic, and is attempting to solve financial problems. Money is a serious political and social issue that some politicians (Obama) have come up with the wrong solutions for. So the democratic base wants something better. However, there are some individuals and opinions within that movement that are only demonstrating their ignorance of finance. For example, some individuals suggest that high earners ought to be taxed even more, that financial transactions ought to be taxed or that capital gains ought to be taxed further. These things sound like good ideas to the uneducated, but they are bad ideas.

In spite of these facts, the problem is not that these opinions are being expressed. The problem is that these opinions are even being listened to. Finance is an area that required expertise in order to be done correctly. We do not allow surgical procedures to be done by democratic vote. Neither do we allow nuclear reactors to be built by democratic vote. So why would any sane person think that economic policy should be decided by democratic vote?

These facts do not mean that the government should decide economic policy without informing the populace. A transparent government is a democratic government. What it does mean is that economic policy must be decided by experts in the relevant field. Once the matters have been decided, then the populace must be informed of every detail. The basics must be understandable to those with no knowledge of the subject while the advanced decision must be understandable to those with an advanced understanding of the subject.

There is one final issue to examine. The common moral decisions of life and the decision about what kind of country we will be are democratic decisions. Everyone must make moral decisions in life. Everyone through their actions will decide what sort of country this is. Therefore, these are not matters to be decided by experts. These matters are always decided democratically. So while the matters of experts cannot be decided by many, the decisions of common life cannot be decided by experts.

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