Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP)

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Zoom Talk (Work in Progress): Dominik Klein (Utrecht)

Meeting-ID: 970 7667 2218

17.06.2021 12:00  – 14:00 

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On the epistemic quality of democratic and autocratic decision-making procedures


There is ample evidence that democratic systems of government outperform their autocratic counterparts in terms of public goods provision. Classically, this observation is explained by variations in the incentive structures between democratic and autocratic regime types (cf. Acemoglu & Robinson 2005; de Mesquita et al. 2005; Olson 2000). This paper proposes a complementary explanation for performative differences between government types. Building on the debate on the epistemic justification of democratic decision-making procedures (cf. Estlund 2000, Landemore 2013, Goodin and Spiekermann 2018), we analyze whether democratic regimes have an institutionally determined epistemic advantage in assessing the optimal level of public goods supply.

We address this question using a simulational model in which actors seek to determine the optimal level of public goods supply and deliberate about this. Building on these individual assessments, we compare two aggregative mechanisms regarding the accuracy of their ensuing collective estimate. These two mechanisms correspond to democratic and autocratic decision-making. We present three main findings. The first is that democratic decision-making outperforms its autocratic peers in terms of judgement adequacy. Second, democratic decision-making processes turn out to fare best when individual citizens are not impartial, but employ mildly biased estimators that slightly overemphasize their own needs in assessing and communicating the optimal level of public good supply. Finally, in various settings, restrictions of deliberation time can have a positive impact on the epistemic accuracy of the collective decision found.