Re: Relative welath - democracy, standards, and treaties

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From: Ernest N. Prabhakar (
Date: Tue Jan 25 2000 - 22:06:30 PST

Wow, thanks for the exhaustive answer. I can't reply in detail, but I do
want to hit some high points.

on 1/25/00 3:17 PM, Kragen Sitaker at wrote:
>I will use "democratic" as an adjective to describe a situation in which many
people have significant influence over events that strongly affect their

Hmm, I find that somewhat fuzzy. Is that equivalent to the statement:

"A process is more or less democratic to the extent the decision makers are
accountable to those affected by the decision."

I think mine may be stronger, since it implies "accountability" rather than
merely "influence."

> I think that definition is something that we can agree is reasonable.
> We can conclude from it that typical corporations are not democratic;
> that the neighborhood grocery store is democratic if its owner listens
> to his customers;

That actually seems specious. Isn't it just [in your definition] as true
to say that a corporation that is responsive to its customers is more
democratic than an grumpy grocery store owner?

And (at least for retail corporations), end consumers have enormous
influence over the corporation, at least in principle. After all, if nobody
bought Chevys cars GM would be out of luck (as happened in the 70s ;-). So
why are they less democratic than a grocery store?

Other than that quibble, though, I think I'm in line with the gist of your

> I further postulate that living in more democratic societies --- as
> defined above --- makes people happier, wealthier, healthier, and
> generally moves them up on the Maslovian scale. I'd be interested to
> hear serious disagreements to this statement.

Well, I'd argue the same general point from market principles - the more
independent agents involved in a process, the more reliably it will reach

However, I'm not sure I'd make that an absolute statement. I think I can
make a case that there is such a thing as too much democracy, because that
can often be the *slowest* way to reach equilibrium. For example, I think
we in America would be MUCH worse off if we had true direct democracy, where
we all voted on any idea before it became law. I find representative
democracy the optimal compromise.

Are you arguing the overall correlation, or actually claiming a monotonic
relationship all the way to the extremes?

> The WTO represents centralization of power, moving it from local
> (national) governments to a larger body. Furthermore, while the local
> governments do, collectively, control the larger body, the people of
> the countries involved have less control over their WTO delegates than
> over the rest of their government.

Okay. Thanks for the background, I didn't actually know that.

> But also, if it turns out that the WTO's actions are strongly opposed
> by most of the people whose lives are strongly affected by them, their
> continuing to do similar things would be evidence that they aren't very
> democratic.

True. Though there is still the issue of whether the *overall* effect is
positive, even if individual incidents are negative. The standards analogy

> [regulation as removing choice]
> Well, you could argue against any law at all on that basis.

But actually, I think that is precisely the issue. In all social compacts,
we give us some degrees of freedom in the hope of greater good. Which by
your definition, I think, is actually an 'anti-democratic' move. Am I
understanding you correctly?

It gets back to the issues of standardization, delegation, and efficiency.

* If standardization (positive network effects) arises from a willingness to
give up control, is that an undemocratic good?

* If delegation (specialization of rule-making) is a more efficient way to
regulate society than direct consensus, is that an undemocratic good?

This is slightly afield, since I believe I am conceding my original point
(that the WTO is measurably less democratic), and now arguing your other
point (that this means it is bad).

Thanks for your insight. I'm actually not sure precisely what I believe on
this issue (though I have my suspicions :), and appreciate a good rhetorical

-- Ernie P.

Ernest N. Prabhakar, Ph.D.

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