Two Views of Democracy
The incentive version relies on the fact that politicians want to get elected and reelected. To get elected, they have to support the policies that a majority of the voters want; to get elected again, they have to actually work for those policies. Hence, it is argued, it is in the interest of politicians to do what the voters want them to do, whatever the private beliefs and objectives --other than election--of the politicians may be.
The selection model relies on the facts that people differ and that we have some ability to tell what other people are like. Some candidates are good people who want good things--the welfare of their fellow citizens, justice, peace, ... . If the voters can identify the good politicians, they can elect them and rely on the benevolent desires of those politicians to motivate them to do the right thing. Some candidates are not only good people but smart and hard working, hence likely to take the acts that produce those good things.
The two models have different requirements and different implications. For the incentive model to work, voters must know both what elected politicians are doing and what they ought to be doing, in order to vote for the ones who do what they ought to. In a large society with a government doing many things, knowing either what it should do or what a particular politician is doing is hard, which is one reason that model might not work very well. It's a common observation that when a politician wants to buy the votes of farmers by pushing up the price of food, he explains that he is doing it to guarantee American consumers a reliable food supply. When a politician wants to buy the votes of auto workers and GM stockholders by using a tariff to drive up the price of automobiles, he explains that he is doing it for the health of the American economy.
The selection model avoids that set of problems. You don't have to know what the government should be doing; you have delegated the job of figuring that out to someone else. Nor do you have to know what your politician is doing. The selection model even works for issues of national security where the voters know that they don't know what the government is doing--the Manhattan Project, say. On the other hand, it depends on voters being able to accurately evaluate the personalities of people they have met for at most a few seconds, based on what those people say about themselves and what others say about them. It thus leads to campaigns of charisma, bogus virtue, and the like.
My point here is not to judge which model is more realistic or which works less badly. It's merely to point out that people who believe in democracy are likely to have one of those two models in mind and are often unclear about which it is or what the differences between them are.
Labels: democracy voting politicians