Tuesday 4 November 2008

US election

I can't have a blog of any sort and not say something about the election.

An election is, of course, about information. David Runciman reviewed the book Free Riding by Richard Tuck in the London Review of Books on 9th October. The book - and Runciman - was addressing the problem of why you should vote, since your individual vote will never - realistically - make a difference to the outcome. (When was an election ever won by 1 vote?) And more generally, the problem of the motivation for collective action - why shouldn't you get a 'free ride'?

There isn't a simple answer. But, I think a key point from the article is that the idea that people will not act collectively is a relatively modern phenomenon.
Contemporary economists and political scientists often take it for granted that anyone who views human beings as essentially self-interested creatures will inevitably conclude that groups are vulnerable to the defection of individual members who see that they can free ride off the contributions of others. But Tuck shows that before the 20th century philosophers who saw human behaviour in self-interested terms did not conclude this at all. Instead, they took it for granted that individuals will have good reason to co-operate in most circumstances, because it is obvious that the benefits of the group for the individual depend on the contribution of the individual to the group.
My emphasis, because it is another 'assumption about truth'. It is not seen as ideology: it is 'taken from granted'. Mind you, I don't view human beings as essentially self-interested anyway.

Anyway, back to the election. For me, it is as much - more - about the 'message' sent by whoever is elected as it is about the person. Although everything I read puts Obama streets ahead of McCain for me, still Obama is not exactly Gandhi or Martin Luther King. He's not even a European-style democrat. But selecting a black man as president says something important about America, if it happens. That matters in itself - and is an information issue.

1 comment:

DaveoftheNewCity said...

Now he's elected... my alter-ego has a comment!