Securities against Misrule: Juries, Assemblies, Elections

Securities against Misrule: Juries, Assemblies, Elections

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Jon Elster
Cambridge University Press, 5/24/2013
EAN 9781107649958, ISBN10: 1107649951

Paperback, 336 pages, 23.5 x 15.4 x 1.8 cm
Language: English

Elster proposes a normative theory of collective decision making, inspired by Jeremy Bentham but not including his utilitarian philosophy. The central proposal is that in designing democratic institutions one should reduce as much as possible the impact of self-interest, passion, prejudice and bias on the decision makers, and then let the chips fall where they may. There is no independently defined good outcome that institutions can track, nor is there any way of reliably selecting good decision makers. In addition to a long initial chapter that surveys theories of collective decision making, notably social choice theory, and a chapter expounding and discussing Bentham's views, historical chapters on the jury, constituent assemblies and electoral systems develop and illustrate the main ideas. This work draws on a welter of case studies and historical episodes, from Thucydides and Plutarch to the present. It is also grounded in psychology, behavioral economics and law.

1. The normative study of collective decision making
2. Ignorance, secrecy, and publicity in jury decision making
3. A dialogue with Bentham
4. The optimal design of constituent assemblies
5. Cross-voting
a study in failure
6. Conclusion.

“In this book Jon Elster, one of the world’s leading social scientists, addresses the age-old puzzle of collective decision making. Elster’s book is distinguished by its breadth and lucidity. It covers a remarkable variety of forms of collective decision making, forms found in different countries and different epochs, and analyzes them from a variety of social scientific perspectives. Elster’s discussion of the jury alone, in all its national and historical variety, is a signal contribution to the understanding of collective decision making.” – Richard A. Posner, Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

“Jon Elster’s book offers a comprehensive theory of institutional design applicable to assemblies, juries, and much else. The theory is simple yet powerful: in organizing these bodies, the aim should not be to promote the best decisions, but to remove obstacles to good decision making. Elster identifies such obstacles – self-interest, passion, prejudice, and bias – as well as the means for minimizing their impact. This masterful book will become a reference in any discussion of institutions.” – Bernard Manin, New York University and Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris)

“Elster revisits one of his favorite problems: How do we decide on how best to decide? Offering an eye-opening account of what Bentham had to say on the matter, the author moves back and forth between a rich assortment of cases and his skeptical generalizations, suggesting that the best we can hope to do is to prevent the worst. But even that is not certain. The bottom line of Elster’s elegant treatise of constitutional sociology is to warn against not just the decisional distortions of interest and passion, but also against those resulting from naiveté.” – Claus Offe, Hertie School of Governance

“The normative theory of collective decision making suffers from twin ills: excessive mathematical abstraction and excessive parochialism. To synthesize the virtues of both approaches while avoiding their vices, all within the covers of a single book, requires an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of decision-making institutions and also a wide-ranging grasp of the social sciences. A seemingly hopeless task, but not for Jon Elster. The book is a triumph; theoretical and yet vividly concrete throughout, it begins with a clear and simple theme and then layers subtlety upon subtlety. What emerges is an indispensable treatise on institutional design.” – Adrian Vermeule, Harvard Law School