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Representative Democracy as Defensible Epistocracy

  • DIMITRI LANDA (a1) and RYAN PEVNICK (a1)

Abstract

Epistocratic arrangements are widely rejected because there will be reasonable disagreement about which citizens count as epistemically superior and an epistemically superior subset of citizens may be biased in ways that undermine their ability to generate superior political outcomes. The upshot is supposed to be that systems of democratic government are preferable because they refuse to allow some citizens to rule over others. We show that this approach is doubly unsatisfactory: although representative democracy cannot be defended as a form of government that prevents some citizens from ruling over others, it can be defended as a special form of epistocracy. We demonstrate that well-designed representative democracies can, through treatment and selection mechanisms, bring forth an especially competent set of individuals to make public policy, even while circumventing the standard objections to epistocratic rule. This has implications for the justification of representative democracy and questions of institutional design.

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Corresponding author

*Dimitri Landa, Professor, Department of Politics, New York University, Dimitri.Landa@nyu.edu.
Ryan Pevnick, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, New York University, Ryan.Pevnick@nyu.edu.

Footnotes

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We are grateful to Bernard Manin for helpful comments. Additionally, participants in a seminar at the University of Virginia provided useful discussion of an earlier version. Finally, we appreciate the work of the journal’s reviewers, who helped us to improve the manuscript.

Footnotes

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