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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Deliberation and Social Science

This will be my last post. Thanks again to the Prawfs, especially Dan Markel, and to all those who graciously and generously discussed the ideas of my new book.

Just a final point of clarification. Some commentators in this blog have challenged our claim (my co-author is Guido Pincione, a brilliant Argentine philosopher) that political deliberation fails because it overlooks reliable social science. These critics have suggested that social science is not reliable. But if this is true, those who advance political positions in deliberation are knowingly deceiving their audiences. For in that case a defender of the minimum wage (to continue with that example) should say "I support the minimum wage because I want to help the poor, but I don't have the slightest idea whether the minimum wage will do that." That most people who support the MW in the political arena perpetrate discourse failure --that is, that that their reasons for supporting the MW are not truth-sensitive-- is shown by the fact that they conceal their supposed belief in the unreliability of social science, since if they didn't, their own view wouldn't make sense and, most important, they would fail to gain adepts. They are not epistemic skeptics; on the contrary, their statement pressuposes an economic theory according to which the MW does not produce significant unemployment.

Now suppose that the effects of the MW on employment are controversial, according to the most reliable literature on the subject. In that case, the supporter of the MW should acknowledge that. She should say "I support the MW, but I must warn you that, while the issue is controversial, it is just possible that the MW will cause unemployment." That supporters of the MW virtually never say this reinforces our suspicion that we are in the presence of discourse failure (that is, that the defense of the MW can be traced to truth-insensitive processes such as rational ignorance or posturing.)

And again, our view is not that the public is stupid. 

Take tax cuts. We all like to display our progressive credentials by blasting Bush's tax cuts with  clichés such as "they are giveaways to the rich". But have we done a conscientious study on the effects of these tax cuts on economic growth or on the poor? Of course not. As we all know, tax economics is  particularly complex. In many instances, lowering taxes stimulates the economy; in other instances, it doesn't. I don't have the slightest idea (and I am too lazy to find out) whether the Bush tax cuts will help or hurt the economy or the poor. And if I may say so, I doubt that many of the readers of this blog have undertaken the study that is needed to overcome rational ignorance before pronouncing on the wisdom of the tax cuts. And we are law professors!

Again, thanks to all. I look forward to discussing ideas in this excellent forum.

Posted by fteson on July 26, 2006 at 05:05 PM in Fernando Teson | Permalink


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Fernando: Did you ever address my question about what the alternatives are, and how a non-deliberative system can overcome the negative effects of this (alleged) rational ignorance better than a deliberative one might?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jul 26, 2006 6:13:44 PM

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