Voter Ignorance: Philippine Democracy in the Dumpster
Filipinos were in a hurry to get Gloria out, so much so that any schmoe who can convince the greatest number of ignorant voters that he is against Gloria more than anyone else, gets the job. That was quite efficient – a quick decision, boils down to gut, simple decision to make – yeah, right. But was that effective? Toink!
“If pigs could vote,
the man with the slop bucket
would be elected swineherd every time,
no matter how much slaughtering
he did on the side.”
— Orson Scott Card (1951- ) Novelist
The vote counting was efficient but the election results were anything but effective.
What Pinoys keep on missing is this – Long-term prosperity is not derived from the efficiency of a fundamentally destructive system, but on the effectiveness of processes designed to be healthy and renewable in the first place. In choosing Aquino, Filipinos choose to have an obviously inept candidate in charge of a flawed system. Guess what – do not expect superior results from an inferior system much less led by an inept and spineless individual.
Sure, we need to address Hello Garci, NBN, and the fertilizer fund scam. However, we have yet to address the root causes why these sort of scams happen in the first place. And that my dear Watson does not have anything to do with administrative measures. You see, those administrative measures don’t mean much when you have a collusion between oligopolies. Noynoy Aquino can set up all the commissions and committees and the administrative measures that he wants – but those will not mean much when you still have the same domestic players monopolizing the economy because the policy environment keeps fair foreign competition out.
The Filipino voter decides to keep the policy regime that keeps utility bills high, utility services lousy, wages low – and then blames the foreign imperialist for the low wages being paid by the local oligarch who benefits from the absence of the foreign competition. That is one slick trick which the Pinoy zombies swallowed hook, line, and sinker. So much so that Filipinos are efficiently fighting to keep out the foreign companies that provide better pay and better benefits. Is the Filipino being effective in this case? Hell no, he ain’t – but he sure is a world class doofus to fall for the imperialist bogeyman. Da Pinoy efficiently kept the foreign investor out, and effectively shut himself out of better opportunities. If that’s not a moron – then brace yourselves for the next six years of pervasive moronism.
If you want to look further – just look at the Philippine Senate. Based on its composition, the Philippine Senate should be renamed to Wowowee or Eat Bulaga. The recent additions just made PT&Barnum oddities look like child’s play. Now, if one of the lady senators grew a moustache, heck the Senate would have its own bearded lady and knife and flame eater.
Without any new players and new rules – the game is not about to change.
The deeper issue with ZTE/NBN is that the economic interests of the oligarchs who control the telecomm industry were threatened. China was offering a soft loan. Doing an NBN via PLDT/Globe is going to cost much higher. If PLDT/globe cannot get the NBN contract – no one else will.
I just shudder at how much PLDT would bill the Philippines for a similar program. Just you watch – ZTE/NBN will become resurrected as a new project albeit implemented by PLDT and Globe.
And yeah, and the Philippines instead of getting a soft loan – PLDT/globe will get a soft loan from an overseas venture fund, pad on a margin, undertake the project, distribute the loot to the domestic oligarchs, squelch the news (owned by another oligarch). Everybody happy.
Macapagal Arroyo is just a scapegoat to keep the track away from the sustained plunder committed by the oligarchs.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Last Jan. 15, 2009 the World Bank said it barred seven companies and an individual from new projects after an internal investigation showed “suspicions of collusion” in the bidding for road-development work in the Philippines. Collusion is part of doing business in the Philippines. The oligarchy not only gets away with murder, it also gets away with collusion – the primary method for accumulating wealth.
In the study of economics and market competition, collusion takes place within an industry when rival companies cooperate for their mutual benefit. Collusion most often takes place within the market structure of oligopoly, where the decision of a few firms to collude can significantly impact the market as a whole. Cartels are a special case of explicit collusion. Collusion which is not overt, on the other hand, is known as tacit collusion.
According to neoclassical price-determination theory and game theory, the independence of suppliers forces prices to their minimum, increasing efficiency and decreasing the price determining ability of each individual firm. However, if firms collude to increase prices loss of sales is minimized as consumers lack alternative choices at lower prices. This benefits the colluding firms at the cost of efficiency to society.
One variation of this traditional theory is the theory of kinked demand. Firms face a kinked demand curve if, when one firm decreases its price, other firms will follow suit in order to maintain sales, and when one firm increases its price, its rivals are unlikely to follow, as they would lose the sales’ gains that they would otherwise get by holding prices at the previous level. Kinked demand potentially fosters supra-competitive prices because any one firm would receive a reduced benefit from cutting price, as opposed to the benefits accruing under neoclassical theory and certain game theoretic models such as Bertrand competition.
There can be significant barriers to collusion. In any given industry, these may include:
* The number of firms: As the number of firms in an industry increases, it is more difficult to successfully organize, collude and communicate.
The World Bank bars firms for collusion, the Philippines does not. The downfall of one oligarch, Arroyo, is needed so that the rest of the oligarchy may continue with the unabated plunder.
Aquino’s administrative measures will reduce petty corruption but it will not be able to address systemic corruption. On the contrary, after removing the petty thieves guess who are left? Right you are, just the big boys.
Noynoy and his merry band will “clean” the government and remove administrative roadblocks so that his oligarch pals can clean up the economy well and good. In the next 6 years, watch the net worth of Aquino’s pals grow while the gap between rich and poor increases disproportionately.
I will be glad to be proven wrong.
In the Absence of New Players, New Attitudes Can Be A Game Changer – Addressing Political Ignorance
The recent Philippine elections is an example of how an ignorant public is manipulated by the elite to endorse gross policy error. In an article entitled “How political ignorance threatens democracy”, Ilya Somin points out that:
AN INFORMED ELECTORATE is a prerequisite for democracy. If voters do not know what is going on in politics, they cannot rationally exercise control over government policy. Inadequate voter knowledge has two major negative implications. First, it prevents democratic government from reflecting the will of the people in any meaningful sense, undercutting the “intrinsicist” defense of democracy as a government that is representative of the voluntary decisions of the populace. Likewise, voter ignorance imperils the instrumental case for democracy as a regime that serves the interests of the majority, since ignorance potentially opens the door for elite manipulation of the public and gross policy errors caused by politicians’ need to appeal to an ignorant electorate in order to win office.
*** a University of Michigan Survey Research Center team defined three minimal knowledge requirements for voters to be able to exert meaningful influence over a given issue: They must be aware of its existence, have a position on it, and know the positions of the opposing candidates.
However those three conditions alone are insufficient for meaningful control over public policy. In addition, informed voters must have substantial understanding about which of the available policy are most likely to advance their goals. Unless the value voters attach to policy in a given area is purely a matter of symbolic “position taking,” they cannot use the ballot to force elected officials to solve their interests without knowing the likely effects of alternative policy options.
Three aspects of voter ignorance deserve particular attention. First, voters are ignorant not just about specific policy issues, but about the basic structure of government and how it operates. Majorities are ignorant of such basic aspects of the U.S. political system as who has the power to declare war, the respective functions of the three branches of government, and who controls monetary policy. That suggests not only that voters cannot choose among specific competing policy programs, but that they cannot easily assign credit or blame for highly visible policy outcomes to the right officeholders. The long noted tendency of voters automatically to attribute “good times” to incumbents is one reflection of this problem.
The second salient aspect of voter ignorance is that most voters lack an “ideological'” view of politics capable of integrating multiple issues into a single analytical framework derived from a few basic principles; ordinary voters rarely exhibit the kind of ideologically consistent stance on issues that is evident in surveys of political elites.
Generally ignored, but at least equally important, is the comparative inability of non-ideological voters to spot interconnections among issues. An ideologically aware electorate would not be oblivious to the contradiction between seeking a reduction in government power and an expansion of nearly all its major programs.
A relatively stable level of extreme ignorance has persisted even in the face of massive increases in educational attainment and an unprecedented expansion in the quantity and quality of information available to the general public at little cost. This striking failure throws doubt on the expectation of political theorists that increased availability of formal education can create the informed electorate that the democratic ideal requires.
Knowledge of different aspects of public policy is highly intercorrelated. Even where significant differences in knowledge between groups do exist, they do not necessarily demonstrate that the knowledge of the better-informed group is adequate for informed voting; they show only that members of that group know more about an issue than does the test of the electorate. The difference is crucial, because most studies showing that issue publics are better informed about a particular issue than the rest of the electorate rely on surveys tapping only very basic knowledge.
Many programs justified rhetorically by the need to aid the poor or provide some public good for the population at large actually serve well-positioned “distributional coalitions” at the expense of the very people whom the policies are supposedly intended to help. It is commonplace among specialists that well-intentioned interventions such as minimum wages or drug prohibition often produce side effects that may be worse than the original problem.
The paucity of research on the control of modem-sized governments by well-informed, ideologically sophisticated voters prevents any definitive conclusions in this area. In part, the lack of research of this type is itself a consequence of the growth of government, since that growth has greatly increased the proportion of the electorate that is not well informed and has diminished the electoral significance of those few who are.
A government of strictly limited powers might reduce the problem of public ignorance by reducing the number of issues to be decided by government to a level that voters would find more manageable. Because of the very limited powers of the national government. 19th-century national politics revolved around a small set of relatively narrowly defined issues, including the spread of slavery, disposition of newly acquired western lands, tariffs, Federal support for infrastructure spending, banking, and, on a few occasions, warfare with foreign powers. With the exception of obvious overlaps between issues (e.g., slavery and western lands), rarely were more than two or three of these matters in contention at any given time.
Democracies Gone Wrong: The Myth of the Rational Voter
Winston Churchill once said that the greatest argument against democracy was the average voter.
In 1748, Montesquieu wrote “The tyranny of a principal in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.”
James Madison later on followed with “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. ”
In 1963 JFK quipt, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”
Despite all these admonitions, there are more ignorant voters today than before. There are many reasons for this, but the primary reason being that the cost of acquiring political knowledge is high or there is no perceived incentive to acquire the knowledge to make an informed choice because a single vote will not make much difference anyway. For short, the anemic reasoning is not a function of a lack of intelligence; rather, citizens lack a strong, pressing incentive to do the mental heavy lifting necessary to grasp political issues.
The thing is – when there are a lot of individuals with colds and fever – you have an epidemic and keeping ahead of the curve means not being ignorant because lack of knowledge can cost dearly.
A lot of the Aquino and Estrada supporters probably have reached that point where, there are willing to believe that a nation can still enjoy a type of democracy even if many or most people know little or nothing of government policy, they can have an
ennobled democracy … in which the people gives a few men the right to command, but on the other hand reserves the right to criticize these few men on general lines. This right is exercised in the elections.
If this statement captures the reality for Aquino and Estrada’s supporters, I find that quite disturbing – acceptance of a concept of democracy espoused by Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda.