They are lighting their Arrow’s theorem
October 24, 2016 § 72 Comments
Critics of democracy sometimes point to Arrow’s Theorem as demonstration that it is rationally impossible in principle for any kind of democratic process to produce good political results. That isn’t precisely correct: what Arrow’s theorem demonstrates isn’t that democracy cannot produce good results. What it demonstrates is that democracy cannot produce results that anybody wants: Arrow’s theorem pertains to the achievement and ranking of preferences, not the achievement and ranking of objective goods.
One of the superficial objections that comes up from time to time is that in our elections we do not rank and choose policies: we rank and choose representatives. But it does not follow that therefore Arrow’s theorem does not apply. What follows is that no democratic process can successfully select representatives that we prefer from the available choices.
Reality seems to agree with Arrow’s theorem, if you observe the representatives we actually get. Whether or not some technical objections to the application of Arrow’s theorem obtain here and there, the overwhelming empirical confirmation is difficult to deny.