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Democracy : sickness and cure : why liberal democracies often under-provide public goods and how public deliberation may correct this


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Smith, PE 2011 , 'Democracy : sickness and cure : why liberal democracies often under-provide public goods and how public deliberation may correct this', Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The aim of the research undertaken here was to devise a new form of democratic government that, according to theoretical criteria, is likely to perform better than existing and currently proposed types of liberal democratic government. The task is commenced by inspecting structural elements common to these governments for liability to cause defective performance. A ‘forward mapping’ of causal chains was made from these elements and this indicated three types of behaviour will be produced that would cause some neglect of public goods. These behaviours are: confusion about who directs the development of public policy; excessive competition between political representatives; and excessive compromising of the political influence of informed public opinion by uninformed public opinion. This ‘triple dysfunction’ hypothesis is tested with two ‘backward mapping’ exercises that start from cases of under-provision of public goods to look for causal factors in government behaviours or structures. These cases largely concern the management of natural resources and as those tests give some support for the hypothesis, more tests are carried out by inspecting whether it appears to explain democratic failure in another four issues that affect the use of natural resources: population size, global warming, unemployment and growth of wants for scarce natural capital. The hypothesis is also supported by these tests and in the case of growth of wants this support is given by a fairly detailed analysis of how the growth is driven by the irresponsibility predicted by triple dysfunction.
As this hypothesis shows some reliability it is then used to design an institution for improving democratic government. This is the ‘People’s Forum’. It is intended to counter triple dysfunction by assisting citizens to develop strategic public policy and to pressure politicians to enact this. The Forum is compared with three other proposals for reforming democratic government that have been put forward in the literature. This comparison employs an analytical framework devised for the purpose and it indicates that in practice, the Forum is likely to outperform these other designs. That conclusion may be systematically questioned by using the framework: by entering into it, revised ratings of the various capabilities of each design; by revising the framework itself; or by or by doing both together. Performance indicators are suggested for monitoring the progress of any trials that are made of the Forum. An argument is made as to why any trial of the Forum needs to be carried out over a whole polity and not as small scale experiments. It is suggested that some democratic innovations of narrow focus could assist the Forum while it also assists them.
This study offers four contributions to political science: a hypothesis of failure by liberal democratic government; an institution to correct this failure; a framework for comparing such reforms; and a method for designing institutional innovations. The study also contributes to ecological economics by explaining that liberal democracies are likely to chronically over allocate natural capital from the ecological system to the economic subsystem.

Item Type: Thesis - Research Master
Authors/Creators:Smith, PE
Keywords: deliberative democracy, institutional design, public goods, sustainability, government failure
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Copyright © 2011 the author

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