The psychological effects of competitive selection vs. selection by luck

One hardly needs to rely on psychological mechanisms when asserting that electoral elites can be expected to be self-serving. On the contrary, it is claims that electoral elites would not be self-serving that need to be well-justified, since it is conventional wisdom, that is usually completely uncontroversial, that any group of people is by its nature self-serving – i.e., using whatever power is in its possession to promote group objectives. Nothing makes more sense than for a political elite – electoral or otherwise – to use its privileged position to promote its interests, at the expense of those less privileged if need be.

It is sometimes asserted that this natural tendency toward self-serving behavior is a problem for allotted decision-makers as well. Those allotted decision-makers, it is claimed, having found themselves in a position of power will then use this power to promote their group interests – again, at the expense of the non-allotted if need be. This argument, however, ignores the fact that the situation of the allotted and the situation of the elected (or of the elite of any other political system) is different in very important ways.

The main and most important difference between the allotted and decision makers in other systems is, of course, that the allotted have been in their very recent past “normal” citizens. They thus have a world view that is not particular to a political elite. It is this world view that determines what is perceived as “group interests”. A world view is not something that changes rapidly and thus, while changes can slowly occur over their term of service, the allotted would be motivated by a world view that is typical of the average citizen or similar to it. To the extent this typical world view is publicly minded, so would be the public policy pursued by the decision makers. (In this sense allotted government – unlike elected government – is the government that a society deserves.)

Another difference is psychological. Decision makers in electoralist and other oligarchical systems tend to see themselves as deserving their privileged position, desert that justifies their decisions, even if they are self-serving. Those who are allotted to a position of power are much less likely to come to perceive themselves as deserving power, and would thus be less likely to perceive self-serving decisions as justifiable. This common-sense psychological theory finds support in experiments mentioned in the video posted at the top.

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