Lu Hong and Scott Page in their paper "Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers" asked the question:
"Can a functionally diverse group whose members have less ability outperform a group of people with high ability who may themselves be diverse?"
Or, put in another context, can direct democracy outperform a political elite?
They answer yes, but their conclusions are nuanced and aimed mainly at diversity in problem solving organisations rather than whole democracies.
"even if we were to accept the claim that IQ tests, Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, and college grades predict individual problem-solving ability, they may not be as important in determining a person's potential contribution as a problem solver as would be measures of how differently that person thinks."
Yet, it seems to me that our political elite are fairly homogenous and highly susceptible to group think in a way that the wider population aren't.
Hong and Page also comment on communication, understanding and learning:
".... Problem solvers with nearly identical perspectives but diverse heuristics should communicate with one another easily. But problem solvers with diverse perspectives may have trouble understanding solutions identified by other agents. Firms then may want to hire people with similar perspectives yet maintain a diversity of heuristics. In this way, the firm can exploit diversity while minimizing communication costs. Finally, our model also does not allow problem solvers to learn. Learning could be modeled as the acquisition of new perspectives and heuristics. Clearly, in a learning model, problem solvers would have incentives to acquire diverse perspectives and heuristics"
Interactive Democracy offers a structured way for any voter to contribute proposals and debate outcomes, helping to solve some of the communication problems highlighted by Hong and Page by categorising debating points as positive, negative and interesting, and ranking them by votes of approval or disapproval. But Hong and Page's final point is perhaps my favourite argument for Interactive Democracy: that debate is a type of education with its own merit, and there's every chance that populations will get better at doing it.
This post was inspired by this blog: