One of the great advances in human history has been the discovery of our collective ignorance (link no longer available). We now understand that there is so much that we do know about the world and need to discover. Unfortunately, many politicians and policymakers miss out on this truth. Much of our politics consists of ideologues and policy makers making claims about the wonderful effects of their own policies and the bad effects of their opponents’ proposals. Our politics would improve if we held these entrepreneurs more responsible for their claims.
Philip Tetlock and Peter Scoblic recently wrote a fine New York Times oped arguing that policymakers should be asked to provide specific predictions about what their policies will accomplish—specific enough to assess whether their objectives have been achieved. Tetlock and Scoblic show that when they have done this experimentally both conservatives and liberals modify their predictions to make them more modest and realistic. This kind of tournament of predictions makes experts across the ideological spectrum more responsible, because they will be held accountable. Most people do not want to look foolish.
Their proposal could would benefit from one additional component. As I argue in Accelerating Democracy, we should put up these measurable policy predictions on information markets where people can bet on whether they will occur.
The story of this term has been a united block of the left on the Court, where Justices on the right were fractured. I have suggested that one important reason is that justices on the right take jurisprudence seriously, whereas the left are ideologically motivated. More evidence for this proposition comes from the observation that even when the right won, their justices often wrote separately. It is reason not result that counts for them. And this is as it should be: insistence on right reason affirms the rule of law. A focus on results is just about political power.
In contrast, when the left was in the majority, they tended to join opinions as one, even when they were as doctrinally unpersuasive as Justice Anthony Kennedy’s in the same-sex marriage case. The senior justice on the left boasted she kept her voters in line. Indeed the real division on the Court is between legalists of various kinds and ideologues of one kind.
What is to be done? Above, all win a Presidential election. Ultimately if we are to preserve the Constitution as a rule of law, we must elect someone committed to justices who will interpret it as other law, not a vessel for advancing the left’s ideology. Yet the leading candidate of one of our parties has already said that what matters to her is not jurisprudence but a result—the overruling of Citizens United, a case that perhaps not coincidentally permitted citizens to use a corporate form to distribute a film that criticized this candidate herself.
But what can be done in the interim by the justices themselves?