I’m reading The Calculus of Consent, one of my favorite xmas gifts this year. Quoting a footnote

“… we can drag in the ‘social whole,’ and there we are out of the field of social science. Usually we shall find, on testing the ‘social whole,’ that it is merely the group tendency or demand represented by the man who talks of it, erected into the pretense of a universal demand of the society; and thereby, indeed, giving the lie to its own claims; for if it were such a comprehensive all-embracing interest of the society as a whole it would be an established condition, and not at all a subject of discussion by the man who calls it an interest of society as a whole….” –Arthur Bentley, The Process of Government


4 Responses to “True”

  1. Jon Says:

    Yeah, that sounds correct. When I talk about the public will I’m not pretending that this is in everyone’s best interest. So take public option health care as an example. Polls show that it’s supported by about 70% of the population. But there would be losers. Stock holders for insurance companies for instance. Perhaps the super wealthy can charge to the front of the line, whereas in a public choice system they may have to get in line. So this is not necessarily an improvement for everybody. Just the majority.

  2. darf ferrara Says:

    I don’t think that you understand the quote. He is not talking about the effects of a given policy, but rather the mindset of the person that makes a claim about what some given group prefers. In other words, you claiming (essentially) that Americans prefer a public option, you are revealing that you prefer the public option, and very little else.

  3. Jon Says:

    When he says “comprehensive, all embracing” I’m taking him to be saying that EXTREMELY popular positions that supposedly satisfy everyone would in fact be implemented if they were so great. The fact that they aren’t shows that this claim that the positions are so great and popular is false.

    Do you think public preferences are unknowable?

  4. darfferrara Says:

    I would claim that there is no such thing as a “public preference”, there are simply individual preferences. I don’t doubt that it is possible to get some idea about average preferences over a limited set of options by using survey data, and preferences are also revealed by actions. If you are using public preference to mean majority preference or plurality preference, that may be a convenient shorthand in some cases, but without unanimity I don’t think “public preference” is the right language.

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