Posted by: Dirk | July 20, 2009

The Big Sort

Some years ago I prepared a paper on European social policy. Should we europeanize it, or leave it national? One of the main arguments to leave it like it is I based on a paper by Charles Tiebout. There would be different combinations of public goods and tax rates, and people would sort themselves into what they thought were optimal places. After writing the paper, I wondered whether this process would lead to more hmogeneity among groups. Then I forgot all about it.

However, last week I stumbled over an article by Andrea Batista Schlesinger that deals with that question. Here is an excerpt:

Bishop argues that our country has become increasingly segregated by ideology. Americans are moving to towns and cities to live with people like themselves, who believe similar things. We are clustering “in communities of sameness, among people with similar ways of life, beliefs, and, in the end, politics.” One way to see this trend in action is to look at our elections.

This has consequences:

“For the vast majority of people’s time,” she said, “they are spending their lives and experiences in structures and processes that are not carefully designed to help them inquire and think and discuss; they are sitting in structures and processes that are intentionally designed to get them to think in a way that someone wants them to think.”

Perhaps the problem is that we ask too little of ourselves in our democracy today. If we knew that it was up to us to ask the questions that would determine the quality of our lives, if we were given actual assignments to improve our communities (beyond voting every four years), maybe then we would view differently our responsibilities as citizens. Maybe then we would willingly undertake whatever questioning it took to get to consensus, rather than focusing on finding the perfect posture from which to hold our ideological ground.

These are very interesting ideas, worthy of incorporating into a model. Anyone?

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