Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Murli Manohar Joshi & Amartya Sen's parable of the flute

' Social choice theory undermines the idea that there are viable democratic procedures for aggregating the preferences of voters, which makes a niti-oriented approach to democracy problematic, but the value of government by discussion is readily understandable in terms of nyaya—the kind of society that it produces. The final section of the book defends the proposition that nowadays a concern for justice must have a global dimension.'

Is this true? The short answer is no. Social Choice theory shows that public discussion- i.e. talking heads on T.V representing different attention-span-of-a-Goldfish think-tanks- will militate for preference falsification, the manufacture of wedge issues, moral panics and Credentialist availability cascades. Neither Social Choice theory nor ideas from Mathematical Politics show that, for large enough populations, with sufficient but not too much preference diversity, Democratic elections aren't vastly better than the endless concurrency deadlock of pi-jaw represented by Sen-tentious 'public intellectuals'.
The niti represented by a clean and efficient Election Commission trumps having senile Professors on tap to talk nyaya nonsense.
Take Sen's parable of the flute-  'Ann, Bob, and Carla, are quarreling over the fate of a flute (p. 12). Ann claims the flute on the basis that she is the only one who can play it, Bob claims it because he has no other toys to play with whereas the others do, and Carla's claim is based on the fact that she made the flute in the first place. All of these statements are taken to be true, and Sen's point is that one can produce intuitively plausible reasons for giving the flute to any one of the children. Utilitarians—and for different reasons, Aristotelians—would favor Ann, 10 egalitarians Bob, libertarians Carla, but the real point here is that there is no reason to assume, as Rawls and most of his followers do, that we have to decide which of these answers is the right one. Sometimes there is simply a plurality of "right'' answers. The idea that there is only one kind of just society—a liberal society defined by principles set out in Rawls's model—and that all others represent a falling off from this ideal does not seem a plausible response to the pluralism that undoubtedly exists in the modern world.'

The problem here is that Sen has created an illegitimate entitlement- viz. the power to dispose of the flute- and vested it in us. Assuming this entitlement is permanent, we can easily show that a solution exists, involving the redistribution of the flute at a speed with a lower bound based on synaptic responses and an upper bound based on the speed of light, such that all the various types of Ethical theories are satisfied and the children expire of their wounds in  the shortest possible time.

Perhaps this is the true meaning of the verb murli as in Rahul baba's pet phrase- murli Manohar Joshi, murli him but good.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Contracts don't have to be fully specifiable linguistically and it may be that Contractarian theory is only useful in an apophatic way- explaining why something linguistically non specifiable is at the essence of every contract. Perhaps, Sen should be understood in that context.