Congress and the Costs of Information: A Response to Jane Schacter
13 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2009 Last revised: 24 Feb 2015
Date Written: February 2, 2009
Suppose that the costs of obtaining and using political information fall dramatically, in large part because of new technologies such as the Internet. What effects might this have on political accountability and social welfare? This response to a paper by Jane Schacter offers some skeptical anti-conclusions. The fall in political information costs has multiple effects, cutting in different directions: some will increase accountability, however defined, while others will perversely reduce it, in part because political transparency has complex costs and benefits. We can predict the direction of the relevant effects but have little idea of their magnitudes. It follows that the consequences for social welfare are systematically ambiguous, given our current knowledge. Either the cheerleaders of Internet politics or the doomsayers might turn out to be correct, but their beliefs are unjustified, given the current state of the evidence and our current theories. The response also briefly considers speculative possibilities for new institutions of accountability, such as a virtual Congress, the expansion of direct democracy into the federal lawmaking process, and legislation drafted through the putative wisdom of crowds - wikis for legislation.
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