Monday, January 16, 2006

maximax and maximin


What is political accountability? What is democracy, and what does it mean to be countermajoritarian? When is that bad?

Rebecca L. Brown--in "Accountability, liberty, and the constitution", 98 Colum L Rev 531--attacks the historical trend of thought that places majority rule at the heart of the constitution (Amar's pride and joy). This trend requires special justification for deviations such as judicial review. She admits that plebiscitary democracy (majority-rule voting on every bill) would be a utility-maximizing scheme if it were not captured by special interests. She says, instead, that our document established a tyranny-minimizing scheme.

So rather than trying to maximize something good (maximax), the constitution tries to minimize the maximum possible loss (minimax). Thus, political accountability is not majority rule, but the recurring chance to give elected officials the boot. (Note, however, the grand designs of the preamble...) This minimax is best expressed by the formula at right. The article also has the best bumper-sticker slogan: "Honk if you are tired of constitutional theory."

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