A Reason to Expect Republics to Perform Better than Absolute Monarchies in the Long-Term

post by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) · 2021-06-17T22:22:50.656Z · LW · GW · 15 comments

Reading Raemon's recent Shortform on why the long-term leadership succession of small groups often deteriorates [LW(p) · GW(p)] made me consider organizations which manage to successfully have several generations of competent leadership.

Reading through history, hereditary monarchies always seem to fall into a similar problem to what Raemon describes, with incompetent and (physically and mentally) weak monarchs being placed at the head of a nation, leading to a lot of problems. Republics, in contrast, almost always have competent leaders [1].

This makes life much better for the people in the republic, and may be in part responsible for the recent proliferation of republics (though it does raise the question of why that hasn't happened sooner. Maybe the robust safeguards implemented by the Founding Fathers of the USA in their constitution were a sufficiently non-obvious and important social technology required for republics to be viable on the world stage [2]).

A key difference between monarchies and republics is that each successive generation of leadership in a republic must win an intense competition to secure their position, unlike the heirs of a monarchy [3]. Not only this, but the competitions are usually held quite often (for example, every 4 years in Denmark, every 5 years in the UK [4]), which keeps the ⸤fact that the office is competitive⸥ in the public mind very frequently, making it hard for the office to become a de facto hereditary position (a problem that happens with all too high frequency). By holding a competition to fill the office, one ensures that, even if the leaders don't share the same vision as the original founder, they still have to be very competent to be appointed to the position of leadership [5].

 

Footnotes:

[1] One might disagree with goals of the leaders of republics, and they are too often appointed after their prime, when their health is declining [1a], but the leaders of republics are almost always very competent people.

(1a) - This (The fact that the leaders of republics are often elected when their health is in decline) makes me think it may be a good idea to have a constitutional maximum age, after which individuals cannot be elected to certain important offices, to ensure that only people who are in their prime (and hence likely sufficiently healthy) can lead the nation.

[2] - The existence of elective monarchies also is suggestive that the theory may be meaningful, but it again raises the question of why elective monarchies weren't more prominent. Maybe in practice elective monarchies were too likely to become effectively hereditary monarchies in all but name (c.f. the Hungarian kingdom and the Holy Roman Empire), that they didn't distinguish themselves enough to have a competitive advantage.

[3] - I contend that the usual way of appointing successors to small organizations (appointment by the previous leader) and to corporations (elected, but by a small body in a usually non-competitive fashion that is more similar to being appointed on a personal basis) is insufficiently competitive, and so is more similar to a hereditary monarchy than a republic.

[4] - Other frequencies for elections in successful republics include every 4 years in America (for the president), every 3 years in New Zealand, and every 5 years in South Korea.

[5] - One might look at, for example, the Congress of the United States, and question if they really are competent. Now, there is a good bit of competence in that body, but it does indeed leave something to be desired. This is a symptom of the fact that the US uses first-past-the-post (plurality voting) to elect its representatives, which leads to a two-party system, which is inherently substantially less competitive than a multi-party system, such as is encouraged by (mixed-member) proportional representation and approval voting. This happens for the same reason why a duopoly (an industry with only two major players) results in prices almost as high as are seen in a monopoly - you don't need to be good to win in a duopoly, you only need to be better than the other guy.

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comment by romeostevensit · 2021-06-18T01:55:55.502Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be curious about data on hereditary vs non hereditary monarchies if anyone knows any pointers

comment by Pattern · 2021-06-18T21:24:04.316Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Republics might not always best be modeled as 'elective monarchies'.

[2] - The existence of elective monarchies also is suggestive that the theory may be meaningful, but it again raises the question of why elective monarchies weren't more prominent. Maybe in practice elective monarchies were too likely to become effectively hereditary monarchies in all but name (c.f. the Hungarian kingdom and the Holy Roman Empire), that they didn't distinguish themselves enough to have a competitive advantage.

As suggested by this. I've heard about Parliamentary systems being different as well, though I don't know how common different 'forms of republic are'. (Especially if you consider that a government can have multiple structures which are run and work (together in) different ways.)

Replies from: mikkel-wilson
comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) · 2021-06-19T00:05:44.341Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure what you're trying to say here? Republics (by which I meant all indirect democracies, regardless of whether it's nominally a monarchy, including both parliamentary and presidential systems) and elective monarchies are two different classes of government- a republic's leader is elected by a group that is a large portion of the populace of the nation for relatively short terms with limited powers, while the leaders of an elective monarchy are elected (usually) for life with far-reaching powers by an aristocratic electorate that is a small portion of the population.

What I was saying is that, in principle, both elective monarchies and republics have a competitive selection process, but perhaps in practice the competitive nature of elective monarchies often gets relegated in favor of a dynamic that makes the monarchy de facto hereditary

Replies from: Pattern
comment by Pattern · 2021-06-19T16:46:40.917Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
two different classes of government- a republic's leader is elected by a group that is a large portion of the populace of the nation for relatively short terms with limited powers, while the leaders of an elective monarchy are elected (usually) for life with far-reaching powers by an aristocratic electorate that is a small portion of the population.

I haven't heard much about elective monarchies, that cleared things up.

comment by ChristianKl · 2021-06-17T23:17:55.210Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think your post assumes to much about monarch and the leaders of republics without looking at any empirical data about them.

Replies from: mikkel-wilson
comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) · 2021-06-17T23:29:35.652Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can confirm I have not tested my theory against data, but I have enough knowledge of history to be comfortable observing the pattern I describe here. Do you have specific examples that contradict my theory? In particular, examples of (non-elective) monarchies that have consistently had high-quality leaders over several generations, or republics (especially republics that don't use FPTP) that consistently have low-quality leaders would help debunk my theory.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2021-06-18T10:39:45.571Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Many monarchies survived very long (and longer then our modern Republics are around) with suggests that they manage to be coverned well enough to be politically stable over long periods of time. 

If we look at the British or Danish queen both engage in international politics and have a higher approval rating then their respective elected leaders. If they are less competent then the elected leaders why is their approval rate so high?

Replies from: TAG, rhollerith_dot_com, mikkel-wilson
comment by TAG · 2021-06-18T11:58:26.734Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. Their subjects are taught to worship them.

  2. They don't do anything,so they don't do anything wrong.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2021-06-18T19:48:05.291Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

International relations is not the main criterion on which elected officials' approval ratings depend.

comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) · 2021-06-19T22:56:16.099Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most nominal monarchies that are around today (in the post-American-Constitution era) are only still around because they became effectively republics (I know, the usual definition of 'republic' is a country that doesn't have a monarch, but in this post I was, confusingly, and as I mentioned elsewhere, using an implicit definition of 'republic' as "indirect democracy")

comment by Phil Scadden (phil-scadden) · 2021-06-23T04:48:30.229Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you should be looking more at question of dilution of power. Concentrating power is hands of a one or handful of people makes the system very dependent on the person holding that power. I would propose republics/nominal monarchies with head of state only having reserve powers, are more stable and produce better government than hands-on head-of-states. 

Just because a country has been under a monarchy for a very long time, doesnt mean that it was "stable". Look for "dynastic change" in the line. Often rather violent, but one way to get rid of a bad/unpopular ruler. Republics makes it easier to dump the head of state without violence so that is improvement.

I value the diluted power of parlimentary democracies, with the select committees and multiple reading of bills, but I would struggle to find empirical data to support that. How do you define "politcal performance" or "leader competence" in measurable ways? How do you evaluate the quality of political decisions? How a country performs economically or militarily is dependent of a myriad of factors (including luck), many outside the control of the government. Governments will claim credit for whatever went well, and drop shoulders on anything that didnt - how do you objectivity assess those claims?  Eg how much of the USA current position due to good governance or how much due to being a resource-rich country colonised at time when industrial revolution was able to exploit those resources?

comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) · 2021-06-19T02:38:20.370Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

An idea that builds on the ideas presented in this post: While I am personally in favor of democracy for reasons that I would describe as pertaining to "The Soothhood" (roughly, ethics), the argument I lay out does not require a democratic, or even election-based, mechanism to hold. One may wonder if there are other forms of governance that take advantage of this effect.

My mind wonders about a government where only people who reach a certain skill level at Go or Chess can serve in the government, perhaps with a particular nerfed version of AlphaGo that runs on particular hardware, that is calibrated to be equivalent to a certain dan level, which someone must be able to beat in a standardized test match in order to hold office.

I imagine even a cross between a meritocracy and a republic, where a person must reach a certain level of skill at Go in order to be a candidate in a democratic election. Perhaps one must be at least 1st dan to stand for election to the lower house, at least 5th dan to stand for the upper house or to serve as a minister in the executive, and at least 9th dan to be a candidate for the head of government.

comment by tskcehc · 2021-06-18T00:01:59.373Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seem to be disregarding that the majority of the 'happiest'  and longest-standing countries in the world today are monarchies, including UK and Denmark

Replies from: mikkel-wilson
comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) · 2021-06-18T00:47:24.494Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In this post, I was implicitly using definitions of republic and monarchy such that the UK and Denmark are republics, not monarchies, namely that a 'republic' is an indirect democracy led by an elected leader, while a monarchy is a country that is (actually, not nominally) led by person who inherits their office. The distinction I am making is an important distinction to be able to make, in particular there isn't a better word than "monarchy" to describe what I meant thereby, but "indirect democracy" might have been a better phrase than republic, although it makes the phrasing flow worse.

You are correct that the usual definition of the terms which I used would classify the UK and DK as monarchies, not republics, and it was bad form on my part to use non-standard definitions without explicitly stating what I meant. Sorry for the linguistic mix-up, I will edit my post accordingly when I have a chance to.

Replies from: Pattern
comment by Pattern · 2021-06-18T21:26:21.795Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've seen republic defined this way before - 'there is not a king/monarch'. (With monarchy assumed to run on the usual hereditary mechanism.)