The Democracy Index: Why Our Election System Is Failing and How to Fix It

By Heather K. Gerken | Go to book overview

4

Is the Game Worth
the Candle?
In the prior chapters, I identified the many reasons to think that a Democracy Index could help us get from here to there in election reform. In this chapter I focus on the other side of the cost-benefit equation, examining the problems associated with ranking and strategies to mitigate them. Rankings create at least four kinds of problems:
People imbue them with an objectivity they don't deserve.
They can target the wrong people.
They may induce institutions to compete along the wrong dimensions.
They create an incentive to cheat.

The first two problems are the natural consequences of distillation. Ranking requires a trade-off between precision and accessibility, and there are costs associated with this trade-off no matter what choice you make. The second two issues are what you might call “happiness problems”; they occur if the Index starts to get traction, but they can undermine its success in the long term. Below, I discuss each in turn and offer my own take on how the costs and benefits play out.


THE TRADE-OFF BETWEEN PRECISION
AND ACCESSIBILITY

Rankings simplify. It is an inevitable consequence of trying “to provide one answer to a question when that answer depends on several bits of data,” in the words of Oxford's Stein Ringen.1 Distilling information can serve

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