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The Federalist Diaries


How Little We Know, Part 4

The main focus in my life now is to open people's minds so no one will be so conceited that they think they have the total truth.  They should be eager to learn, to listen, to research and not to confine, to hurt, to kill, those who disagree with them.

Sir John Templeton, American-born businessman and philanthropist 

In part 1, we saw that we could not have precise or complete knowledge.   In part 3, we tried to remedy that by suggesting that candidates for elective office go through a “judicial process”, so that the public get accurate information from them.  In this part, we apply the judicial process to elected officials. 

One could point to Congressional hearings, state committee hearings, and city council meetings as a judicial process.  In most, if not all, instances, lawyers are present.  There is fact-finding and then a determination.  There is some of this when Congress or a state legislature votes as a body, as when opposing viewpoints are aired. 

However, there is a big difference.  Money.  Judges and juries are less vulnerable to the influence of money than are elected officials.  We have attempted to muffle, if not muzzle, the influence of money by heaping an ever-increasing number of rules upon elected officials.  (We have many rules for candidates, coming through the Federal Elections Commission and the California Fair Political Practices Commissions.)  What we have found is that money is like mercury, hard to get a handle on. 

Can anything be done?  This parallels, but is different from, the community lesson in this issue of Montebello E-News.  While the lesson speaks about increasing the number of people involved in decision-making proportionate to the magnitude of the consequences of the decision to be made (sounds axiomatic?), this essay looks at the accuracy and sufficiency of information.  If more people were involved in the Congressional and state hearings, could we have more, and more accurate, information? 

Yes, if the people who were involved in the hearings were independent of the elected officials and the lobbyists, and, furthermore, had the power to call witnesses and do discovery, that is, request and receive relevant documents. 

To distill the four parts of “How Little We Know” into a sentence, we would say that we should be careful about our decisions, as we would never have sufficient and completely accurate information, but the more people involved in gathering information and deciding, the closer we would come to making the best decisions, this optimistic conclusion tempered by LOCO, explained in another essay.

April 12, 2007






























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