Local Diversity and Polycentric Democracy

Especially at the local level, democratic orders have a number of ways of handling the diverse interests and needs of citizens.  There is of course deliberation and majority-rules voting, which allows people to determine some rule for all citizens.  But more interestingly, especially when we consider provisioning local public goods or services, we gain extra options that have serious prima facie appeal: we can either spatially split the electorate (via foot voting between existing jurisdictions or creating a new jurisdiction), or we can use private governance to allow for club goods provision that does not require support of the general electorate.  These latter two options are in a number of ways superior to deliberation and majority vote for accommodating a more diverse citizenry.  After all, we can do a far better job of ensuring that citizens are getting closer to the sort of social compact they are interested in, as they can more easily get more of the costly social goods that they want, and fewer of the ones that they do not.  However, I argue that these mechanisms come with serious costs, especially when we take into account the longer-run dynamics of these approaches.  These approaches have helped fuel stark racial and socio-economic segregation, and large differences in quality of governance.  Most worrisome, these costs are frequently shouldered by those outside of private governance contracts, and those who are being moved away from.  In particular, I am interested not only in material harms, but in the democratic harms that those outside of the extra polycentric arrangements bear, in the form of reduced democratic voice, and a weaker real option of foot voting.  The aim of this paper is to explore the extent to which we can recover the benefits of polycentric democracy while taking these externalities into account.

The Freedom Center Fall 2019 colloquium series presents Ryan Muldoon, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Buffalo. Professor Muldoon was a Core Author of the 2015 World Development Report at the World Bank. His research investigates the challenges and potential benefits that diversity poses for political, cultural, and scientific communities.