What are the right metrics for evaluating the goodness of government?

by Sebastian Benthall

Let’s assume for a moment that any politically useful language (“freedom”, “liberalism”, “conservatism”, “freedom of speech”, “free markets”, “fake news”, “democracy”, “fascism”, “theocracy”, “radicalism”, “diversity”, etc.) will get coopted by myriad opposed political actors that are either ignorant or uncaring of its original meaning and twisted to reflect only the crudest components of each ideology.

It follows from this assumption that an evaluation of a government based on these terms is going to be fraught to the point of being useless.

To put it another way: the rapidity and multiplicity of framings available for the understanding of politics, and the speed with which framings can assimilate and cleverly reverse each other, makes this entire activity a dizzying distraction from substantive evaluation of the world we live in.

Suppose that nevertheless we are interested in justice, broadly defined as the virtue of good government or well-crafted state.

It’s not going to be helpful to frame this argument, as it has been classically, in the terminology that political ideological battles have been fought in for centuries.

For domestic policy, legal language provides some kind of anchoring of political language. But legal language still accommodates drift (partly by design) and it does not translate well internationally.

It would be better to use an objective, scientific approach for this sort of thing.

That raises the interesting question: if one were to try to measure justice, what would one measure? Assuming one could observe and quantify any relevant mechanism in society, which ones would be the ones worth tracking an optimizing to make society more just?

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