Necessary Conditions for Improving Civic Competence: A Scientific Perspective
Many attempts to increase civic competence are based on premises about communication and belief change that are directly contradicted by important insights from microeconomic theory and social psychology. At least two economic literatures are relevant to my effort to improve matters. One is the literature on strategic communication, which includes Spence (1974), Crawford and Sobel (1982), Banks (1991), and Lupia and McCubbins (1998). The other is the literature on mechanism design, which includes Green and Laffont (1977), Myerson (1983) and Palfrey (1992). While both literatures have the potential to convey important insights, many scholars and practitioners do not yet see a need for such insights. This paper lays such a foundation. It explains how greater attention to basic scientific principles can help people who want to increase civic competence use the generosity of donors and the hard work of well-intentioned citizens more effectively. The paper continues as follows. First, I discuss the topic of competence more precisely. Then, I introduce the necessary conditions for increasing civic competence described above. Next, I describe implications and applications of these conditions – focusing in this paper on the growing contention that deliberation is an effective way to increase civic competence. Applying the necessary conditions to this topic reveals a need to revise and clarify common expectations about what deliberation can accomplish. A brief concluding section follows.
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