Here are the opening paragraphs of an article written by Natalie Schulhof for the Fourth Estate, the student newspaper at George Mason University:
“Garett Jones, associate economics professor at George Mason University, says that there should be less democracy in the United States, according to a talk he gave on Feb. 24.
“Jones says that less democracy and more epistocracy could lead to better governance. Democracy leaves power to the majority while epistocracy allocates power to the knowledgeable. Jones did not imply that democracy should be eliminated, but lessened by 10% for the sake of long term economic growth.
“According to Jones, less democracy would lead to better governance because politicians would be inclined to work on long term growth rather than spending to impress constituents during election season. Politicians try to please the public at the expense of neglecting long-term policies because they are elected through a democratic process.”
The full article can be found at: http://gmufourthestate.com/2015/03/03/less-democracy-better-government-says-mason-professor/
It should come as no surprise that Jones is a professor of Economics and BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which has been supported by some of the $23 million in funding from the Koch Foundation.
“Epistocracy” is a formal euphemism for restricting voting rights, but not to the most intelligent citizens. If there actually were an intelligence test that was a prerequisite for voting, at least as many Far Right voters as Progressive voters would be turned away from the polls. No, “epistocracy” is a euphemism for reducing any large voter turnout in opposition to the policies advocated by Far Right candidates and their affluent sponsors. Those dubiously qualified voters are described not as “civic-minded,” but as “self-interested” —not as “motivated,” but as “manipulated.” Elections that Far Right candidates lose are, therefore, not a reflection of democratic principles in action but, instead, an illustration of the corruption and distortion of democratic institutions by demagogues. To be valid, democracy must be the exercise of voting rights by the right (or Right) voters.
If low-income voters should be largely ineligible to vote if they also fit into demographic categories that makes their “political intelligence” suspect, then, in contrast, belonging to an upper-income bracket becomes a nearly automatic indicator of such intelligence. Thus, wealth is not simply an economic and social indicator; it is also a political, cultural, and intellectual indicator of a certain (in both senses of the word) suitability for full and unquestioned enfranchisement. Ultimately, the self-interest of the wealthy is to be regarded as the national interest.
“Epistocracy” is a relatively recent economic and political coinage. It substitutes for the older term “noocracy,” a derivative of the term “noosphere,” coined in the 1930s. Here is part of the extended definition of “noosphere” provided in Wikipedia:
“The noosphere is the sphere of human thought. The word derives from the Greek nous (“mind“) and sphaira (“sphere“), in lexical analogy to “atmosphere” and “biosphere.” It was introduced by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in 1922 in his Cosmogenesis. Another possibility is the first use of the term by Édouard Le Roy (1870–1954), who together with Teilhard was listening to lectures of Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky at the Sorbonne. . . .
“In the theory of Vernadsky, the noosphere is the third in a succession of phases of development of the Earth, after the geosphere (inanimate matter) and the biosphere (biological life). Just as the emergence of life fundamentally transformed the geosphere, the emergence of human cognition fundamentally transforms the biosphere. In contrast to the conceptions of the Gaia theorists, or the promoters of cyberspace, Vernadsky’s noosphere emerges at the point where humankind, through the mastery of nuclear processes, begins to create resources through the transmutation of elements. It is also currently being researched as part of the Princeton Global Consciousness Project.”
This is very esoteric stuff—and it is a very big leap from the consideration of such concepts to using presumed, rather than demonstrated, intelligence as a prerequisite for voting rights.
As something of a side note, I suspect that the term “noocracy” has not been used for two reasons: first, if it were pronounced “know-ocracy” is would sound like something very negative, something exclusionary rather than exclusive, or it would bring to mind the mildly derisive term “know-it-all”; second, if it were pronounced “knew-cracy,” it would be much more of a tongue-twister for most speakers, and it might suggest something faddish–something beyond democracy, rather than the ideal realization of democracy.
In any case, the origins of these concepts are very clearly cosmopolitan and European– not American—the product of a loose collaboration between Le Roy, a French mathematician and philosopher with an obsessive interest in metaphysics, Teillard de Chardin, a French paleontologist who was also a Jesuit priest with very a very mystical theological bent, and Vernadsky, a Soviet mineralogist and biochemist with a visionary sense of the cosmos.
But the promoters of “epistocracy” typically explain the concept by citing the intentions of the Founding Fathers, not the musings of these three eccentric, if compelling, European thinkers who lived in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century–and who developed these ideas in years immediately before and after the Second World War.
This deliberate, politically motivated misrepresentation has a parallel in the misrepresentations about the roots of Neoliberalism, which has been promoted by economists influenced by the Austrian Friedrich Hayek, who was reacting against and generalizing from the state control of the economy in Nazified Europe. Thus, in both the political and the economic realms, ideological expediency continues to trump historical accuracy, and historical complexities are “dumbed down” to untruths for those citizens deemed intelligent enough to have the right to cast votes.