by John Gastil

Take note, fellow deliberationistas. The value of deliberation has become more widely apparent, finding its way into its first rallying cry. And it comes from the right, which some have wondered might be more skeptical about the deliberative democracy movement. The anti-tax protests organized for April 15 were the site of the “no taxation without deliberation” slogan, shown here on one protestor’s sign.

As in this brief letter from an Indianan, you can see the gist of the argument.

The idea is that we are making enormous fiscal decisions without sufficient deliberation. On that point, I have some sympathy, for what deliberation has taken place within government is not always readily visible to the general public, and there certainly has not been much public bi-partisan deliberation on display.

When we get to the root of the problem, though, I think we will find some political elites actively obstructing or opposing deliberation, particularly when they anticipate ending up in the minority on the decisions being made. By refusing to publicly deliberate, it leaves open the chance to complain about the lack of deliberation.

In practice, it is hard to know whether the complaint about insufficient deliberation is a legitimate complaint or just sour grapes. By analogy, when political parties withdraw from elections in developing countries, sometimes it’s clear that they are protesting what will be a rigged elections, but other times, it appears they are simply avoiding an embarrassing defeat.

I think one more task to add to the ToDoList of deliberationistas is coming up with metrics for judging the deliberative-ness of entire branches of government on different issues. If we could assess deliberative quality in such a way, it might give more credence (or less) to future calls for More Deliberation before Taxation.