Applications of Corporate Moral Agency Local Diversity and Polycentric Democracy

Local Diversity and Polycentric Democracy
Polycentric democracy holds great promise as a means to deal with the core
democratic challenge of intractable disagreements that stem from our diversity.
Instead of simply having majorities win, polycentric orders aim to find a way of
letting everyone get what they want. Polycentric solutions are often presented
as cost-free, as only those who choose to join a club or move to a new locale
are affected. This paper examines the ways in which quite serious costs to third
parties can arise in polycentric orders, and then offers some possible ways to
recover the benefits of polycentricity while mitigating some of these costs.
I. THE CHALLENGE OF DIVERSITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 790
II. THE PROMISE OF POLYCENTRICITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 791
III. THE PERILS OF POLYCENTRICITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 794
IV. A WAY FORWARD? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 802
Especially at the local level, democratic orders have a number of ways of han-
dling 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 citi-
zens. 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 exist-
ing 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 elec-
torate. These latter two options are in several ways superior to deliberation and
majority vote for accommodating a more diverse citizenry. After all, we can do a
* Ryan Muldoon is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Philosophy, Politics
and Economics Program at the University at Buffalo. His work focuses on the challenges and
opportunities of diverse societies. © 2021, Ryan Muldoon.
far better job of ensuring that citizens are getting closer to the sort of social com-
pact they are interested in, because 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 con-
sider 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 demo-
cratic 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.
At the core of any democratic system is a need to harness the benefits of a
diverse populace while managing the disagreements that arise from that same di-
versity. Different citizens have different interests, different wants, and different
needs. While much of this diversity can be handled by having a robust private
sphere, in which individual preferences or choices do not need to be turned into a
matter of public policy, there will remain a fairly broad public sphere in which
we will need to find ways of managing our differences. The basic challenge, of
course, is that we must make a single choice, despite our differences, about the
rules that we are all to follow. Whatever rules we select might leave much to indi-
vidual choice, but regardless of how extensive the set of rules we choose for our-
selves, it remains the case that we must select some rules for ourselves. Although
it would be nice if our differences were always worked out via a robust debate
that led to consensus, much more typically we find ourselves at odds with each
other, and for any particular political choice that we make as citizens, some por-
tion of the population will wish we made another one. This is a core function of
any liberal democratic order—offering an account of why people are bound by
rules they would have not chosen (and may have indeed not selected when given
the option).
To make this worse, insofar as we have political coalitions around clusters of
issues, it is perfectly possible that some minority group will not merely lose on a
vote, but on a whole series of votes. Not getting your way every now and again is
of course part of the democratic bargain, but citizens may well feel that systemati-
cally losing is something else entirely. If part of democratic participation is hav-
ing some sense of authorship over the rules to which one is bound, that notion of
authorship becomes increasingly tenuous the more one sits on the losing end of
votes. Especially in first-past-the-post, winner-take-all democratic orders, if some
minority group holds 30% of the votes, it might well mean that rather than getting
their way 30% of the time, they simply never get their way. This may mean that
for minority groups of various sorts—especially those that aren’t able to make

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