Part of the problem is one feature people often believe is desirable for a political system to be resistant to sudden unconsidered change. Indeed, I think that legitimacy (say as measured by just asking a poll) of the US governmental system is substantially increased by people's sense that it is very difficult to change certain aspects of the system.

All you need to believe to make this compelling is that either people are vulnerable to fads they would be disabused of on further reflection or (I think you'll find more persuasive) that there is some non-trivial error term in what voters choose.

This ultimately boils down to the point that as a matter of fact (at least in the US with constitution worship) people don't seem to support this kind of system so, on your own definition, it would seem to reduce not increase legitimacy.

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Sure, I don't have opinions on what people what to hear, only on what equilibria are likely to be selected for.

I mostly believe that this level of signaling happens primarily on non-legible dimensions, and neither party is clear on what they actually want.

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Yes*. To the extent that referenda of the kind described have even occurred to people, they could quite reasonably regard the current level of governmental legitimacy as "good enough for government work," given the uncertainties/risks which come bundled with the referenda approach.

I think I'm actually one of those people. I've long been aware that direct democracy can result in unwise-for-the-long-term decisions, but I've been increasingly sensitized to that of late.

*Nit: The one thing I would disagree with in your comment, Algon, is the characterization "highly illegitimate." I believe that in the context of Robin's post, any changes put in place by such referenda are legitimate by definition. What they may or may not be, though, is wise.

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The governed should not want to hear about more surplus captured by regimes. Regimes should want to claim that such capture is low.

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> So you might think regimes would be eager to show much higher degrees of legitimacy.

Why would I think that? In fact, the difference between your definition (willingness to pay) and the revealed legitimacy (absence of revolt) is almost the definition of surplus. I'd expect regimes to try to increase legitimacy, and then to capture more of the surplus, decreasing their legitimacy back to baseline.

So I'd expect successful regimes to have low actual surplus (current willingness to pay to keep), but fairly large discretionary legitimacy (headroom) - refunds or actions that can be taken when the threat of revolution becomes more imminent.

This equilibrium is likely to shift over time, but to remain at low visible surplus most times. In fact, since revolution is generally a very large transaction cost, the visible surplus may be negative - rather than a willingness to pay to keep it, it's a willingness to suffer to avoid the change cost.

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Or that they don't want to optimise too hard for legitimacy, but rather want to keep highly illegitimate governments out. That's Popper's take on it in "the Open Society and Its Enemies". That is, there's a tendency for methods which can lead to great good to also lead to great evil, and it is better to focus on preventing great evils than to achive great goods.

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