Bryan Caplan  

Caplan, Bryan. 2007. The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press.

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A Hansonist MD... The Mystery of Classism...

It's all official. My book, entitled The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies, will be published by Princeton University Press in early 2007. I put the final version in the mail today.

The winner of the title contest is the excellent Fabio Rojas. With any luck he'll cash in his lunch at Morton's with me this August in Indianapolis during GenCon.

Even better, my book is already under attack. Tyler Cowen lists an exaggerated version of one of my main theses as a leading economists' lie:

3. People may make mistakes when the stakes are small, but as they become more decisive over larger prizes, the irrationality goes away. (Name any major politician or how about Tom Cruise on Oprah?)

The position I defend in my book is the weaker one that people make more and larger mistakes when the stakes are small. But arguing with Tyler about this for a few years definitely helped me to refine my position. What I realized in the end:

1. In the short-run, raising the stakes sometimes does cognitively backfire. Think about "stressing out" on an important exam. In the long-run, however, Tyler's just wrong. High stakes lead to more studying, which leads to better performance. In markets, where people suffer from their own mistakes, they try to learn, and are partly successful. In religion and politics, where mistakes have little or no consequence for the believer, people avoid learning, and stay in the dark.

2. To the best of my recollection, Tyler never granted my point that people's views about religion and politics are especially demented. He even slipped into the last refuge of the positivist: "There's no way to measure, so we have to be agnostic." But I think he's just being contrary (or maybe slipping into a Tyrone role). Virtually every person I've argued with, regardless of his standpoint, has been willing to grant this point. It's obvious.

On Tyler's specific examples:

1. "Every major politician" is being irrational? Come on! They're playing to their audiences, and irrational audiences like politicians who agree with them. But as far as gaining and holding power is concerned, politicians are very good at what they do. With 20/20 hindsight, you can carp on their errors. But in all fairness, you have to adjust for the fact that they live under a microscope, and face complex strategic problems.

2. How is Tom Cruise on Oprah supposed to show anything? He "jumped the couch" on May 23, 2005. A month later, War of the Worlds premiered, and Cruise got the biggest paycheck of his career. Looks like classic movie star attention-seeking to me. We don't know how well his movies would have done if Cruise kept his mouth shut, but it's hardly clear that his antics have hurt his bottom line.



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The author at Juan Freire in a related article titled El mito del votante (y del creyente) racional: los límites de los mercados writes:
    En EconoLog, uno de sus autores, Bryan Caplan, nos anuncia la publicación en 2007 de su libro The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies (Princeton University Press). En el post explica las propuestas que defiende en [Tracked on May 16, 2006 5:07 PM]
COMMENTS (7 to date)
Stan writes:

Congratulations!

Mark Horn writes:
To the best of my recollection, Tyler never granted my point that people's views about religion and politics are especially demented... Virtually every person I've argued with, regardless of his standpoint, has been willing to grant this point. It's obvious.

Hmm... I'm having a difficult time accepting that statement on it's face. What you're saying is that just about every person you've ever argued with, even religious people, have granted your point that religion and politics (both) are demented? Both cause a "loss of intellectual capacity" or "insanity"?

Who have you argued with? Or better, who have you not argued with? I find it difficult to believe that religious people would grant that point. I find it equally difficult to believe that politicos would also grant it.

Or are you limiting your discussion to "rational" people, who by definition would exclude followers of religion or politics?

Bill Stepp writes:

Congrats on the book, but I have a problem with the implicit view that dumbocracies can ever choose good policies, or more fundamentally, that there is anything as a good policy under one.
They are all advance auction sales of stolen goods, and searchers for rationalizations to justify their crimes.

Barkley Rosser writes:

Also congrats on the book. Always feels good to get those off for good.

Regarding Tom Cruise, he got big paycheck, but would have anyway based on his past successes. However, the word is that MI 3 is not doing as well as expected by the studio chieftains. Widespread perception is that Tom C. overdid it on Oprah. Women have turned off on the guy since he "jumped the couch." So, maybe males are his bigger audience, but I suspect he has received his last outsized such check. Not so smart after all, inspite of being an Operating Thetan and all that post-Nirvana egomaniacal stuff. Girls don't like that kind of thing very much...

Eric writes:

Why do we need assume that Cruise's actions are in pursuit of greater wealth? Perhaps he accumulated fame and money in order to spend it all on promoting Scientology.

PJens writes:

Excellent title! I will purchase many copies (for beach reading gifts) and recommend it to my friends. Any chance of getting a signed copy?

alcibiades writes:

Exciting stuff. I wonder if the unwashed masses will appreciate it.

When's the tour?

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