Arnold Kling  

Is Elitism the Answer?

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Doubt the Vote... Marginal Revolution: Small Ste...

As Bryan just said, he has a new essay summarizing his forthcoming Myth of the Rational Voter. I agree with some of his diagnosis:


if you underestimate the benefits of immigration, or the evidence in favor of the theory of evolution, what happens to you? In all probability, the same thing that would have happened to you if you knew the whole truth.

In a sense, then, there is a method to the average voter's madness. Even when his views are completely wrong, he gets the psychological benefit of emotionally appealing political beliefs at a bargain price. No wonder he buys in bulk.


However, his proposed solutions troubles me. He seems to want to insulate elites from democracy. Perhaps as an economist, he thinks that this would mean that people like him would be in charge of economic policy. But there are elite views of global warming or happiness research that I find rather problematic.

My preferred solution is to strengthen non-political institutions, such as private charities, private corporations, and private schools. My hope is that a strong civil society will resist government encroachment.

I also think that it would be helpful to downplay elections. We should not get so worked up over them. We should not feast on media coverage of them. We should be thankful that we have elections, because the alternative is incumbents with unchecked power. But the real contest is not between Democrat and Republican. It is between civil society and the political class.


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The author at qui tacet consentire videtur in a related article titled Leaning closer to authoritarianism? writes:
    The policy proposals of Bryan Caplan’s (of EconLog fame) new lead Cato Unbound piece to adjust for voter irrationality are practical to the point of being machiavellian, but they seem to be based on principles somewhat contrary to libertarian ide... [Tracked on November 6, 2006 9:46 PM]
COMMENTS (7 to date)
Brad Hutchings writes:

I'm with Arnold. In the marketplace of ideas, Bryan is advocating that experts pick the winners. It smacks of the hand wringing market failure theories that plagued business development workshops during the 90s. Typical questions like "How could the evil puppy killer Bill Gates with his inferior Windows software dominate the industry when Apple loves puppies and makes a way better product?" were fodder for charlatans talking to audiences who no longer had the will to get in the game and win. Bryan, not that I'm saying you're unconvincing in your observation, but the solution is to play harder, not to change the game.

With immigration, the debate is driven primarily by talk radio gasbags like John and Ken in SoCal. Where are the economists who can't be caricatured as spokesholes for La Raza to engage in the debate? With foreign trade, Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan use endless airtime pandering to the idiotarians, sounding grim and serious. It just seems we need to find someone who can present the free market case better... A John Stossel with aspirations of mattering.

mjh writes:

As an interim step, I'd like to see us downplay the importance of national elections and increase the awareness paid to local elections. IMHO, federal power is the worst kind of government power. If that power were diminished and more power were given to municipalities, we'd be better off. It's really quite a bit easier to choose to live in a different city than in a different country. A consequence would be that the cities with the best policies would get the most population / tax payers.

But, of course, I would much rather see a growth in the private institutions that AK suggests. I just think it's a much further stretch to get there than to distribute more power to the states or municipalities.

Randy writes:

Re; "But the real contest is not between Democrat and Republican. It is between civil society and the political class."

Well said.

John T. Kennedy writes:

"He seems to want to insulate elites from democracy."

Voters should be insulated from democracy. But me first.

"We should not get so worked up over them. We should not feast on media coverage of them. We should be thankful that we have elections, because the alternative is incumbents with unchecked power."

These are not choices available to individuals. I don't get worked up about elections but that has nothing to do with what *we* do. Individuals don't get to choose for we.

dobeln writes:

"As an interim step, I'd like to see us downplay the importance of national elections and increase the awareness paid to local elections."

This is an excellent suggestion - however, I doubt it will produce the results Kaplan wants.

Contrary to what he might believe, the prospect of having your neighbourhood turned into a Barrio LA-style is not impopular among middle- and working-class Americans because of radio-host-induced bigotry, but rather because it sucks. Note how the decidedly more local and unwashed House has been stopping the President's amnesty proposal while the Senate is his main base of support.

RogerM writes:

I don't think anyone has ever argued that democracy provides the most efficient outcomes. But that's not the purpose of democracies, especially our republican version. Benevolent dictators are far more efficient and wise than democracies, but how do you guarantee that every dictator will be benevolent? You can't. Some will be horrible murderers. So the next best solution is to give up trying for the best government and settle for the one that will do the least damage, a democracy. It's like diversification in investing.

Our republic was designed to limit the damage that bad rulers can cause, not maximize the benefit of good rulers.

Bruce Cleaver writes:

RogerM -

That is the single most insightful comment I have seen in a month of lurking at blogs. Well done.

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