Bryan Caplan  

MRV Update: The New York Times Magazine Review

Reply to Grier on Venezuela... Ouroboros?...

The rumors are true - The Myth of the Rational Voter gets a write-up in tomorrow's New York Times Magazine. Here's tomorrow's story today:

Caplan’s complaint is not that special-interest groups might subvert the will of the people, or that government might ignore the will of the people. He objects to the will of the people itself.

In defending democracy, theorists of public choice sometimes invoke what they call “the miracle of aggregation.”...

The hitch, as Caplan points out, is that this miracle of aggregation works only if the errors are random. When that’s the case, the thousands of ill-informed votes in favor of the bad health plan are canceled out by thousands of equally ignorant votes in favor of the good plan. But Caplan argues that in the real world, voters make systematic mistakes about economic policy — and probably other policy issues too.

Caplan’s own evidence for the systematic folly of voters comes from a 1996 survey comparing the views of Ph.D. economists and the general public. To the exasperation of the libertarian-minded Caplan, most Americans do not think like economists.

Confession: In writing this book, I tried hard to appeal to - not just build on - multiple disciplines. The fact that I can get such a fair review from a Princeton political scientist like Gary Bass means a lot to me.

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COMMENTS (1 to date)
John writes:

It's a tough argument that Caplan makes. I commend the effort and I think there is more than a grain of truth in his conclusions about voters vis a vis policies. In fact, I think he's generally right.

However, the suggested cures lead down a path that does sound a bit dark and despotic though not really...but it does sound that way.

I think the only long term answer is better education. The right ideas must win because they are right, not because wrong ideas are supressed. The anger and resentment of voters feeling like they are being disregarded by pols is bad enough. Spreading that same anger into feeling their views are disregarded on merit by some expert council is even worse. the social side effects and backfire would lead to new problems. Not to mention that corruption of the council would be rampant by having too much sway.

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