Bryan Caplan  

Prescriptions for Democracy

Confucianism vs. Irrational Vo... Myth of the Rational......

The book review in the Economist says that "Mr Caplan is better at diagnosis than prescription." I have to agree. In fact, my diagnosis implies that administering a cure will be very difficult. The irrational majority will oppose any reforms able to make a large, immediate difference.

There is some slack in the system, of course. As Maxspeak has lamented more than once (see here and here), I teach the children of Virginia. Democracy has given me a soapbox upon which to point out its shortcomings, and I make full use of it. And as I've explained previously, irrationality does not make persuasion impossible; it just changes the optimal persuasive strategy.

Finally, democracy does give a lot of people some slack to make policy better. I'm not a big fan of the Fed, but I'd be a lot more worried if the Fed chairman were an elected politician instead of the best teacher I had at Princeton. If you've got a piece of this slack, why not use your power for good?

In short, resistance is not futile, but it's not easy. I don't have any quick fixes - or at least any quick fixes with a snowball's chance in hell of happening anytime soon. If anyone out there does, I'd like to hear them. And so would the Economist!

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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Snorri Godhi writes:

There are no quick fixes that I can think of, but there is a cheap fix: sit and wait.

There are 2 reasons to be optimistic: (a) the Flynn effect: people are becoming more intelligent; (b) learning by example: Estonia introduced the flat tax; it works; other countries are taking notice.

Having said that, it is only fair to add that I did not read your book, but The Economist provided what I think is an excellent summary, and since you don't complain about it, I take the summary at its face value.

JimSaco writes:

Maybe a fantasy -- just refuse to deal with the government. Stop looking to the government to solve your problems. Provide your own retirement, medical and long term care. Move to subdivisions that use private security. Deal with other like minded people around the world in e-gold or your favorite transaction medium.

David Thomson writes:

Bryan Caplan is half right---but that also means he is half wrong. He needs to spend more time heeding Joseph Schumpeter's warning that many beneficiaries of capitalism will become its worst enemies. William F. Buckley wrly commented that it would be better to have the first two thousand people listed in the Boston phone directory run the political system than the Harvard University faculty. He was likely not even being slightly facetious. Never forget that it was the courage of the somewhat intellectually challenged Schechter brothers that may have saved our country from arrogant idiot graduates of Harvard law school. John Leboutillier wrote the book entitled Harvard Hates America. This is unfortunately often very true. Our modestly educated citizens must check and balance the actions of these elites.

All voters should be able to pass a twelfth grade reading test. And yes, this would impact the Democrats most of all. This political party depends greatly on the least educated casting ballots on election day. As matter of fact, the Democratic Party is not even a viable force without its ignorant voters!

TGGP writes:

Snorri Godhi, the Flynn effect has run its course. I wouldn't rely on it. You might also be interested in the debate between Flynn and Charles Murray at AEI on the the black-white IQ gap in the US, how much it has closed and whether it is now or will be closing.

I don't think it will be fast or easy, but I think seasteading has the potential to shift incentives in a libertarian direction without bloodshed and at a much lower cost than trying to change the national culture directly.

See Patri's paper, Dynamic Geography: A Blueprint for Efficient Government for the theory.

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