Arnold Kling  

Ballots Are Better than Bullets

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Louis Menand writes,


If all policy decisions were straightforward economic calculations, it might be simpler and better for everyone if only people who had a grasp of economics participated in the political process. But many policy decisions don’t have an optimal answer. They involve values that are deeply contested: when life begins, whether liberty is more important than equality, how racial integration is best achieved (and what would count as genuine integration).

In the end, the group that loses these contests must abide by the outcome, must regard the wishes of the majority as legitimate. The only way it can be expected to do so is if it has been made to feel that it had a voice in the process, even if that voice is, in practical terms, symbolic. A great virtue of democratic polities is stability.


This is at the end of his review of Bryan's Myth of the Rational Voter. I have to say that the book is getting a fantastic amount of attention. Whether that translates into sales is something else. But at the very least, it would seem to be enough to get the book into university libraries and onto political science reading lists.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (4 to date)
FC writes:

The conventional, indeed classical, wisdom used to be that democracy led to instability.

The Anglosphere has done well, but other industrialized democracies are much more fragile - France, Germany, South Korea, etc.

Bryan Caplan writes:

Arnold writes:

I have to say that the book is getting a fantastic amount of attention. Whether that translates into sales is something else.

For an academic book, sales are excellent. I spent about two weeks around #500 in books on Amazon. The lesson is that blogs can have a big effect because, by academic book standards, selling 5000 copies is a smash hit.

TGGP writes:

If all policy decisions were straightforward economic calculations, it might be simpler and better for everyone if only people who had a grasp of economics participated in the political process. But many policy decisions don’t have an optimal answer. They involve values that are deeply contested: when life begins, whether liberty is more important than equality, how racial integration is best achieved (and what would count as genuine integration).
That sounds somewhat compatible with Caplan's suggestion of a "council of economists" to rule certain laws "uneconomic".

John writes:

A second point is that the "losers" must be different people on different issues. If a self-aware group of people finds themselves on the losing side of most choices, their willingness to grant legitimacy to the process will evaporate.

Perhaps this is a hidden force behind the non-minimal State: more issues to decide means that there are more chances that a given person will win on one.

As an example in the context of the current U.S., powerless and disaffected traditional conservatives might be persauded that the system was legitimate by the passage of laws restricting abortion and nudity.

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