Bryan Caplan  

Should Steven White Brand Himself a "Right-Wing Ideologue"?

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One of the main reasons Steven White wrote me up as a "right-wing ideologue" is that my work highlights the irrationality of the electorate. But now he's doing it too - and singling out Democrats in the process. Here's White approvingly quoting Chris Orr:

[T]he electorate has no clue at this point what any of the candidates' policy positions are... But what struck me was not merely that the poll respondents were wrong overall, but that they were wronger still in their comparative assessments of the Democratic contenders--that is, that they thought Hillary was the least hawkish and Edwards the most, with Obama somewhere in the middle. This is, of course, the exact opposite of the candidate's respective positioning on Iraq. [emphasis added]
Hey kids, can you say "systematic bias"?

White's approving quotation of Orr continues:

One explanation would be that Edwards is a white man, so voters assume he'll be more conservative than a black man or white woman, etc., etc. But given that respondents rated the candidates' dovishness more or less in proportion to their overall popularity--Hillary first, Obama second, Edwards third--I suspect there's something else going on here. The Democratic electorate, which favors withdrawal, probably isn't choosing which candidate it likes on the basis of policy positions; it's ascribing its favored policy positions to the candidates it already likes on the basis of name recognition and other unrelated attributes.
This sounds awfully elitist to me - and awfully plausible. Though my harshest critics come from the left, my model of politics is a lot closer to theirs than they'd like to admit.

Update: Steven replies:

[N]ot understanding a relatively objective fact (e.g. John Edwards is more liberal than Hillary Clinton) is not directly comparable to not understanding the supposed superiority of a certain policy preference (e.g. more deregulation is a good thing for society). While a lot of evidence can be given for any policy preference, it can't reach the level of objectivity in the same way. In that sense, my belief that the public "just doesn't get" the differences between Edwards and Clinton is a lot different than Caplan's belief that the public "just doesn't get" what's best for the economy.
I ask a followup in his comments.


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TRACKBACKS (1 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/759
The author at Steven White in a related article titled Degrees of Elitism writes:
    Referencing my last post, Bryan Caplan writes: This sounds awfully elitist to me - and awfully plausible. Though my harshest critics come from the left, my model of politics is a lot closer to theirs than they'd like to admit. [Tracked on September 8, 2007 4:21 PM]
COMMENTS (4 to date)
conchis writes:

Bryan, I assume the "right wing ideologue" label wasn't based at all on the fact that you argue that voters are irrational, but rather on his perception that your evidence for this is that voters don't agree with right wing economists.

Carl Shulman writes:

Yet Bryan's work uses the average economist (a moderate Democrat) rather than the average right-wing economist to contrast with the electorate...

General Specific writes:

There are similarities or some analogies, but I think you're digging a bit.

It's one thing to correct someone’s erroneous thinking, as White and Caplan do (and please note that every correction is not elitist in origins--otherwise anti-elitism becomes relativism). It's another matter—as Caplan proposes--to take away someone's choice in one realm--the democratic representative realm because their opinions are considered biased--and to replace it with choice in some new area--the market--because their decisions are somehow less biased in that arena.

It's not totally unfair to call someone—e.g. Caplan—“right wing” if that person argues for less regulation and decision making in the public realm (which is what Caplan proposes).

The real problem is that “right” and “left” are overused and now meaningless terms, best retired. They are used as much to malign as they are to inform or clarify.

Troy Camplin writes:

So let me get this straight. He thinks that the same people who can't even get right the oft-stated positions of the candidates will nonetheless manage to make good decisions on something as complex and often counter-intuitive as the economy?

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