Bryan Caplan  

Dan Klein Dissects The Myth of the Rational Voter

Mortgage Fraud... Econometric Confirmation Bias...

Last week at George Mason, Dan Klein delivered a lengthy critique of my book at Pete Boettke's seminar. Now Dan's kindly made the full text of his statement available here. His praise on the first page is effusive enough to make even me blush, but read on; the rest is relentless criticism.

I'll blog a response shortly.

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COMMENTS (7 to date)
caveat bettor writes:

Bryan, I'm really impressed that you linked to Klein's critique. Some things are even better than what is rational. For instance, what is noble.

Bryan Caplan writes:

Caveat Bettor, A cynic might say that all publicity is good publicity, but I prefer your interpretation! :-)

Steve Miller writes:

All publicity is good publicity!

PrestoPundit writes:

Thanks for posting this.

Eric Crampton writes:

Isn't Klein's statist bias the mirror image of anti-market bias?

Klein's a bit off base in his bit on looking to sociologists as arbiters of truth rather than to economists: the survey was on positive beliefs on economic performance; the natural arbiters are economists.

I like the B&L quote Klein gives: "Individual voters may, each of them, be entirely rational in voting for war—even where no one of them would, if decisive, take that course." But, for B&L, the voters know deep down that they're wrong whereas in rat irrat, the voters think they're right but will go seek out more info to be sure if in the high consequence environment. So, if the expressive voter stepped into the ballot box and were told he were decisive, he'd flip to the optimal choice without having to do futher study; the rationally irrational voter would need to go and do some reading before casting his ballot.

I'd tend to think that some of Klein's suggestions for a later edition are great, if by "later edition" we're far enough in the future that the gaps between the public and the median economist have been eliminated. 'Till then, best to stick with the bits where it's you + the consensus of the profession against the public.

John Thacker writes:

Interesting critique.

I read and enjoyed your book, Bryan. I was unconvinced by your claim that abortion survey results are necessarily again the self-interested voter theory-- while it's very useful to point out that men do support abortion at similar (and in many surveys, slightly greater) rates to women, surely there's an obvious self-interested reason for men to want legal abortion, particularly in a regime where child support and paternity tests are available. IIRC, the survey results also tend to show that the real breakdown is by age, and especially by marital/relationship status/parental status. People who have had kids are more likely to think of fetuses as one, and people who are unlikely to have more children regardless can support bans on abortion with less cost to themselves; people who are in tenuous relationships (where they either do not want to provide support or couldn't count on it), or who are too young and would disrupt their lives more by having a kid tend to support abortion.

It just doesn't seem like a contradiction of the self-interested voter hypothesis on that issue to me.

Alexandra Stocker writes:

Bill Niskanen's main critique of Bryan's work ("Democracy and Other Failures" - Region Focus, Summer 2007, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond), is that voters are not irrational - just ignorant. Niskanen points to his own research showing that voters' revealed preferences demonstrate rational motivation, and thus those voters are merely ignorant. Hmmm, it seems perfectly plausible to me that millions of people can easily be irrational, willing to make the wrong choice even when presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Otherwise, how could religion and belief in the supernatural still remain so ubiquitous? Has Niskanen looked at those "revealed" preferences?

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