Bryan Caplan  

Senator X's Amazing Letter to Me

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Earlier this month, I received the most amazing feedback yet on my book. A successful politician wrote me the following letter. I reprint it, redacted, with his explicit permission. (If you find the inline version too hard to read, here's a high-res link).


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COMMENTS (28 to date)
PenskeFile writes:

Why bother redacting the authors name? There seems to be enough information in the body of the letter that 30 minutes of Google time will reveal the author.

Selfreferencing writes:

Alternative title for this post:

Anarchist Economist Enjoys Praise from Politician

David writes:

I'm amazed it wasn't easier to find out who the senator was. I gave up because I didn't care after 15 minutes.

Dr. T writes:

I find nothing amazing about the letter. Successful politicians must have learned that most voters are ignorant and that many are stupid. To have a retired politician point this out hardly qualifies as amazing. If the letter had been written by a currently elected politician, then it would be amazing.

A thought experiment: A well-liked politician publicly states that most voters, including the ones who elected him, are ignorant. Would he get re-elected?

Matt writes:

You have proved, Brian, that there is a monopoly state, and its existence requires us to know a whole lot about the science of bureaucracy than we otherwise needed.

The educated voter is essential. My theory on what we have on the tails of our distribution would tell me that we have the monopoly state, by the result of being quantized in our unit of wealth. We are a herd of return to equilibrium cows, after all, and that means we have to deal with the great big bull in the center.

Eric Crampton writes:

Diamond Joe Quimby got re-elected, and he told the people of Springfield that they're nothing but a pack of fickle mush-heads. Indeed, they cheered him for telling them so.

Matt writes:

My guess is Virgil Goode, currently a US Congressman, although there are some minor inconsistencies (he quotes somewhat higher vote percentages, but they follow the same pattern). WashPost says:

"He served in the Virginia Senate from 1973 to 1996, was elected to the U.S. House in 1996 and re-elected in 1998. ... Virgil Goode was elected to the state Senate at age 27 in 1973, winning 54 percent of the vote in a six-way race. He easily won re-election in subsequent races and gained enough seniority to become an influential member of the Senate Finance Committee. ... But Goode beat Robb with nearly 70 percent of the vote in the 5th District."

Also, here's a letter Goode sent to a constituent, typed in a near-identical style (though with different letterhead, of course).

Do I win?

Les writes:

What this politician says is obviously correct, even to the most casual observer.

What is surprising is that he would put it in writing. As the lawyers would say, its an "admission against interest" (i.e. probably true because it is not in the best interest of the person making the admission).

Mason writes:

While you're free to guess the author on your own, the name was omitted on purpose. We should respect that.

I agree that the letter is not so amazing. She has simply recognized and stated that voters are ignorant, which is no secret, and isn’t what your research showed.

Also it certainly isn’t clear from her letter that she has understood your main idea of systematically biased voters.

Still praise is always nice (is it? even from a politician?).

What are the chances she’ll take the next step and be the first politician to propose futarchy?

Also I do prefer the suggested alternative title; “Anarchist Economist Enjoys Praise from Politician” – nice work.

Daniel Klein writes:


I will henceforth use the letter when teaching the topic. Students need to hear it from the horse's mouth.

B.H. writes:

There are alternative views of the efficiency of the democratic (lower case "d) process. Check out the works of Prof. Earl Thompson at UCLA:

Many of his papers argue, with both theory and case studies, that decentralized democratic process leds to outcomes more efficient than what the market could produce on its own.

Paul Ganssle writes:

Though I don't think that this is the case, the intense need that people seem to be showing to uncover the senator's identity makes me think it would be fun (read: libelous) to write "anonymous" letters providing more than enough information for people to draw the conclusion that the letter was from some prominent figure.

"Dear Penthouse Forum,

I never thought this would happen to me. I don't want to give my name, but I was in.. government work in Ohio's 3rd district until 2003...."

Barkley Rosser writes:

Well, if it is Virgil Goode, probably best to keep quiet about it as he is himself one of the most moronic and poorly informed members of the House of Representatives. Oh well.

Brad Hutchings writes:

It sure would be cool if Bryan could get himself firmly in the middle of a big political scandal over this. Not that this will ever be as big as Robin Hanson's terrorism markets, but it's a start!

d writes:

Note the misspelling/misuse of "sound bites" in this letter complaining of the ignorance of others.

pjgoober writes:

Barkely Rosser writes: "Well, if it is Virgil Goode, probably best to keep quiet about it as he is himself one of the most moronic and poorly informed members of the House of Representatives. Oh well."

Virgil Goode was the only one in all of congress to have the guts, prudence, and wisdom to advocate ending muslim immigration. Virgil Goode is literally a hero in my book.

dave.s. writes:

Goode? I can't remember his being in the VA senate. I think it's Ed Holland, of Arlington. Google his replacement, Mary Whipple, and she started in 96.

Virgil Goode was the only one in all of congress to have the guts, prudence, and wisdom to advocate ending muslim immigration. Virgil Goode is literally a hero in my book.

So you're a bigot?

Barkley Rosser writes:

Well, I just googled Goode. He did serve in the VA Senate until 1996, so it could be him, although I gather there may be other candidates. I should probably withdraw my comments about him being stupid. He was Phi Beta Kappa out of the University of Richmond in 1969 and got a J.D. from the University of Virginia in 1973.

However, I shall confess that what triggered my remark about him was precisely what pjgoober thinks is heroic and wonderful. To me it is moronic and ill-informed, as well as just plain old bigoted, although apparently very popular in his district, where he is popular, so probably not so stupid in a crude and basic sense. Maybe it is all an act, and he is being a religious bigot hypocritically just to get votes from his ignorant and racist constituents, while he sneers at their stupidity and bigotry behind their backs.

anonymous writes:

[Comment removed for supplying false email address. Email the webmaster at to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is a requirement to post comments on EconLog.--Econlib Ed.]

TGGP writes:
pjgoober writes:

"So you're a bigot?"

So you don't care much about the safety of your posterity? Gotcha.

pjgoober writes:

I'm willing to discuss details. Heck, I will listen to you try to tell me any limit on muslim immigration is not in the best interest of the United States. But whatever policy you come up with, do a cost-benefit analysis, and yes muslim immigration has a cost. Just a-priori ruling something out because it offends your pc sensibilities is ludicrous. I don't really see how the right of muslims to move to the US is more important than the rights of my posterity not to die. When pc tells you different, you should be a man and throw pc out the window. Tell me how letting in more muslims is more beneficial to the *current inhabitants* of the United States than is keeping them out, and I will listen to your case.

[comment edited for crude language--Econlib Ed.]

Ed Lopez writes:

When anyone asked him where he came from, he said, "I am a citizen of the world."
Diogenes Laertius, Life of Diogenes the Cynic.

Rick Stewart writes:

Any politician who didn't know that voters were ignorant couldn't get elected.

My proposal is to end the practice of one person one vote, and adopt one IQ point one vote. This still allows everyone to participate, and in fact gives more votes to low IQ voters than they currently get, which should make them happy. It also forces politicians to move their politicking a tad in the right direction - toward logic and reason.

Sure, it leaves journalists behind, but perhaps it will incentivize them to pursue honest employment.

Paul Ganssle writes:

@Rick Stevens

I hope that suggestion was completely in jest. Even assuming it was politically feasible, it's no better than our current system and it could easily be worse. Then you come back to the EXACT same problem that you have in government, which is to say that you've created another Tullock lottery. People have strong incentives to get their method of measuring IQ passed as the official one (consider this: if you take IQ tests too frequently, your score becomes artificially inflated because you get better at taking them. By mis-administering IQ tests in this way, Scientology manages to convince people that Scientology raises your intelligence by a considerable amount), and so what you would end up measuring isn't necessarily intelligence (and I think that there is even an argument to be made that smart people don't make better voters), but whatever quality some special interest group have decided should be tested.

So then you end up having no actual gain in intelligence among the weighted voting population, but an increased mechanism for what might be called corruption (and I might argue that it isn't necessarily corruption, but I can't think of a better term offhand).

Paul Ganssle writes:

Oops. I wish I could go back and edit that last comment. I must have been looking at something else because I wrote "Rick Stevens" instead of "Rick Stewart" there.

Giovanni writes:

Really? The average voter makes decisions based on superficial nonsense and doesn't learn the complexities of the issues? I'm shocked!!!

LOL! Guys, everyone knows that already. You didn't need to write a book about it.

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