Arnold Kling  

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Earlier, I posted a picture of four Masonomists. Now you can read the article. A sample:


Controlling for income, Caplan explained, well-informed poor people favor very different policies than poor people who are not informed. Informed how? Well, he explained, one could administer tests of general political knowledge -- e.g., How long is a U.S. senator’s term? How many states in the union? Does the U.S. belong to NATO? -- as well as others about specific aspects of economics. Those who pass the test would be given the franchise.

His idea has met resistance, most often, he said, from those who believe this will mean that the interests of the poor will be ignored by politicians. Caplan though points out that voters who passed his test, whether rich or poor, favor similar policies, meaning that in this context class interest is not a valid concept.


Here is where my father's instruction (he was a professor of political science) helps. Bryan thinks that the point of elections is to get good policies, so it makes sense to require people to pass a test before they can vote.

An alternative view comes from Murray Edelman, who wrote The Symbolic Uses of Politics. For Edelman, the goal of much political activity is to obtain "quiescence." In layman's terms, this means that government is obeyed, rather than defied or rebelled against.

If the point of elections is to keep the masses quiet while the elite rule, then restricting the franchise is going to be every destabilising. It would give those who are unhappy no outlet other than armed revolt. In fact, one theory of political economy (I associate it with Acemoglu) says that nations become more democratic and redistributionist in order to fend off revolution.


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CATEGORIES: Economic Education



COMMENTS (6 to date)
mjh writes:
If the point of elections is to keep the masses quiet while the elite rule, then restricting the franchise is going to be every destabilising. It would give those who are unhappy no outlet other than armed revolt.
Really? Why wouldn't they just have incentive to get educated enough to pass the franchise joining test? Or is this only a one shot deal?

We already have license requirements for driving a car - based on the premise that you can hurt others. Why not licensure for voting? Bad policies certainly cause damage.

Mensarefugee writes:

mjh: So...who gets to write and grade the test?

Arnold, the idea of fending off revolution - in my mind, in at least one manifestation implies that a democracy signals the coming death and decay of a culture and/or nation-state.

BGC writes:

"It would give those who are unhappy no outlet other than armed revolt."

Well, no.

Elections are primarily about getting rid of incumbents - but most of politics happens during the life of governments, between elections, and consists of many tupes of lobbying and pulic opinion brought to bear on goverment to influence policy.

Exclusion from elections does not imply exclusion from power, and (especially) vice versa.

As an (extreme) example, voting members of the House of Lords in the UK government cannot vote in general elections.

mjh writes:

Mensarefugee: I don't know. Ask Bryan. It's his idea. I'm just saying that if there were such a test, I don't see why it would cause any more revolt than licensing requirements to drive a car.

Bernhard writes:

I read the article, in which "interesting economics" is mentioned as a research agenda.

I like "useful economics" as a research agenda better.

I think it's better to judge value of the scientific contribution not on the feeling of surprise caused in the reader, but rather in its potential use to make the game of society "better".

of course, if you can enhance the understanding of economics of the normal layman by "interesting" research, that's a good thing in itself and might have beneficial longterm effects on economic policy in the long run over the voting mechanism.

but one could ask whether one could not achieve this "teaching" effect by writing about relevant problems as well.

but "pirates"?...

another interpretation of the motivation of this research agenda of "interesting economics" would be that its main goal is not to contribute to the solving of societies relevant problems, but rather to raise interest in the authors themselves, in order for them to get better jobs/more citations.
I think that the real motivation is quite obvious.

George writes:

mjh wrote:

Really? Why wouldn't they just have incentive to get educated enough to pass the franchise joining test? Or is this only a one shot deal?

Clearly you've never read a civics textbook. Armed revolution, with all its risks and hardships, may be a more rational choice than wading through one of those.

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