Bryan Caplan  

What If the Median Voter Were a Failing Student?

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Credit Default Swaps... The Lamps Are Going Out...
That rhetorical question is the title of my new piece in the Economists' Voice.  My favorite part:

Once researchers accept the fact that noneconomists tend to see international trade as a
zero-sum game, though, the democratic longevity of protectionism becomes easy to explain.  It's called "populism" because it's popular. If people imagine that tariffs "protect" their nation from poverty, they will be protectionists. 

On this view, lobbyists can still play a role.  But instead of force-feeding protectionist policies on a pro-trade majority, lobbyists' main function is fine-tuning policy details. The steel lobby doesn't waste its time refuting the general principle of free trade. That would be like beating a dead horse that was never alive in the first place. Instead, the steel lobby aims to convince the American public that foreign steel is a special threat to the health of our economy.
Interestingly enough, I'm sandwiched between a bunch of more famous economists (Stiglitz included!)  If I'd written the article a few weeks later, I might have changed my fear-mongering lobbyist example.  We've seen quite a week of policy fine-tuning, as the bail-out bill grew from 3 pages to 451!

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COMMENTS (5 to date)
dearieme writes:

Am I wrong to suspect that it is not just the American masses who "see international trade as a
zero-sum game" but also a great majority of American politicians? (It's not just Americans of course; I have a highly intelligent, numerate Australian friend whose every instinct is that free trade should be offered to foreign countries only if they offer it back.)

ryan yin writes:

Dr. Caplan,

I wonder if there's an implication in your article that the Senate's vote in favor of the bailout bill out to make us think it's a better idea. If the median voter hates something, and we've already supposed that the median voter generally gets what she wants on major issues (excepting those cases where politicians are fearful that obedience will be punished as gross incompetence bordering on malign intent) ...

Or can we explain this away by hypothesizing either that they expect things to get worse (possibly no matter what, or that the averaged implied beliefs of the Senate aren't a consistent estimator?

Steve Roth writes:

>What If the Median Voter Were a Failing Student?

He or she would probably vote for a candidate who's "just like me."

David J. Balan writes:

The piece is mostly very good, but Obama's "soak the rich" tax plan is a bad example of a policy that is popular but would produce terrible results if actually implemented. People argue about how large the excess burden is of this or that tax, but I very much doubt there are many economists who think Obama's plan would be a disaster, and many (most?) would support it (including, naturally, me).

El Presidente writes:

I think that people's attitudes toward trade have more to do with their feelings on distribution than growth.

Tangentially related: Has anyone here ever entertained the concept of a backward-bending utility curve with respect to national income the way microeconomists relate work and leisure with respect to wages? Just curious.

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