Bryan Caplan  

Will's Challenge

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I'd like to think that I'm the but-for cause of this paragraph, but either way, the world should listen:
[I]t is a mistake to assume that equality of democratic voice improves the prospects of the poor and working classes unless the poor and working classes support policies that actually promote their interests. This is a pretty simple point many people have a hard time getting their heads around. But it's pretty clear that populist socialist revolutions around the world have not been very kind to poor and working-class people, because populist socialism doesn't tend to work very well. The now-vast public ignorance literature (subscribe to Critical Review!) would seem to suggest that the best case scenario for the poor and working classes is to have a relatively weak voice in a coalition with relatively strong-voiced highly-educated elites sincerely conerned with poverty alleviation and economic mobility. This presents another magic button for egalitarians. Suppose there is a button that simultaneously equalizes the democratic voice of the poor and working classes and reduces their expected lifetime income by 50%. Would you push it?
No?  Good.  How about a button that disenfranchises the poor and working classes and doubles their expected lifetime income?


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COMMENTS (16 to date)
RL writes:

I love that pedagogic trick. I think I first saw it used with car speeds and safety. You ask those who don't believe making a car safer makes people drive faster and less cautiously if they think making a car less safe makes people drive slower and more cautiously

I would push your disenfranchisement button.

You should take a highly informal and in no way statistically sound poll on this question. A la Wilkinson.

David R. Henderson writes:

Bryan,
You didn't ask this but I'd give up my vote if it kept my expected lifetime the same but substantially raised my freedom.
David

Kurbla writes:

I'd prefer democracy over income in both cases.

dearieme writes:

Life is not all monotonic functions.

Jeremy Nighohossian writes:

I believe that few people would push the button that equalizes democracy, but I'd also be very cautious about giving so much power to the "elite." There are many people among the highly educated that agree with the populists about how best to reduce poverty. I'm going to have to agree with David Henderson. I would give up my vote if I could live in a society with much more individual freedom.

Happiness Research has discovered that "procedural utility" is important to well-being too. The feeling that one has a voice in matters of public policy is of some more than trivial importance to the less tangible elements of "living standards," and the notion of autonomous experts antithetical.

There is no way to avoid sounding Machiavellian, but the perception that people have more say than they do may be an important part of an elitist strategy.

See this: http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/2009/02/08/can-procedural-utility-lend-a-hand-to-paleo-libertarianism/

George writes:

Dain wrote:

"Happiness Research has discovered that...."

See, the thing is, I stopped reading right there.

Kurbla writes:

Jeremy:

    "I would give up my vote if I could live in a society with much more individual freedom."

You'd trade your right to vote for the very thing you'd vote for (with uncertain success.) Not bad idea! :) I'd give up my freedom to chose woman if I could get Cathrine Deneuve.

Sean writes:

except that it is always the awesome intellectual elites like yourself bryan that have been saliently responsible for the rise of populist socialism, and not from the ground up.

Neal W. writes:

Bryan, thank you for opening my eyes about the foolishness of democracy.

I would definitely push the disenfranchise button.

Tom West writes:

How about a button that disenfranchises the poor and working classes and doubles their expected lifetime income?

Neat idea. Too bad that given reality, the question would be "How long would the poor and working classes likely keep their doubled income if they were disenfranchised?"

Will Wilkinson writes:

Bryan, You're in my blood. Well, that sounds gross. You have been assimilated into my weltanschauung... sounds dirty. Anyway, you get the drift.

asdfsd writes:

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

Thomas DeMeo writes:

Conflating "equality of democratic voice" with "populist socialist revolutions" muddies things up a bit.

Let's look at the 10 richest and 10 poorest nations. The poor of the rich nations have considerably more "equality of democratic voice" than those in the poorest nations, and of course, they live more comfortable lives.

Larry Peoples, Sr. writes:

Pavlov's dog was a Democrat voter too!!

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