When Robin Hanson arrived at GMU ten years ago, he was a hard-line rational choice political economist. (See his job market paper). For every political phenomenon, he insisted on "a story without fools." Not anymore. After a couple years of arguing with me about voter irrationality, he pulled a virtual 180. The latest fruit of my conversion of Robin:
Politics isn't mainly about policy, but when policy comes up
politicians mainly want credit for appearing to do what voters embrace,
while avoiding blame for appearing to do what voters reject. Actually
doing something everyone likes is very hard; it is usually easier to
modify how things appear, and who appears responsible.
Yup, Democrats can by themselves do all the stuff the public will
like, but when it comes to doing stuff the public won't like, they
can't do it alone and need Republican help, and it would be best really
if Republicans took the lead there. Democrats want credit now for
getting these things started, while leaving the really unpopular pains
to be imposed by future politicians...
This whole blame game helps to explain why government policies are
often so complex. Policy complexity not only offers more ways to favor
supporters over others, it also offers more chances to favorably split
credit from blame.
BTW: If you think this is merely a problem of rational ignorance, think again (and again).