Bryan Caplan  

My Favorite Convert

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The Financial White Paper: A ... Robin Hanson on the Signalling...
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.
He continues:

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).


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Monte Davis writes:

Hanson's closing words there: "...it also offers more chances to favorably split credit from blame."

I'd be more inclined to think of that as a fault specific to politicians if I hadn't watched another set of professionals seeking every chance to favorably split profit from risk.

And getting paid a lot more to do so.

Greg Ransom writes:

We're watching the economists do exactly the same sort of thing as Hansen describes with the economic catastrophe the economists have managed to produce for us.

Kurbla writes:

Taking credits and avoiding responsibility is so usual that there is an archetypal picture and phrase of "sweeping the dust under the carpet." It shouldn't come as surprise that politicians do that as well.

Democarats have decided that they are good at spending money, and leave it to Republicans to do the right thing and raise taxes.

It is much better to not understand the results of something complicated, than of something simple. So, all legislation is complicated.

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