The Myth of the Rational Voter was Re: [FoRK] What is Reason?

Jeff Bone <jbone at place.org> on Mon May 7 14:04:38 PDT 2007

On May 7, 2007, at 3:41 PM, Aaron Burt wrote:

> Reading this: http://www.cato-unbound.org/2006/11/06/bryan-caplan/
> I got the impression that the book was a bunch of whining about how
> those stoopid voters don't understand how Chicago-school neoliberal
> policies are actually GOOD for them.  In theory, anyway.  *cough*

I wouldn't characterize it that way;  I'd characterize it as a  
serious attempt to address one of the thorny problems that's long  
plagued the application of economic political science to real-world  
experience.

Understand:  the thing that's being beat up here is *itself* one of  
those Chicago-school (figuratively, not literally) concepts:  the  
classical explanation of how a democracy can theoretically give rise  
to rational net outcomes given largely, but not exclusively, "random"  
voting by constituents uninformed on a given issue.  The theory in  
question explains the ideal outcome hypothetically, but not the sub- 
ideal reality that we actually observed.  And that theory is Caplan's  
target in the opening volley, and that issue the central theme of the  
book.

It's incontrovertible that voters vote ignorantly on many / most  
issues, candidates, etc.  Post-exit polls and countless studies have  
shown that.  ("Which propositions on the ballot did you vote for?"   
"All of them."  Uh-huh.)  And our own patterns here in the US aren't  
all that different from any democracy anywhere.  The question is:   
how can the system product positive results, given that ugly truth?

I don't really think this guy has an axe to grind about politics per- 
se, it's much more meta than that;  and if he does, it's purely the  
typical "markets work better than alternatives" axe, and surely *not*  
anything I'd describe as "neoliberal."  (Perhaps "classical  
libertarian," though.  Or even:  "republican" in the little-R sense  
of the term:  democracy with it's majoritarian excesses tempered by a  
strong system of rights, checks, and balances.)

jb


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