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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Why voting is bad for you

I'll never get round to reading "The Myth of the Rational Voter" by Bryan Caplan but if Louis Menand's review in The New Yorker is anything to by, I'd like the cut of its jib. Caplan reckons society would be better off if voting were left to the small proportion of the population who are capable of making rational choices about the kind of policies likely to make life better rather than just doing what most of us do: placing our crosses against the candidate who seems most consistent with our received opinions and hoping that life can somehow get back to being the way we believe it once was:
Caplan rejects the assumption that voters pay no attention to politics and have no real views. He thinks that voters do have views, and that they are, basically, prejudices. He calls these views “irrational,” because, once they are translated into policy, they make everyone worse off. People not only hold irrational views, he thinks; they
like their irrational views. In the language of economics, they have “demand for irrationality” curves: they will give up y amount of wealth in order to consume x amount of irrationality. Since voting carries no cost, people are free to be as irrational as they like. They can ignore the consequences, just as the herdsman can ignore the consequences of putting one more cow on the public pasture. “Voting is not a slight variation on shopping,” as Caplan puts it. “Shoppers have incentives to be rational. Voters do not.”