Pi Attitude Zone: Conformity & Stability

Millions Of Voters Can’t Be Wrong... Can They? [1]

Back in the 1920s America was gripped by prohibition, censorship and other forms of puritanical moralism.  Americans cast an envious eye at the racy and permissive attitudes prevailing in Paris at the time.  A 1929 Cole Porter musical immortalized the idea that “Fifty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong”.

Which leads us to a bigger question.  Can an entire nation’s voters be wrong? 

The economist Bryan Caplan of George Mason University thought they could, and usually were.  He said so at length in his book “The Myth Of The Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies”.  He was not really saying that voters were ignorant, exactly, more that they were just plain wrong.

Wrong about what?  Caplan accused American voters of harboring “irrational prejudices” which, once they get turned into policy, make everyone worse off.  These prejudices would include (a) being biased against markets, and wanting to punish those they make wealthy;  (b) a bias against foreigners, denying the national benefits of interacting with them and pushing protectionism instead;  (c) a bias against productivity, closely linked with a belief in preserving jobs at any cost;  and (d) an irrational pessimism, a conviction that everything is going to hell and that their chosen politicians should somehow stop the rot. 

Voters tend to get what they ask for.  As HL Mencken put it, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard”.

But are voters necessarily wrong in believing all those things?  Countervailing arguments point to big companies driving deregulation so as to gouge higher prices out of their customers;  job-losses in the face of foreign competition; and steady decline in the real standard of living of most middle-class Americans.  Hard times lend credence to theories that everything really is going to hell in a hand-basket.

Who’s right?  The economists who think that voters are wrong? Or voters who accuse economists of ignoring the ‘real’ problems?

Pi will dedicate the next two blogposts to examining the proposition that all the people really can fool themselves all the time.

Zone: Conformity & Stability Country: USA / North America Product –