If you're not with us, you must be a crackpot intellectual

It’s always good to see reasoned debate in our nation’s broadsheets. And then there’s articles like this one, by political scientist John Keane.

Our world is more complex than a novel, but Seeing should open our eyes to the rise of organised opposition to democracy in the early years of the 21st century.

Who are these new opponents? We don’t have to look far. Some opposition comes from crackpot intellectuals. In a recently published, best-selling book, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies, which has a dust jacket featuring voters as a flock of sheep, the American economist Bryan Caplan writes that democracies are usually bad for most people. Why? “Voters are worse than ignorant,” he says, “they are irrational – and vote accordingly.”

More worrying is…

Apparently, the rationality of voters is so well-established as to not need defending (better hide those donkey voting studies).

I think there are useful arguments to be made against Caplan, but ‘crackpot intellectual’ isn’t among them.

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4 Responses to If you're not with us, you must be a crackpot intellectual

  1. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Don’t we have to wonder who the crackpot is? I was particularly taken aback by this statement

    The really bad news is that Australia, along with Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy, has led the way towards this new kind of post-democracy, a uberdemocracy that pays lip service to the will of the people, all the while practically degrading the principle of fair-minded power sharing between citizens and governments.

  2. One of Caplan’s ideas is multiple votes for people with economic literacy, but one reason that this is a bad idea is that it would be converted to more votes to people who can pass knowledge test generally – thus giving more weight to academics like Keane, who know more than the punters but are perhaps even more prone to foolishness.

    Caplan’s book doesn’t actually have all that much on solutions to the problems it identifies, but it is an interesting rewrite of the rational ignorance problem, arguing that the wrong things voters think they know are more harmful than pure ignorance.

  3. procrustes says:

    Caplan’s multiple vote idea is a dead duck. His more interesting proposals include: (a) an argument against compulsory voting (b) putting more decisions into the market place, where people are more likely to act rationally and (c) more economic decision making by expert groups, similar to the central bank. Finding situations where (b) and (c) bring net benefits would be no bad thing. As for (a), this is just another supporting argument for getting rid of compulsory voting.

  4. Andrew Leigh says:

    Procrustes, I don’t recall Caplan’s book mentioning compulsory voting (I just checked the index, and the term isn’t listed there).

    One could make such an argument, but it would require showing that reluctant voters (those who only vote because it’s compulsory) are less informed than the rest. So far as I’m aware, no-one has looked at this.

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