The Myth of the Rational Voter

The Myth of the Rational Voter

Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies

Book - 2007
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"The greatest obstacle to sound economic policy is not entrenched special interests or rampant lobbying, but the popular misconceptions, irrational beliefs, and personal biases held by ordinary voters. This is economist Bryan Caplan's sobering assessment in this book. Caplan argues that voters continually elect politicians who either share their biases or else pretend to, resulting in bad policies winning again and again by popular demand." "Calling into question our most basic assumptions about American politics, Caplan contends that democracy fails precisely because it does what voters want. Through an analysis of American's voting behavior and opinions on a range of economic issues, he makes the convincing case that noneconomists suffer from four prevailing biases: they underestimate the wisdom of the market mechanism, distrust foreigners, undervalue the benefits of conserving labor, and pessimistically believe the economy is going from bad to worse. Caplan lays out several ways to make the democratic government work better - for example, urging economic educators to focus on correcting popular misconceptions and recommending that democracies do less and let markets take up the slack." "The Myth of the Rational Voter takes a look at how people who vote under the influence of false beliefs ultimately end up with government that delivers lousy results."--BOOK JACKET.
Publisher: Princeton : Princeton University Press, c2007
ISBN: 0691129428 (cloth : alk. paper)
9780691129426 (cloth : alk. paper)
Branch Call Number: 320.6 CAP
Characteristics: x, 276 p. : ill. ; 24 cm


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Oct 31, 2008

This is a book about economics, not sociology; its premise is that most voters' misunderstanding of basic economics ensures they vote for politicians who either share their biases or claim to when it's politically expedient.

Caplan is at his best when he's trying to explain the balancing act a politician needs to perform when trying to implement a policy that is likely to have positive economic results (and improve his or her chance of re-election) but is unpopular with voters. Referencing Machiavelli, he also shows when a politician can safely ignore the wishes of the electorate.

At his worst, Caplan's writing is jargon-filled and opaque, his arguments incomprehensible. He's big on theory, but rarely offers practical examples to illustrate his ideas. Far too much of this book is spent defending economists against charges of bias instead of supporting his arguments. Caplan seems to think (and says so half a dozen times) that most of the world's problems would be solved if everyone just had a PhD in economics. As a result, he comes across as a condescending pedant with an axe to grind.

An intriguing premise, but a book that ultimately seems aimed at fellow economists, not the general public, and therefore a disappointment.


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