The Myth of the Rational Voter Now in Paperback
By Bryan Caplan
The paperback version of my book is now in stock at Amazon, for the low low price of $12.21. It’s got a new introduction, including a reply to several prominent reviews. I think my favorite is my response to Daniel Casse’s WSJ review:
Casse concludes that “Voter bias has fueled some foolish national debate in recent years but imposed very little foolish national policy.” In effect, he defends democracy by saying that the voice of the people falls on deaf ears.
The Myth of the Rational Voter explicitly states that democracies’ policies are better than you would expect given public opinion. But this does not imply that public opinion is unimportant. If voter bias has no effect on policy, why were extensive protectionist measures adopted in the first place? Why does protectionism remain after three decades of liberalization? The most convincing explanation is also the simplest: Politicians backed the original measures to win votes; their successors remain reluctant to liberalize because they are afraid they will lose votes.
Casse may be right that, in recent years, voter bias has imposed few new foolish policies (though the Iraq War is a strong counter-example). But this is misleading in two ways. First, very little new national economic policy of any kind has been imposed in recent years, because gridlock keeps the status quo in place. Second, and more importantly, Casse focuses on how policies have changed instead of what policies exist. A democracy should not be judged a success merely because it refrains from making bad policies worse – or makes a half-hearted effort to correct long-standing mistakes.
Many economists have a bad habit of crying “market failure” when markets fall short of perfection. But when I point out the shortcomings of democracy, the same economists often stonewall: “Democracy works well enough. Get over it.” Do I detect the whiff of democratic fundamentalism?