In Defense of Extreme Meliorism
By Bryan Caplan
me·lio·rismPronunciation: \ˈmēl-yə-ˌri-zəm, ˈmē-lē-ə-\Function: nounDate: 1877
: the belief that the world tends to improve and that humans can aid its betterment
Guilty as charged! The only mystery is why Tyler imagined I might be anything else. He’s seen my meliorism on a near-daily basis for the last thirteen years. He should know better than to say, “I once read a book
that suggested voters were doomed to irrationality (albeit to varying
degrees).” We were together at the 2009 Mont Pelerin Society meetings when I presented an entire paper attacking this misinterpretation of my book.
But what about Tyler’s substantive point?
If voters can be taught the correct sophisticated mix of
cynicism and pro-liberty sentiment, can they not be taught to support
good policies, thus making democracy a well-functioning system of
The answer, of course, is that I favor teaching the public (a) that the logical response to cynicism about government is support for smaller government, and (b) what policies are good. Neither is easily taught. But there’s nothing in the definition of meliorism that says that improving the world is easy.
In any case, E&O’s lesson plan is more challenging than mine, and less true. Like me, they want to educate people about what policies are good. The difference: Instead of teaching people that cynicism about government is an argument for liberty, they want to teach people to stop being so cynical about government. While we’re both fighting uphill battles, I’m starting on higher ground. At least I can build upon the public’s justified cynicism. E&O have to somehow trick the public into trusting the typical politician.