A straightforward application of public choice theory.

Brexit Puzzle resized.png

Various friends on Facebook have been making fun of Britons who are madly googling to find out the implications of the vote to leave the EU. “Aren’t they stupid,” “they didn’t know what they were voting for,” blah, blah, blah.

They well could be stupid, but there are two more-charitable explanations. First, there might not be a huge overlap between those who are googling and those who voted. It makes sense for those non-voters to want to know the implications because the vote did go a certain way and people want to figure out what will happen next.

But there probably is a large overlap between those who voted and those who are googling to find out the implications. The reason is that the percent of eligible Britons who voted was so high. Unless there are a huge number of 16- and 17-year olds googling on Brexit, something I doubt, a large percent of the people googling are of vote-eligible age and probably voted.

Which leads me to my second reason, which doesn’t require that people be stupid; all it requires is that voters be rationally ignorant.

People know, at a conscious or subconscious level, that their vote is not determinative of the outcome. So in deciding how to vote, the vast majority don’t spend hours carefully sifting through the arguments and evidence. That’s rational. But once the outcome is determined, there will be implications. People want to understand those implications for their own life: How should I invest my retirement funds? Should I quit that job I’m not thrilled with or hold on? What about that flat that I wanted to buy? Etc. Also, they might want to know why the pound did this or the Euro did that: in other words, simple curiosity. So trying after the fact to get information that might help guide those decisions, or satisfy their curiosity, makes total sense.

On a somewhat related note, one of my frustrations with our local newspaper, the Monterey Herald, over the years is that in the 6 or 8 weeks before we got to vote on various initiatives and referenda, the Herald‘s articles would give some facts but were also fairly vague about implications. Then, when a referendum passed, within 24 hours the Herald listed bullet points in great detail about what this would mean. I remember particularly a ballot measure about youths and crime. I learned enough to vote against it. Once it passed by a huge margin, the Herald laid out some pretty draconian implications that they hadn’t even hinted at. Now this could be because the newspaper didn’t have the manpower to look into it and were simply reporting some material the advocates gave them. Then my upset would be at those advocates, but it would be clear why those advocates would withhold that information. Still, my gut feel is that the Herald could have, at very low cost, given us those facts, but didn’t.