Monday, June 02, 2008

The Religion of Politics

[I recently finished Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter. In this and future posts I will provide my chapter-by-chapter notes.]

Beyond the Miracle of Aggregation
Voter ignorance is a product of natural human selfishness, not a transient cultural aberration.
- Bryan Caplan
Caplan explains the Aggregation concept which says that individual voter ignorance is canceled out over the large population of voters. His main thesis, however, shows that this only applies if there isn't systematic ignorance throughout the population (or the voters don't make systematic errors).

He asks the question: Are voter errors systematic on questions of direct political relevance? He answers yes, and lays out a set of biases that voters seem to hold. These are
  • Antimarket bias
  • Antiforeign bias
  • Make-work bias
  • Pessimistic bias
We will expand on these biases in future posts.

Caplan then goes on to talk about how politics is a form of religion: "Political/economic ideology is the religion of modernity." People find comfort in politics as they do with religion, and some of the same passions are exhibited as well. He gives the comparison of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages and totalitarian regimes of the 20th Century. I've often made the comparison between socialism and religion. Caplan, however, does not make this comparison himself - it's nationalism and social revolutions that he is concerned with.

Keeping with the theme of religion, Caplan shows how voters can afford to be ideological. In a democracy voters do not pay the "full price" for their beliefs because the odds of one vote having a substantial influence on policy diminishes with the growing voter base. "The price of ideological loyalty is close to zero," so people can easily partake in ideological delusions. "Faith is a shortcut to belief."

In a democracy, "negative externalities irrelevant to individual behavior add up to a large collective misfortune." People will rationalize their errors, however, going so far as to deify those who encourage their delusions; victimizing those who destroy those delusions.

All this means is that in the end democracies fall short because voters get the foolish policies they ask for.

1 comment:

Water said...

So is there an alternative? Plato's republic of an enlightned leadership?