Irrationality as Pollution

There’s too much pollution because the cost of producing it isn’t born by the producer. Bryan Caplan thinks there’s too much voter irrationality for the same reason:

In a sense, then, there is a method to the average voter’s madness. Even when his views are completely wrong, he gets the psychological benefit of emotionally appealing political beliefs at a bargain price. No wonder he buys in bulk.

For example, our tribal ancestors’ brains evolved to distrust strangers. Today there remains emotional resonance to that distrust and as a result people are more likely to support limitations on immigration. Bryan argues people bare no cost for this belief as they benefit, if even slightly, from the primordial emotional feedback. The result is people vote for irrational things like immigration restrictions.

Bryan goes on to claim that voters have systematic biases such as this on many other subjects. In the end, democracy creates a lot of pollution.

5 thoughts on “Irrationality as Pollution”

  1. Maybe that’s part of why true democracy is usually limited to a local scope. We’re a republic for the rest.

    Or maybe a republic is a compromise between our cultural ideals of equality and our biological ideal of a patriarchal tribe. Governors and presidents = chiefs and kings?

    To turn a long-running argument of yours back on you: what do you propose as an alternative? Available alternatives are the only difference between “bad” and “hard.”

  2. Yeah, I’m just relaying Caplan’s point. I asked that exact question of him at his blog. His non-answer is given in the essay I linked to above.

    I take his results as just data, not policy recommendations. Next time I think they should put something on the ballot, I’ll have Caplan’s results in mind, for example.

  3. Wrong approach. The key to getting your agenda backed in this environment is to use irrationality, not fight it. Need something? Invoke terrorism, immigration, abortion, the gays, the environment, government spending, corruption, terrorism, family values, education spending, healthcare, terrorism, or obscenity. Or all of those all at once (California Liberals!!!) Maybe you just want a tax break on heating oil. Voter irrationality is a wind; tack with it.

  4. Does representative democracy solve the problems of participant democracy, though? The public tends to elect convincing experts over competent experts.

    I don’t blame politicians for that, exactly. All politicians have to pander to survive and advance. I can’t think of any good examples at the federal level who have served in my lifetime.

Comments are closed.