The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies

The Myth of the Rational Voter Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies The greatest obstacle to sound economic policy is not entrenched special interests or rampant lobbying but the popular misconceptions irrational beliefs and personal biases held by ordinary voters

  • Title: The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies
  • Author: Bryan Caplan
  • ISBN: 9780691138732
  • Page: 242
  • Format: Paperback
  • The greatest obstacle to sound economic policy is not entrenched special interests or rampant lobbying, but the popular misconceptions, irrational beliefs, and personal biases held by ordinary voters This is economist Bryan Caplan s sobering assessment in this provocative and eye opening book Caplan argues that voters continually elect politicians who either share theirThe greatest obstacle to sound economic policy is not entrenched special interests or rampant lobbying, but the popular misconceptions, irrational beliefs, and personal biases held by ordinary voters This is economist Bryan Caplan s sobering assessment in this provocative and eye opening book Caplan argues that voters continually elect politicians who either share their biases or else pretend to, resulting in bad policies winning again and again by popular demand.Boldly calling into question our most basic assumptions about American politics, Caplan contends that democracy fails precisely because it does what voters want Through an analysis of Americans voting behavior and opinions on a range of economic issues, he makes the convincing case that noneconomists suffer from four prevailing biases they underestimate the wisdom of the market mechanism, distrust foreigners, undervalue the benefits of conserving labor, and pessimistically believe the economy is going from bad to worse Caplan lays out several bold ways to make democratic government work better for example, urging economic educators to focus on correcting popular misconceptions and recommending that democracies do less and let markets take up the slack.The Myth of the Rational Voter takes an unflinching look at how people who vote under the influence of false beliefs ultimately end up with government that delivers lousy results With the upcoming presidential election season drawing nearer, this thought provoking book is sure to spark a long overdue reappraisal of our elective system.

    One thought on “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies”

    1. Since I probably won't finish this book before school starts, I figure I'd put in my review now based on the first few chapters. While I was really excited to see this book come out and feel it's a topic long overdue for a good discussion, I believe Caplan is too smart for his own good. The premise of the book is that if the average person knows more about economics, our democracy would function better. Caplan contends that systematic anti-foreign, anti-market, pessimistic and make-work biases c [...]

    2. Caplan is half right. He explores in some detail why irrationality is inherent to the human condition, and how this necessarily leads voters to make bad decisions. But I have two major problems with the book:1) Caplan's prime example of how stupid voters are is that voters want to regulate international trade. Certainly free trade is powerful and good, and while I agree with him that protectionist isolation would be very bad, there are reasonable, nuanced, and intelligent reasons that one might [...]

    3. This book is all about economics and the amazing differences in beliefs of trained economists and the voting public. The author posits and offers proof that this is why democracies choose bad policies. The book is not about anything other than economics. If you are interested in other, non-economic, irrational beliefs and how they tie in to politics, you won't find it in this book.

    4. I read this book because ever since Prop 8 passed in California, I have completely lost faith in direct democracy, and started feeling like voting was just opting into a corrupt system of the majority suppressing whatever minority they didn't like. The "We are the 99%" protests rubbed me the same way. This book confirmed some of my mood, but left me a bit more hopeful. The author offers an erudite, economist viewpoint that the perception that voting is just like the free market is wrong because [...]

    5. This book will probably haunt me until the day I die. It will haunt me before I sleep, and it will haunt me when I wake. It is a chilling analysis of why democracy, as we know it in America, does not work. It doesn't work because most people are irrational voters. People are irrational voters because they vote on their preconceived biases about the economy, foreign policy, etc. And their biases are mostly wrong because they're uneducated about these matters, and the educated elites that are educ [...]

    6. Alexis de Tocqueville told us in 1835 that “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.” That's not an exact quote as I've had pointed out to me but it's what the man wrote almost 200 years ago. Or there's: It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public funds (treasury).Actually to be precise America is not a democracy. We are a Democratic, Constitutional Republic. That s [...]

    7. Requiring my concentration throughout, this book packs a big payoff in every section. The author presents the economic biases shared by a frighteningly large majority of voters and follows by clearly (although with a lot of empirical evidence) demystifying these biases in a way that makes your brain feel good. Caplan, a Princeton economist, cleaves the difference between the rational way we conduct business in our economic lives and the irrational way we hold political positions on economic issu [...]

    8. I definitely wasn't convinced of the strength of all the arguments in the book, and by the time I got to the end I felt a bit unsatisfied and unresolved, but it was worth the read if for no other reason than it forces you to confront the issue of bad policy decisions in ways that are rarely talked about, and from an angle that is quite different from the typical discussions of these issues. The writing is a level or two above "casual non-fiction reader", and it probably helps to have a bit of an [...]

    9. A good look at the harsh reality of political discourse in a democracy. Not only do people lack the time and information to make truly informed decisions, they also suffer from basic analytical fallacies that are readily exploited by politicians on the make. Don't start feeling smug, though. Caplan takes on sacred cows on the Left (protectionism works! globalization = evil!) and on the Right (immigration is bad! deficits = evil) with equal aplomb. As Caplan notes throughout, many economic fallac [...]

    10. I am not an "economist," but according to Bryan Caplan, I can be defined as a part of the “enlightened public” because I have a Master’s degree (4.0 GPA in education from UMass Boston). I have also been living under the American poverty line as an American-born citizen for the last three years (not by choice or any lack of effort to obtain a living wage). Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University and touts a Ph.D. from Princeton University (also the publisher of this bo [...]

    11. The Myth of the Rational voter attempts to explain how democracies continue to enact stupid economic policies that are not in the best economic interests of a majority of people. There are two primary reasons: (1) Most voters are ignorant of economics and (2) Even if they are not ignorant of economics, people sometimes value their ideology more than they value prosperity. (Caplan calls this “quasi religion.”) The book is called The MYTH of the Rational Voter because many have argued that vot [...]

    12. Very enjoyable and recommendable.Pro:About trade between borders and how voters will want to stop this trade because they don't understand basic economics. Also, he answers the question of the rational consumer. If economics assume that the consumer is rational. Then how come the voter is irrational? Doesn't he pay for a product with his vote? Not really. He pays for the bragging rights and the right to belong to his ingroup. His vote by itself won't make him pay less tax. But telling all his fr [...]

    13. There's too much here for me to give it less than 3 stars, but Caplan seems to willfully ignore two (related) retorts to this thesis. Two caveats, though. First, I'm not summarizing the (interesting!) argument, so if you haven't read a synopsis of the book, it's possible that none of this will make sense. Second, I'm not writing this with the thought that it "disproves" Caplan. It's just a couple of things that were bugging me. The first retort is that when he characterizes adherence to politica [...]

    14. Caplan's general argument is that a majority of voters in democracies (or representative republics) are rationally irrational when it comes to politics. Since the likelihood of one voter's vote being decisive in an election is practically nil, the costs for being wrong (i.e choosing a candidate whose policies are bad for the nation) are practically nil to the individual voter. This being the case, voters have little incentive to take the time to become informed on political/economic matters. On [...]

    15. Let’s start with the bad news - democracy works! The good news is that luckily for the populace it is marginally subverted by the interest groups and politicians. That’s right kids - the brilliant cover with mesmerized sheep is more charitable to the voters than the brief volume that follows it – at least sheep can accidently stumble upon a good idea The famous miracle of aggregation that is supposed to cancel out random errors of judgment and thus save democracy from stupid decisions of u [...]

    16. Caplan's catchy diatribe is a fascinating contribution to public debate. I like the no-nonsense style of writing, the polemical bite of the pen and the combination of empirical evidence (about what the public vs. experts vs. educated voters believe) with rational analysis of what they "should" believe. The analysis is full of problems, however, on the following counts: 1) the narrow focus on economics as the main focus of political choice, 2) the underestimation of the personal payoffs of econom [...]

    17. This is one of the best popular press economics books I've ever read. More importantly, though, this is hands down the best public choice economics book I've ever read. All too often, some economists will invoke public choice theory without actually describing what they mean. In Myth of the Rational Voter, Caplan unpacks the theory and then contributes to the literature.This book should be required reading for every class on behavioral economics. It does a fantastic job of describing the cogniti [...]

    18. What's the Churchill line about talking to a voter for 5 minutes and hating democracy? Yeah basically that. But I mean voters are only ever voting. Once elected, MPs can really do whatever they want in congress or parliament. The person who the Dumbies voted in over Smarties does not necessary have to be themselves a Dumbie. More often it means the winning candidate was simply better at pandering to a larger (dumber) audience - which is what liberalised democratic politics has always been about. [...]

    19. I started this book to find a solid explanation of Trump and Brexit and I've found not one but several (and yes, book was published in 2007).A thoughtful explanation of incentives and biases that direct how people vote. And the way politicians utilize these incentives and biases to win the race. And why breaking promises is often a good strategy not only for them but also for us.The book is sometimes repetitious but not in a catastrophical way.

    20. It's not just ignorance. Not even deliberate (rational) ignorance, or for that matter voter self-interest. It's outright irrationality. Shocked? Me either. But what did surprise me is the resistance that Caplan seems to find to this: it seems economists model people as "rational actors" and are reluctant to change that perception -- or at least to discuss it in mixed company. Elitism is a 4-letter word.Caplan describes potential fixes, fascinating ones involving markets and education, but that's [...]

    21. A intellectual book that isn't boring is a rare treat, and Caplan comes through with that in The Myth. Caplan is more than an economist--he discusses psychology, political science, and philosophy in this critique of democracy. His central argument is that voters both lack information (e.g. think foreign aid is a huge part of the budget), and often act irrationally. This combination leads to bad policy outcomes. You don't have to agree with everything he says --(I have a few minor disagreements w [...]

    22. Everybody knows the expression "unpopular decision" or "unpopular policy", often used when talking of a generally good measure that's unfortunately difficult to implement due to political reasons. Everybody takes it as given actually, as if it's a natural thing that some good policies are hard to push in a democratic society. Why though? We love democracy: here in Russia some of us love the idea of it, elsewhere they love the fact of it. Why do we love it? Because people are in the best position [...]

    23. My takeaway and derived thoughts from this book:1) Industrialized public education is largely useless and should be, at best, abolished. Educating the general populace with economic principles and political norms won't stop them from voting for nonsensical policies that go directly against what they've been taught. The level of stupidity always rises dramatically when people get together to form a crowd, no matter how well-educated the individuals might be.2) Liberal democracies are not so diffe [...]

    24. Caplan argues persuasively that voters are irrational. In particular, Caplan details the variety of ways in which voters have strong anti-market, pessimistic, anti-foreign, and make-work biases (economic growth=jobs). The misinformed tend to be hawkish protectionist nationalists, unlike academic economists (who tend to be moderate Democrats). The most interesting upshot from this book was that one should expect people in a large-scale democracy to be rationally irrational. This book pairs nicely [...]

    25. SolidAn essential for those who are learning behavioral economics. Must be read in line with Dan Ariely, Steven Pinker and Robert Edgerton. Altoufh the wording was a little hard and the author struggled to give the main ideas its still a solid book. Read this and it will help you get red pilled

    26. Creo que este libro ilustra acertadamente cómo es que la gente es más irracional a la hora de votar de lo que se piensa y por qué los excesos de democracia, llámense referendums, no siempre se traduce en mayor beneficio para la población. El único pero es que el autor, siendo economista, a veces creo termina siendo un poco arrogante.

    27. Surprisingly I kind of enjoyed this book. Unsurprisingly, the sense of libertarian elitism is very prevalent. I might write my commentary on this book in a medium post (if time permits) as I leave notes here and there in the book. I guess the main takeaway from this book is to listen more to your economist.

    28. Bryan Caplan's Myth of the Rational Voter argues that democracies choose bad policies because democracies' citizens have systematic biases related to economics. The four main biases he identifies are anti-market bias, anti-foreign bias, make-work bias, and pessimistic bias. Here is Caplan in his own words:[1] anti-market bias [is] a tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of the market mechanism[2] anti-foreign bias [is] a tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of interaction wi [...]

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