Bryan Caplan has a good post arguing democracy produces worse results than rational ignorance among voters would explain.
However, one aspect of his style annoys me – his use of the word irrationality to describe what’s wrong with voter thinking focuses on what is missing from voter thought processes rather than what socially undesirable features are present (many economists tend to use the word irrationality this way). I hope his soon-to-be-published book version of this post devotes more attention to what voters are doing that differs from boundedly rational attempts at choosing the best candidates (some of which I suspect fall into what many of us would call selfishly rational motives even though economists usually classify them as irrational). Some of the motives that I suspect are important are the desire to signal one’s group membership, endowment effects which are one of the many reasons people treat existing jobs as if they were more valuable than new and more productive jobs that can be created, and reputation effects where people stick with whatever position they had in the past because updating their beliefs in response to new evidence would imply that their original positions weren’t as wise as they want to imagine.
Alas, his policy recommendations are not likely to be very effective and are generally not much easier to implement than futarchy (which I consider to be the most promising approach to dealing with the problems of democracy). For example:
Imagine, for example, if the Council of Economic Advisers, in the spirit of the Supreme Court, had the power to invalidate legislation as “uneconomical.”
If I try hard enough, I can imagine this approach working well. But it would take a lot more than Caplan’s skills at persuasion to get voters to go along with this, and it’s not hard to imagine that such an institution would develop an understanding of the concept of “uneconomical” that is much less desirable than Caplan’s or mine.