October 31, 2014

Reading right now: “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies.”

Lately, I’ve not had a lot of time to read. But when I have had time, I’ve enjoyed reading the wonkish and pointed “The Myth of the Rational Voter” by Bryan Caplan.

It’s an economist’s look at why, as the sub-title says, voters tend to support bad public policies. The reason, Caplan argues, is not special interests or rampant lobbying, but rather, it is “popular misconceptions, irrational beliefs, and personal biases head by ordinary voters” (from the fly-leaf).

What is interesting, as I have barely begun to read it, is the biases that he points out and, to deepen the plot, as it were, is that economists have long seen and known these biases.

For example:

  • Antimarket Bias: “the tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of the market mechanism.” (p. 30)
  • Antiforeign Bias: “a tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of interaction with foreigners.” (p. 36) Interestingly, Caplan tells in association with this bias of an business associate of his that believes everything wrong with the American economy could be solved with a naval blockade of Japan and a Berlin Wall at the Mexican border…hmmm, I can’t imagine where I’ve heard something like that latter one before.
  • Make-work Bias: “a tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of conserving labor.” (p. 40) In other words, “[w]here noneconomists see the destruction of jobs, economists see the essence of economic growth–the production of more with less.” Not sure how you’d explain that one to the 10% of America who is under or unemployed right now.
  • Pessimistic Bias: “a tendency to overestimate the severity of economic problems and underestimate the recent past, present, and future performance of the economy.” (p. 44) I know one man who must wish this one didn’t exist, and he’s the Cheerleader-in-Chief.
The results? People act irrationally while making ballot box decisions, resulting in public policy that is against their interests. 
Check it out. It’s an interesting read and well worth your time as we move into an election year where the economy really is the only issue.

Why did the GOP lose NY-26? Not the reason you think.

The winning Democrat only won with 47%, just one point less than Barack Obama got in the district in 2008. Not exactly an awe-inspiring performance.

Democrats won only because a third-party candidate—self-proclaimed tea partier Jack Davis—spent a reported $3 million of his own money. Absent Mr. Davis as a spoiler—he got 9% of the vote—Democrats would never have made a serious bid for this district, nor won if they did. Ironically, Mr. Davis ran for the same seat in the last three elections as a Democrat. This year he ran as a populist conservative.

via Rove: Why the Republican Lost in NY-26 – WSJ.com.

But you won’t hear that from the folks on the left. A third party candidate, coupled with a Medicare scare campaign, won the race for the Democrats.

This is not to say that a GOP budget that reforms Medicare is a liability–on the contrary, it will be an asset, if Republicans can learn to talk about it right. If they can communicate that their budget is fair, keeps Medicare viable, and brings federal spending down (and that no one will be hurt or thrown off a cliff), voters will respond favorably.

Voters want to hear about Medicare reform. They understand the serious threat that the current spending trends present for our country. But Republicans have got to learn to communicate and counter Democrats distortions. Otherwise, it won’t matter how good the plan to reform unfunded liabilities is–Democrats will win elections based on the threat of negative change.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Proportional Representation: a boost to representation and turnout or a shift of power?

“Now if you think that proportional representation is boring, you are a very silly person because it’s about how we can run the country better.” John Cleese, Monty Python’s Flying Circus

[Read more...]