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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Myth of the Rational Voter

In his recent book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan argues that voters repeatedly elect politicians who either share their biases or are else very good at pretending to. This is unfortunate because, according to Caplan, most people vote under the influence of number of false beliefs and so we end up with government that delivers lousy results. As he recently put it:
You know, if you’re a successful politician, you know you don’t succeed by figuring out what’s really going on in the world and trying to explain it to people. You need to find out what people want to hear and then tell it to them. That’s what you see in debates...  successful politicians instinctively are trying to read people, trying to read their faces,... and that’s how they win.
And Caplan has in mind all voters and all politicians, not just those on one side of the ideological divide or the other.

Caplan is featured in the latest Freakonomics podcast, "We the Sheeple," which notes that politicians tell voters exactly what they want to hear, even when it makes no sense — which is pretty much all the time. As always, you can listen to the podcast (or read the transcript) at the Freakonomics website (just click on the "We the Sheeple" link above) or you can download it from iTunes. A presentation by Caplan is also available for your viewing pleasure below (from YouTube):

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