Thursday, October 25, 2012

Democracy is a bad idea

At least in the USA.

Tyler and I have a piece up at Slate which highlights the findings that irrelevant local events (like football games) affect peoples' voting behavior.

Beyond the pieces we cite, there is also research by Justin Wolfers showing that voters don't process economic information rationally, and a fun paper by Achen & Bartels showing how shark attacks in New Jersey hurt Woodrow Wilson at the polls.

People, the legitimacy of representative democracy rests in large part on the idea of democratic accountability, and there is a growing literature showing that such accountability is a mirage.

We open our piece with a great Churchill quote: "The best argument against democracy is a 5 minute conversation with the average voter".

It's no wonder our political outcomes are often so illogical, frustrating and counter-productive.

We have met the enemy and he is us (apologies to Walt Kelly).


Anonymous said...

Can you tell me the source of that Churchill quote?

politicalEconomist said...

1) Low information at the micro/voter does not mean that the political system as a whole does not act in a more logical way. Voters que off elites who have skin in the game and who are well informed.

Besides the set of politically feasible economic policy alternatives from which we select a policy is determined by some really really smart folks. They may be wrong but they are not dumb.

2) Even if all voters were perfectly informed homoeconomicus political outcomes would likely still be irrational or illogical. When preferences are heterogeneous in a policy space almost any method for aggregating preferences will produce illogical outcome.

Decisions about how much influence individual preferences have on policy (aka democracy) are one of marginal costs and benefits, not total costs. "Democracy is a bad idea" makes as much sense as "Pollution is a bad idea".

Anonymous said...

Democracy is a bad idea

Unless you come up with a better alternative, all this makes me think of is this and the self importance of academics who think too highly of their own intelligence.

Anonymous said...

Churchill also said:

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

I guess he has mixed feelings on the issue.

Thomas W said...

Did Achen and Bartels determine that a majority of economists process economic information rationally?

Given some texts, blogs, articles, etc. I've read, I'm not sure economists as a group do much better than mere mortals. :-)