August 16, 2009

Duped

I'm a sucker for a catchy heading or title, resulting in many duped moments (probably at least several years of my cumulative lifetime).

There are at least three slap in the face, fuck you for wasting my time, disingenuous manipulations about this Bryan Caplan journal article.

First up is that it was published in May 2007, meaning that it would have been months (if not years) in the making prior to the publication date, meaning that the defense of free markets and dissing of government regulations (and voters, by association) oozes with naive idiocy. His idolization of economists, in particular, is embarrassing. If only he'd waited a couple of months, sucked up the full glory of economies melting down from one hemisphere to the other, all because unfettered, unregulated markets in one country imploded in spectacular and unregulated ways. Timing hey, it's a bitch.

Secondly, asking why democracies choose bad policies is nearly as stupid as asking why communism's choose bad policies.

Voters, whether it be the rational or irrational variety, do not choose policies, period, ever. They only get to choose between a few broad brushstrokes, preferred color and movement, vague visions, punchy sound bites.

Policy is what happens long after ballot papers have been pulped. Policies are written by public servants, the contents of which, the intent and outcomes, are not offered up to a vote by the electorate. Policy, most often, isn't what people think it was going to be. Hands up how many people saw Work Choices coming, 'ey? Howard didn't lie, he went under the radar. The policy was never put to the people.

Sure, Rudd & Co vowed to tackle climate change in the Antipodes, which is the feel-good metaphor of the moment, but they didn't tell anyone what their polices would look like, they didn't mention that they'd make a dog's breakfast of it - although, that has been the case everywhere in the world, so it was 100% foreseeable that a government here would botch things with equal vigor. Even if they had told us, we don't go to the polls to vote on individual polices. There's no exemption box, permitting us to note: "I vote for this guy, excluding his policy on dog poop and his policy on homeless people. Thanking you in advance."

Oooh, oooh! Hands up anyone who voted "1" for the ALP, in full knowledge and expectation that they would review the entire tax system, and, maybe, bung a capital gains tax on the family home?

Ha! Didn't see that coming, did ya, did ya!

Yet, Caplan merrily proceeds as if voters have a real say in any of this, and that "irrational" policies are the natural consequence of "irrational" voters. He doesn't present any correlation or causation though, it's given, presented with some bulldozer arguments.

Sure, we might well get to vote "on policy" at the next election, if run, for example, primarily on "climate change" and "taxation reform" - both concepts being vague, at best, but with no detail and no policy documents to review - people would vote all the same, and the winner would then get to spend three years implementing whatever the hell policies they like, insisting all the while that they had a direct mandate from the people to do exactly that.

And yet, we are still left with the truth that voting for a concept, an ideology, or someone with neat hair and trimmed eyebrows doesn't come close to being a vote for any or all government policies that are subsequently implemented.

Democracy as practiced in most countries is the minimalist variety. There are few exceptions, small nations, that do put individual policies to the public, or do allow the public to initiate their own policies. We have representative democracy. That's all it is folks. It's limited.

Finally, by the data he presents, informed voters run neck and neck in the rationality stakes with economists. There's not much between them. Of course, Caplan's argument is that only 1% of voters are informed, while 99% of them are ill-informed dunces.

The latter is mostly true, by the way, but that has to be tempered with the truth that this applies to everything in life, not just politics. People are remarkably attached to their ignorance, they insist and persist in believing no end of stupid things, why would they momentarily discard their way of being and thinking when they walk into a voting booth? Very possibly too, it's the daily grind of of ignorance, bigotry and stupidity that produces irrational communities and societies, and, therefore, irrational policies, not the few moments spent voting.


Irritating and funny (given the timing), to read, but on the up side, Caplan summarizes the standard political science accumulated knowledge of flawed human thinking, and how this affects voting intentions, quite well.

Alas, the flawed human thinking is pretty much intransigent. Caplan doesn't attempt to offer any cures, other than to imply that economists and markets are the saviors and should be left to roam free across the collective metropolis. It's a simple and dumb arsed conclusion to a misleading journal title.


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

3 comments:

  1. "Sure, we might well get to vote "on policy" at the next election, if run, for example, primarily on "climate change" and "taxation reform" - both concepts being vague, at best, but with no detail and no policy documents to review - people would vote all the same, and the winner would then get to spend three years implementing whatever the hell policies they like, insisting all the while that they had a direct mandate from the people to do exactly that."

    Yeah, just like Anna Bligh in Qld. She was voted in then suddenly things were really, really bad. So bad she had to sell of assets and cut jobs (funny, the LNP said that they needed to cut spending but they'd do it by natural attrition, but the Union spread lies about job cuts similar to those marketed for the ALP in NSW's last election and people believed them). Now Anna's been voted in she's got a mandate to take care of, um, not sure who or what, in the tough times. It's for Qlders own good, you know? And she has got the mandate, she was elected.

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  2. I think the situation is worse, that is, even less the "fault" of the poor old voter when a new landscape emerges during a term Kae, because then all bets are off, including any commitments given during an election campaign.

    Governments must respond to emerging or unanticipated events, that's their job, and that, of course, is how they position their actions to the public. No matter what those actions might be they're always "in the public interest", and the gov't, alas, is always the arbiter of our "best interest".

    Whatever. None of the punters have a say in those newly important policy proposals or policy implementations. It's not our bloody doing!

    OK, exceptions, partly only, are when gov't inquiries call for public submissions. But submissions mostly come from vested interests, whether corporate or community groups, with very few individuals having the wherewithal to complete the paper work, and certainly not a representative or unbiased sample of the electorate.

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  3. I think the term "Obama-voter" must have a broader application in the world at large. There are people everywhere who don't think much beyond the end of their own nose.

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