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Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter [Kindle Edition]

Ilya Somin
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

One of the biggest problems with modern democracy is that most of the public is usually ignorant of politics and government. Often, many people understand that their votes are unlikely to change the outcome of an election and don't see the point in learning much about politics. This may be rational, but it creates a nation of people with little political knowledge and little ability to objectively evaluate what they do know.

In Democracy and Political Ignorance, Ilya Somin mines the depths of ignorance in America and reveals the extent to which it is a major problem for democracy. Somin weighs various options for solving this problem, arguing that political ignorance is best mitigated and its effects lessened by decentralizing and limiting government. Somin provocatively argues that people make better decisions when they choose what to purchase in the market or which state or local government to live under, than when they vote at the ballot box, because they have stronger incentives to acquire relevant information and to use it wisely.

Editorial Reviews


"Voter ignorance can be rational: The likelihood of one vote mattering is infinitesimal, so why make the effort to stay informed? But as Ilya Somin demonstrates in this mind-opening book, voter ignorance has bad consequences that strengthen the case for limited government, including judicial review to put a leash on wayward majorities."--George F. Will, Journalist and Pulitzer Prize Winner

"Is political ignorance as bad as it seems? Ilya Somin powerfully argues that we seriously underestimate the severity of the problem... Democracy and Political Ignorance is the most cogent, thoughtful, and up-to-date book on political ignorance on the market."--Bryan Caplan, George Mason University, author of The Myth of the Rational Voter

"Political scientists have long worried about voter ignorance, but the law has been slow to catch up. Ilya Somin is part of an important group of legal thinkers grappling with this issue and its legal implications. With exceptional clarity, Somin offers a variety of solutions to the problem of voter ignorance, including a spirited and systematic defense of the value of voting with one's feet."--Heather Gerken, Yale Law School

"Somin illuminates both the extent of political ignorance and why maintaining such ignorance is rational for voters who recognize the near-futility of their efforts at political engagement. Even the most skeptical readers of his suggested solutions will benefit from wrestling with Somin's vigorously argued analysis."--Sanford Levinson, The University of Texas Law School

"Ilya Somin has an excellent new book on the problem of political ignorance in democracy... Highly recommended." - Jason Brennan, Georgetown University, author of The Ethics of Voting

"Ilya [Somin's] book is well worth reading for anyone interested in the problem of how a democracy can cope with an electorate that isn’t particularly interested in politics. It’s lucid, original, and in many ways compelling." - Sean Trende, Senior Elections Analyst, RealClearPolitics

"Democracy and Political Ignorance is a fascinating and provocative work of scholarship…. [It] provides a well reasoned, carefully qualified case for smaller government. … Somin’s preferences are clearly on the libertarian, decentralized side of the spectrum. Yet one need not subscribe to all—or indeed any—of his normative conclusions to appreciate his smart, thoughtful consideration of the issues.” - Christopher Schmidt, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology

"Ilya Somin… shows that Americans know woefully little about their political system, have known very little for a long time, and are not likely to change in the foreseeable future — because they have a very good reason not to… [M]any insights… come out of a book on ignorance that is, perhaps paradoxically, highly informative." – A. Barton Hinkle, Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Penetrating analysis of the problem with majoritarianism." - Randy Barnett, Georgetown University Law Center, author of Restoring the Lost Constitution

"A great book... According to Bryan Caplan this is 'the most cogent, thoughtful, and up-to-date book on political ignorance on the market.' I totally agree." - Aristides Hatzis, University of Athens, editor of Economic Analysis of Law: A European Perspective

"A new book, Democracy and Political Ignorance from the Stanford University Press, is now a must-read for the policy/ government types in the US." – Marlen Ronquillo, Manila Times (the Phillippines)

About the Author

Ilya Somin is Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law. Somin's work has appeared in numerous academic journals, including the Yale Law Journal and Stanford Law Review. He has also published widely in popular press outlets, such as the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal Somin has twice testified before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, including at the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. He writes regularly for the Volokh Conspiracy blog.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1537 KB
  • Print Length: 277 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0804786615
  • Publisher: Stanford Law Books (October 2, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00F2NY0UG
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #560,765 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ilya Somin, one of the principle authors of the Volokh Conspiracy, is a libertarian whom progressives can respect. His opinions are original rather than stylized, and he is a passionate defender of socially progressive causes. Some of his fans are Josh Marshall and Andrew Sullivan.

Ilya is a skillful writer, and in Democracy and Political ignorance he uses his considerable skills to advance an argument that a progressive (like myself) is set up to dislike.

Boiled down, his case begins with the well known argument that voters are politically ignorant for rational reasons: that the marginal value of a single vote is so microscopic it would be a poor use of time to spend much of it deeply educating oneself on political issues. He spends considerable energy proving both arms of this argument, using examples that are not painful for a progressive to read: He is quite willing to show that negative beliefs about Obama can be wrong, and in fact tends to stress this type of example more than those in which negative beliefs about conservatives held by progressives are demonstrated to be wrong. This is strategically clever in that it is progressives he wants to win over to his case (because conservatives are already there). In other words, using these palatable examples is a good rhetorical strategy.

He then proceeds to demolish a number of well known and less well known arguments claiming that political ignorance is more apparent than real; that there are shortcuts or knowledge multipliers that reduce or eliminate the harm. I found this part of the book educational, a brief course in a branch of political science.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So Logical You Always Knew This Was True December 27, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The premise is so logical that it seems like you always knew this and just didn't express it quite so clearly. An argument for smaller government based on a logic that is so compelling you wonder why you didn't think of this.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear and Persuasive December 24, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A well-written polemic. Adequately supported and argued. This book may make a few readers more libertarian. (For more of his work, see his blog,
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3.0 out of 5 stars Too Big Not To Fail? March 9, 2015
How do you plan to vote in the next election? Republican, Democratic, Conservative, Libertarian, Green Party, Workers' Party, or maybe, not at all? It's democracy after all, so you can do what you want to do. Right?

If you do vote, do you think you have enough information to make a "good" choice - be it based on candidates or issues or both? Or is the whole thing such a big mess and the likelihood of your single vote counting for much just a waste of your time? Maybe you'll look at the ballot a few minutes before pulling the lever like at a racetrack window just before the bell rings to end betting.

This is really the starting point of Ilya Somin's journey through a labyrinthine examination of where the American voting public is headed in his 2013 book, "Democracy and Political Ignorance".

In seven chapters, the author, a Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law, presents very interesting information about the level of political awareness and knowledge of American voters as well as possible directions for raising awareness and informed participation in elections. The first four chapters establish key political science concepts and underlying causes for the levels of political awareness and participation in the electoral process. The last three chapters explore specific concepts for raising public engagement in future elections and decision-making.

In short, despite increasing levels of completed education during the last 50 years or more, general public awareness of basic and current political knowledge are persistently (or selectively) low. For example, which branch of government has the power to declare war?
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More About the Author

ILYA SOMIN is Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law. His research focuses on constitutional law, property law, and the study of popular political participation and its implications for constitutional democracy. Somin's work has appeared in numerous scholarly journals, including the Yale Law Journal, Stanford Law Review, Northwestern University Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal, Critical Review, and others. Somin has also published articles in a variety of popular press outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times Room for Debate website, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Newark Star Ledger, Orlando Sentinel, South China Morning Post, Legal Times, National Law Journal and Reason. He has been quoted or interviewed by the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, and the Voice of America, among other media. He recently testified on the use of drones for targeted killing in the War on Terror before the US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights. In July 2009, he testified on property rights issues at the United States Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Somin writes regularly for the popular Volokh Conspiracy law and politics blog.

During the Fall 2008 semester, he served as visiting professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Somin has also been a visiting professor at the University of Hamburg, Germany, and the University of Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Before joining the faculty at George Mason, he was the John M. Olin Fellow in Law at Northwestern University Law School in 2002-2003. In 2001-2002, he clerked for the Hon. Judge Jerry E. Smith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Professor Somin earned his B.A., Summa Cum Laude, at Amherst College, M.A. in Political Science from Harvard University, and J.D. from Yale Law School.

Somin was born in the Soviet Union and immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was six years old. His interests include juggling, science fiction and fantasy literature, and sports history.


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