From Publishers Weekly
Caplan, an associate professor of economics, believes that empirical proof of voter irrationality is the key to a realistic picture of democracy and, thus, how to approach and improve it. Focusing on how voters are systematically mistaken in their grasp of economics-according to Caplan, the No. 1 area of concern among voters in most election years-he effectively refutes the "miracle" of aggregation, showing that an uninformed populace will often vote against measures that benefit the majority. Drawing extensively from the Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy, Caplan discusses how rational consumers often make irrational voters, why it's in politicians' interest to foment that irrationality, what economists make of the (non) existence of systematic bias and how social science's "misguided insistence that every model be a 'story without fools,' " has led them to miss the crucial questions in politics, "where folly is central." Readers unfamiliar with economic theory and its attendant jargon may find themselves occasionally (but only momentarily) lost; otherwise the text is highly readable and Caplan's arguments are impressively original, shedding new light on an age-old political economy conundrum.
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The best political book this year.
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(Nicholas D. Kristof New York Times )
Caplan thinks that democracy as it is now practiced cannot be salvaged, and his position is based on a simple observation: 'Democracy is a commons, not a market.'
(Louis Menand The New Yorker )
One of the two or three best books on public choice in the last twenty years.
(Tyler Cowen Marginal Revolution )
Like a few recent best sellers--Freakonomics, The Tipping Point, The Wisdom of Crowds--The Myth of the Rational Voter unwraps economic theories and applies them to everyday life. Mr. Caplan's thesis, though, lacks any semblance of a compliment: The 'unwisdom of crowds' is closer to his point. He believes that the American public is biased against sensible, empirically proved economic policies about which nearly all economists agree. Voters, he says, are not just ignorant in the sense of having insufficient information. They actually hold wrong-headed and damaging beliefs about how the economy works.
(Daniel Casse The Wall Street Journal )
The Myth of the Rational Voter usefully extends the discussion [about democracy] by linking it with 'public choice' theory. . . . Public choice theory faces a dilemma. A rational and self-interested person has no incentive to study political issues, as the chances of his or her determining the outcome are negligible. This has become known as 'rational ignorance'. Caplan maintains that the reality is much worse. He shows that voters are not just ignorant but systematically biased in favor of mistaken views.
(Samuel Brittan Financial Times )
Caplan is right to detect a stubborn irrationality in ordinary voters and he correctly points out to his rational choice colleagues that their models are hopelessly unrealistic.
(Martin Leet Australian Review of Public Affairs )
Caplan argues convincingly that irrational behaviour is pervasive among many of us today....Caplan's point, however, is that most voters are irrational. And that is worse than being ignorant....Their irrationality comes with a host of misconceptions that drive policy choices.
(Fazil Mihlar The Vancouver Sun )
This engaging and provocative volume describes why democracy gives us far less than its promise. Countering existing theories of rationally ignorant voters, Caplan argues persuasively that voters are irrational, registering systematically biased beliefs--and consequently votes--against markets and other sound economy policy metrics...[T]his is a compelling book, offering readers a well-written and well-argued competing theory for why democracy fails and why we should limit what is done through the political process.
(M. Steckbeck Choice )
[Caplan] argues that voters' own irrational biases, rather than flaws in the democratic process, compel voters to support policies that are not in their interest. While one may quibble with his specifics, the overall argument is convincing and applicable across a variety of fields...Forces the reader to take a second look at our nation's unshakable faith in the wisdom of the electorate.
(Pio Szamel Harvard Political Review )
A brilliant and disturbing analysis of decision making by electorates that--[Caplan] documents--are perversely ignorant and woefully misinformed.
(Neil Reynolds The Globe and Mail )