Abstract If voters do not understand the programs of rival candidates or their likely consequences, they cannot rationally exercise control over government. An ignorant electorate cannot achieve true democratic control over public policy. The immense size and scope of modern government makes it virtually impossible for voters to acquire sufficient knowledge to exercise such control. The problem is exacerbated by voters? strong incentive to be ?rationally ignorant? of politics. This danger to democracy cannot readily be circumvented through ?shortcut? methods of (...) economizing on voter knowledge costs. A truly democratic government must, therefore, be strictly limited in scope. (shrink)
For decades, scholars have recognized that most citizens have little or no political knowledge, and that it is in fact rational for the average voter to make little or no effort to acquire political information. Rational ignorance is fully compatible with the so‐called “paradox of voting” because it will often be rational for citizens to vote, but irrational for them to become well informed. Furthermore, rational ignorance leads not only to inadequate acquisition of political information, but also to ineffective use (...) of the information that citizens do possess. The combination of these two problems has fundamental implications for a variety of issues in public policy and international affairs. (shrink)
ABSTRACTThe participants in this symposium raise many insightful criticisms and reservations about my book Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter. But none substantially undermine its main thesis: that rational political ignorance and rational irrationality are major problems for democracy that are best addressed by limiting and decentralizing government power. Part I of this reply addresses criticisms of my analysis of the problem of political ignorance and its causes. Part II assesses challenges to my proposed solution.
ABSTRACT Jason Brennan’s Against Democracy makes a strong case that democratic majorities’ right to rule rests on shaky grounds so long as their ballot box decisions are heavily influenced by ignorance and bias. But his “epistocratic” alternative - empowering the better-informed segments of society - has significant flaws of its own. Ironically, the biggest shortcoming of epistocracy may be that we lack the knowledge necessary to make it work well.
Advocates of ?deliberative democracy? want citizens to actively participate in serious dialogue over political issues, not merely go to the polls every few years. Unfortunately, these ideals don't take into account widespread political ignorance and irrationality. Most voters neither attain the level of knowledge needed to make deliberative democracy work, nor do they rationally evaluate the political information they do possess. The vast size and complexity of modern government make it unlikely that most citizens can ever reach the levels of (...) knowledge and rationality required by deliberative democracy, even if they were better informed than they are at present. (shrink)
ABSTRACTHélène Landemore's Democratic Reason effectively demonstrates how cognitive diversity may potentially improve the quality of democratic decisions. But in setting out the preconditions that democracy must meet in order for the many to make collectively well-informed decisions, Landemore undermines the case for voter competence more than she strengthens it. The conditions she specifies are highly unlikely to be achieved by any real-world democracy. Widespread voter ignorance and the size and complexity of modern government are severe obstacles to any effort to (...) implement Landemore's vision. Better-informed decision making is more likely to be achieved by allowing a wider range of issues to be decided by “voting with your feet” instead of at the ballot box. (shrink)
Abstract Richard Posner's Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy urges that political and legal decision makers should be guided by what he calls ?everyday pragmatism,? rather than by ?abstract? moral theory. He links his conception of pragmatic government to Sclmmpeter's unromantic view of democracy. Posner argues that judicial review should be based on a combination of pragmatism and adherence to this limited conception of democracy, rather than sticking closely to ?formalist? theories of adjudication, which demand strict adherence to traditional legal norms. However, (...) Posner's consequentialist pragmatism fails to provide an adequate guide to judicial decision making, because it does not give us any criterion for deciding which consequences are desirable. His Schumpeterian theory of democracy, too, is problematic because it does not sufficiently consider the shortcomings exposed in recent scholarship in political science and economics. (shrink)
The strengths and weaknesses of federalism have been debated for centuries. But one major possible advantage of building decentralization and limited government into a constitution has been largely ignored in the debate so far: its potential for reducing the costs of widespread political ignorance. The argument of this paper is simple, but has potentially important implications: Constitutional federalism enables citizens to “vote with their feet,” and foot voters have much stronger incentives to make well-informed decisions than more conventional ballot box (...) voters. The informational advantage of foot voting over ballot box voting suggests that decentralized federalism can increase citizen welfare and democratic accountability relative to policymaking in a centralized unitary state. Ballot box voters have strong incentives to be “rationally ignorant” about the candidates and policies they vote on because the chance that any one vote will have a decisive impact on an electoral outcome is vanishingly small. For the same reason, they also have little or no incentive to make good use of the information they do possess. By contrast, “foot voters” choosing a jurisdiction in which to reside have much stronger incentives to acquire information and use it rationally; the decisions they make are individually decisive. (shrink)
Abstract Democratic control of public policy is nearly impossible in the presence of extreme voter ignorance, and this ignorance is in part caused by the vast size and scope of modern government. Only a government limited in its scope can be meaningfully democratic. David Ciepley's response to my article does not seriously challenge this conclusion, and his attempts to show that limited government is inherently undemocratic fail. Ciepley's alternative vision of a ?democracy? that does not require informed voters turns out (...) to be not a defense of democracy at all, but a rationalization for any form of government that achieves a high level of leadership skill and bureaucratic efficiency. (shrink)
Abstract In Politicians Don't Pander, Lawrence Jacobs and Robert Shapiro show that politicians follow public opinion much less slavishly than conventional wisdom suggests. However, the case studies they themselves rely on show that public opinion constrains policy makers more than they claim. Conversely, to the extent that political leaders are able to ignore the public's wishes, Jacobs and Shapiro do not adequately consider the possibility that this is due in large part to severe voter ignorance of public policy. In urging (...) greater obedience to the popular will, the authors also overlook the danger that increased adherence to the often internally contradictory wishes of the electorate may be impossible or undesirable. (shrink)
Much of the debate over the justice of immigration restrictions focuses on their impact on would-be migrants. Restrictionists often focus on potentially harmful effects of immigration on residents of receiving countries. This article cuts across this long-standing debate by outlining ways in which immigration restrictions inflict harm on natives, specifically by undermining their economic liberty. It covers both the libertarian “negative” view of economic freedom and the “positive” version advanced by left-liberals. Section 1 focuses on “negative” economic freedom. It shows (...) that migration restrictions massively restrict the negative economic liberty of natives. Section 2 takes up “positive” theories of economic freedom; here, too, there are massive effects. Finally, section 3 describes how to address potentially harmful side effects of migration that might undermine economic liberty. (shrink)
Posner's “pragmatic” defense of broad judicial deference to legislative power still reflects the shortcomings noted in my review of his Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy. His pragmatism still fails to provide meaningful criteria for decision making that do not collapse into an indeterminate relativism; and his argument that strict constraints on judicial power are required by respect for democracy underestimates the importance of two serious interconnected weaknesses of the modern state: widespread voter ignorance, and interest‐group exploitation of that ignorance.