Sunday, June 24, 2007
Economist Calls American Voters Idiots (Part II)
Leave it to Tech Central Station to insult the majority of the American people in their mad rush to curry favor with billionaires. Endowed with surprisingly vulgar taste for such shameless "elitists", the editors of Tech Central Station once published an article that compared the practice of offering corporate medical benefits to employees to "prostitute insurance". I.e., you may not need gratuitous medical benefits any more than you would need a discount card for a brothel. Ah, well. Such lapses only make me sigh...
Tech Central Station's latest insult to the public is to label American democracy "Dumbocracy" in deference to a book published by economist Bryan Caplan entitled The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. I've mentioned this enemy of democracy before. His thesis is that American voters are motivated by irrational biases that endanger "rational economic policy". What are these biases? Hostility to free markets and foreigners, a prejudice in favor of something as silly as full employment, and a general pessimistic attitude that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Curiously, these are the same biases reviled by right-wing policy wonks as the anti-globalization sentiments that voted in a Democratic majority last fall. Yet this change comes after nearly a decade of Republican control in the Congress and elsewhere - most notoriously in the White House. American voters elected Bush and his supporters repeatedly in the past. Were they motivated by equally irrational biases then? If Dr. Caplan's thesis is consistently valid and not merely a partisan expression of sour grapes, American voters must always be motivated by irrational biases that are not in their best interests. I certainly believe they are. Isn't voting against taxation an irrational bias, for instance? Taxes can do great things - support our infrastructure, strengthen the military, improve our schools, help alleviate poverty and disease. Why vote against them so unconditionally? Yet that's exactly what the American people do every time they vote Republican. The big surprise - and the part that makes voting against taxes so irrational - is that it's invariably not the average American's taxes that are reduced so much as the taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Even when we vote for the party of free markets and globalization, we vote against our own interests for irrational reasons. But I'll just bet you Caplan's book doesn't even touch on that.
Which brings me to another point. Voters themselves elect candidates on the basis of vague campaign promises, not specific points of economic policy. Those who establish policy are the economists, not the people - so if it screws up, then they screwed up, not us. Voters don't vote for economic policy anyway, even vague ones - they vote against the failures of the current regime. Their attitude is reactive, not prescriptive. They are saying, "Maybe we don't understand what you did, but it isn't working for us. We want to bring in a new person who will try something else." If the American people have started voting Democratic again, it's because whatever the Republicans did just isn't working for them.
Economists can, like Caplan, assert that employment is less important than "production", and that globalization, free trade and market forces should remain untrammeled. But they must realize that what has made corporations so much more "productive" is how well they've been able to cut their labor overhead. They have succeeded, in short, by reducing the number of human beings with whom they must share their revenue. The "trickle-down" economic theories of the Reagan years seem almost quaint in comparison. Now we have a "water-tight" corporate system that is not only unburdened by taxes, tariffs or regulations, but is run so efficiently that it need not share its profits with anyone. The economists may extol a world in which the stock market soars, the GNP expands, and American markets are flooded with goods most of us may need to go into debt to afford - but if the majority of the people have not benefited from this world, it will always be voted down in a democracy - because democracy may be the only place left in America where the interests of the majority still rule.
"Dumbocracy in America" from Tech Central Station