Friday, July 27, 2007


More On Democracy Skeptic Bryan Caplan

The article at the link below takes a fly-on-the-wall view of democracy-basher Bryan Caplan as he preaches to the choir - i.e., the Cato Institute and its fellow travelers. Despite the sympathetic sponsorship, a few sages at the event offered their critiques. Moderator Will Wilkinson, himself a Cato editor, asked Caplan if low voter turnout was a bad thing. Caplan retorted that it wasn't because it kept the dummies out of the polls, and better educated folks voted more often than the dumb folks anyway. He also urged passivity on the part of uneducated citizens, "If you can either encourage people who don't know what they're doing to not vote or at least not encourage them to vote, or you could have massive public education to raise the level of awareness in everyone up to the level of a Ph.D. -- if there are even such resources in the universe -- I think it's better to just encourage people to be lazy. Say, 'You know, if you don't really know what's going on, it would actually be the more responsible thing not to participate.'"

Caplan railed against the "irrationality" of voters worldwide, even venturing to rank countries by their level of irrationality. The French - the people who brought us Pascal, Descartes and Poincare - were particularly "irrational", according to him. Caplan trumpeted his notion that citizens of all countries should abdicate their will to the consensus of economists.

Pew Research Director Scott Keeter critiqued Caplan's assumption that his profession even had a consensus, citing a 1996 survey of economists that found "wildly different views of whether new jobs are lower-paying, whether income is keeping up with the cost of living, and whether tax cuts and regulation are good."

Others questioned why the opinions of economists, even when they were coherently expressed as a consensus, should be more important than those of other experts. For instance, wasn't "the consensus of healthcare experts advocating universal healthcare" possibly more valid than the opinions of others? No, claimed Caplan, because healthcare experts know nothing about economics. Ditto also for lawyers. One suspects that Caplan would dismiss even the framers and amenders of the Constitution for giving U.S. citizens universal suffrage because they, too, were not "economists".

The article concludes by reflecting on the source of Caplan's success - the misguided notion among professionals in a given field that they have all the solutions to the world's problems. "It's easy to think economists have all the right answers when you're an economist in a room full of people that agree with you. But it probably strikes most average people as absurd. These people aren't irrational. They just have different values. Unfortunately, the people in the auditorium nodding in agreement didn't share them, and they happen to come from some pretty powerful places. Some of them even get to make policy."

"The Myth Of Bryan Caplan's Seriousness" from The American Prospect

Caplan’s book is full of illogical and contradictory arguments, mangled terms, cultural prejudice, and a whole lot of other weaknesses. It’s also pretty scary when you really think about what he is arguing for. He is hermetically sealed inside his own thinking and theories, and totally unhinged from the real world... past and present. I won’t recap the whole list of objections here... but it’s on my site. (
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