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Falling on Deaf Ears

Tyler Cowen’s latest NY Times column, “It’s An Election, Not a Revolution,” is a gem. Here is one of many fine excerpts:

We hear so many superficial messages precisely because most American voters have neither the knowledge nor the commitment to evaluate the pronouncements of politicians on economic issues. It is no accident that the most influential political science book of the last year has been “The Myth of the Rational Voter,” by Bryan Caplan. The book shows that many voters are ill-informed or even irrational; many economic issues are complex, and each voter knows that he or she will not determine the final outcome.

Rather than being cynics, we should be realists. Democracy is reasonably good at some things: pushing scoundrels out of office, checking their worst excesses by requiring openness, and simply giving large numbers of people the feeling of having a voice. Democracy is not nearly as good at others: holding politicians accountable for their economic promises or translating the preferences of intellectuals into public policy.

 THAT might sound pessimistic, but it’s not. Many Americans will be living longer, finding new sources of learning and recreation, creating more rewarding jobs, striking up new loves and friendships, and, yes, earning more money. Just don’t expect most of these gains to come out of the voting booth or, for that matter, Washington.

I’ll just note that while he may be completely on target – when the economic stakes to the combatants themselves are so high (e.g. why else would you loan $5 million of your own money to a campaign), when the rent seeking bonanza is achieving epic proportions, and when people are hungry for power and influence, there will be very motivated, very concentrated interests out there whose sole purpose is to distract voters from ideas and real messages, and to worry them into voting because the sky will fall otherwise.

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