Tag Archives: Bryan Caplan

Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll

While I’m at it, I can’t overstate how good Stoppard’s play is.  I recently saw a production at the Huntington Theater in Boston.  For a play about ideas, the story hums.  I can only say this: nothing embodies freedom of expression as well as rock ‘n’ roll.  Leave it to Stoppard to show us our complacency.   Let it rip; let’em riff; let us soar.   Stoppard’s play deftly illustrates the straight-jacket conservatism sewn into the ideology of socialism.  The play is a poignant reminder that the real political spectrum does not stretch between the left and the right, but as Bryan Caplan says, between statist and non-statist philosophies.

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Howard Stern & The Irrational Voter

Yes, he almost ran for New York governor on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1994. But now he’s channeling Bryan Caplan. Listen here.

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Celebrities Unite Against the Irrational Voter!


We should be so lucky! Ahhhh, but it’s too bad that this won’t convince people to stay at home on election day. ARE YOU CRAZY DRUNKEN PRIEST? Telling people they shouldn’t vote, that’s worse than…than…than…

Cue Bryan Caplan! Here’s a not-so-quick break down as to why (if you still care at this point) everyone should listen to Leo DiCaprio and stay home on election day:

Let’s assume that on any policy question there are a group of experts that make up 10% of the electorate. These experts are well informed and genuinely care about the the common good. They want to improve everyone’s lives. Now the flip side of this is that 90% of the electorate is ill informed. They vote for someone not because that candidate’s policies will improve everyone’s well-being, but because that candidate is taller, better looking, charismatic and so on, without any regard for policy proposals and how these policies might work. The last thing the ignorant care about is what knowledgeable people think. As Bush said recently, “I don’t care what some people on a campus think.”

You might think that’s disastrous. But in fact it’s not. Why? Because each of the ignorant is ignorant in their own way and each person’s stupidity cancels the other guy’s stupidity out. On these assumptions we should expect a random distribution of opinions among the ignorant. Some will get lucky and vote for the best policy for the wrong reasons while others will vote incorrectly. In the end it won’t matter though because 50% of the ignorant will go one way while 50% look the other. The stupid cancel each other out. Meanwhile, our experts will decide the election. However their 10% breaks down will in the end decide who wins. Some theorists call this the “Miracle of Aggregation.”

But how come this miracle doesn’t work in our elections? You ask. Because one of the assumptions in this model is false–namely, people aren’t randomly stupid. In fact, they’re stupid and irrational in very predictable ways. (See behavioral economics.) So instead of irrationalities canceling each other out–two dummies randomly voting against each other–we have both dummies voting together for the same incoherent policies. Worst of all, the dummies overwhelm the debate among the knowledgeable and learned, thus making their expert 5% irrelevant.

The area where the electorate is the worst involves economics. What are the biases that plague the American electorate? Four, according to Caplan:
(1) An anti-market bias: people are inveterately befuddled as to how profit seeking businesses can produce socially beneficial outcomes.
(2) A xenophobic anti-foreign bias: the public incorrigibly underestimates the benefits of trading with foreign countries.
(3) A make work bias: the public has a strange tendency to believe that labor is better to use than conserve. Saving labor, producing more goods with fewer man-hours, is widely perceived not as progress but as a danger.
(4) A pessimistic bias: the last two weeks notwithstanding, the public consistently underestimates the economy’s performance in the past, present and future. There were always golden ages and now the world is going from bad to worse.

Lest you think I’m only a crazy anarcho-capitalist, which I am, this observation is held not only by me but by left-wing Democratic economics professors as well. (Did you know that the majority of economics professors are democrats?) The vast consensus is that policies supported by these biases make us all worse off. This is, after all, why there is something to learn in the field of economics. These are not courses you walk into simply to have your ignorant hunches and intuitions confirmed. Yes, you actually learn something in them.

Here’s the best part: If the public and the candidates were to put these biases aside and voted accordingly, then they would all be better off! Yes! By their own lights!

So why shouldn’t the public vote? Because their irrational tendencies are incorrigible. We would all be better off if these celebrities and much of the public simply stayed home on election day. We’ll pronounce it a major holiday: keep your stupidities to yourself day.

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