David Friedman on Democracy and Rational Voter Ignorance

The standard description of how our political system works, how democracy works… assumes that individual voters spend a lot of time and trouble figuring out… which candidates are good, which programs are good, what policies the government should follow, and then they vote for the candidates who are in favour of the policies… that will produce good results, that will make the country prosper. That’s sort of an implicit assumption if you think of the high-school civics class… description of a democracy. But then you think about it and you say “well, why should I go… to all that trouble!? I know that as a single voter, my chance of determining the outcome… of the election is very close to zero – probably about 1 in 10 million, roughly. It isn’t worth… my spending a lot of time and effort investigating the issues in exchange for… one chance in ten million of effecting the outcome.” Given that that’s the case, most… people won’t. And the result is a system where the average voter can’t name his… congressman. Even though the way we usually describe democracy assumes he… not only knows his congressman but every vote he’s made over the last two years… So that’s a respect in which our political system is not incentive-compatible. And… that’s one of the reasons it doesn’t work very well. It doesn’t tell you if there’s any… better way, but it does tell you that there’s a serious problem in getting government… to do the things that that you would like it to do.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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