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Published September 2008 | public
Journal Article

Voter rationality and democratic government


From a 1996 survey comparing the views of economists and ordinary voters, Bryan Caplan deduces several biases—anti-market, anti-foreign, pessimistic, and makework biases—to support his thesis that voters are rationally irrational, i.e., that, aware of the inconsequentiality of their votes, they rationally indulge their "preferences" for public policies that have harmful results. Yet if the standard of comparison is the public's opposition to harmful policies, rather than the level of its opposition relative to that of economists, the "biases" disappear. In absolute terms, voters support free trade and are against protectionism, such that free-trade agreements are more prevalent among democratic, rather than autocratic, regimes. Finally, the protectionist policies that are adopted in this country are the product of interest-group politics, not of voters' wrongheaded policy preferences.

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© 2008 Critical Review Foundation

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