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Majorities Against Utility : Implications of the Failure of the Miracle of Aggregation


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CAPLAN Bryan

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Majorities Against Utility : Implications of the Failure of the Miracle of Aggregation

La sagesse collective : principes et mécanismes

Colloque des 22-23 mai 2008, organisé par l'Institut du Monde Contemporain du Collège de France, sous la direction du Professeur Jon Elster.

Intervention de Bryan Caplan, George Mason University, 23 mai 2008

A surprising conclusion of modern political economy is that democracies with highly ignorant voters can still deliver very good results as long as voters' errors balance each other out. This result is known as the Miracle of Aggregation. This paper begins by reviewing a large body of evidence against this Miracle. Empirically, voters' errors tend to be systematic; they compound rather than cancel.

Furthermore, since most citizens vote for the policies they believe are best for society, systematic errors lead voters to support socially suboptimal policies. The paper then considers the case for "paternalistically" vetoing popular but misguided democratic decisions, presenting several arguments that overruling democratic decisions is much less objectionable than overruling individual decisions. In fact, since democracies routinely adopt paternalistic policies, the opponent of paternalism for individual decisions should embrace paternalism for democratic decisions. The paper concludes byconsidering several different mechanisms for improving upon majority rule.

 

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