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Rational Ignorance and Beyond


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Mackie Gerry

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Rational Ignorance and Beyond

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 Gerry Mackie, University of California, San Diego, 23 mai 2008

Economic theories declare that voters in a democracy are rationally ignorant (or worse, irrational) about politics, but that consumers possess perfect information about decisions in the market. Citizens lack competence because an individual voter almost never is pivotal to the outcome of an election (Downs, Brennan), or because of a lowered sense of responsibility in crowds (LeBon, Schumpeter), or because humans intrinsically prefer irrationality in politics (Pareto, Caplan). I challenge each of these analyses as conceptually faulty, empirically unfounded, or both.

The economic theories also characteristically model modern political democracy as if it were direct, rather than representative, in nature. This error raises citizen competence requirements to a superhuman level. Standard arguments about specialist division of labor, principal-agent delegation, and competitive elections account for campaign discourse, parties, legislatures, and bureaucracies as information-improving devices. In conclusion, the citizen-ignorance argument for the minimization of democracy is not supported.

 

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