Sheldon Richman reviews Bryan Caplan's new book The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. The book presents a somewhat depressing, though brilliantly argued, analysis of exactly how poorly most voters understand economics, and why (quick summation: because they have no reason not to be irrational when it comes to voting), and what this means for limited government. Richman wonders what Caplan's thesis means for libertarian strategists:
Economic education for the public also would also seem in order. But just straightforward teaching won't be enough, for as Caplan elaborates, people hold fast to their errors through "emotional commitment." "A good teacher could change some minds, but the best teacher in the world would be lucky to convince half," he writes. Dogma dies hard.
At the very least, this implies that the case for liberty must be pressed across the entire cultural front, especially in movies and novels where emotions as well as reason can be appealed to. We must find emotional commitments in the population that are consistent with freedom. Libertarian strategic wisdom may well begin with Jonathan Swift's insight: "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.
Previous blogging on Caplan's book, summarizing what both the New York Times and In These Times had to say about it.