Donald Trump

Trump, Sanders Show Voters Just as Irrational as Ever

Economist Bryan Caplan finds the thesis in his book The Myth of the Rational Voter holds true in 2016, more obviously than ever.


George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan has long argued that one of the core facts about American politics is that voters tend to be irrational, and that it is easy for them to be so given that they don't bear too much of the costs of being irrational while enjoying all the benefits.

He expressed this thesis at length in his book The Myth of the Rational Voter, a book excerpted here at Reason in the cover feature "The 4 Boneheaded Biases of Stupid Voters (And We're All Stupid Voters)."

I applied Caplan's thesis to the rise of Trump back in August, before the naive such as me knew he was going (nearly) all the way.

While Caplan insists that this crazy year doesn't prove his point, which was correct all along, it does demonstrate it pretty vividly, particularly with the surprising rise of Trump and Bernie Sanders, who exemplify two of the irrational biases he pinpointed. (This article by Caplan I'm summin up is a couple of months old, but I only came across it today and its observations are all the more pointed as Trump's long march continues.)

While the public perennially exhibits what I call anti-market and anti-foreign biases, 2016 is egregious.  Sanders is anti-market bias personified, Trump is anti-foreign bias personified.  Sadly, my claim that the median American is a "moderate national socialist—statist to the core on both economic and social policy" looks truer than ever.

Caplan thinks Trump's political entrepreneurial genius lies in fully embracing the median GOP voters anti-foreign bias more than other candidates, slightly constrained by elite opinion, have previously done. "it now looks like anti-foreign bias matters more to them than all other issues combined," is Caplan's take on Trump's triumph.  

Caplan was more optimistic about our political system's ability to not let the likes of Sanders and Trump get so far. "In 2016, one of the main dilution mechanisms has badly failed: Using social pressure to check and exclude hard-line demagogues," he thinks.

But he hasn't given up hope; our system has other sanity brakes on public irrationality.  Among them:

(a) While the public often likes crazy policies, they resent the disastrous consequences of those crazy policies.  This gives politicians a strong incentive for felicitous hypocrisy once they gain power—especially when contemplating policy change.  (b) The median voter has a short attention span, so relatively sane elites have more influence in the long-run than the short-run.  (c) Old-fashioned checks and balances: Congress, the Supreme Court, and state governments make it hard for Sanders or Trump to fulfill their promises even if they want to.

If American voters were rational, Caplan believes, "Sanders and Trump wouldn't stand a chance.  None of the candidates would survive serious scrutiny, but Sanders and Trump would be thrown out as soon as they delivered one short speech."

Caplan also plays with relative perceptions of cultural decay, noting that if Trump were Hispanic, "Opponents of immigration would plausibly fear that El Donaldo is a classic strongman plotting to turn the U.S. into a banana republic.  And they would hasten to the inference that Hispanics are fundamentally authoritarian and unfit for democracy. "

Who is fit for democracy? This election raises that question, good and hard.

NEXT: Presidential Candidate with Alleged Links to Death Squads Wins Election in Philippines

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  1. Everyone who engages in the voting process does so for their own reasons and in their own way. And they choose the way they act because it benefits them the most to do it that way over any other way.

    Regardless of what an observer might think, it’s perfectly rational. It may be sub-optimal from the observer’s POV but that’s his problem not the voter’s.

    1. And they choose the way they act because it benefits them the most to do it that way over any other way.

      But that’s not actually true. For example, there are plenty of voters who think that turning their country into a police state is better than the alternative of letting people get high when they please.

      1. The state is how voters shine their benevolence upon the world. Headcrackings optional but inevitable.

      2. There’s nothing irrational there.

        Either they cannot see the consequences, they can’t be bothered to think the consequences through, or they approve of the circumstances. In every case it’s rational decision making.

        In case one, they literally cannot do better.

        In case two, they would rather put their scarce brain-cycles to other uses that provides them, subjectively, with greater value.

        In case three, they’re getting what they want.

        All rational decisions.

        1. You’re still changing the definition of the word rational.

          1. ra?tion?al
            adjective: rational

            based on or in accordance with reason or logic.

            Is there a definition I’m missing?

            1. Stop being fractious 24/7.

              1. So you’re anti-fracting?

                1. Are you calling me irrational?

                  1. I’m saying you’re….er…rational.

                    1. You get to the root of me, Warren.

                    2. I’ve always believed you were imaginary.

                    3. Fuck you. I am the chupacabra.

                    4. Chupacabra Commander?

            2. Yeah, does Caplan ever define rational? Rational according to who’s judgment? If we go by the definition posted above, how many reason steps do we need? What if a voter thinks, I like this guy, therefore I will vote for him? Is that not a rational step?

              1. Rational according to who’s judgment?

                According to whose values?

      3. But they still *rationally* make that choice. Its a choice made from bad priors but, accepting those priors as real, its a rational choice to make.

      4. No, there are plenty of voters who think that *voting* to turn their country into a police state is better than the alternative of letting people get high when they please. The glow of moral virtue from voting so is real; the chance of actually getting a police state as a result of one own personal vote is so small that it can be ignored.

        Besides, no politician campaigns on a platform of “We will set the police to harass and abuse ordinary honest decent people like you, as part of the War On Drugs.” They promise – promise! – that the police are your friends, and will only go after those nasty evil Other people who deserve it.

        1. That last really is it. It’s why so many people can say, sincerely, that they’re for gov’t staying out of people’s lives, because what they fear is an elite imposing on the avg, person by impinging on common activities such as tobacco smoking, while gov’t’s impingement on, say, methamphetamine users & their suppliers is just part of the normal background. It’s how they can say, unironically, “Keep gov’t’s hands off Medicare!”

        2. There are a lot of people who once they become comfortable and safe, begin looking for enemies to punish. And since such people are generally too timid to do the bullying themselves, they align themselves with a group so they may bully with little fear of direct retribution.

          It’s been going on a long, long time.

        3. Better to kill 10,000 drug dealers than to let a friend OD on heroin. Because no one ODs on heroin anymore.

    2. How? How is it rational if it is demonstrably against the voter’s self interest? You’re just applying some bizarre equivalent of moral relativism to the definition of the word “Rational.”

      1. How do you know it’s against the voter’s interest?

      2. You don’t decide what’s in another person’s self-interest.

        1. Double Bingo. Caplan is every bit the authoritarian asshole he claims Trump and Sanders are.

          1. Damn John.

            You’ll be an Ancap in about 2 years. Let me know when you need help transitioning. It’s kind of tough.

        2. Well, I think you can decide what’s in their own self interest IF they have stated their goals. So, voting for Sanders is not in the interests of capitalists, for example. The rub is that Caplan seems to be saying the goals are irrational. And that’s too far afield for me.

      3. Their own contribution is so diminishingly small, the effort required to make it is fairly minor, and the satisfaction they derive from casting their ballot is vastly outsized relative to either of these considerations.

        It sounds pretty rational, whatever their premise for voting the way they do. Dumb, but people often are satisfied doing dumb things for dumb reasons.

        1. If voting for Hillary would get you laid by some woman you found attractive and wouldn’t otherwise bed, I would say not voting for Hillary is pretty fucking stupid, considering the benefit and the very small contribution you make to her cause.

          1. John, would you vote for Hilldog to get laid?

            1. That sentence can be read two ways.

              1. Both of which are … disturbing.

    3. Bingo Warren. Caplan is the epitome of the smug douche. He assumes that everyone who has a different outlook than he does is “irrational”. What is irrational is thinking that there is only one rational answer to a problem. Reason is value neutral. You can reason yourself into anything if you start with the right assumptions. Caplan can’t seem to grasp that.

      If Caplan really thinks that everyone who disagrees with him is just irrational, maybe we should just make him God emperor. If Caplan doesn’t think he is up to the job, and I doubt he does, maybe he should reconsider his proclaimed monopoly on reality. Caplan makes me defend Bernie supporter and for that I hate him even more.

      1. iiirc the rationalism which he’s disproving isn’t the same thing being argued upthread. The idea that voters come to rational conclusions and therefore legitimize democracy is what needs to be discounted. Voters aren’t irrational, just rationally ignorant.

        1. iiirc the rationalism which he’s disproving isn’t the same thing being argued upthread.

          You recall correctly, he’s arguing against the concept of rational agents, at least in the realm of public choice theory.

          1. I didn’t real the book, but I listened to the Cato author forum where Caplan defended his thesis. His talks are always a little… frenetic.

    4. The math doesn’t add up even behind they’re supposed rationale, therefore, they’re thinking is not truly logical.

      Let’s say you vote because you like a certain guy’s spunk, and the guy robs you of all your dinners for the entire time he’s in office. Your thinking is therefore not logical if you voted on that basis.

      Let’s say you chose to track a sweet siren because of her sweet voice and undeniable beauty. Well, now you’re SOL in the rocks because the faulty logic of the rationale to ignore your sailor’s training advising to avoid the sirens.

      Let’s say you wanted to donate money and show your utmost support to Bernie Sanders. Well, there is no logic behind that rationale because in no time would a con-man posing as a lawyer, or even a lawyer, try to pitch an idea to let you slide through life not paying your mortgage, or car loan, for a “small” nominal fee.

      tl/dr: You’re confusing rational for rationale.

      1. *I just woke up, so ignore the mistakes in my language. My point and its context is still valid.

    5. If a politician promises a free, magic unicorn to every citizen and some vote for him because a magic unicorn sounds awesome, is that a rational decision by your reckoning? If an opposing politician claims he is going to build a giant ice-wall on the border with Mexico just like the one in Game of Thrones and others vote for him because, my god, a Giant Wall! Of ice! Genius! — would that also be a rational expression of self interest?

      Caplan’s point, of course, is that people who vote for a giant ice wall at the border pay no personal cost for this folly — completely unlike someone who decides to use his own money to try to build an ice wall around his yard instead of a fence. When it comes to spending your own money, there are strong incentives to check to see if your plans are practical, affordable, and workable. When it comes to voting those incentives are very weak. That is the sense of irrationality we’re talking about here.

  2. “Listen here, Missy. Computers may be twice as fast as they were in 1973, but your average voter is as drunk and stupid as ever.”

  3. I guess Hillary voters are just plain immoral

    1. This is exactly who they are.

    2. We live in a post-morality world. Relativism mortally wounded it, secularism delivered the coup de grace, and now the progressives are dancing in the ashes and divvying up the loot.

      1. secularism delivered the coup de grace

        Um, no. Secularism is the idea that morals don’t come from a higher authority, so an immoral act doesn’t become moral from some imagined authority. Relativism, however, carries this out to, “without authority, morals don’t exist, so whatever”. That concept can die in a fire.

        1. Secularism is the idea to separate church and state. We are still, always, under “god”; IOW we are under the higher power of karma; in layman’s terms, what goes around comes around, and that is ultimately the higher power.

          1. Do you have a newsletter?

        2. No True Secularist

        3. Without authority there is no meaningful morality.

          However, tit for tat is a very successful game theory that mimics morality.

  4. “it now looks like anti-foreign bias matters more to them than all other issues combined,” is Caplan’s take on Trump’s triumph.

    I thought that Trump supporters were political geniuses who are simply wagering that Trump wouldn’t be any worse than other normal Republican candidates or politicians. They clearly don’t expect him to deliver on all his promises or consistently “win” on all those issues.

    Right, John?

  5. Who is fit for democracy? This election raises that question, good and hard.

    This is what representative republics with senates elected by state legislatures are for.

    1. Who is fit for democracy?

      No fat chicks.

      1. No flat chicks!

          1. Would not.

          2. No rat chicks.

            1. No Rat Things.

            2. No hat tricks.

            3. No bat Micks

  6. It’s irrational for a voter to set aside their lives and spend time acquainting themselves with the issues, when their lone vote won’t matter anyway.

    The closest they can get is join a group of like-minded people trying to push a few key issues, and pool the group’s collective wisdom to decide how to deploy their political influence in the right direction.

    1. But which group to join, or form? That itself requires research or else you may find yourself agitating for a minimum wage or whatever.

      1. The group that insists all other groups keep their grubby goddamn mitts off my stuff.

        What’s the MAD equivalent for taxation? You keep your filthy hands off and I’ll agree to do the same, but the second I catch you shimmying in my pocket I’m burning your houses down.

  7. I’m confused what “rational” means in this context. Couldn’t people rationally choose socialism if they’re Rawlsians, for instance?

    1. The Veil of Ignorance has become a more pungent phrase lately, no?

    2. Maybe that’s the point. In the political domain, few hold to clear principles and the cascade of their consequences? they either haven’t any principles at all, or they vote in ways contrary to them.

      In some (many? the vast majority of?) cases, voting at all is a contradiction.

    3. People could rationally choose socialism if they have a good chance of being at the top of the system, or at least an apparatchik. Otherwise, no. A majority of voters could never rationally choose socialism.

      1. You could rationally choose socialism if you value security over opportunity and risk. The free market works out for the best overall but individual results may vary. It is all about what you value. Caplan is just an epic idiot. How could someone not understand that?

        1. Yes.

          Another group that loves socialism is society’s losers. Their inferiority complex is so great that they would rather see no success in a poorer, sicker society, rather than be losers in a much richer, healthier one.

          1. What if you are sick and don’t have any family or from some despised minority group. Socialism might be a very rational choice then.

            1. Having come from a despised minority group, and having lived among at least three others, my experience is that they tend to be highly mutually supportive.

              1. I hope your despised minority group is not what I think it is.

                1. I mean besides “pedophiles.”

            2. What if you are sick and don’t have any family or from some despised minority group. Socialism might be a very rational choice then.

              Only if you believe that other people exist for your benefit. Sadly for you, they don’t generally share that belief. I don’t see how making the majority resent you even more benefits a “despised minority group” in the long run.

      2. What if they disregard all empirical evidence against it? (Which is what they do.)

    4. You aren’t confused. He assumes he is right, and then goes on about using his assumptions to prove himself right again.

      This used to be called “begging the question” before that phrase was literally, ironically destroyed.

  8. Caplan is so full of it, trying to project how Trump would be received if Hispanic.

    Sanders voters are rational. It was the only way for Democrats to vote vs. Hillary and for a candidate who would garner some att’n. Had they spread their votes over the other seeking the nomination in the early primaries, it would’ve looked like Hillary was their overwhelming choice.

    Trump voters are rational too. He was the most effective way to register discontent with Republican elites, or with elites generally?including Caplan.

    1. Well there you go. According to Caplan, registering discontent with Caplan is irrational.

  9. Trump is popular largely for one entirely rational reason: immigration. Americans are generally OK with it, but it’s always possible to have too much of a good thing, and it’s always possible to do a good thing badly. Both of those things are happening now.

    Democrats want new voters beholden to them, and the poorer and browner, the better. It upsets the white Christians who are the Main Enemy, proves the need for Moar Government, and help show that racism is the Most Important Thing, Ever. The GOP establishment wants cheap labor. Libertarians want to stick to principle, even if the “free movement” principle injures or destroys other libertarian principles.

    But the average voter is not happy. They see illegal aliens (and legal ones) on welfare and committing crimes, and resent it. They see Muslim immigration at a time when jihad is on the march all over the world, and wonder why in the world this is happening.

    All that is not a “bias against foreigners,” any more than objecting to someone doing donuts in the street is a bias against cars. It’s perfectly understandable response to seeing your country changed before your eyes, without your consent, for the cynical benefit of other people, who do not have your best interests at heart.

    1. Among people I know, who don’t suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome, he’s popular for fucking up and exposing all those “conservative Republican” assholes. He stands a good chance of bringing the Party down and putting the boots to it. I like his isolationist, nationalist foreign policy and he’s better on drug policy than any Republican nominee since at least John C. Fr?mont.

      1. Those things, too. I do find it interesting that his largely isolationist/”Let our allies pay their own way” statements don’t get more appreciation around here.

        1. Statements aren’t a plan. Especially contradictory statements that change at the drop of a hat.

          1. And yet they largely align with Ron Paul foreign policy.

        2. Of course, history shows that some stunts (like, say, building artificial islands and saying “our border’s here now, so stay out!”) need a strong response.

    2. Immigration is definitely a key reason why Trump took hold, but I think it’s far from the only one. I think protectionism and his “I’m a rich successful anti-establishment businessman” shtick were just as important if not more. Trump actually was more trusted by GOP voters on the economy than immigration.…..icans.aspx

      Also, “popular” in this case, I’m supposing means “has a devoted contingent of enthusiastic supporters?” Because he’s pretty unpopular among the electorate as a whole.

      1. That’s why I wrote “largely.” I’m not sure the protectionism is precisely his appeal, exactly. It’s more his focus on jobs for Americans, and protectionism is sold as the solution.

        1. I think the problem is that, as in war, the rules in commerce aren’t set by the nicest, but by the worst. When the US is expected to be open and free-tradey, while its counterparts can openly engage in closed borders and protectionist tariffs (looking at you, China), this engenders resentment and the question among those affected why “we have to play nice and they don’t?”.

    3. Speaking as someone who understands economics: You’re being completely irrational. Immigration not only bolsters economic prosperity and has proven to do so every time, it brings in more tax dollars and, if allowed, wiser votes.

      The money not given to illegals (or legal ones) is just spent on the wall (which we will have to pay for upfront) and increased border enforcement.

      It’s foolish notion to protect the welfare state… in fact, it’s only a joke Milton Friedman chose to partake in.

      I can explain more about how this attitude ruins “your” country, if you wish to listen.

      1. Immigration of those with skills enhances economies. Importation of peasant meatbots from basketcase countries (and their associated predators), so that businesses can have a convenient serf class to avoid the onerous regulations that hiring citizens entails is a net loss overall.

      2. As someone who understands economics, you should have no trouble grasping the fact that all immigration is not equal. We do not benefit from welfare cases, criminals, or the sick. You should also know there is a decreasing demand for unskilled labor, and that the law of supply and demand operates there, too.

        1. Your argument against immigration is made to appeal to the dumbest of the dumb, the low information voter. Immigration cuts wages for Americans, that should really be your point. But why should that be a concern? If wages are cut, then it means Americans didn’t deserve to be working those wages. They would be forced into unemployment, forced to educate themselves, and then acquire skills that result in greater productivity.

          Immigrants do not engage in more crime than citizens, this has been proven false. The reason why there is more crime in the countries they come from is because they don’t recognize negative liberties, like the ones written on the bill of rights.

          But can we blame them? You live in California, they don’t even recognize the 2nd amendment. That was completely our fault as citizens (throw me in the boat, why don’t you)… if you don’t believe me, idk, look at Michigan. Michigan, or even, Illinois; less immigrants there and they still don’t recognize the 2nd amendment.

          But it’s not just the 2nd amendment, that isn’t our most important right; there’s plenty more amendments that are disregarded that I appreciate more.

          Lastly, why would an immigrant coming from a socialist country, vote for socialism? They don’t.

          1. But forget that, the most important point to be made by me is that, we as a nation, have rejected the idea of equal representation. All immigrants pay taxes, therefore, they should be eligible for what those taxes pay for. Revolutionaries fought a war for this very reason. Slavery is still alive and now these slaves are given the label: “illegal immigrant”. (Also, prison inmate)

            I blame the creation of the constitution, allowing the federal government some legitimacy to exist. We might as well be paying to a monarchy, and what an archaic idea that is.

            1. Some serious corpse-fucking going on here.

          2. Many of our immigrants are better described as refugees.

            We would all be better off if we ended the drug war, helped Mexico suck less, and reduced the influx.

        2. there is a decreasing demand for unskilled labor

          Yet every economy where this is the case has become dependent upon economies where this is not the case. No, there is not decreasing demand for unskilled labor. There is increasing illegality of unskilled labor.

          It’s almost like high-minded government policies and the moralistic demands of sheltered mandarins don’t reflect economic reality.

    1. That stunt will dog him for years.

      1. Leave him alone, you’re just being catty.

        1. Now you’re just trying to be a wag.

          1. Oh, eat shih tzu and die.

    2. The clip is deeply offensive and no reasonable person can possibly find the content acceptable in today’s society.

      The Detective Inspector must know millions will LOL at it, & probably did LOL himself.

      1. Careful, they’re probably keeping track of who laughs at it.

    3. That pug would get along well with my dog. She has a white blaze and I taught her to “surrender” (roll over and show her white flag)

    4. Pug Nazis, I hate these guys!

      1. As long as he’s not from Illinois

      2. They are pugnazious.

    5. This arrest should serve as a warning to anyone posting such material online, or in any other capacity, that such views will not be tolerated.

      – Someone with a badge, a gun, and qualified immunity.

    6. “Antisemitism is not something that can in any degree be regarded as a joke.

      You know, given that you have actual, hardcore, and unapologetic (well, mostly) antisemites in your most privileged institutions and halls of power… I think maybe laying off a guy who is clearly making a joke of Nazism might be warranted.

      Maybe your problems are bigger than some Glasgowian trying to rile up his girlfriend.

  10. If American voters were rational, Caplan believes

    Let’s not be anti-foreign now…. isn’t Caplan saying ALL voters are irrational? – not just ‘american’ ones?

    this may sound like nitpicking, but i think the point is important… because so many of the left are quick to blame the ‘exceptional unique stupidity of the average American voter’ for preventing their Enlightened Ideas (borrowed from Europe) from achieving fruition.

    i’d hate to see Caplan’s very good point misused in the near future.

    Who is fit for democracy? This election raises that question, good and hard.

    Yes. And speaking of Europe, and Nationalist Socialism etc…. i think we should probably be prepared for Europe’s own versions of Trumpism (or at least a nativist nationalism) emerging in the near future.

  11. Maybe if authoritarian assholes like Caplan would stop telling the country “I know what is in your best interests” and telling the country they can never have their interests heard on immigration and other issues, they wouldn’t turn to candidates like Trump. When only one guy is saying anything other than “go fuck yourself”, you can’t say its irrational for that guy to get people’s votes.

    Caplan is just an appalling human being.

    1. if authoritarian assholes like Caplan would stop telling the country “I know what is in your best interests”


      He’s a libertarian economist who made some observations about voter-psychology and choice-theory. He’s not promoting any paternalistic ‘solution’ for the unwashed masses.

      1. If I understand John correctly, it’s paternalistic for libertarians to assert their inalienable right to life, liberty and property as it pertains to curtailing the authoritarian tendencies of the unwashed masses.

        For example, blue collar workers are pissed off that their low-skilled labor is less valued in a global economy and turn to economic nationalists like Trump who promise to strangle free trade to boost domestic manufacturing. This is wrong because people have a right to freely trade goods and services and should not be constrained by something as arbitrary as national borders.

        This is the principled position that doesn’t even get into the actual economic facts that free trade is a net benefit to the economy and poor people across the globe and stopping it to pander to entitled factory workers is both stupid and cruel.

        1. You don’t understand a single word of what I am saying. Not a single word. What I am saying is that you can say someone is wrong in your view but you can’t say they are irrational without claiming to know what is in their best interests. Caplan’s conceit is that he claims to know what values everyone should hold and that his answer is the only rational one.

          My point has nothing to do with paternalism or voting. It is entirely about the problems with what Caplan is saying.

          You love free trade because you think overall wealth is the only value worth pursuing in society. That is fine but that is an assumption you make and reason from it. That value is neither self evident nor universally shared. If someone thinks there are other values besides overall wealth, they will reason to a different conclusion. You can say they are wrong or that you disagree with them but you can’t say they are irrational.

          You couldn’t have missed my point more if you tried.

          1. You love free trade because you think overall wealth is the only value worth pursuing in society.

            You don’t think that the morality of individual liberty is a consideration?

            1. Maybe. But that is not my point. If you do and think individual liberty is the only goal in society, then you should rationally support free trade. Good for you. What do you want? A cookie?

              1. Keebler’s “simply made” line of chocolate chip cookies are the best pre-packaged cookies, in my opinion.

                So screw individual liberty, screw the Free Market, up Nationalism!

                Because the benefits of liberty are only theoretical, and someone extolling it’s benefits is only revealing his personal preference.

              2. So, John; if you think that voting for Trump is the only goal in life, feel free to do so, but you will need to be more persuasive if you wish for others to join your cult.

                1. This is what’s best: Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.

                  1. The complete Cimmerian Party platform?

                    1. We’re raising the Bar-barian in this country!

          2. John, you are making good arguments. I am in agreement with you on this.

          3. You’re off base on this one. The point is american voters haven’t been rational, and in no way can a irrational person be rational. It’s a black and white thing.

            You can shoot yourself in the foot, yes, but in no way is it rational.

        2. You really need to produce that stone tablet upon which it’s written that the right to freely trade goods is ordained from on high, but that national borders are “arbitrary”.

          Further, I’d point out that the economic policies under which the British Empire, the United States, and now China have gotten rich were not free market, but mercantilist. America didn’t start singing the praises of free markets until post WWII, when it was in the position of dumping it’s goods on the rest of the world the same way China is dumping them on us now. Being free market is a wonderful position to take, when you’re the one cornering the markets. For everyone else, not so much.

          1. They prospered under a mercantilist system (that they controlled) because they had the freest internal economies at the times and places where they prospered.

            To paraphrase Milton Friedman, you can’t have mercantilism and a regulatory-welfare state.

          2. I thought our power came from having uncontested dominion over the resources of an entire continent.

      2. Saying that their choice is irrational necessary implies that he knows what the rational choice is and what is in their best interests. Caplan may be a Libertarian politically but he doesn’t prevent him from thinking he knows what is in everyone else’ best interests. He just doesn’t feel we should be forced to act in ways he thinks are best. But he certainly in his view knows how we should be acting and thinks anyone who disagrees is irrational.

        1. Saying that their choice is irrational necessary implies that he knows what the rational choice is

          No, its a comment on the mechanics of how choices are *actually* being made. See below where Caplan’s definition of ‘rational’ is made clearer.

          Its not all that bold a claim; anyone who has examined decision-making by ‘consumers’ in any economic context will eventually come to the conclusion that “rationality” is at best a second or third-tier process.

          If people were perfectly rational about maximizing their bang-per-buck all the time, Branding and Advertising would be perfectly useless. People would look at objective criteria like price, product features, quantities, etc. and make simple calculations to determine their choices. But that simply isn’t what happens. People care about how things make them FEEL, people care about what Other People might think of them… people care about creating a world around themselves that fulfills a vision.. and so on.

          People’s capacity for Reason is more often utilized for post-hoc rationalization rather than in the actual decision making process itself.

          I don’t think Bryan’s observations (from what i’ve seen) are wildly different than this. Tho i haven’t read his book.

          1. You are assuming that maximizing per buck value is everyone’s goal. And that is just not true. People value their position in society. They value feeling a part of a group. They value feeling moral or any number of other things. All of those values can cause someone to rationally choose an inefficient choice. You can’t say someone’s choice is irrational unless you know their values and their goals. Caplan doesn’t know them. He just assumes he does because he is a pin head who thinks every person on earth is homo economicus.

            1. You are assuming that maximizing per buck value is everyone’s goal.

              No, i’m pointing out that is what is meant by “rational” in economic terms

              People value their position in society. They value feeling a part of a group.

              I just pointed that out above, and said that subjective values associated with these different desires aren’t typically included in what people call economic-rationalism.

              its basically what JB said below – a semantic confusion you’re making with the use of the term ‘rational’.

              And no, he’s doing the *opposite* of suggesting that “every person on earth is homo economicus”

              His entire point is to apply a more nuanced appreciation of psychological choice-processes to politics. Behavioral Economists have already done this to death to better understand how things like “Branding” or “Retail Behavior” function. He’s just applying it to elections.

              Basically, you’re over-reacting… even more than usual.

          2. But that simply isn’t what happens. People care about how things make them FEEL, people care about what Other People might think of them… people care about creating a world around themselves that fulfills a vision

            But that is part of their “bang-for-buck” determination.

            Not everything is about money.

            Remember there’s accounting profits and economic profits.

            Accounting profits determine if it’s worth the money while economic profits determine if the action taken is worthwhile overall.

            People make decisions in the economic profit sphere all the time and their decisions are still rational.

            1. For example someone buys a thing for $10 and then sells it for $20, yes there’s an accounting profit but if it took two hours of hard work to sell it and the person values his time at more than $5 an hour then it’s an economic loss.

            2. see above.

          3. I think there is something to be said for the interplay of economics and information. The hypothetical “rational consumer” is an abstraction that presumes perfect information. Yet even within a time and place and accounting for the scarcity of goods and services therein, a person is typically only aware of some subset of the available choices. In theory, this person could expend the time and effort to learn of all the available choices, presuming they don’t change or at least change slower than the rate at which they are discovered, but you’d have to ignore opportunity cost to call that “rational”. Advertising serves the important function of conveying information. Yes, a lot of that information relates to subjective preferences; but the availability of it is essential for the functioning of the “rational consumer”.

        2. You can be a Nazi who supports white power, but then all your white brethren will be wiped off the map. White pride poisons white people, if you want to ensure the sanctity of whites, you better start letting go of your pride and advocate free trade.

          Would that make sense to you? Maybe the reason white people have been kicking ass is because there are a lot of them that had believed in free trade to some extent or another.

      3. Except on what grounds is he adjudging certain political preferences and outcomes irrational?

        1. That’s not what it means. Saying that someone is not a “rational voter” is not a commentary on political preferences or outcomes, it is really a commentary on stated political preferences and desired outcomes versus actual political choices.

          In other words, someone who says they want less unemployment but who votes for politicians that effect the opposite outcome is not a “rational voter”.

  12. “Who is fit for democracy? ”

    If bringing a photo ID to a polling place is too much of a burden then it is anyone and as often as they want.

    I am OK with any one registered and vetted US citizen casting only one vote and letting the chips fall where they may. I do not believe that every person in West Philadelphia voted for Obama last election. Hanging chads, Diebold software bugs, and ordinary confusion would make this wildly improbable.

    1. The stink being raised really has less to do with bringing a photo ID and more to do with the means of acquiring this photo ID, and which forms of ID are acceptable. If some states accept NRA membership cards but not college photo ID cards, or the only means of getting a free acceptable form of ID is 70 miles away, not accessible by public transportation and only open 2pm-4pm on the 2nd Wednesday of each month, there’s some obvious legalized anti-Democrat bias going on.

  13. Maybe just semantics here but ignorance is not the same as irrationality. If you don’t understand that your premises are wrong then it’s not irrational to accept your own conclusions. If they understood even basic economics then I could see calling them irrational for reaching incorrect conclusions. But they may well not even be capable of understanding it either because of a lifetime of brainwashing or just plain old stupidity. Even if it’s out of bigotry, that’s not necessarily the same thing as irrationality either.

    1. It’s an important distinction, lost on many, not least of all the very rational innanut atheists

      1. That’s right, I brought it up.

        Also, abortion. And Hitler and gay cakes.

        Let’s go

        1. Let’s go

          Is there a place that serves all those things? Cool!

          1. Disneyland

            A lot of botched abortions, gay everything, and literally double Hitler

            1. What happens in the Magic Kingdom stays in the Magic Kingdom.

      2. “not least of all the very rational innanut atheists”

        I didn’t know there were atheist eskimos

        1. The See of Ice is displeased.

    2. I think Caplan uses his term “irrational” in a very specific way having to do with economic choice-theory.

      Two types of rationality, and preferences over beliefs

      Caplan posits that there are two types of rationality:

      -Epistemic rationality, which roughly consists of forming beliefs in truth-conducive ways, making reasonable efforts to avoid fallacious reasoning and keeping an open mind for new evidence.

      -Instrumental rationality, which involves choosing the most comprehensively effective means to attain one’s actual goals, given one’s actual beliefs.

      Rational irrationality describes a situation where it is instrumentally rational to be epistemically irrational.

      Caplan argues that rational irrationality is more likely in situations where:

      – people have preferences over beliefs, i.e., some kinds of beliefs are more appealing than others, and
      – the marginal cost to an individual of holding an erroneous (or irrational) belief is low.

      In the framework of neoclassical economics, Caplan posits that there is a demand for irrationality. A person’s demand curve describes the amount of irrationality that the person is willing to tolerate at any given cost of irrationality. By the law of demand, the lower the cost of irrationality, the higher the demand for it. When the cost of error is effectively zero, a person’s demand for irrationality is high.

      1. It’s essentially the same argument as Dan Ariely’s.

      2. Caplan assumes that every person is homo economicus and their only goal is material wealth. Economists make terrible philosophers. Caplan needs to go back to calculating demand curves for widgets and stay out of philosophy. Its embarassing to even read this nonsense.

        1. …calculating demand curves for widgets


          1. What is your demand curve for attention?

      3. It doesn’t matter, in order for something to be rational, it needs to be logical. In order for something to be logical, the math behind it needs to add up. It’s a true or false statement, there’s no iffy about it.

    3. Your statement is correct, but Caplan’s thesis is that voters go beyond “rational ignorance” (merely not knowing a lot about what they’re voting on), and instead go for full “rational irrationality” (holding beliefs inconsistent with what they already know).

      For example, people who build complex and elaborate theories about the Koch brothers are putting extra effort into convincing themselves that they’re not just voting the right way, they’re righteously fending off evil and protecting all that is good in the world.

      And because their vote is massively unlikely to matter, the benefit of feeling really good about voting absolutely outweighs the consequences.

      Contrast with market behaviour, where building stupid belief systems costs you personally.

      1. It’s really the overriding arc of every story posted on this chatroom

      2. and instead go for full “rational irrationality” (holding beliefs inconsistent with what they already know).

        Sometimes beliefs, sometimes a-liefs.

        1. Good link. I would eagerly eat chocolate poop, though.

        2. And sometimes C-liefs and D-liefs too or somethin’. tss

          /chip chipperson

      3. And sure, John will point out that I don’t know for a fact that people’s support of candidates is actually irrational.

        I freely admit I only have circumstantial evidence.

        1. I will just porn out you are a shallow idiot who thinks that material well being is the only value anyone can ever have. I honestly don’t what to say to people who are too dim to even understand that they have assumptions much less examine them.

          1. “porn out” is among the Johniest Johnisms I’ve seen lately.

            1. I understood his thrust.

              1. That euphemism….

                1. the jizzst of it?

          2. People totally derive value from non-material things, and indeed Caplan’s thesis depends on that. Of course when the benefit (feeling good about their vote) is private, but the cost (of bad policies) is borne by everyone, we’re in trouble. It’s the same story as tax-financed “free” services: Everyone consumes more than they would if they were bearing the cost.

            Which is why I’m a fan of sortition/local government/privatized everything: If people have both more influence and bear more of the consequences, they’ll give more weight to the “what if I actually get the policies I support?” part.

            And my link has nothing to do with material well being. It’s just presenting Obama policies on surveillance/war to his own supporters in an underhanded way and getting some hilarious cognitive dissonance out of it.

            1. Cognitive dissonance that for the most part won’t even get them to drop their support.

  14. Voters aren’t irrational, just ignorant and credulous. Trump is going to build a wall, and then we will be able to compete better in the labor market! Trump us going to raise our taxes, with the result that companies will start manufacturing within the U.Sean. again!

    Meanwhile, fast food restaurants are experimenting with implementing a robot workforce.

    1. In fairness to Trump, he’s also talked about reducing the corporate tax rate. That’s a pretty big plus.

      1. So, he’ll cut taxes for the corporations, and raise taxes on the poor (through a tariff) and increase the income tax rate on the “rich”. One out of three ain’t bad…

  15. What’s the Matter With Kansas? I mean, really. What’s wrong with those people?

    1. Much corn, little Wi-Fi.

    1. Tw: protest breasts.
      Tw: massive lack of creativity.

      1. I’m not saying for a moment that Trump would do this, but if I were him I’d hire “protesters” – agent provacateurs – to attend my events in order to make the opposition look even more ridiculous.

        1. of course, “if I were Trump” presupposed a lot.

        2. When rallies like that exist he doesn’t have to put any effort into making the opposition look ridiculous.

        3. Trump would never hire anybody so flatchested.

      2. The guy with the Trump=Nazi on his chest and the Hollister boxers and double thumbs up and 90’s CEO hair…..I don’t even know what to say about him. I just wanted to point him out. He’s totes cool.

    2. That has to be the greatest collection of stupidity in one website post ever.

      Love the girls with the ‘free the nipple’ signs only to cover them with stickers.

      1. “cover them with stickers”

        That’s the worst kind of hypocrisy.

    3. Here in LA (I drive a lot) I have not seen one Trump bumper sticker. I have not seen any Hillary bumper stickers either, other than a few dirty ones that say “It’s time for Hillary” that seem to date back a year or so. The only bumper stickers (and lawn signs) around here are for Sanders. I’m not sure what to make of this. In 2008 and 2012, the Obama flags were flying everywhere. This is blue USA and team D seems to be relatively disengaged.

      1. Nobody in any city is going to put on a Trump sticker, because the modern left is more completely deranged, psychotic, and out of control than they have been in close to fifty years, and someone would probably set the car on fire.

  16. Well instead of voting for red/blue so blue/red won’t win, I’ll be voting for purple with zero chance of winning. Am I irrational?

    1. Am I irrational?

      If you have a BMI, no.

  17. Multiple Choice Time!

    1. Hernando (H.) wants to pay 50% less in taxes by shifting the tax burden to the wealthy and doesn’t want to go in debt when he has to send his teenager to college and thus prefers policies that promote free tuition for college
    2. Kaitlin (K.) is a 55-year old who lives in Minnesota and thinks the number one problem facing America is Mexicans crossing the border and that abortion should be illegal.

    Question: which one of these people is rational?

    A. Hernando
    B. Kaitlin
    C. Neither is rational
    D. Both are rational
    E. It cannot be determined from the information above.

    1. C. All human beings possess innate cognitive biases as a result of their neurology.

      1. What about Daleks?

            1. Heh heh, good one.

              Meditate! Meditate! Meditate!

              1. So I says to myself, what if I type the words “Dalek disco” into Youtube’s search engine?

    2. 1. H. thinks he and his family can live at the expense of their rich neighbors, and that by the time the side-effects of such policies have hit the country, he will be long gone.

      2. K. wants the U.S. to be selective about which immigrants should come to the country and she believes that all living human beings are legal persons with human rights.

      Question: Couldn’t H. think of his country instead of just about himself, especially given the chance that his favorite policies will come back to bite him and his kids in the ass?

      1. Question: Couldn’t H. think of his country instead of just about himself, especially given the chance that his favorite policies will come back to bite him and his kids in the ass?

        If Robin Dunbar is correct, the answer is “no” as while the human brain can conceptualize an entire nation, it can only empathize with a maximum of around 150 individuals.

        1. How do you account for nationalism then?

          1. A lotta people conceptualizing?

          2. Well, I’m not Dunbar, but I guess he would say that nationalism is merely identification with a larger group. One doesn’t need to meet all 300 million Americans and judge them good people before feeling patriotic, no?

            1. Yeah, but that’s my point. If you can identify with a group, then I don’t know what Dunbar has to do with Eddie’s example of someone considering his nation’s best interests when voting.

          3. How do you account for nationalism then?

            Mom and apple pie.

            1. Why do you ignore beisbol?

          4. How do you account for nationalism then?

            Extrapolation from small groups + Selection bias

        2. Is this not the key to all politics?

        3. G. K. Chesterton and Burke have some pertinent quotes, little platoons and all that, but I’m too lazy to look them up. Basically, your loyalties start local and build up from there.

      2. Libertarians care about country. I couldn’t give a rip about this country. The things that matter are family, community, work, and neighbors. What kind of libertarian are you?

        1. I couldn’t give a rip about this country. The things that matter are family, community, work, and neighbors.

          Another lie. You care about this country very much. You just don’t respect it. You want to use its government as a tool to take from other people and give to yourself.

      1. I wonder if it would make an effective detonator for an improvised FAE

    3. Hernando sucks at math and long-term strategic thinking.

      Kaitlin appears to be making a mostly aesthetic choice.

    4. Hernando does not pay income tax. He pays FICA and Medicare payroll taxes and his employer matches those. He pays some property tax as part of his rent, He pays sales tax. He sends his kids to public schools that he did not pay to build. He works as a roofer doing things that lazy legacy millennial Americans won’t, including building new schools. His wife uses an EBT card at the supermarket. Hernando is not Italian or Irish. We know that, because if he were, there would be a roofers union he would join and he’d get paid a middle class wage. And he’d pay income tax. He’d be against mass immigration and vote for Donald Trump. Is this not rational?

    5. Wait. Is Hernando an illegal immigrant?

  18. This is fucking stupid.

    “While Caplan insists that this crazy year doesn’t prove his point, which was correct all along, it does demonstrate it pretty vividly, particularly with the surprising rise of Trump and Bernie Sanders, who exemplify two of the irrational biases he pinpointed”

    I agree with Bryan Caplan more than Sanders and Trump, but even I think this comes off as insufferably narcissistic. My opinions, and only my opinions!, are rational. All else is irrational. It can’t be that someone might have different values than me, it’s that they’re not as rational as I am. And this is just brilliant:

    “Caplan was more optimistic about our political system’s ability to not let the likes of Sanders and Trump get so far. “In 2016, one of the main dilution mechanisms has badly failed: Using social pressure to check and exclude hard-line demagogues,” he thinks.”

    All the people I know in academia spent 7 months calling Trump supporters stupid hillbillies and it didn’t work! I don’t believe it!

    I called Trump supporters stupid hillbillies too, but I did it for my own personal satisfaction, not because I was laboring under the delusion that it would make them not vote for Trump.

    1. Also, I’ve heard a lot of people argue that given the limited value of a single vote in changing anything and the amount of time you have to invest in order to be really knowledgeable about politics, being ignorant often *is* the rational choice for many people, at least if they aren’t really interested in politics.

      Someone choosing what you don’t like =/= irrationality since you’re incapable of knowing exactly why they made their choices. Caplan is assuming they’re irrational because they come to choices he disapproves of.

      1. Like I said, the only way to navigate your way on figuring out how to vote is to pool your wisdom with others, but you might instead end up in a mob which makes the problem worse – pooling stupidity instead of wisdom.

      2. being ignorant often *is* the rational choice for many

        “Let’s go!”

    2. I called Trump supporters stupid hillbillies too, but I did it for my own personal satisfaction, not because I was laboring under the delusion that it would make them not vote for Trump.

      You’re a poor dilution mechanism, Irish.

  19. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 95% of blacks voted for Obama in 2012. Is voting based on race rational or just racist?

    1. Lee Kwan Yew:

      In multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion.

      Take that to the bank. Or, at least, consider it. Lee Kwan Yew is a favorite among paleo-conservatives among which Donald Trump’s musing seem to be aligned.

  20. Would it be reasonable for an individual homeowner to believe that it is ok for someone to rob them at gunpoint to pay for the robber’s kids college? I mean, all the theft that many voters feel is within reason (with the kings men backing up their masters and foing their bidding through force), you’d think they’ve removed the locks from their doors at home, business, or the car for that matter. So how can they contradict their own reasoning, and claim logic and reason were used in their desicion making?

    This is why these douchebags get elected and gov’t still exists.

  21. Spot the Not: Wade Davis

    1. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.

    2. The measure of a society is not only what it does but the quality of its aspirations.

    3. In the West we cling to the past like limpets. In Haiti the present is the axis of all life. As in Africa, past and future are but distant measures of the present, and memories are as meaningless as promises.

    4. Western culture measures wealth by how much you consume and destroy.

    5. Only, in Haiti, I realized, is it possible to drink rum and haggle with a god.

    6. The surface of the Earth itself is an immense loom upon which the sun weaves the fabric of existence.

    1. 6 – sounds too much like Agile Cyborg.

      Wait, isn’t Wade Davis a bill?

    2. I really like how #1 and #3 came from the same brain. #1 is run-of-the-mill multy kulty smug. #3 is one of the most thoroughly racist things I’ve ever read.

      Yes, Bantu people have concept of history. In Tanzania, there is a common type of wood sculpture called ujamaa (togetherness) which is a tower of people standing on each other. It’s meant to show how each generation builds off the previous one.

      The derp- it burns!

  22. So the story goes something like this. This is a tale of how powerful an aphrodisiac the notion of ‘cradle to grave’ government is.

    Someone I know was diagnosed with MS. In order to get the provincial government to cover the pills she needs her doctor had to fill out some stuff. She could not get a hold of him for TWO months and only reached him because she desperately called everyday twice a day. Quite stressful for her as she had to beg for an extension from the province which they so graciously granted.

    As we spoke, I mentioned this is why a private option may not be such a bad thing. She agreed (and most people will all nod in agreement at this juncture of such a conversation) but she then added, ‘but we have to pay for it!

    This is where we lose them. I gently pointed out her health is worth the scratch, no? And that we’re paying for it through our taxes, except in the current construct of the system it’s largely hit or miss and hope they answer you in a timely manner. Whereas, it a patient-centric system – as a private option would provide – she would have saved TWO MONTHS OF HER LIFE dicking around on the phone.

    When she left I was very depressed. It will take over 100 years to deprogram people.

    1. Many people prefer a beautiful failure to an ugly success. The dream of socialism is more appealing than the reality of capitalism. Generally, the only cure is to experience the reality of both.

  23. Saw this in the wonderful short story “The Liberation of Earth” and was reminded of DLI:

    And yet all this time, the human inside the artificially darkened space-ships (the Troxxt, having no eyes, not only had little use for light, but the more sedentary among them actually found such radiation disagreeable to their sensitive, unpigmented skins) were not being tortured for information- nor vivisected in the earnest quest for knowledge on a slightly higher level-but educated.

    Educated in the Troxxtian language that is

    True it was that a large number found themselves utterly inadequate for the task for which the Troxx had set them, and temporarily became servants to the more successful students. And another albeit smaller group developed various forms of frustration hysteria- ranging from mild hysteria to complete catatonic depression- over the difficulties presented by a language whose every verb was irregular, and whose myriads of prepositions were formed by noun-adjective combinations derived from the subject of the previous sentence. But eventually, eleven humans were released, to blink madly in the sunlight as certified interpreters of Troxxt

      1. William Tenn! I was just thinking of him. I read all his paperbacks as a teen. He seems unjustly forgotten these days.

    1. Such a thing has been speculated. Guccifer is not some superhacker. National governments have much better resources. I’d be surpassed if Russia, China, and Israel at least did not also have Hillary’s emails.

      And since Trump might well be the most Russia-friendly candidate, Putin would have a motive to drop those emails around October.

    2. Considering that Putin desperately wants Trump elected (Russia Today has been pushing him almost as much as Hannity), I think we’ll find out once the campaign starts in earnest.

    3. The good judge is usually full of it.

      1. Napolitano is one of the few real libertarians left who still contributes to this site.

  24. Larry Correia has a great post on supporting Trump…..whaa-post/

  25. Trump is anti-foreign bias personified.

    Nothing irrational about caring more about your countrymen than foreigners.

    Moreover, it seems not merely rational, but a manifest principle of representative government that it represent those governed, and not foreigners.

    … it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

    Their safety and happiness, not the safety and happiness of every foreigner on the planet.

    1. Their safety and happiness, not the safety and happiness of every foreigner on the planet.

      The problem with this formulation is the implicit assumption that the government pits domestic interests against foreign ones, and not competing domestic interests against each other.

  26. You can shoot yourself in the foot, yes, but in no way is it rational.

    What if you’ve got a wild animal pinned underfoot? Take your foot off and it gets you. The rest of the animal is thrashing around too wildly to be sure you’ll kill it. Will these presumptions, it is then entirely rational to shoot ones foot.

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  29. Sadly, my claim that the median American is a “moderate national socialist – statist to the core on both economic and social policy” looks truer than ever.

    Are we having a “moderate national socialist moment”?

  30. Blaming the folks for the mess that polititicians and their cronies in the court system, the bureaucracy, the police and big business have made is lunacy. Lunatic.

  31. Doherty is “Ready for Hillary”.

    Just typing that out makes me feel queasy.

  32. Pointing at Trump/Sanders and saying “see! Irrational voters!” presumes that the author knows how a “rational” voter act.

    That’s kind of arrogant.

    But whatever. This guy has no more influence then my toe lint, so picked pockets and broken legs and all that jazz.

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  34. What a fool. “anyone who supports candidates I don’t like is irrational” Author probably thinks voting for Clinton is rational.

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