Monday, May 01, 2006

The Best Book I've Read Lately

The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies
by Bryan Caplan

Caplan offers readers a delightful mixture of economics, political science, psychology, philosophy, and history to resolve a puzzle that, at one time or another, has intrigued every student of public policy. (Bryan: You can use that as a blurb!)

To give a flavor of the book, here are a few lines that caught my eye:

In a secular age, politics and economics have displaced religion itself as the focal point for passionate conviction and dogmatism.

Before studying public opinion, many wonder why democracy does not work better. After one becomes familiar with the public's systematic biases, however, one is struck by the opposite question: Why isn't democracy far worse?

What happens if fully rational politicians compete for the support of irrational voters--specifically, voters with irrational beliefs about the effects of various policies? It is a recipe for mendacity.

Put bluntly, rule by demogogues is not an aberration. It is the natural condition of democracy.

To get ahead in politics, leaders need a blend of naive populism and realistic cynicism. No wonder the modal politician has a law degree.

Having spent a year and a half as a student at Harvard Law School, I had to smile at that last line.

The book is forthcoming from Princeton University Press.