Are You a Rational Ignoramus?

More good stuff from this podcast on Public Choice with Don Boudreaux and Russ Roberts.

Are you rationally ignorant?  We all are in some sense:

Rational ignorance. First, the term sounds weird. Surely ignorance is always irrational. All it means is that knowledge is a scarce good. It’s not free. If it were free, each of us would be geniuses and fully informed of everything in the world. Huge amounts that we don’t know.

There is problem in some cases because that rational ignorance many people have about politics, government and political candidates effects us all.

If you vote like a moron, there’s no cost. You don’t even know if you are a moron. If enough people vote moronically, will get moronic candidates. The point is: at the time of voting, that act–and it’s the individual act of voting that we’re talking about–there is no consequence to anyone of voting A, B, or not voting at all. Therefore, people are quite unconstrained in being able to express whatever fantasies, romantic notions, anger that they feel.

Another underappreciated aspect of voting for candidates–understood by public choice scholars but underappreciated by the public–underappreciated because it’s called the people’s “choice”–we choose. By attaching the term “choose” or “choice” to candidates and the process of electing candidates we transfer to that choice process the same good feelings we have about choosing in a supermarket. Too much difference between those choices for the political process to have that good name.

Thomas Sowell addressed the same topic as the last paragraph in the three paragraphs I posted of his yesterday.

Some might respond to the “moron” paragraph, and say that if you make a bad choice in an election you’ll know and you’ll vote differently next time.  Maybe, maybe not.  Your bad choice may not directly impact you enough for you to notice.

There is not that individual feedback loop in the voting process. If you have a family of three kids and you buy a sports car, you are going to find out that that was a bad choice.

But in politics, you can keep buying the same flavor over and over again; it doesn’t achieve its goals; it impoverishes the people you think it’s helping, and you can be a proud supporter of that candidate forever. Even after they are dead. You can be oblivious, no incentive to look deeply into whether that was a wise choice. Part of your identity, your reputation, your self-esteem; very different process.