Voting somewhat rationally-my solution

A couple of weeks ago I attended a book forum for Bryan Caplan's book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, at the CATO institute. I had thought the CATO institute was a libertarian think tank but found out otherwise when they served a free luncheon after the forum. During the Q&A after Caplan's presentation I asked if it was possible for layman to know how to vote for a rational economic policy without putting in the time and trouble to become an expert in economics. His reply was bascially," No, only PhDs in economics should vote." I have been thinking it over since then and have come up with a way to make voting somewhat more rational.

 My first thought was that even if I did get a PhD in economics I would not be a qualified voter. There is much more to government than economic policy. There is criminal justice, education, foreign policy, social policy, etc.. So to be a qualified voter one would need degrees in constitutional law, sociology, and international relations. The only qualified voters would be professional students and the actual productive people in society would be out of luck.

My second thought was to rely on specialization. It works so well in the rest of the economy. If I want a rational opinion on my health I go to a doctor who has studied for years so I don't have to. I could pick an expert in economics, foreign policy, and domestic policy and vote the way they do. The problem with this is how do I know who is an expert. For economic policy should I rely on Paul Krugman or Greg Mankiw? Tyler Cowen or Brad Delong? I know who I like amongst those, but I really don't know who is a better economist. To really know I would have to become an expert myself which would defeat the purpose of relying on an expert.

The way around this would be to use specialization and aggregation. Rely on surveys of experts on particular topics. Caplan used one such survey in writing his book. There should be a Rotten Tomatoes type of index for experts in public policy where various expert opinions on topics are collected and policy initiatives are given ratings depending on the level of expert support. The problem with this approach is that, to my knowledge, no such sites exist and surveys such as the one Caplan used are rare.

After rejecting all these approaches I went back to Caplan's presentation. He breaks down the populace into three categories; economists, enlightened laity, population at large. Economists have the most correct views on the economy but almost as good was the enlightened laity. They have much less biased and more rational views on the economy. If only the enlightened laity voted, candidates supporting better economic policies would be elected. Probably not as good as if only economists voted but an incremental improvement, which I believe are the best kind. (See previous posts for an explanation why). I think I am an enlightened voter, my standardized test scores were always in the top 5% and I got all the answers correct on the Pew Research Centers quiz on current events the last time I took it.

However, I am probably not the best judge of my own political rationality. After all the guy I met at Home Depot who was convinced the draft was going to be reinstated just after the 2004 election if Bush won, and my friend who is convinced that corporations have way too much power, both are convinced of their own rationality. What is needed is an objective standard for who is and is not a member of the enlightened laity. The most common and easy to measure objective standard is a test. There needs to be a test that will tell you if you are a member of the enlightened laity and should vote. Since I am not aware of the existence of such a test, I am going to create one. The question is what should go on this test? I am looking for multiple choice questions on history, current events, economics, etc. Leave any ideas in the comments and I will create a test that will tell people if they should be voting or not.

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Ah, but doesn't this just

Ah, but doesn't this just invite a new twist on the old Latin proverb "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" Who tests the testmaker?

Don't test me

The testmaker is unimportant. Don't test the testmaker, test the test. That is why I am asking for ideas.

The Test

I think you're missing my point. Of course the test is what's ultimately important, but whoever designs the test will have an incentive structure that does not align perfectly with the greatest good for the most people. It will be designed to suit the testmaker's interests, so I don't think it will end up achieving the goals we want.

Is it cost beneficial for you to vote?

Only people who answer "no" should be allowed to vote.

Some questions

1) Wealth can be:

a) only created

b) only redistributed from one person to another

c) both created and redistributed

2) The Constitution was meant to

a) outline which rights citizens have

b) delineate the powers of the Federal government

3) Trade between people of different nations generally

a) benefits the people of the richer nation

b) benefits the people of the poorer nation

c) benefits the people of both nations

d) benefits nobody

Of course wealth can be

Of course wealth can be redistributed, it just ought not :-)


A couple of weeks ago I attended a book forum for Bryan Caplan's book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, at the CATO institute. I had thought the CATO institute was a libertarian think tank but found out otherwise when they served a free luncheon after the forum.

Good one!

come on guys...

Sorry to be a killjoy here, but what's the point of designing a test with answers most people disagree with. How are you going to implement it? Similarly the "what if everyone held the same factual beliefs that I did." Plain and simple, it's mental masturbation.

But something like a Rotten Tomatoes-type index, for all of the biases that would come if experts determined policy makes sense. It's trying to do the best with the information and tools we have, rather than to imagine a fantasy world where we can dispose of people we don't like from the voter rolls.