Careful What You Wish For

Jane Galt, blogging for The Atlantic under her new pen-name, has a series of posts in response to Jonathan Chait's claim that Republican tax policy is driven by economic crackpottery, pointing out that there are good arguments for tax cuts that don't rely on the dubious claim that the US economy circa 2000 was on the right side of the Laffer curve.

Chait's criticism of the sillier aspects of folk supply-sidism is not unreasonable; I cringe every time I hear someone claim that Reagan's tax cuts caused tax receipts to rise. But the implication that this proves that Republican economic policy is made by crackpots--and that this is a pathology peculiar to Republicans--is.

It should be obvious to anyone who's ever heard a Democratic politician rail against free trade and price-gouging that crackpottery knows no party lines. And to be fair to the Republicans, at least the low-tax agenda is defensible, if not the marketing. Mercantilism and the "price-gouging" canard are rubbish through and through.

But rather than bickering over which party's speechwriters can cram more economic fallacies into a single speech, it may be more instructive to consider why the quality of debate is so low. I suspect that the reason that the more sophisticated arguments for low taxes aren't featured in campaign speeches is that they simply don't win votes. The median voter--and probably even the voter at the 90th percentile--is incapable of following and evaluating sophisticated economic arguments, so the dominant strategy is to present simplistic arguments that resonate with the typical voter's prejudices. Universal suffrage, by its nature, lowers the quality of debate.

Which is why I find this complaint doubly hypocritical coming from the left. Not only are they guilty of pushing their own agenda with arguments of equal or lesser quality, but they frequently push to expand the franchise to or increase voter turnout among the demographics least capable of following sophisticated economic arguments, such as convicted felons, the poor, the homeless, and young adults. When Democrats stop trying to turn out the clueless vote and start trying to increase the quality of the median voter (perhaps, e.g., by endorsing Bryan Caplan's proposal to give extra votes to college graduates), I'll take complaints about Republican sophistry seriously. Until then, I'm happy to see them reap as they have sown.

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Be Careful What You Wish For, Indeed

In the 2004 election, the biggest support for Ralph Nader came from college graduates and those of high income.

Education and voting patterns

That's true, but that was still a tiny minority (around 3%, I think) of college graduates. In general, college graduates are more libertarian than people without college degrees. The likely result of giving an extra vote to each college graduate would be to force both parties to move in a libertarian direction.

Strange idea, dangerous

The idea of giving a subset of the population more votes is peculiar. I know one of the stars of the libertarian firmament is behind it (Caplan), but it leaves me cold anyway. Suppose that Caplan succeeded far beyond what he can realistically expect - that is, suppose he got the government on board with the idea of giving extra votes to certain classes of voter. Then what? Chances are pretty low that the favored classes would remotely resemble what Caplan has in mind. Rather, a sufficiently large block of voters would vote to double their own votes. It might be a coalition of states, or a coalition of people dependent on government spending, or any number of other unsavory possibilities. Furthermore the myth of democracy would be shattered, which might be fine if your ultimate intent is to foment a violent revolution, but if that's not what you had in mind, you might want to give one-person-one-vote a second glance before abandoning it.

As with many other people who write about the world, Caplan appears to be strong when it comes to pointing out the way things are, but crackpot and half-baked when it comes to making proposals. I see this same pattern repeatedly.

Nothing wrong with

Nothing wrong with shattering the myth of democracy. On the contrary, if people feel that they are under the control of a voting elite, they'll be much more reluctant to bend and obey the law of the majority. Democracy destroys the class consciousness of the governed. The minoritarian in number voting elite will need to protect its privilege by avoiding a majoritarian rebellion. Caplan's proposal would be better though if the privilege was actually owned, target big property owner instead of college graduates for example.

I think Caplan's proposal would be an improvement but it wouldn't have anything to do with rationalism, it'd work in pure hoppean fashion.

Panglossian predictions

Nothing wrong with shattering the myth of democracy.

That is what I said, with the obvious qualifier. There is nothing wrong with shattering the myth, as long as you're happy with a bloody revolution.

Ahh, but then you are

Ahh, but then you are missing the rest of my argument, the voting aristocracy would be very frugal in the use of its power in order to maintain their privilege and avoid any kind of bloody revolution.

That's so much better

So instead of revolution there would be a stable society in which the few rule the many carefully, without oppression. Beautiful examples of such societies abound. Saudi Arabia. Iran. North Korea. I feel so much better now.

Sarcasm generator off, I don't trust the voting public but I trust minorities even less. Being nice to the majority is - demonstrably - not by any means the only way for the minority to remain in power. In fact, concentration of political power seems reliably to exacerbate the misbehavior of the state.

I didn't claim there would

I didn't claim there would be no oppression, I claimed there is ground to believe there would be less oppression. Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea all have different history, you could have picked Singapore or Dubai.

Power concentration is not too be feared as much as the silent sheep-like consent of the governed. Shaking the democratic myth seems appropriate if one is to break that pattern.



Problems there

Singapore and Dubai have problems rendering them less than places I greatly envy. I don't think Dubai is anywhere near as free as the US in the ways that matter to me. (I could be wrong - I am going by a web page on Dubai* that really put me off the place.)

*I'm only referring to the things on the list at that web page that pertain to freedom.