democracy fails because it does what voters want.

Greg Mankiw points us toward a new book now available on The Myth of the Rational Voter. There is also an excerpt available at the Princeton University Press.

The book is a critique of democracy on the basis that people are fallen and sinful. Of course, being written by economists for a secular audience, it doesn’t quite put it in those terms, but it makes essentially the same point:

Across-the-board irrationality is not a strike against democracy alone, but all human institutions. A critical premise of this book is that irrationality, like ignorance, is selective. We habitually tune out unwanted information on subjects we don’t care about. In the same vein, I claim that we turn off our rational faculties on subjects where we don’t care about the truth. Economists have long argued that voter ignorance is a predictable response to the fact that one vote doesn’t matter. Why study the issues if you can’t change the outcome? I generalize this insight: Why control your knee-jerk emotional and ideological reactions if you can’t change the outcome?

Of course, being a book by economists written for a secular audience, they go on to look into ways of forming a government that can compensate for fallen human nature. After all, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” I think this is consistent with a Christian understanding of government, regardless of the form it takes. One of those purposes is to at least put a cap on human evil until such time as the Governor comes who can eliminate all sinfulness.

I’m afraid I haven’t time to read the book myself, but it looks a very worthwhile read. I’d love to hear from anybody else who gets a chance to look at it.

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