Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter

Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter

Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter

Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter

Synopsis

One of the biggest problems with modern democracy is that most of the public is usually ignorant of politics and government. Often, many people understand that their votes are unlikely to change the outcome of an election and don't see the point in learning much about politics. This may be rational, but it creates a nation of people with little political knowledge and little ability to objectively evaluate what they do know.

In Democracy and Political Ignorance, Ilya Somin mines the depths of ignorance in America and reveals the extent to which it is a major problem for democracy. Somin weighs various options for solving this problem, arguing that political ignorance is best mitigated and its effects lessened by decentralizing and limiting government. Somin provocatively argues that people make better decisions when they choose what to purchase in the market or which state or local government to live under, than when they vote at the ballot box, because they have stronger incentives to acquire relevant information and to use it wisely.

Excerpt

A popular government without popular information, or the
means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy;
or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance.
And a people who mean to be their own Governors must
arm themselves with the Power that knowledge gives.

—JAMES MADISON

MUCH EVIDENCE SUGGESTS that there is widespread public ignorance about politics in America. The biggest issue in the important 2010 congressional election was the economy. Yet two-thirds of the public did not realize that the economy had grown rather than shrunk during the previous year. In the aftermath of that election, the majority of Americans did not realize that the Republican Party had taken control of the House of Representatives, but not the Senate.

When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, his administration and the Democratic Congress pursued an ambitious agenda on health care and environmental policy, among other issues. The media covered both issue areas extensively. Yet a September 2009 survey showed that only 37 percent of Americans believed they understood the administration’s health care plan, a figure that likely overestimated the true level of knowledge. A May 2009 poll showed that only 24 percent of Americans realized that the important “cap and trade” initiative then recently passed by the House of Representatives as an effort to combat global warming addressed “environmental issues.” Some 46 percent thought that it was either a “health care reform” or a “regulatory reform for Wall Street.” It is difficult to evaluate a major policy proposal if one does not know what issue it addresses. In 2003, some 70 percent of Americans were unaware of the recent enactment of President George W. Bush’s . . .

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