Discover more from Overcoming Bias
On Tuesday I wrote:
[Caplan says] humans are less rational as voters than as consumers, causing us to support government policies that pursue illusions instead of giving us what we really want. Since educated folks seem to be more rational … and yet do not vote on substantially differing values, Caplan suggests we weigh educated votes more, or at least stop trying to get out the vote, and that we reduce the scope of government policy. … While reviewers seem to grant Caplan’s basic claims, they offer only these lame counter-arguments:
Today let me introduce my alter-ego, the dashing but bias-blase Ramone, who rises to meet my challenge:
Before making big decisions, our ancestors would often consult a shaman, sort of a mix of a priest, a tortured artist, and what we now call "mentally ill." Aided by rhythms and drugs, the shaman, and sometimes a larger community, would enter a trance state. These sort of people in this sort of state would do poorly on tests of "rationality"; they would be bad at fishing or knitting, for example. But the point was not to fish or knit, it was to see hidden truths, especially moral truths, not usually accessible to our usual "rational" mind. These mystic practices became common because the tribes who used them prospered, just as those who practice religion today prosper thereby.
Today, by uniting to support the principle of democracy, we give our lives meaning and identify, and affirm that we value each other. Caplan is right to call democracy a modern religion, and to say voters enter a different "irrational" state of mind. The voting state of mind may not be good for cooking or driving, but it is good for helping us to see fundamental truths, especially moral truths, that we need to set good government policy.
Evidence for voters’ moral insight is found in a point Caplan emphasizes: voters mostly set aside their personal interests and look to the interests of their larger group. More evidence is that democracy has spread and democracies have prospered. Yes, to get the practical details right, we may want bureaucrats in a "rational" state of mind, but to make the crucial moral choices, we want voters in a trance.
Once the world has assimilated Caplan’s critique, I’m guessing Ramone’s argument will be the main intellectually-coherent response. It is self-consistent, to the point, accepts Caplan’s evidence, and makes its stand on a moral claim; such moral claims are very hard to refute.