The Rationally Misinformed Voterby Thomas DiLorenzo
Jan. 03, 2013
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In the sub-discipline of economics known as public choice, an important concept is the theory of "rational ignorance." First articulated by political scientist Anthony Downs in the 1950s, and expanded upon by economist Gordon Tullock and others, the theory of rational ignorance holds that it is perfectly rational for individuals to largely ignore politics, or even not to vote. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and we all spend most of our time doing our jobs, pursuing an education, raising families, paying bills, and planning our private lives. We rationally spend very little time becoming informed about politics and government policy.
From an economic perspective, it is irrational for most people to vote in presidential elections since, in a country as big as the United States, the probability that your vote will "make a difference" is about 1/100,000,000, with the denominator being the number of voters. The main reason people vote, therefore, is similar to the reason why they cheer for their favorite sports team. Or, they have been so bombarded with government propaganda for their entire lives that they believe it is their "patriotic duty" to legitimize the state and all that it does by "voicing their consent" at the voting booth.
One consequence of the rational ignorance effect is that, since the general public is largely ignorant of the machinations of the state, political outcomes are controlled by special-interest groups, the largest of which is the state itself and all of its functionaries. This is true as far as it goes, but it is much worse. The average citizen in a democracy is not only rationally ignorant, but rationally misinformed, thanks to the relentless statist propaganda that is drummed into the heads of nearly everyone beginning in pre-school. The entire educational system in America has become one gigantic, state-funded statist brainwashing operation.
Once Americans have been thoroughly indoctrinated in statism for at least twelve years, that indoctrination is then reinforced by the lapdog media, Hollywood, and the popular culture in general. It is much easier to plunder and exert totalitarian control over a society in which at least half of the adult population is comprised of brain-numbed morons who will believe in almost any lie or superstition as long as it has a governmental imprimatur.
Hence we have millions of people who believe that disarming all the law-abiding citizens so that only dangerous criminals can possess firearms will make us safer. They believe that their children are safer in public schools if there is no one there – not a single person – who could protect them from a crazed murderer by carrying a firearm and knowing how to use it.
Millions of Americans believe that jobs and prosperity are created when the government takes more money out of their bank accounts and gives the money to government bureaucrats to spend on themselves and their political supporters. They are sermonized about this several times a week by Paul Krugman in the New York Times.
Most Americans believe that they are safer in the world the more involved their government’s military is in launching terroristic bombing attacks by air on more and more countries, under whatever pretense announced by D.C. They believe that if the U.S. government murders hundreds of thousands of children in such bombings then, well, it is just a price that WE should be willing to pay for peace in the world. They also believe that such murderous acts will not motivate anyone in those countries to even think about retaliating against Americans.
Millions of Americans believe that "fairness" occurs whenever the government discriminates against hard-working, frugal, far-sighted, self-educated, law-abiding, and economically-successful families and gives that money away to welfare bums and parasites. There are millions of Americans who pay no income taxes at all who believe that the "top two percent" of income earners who pay almost 90 percent of all federal income taxes are "not paying their fair share."
Millions of Americans believe that they are helping to avert a global environmental catastrophe that could end life on earth by lugging bottles and cans and paper bags out to the street every week for the "recycling truck," which may well just throw it all in the dump with all the other garbage.
Millions of Americans believe that treating people according to the content of their character and not the color of their skin means that racial hiring and college admission quotas should be enforced by the state.
When a company like Wal-Mart begins selling groceries 30-40 percent cheaper than unionized grocery stores, it almost goes without saying that they are to be condemned as social outlaws who abuse both their employees and their customers. That’s what the labor unions instruct us to do.
Most Americans believe that Abraham Lincoln "saved" the voluntary union of states that was created by the founding fathers, based on the principle that government’s just powers are derived from the consent of the governed by micromanaging the waging of total war on Americans who no longer consented to being governed by Washington, D.C., killing hundreds of thousands of them.
Most Americans also think of Lincoln as a racial saint even though he advocated the deportation of all black people all of his adult life, to his dying day. He also opposed inter-racial marriage or allowing black people to vote or serve on juries or even to reside in his home state of Illinois. They think of him as a "great statesman" even though he manipulated his country into the bloodiest war in American history where as many as 850,000 Americans died according to the latest research. This is the kind of thing "great statesmen" do, we are all told in the government schools.
It has been widely reported that the main reason why Barack Obama was reelected was that millions of Americans believed that this particular multi-millionaire "cares more about people like me" than the other multi-millionaire who was his rival.
This list of American idiocy could go on forever, and is a testament to the overwhelming success of the American state in not just "dumbing down" the population, as many have claimed, but in creating a society comprised of millions of dunces and robots who can always be counted on to "legitimize" anything and everything the state does at election time. As the nineteenth-century pundit Josh Billings, who was a contemporary of Mark Twain’s, once said: "The trouble with people is not that they don’t know but that they know so much that ain’t so."
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln; Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe, How Capitalism Saved America, and Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution – And What It Means for America Today. His latest book is Organized Crime: The Unvarnished Truth About Government.