We the Sheeple: A New Freakonomics Podcast

(Photo: Vox Efx)

Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “We the Sheeple.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)  The gist: politicians tell voters exactly what they want to hear, even when it makes no sense — which is pretty much all the time.

With the Presidential election finally almost here, this is the last of our politically themed podcasts for a while. We’ve previously looked at how much the President really matters (updated here); whether campaign spending is as influential as people think; why people bother to vote (related Times column here); whether we tell the truth in polls; and whether we should consider importing the British tradition of Prime Minister’s Questions.

“We the Sheeple” features Bryan Caplan, the economist-author of The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. You might have read or heard from Caplan in other Freakonomics venues, including “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting,” in which he discussed another of his books, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.

Caplan is, to put it gently, not a fan of our current political system. At he puts it in the podcast:

CAPLAN: You know, if you’re a successful politician, you know you don’t succeed by figuring out what’s really going on in the world and trying to explain it to people. You need to find out what people what to hear and then tell it to them. That’s what you see in debates. That’s what you see voters, successful politicians instinctively are trying to read people, trying to read their faces, what does this person want me to say to him, and that’s how they win.

Caplan also shares with us a letter he received from a Virginia state senator after The Myth of the Rational Voter was published. The senator wanted to thank Caplan for “confirming by your research that my ideas about the stupidity of voters is a valid thought”:

In the podcast you’ll also hear Steve Levitt talk about what he sees as the biggest upside of voting:

LEVITT: I think the reason most people vote, and the reason I occasionally vote is that it’s fun. It’s fun to vote, it’s expressive, and it’s a way to say the kind of person you are, and it’s a way to be able to say when something goes wrong when the opponent wins, “well I voted against that fool.” Or when something goes right when you voted for a guy to tell your grandchildren, “well I voted for that president.” So there’s nothing wrong with voting. [But] I think you can tell whether someone’s smart of not smart by their reasons for voting.

Levitt also tells us what he thinks of the idea of compulsory voting, as practiced in Australia and other places. FWIW, we just received an e-mail on this topic from an Australian reader named Andrew Mannion:

There is a sense that it’s a waste for those who have no interest in politics, although for most of us, voting is just a Saturday morning chore (all our elections are held on Saturdays) to be done with before watching the football or cricket. There is an upside though: with compulsory voting, there’s no need for political parties to spend big dollars on getting people out to vote. Here, that’s guaranteed. So what money is spent – and there’s far less of that here – can be spent on selling policies.

And finally, below is a list of the music that you’ll hear in this episode. David Herman is our engineer and among his many skills is an excellent taste and feel for the music that elevates our podcast above the mere chatter of stationary people. From now on, we’ll try to list the music for all episodes.

“We the Sheeple” Music Credits:

Song Title



Witching Hour Blues

Glenn Crytzer and his Syncopators

Harlem Mad

It’s About Time

Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics

It’s About Time

Things I Like to Do

Lord Echo   

Things I Like To Do


Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics

It’s About Time

Audio Transcript





[MUSIC: Glenn Crytzer and his Syncopators - Witching Hour Blues]


Stephen DUBNER: Bryan, do you vote in presidential elections?


Bryan CAPLAN: I confess that I do not.


DUBNER: Why not?


CAPLAN: To me, anyone who can actually make it through the system has views that are so repellent to me, and what they say seems to be so contrary to common sense and common decency I just couldn’t bear to really identify with either of them.


DUBNER: Okay, so Bryan Caplan is not what a political pollster would call a “likely voter.” Not by a long shot. This can best be explained by the fact that Caplan is – yes – an economist. He teaches at George Mason University. Caplan has iconoclastic thoughts about a lot of things. He’s the kind of guy who’ll tell you that just about everything you think -- about voting, about parenting, about higher education -- is wrong.


CAPLAN: Honestly, if I just listen to any speech that any successful politician gives, it just seems like it’s so unfair, and it’s so untruthful. It’s like every sentence, can you fact check this sentence? Is this sentence actually factually correct? It’s like, no not really. It’s just a very unfair, and just appealing to people’s emotions, and I have to say, I really object to it. 




CAPLAN: I almost never actually listen to politicians. I’ll sometimes read transcripts. I find the transcripts less emotionally aversive than actually listening to them say their words. And when I read those transcripts -- no matter what the party of the person is -- I just think ‘I would give you a C in my economics class.’ This is just not acceptable for a person to be saying, it’s just so wrong.






ANNOUCNER: From WNYC and APM, American Public Media: This is Freakonomics Radio, the podcast that explores the hidden side of everything. Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.


[MUSIC: Ruby Velle and The Soulphonics - It’s About Time]


DUBNER: Before the last presidential election, in 2008 when Barack Obama beat John McCain, Bryan Caplan published a book called The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies.


CAPLAN: The background assumption is this: everyone understands why dictatorships choose bad policies, there’s some awful jerk at the head of a country running it like it’s his own personal piggy bank. The puzzle though is why democracies would choose bad policies in a similar way. So in other words, the question is: everyone can agree that dictatorships choose bad policies; it’s no big intellectual puzzle as to why that would happen. But the idea that democracies, which are run by the people, or by the people elected by the people, would also make mistakes, is the puzzle. So you can think about the right way to read the title is, ‘why even democracies choose bad policies.’


DUBNER: The cover of Caplan’s book shows a flock of sheep, standing up like humans in a sort of military formation, ready to follow… someone. We the Sheeple.


CAPLAN: Right, so I’m really going against two different baseline wisdoms. One is with the public, just the idea that if a majority of Americans think something is a good idea then it’s right. You can see this in almost any presidential debate where someone will say ‘the American public wants this.’ And the last thing the other guy is going to say is, ‘well it’s true the American public does want it, but the American public is mistaken for the following reasons…’  You never want to be the politician saying that. The idea that if something is popular, it’s a good idea is quite a widespread in public opinion. At the same time, I also wanted to argue against the view that’s very common in economics and political science, which is that even if there’s a lot of ignorance in the public, you know voters are factually mistaken on a lot of issues, nevertheless it all balances out. So that on average, if the public thinks something is a good idea, then it really is a good idea.


DUBNER: Consider one topic that just about everyone cares about during the upcoming election: unemployment – or, really, employment. This issue is at the core of both the  Obama and Romney campaigns. The argument is over how the Obama White House has done in creating jobs. But as Bryan Caplan points out, not all jobs are created equal. Some of them are what he calls “make-work” jobs, and that feeds a “make-work bias.”


CAPLAN: I mean, make-work bias is the view that you should judge the performance of an economy based on unemployment rather than production, which especially during recession is a totally natural view. But once again, if you step back and realize, well, suppose we had thought this way in the 19th century, someone comes up with new tractors, new fertilizers, new ways of growing food. Someone else says wait a second, this is going to put farmers out of work, we should stop them, we should ban them. You know these innovations that sound good because they create more food may be bad because they’re going to destroy jobs. If we listened to those people we would still be farmers. We would still be hungry because they weren’t growing enough food then. Since we didn’t listen to people like this, we had a huge increase in food production. We did have a large decrease in employment in agriculture, but those people and their descendants just found something else to do. Which again, is so unsatisfying to hear, because at the time you want to say, okay, well tell us specifically what will they do instead of agriculture, which is what mankind’s been doing for thousands of years. And the answer really is when you’re in a period of change it’s very hard to say what it’s going to be. All you can do is say, well, there’s going to be something. The labor’s valuable; someone will figure it out.


DUBNER: Well, Bryan, how much of the rational voter idea is pegged simply to voting your pocketbook? In other words, voting for the candidate whose policies, or at least the policies that he promises, most closely align with your own economic interests?


CAPLAN: So there are actually two separate issues here. So one of them is how clearly or unclearly people see the world. The other one is how selfishly or unselfishly they vote. A person could be very rational, but totally unselfish. A person could first of all carefully understand the world and then vote on the basis of what he thinks is best for society. A person of course could be the opposite. A person could be very confused but still voting for what he thinks will advance his selfish interests. What I do in the book is -- first of all I clear some rubble away -- I go over all the evidence on voter motivation showing that despite what a lot of people think, voters are shockingly unselfish. Your individual interests have very little to do with how you vote, very little to do with your views on particular issues. In general it’s not true that rich people are Republican, poor people are Democrats. So there’s a very slight tendency that way, but it’s nothing like the picture people have of the all rich people vote Republican, all poor people vote Democrat.


DUBNER: So that sounds kind of wonderful, yes?


CAPLAN: So far so good. That actually does make democracy sound better. Here’s the problem, though. Even though it does look like people really are voting for what they believe to be good for their society, they actually seem to know very little about that and, in fact, have a lot of very mistaken views about how to advance their interests. And I say that’s actually probably the worst possible case. The worst possible thing is to have people who have good motives but bad understanding because then there’s a lot of agreement and consensus about what we ought to be doing. The problem is just that what we think we ought to be doing is often ineffective or counterproductive.


[MUSIC: Ruby Velle and The Soulphonics - It’s About Time]


DUBNER: All right, so in terms of this year’s presidential election, pick a plank, any plank from each candidate’s economic platform. And give me an Obama plank, and give me a Romney plank. And talk about how good that policy is from an economic perspective, and then talk about its viability as a voting appeal.


CAPLAN: I’d be perfectly happy if you wanted to just give me a couple.

DUBNER: Sure, so let’s see. So President Obama has talked a lot about financial inequality, but also access to education let’s say, right? So he has made moves toward, and talked about making more moves toward, making college more affordable in more ways toward more people. Talk to me about that idea as a piece of economic policy and then talk to me about it as a good piece of voter bait.


CAPLAN: All right, so in terms economic policy, it’s not at all clear that this is a good idea, because we already have an enormously high dropout rate, especially for marginal students. Most of, or at least a lot of the payoff from going to college comes from finishing. And yet, over the last decade or so we’ve had a large rise of the number of people who start going to college, but the fraction that actually finishes has been very flat. So it seems quite likely in a way that this is just going to encourage a lot of people to waste a couple of years of life and get very little show for it. And yet, what I just said is not anything you’d ever want to tell voters. You certainly don’t want to get in front of a national audience and say, you know, I think too many people are going to college. A lot of people aren’t very serious. You know that’s just the fact, a lot of people aren’t meant for college. That sounds terrible.


DUBNER: And therefore, campaigning on the idea of sending more people to college is a great thing to campaign on.

CAPLAN: That sounds great. And of course we’re going to pay for more of the stuff sounds good. I mean, who wants to pay for the stuff. Right? And again it’s not just a selfish matter of I don’t want to pay for my kid. No one should have to pay! Wouldn’t that be great if no one had to pay?


DUBNER: All right, let’s take something from Governor Romney’s campaign. Let’s say it’s a tax issue. Let’s say that the Romney camp describes President Obama’s forward-looking tax policy as wanting to raise taxes on the highest earners, whereas Governor Romney would argue, and has argued, that that would be a mistake because it would disincentivize small businesses, and maybe large. And that there comes a certain point at which raising taxes rather than, or at the expense of cutting spending is counterproductive. How does that rank as an economically sound or unsound issue in your view, and how does it rank again, as, again, voter bait?


CAPLAN: That one’s kind of funny, because if you take a look at voters’ views on government spending, they’re literally contradictory. Voters in general favor lower spending overall, but for virtually every category of spending they want to spend more. So this is the kind of thing where if  you say it right almost anything can be good, if you say it wrong almost anything can be bad. When a politician says we need to cut spending, that is a popular appeal. The only problem is if someone says cut which kind of spending? Oh, let’s cut the waste. Can you identify the waste specifically, is there something that it actually is? You know that’s the problem. I mean, I would say that in general, Republicans try to tap into the general public desire for lower spending. They also try to very carefully tap in to the public’s resistance to cutting any particular kind of spending. So even though Republicans know very well that to really cut spending you’ve got to cut entitlements, you know, you’ve got to get Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid under control. Those are really the fast-growing areas of spending. But Republications are very carefully electorally not to name any of those because people are going to say wait, when I said cut spending, I didn’t mean cut any of the spending we like, which are basically all of them, except for foreign aid.


[MUSIC: Lord Echo - Things I Like to Do]


DUBNER: Coming up: my Freakonomics partner Steve Levitt talks about his voting history.


Steven LEVITT: I voted for Obama because I wanted to tell my grandchildren that I voted for Obama. And I thought that he would be the greatest president in history.


LEVITT: I don’t think I’m going to bother voting this election.

ANNOUCNER: From WNYC and APM, American Public Media: This is Freakonomics Radio. Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.


[MUSIC: Glenn Crytzer and his Syncopators - Witching Hour Blues]


DUBNER: Today on Freakonomics Radio we’re talking with economist Bryan Caplan, author of The Myth of the Rational Voter. He is not a huge fan of our current political system.


CAPLAN: If you’re a successful politician, you know you don’t succeed by figuring out what’s really going on in the world and trying to explain it to people. You need to find out what people want to hear and then tell it to them. Successful politicians instinctively are trying to read people, trying to read their faces, what does this person want me to say to him, and that’s how they win. Economists often look down on politicians and sort of mock them for being incompetent. I have a very different view. I think they’re extremely competent, it’s just they’re competent in a skill that economists don’t appreciate. They are people who win these incredibly competitive races to get a job that thousands of people would love to have, maybe millions of people would love to have. They have some incredible skills, it’s just their skills are not figuring out what’s really going on, or deciphering the best research around. Their skill is finding out what the public wants to hear and saying it to them in a way that’s emotionally compelling. 


DUBNER: So what bothers you more, that electoral candidates give the people what the people want -- or seem to want -- or that people who seem to want what they seem to want?


CAPLAN: That’s a very good question. Because ultimately the source of the problem is that people are so confused in their views of how the economy and other things work, which means that a politician who wants to win has to actually say these things. People have often said that politics has been the religion of the 20th century, and I think there’s a lot to that. In the same way that people get attached to a religion, they get attached to a political party. And once you’re part of it, you don’t want to hear someone talking about the horrible things that your religion or your party did in the past. You don’t want to go and say the people who now run it might be morally questionable, or hypocritical, or just wrong. Instead, you want to find a sense of community with a bunch of like-minded people. You all tell each other how wonderful you are and try to defeat your Satanic enemies who for some strange reason continue to dispute the truth that you have obtained.

[MUSIC: Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics - Agenda]




DUBNER: People are always talking about the dispiritingly low voter turnout rate in the U.S. -- it’s less than 60 percent for a Presidential election. But after hearing Bryan Caplan talk for a while, you may ask yourself a different but equally dispiriting question: why is voter turnout even that high? I asked my Freakonomics friend and co-author Steve Levitt about this recently. He’s an economist at the University of Chicago.


DUBNER: So Levitt, how can you in your life, when you wander around, tell the difference between a smart person and a not-so-smart person?


LEVITT: Well, one good indicator of a person who’s not so smart is if they vote in a presidential election because they think their vote might actually decide which candidate wins.

DUBNER: Well that sound anti-American doesn’t it? That’s a terrible heresy you’re saying aloud.

LEVITT: Well, you know us, Dubner, we try to tell the truth. And the fact is that there has never been and there never will be a vote cast in a presidential election that could possibly be decisive. And one thing we see for sure, and we saw it in the Gore versus Bush election is that if it’s even within thousands of votes it’s not the votes themselves that decide the election, because nobody can figure out how many votes were cast. It’s the courts that always decide, the judges that always decide. It’s virtually impossible that any vote you cast in a national election could ever actually be decisive.

DUBNER: But don’t you think that people pretty much know that by now, people are aware of the difference between electoral versus popular vote. And you know, if you live in a state like I do, New York, or you do, Illinois, it’s kind of a forgone conclusion. So let’s assume that most people kind of think about that and know that, what drives them to do it anyway? I mean, people complain about low voter turnout, it sounds like you’re saying it’s strange it’s even as high as it is, around fifty percent.

LEVITT: Yeah, so I think you’re right that most people understand that their vote doesn’t really matter for the election, which is exactly why I said it’s only the not so smart people who vote because they’re actually going to influence the election. I think the reason most people vote, and the reason I occasionally vote is that it’s fun. It’s fun to vote, it’s expressive, and it’s a way to say the kind of person you are, and it’s a way to be able to say when something goes wrong when the opponent wins, “well I voted against that fool.” Or when something goes right when you voted for a guy to tell your grandchildren, “well I voted for that president.” So there’s nothing wrong with voting. I think you can tell whether someone’s smart of not so smart by their reasons for voting.

DUBNER: Why did you vote for Obama for president in 2008?

LEVITT: So I voted for Obama because I wanted to tell my grandchildren that I voted for Obama. And I thought that he would be the greatest president in history.


LEVITT: I don’t think I’m going to bother voting this election.

DUBNER: So Levitt, some places around the world have essentially mandatory voting. Australia for one, I don’t really know too many of the details about it. But as a citizen you must vote. And there are different incentives for voting, and penalties for not voting. Do you like that idea for here?

LEVITT: I think it’s totally backwards. Why would you want people who aren’t interested in voting, why would you want to compel them? These are either people who are uninterested in voting, uninformed, indifferent between the candidates. Those are exactly the wrong people to try to get to vote. If anything I think you want to go in the other direction and find ways to let people who care a lot vote repeatedly. That’s really more in the spirit of trying to get to the right answer. That way you get the people who have the strongest convictions acting most aggressively to express those convictions.

[MUSIC: Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics - Agenda]







Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



  1. David Mint says:

    We recently pulled some data on the non-voters in American presidential elections since 1828, the first year that vot turnout data was readily available. What we found about non participation we eye opening. Depending upon how one views a non-vote, it could be said that only one President has been chosen by a simple majority of the American people in its entire history: Eisenhower in 1952. You can see our numbers and analysis at the following link: http://davidmint.com/2012/10/23/the-silent-majority-why-no-one-will-win-the-2012-presidential-election/

    Thanks again for sharing some insight into the voters mind and all the best!

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    • Bryan says:

      I’ve heard that single votes don’t count..and I accept that as much as I accept a raindrop can’t flood a city.. But oceans and rivers are just multitudes of raindrops?.. On an Election Day what if the vote is actually zero for each candidate? Isn’t there a law of big numbers or something that changes things when larrrrrge groups get together.. To gamble, vote, flood things,..etc?

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  2. Jacob E says:

    It’s awesome that you guys are listing the music for the episodes. David Herman does an excellent job with the music and the audio.

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  3. Adam says:

    When I hear that economists don’t vote because their vote doesn’t matter, it strikes me as being similar to that other joke about the economists walking by the $20 bill on the ground saying “that can’t be a $20 bill or someone would have already picked it up.” They treat themselves as separate from the system. They tell us we should think more like them, but if we did no one would vote. A vote for the lesser of 2 evils registers some input into the US political process while no vote is a vote for the system to continue as it is. Is that what they want?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 34 Thumb down 15
    • Nathan the economist says:

      ” They tell us we should think more like them, but if we did no one would vote.”

      That’s wrong. As less people voted, individual votes would become more powerful, so economists would then vote.

      And the joke is a joke. Part of economics is recognizing outliers. Theory does not take precedence over a physical observation as clear and straightforward as seeing a $20 bill, and economists would pick it up. Therefore, that attack is incorrect, as well.

      “no vote is a vote for the system to continue as it is.”

      Actually, in this context, no vote is a decision–or a “vote”- to save the time it would take to vote. Whether one voted or not would make no difference to the government, so why take the time?

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 4
      • Adam says:

        I wonder what percentage of the electorate is not voting because their vote doesn’t matter. Enough to have changed the result of several elections that I’ve participated in I’m sure.

        Perhaps they each feel some satisfaction for saving some time and leaving the rest of us with the stupid government we deserve.

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      • Jason says:

        Adam notes: “I wonder what percentage of the electorate is not voting because their vote doesn’t matter. Enough to have changed the result of several elections that I’ve participated in I’m sure.”

        However, if the non-voters would be choosing by flipping a coin, their vote wouldn’t matter. The question is – how many non-voters are actually informed consumers who simply choose not to consume?

        My conclusion to this issue may differ from others here, however. I think we need to do everything possible to create an informed electorate with access to the polls. Have early voting everywhere, and move election day to Saturday. Continue to improve upon voter guides that are easily accessible. And (at least in California, and probably elsewhere), decrease the amount of garbage that weighs down the ballot. Propositions are for critical issues that need public input, not just for legislation that you are disappointed didn’t get through your elected legislature!

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  4. Travis says:

    This is a great talk. But to me it seems like a double edge sword, to use a cliche. While both politicians lip service should be repugnant to any educated and critical person, there are still good ideological reasons to vote. Some people think the government should enforce their religious norms, for example, and others think the government should not. That seems to be a perfectly good ideological reason to vote, despite what the candidates also say.

    Which is why it often comes down to voting for the lesser two evils. Though, an extra problem is introduced when the politician saying what you consider to be more nonsensical is the one in the party which you line up better ideologically.

    I’ve always been torn on the issue of “voter turnout.” On one hand, I think that encouraging people who are uninformed, easily misguided, and generally under analytical are ill equipped to be making group decisions for the welfare of the nation.

    On the other hand, it seems like often times the first people to opt out are the people who are the most educated, most analytical, and most well informed. Because they feel cold to both candidates, they are more likely to opt out, which can ultimately make the decision even worse, by leaving in the hands of a group that is even more bereft of information or critical thought.

    Is there any solution?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2
    • JAM says:

      I’ll take a stab at a solution.

      The issue is that this is a market place of ideas and we, the people, need to vote (demand) in order to shift what is being supplied.

      The problem is that people are not being very discriminating in how they give their vote.

      The politician (supplier) is pitching themselves with the fervor of a late night infomercial, whose promises are just as likely to evaporate upon delivery.

      In order to avoid the bait and switch normally being supplied, people need to vote for a package that promises to deliver little more than unbiased simplicity and transparency in providing only basic public goods (defense, police, fire protection, etc.) and addressing difficult to tackle externalities (pollution).

      As long as people keep voting for some magician who promises a cavalcade of goodies upon election (at someone else’s expense), we are doomed to a repeat of this sad show over and over again.

      And don’t be afraid to vote 3rd party. This may signal the two main hucksters (Dems and GOP) to change their show.

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    • tmeier says:

      The only solution I can think of it to add more tiers rather than direct voting. Have sort of caucuses of a hundred voters select a representative to vote for them. Have a hundred of these meet in a super caucus and select an elector. The electors then meet to select a person to fill the office. If selected, duty to serve should be compulsory, like jury duty. No campaigning, no politicians in the sense we now have them. Electors are not paid and anyone caught taking bribes get life in prison.

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  5. James says:

    I have to wonder about the claim that “politicians tell voters exactly what they want to hear”. Quite apart from the fact that I can’t instantly recall any mainstream politician ever telling me anything I wanted to hear, it seems pretty obvious that voters are divided into groups with vastly different opinions. Thus if some candidate – say RIchard Mourdock – tells one group exactly what they want to hear, that creates considerable reaction from those who don’t want to hear it.

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    • Emil Lime says:

      Exactly. Competing tribes of voters who vote exactly the same way for 100’s of years. What are the names of these factions. What are the names of the parties who are voted for by these factions. When have factions changed parties. Which factions are growing in influence. Michael Lind claims that the Republican and Democratic parties switched names in the 60’s. due to the invitation of the African American Faction into the Democratic Party. So, that makes Roosevelt a representative of what is currently called the Republican Party. That’s what needs to be uncovered. That is why nobody understands politics in the US anymore.

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      • TexCIS says:

        Hogwash. It was the Democrat party that wouldn’t allow African Americans to vote. Case in point is Condalezza Rice’s father. He wanted to sign up to vote and the Democrats wouldn’t let him, so he went to the Republican party and signed up. That’s why she’s a Republican to this day. That’s also why Senator Robert Byrd was in the Democrat party, and in the KKK, and remained in the Democrat party. The Democrat party was, and still is, a party that looks at people as groups based on skin color, or sex, or union membership . . . and not as individuals with minds of their own. Just look at what they do to members of those groups who “go off the reservation” or “plantation.”

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    • mike says:

      Politicians, especially those running for president or congress use modern technology to determine which voter segment is likely to be the swing vote, then package their message for them.

      If you suggest this doesn’t happen, then you haven’t been watching Romney’s courting of the tea party “I’m a severe conservative” then his disavowal of all he stood for once the election got closer to the finish. Which is exactly what one of his aids said he would do. “He’ll etch-a-sketch it…”.

      They use the same kind of tools that advertisers use, focus groups, polling, psychologists and statistics. They find out what group they need to target, because there are many who will vote for them no matter what they say or do or screw up. Those are the true believers. The ones they target, as has been stated on various shows, is the low information voter.

      I think my country should enact random selection representation. Pick names out of a list of all citizens aged 18 – 80, tell them they just won a job for four years three months. There would be a three month overlap where the last guy trains the new guy. There would be a method of recall by vote should a certain number of people sign a petition asking for it. Their jobs would be held whenever possible with the employer being compensated for the inconvenience, training and search for the replacement hire, and the chosen representatives given a set amount of money equaling his salary plus 20 to 40 percent. These can be hard jobs if you care and do it properly.

      Naturally people would have the opportunity to turn down the opportunity. We would get a representative group of people. They would be less subject to corruption. They might even tell people what they need to hear, rather then what they think they want to hear.

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      • James says:

        Package, yes, but not change. As, to continue the example, Romney’s reaction to Mourdock’s comments. Anyone who pays attention would bet that Romney actually agrees with Mourdock, but though he can try to package his views a little differently, he won’t come out and say “Hey, I was wrong, women should control their own bodies” in order to pick up a bigger share of the vote, regardles of whether or not that statement would be a lie.

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  6. tmeier says:

    Many years ago I determined the real value of democracy is in suppression by the illusion of consensus. This is much better than suppression by force in most ways.

    But really the ‘stupid voter’ is just another face of the ‘stupid consumer’, pandering to the lowest common denominator is the key to success in anything dealing with people en mass be it politics, art, entertainment or mundane supply. Even if you isolate a demographic which is supposed to be elite you still need to pander to the basic instincts or lose market to someone who will. Politicians are not an exception by any means. Several great statesmen have remarked how filling a chamber with people who would otherwise be thoughtful, intelligent and even insightful, turns them into idiots. So the senator should really not have said ‘they’ but ‘we’.

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  7. Mike Hunter says:

    So Mr. Caplan isn’t a fan of our current system. Fair enough. Can he tell us what changes could realistically be made to create a better system? It’s unproductive to bitch and moan about something being broken and then not even attempt to find a way to fix it.

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    • Jonathan Vaage says:

      There are many quality voting reforms out there (amongst several poor quality reforms). My favorite is Score Voting (aka Range Voting). Essentially voters give each candidate a score out of some range and the candidate with the highest cumulative score wins office. This should effectively achieve what Levitt mentions at the end of the segment about teasing out more nuanced preferences from voters. This also reduces problems with the spoiler effect and the two party control of front runners. Unfortunately, and despite it’s straight for

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    • Jonathan Vaage says:

      There are many quality voting reforms out there (amongst several poor quality reforms). My favorite is Score Voting (aka Range Voting). Essentially voters give each candidate a score out of some range and the candidate with the highest cumulative score wins office. This should effectively achieve what Levitt mentions at the end of the segment about teasing out more nuanced preferences from voters. This also reduces problems with the spoiler effect and the two party control of front runners. Unfortunately, and despite it’s straight forwardness, it has not yet been implemented in any governmental bodies due to it’s relative recent emergence as a promising voting reform.

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  8. Emil Lime says:

    Man, you guys lost me on this one. I contemplate never listening again. Try this. Interview Michael Lind and ask him about the United States Political Calculus. It far and away explains more about politics in the US than anything you statistic logic junkies come up with.

    People hate politicians because we make THEM hate US. But that said, who on earth has time to study issue after issue and come up with a rational logical decision on what’s best. Nobody. Including POTUS. What we’re voting for is a manager. And that has to do with personality. And the only thing people know about managers is judging the managers they have against the uber manager, which is POTUS. It’s not about micro managing policy. Sea changes in policy happen when they happen. Civil Rights, it happened eventually. It always takes longer than we’d like, but it eventually happens.

    Seriously Levitt, are you really not going to vote? You voted for Obama and now your disillusioned? That is bull up and down. JUST the composition of the Supreme Court should make you vote this time. Alone. That is the real issue that people should think about. Social Justice! care anything about it? You are NOT for strict construction of the constitution. You take pragmatist positions all the time. You’re logic causes ambivalent cynicism. Stop teaching people that.

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    • Mike says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Adam says:

      Thanks, Emil Lime. I also find the excuses for not voting deplorable. The politicians make arguments with obvious flaws, as Brian Kaplan, interviewed on the podcast, notes? Yes, they do, but if you choose not to vote on that basis then you are no better than the people who think those arguments make sense. Sure it’d have been nice if the President, or Mitt Romney, had, for example, answered the debate question about gasoline by saying there was very little a president could do about gas prices in the short to medium term. Nonetheless, there is ample information out there, even some you could have gleaned from the debates, that suggests the different policies the candidates will actually pursue if elected. Can’t one use that to decide who to vote for?

      As for Levitt’s suggestion that people who think their vote will make a difference are dumb, I look at it this way. Clearly voting itself makes a difference. Turnout by Democrats in 2008 helped Obama and other Democrats get elected. Turnout by Republicans in 2010 helped Republicans get elected. So voting makes a difference. Therefore my voting is part of what makes a difference. The fact that my individual vote will not sway the election is irrelevant. Finally, I would say, compare the society where everyone thought as these nonvoting economists versus the society where nearly everyone voted. Even though in the latter case there would be a lot of ill-informed people voting, which society is likely to be more inclusive or fair? Which society would Kaplan and Levitt prefer to live in? I think that, and not because it’s fun, is why most people vote.

      Levitt also ignores the idea that people who intend to vote will tend to become more informed, with attendant benefits.

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  9. david tseng says:


    I’ve been listening to your podcasts for the last year or so, I think I’ve heard about 60-70% of them and I love them. But I’m writing because you guys are so clearly blind to several points when you say that (and I’m paraphrasing) “Stupid people think their vote matters.”

    1. The intelligence of a person can not be ascertained by any one measure. (this is abundantly obvious, but I’ll just point out one counter example: DaVinci believed the world was flat).

    2. Your vote does matter. It just doesn’t “decide” the election in the sense that it will not be the one vote that puts something over the 50% mark. It matters because if you don’t vote, then OTHER PEOPLE’s votes will count for more. You take the argument to one extreme: that one person’s vote will never determine the election, but you don’t go the other way and ask: if nobody votes then who determines the election.

    I know what you’re thinking: that’s a foolish, and simplistic argument. So here’s where it really leads: if you don’t vote, then when EXIT POLLSTERS ask, “who did you vote for?” You won’t be there to answer. And if you don’t answer, then your demographic (Asian/white, old/young, educated/not, whatever) will not be represented. And if you aren’t represented at the polls, then POLITICIANS won’t care about you.

    So GO VOTE, because if you don’t, politicians will know, and you and your kind will lose influence.

    Tell me I’m wrong?

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    • Travis says:

      I think you have to look at “stupid” as not the opposite of “high IQ” or “highly intelligent”, but as an amalgam or set of negative traits, many of which come together to classify someone as stupid. Those would be things like being under-educated, non-analytical, under-informed, and also include things like poor reasoning skills that a traditional IQ test might try to quantify.

      The thing is, evidence that voters is are stupid isn’t by looking at each one and trying to measure how stupid they are with some specific test. It’s by looking at the things politicians say (on both sides of the political spectrum) which they use to drum up support. Some of presidents or presidential hopefuls most popular platforms are patently unrealistic and often downright ridiculous.

      One example that comes to mind is the Newt Gingrich $2.50 gas promise from the primary. This gave him momentum and rallied his supporters. But there’s no way anyone who was attracted by such a ridiculous and impossible promise could be considered anything other than stupid.

      There is something to be said about the economist decision to not vote, and the more macro principle of aggregation. But it’s not just that your vote “counts” that should drive a voter to vote or not vote.

      There are several facts around voting which should discourage a person to vote. You could talk about everything from being a free rider, to not having an individual impact in terms of aggregation.

      In short, I think you’re wrong.

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  10. David says:

    Good podcast guys.

    Actually, the men behind the curtain are actually quite happy voter turnout is so low.
    How can you direct people towards the system you want if people are thinking and caring?
    Answer : you can’t.

    But, the idea that Americans have only 2 choices, Democrat or Republican, is just foolish and myopic.

    There are 3 viable candidates I can think of who weren’t even mentioned in the podcast, and before you say, “I’ll be throwing away my vote”, think about it, if all the apathetic iconoclasts throw away their votes at candidates they actually believe in…
    Well, 50% of eligible voters don’t vote…they all vote for a candidate besides Romney or Obama…you know what, it’s actually very likely a totally unexpected candidate winds up President.

    Don’t want to be sheeple?

    Get your head out of the sand and check out the 3rd party candidates.

    I’ll even get you started.
    Check out the 3rd party Presidential Debate on Youtube :

    If you want to “have fun” voting and maybe actually get someone into the oval office who isn’t a corporate puppet and a “highly skilled” face reader and emotion panderer, vote your conscience.

    And, maybe tell your disenchanted friends too.
    Maybe the disillusioned voter can shock the system this election.

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  11. Astraea_M says:

    At the presidential level there has never been a single vote that has made a difference, but there have been local and state elections where the difference in votes was in the single digits. And of course even in presidential elections there have been cases where a single state made the difference, and that single state was won or lost on a very small number of votes. So categorically stating that your vote makes no difference is simply wrong.

    I find it disappointing that such an influential blog advocates less participation, rather than more. We know that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, we know that groups that participate more in the electoral process as a group have a louder voice. And we know that the political parties will slice and dice the results of this election to determine how to target their views in the next election. So yes, your participation matters a great deal, even if you are not the decisive vote for the election.

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  12. Eric M. Jones. says:

    “Your individual interests have very little to do with how you vote, very little to do with your views on particular issues. In general it’s not true that rich people are Republican, poor people are Democrats. So there’s a very slight tendency that way, but it’s nothing like the picture people have of the all rich people vote Republican, all poor people vote Democrat.”

    Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics…The wealth vs. voting preferences is not comparable left and right. The Democrats have a fairly even distribution across wealth and voting preferences. The Republicans (now) have a skewed distribution of the rich and powerful who by concentrating on wedge issues and distractions (and Fox “news”) have been able to manipulate the less informed voter to follow them and vote against their own self-interest. True, the Democrats have uninformed voters as well, but they are simply uniformed…not lied to and manipulated by a propaganda machine for political purposes.

    You might disagree with my analysis, but your statement conceals much that should be discussed. This is not a fair and balanced commentary.

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  13. Ben says:

    I have to wonder why, if educated people realize that individual votes don’t matter, there was such a push for voter ID. Wouldn’t the “smart” politicians know that it doesn’t matter who actually votes?

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  14. Eric M. Jones. says:

    ps: Most political systems are composed of:

    A) The Powerful.
    B) The Coalition.

    Guess which is which?

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  15. Mart says:

    Why does Bryan Caplan say he wouldn’t even give the politicians a C for something that is completely wrong? Could they get a D then?

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  16. JD says:

    I was disappointed. I usually find the insights educational and entertaining. This was just terrible. Large elections, like economics, requires a macro-scale view. The concept of voting and elections doesn’t make sense if enough people take the same attitude. If it is indeed OK for many people to not vote then why have a democracy? Is it a joke when other countries vote for the first time; some people even dying to vote, literally. To say you vote because it your vote doesn’t count is looking at it the wrong way. Voting is a balance of the community and the individual. Give this more thought and bring true insight not your own eccentric behaviors.

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  17. Mark says:

    There have been several studies like the one below. Apparently people choose looks above all else.
    (I don’t watch TV, I don’t even own one)


    >A few years ago, John Antonakis and Olaf Dalgas, both of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland conducted a simple experiment to determine whether election results could really be explained primarily by superficial features.

    The researchers gathered photos of the faces of candidates (winners and runners-up) from the 2002 French parliamentary elections. In one experiment, they showed the pairs of faces to more than 680 adults, and asked them to identify which one seemed more competent. Their competence ratings – based only on photos of the candidates’ faces – predicted actual election results 72% of the time.

    That, however, is not the most surprising part of their study. In a second experiment, they showed the same sets of photos to 681 children between 5- and 13-years-old. They were told, “Imagine that you will now sail from Troy to Ithaca. Who would you choose as the captain of your boat?” The kids’ decisions correctly predicted actual election results 71% of the time! <

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    • James says:

      I notice that they didn’t perform the obvious follow-up experiment, which is to determine whether actual competence correlates to appearing competent.

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      • Travis says:

        Is political (or a politician’s) competence even quantifiable?

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      • James says:

        If it’s not quantifiable, then there are no grounds for maintaining that projecting an appearance of competence does not in fact constitute a valid qualification for office. Indeed, it’s a useful ability in things ranging from military leadership to managing horses, so it should surely be possible to find some field in which competence is quantifiable.

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      • Mark says:

        I think the obvious follow up would be to understand the cause of the 30% of candidates who won w/o the “winning look”. Were they long term incumbents ? Were their districts gerrymandered in their favor ? Or…is 30% of the electorate ‘blind’ to the visual cues ?

        Incidentally, there was another study that I read about (but couldn’t find the link) in which politicians from Brazil and Mexico were presented to survey respondents in the US and India and they also found a 70% prediction rate. The researchers wanted to remove the cultural/racial/gender bias that could manifest in a survey among people in the same region.

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  18. Carson says:

    The issue with the whole “Send a message by not voting” mantra is that it doesn’t really send a message to anyone. Not voting, IMO, just says that you are too lazy to be bothered with being involved in your government. Like it or not, the government has some say in your life and you need to be involved.

    Don’t like the options for president? Then go to the polls and only vote on local issues/candidates. Those have more of an effect on your day-to-day life anyway. Then the numbers show that you care, but aren’t happy with the choices for specific offices.

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  19. Kristie Dunham says:

    He states that thousands even millions might want to be president, I humbly disagree. I believe that the job is too big for one individual, we need to divide the powers even further. Thoughts anyone…

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  20. Kristie Dunham says:

    I saw some comments about how to reform elections, I like the idea of a jury duty like system for Congressional and other offices. Ideas..

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  21. jimmiek says:

    Gosh! I sometimes think that when otherwise brilliant people make insane statements that it must be the case that they’ve either had a really bad day at the office, an argument with their spouse, got a really bad meal, or maybe they’ve caught a bug and are under the influence of some good pharmaceuticals. But then I come to realize that maybe… just maybe… it is a really really bad joke presented in the form of a long story with a terrible plot, or, a contrarian brain teaser meant to get us out of our funk.

    You are going to vote Levitt, aren’t you?

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  22. Ara says:

    Why wasn’t it argued that people decide to drop out of college due to lack of funds? Or the possibility that the lack of funds make them reconsider their need or fit into normal college education. How arrogant of Caplan to suggest that gov’t assistance for college is a total waste. I bet if that gov’t were enough, fewer people would drop out.

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  23. Conscientious Elector says:

    Not only is voting compulsory here in Australia for federal elections but also state and even local government. So on average, you have to trudge to the library and get in the drone-queue 3 out of every 4 years.

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  24. Richard Tasgal says:

    Perhaps an individual vote, even if it is not a deciding one, can be influential because politicians look to the results of past elections to figure out what is popular.

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  25. vr1000 says:

    This cynicism has left me cold. I vote because I believe in democracy. I wonder how North Koreans, the Chinese or the Cubans would feel about the right to vote. Would a popular vote have been a good thing in the Soviet Union or Imperial Japan? I vote because many people have given the ultimate sacrifice so I can. So what that it is unlikely that my vote matters because of the share number of voters, or the pandering politicians. I try to be a logical person but a life lead solely on logic is a cold, bitter life. Vive la démocratie!!!

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  26. txdave22 says:

    As an investor, I vote my wallet: stock market has always done better under Democrats.

    Remember Bill Clinton when we all thought we were rich, and Obama has seen DJIA RISE

    60% since coming to power. Buy on Dems, sell on pubs, make yourself some cash.

    DJIA WAS AT 11000 when gw bush came to office, 8000 when he left.

    You felt pretty poor then.

    GOP gives us incompetent admins.: bushes of course, reagan you say, a movie star,

    how many brilliant of them you know?

    Ronnie gave us recessions, stock market crash, savings/loan AND IRAN/CONTRA scandals, and

    worst: all those dead marines in Lebanon, then he tucks tail and runs.

    Also, I vote for Dems because Clinton gave us a surplus, gw bush gave Obama a trillion dollar

    deficit. What a surprise, ronnie ran the deficit up so much he had to increase taxes 11 times.


    there has not been a competent pub admin since teddy r.

    Also, double check that dow after herbie hoover’s crash in 29: went from 300 to 60.

    If you care about YOUR CHILDREN AND YOUR MONEY, you will VOTE DEMOCRAT.

    Google it.

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  27. Joe Francisco says:

    Levitt’s attitude is entirely misplaced, from a rational standpoint. You don’t vote because your one vote makes a crucial difference; you vote because if everyone votes we all make a difference. Did Levitt go to college? Because if he did, he would have read Immanuel Kant’s Foundation for the Metaphysics of Morals and thereby know the categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” Having heard his case, I realize Levitt is dense, so I’ll have to explain it to him. Voting is a moral imperative, because if no one votes, we have a fascist dictatorship. Comprende?

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  28. Joe Francisco says:

    My passion for democracy might have gone overboard in that prior comment–but I have a strong imprint to this day from my high-school history teacher who put his head down on his desk in despair over the fact that people don’t vote. Bill Scott was an American hero.

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  29. Judy says:

    Shame on Steve Levitt for not voting.

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  30. Jonathan Vaage says:

    Two Words: Score Voting

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  31. Curt Shrum says:

    There is a lot of truth in what Caplan says about voters and politics. However, when he says that ‘Nobody in their right mind votes because they think they’re going to affect the outcome of an election’ this is a staggering lapse in critical thinking. Then he says ‘…in no meaningful way can you say that your vote will ever decide an election.’ In reality all votes affect the outcome of an election equally, at least if you exclude the bizarre electoral college effect, but even there the electoral votes are determined pretty much by popular vote and every vote is equally important there. Even in the extremely unlikely event that a Presidential candidate wins by only one vote, everyone who voted for the winner can say with equal truthfulness that if they had not voted, or if they’d voted differently, the outcome would have been different. Saying that no one vote will ever make a difference is sort of like saying that it’s not worth putting any money into saving for that new car you’re going to buy because the amount you’d be putting in wouldn’t get you over the top, so that amount of money wouldn’t matter. And his assertion that ‘…in the modern era, elections that are close are always decided by the courts’ is equally spurious. Elections are close or not close depending equally on how everyone who voted voted. The Supreme Court decision was about how the voting laws were applied during the recount, ostensibly, and not about who won or lost directly. Even if you think the decision was politically corrupt, which I do, then that relates to who voted for the people who appointed them and how things might have gone differently if those people had not been elected. Caplan has developed his theory of rational irrationality (which I think would be better named cognitive dissonance if someone hadn’t already used it) based on the proposition that people have illogically shaped goals which they pursue rationally. For this to explain his view of democracy requires that everyone behave this way more or less equally. Furthermore, desires are never rationally formed in the first place, but are the product of emotional biases. It is a whole lot simpler and clearer to say that often people are just wrong about what they believe. This doesn’t have to mean that they are deliberately wrong or indifferent to being wrong, which would be irrational. Usually it means that they are either uninformed or misinformed. They believe that they are right mistakenly. Others, however, are not necessarily wrong about what they believe. Cognitive dissonance could apply to those who resist new information showing they are wrong, but it wouldn’t necessarily apply, or matter in this case, to those who are actually right or just wrong based on misinformation or lack of information. I believe the big problem in the American political system right now is that misinformation as a tactic has been become a major force in forming people’s opinions, and it is patently true that one party, the Republicans, use it much more than their opposition, the Democrats. The Romney campaign uses it almost exclusively. I don’t think for a moment that it universally doesn’t matter who you vote for. I don’t think that some quasi-scientific theory like rational irrationality applies in a way that makes it impossible for people to get what they want to some degree through the Democratic process, or that it always means that want they want will actually harm them. Does Caplan think that all policies are bad, or that no good has ever come of the Democratic process. I believe he is less skeptical of democracy than merely cynical. I do, however, strongly support his assumption that most voters, and let’s face it, people in general are ignorant or irrational. For example, in this podcast, the 47% speech of Romney along with the ‘you didn’t build that’ quote for Obama were used as examples of Caplan’s statement that anyone who makes it through the political system has views that are repellant, unfair, factually incorrect, and contrary to common sense. Really? REALLY?!? This does seem pretty ignorant and irrational to me, but then I am more epistemic than practical when it comes to seeing the truth of things. If you had the goal of making the world a better place for as many people as possible – fair, compassionate, peaceful – which would be the most rational means of attaining this goal: a) do nothing and rationalize your inaction with cognitive bias, or b) stay informed and involved so that your vote, and the votes of others you may influence, might at least move things in the right direction, no matter how slightly?

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  32. Nicolas B. says:

    Dear Steven’s

    Great podcast

    I would like to share a different point of view to Dr Levitt’s at 20min : ” people with the strongest convictions acting the most aggressively to express these convictions? ”

    In my opinion this argument needs further thinking.

    A first question is would people have more incentive to understand about elections and what parties offer if they knew they had to vote?

    A second question is what is the effect of forcing people to vote on the type of parties that get elected (e.g. Extreme vs. Moderate parties). I have the common belief that forcing people to vote has for effect to get more moderate people to vote (most likely for moderate parties) and this prevents the rise of extremist / right wing parties. Levitt advocates the opposite. Being of French and Belgian descent, and comparing systems where elections that are ‘free’ and ‘forced’ respectively, it does not look like any of these countries vote any different way than the other. Possibly a good topic for a thesis?

    Greetings from Singapore.

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  33. Grant Sutton says:

    Could we get a article looking at other electoral systems. Does a parliamentary system have a greater reward for vote cast, or various other hidden sides? It is conceivable that we can arrange a better system then the agriculture based system we have now.

    Second while voting may not be important historically for a lot of economist, rallies around ideas that the masses often had wrong and reaching a critical mass to affect change has been very important in history. Marginalized population over representing themselves in the voting block is often a good thing, both for civil unrest and for progressive change.

    I keep hearing a really dangerous idea from a lot of very intelligent people about increasing the amount of votes a person has based on their knowledge, power in society, military service, or passion behind a subject. Holding this belief can you site times in history where this view has worked out well economically? It seems structured against the tide of history in politics, where we now have African Americans, women, non-land owners, and all sorts of people voting that would have been marginalized in the past. While discounting the individual in as never having cast the deciding vote in an election there are historical precedence for people to cast the deciding block of votes.

    Not voting means you are content enough to seed your power to the people that care enough to vote, often this gives larger voices to certain portions of society.

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    • Brian Panhuyzen says:

      The Canadian parliamentary system – based on the British one – has some advantages (effectively a three party system; we vote for local candidates of a party, and the party that receives the greatest number of seats forms the government), but we suffer the same first-past-the-post system that the US electoral system uses. One need only look to our last federal election: the Conservative party, lead by ideologue Stephen Harper, managed to score a majority, but received just 39% of the popular vote.

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  34. interested says:

    Why black out the name of the politician? is Schewel, Elliot Sidney not the only person

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  35. Richard Moriarty says:

    This show was very interesting, but it’s a real shame that both Caplan, and (unbelievably) Levitt seem to characterize people who vote as stupid. For Caplan to assert that intelligence demonstrates that voting doesn’t change anything, and for Levitt to indicate that those who vote are stupid, right after saying he voted Obama so he could tell his grandchildren about it (what!?) tells you something about economists, I guess. It is a shame for us all if this is who economists are – people too turned off by politics to acknowledge its place in human thought and endeavor. Great to be so rationalist that you can pooh-pooh everything you can’t add up. Shame that the world is caarrying on around you but you can’t see it.

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  36. UncleMarty says:

    This episode and Freakonomics Radio is generally entertaining, but the central flaw of every argument these guys make is their belief that as “Economists” they have a headlock on the “truth”/reality. Economics as a “science” is a fraud and a failure on par with Freudian psychology….. it may offer some useful metaphors but the majority of its proponents have no clue about scientifically valid statistical analysis ….. nor do these guys; they offer little but snarky glib superficialities (with a subtext of Chicago School trickle-down religion) disguised as objective criticism ….

    As to “sheeple”, they offer no explanation as to why the majority of Americans vote against their own self-interest …. altruism must be dismissed … 60% of the country does not understand/accept Darwinism ….. and these guys are not advancing the nation’s intelligence….

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  37. Brian Panhuyzen says:

    I was disappointed with Caplan’s response to the policy of making tuition more affordable; he quickly deprecated the idea in consideration of the high dropout rate – why make education cheaper if so many don’t finish? However, the response doesn’t consider the possibility that many students drop out *because* education is too expensive.

    This is an example of how a quick reaction can seem superficially correct, but could lead to a policy that actually amplifies the problem it’s supposed to address.

    Understandably, Caplan was asked to give rapid analysis of an election issue, but I hate seeing his off-the-cuff response appear valid by not challenging it.

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  38. Dana says:

    How can you say that it doesn’t matter whether or not you vote? Not that you as an individual will decide the election, but that we as a whole do. By your argument, none of your individual actions matter- whether you vote, recycle, tell the truth, follow the rules, etc. Will recycling one can matter? Maybe not, but all of us attempting to do the right thing, does. And especially people in a position of influence, like say a professor….

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  39. Brian Panhuyzen says:

    Voting, or, Pushing a Whale, my blog response to this podcast: http://abrainmisspelled.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/voting-or-pushing-a-whale/

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  40. Chicago says:

    I was really surprised that Mr. Levitt and Mr. Dubner completely ignored that legislation does get written, presidents do have the power to veto, and judges do pass down rulings.

    Congressmen, presidents, and (by means of the previous two) judges are all directly or indirectly voted into office by the people.

    Tell a gay soldier that voting isn’t important when the repeal of DADT was decided by a narrow decision in Congress.

    If your right to burn a flag is taken away, look no further than the judges that were appointed by the man or woman you voted for.

    Want gun rights? Better vote for it. Want gun control? Better vote for it.

    The pessimistic view offered in this podcast was not only depressing, but it was also misleading. The implication that people only vote because it is “fun” is ridiculous.

    Perhaps Mr. Levitt does not have any causes that he thinks are worth fighting for. But many of us do.

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  41. Touko Berry says:

    Regarding Lewitt’s cynical view on voting…I would recommend you to take a road trip to countries that don’t have dysfunctional voting systems. You might start thinking differently about voting.

    best regards,
    Touko Berry, Finland.

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  42. Mort Young says:

    Well, it being so close to elections (two days away), I first thought it might be a good idea to put the loser in jail for the next four years, but then I figured that might lead to even bigger super PACs.
    Then I wondered why the loser shouldn’t be made vice-president. But then I remembered Chaney.
    And, then, I figured we should amend the Constitution so that at least three different parties should have to donate nominees so it would end the massive division between the Republican and Democratic parties. But then a remembered the GOP primary contenders, one nut case after the other.
    So, I am now at my (your?) wit’s end.
    Maybe the Queen will take us back?
    I guess I’ll vote for the usual candidate. The lesser of the two evils.

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  43. Caleb B says:

    Damn, pump the brakes people. Levitt’s only saying that it’s not logical to simply free-ride on other people’s votes.

    I like in Oklahoma. Obama didn’t even win the democratic nomination in some counties here. Not a single county voted democrat in 2008. Not one. SO, from a logical perspective, it’s a complete waste of time to even pay attention to the presidential race, let alone bother voting.

    Yeah, local stuff matters more, but I’m not going to use my leisure time by figuring out who to vote for. The commenters here can act indignant, but half of America agrees with Levitt, so you voters, you’ve been outvoted on the importance of voting…it ain’t.

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  44. Vijay says:

    I’m deeply troubled that an economist (and rationalist) like Leavitt said that he voted for Obama because he thought he would be a historic game-changing president.

    I voted for Obama, and I’m consistently surprised at how many economic conservatives got swept up by the hopey-changey emotional appeal for Obama (decidedly non-rational) and then feel betrayed that he didn’t deliver (despite structural and political impediments that exist and have always existed). It seems to be an exceedingly naive read on how politics and the presidency work, especially considering how well-informed someone like Leavitt is about the power of the President.

    Essentially, Leavitt’s comments betray how rational (or not) an actor he is – it doesn’t seem to be certain policy positions he’s voting for, but rather a sense and feel.

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  45. pramod says:

    Elections are a kind of social event for the neighborhood in India. It’s one day when you get to meet all your neighbors and rant about all the politicians.

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  46. Laurel says:

    Why is a male pronoun used to refer to politicians or candidates EVERY SINGLE TIME? Seriously.

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  47. Pablo Velarde says:

    I have been a faithful listener to your podcasts for quite a while. Looking at the hidden side of things is an interesting way to find new angles from which attempt new solutions.
    And sure, I have listened to many interesting points of view on many issues, but no ideas for solutions so far .
    Is there any use , I wonder , on relentlessly pointing at what’s wrong without ever risking to point a way out? I’m affraid that beyond self gratification this exercise is rather pointless.
    Mr. Leavitt tells us why he voted Obama and why he isn’t voting again. If he becomes the new Kennedy or a second FDR he wants to tell to his grandsons. WOW! great motifs for a great thinker.
    I just listened from the BBC archive this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00yqhr6
    Alister cooke was not exactly suspicious of being very left wing, His emotional tribute to JFK mentions the failiures of his political proyects.
    I don’t think anybody questions beyond his political merits what the Kennedy era was for the USA an for the rest of the world, for good or for bad.
    I don’t know very much about american politics or history, but there are several things i see mildly clear: If the system doesn’t work: CHANGE THE SYSTEM, don’t stop voting.
    Beyond what bills a politician pass through congress there’re many other things on his legacy.
    B.Obama is one of the politicians that has persuaded me that this pasive posture of the smarty pants who continuously ponts to the failures in the system are at best gratuitous and at worst a dangerous game on the hands of who thinks that personal freedoms are mortal sins.

    I don’t know if I’ll keep waiting for new podcasts of you guys with the same expectation I have for the past year.
    maybe it’s about time you find hidden solutions along with the hidden faces.

    best regards.


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  48. Dustin says:

    Brian Caplan suggested that decreasing college costs would not be beneficial because a lot of people drop out. The number one cause of dropping out of college is the cost.

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