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A Modest, Rational Proposal

Nick Kristoff‘s OpEd column in today’s New York Times (sub. req’d) will set to racing the hearts of many readers of this blog. His column is about voting, and he makes several points that would not get much of an argument from a roomful of economists. (Wait, scratch that: there is nothing that a roomful of economists will not argue about; anyway…)

Kristof begins by writing that “the pundit with perhaps the most outstanding record” in predicting electoral outcomes “is not a human but rather Intrade, a political betting Web site that has regularly proven more accurate than polls and political experts alike.” (Here’s our Q&A with Intrade co-founder John Delaney.)

Kristof then writes that, “while crowds may be good at making predictions, they’re often lousy at recognizing their own self-interest.” This is an issue we glanced upon here; Kristof points to The Myth of the Rational Voter, a recent book by the economist Bryan Caplan, calling it “the best political book of the year.”

And finally, Kristof argues for a smartening-up of the electorate: “Students usually now encounter statistics, if at all, in college. But simple statistics could easily be taught along with algebra in high school. Likewise, principles of economics could be taught in social studies classes.”

Or, an even more radical solution: principles of economics could be taught in a principles of economics course in high schools. Even though economics is taught more widely in high schools now than it was 20 years ago, I am still always surprised that it isn’t taught much more widely, especially considering how widely it is studied in colleges. Put aside for a moment the low level of financial literacy in this country, which an economics course would certainly help; wouldn’t a principles of economics course in high school help smarten up teenagers not just as potential voters but also as potential parents, tradespeople, doctors, etc.?