Should Stupid People Be Allowed to Vote?
Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University, says no. Or at least, they should be able to vote, but smarter people should have more votes than the stupid people in order to balance them out.
In his new book, "The Myth of the Rational Voter", Caplan argues that American voters are not just ignorant of the major public policy issues facing the nation, they are actually irrational. They simply do not know how to think about politics and make systematic mistakes that reflect no rational choices.
His offers two suggestions: 1) there should be economic competency tests for voters, so they have to demonstrate they understand basic principles of rational choice theory; 2) economic experts should have more votes than the nonexperts, so that elections reflect the will of at least some people who know what they are talking about.
The idea of giving more votes to educated people is not a new one. John Stuart Mill advocated for this idea.
In thinking about this proposal, I am reminded of a passage in W.E.B. Du Bois's collection of essays entitled "Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil" (1919):
"We say easily, for instance, 'The ignorant ought not to vote'. We would say 'No civilized state should have citizens too ignorant to participate in government' and this statement is but a step to the fact: that no state is civilized which has citizens too ignorant to help rule it. Or, in other words, education is not a prerequisite to political control--political control is the cause of popular education."
So perhaps the problems of American democracy are not because of "stupid" voters, but with our political and educational leaders who do little to create the conditions by which the public can engage in rational discussion, debate, and decision making with one another.
Labels: american democracy