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On Neo-Elitism

August 5, 2007

As mentioned in “Gov is not Great”, Bryan Caplan’s book has been accused of “elitism” because it suggests that we rely more on markets and less on voting. It reminds me of the arguments that some made about slavery, that you shouldn’t force freedom on the slaves because they wouldn’t know how to handle it. Yet this is exactly what Tyler Cowen says in this podcast: if you give people freedom, they’ll hate you for it. Arnold Kling also comments on this here. Let’s try to understand how such arguments can be made.

First, I believe the accusatory word “elitism” should be scrapped from the discussion. What is better? Stable beneficial policies in the able hands of a few elite economists, or the authoritarian and arbitrary rule of a 51% majority that changes every couple of years?

Tyler Cowen predicts that if these stable and beneficial policies were put in place, people would revolt. This is certainly a possibility and seems to work well in the “irrational voter” scenario that Caplan expounds. To wit, if the public (I don’t like the word “voter” either) is rational, then it would readily appreciate the stable and beneficial provisions of the economists. On the other hand, Caplan also illustrate how the irrational voters are among other things ignorant and oblivious. So there’s a chance that nobody would notice. Who, after all, worries about what the Fed does except for a few political junkies?

Maybe Cowen is right that there would be a backlash of democratic fervor, but in my view it would mainly come from the political “elites”.

From → Economics, Government

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