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Monday, July 27, 2009

Ignorance Is the Trump Suit

Related Link » Efficiency? Equity? Rationality?
“Much of the behavior Caplan characterizes as voter irrationality is more properly interpreted as either concerns about transition costs or as ignorance - lack of information, or less than perfect processing of the information available. In any event, that people are inconsistently rational in almost all endeavors, including politics, will surprise only the most hidebound economist. All the rest of us already knew that primeval instincts or our hearts often trump cold reason or narrow self interest when we make decisions.” [emphasis added]
— Ralph T. Byrns, from a review of "The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies"
This might be my first post that was stimulated by a book review. Moreover, the book in question was itself mentioned in a post by a blogger whose blog I subscribe to. All three (author, reviewer, and blogger) are economists, economics being a subject I know little about. I mention these things because they illustrate a remarkable versatility offered by the Web for expanding the horizons of a curious mind, which, to my mind, is a very good thing.

My curiosity was stimulated by the title of the book, "The Myth of the Rational Voter", because I have often wondered why it is that American election results seem to be completely devoid of rational thought. My own academic background in science and engineering is heavily dependent on rational thinking, and that has often been a source of great irritation and dismay for me in my non-professional interactions.

As a former colleague of mine was fond of reminding me, "Henry, people do not behave in accordance with the laws of physics". And yet, I find it difficult, if not impossible, to accept what is probably an integral and fundamental characteristic of human nature — "primeval instincts or our hearts often trump cold reason or narrow self interest when we make decisions", as Dr.  Byrns asserts. Very sad, but, by most accounts familiar to me, very true indeed.

Perhaps I might expand Byrns' bridge-analogy premise thus: " ..., because, more often than not, ignorance is the trump suit".

Post #871 Ignorance Is the Trump Suit

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