Are Voters Informed? / An Empty Poltical Representation

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Are Voters Informed?

There is a wide consensus among social scientists that voters are uninformed. One of the examples to prove this is that 41% of Americans think foreign aid is one of the top two components of the federal budget. The truth is that foreign aid is less than 1% of the federal budget. Now, we are told that it doesn’t matter if voters aren’t informed because there is something called the Miracle of Aggregation.

What the Miracle of Aggregation says is that it doesn’t matter if voters are not informed, because one person will come and commit an error, and then another one will come and commit another error. So, their errors will just cancel each other out, and in the end only the votes of the informed people will be left. This means that the errors the people will commit will be distributed randomly. Here is an example; imagine Hitler and a normal person running for office, and that only 10% of the public is informed. Now, this means that 10% will not vote for Hitler and the other 90% will choose randomly. As a result 45% of the 90% will vote for Hitler and 45% will vote against Hitler, and the 10% that is informed will vote against Hitler, in the end result you have 55% against 45%; Hitler loses. That’s the Miracle of Aggregation; people who are uninformed are equally likely to vote for Hitler, and against Hitler. As pretty, and fantasy like it may sound, this is untrue.

A man named Bryan Caplan would argue against the Miracle of Aggregation. He said that the problem with this miracle is that it assumes that voters are committing errors randomly, when they are actually committing systematic errors. This means that the votes of the uninformed people are going in a certain direction and not going randomly in one direction.

Now, we recall a Public Choice term. (See: The Government and its Problems: Public Choice). There is actually a “rational ignorance”; this means that voters will take up very little time to get informed. Why bother when your one vote won’t possibly change the outcome? Better to be informed about a car you’re going to buy, or different types of cellphones so you can see which one will bring you more benefits. So there is no chance of a normal person to want to get informed in a good way about their vote.

But why are people who have barely read anything so confident in their positions and angry at those who disagree? Well, Caplan is going to say that this is not a matter of ignorance but of irrationality. So then comes the question, why is irrationality so prevalent in politics? The answer is simple, false beliefs are cheap. For example, if you have a false belief about drinking alcohol, that it won’t hurt you if you drink too much, then you can ruin your life. In contrast, if you have a false belief about minimum wages, your life is pretty much unchanged.

In conclusion, how can we solve a problem so big like this one? Can you stop people from voting? No, that’s impossible. But, you might as well not want to go around saying that it is your patriotic duty to vote, and that if you don’t vote you’re anti-American. I mean, why should an irrational person who doesn’t know anything about the subject vote? If you don’t know anything about it, then you might as well stay away from voting. Still, there is some kind of a crazy religious attachment people have to voting. It is an ideology that has to be reformed.

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An Empty Political Representation

When we talk about political representation we say that we cast our vote for a person who is going to represent us in the government. Does this really happen? Do we really get represented by a politician? What is political representation?

People in various parts of the world have nonpolitical representatives. What does this mean? This means that there is a principal and an agent. For example, if you had a nonpolitical representative, you would be the principal and your representative would be the agent. The agent is responsible to the principle, and must pursue the principal’s interest. In other words, what you tell your agent to do, he or she must do it. In contrast, in political representation the agent is not responsible to the principal, who is many people, the vast bulk of whom the agent does not even know. So then we ask; are political representatives the agents of the people they represent and thus required to carry out the people’s will? Are they trustees, who can act according to the best interests of the people they represent, as they see those interests? Or are they essentially free to do whatever they like?

The correct answer would be that they are essentially free to do whatever they like. Why? Imagine you did not vote for your local member of parliament, you disagreed with his views. Does he represent you? Or imagine you voted for your local member of parliament, not because you actively desired his election, but because you wanted to prevent the election of an even more disagreeable candidate. You agree with some but not all of his views. Does he represent you at all times or only when his actions conform to your views? As I said before political representatives are not responsible to the principal. Can you forbid the political representative to do something? Can you go and tell him I forbid you to do that? There is no way you would be able to do that to your congressman. The political figure is always doing things without ever consulting you.

Now, the principle in this case is many people, so how can the politician represent them if he doesn’t even know the majority? How can he represent 1,000,000 people he’s never met? Not just that, but none of those 1,000,000 have the power to tell that agent what to do and what not to do. What if the political representative knew all the voters? Could he represent them all? Well, as seems certain, the principles have different and irreconcilable interests. Everyone would want different things. There is no way 1,000,000 people have the same opinions and beliefs. The representative would cease to represent some, and represent others. There is no interest common to representative’s whole constituency. So, what could a political representative represent? I would answer… him.

Prof. Gerard Casey said: “Representation is a fig leaf that is insufficient to cover the naked and brutal fact that even in our sophisticated modern states, however elegant the rhetoric and however persuasive the propaganda, some rule and others are ruled.”

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