A Lousy Way to Make Most Decisions

By Don Boudreaux


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In my latest Pittsburgh Tribune-Review column, I explain that even the smartest and best-informed voter is inevitably ignorant about most of the matters on which he or she votes. This The ignorance of voters is caused not by the voters themselves – who might each be Einsteinian geniuses – but, instead, by the range and reach of the decisions now made by voters. A slice:

Like it or not (and I, for one, do not like it), every election now involves thousands of different issues, almost none of which the voter knows anything about. Each voter, therefore, butts ignorantly into the affairs of countless strangers. In short, voters are ignorant about most of the matters on which they vote.

To say such a thing is to incur the wrath of democracy’s gods. “How dare you call voters ignorant!” scream the gods. Yet the gods are wrong. No one thinks me to be wise enough or well-enough informed to march over to my neighbor’s home, pistol in hand, to command him to raise the pay of his toddler’s baby sitter or to forbid his wife from having her nails manicured by people who I disapprove of.

In our daily lives we naturally recognize that each of us knows far more about our own affairs than we know about the affairs of others. And each of us would unhesitatingly resist the dictates of anyone who presumed to tell us how to go about our own affairs.

Because I’m ignorant of the personal and professional affairs of everyone but myself — and because you’re ignorant of the personal and professional affairs of everyone but yourself — each of us is ignorant of the affairs of others.

This reality doesn’t change when you and I walk into voting booths. Nothing about those booths makes you better informed about my affairs and desires; nothing about those booths makes me better informed about your affairs and desires.

It’s time to recognize that elections are largely about butting ignorantly into other people’s affairs.

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