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GruberGate

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My take on GruberGate is straightforward – perhaps boringly so.

Obamacare’s chief academic architect, Jonathan Gruber, is caught on camera admitting frankly, and without remorse, that important parts of Obamacare were sold to the public under false pretenses [2].  Gruber does express regret that voters are afflicted with too much “stupidity” to enable them to see that such legislation is (or so believes Gruber) in their best interest.  But given this regrettable reality of the political process, deception is in order.  Deception and lies and duplicity are proper.

I’m prepared to accept David Friedman’s explanation that, had Gruber spoken with more care, Gruber would have described voters as being “rationally ignorant” rather than as being afflicted with “stupidity. [3]”  (There’s a difference between stupidity and rational ignorance: Albert Einstein likely did not know all of the rules of American football, but this fact is no evidence of any stupidity on his part.  Rather, it is merely the consequence of the reality that it didn’t pay Einstein to spend sufficient time to learn the rules of that game.  Other uses of his scarce time were more valuable to him personally.  So the emphatically unstupid Einstein was rationally ignorant of the rules of American football.)  Precisely because the typical voter is not stupid, the typical voter understands that his or her vote will not determine the outcome of any election.  The typical voter, therefore, spends his or her scarce time gathering information about matters over which he or she does exercise meaningful control – for example, studying for the calculus exam to increase the chances of scoring a higher grade, or writing sonnets to a beloved other to increase the chances of scoring – rather than about matters (the outcomes of political elections) over which he or she exercises no meaningful control whatsoever.

Yet the reality of voters’ rational ignorance is one of the chief reasons why public-choice [4] scholars argue that political choices are often less prudent and less sensible than are choices made by people in private markets – and why special-interest groups have a much greater chance of co-opting political processes than they have of co-opting market processes.

Put differently, the reality of public choice is among the main reasons given by public-choice scholars for why political outcomes will often be less desirable than they are imagined to be by those who are enthusiastic about democratic politics.  Even democratic political processes that are inclusive and non-corrupt feature inordinate amounts of free-riding and other ‘market-failure’ flaws that render such processes much less likely to work to promote the general welfare than the champions of politics suppose.  Politics neither performs miracles nor is itself blessed by miracles [5].

So Jonathan Gruber simply admits that the very process that people on the left romanticize and celebrate – democratic politics – isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.  Of course, libertarians and public-choice scholars say the same.  The difference between the Jonathan Grubers of the world and the Russ Robertses and Bryan Caplans [6] of the world is that the former believe that politics is still commendable as long as good, smart people (such as Gruber) are performing deceptions necessary to trick voters into supporting policies that good, smart people somehow divine are best for the masses, while the latter believe that the very need to deceive rationally ignorant (indeed, rationally irrational [7]) voters is itself a major flaw in politics – a flaw that makes politics far less reliable and admirable than competitive, private markets.

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