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Politics: The Theater of the Absurd

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My latest column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was written before Gordon Tullock died, yet it is obviously inspired by his insights [2].  A slice from my column:

Yet the American public gobbles up this pabulum [of moronic political campaign claims and ads]. Why else would candidates continue to serve up such infantile idiocy?

Economics has a compelling answer to this question — an answer that turns on a fact that is simultaneously so obvious as to be indisputable and so politically incorrect as to be virtually unmentionable in public. But I’ll mention it: No individual vote matters. Each vote is counted, but no vote, by itself, matters. Your vote never has and never will determine the outcome of any election. The same is true for the vote of any other individual. Knowing this fact, each and every voter treats elections frivolously.

The typical voter devotes more time to learning how to program his TV’s remote control than how to assess how each candidate’s likely actions while in office will affect society. Voters’ inattentiveness to the substance of public-policy questions is rational: If public policies will be whatever they will be regardless of how, or even if, you vote, why spend your valuable time learning the details of public-policy issues? Better that you spend that time learning about matters that you can individually control.

Most voters are therefore rationally uninterested in the substantive details of public policies. So, voters instead pay attention only to the most superficial aspects of political questions. And politicians — whose expertise is in campaigning and winning elections — cater to this disinterest by serving up only brainless campaign ads.

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