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Quotation of the Day…

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… is from page 246 of the original, 1957 edition of Anthony Downs’s pioneering book, An Economic Theory of Democracy [2]:

But in fact his [an individual voter’s] vote is not decisive: it is lost in a sea of other votes.  Hence whether he himself is well-informed has no perceptible impact on the benefits he gets.  If all others express their true views, he gets the benefits of a well-informed electorate no matter how well-informed he is; if they are badly informed, he cannot produce these benefits himself.  Therefore, as in all cases of indivisible benefits, the individual is motivated to shirk his share of the costs: he refuses to get enough information to discover his true views.  Since all men do this, the election does not reflect the true consent of the governed.

DBx: David Friedman later summarized the point to make it even more pointed [3].

Downs’s work – along with (to name only a few of the more prominent scholars) the work of Kenneth Arrow, Gary Becker, Duncan Black, Jim Buchanan, Morris Fiorina, Dennis Mueller, Bill Niskanen, Mancur Olson, Vincent Ostrom, Charlie Plott, William Riker, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Shepsle, George Stigler, Gordon Tullock, and Knut Wicksell – is central to modern public-choice scholarship.  Yet like these (and other) public-choice scholars, Downs, while he discovered and busted popular myths about the workings of democratic processes, cannot possibly be classified by any knowledgeable person as a racist water-carrier for demonic oligarchs.  Downs [4], for example, served on the Board of Directors of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund; he now has emeritus status there [5].  But Nancy MacLean – author of the recent work of fiction, Democracy in Chains – apparently would conclude that Downs (and each of these other scholars) must be a racist leader of a fifth-column assault on democratic institutions because he rejects the elementary-school version of the marvels of majoritarian rule.

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