… is from page 206 of my colleague Bryan Caplan’s great 2007 book, The Myth of the Rational Voter (original emphasis):
In common-pool situations, economists usually fear the worst. Heedless of the aggregate effect, people will foul the waters. The main reason that they are complacent about democracy, I suspect, is that the pollution is hard to visualize. It is not run-of-the-mill physical pollution. Democracy suffers from a more abstract externality: the mental pollution of systematically biased beliefs.
DBx: In a democracy in which government has broken loose of many of the constitutional restraints that are necessary to keep the private – the voluntary – sphere reasonably free of state intrusion, two kinds of negative externalities are routine. First, voters in the majority impose their preferences on non-consenting others. Second, because each voter rationally understands that his or her vote will have no significant impact on the outcome of any election, each voter, being rational, has inadequate incentives to gather knowledge about what’s at stake and to rationally assess the knowledge that he or she does have.
Turning to government to ‘correct’ collective-action problems that are believed to arise in markets and in other private settings is like hiring a serial child-molester as a baby-sitter.