“We are not going to be able to fix the problem of increased irrationalism in politics”

I recently pointed to an excellent review by Alex Tabarrok of Joseph Heath’s current book, Enlightenment 2.0: “It doesn’t pay to be informed about politics”.

Heath has written a long ‘response’ which actually elucidates much more of his arguments in the book, and so is worth reading in itself. Take this:

So if you want to know what I really think, it’s that we are not going to be able to fix the problem of increased irrationalism in politics — at best we will be able to limit its most toxic effects. As a consequence, the legislature will increasingly become a sideshow, with the two other branches of the state assuming more and more of the responsibility for actually governing. (That’s actually why I spend my time teaching in a public policy program, training future civil servants. The quality of public administration is far more important than most political theory would leads us to think.)

And, for completeness, Tabarrok has added a response to Heath’s response to Tabarrok’s review of Heath’s book, which itself is worth reading:

Heath has hit on an important similarity and difference in our views. We are both skeptical about democracy as a way of making rational, coherent policy. But in response to the defects of democracy I want to devolve more decisions to the individual and the market while Heath wants to centralize more decisions to the state and expert bureaucracies.

Finally, Heath’s one-minute history of conservative anti-rationalism (pdf) is brilliant. For example:

Who doesn’t like common sense? And yet it is also quite apt at describing the most important unifying idea in contemporary conservatism. If the plan that you’re proposing needs to be explained, then it’s not common sense. If it doesn’t sound right, then it’s not common sense.


“It doesn’t pay to be informed about politics”

From a terrific review by Alex Tabarook of what seems a terrific book, Enlightenment 2.0 by Joseph Heath:

In a large electorate, no individual’s vote is likely to change the outcome of an election. As a result, it doesn’t pay to be informed about politics nor to think about politics in objective and rational terms. Consider an individual who spends time and effort to be informed about politics. What does this individual receive in return for their investment? The same thing as the uninformed individual. Since better information doesn’t lead to better consequences, it doesn’t pay an individual to be informed. But while ignorance is rational for the individual it’s irrational for society as a whole, which ends up being governed by ignoramuses.

This was also a strong point:

The problem with modern conservatism, however, is that “it has become a defense not of tradition against reason, but rather of intuition against reason.”