creators.com opinion web
Liberal Opinion Conservative Opinion
John Stossel
John Stossel
20 Aug 2014
Policing a Riot

Libertarians warned for years that government is force, that government always grows and that America's … Read More.

13 Aug 2014
Mindless Drones

Drones — unmanned flying machines — will soon fill our skies. They conjure up fears, especially … Read More.

6 Aug 2014
Patrolmen Without Borders

If I drive across a U.S. border, I expect to stop at a Border Patrol checkpoint. But imagine driving to the … Read More.

Don't Trust Your Instincts

Comment

Simple answers are so satisfying: Green jobs will fix the economy. Stimulus will create jobs. Charity helps people more than commerce. Everyone should vote.

Well, all those instinctive solutions are wrong. As Friedrich Hayek pointed out in "The Fatal Conceit," it's a problem that in our complex, extended economy, we rely on instincts developed during our ancestors' existence in small bands. In those old days, everyone knew everyone else, so affairs could be micromanaged. Today, we live in a global economy where strangers deal with each other. The rules need to be different.

Hayek said: "The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design."

You might think people have begun to understand this. Opinion polls show Americans are very dissatisfied with government. Congress has only a 12 percent approval rating. Good. People should be suspicious of what Congress would design. Central planners failed in the Soviet Union and Cuba and America's public schools and at the post office.

Despite all that failure, however, whenever a crisis hits, the natural instinct is to say, "Government must do something."

Look at this piece of instinctual wisdom: Everyone should vote. In the last big election, only 90 million people voted out of more than 200 million eligible voters. That's terrible, we're told. But it's not terrible because a lot of people are ignorant. When I asked people to identify pictures of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, almost half couldn't.

This is one reason I say those "get out the vote" drives are dumb. I take heat for saying that, but Bryan Caplan agrees. He's a professor of economics at George Mason University and author of "The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies."

"A lot of bad policies ... pass by popular demand," Caplan told me. "In order to do the right thing, you have to know something."

The "informed citizen" is the ideal of democratic societies, but Caplan points out that average citizens have no incentive to become informed, while special interests do.

The rest of us have lives. We are busy with things other than politics. That's why our democratic government inflates the price of sugar through trade restrictions, even though American sugar consumers far outnumber American sugar producers.

Caplan has a radical proposal for citizens: Be honest. If you know nothing about a subject, don't have an opinion about it. "And don't reward or penalize candidates for their position on an issue you don't understand."

Political life differs from private life. If you vote for a candidate while ignorant about issues, you'll pay no more than a tiny fraction of the price of your ignorance. Not so in your private affairs. If you're dumb when you buy a car, you get stuck with a bad car. You get punished right away.

"And you may look back and say, 'I'm not going to do that again.' ... It's not so much that voters are dumb. Even smart people act dumb when they vote. I know an engineer who is very clever. ... But his views on economics (are) ridiculous."

It's not what people don't know that gets them into trouble. It's what they know that isn't so.

"A very common view is that foreign aid is actually the largest item in the budget," Caplan said. "It's about 1 percent."

Actually, even less. Medicare, Social Security, the military and interest on the debt make up over half the budget. But surveys show that people believe foreign aid and welfare are the biggest items.

So, you ignorant people, please stay home on Election Day. And those of you who do vote, please resist the instinctive urge to give our tribal elders more power.

If Americans keep voting for politicians who want to pass more laws and spend more money, the result will not be a country with fewer problems, but a country that's governed by piecemeal socialism. Or corporatism. We can debate the meaning of those words, but there's no doubt that such central planning leaves us less prosperous and less free.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at <a href="http://www.johnstossel.com" <http://www.johnstossel.com>>johnstossel.com</a>. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2012 BY JFS PRODUCTIONS, INC.

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM



Comments

4 Comments | Post Comment
Mr. Stossel:

Week after week, you never disappoint me. Once again, the voice of logic, reason and just plain common sense.

I fear however that with 56 million Americans receiving Federal Entitlements of one sort or another plus 15 Million Union members (8 Mil, Public sector, 7 Mil Private industry), knowledge of subject matter holds no place of importance with at least 71 million of those 90 million voters.

Arrogance coupled with ignorance is a trait that overrides any logic in people's support of candidates.
Thank you for your efforts, at least I feel there are some bright folk left with a voice in the media.

G. Hugh Bodell
www.ghughbodell.com
Comment: #1
Posted by: G. Hugh Bodell
Wed Jan 18, 2012 7:41 AM
As Mr. Bodel points out, with between 71 million to 90 million voters in a position to get payments from the government, they have every incentive imaginable to keep the status quo, at the expense of the rest of us footing the bill. There is an old saying the aptly applies in this case; if you rob Peter to pay Paul, you will have Paul's undying loyalty!
Comment: #2
Posted by: Aardvark
Wed Jan 18, 2012 12:21 PM
The tribal elders of both tribes,
The Demmies and Repubbies, do
Play games with all their lies and bribes,
To keep the power in a few.
Time sees change in faces and names,
Who promise this or promise that,
All just part of playing the games.
The goal's the same be -can or -crat.
Grow the federal government,
Feeding We the People the bull
That most the money that was spent
Was other tribe being wasteful.

The tribal elders use us all
As pawns to move at beck and call.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Ima Ryma
Wed Jan 18, 2012 11:23 PM
None so ignorant as those who think the U.S. is "Democracy."
Comment: #4
Posted by: Tparty Republican = Oxymoron
Sat Jan 21, 2012 7:00 PM
Already have an account? Log in.
New Account  
Your Name:
Your E-mail:
Your Password:
Confirm Your Password:

Please allow a few minutes for your comment to be posted.

Enter the numbers to the right:  
Creators.com comments policy
More
John Stossel
Aug. `14
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31 1 2 3 4 5 6
About the author About the author
Write the author Write the author
Printer friendly format Printer friendly format
Email to friend Email to friend
View by Month
Marc Dion
Marc DionUpdated 25 Aug 2014
Mark Levy
Mark LevyUpdated 23 Aug 2014
Lawrence Kudlow
Lawrence KudlowUpdated 23 Aug 2014

23 Mar 2011 Corporate Welfare

27 Apr 2010 Everyone Prospers With Free Trade

10 Oct 2012 Mitt Romney, Big-Government Man