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The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies [Format Kindle]

Bryan Caplan

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From Publishers Weekly

Caplan, an associate professor of economics, believes that empirical proof of voter irrationality is the key to a realistic picture of democracy and, thus, how to approach and improve it. Focusing on how voters are systematically mistaken in their grasp of economics-according to Caplan, the No. 1 area of concern among voters in most election years-he effectively refutes the "miracle" of aggregation, showing that an uninformed populace will often vote against measures that benefit the majority. Drawing extensively from the Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy, Caplan discusses how rational consumers often make irrational voters, why it's in politicians' interest to foment that irrationality, what economists make of the (non) existence of systematic bias and how social science's "misguided insistence that every model be a 'story without fools,' " has led them to miss the crucial questions in politics, "where folly is central." Readers unfamiliar with economic theory and its attendant jargon may find themselves occasionally (but only momentarily) lost; otherwise the text is highly readable and Caplan's arguments are impressively original, shedding new light on an age-old political economy conundrum.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Présentation de l'éditeur

The greatest obstacle to sound economic policy is not entrenched special interests or rampant lobbying, but the popular misconceptions, irrational beliefs, and personal biases held by ordinary voters. This is economist Bryan Caplan's sobering assessment in this provocative and eye-opening book. Caplan argues that voters continually elect politicians who either share their biases or else pretend to, resulting in bad policies winning again and again by popular demand.

Boldly calling into question our most basic assumptions about American politics, Caplan contends that democracy fails precisely because it does what voters want. Through an analysis of Americans' voting behavior and opinions on a range of economic issues, he makes the convincing case that noneconomists suffer from four prevailing biases: they underestimate the wisdom of the market mechanism, distrust foreigners, undervalue the benefits of conserving labor, and pessimistically believe the economy is going from bad to worse. Caplan lays out several bold ways to make democratic government work better--for example, urging economic educators to focus on correcting popular misconceptions and recommending that democracies do less and let markets take up the slack.

The Myth of the Rational Voter takes an unflinching look at how people who vote under the influence of false beliefs ultimately end up with government that delivers lousy results. With the upcoming presidential election season drawing nearer, this thought-provoking book is sure to spark a long-overdue reappraisal of our elective system.

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 5068 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 296 pages
  • Editeur : Princeton University Press; Édition : New edition with a New preface by the author (15 août 2011)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
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  • Composition améliorée: Activé
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°146.176 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)

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Amazon.com: 3.8 étoiles sur 5  76 commentaires
197 internautes sur 219 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 "Don't confuse us with the facts!" 8 juin 2007
Par Nicole - Publié sur Amazon.com
Many people have noted that democracy seems not to work - policies are implemented that often are not in the best interest of voters, and when voters are surveyed they routinely lack even the most basic civic knowledge. The way people have typically answered this problem is to say that voters are uninformed, and that if they simply had more access to good information, they would use that information to make better choices. But even so, the tiny informed minority will sway elections because the uninformed majority will vote at random.

Here, Caplan directly challenges that view by asserting that voters are not simply ignorant but irrational, and that this is in fact predicted by economic theory. Voting is not like shopping - it is more like making use of a commons, because the costs of a "bad" vote are borne by the public at large, and the chance of an individual casting the deciding vote is tiny. Therefore, people will vote for what makes them feel good without bothering to find out whether it really is good - it simply doesn't matter. Caplan explores four systematic biases voters hold against good economic policy - antimarket bias, antiforeign bias, make-work bias, and pessimistic bias. The fact that systematic bias exists means that the irrational majority does not in fact vote at random, so it's the irrational voters deciding who wins elections rather than the small, informed, rational minority. Voters get what they want, it's just that what they want is actually bad for them - and they don't care!

Caplan makes a persuasive case for viewing the average voter as irrational rather than simply ignorant, though admittedly I am sympathetic to this idea to begin with. I wish he had been able to include more recommendations in his conclusion, but this should be a promising area for further research.
84 internautes sur 101 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Economists know best? 25 juillet 2007
Par J. Gordon - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
This book is a very interesting read, describing a utility-based model of why voters vote as they do. The author proposes that voters are naturally biased against their own interests. The concept is that the probability of any one voter changing the result of a vote is vanishingly small, and therefore each voter votes for what makes them feel better about themselves, even if the policies go against their own interest and the interests of the economy. For example, voters vote for higher taxes, large inefficient government programs, and protectionist policies.

For example, a voter might vote for a politician who promises to raise the voter's taxes and give their money to the poor. The voter figures that the chances that their individual vote would make the difference between the candidate winning or losing is extremely small; making the cost of the vote effectively zero. However, the psychic benefit of the vote is positive.

Where the author fails is in the chapter where he measures the policy leanings of an artificial "enlightened voter". How he defines an "enlightened voter" is an average voter with the statistical characteristics of one having a graduate degree in Economics. Based on a sophisticated multivariate-regression-based analysis, the author determines that an "enlightened voter" would be predicted to view potential policies more like... an economist! What a surprise!

Caplan asserts that the voting public would support more reasonable policies if they all had graduate degrees in economics. However, there are plenty of Econ PhD's who put too much faith in government policies solving apparent market failures.

The book is well worth reading, and makes many good points regarding the reasons why voters vote for policies that go against their own best interests, and in aggregate against the health of the overall economy. However, it does not make a convincing case that economists should be running the show.
37 internautes sur 45 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A well-researched, well-written book 17 décembre 2007
Par Howard - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Caplan's take on democracy can by summarized as follows: first, he accepts two arguments FOR democracy by democratic enthusiasts, 1. voters are largely unselfish; 2. politicians usually comply with public opinion. He then adds his point: 3. voters are irrational (they have "systematically biased beliefs", or in layman's terms, they have false beliefs). Caplan develops a theoretical framework to prove that it is in fact rational for voters to be irrational because the "price" of their irrationality is low in politics.

The book mainly consists of the following themes: 1. the history of people's economic misconceptions; 2. empirical evidence of systematically biased beliefs; 3. the "rational irrationality" framework and why systematically biased beliefs lead to democratic failure; 4. prescription for overcoming democracy's weakness.

I think Caplan succeeds pretty admirably in 1, 2 and 3, but he is relatively terse at 4. But this is understandable: if you take his arguments seriously, then unless every voter (or at least the "median voter") has a Ph.D. in economics (in fact, she needs to be a libertarian economist!), the outcome of democracy will not be efficient. Increasing the electorate's education, etc. level will somewhat mitigate the situation, but as Caplan himself proves, this is hardly enough (education is not sufficient to eradicate all systematically biased beliefs).

As to the book itself, it is quite readable. I knew about his work before reading the book, what surprised me was how he mixed it with the history of economics with his own research, with quotes and all.

It's also interesting to note that (at least according to my observations) mainstream public choice (the economic approach of studying politics) economists tend to downplay Caplan's work, maybe it is because Caplan's work cuts to the core of public choice (the "rational choice" approach)? Or maybe they really think his work is not much different than rational ignorance? Now that his book seems to have gathered a lot of publicity, maybe others will take a second look.

The only weakness of the book is the part that he repudiates the accusation that economists have "market fundamentalism". His point is basically 1. markets, when free of failures, will lead to efficient outcome (first, "positive", premise); 2. Caplan does not say this, but in most economists' thinking, there is also an implicit second, or "normative" premise, which is that efficient outcome is desirable. In fact, most economists tend to shy away from this conclusion and maintain that they only specialize in cost/benefit analysis and do not make such judgment, but from their passionate, enthusiastic and sometimes vehement arguments for free market, it is not too difficult to detect such deep-rooted belief -- that "free market is good". 3. economists do not always assume there are no market failures, therefore they are not "market fundamentalists". But this is typical economists' thinking: in order to argue with them, you must accept their first premise first, and implicitly also accept the second premise, then the debate about "market fundamentalism" naturally reduces to argument about whether there are market failures. But, they are people who do not accept even the first premise, and there are more -- on moral grounds, etc. -- having difficulty accepting the second. I am not saying I agree with these people (but I have not been blinded by the ivory tower yet, so at least I know the existence of such people and such views). It is very typical of economists to not even acknowledge such views, or pretend they do not exist. It is not an easy task to face these people face-to-face, listen to their arguments, then come up with your own arguments to correct their "biased beliefs", but a good economist should not be daunted. However, this is not a big blemish in an otherwise well researched and well written book, so I am still giving it 5 stars.
56 internautes sur 72 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Is Democracy Overrated? 12 août 2007
Par Izaak VanGaalen - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Libertarians, in theory, believe in the maximum amount of freedom for individuals as long as that freedom does not interfere with the freedom of others. (See Brian Doherty's Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.) Bryan Caplan, a libertarian economist at George Washington University, believes that this is true in the realm of economics. In the realm of politics - especially voting - he does not think highly of the choices of free people. He argues that voters are not only ignorant, but irrational. Caplan in fact thinks that low voter turnout is good since those who are voting are usually better informed than those that abstain. Worse yet, he does not fear that politicians will not carry out the will of the people, he fears that they will.

This runs counter to the theory favored by most economists and political scientists known as "the miracle of aggregation." The theory, explained in James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds, argues that the aggragate choices made by ordinary, minimally informed people will be better or more accurate than those made by small groups of experts. This is true, for example, when people are estimating the number of jelly beans in a jar or the weight of a cow. The guesses are unbiased. In the political and economic realm, biases play a large part in people's choices.

Caplan identifies four economic biases that lead to bad policies:

1)People do not fully appreciate that private profits benefit the general public. When asked about rising prices people usually blame the greed of large corporations, when prices fall they seem to remember the laws of supply and demand. Problems arise when voters start demanding of the government to freeze or to guarantee a certain price, this leads to bad policy decisions.

2)People are generally wary of free trade, for they believe foreign countries are taking their jobs. Caplan, like most economists since Ricardo, believe in free trade. In theory, free trade would be optimal. But when one country is practising free trade with countries that pursue mercantilist policies, then free trade can be detrimental. Here's a case where the public is more rational than the libertarian economist.

3)People think employement is better than productivity. The creative destruction of capitalism is fine from the panoptic view of the economist, but for the ordinary person losing his or her job it looks less beneficial.

4)The general public has a bias towards pessimism. There is a general feeling amoung the public that they are less well off than the previous generation. ("the disappearing middle class" and so forth) But again, when one takes a longer view - or an economist's view - there is more evidence for optimism.

What rational choice theory boils down to is psychology. People can have all the information in the world, but they still go with what they feel more secure with, namely the status quo. They uncertainty and displacement of free trade will not be something they choose. True, voters make irrational choices, but democracy is still the best system. Democracy offers stablity and durability. It can withstand the bad policies, and take corrective measures. Democracy was never about being the most productive or efficient form of government.
23 internautes sur 29 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Pithy critique of economic ignorance 6 août 2007
Par Rolf Dobelli - Publié sur Amazon.com
Economists on the right and the left agree on a surprisingly large number of policy issues. They believe free trade is good, the U.S. budget deficit is not a problem and most human beings are better off now than in the past. Yet the democratic public doesn't agree. It fears trade and foreigners, thinks the budget deficit is a big problem and is pessimistic about the economy even during periods of record economic growth. But the worst part, says economics professor Bryan Caplan, is that the public votes. Drawing on empirical research about voter attitudes, Caplan describes how voters are mistaken about many policy issues and - more importantly - why they are wrong. His account is frighteningly plausible, but so is his solution: more economic education. We recommend this pithy volume to anyone concerned about voters' ostensibly self-defeating behavior. Democracy may be better than the alternatives, but no one said it was easy.
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