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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: February 2015

8 - Uncertainty


“Certainty is the mother of quiet and repose, and uncertainty the cause of variance and contentions.” Edward Coke, Institutes of the Laws of England, Part I.

“I will tell you the one thing I really believe, out of all the things there are to believe…All people are insane. They will do anything at any time, and God help anybody who looks for reasons.” Kurt Vonnegut, p. 116, Mother Night.

Downs (1957) is credited with creating the foundations of the classical spatial model assuming full information. However, Downs sought a more comprehensive model, based on information and an economic conception of “rationality.” He tried to incorporate more realistic assumptions about human behavior into his discussion of politics. Downs thought that uncertainty was the central problem:

Our reason for stressing uncertainty is that, in our opinion, it is a basic force affecting all human activity … Coping with uncertainty is a major function of nearly every significant institution in human society …

(p. 13)

As soon as uncertainty appears, the clear path from taste structure to voting decision becomes obscured by lack of knowledge … [Some voters] are highly uncertain about which party they prefer …

(p. 83)

More than thirty-five years later, Downs wondered why scholars lost sight of the centrality of uncertainty, or “information costs,” in his work.

I personally believe that the way information costs are treated [in An Economic Theory of Democracy] is perhaps the most important contribution … It is more important than the spatial analysis of parties, although the latter has become more famous.

(Downs, 1993).
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Choosing in Groups
  • Online ISBN: 9781107707153
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