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Economist-kings? A Critical Notice on Caplan, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 2011

Rupert Read*
University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK. E-mail:


Caplan’s The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies1 has been received by rave reviews. These reviews appear to have failed to note that Caplan’s book celebrates the market and denigrates democracy at the very time when markets worldwide have failed and democracies have ridden to the rescue. It thus appears to have been undermined fatally by events that occurred as it was published (and which Caplan artfully omits to mention in the more recent paperback edition). Caplan’s book in fact stands in the long tradition of anti-democratic writings that argue that an elite must rule. An elite of free-market economists. An elite no longer in good odour, since the financial crisis (and the climate crisis) occurred and became starkly evident to all. This Critical Notice also points out that numerous of Caplan’s key claims, such as that individual voters have zero effect on election results, are empirically false.

Review Essay
Copyright © Academia Europaea 2011

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References and Notes

1.Caplan, B. (2007) The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 276pp., £12.50, (new paperback edition, 2008), 978 0 691 13873 2.Google Scholar
3. A similar point is made by David Runciman in his useful article, Scholar
4. See Colin Leys’s impressive 2003 Verso book of that title.Google Scholar
5. For justification of this claim and prognostication as to what it implies, see Larry Lohmann’s work, and also Mike Davis’s ‘Who will build the ark?’, NLR 61.Google Scholar