My Response to Heather Gerken’s Comment on Democracy and Political Ignorance

Cato Unbound has posted my response to Yale Law School Professor Heather Gerken’s thoughtful critique of my book Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter. Over the next day or two, they will also post my response to the insightful commentaries by Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics and political theorist Jeffrey Friedman. The conversation will continue over the next couple weeks, as each commentator will have the opportunity to respond further to me or to each other, or to raise new issues related to the book and my lead essay.

Here is a brief excerpt from my response to Prof. Gerken:

Gerken raises two important potential criticisms of my argument that people make better decisions through foot voting than ballot box voting. First, she contends that knowledge of the two major parties’ positions can enable otherwise ignorant voters to make good decisions at the ballot box. Second,…. she worries that foot voting may often be too difficult because of moving costs.

These are legitimate points, and I address both at some length in my book… On balance, however, neither seriously undermines the informational advantages of foot voting over ballot box voting….

Gerken interestingly contrasts my “fox”-like view that informed voting requires knowledge of a range of issues with the “hedgehog” view that all voters need to know is the difference between the two parties. It’s worth noting that Philip Tetlock’s important research on the predictive accuracy of policy experts shows that “fox” experts who take many variables into account make far more accurate judgments than “hedgehogs” who focus only on one or two big ideas.[5] Voters obviously don’t need to know as much as policy experts. But narrowly focused hedgehog decisionmaking is unlikely to work well even for them. It is especially problematic in a world where government addresses such an enormous range of complex issues. Hedgehog voters and hedgehog policy experts might do better if the functions of government were fewer and simpler.