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Jason Brennan joins us to talk about his new book, Against Democracy. What separates good voters from bad voters?

Aaron Ross Powell
Director and Editor
Trevor Burrus
Research Fellow, Constitutional Studies

Jason Brennan is the Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at Georgetown University. He is the author of Against Democracy (2016), Markets without Limits (2015), Compulsory Voting: For and Against (2014), Why Not Capitalism? (2014), Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know (2012), The Ethics of Voting (2011), and A Brief History of Liberty (2010). Brennan also blogs at Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

Most Americans believe that democracy is the most just, fair, and equal form of government we’ve come up with thus far. Is that overselling it? Does democracy produce the results we need? Can anything be done about voter ignorance?

What is the symbolic value of the right to vote? Is political participation good for us as individuals and as a society? What would a better system look like?

Show Notes and Further Reading

Jason Brennan’s newest book is Against Democracy (2016).



Aaron Ross Powell: Welcome to Free Thoughts from Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org and the Cato Institute. I’m Aaron Powell.

Trevor Burrus: And I’m Trevor Burrus.

Aaron Ross Powell: Joining us today is Jason Brennan. He’s the Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.

He’s the author of many books including Political Philosophy: An Introduction published by Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org. His newest is Against Democracy from Princeton University Press. Welcome back to Free Thoughts.

Jason Brennan: Thanks for having me again.

Aaron Ross Powell: Trevor and I have often joked that a lot of our guests, we could ask them at some point in the interview, “Why do you hate America?” But I think that given your new book and given the response to it, we can actually get away with it here. So Jason Brennan, why do you hate America?

Jason Brennan: Well, two reasons. The main reason is because Slayer is less popular than Katy Perry. But the other reason is because they deserve it and they have it coming. So I want you – imagine a kingdom ruled by an evil – or a king called King Carl the Incompetent. He means well and he wants to help everybody but he’s utterly negligent in his responsibilities. He doesn’t think about what he’s doing. He passes laws at whim and random. As a result, his subjects have to suffer through all sorts of bad policies and bad ideas, even though he really means well.

I think if you would go to that kingdom, the subjects will sit around at the pub and kind of guiltily toast to the death of the king. Well, I’m also ruled by King Carl the Incompetent but my king has 310 million heads rather than just one and just as I – you can resent King Carl. I can resent my fellow American voters.

Trevor Burrus: The problem here is the bad voters. I mean – or are you just against the good – all voters or is it the good voters versus the bad voters?

Jason Brennan: I’m against the bad voters, not the good voters. It’s just the bad voters greatly outnumber the good voters. When we look at how people vote, a very small number of people are well‐​informed about politics and they think and process information in a rational way. A large percentage of people have no clue what’s going on at all and for them, their votes are almost random. Then a big middle segment, they are heavily biased, rabid – I call them hooligans when it comes to politics and I have to suffer with their choices.

Aaron Ross Powell: So in addition to hooligans, do you have your hobbits and Vulcans breakdown of voters? What do you mean by each of those groups and then how does it play into the further analysis?

Jason Brennan: Yes. I think it’s a helpful kind of categorizing – way to categorize how voters vote and how people behave when it comes to politics. So if you think about the hobbits from The Lord of the Rings books, they don’t really care much about the outside world. They don’t want to go on big adventures. They just want to sit home and smoke their pipe and eat their second breakfasts.

So the political analog of that, which would be roughly about half of the American population, will be a person who doesn’t care much about politics, doesn’t have any real fixed or set ideology. If you ask them for their opinion, they will come up with something on the spot. But it will change 10 minutes later. They don’t care much about politics and they don’t participate much.

Then a hooligan, if you think about hooligans in soccer, soccer hooligans, they’re people who care a lot about the sport and they know a lot about the sport too. But they also – when they get information, they’re really biased. So if you ask football fans in New England whether Tom Brady was guilty, they correctly say that he wasn’t. If you ask everybody else in the country who cares about football, they incorrectly say that he was or if you’re watching a baseball game and there’s a throw to the home plate, the Red Sox fans will say, “Of course he’s saved,” and the Yankees fans will say, “Of course he’s out.”

So we see the same information but we process in a way that benefits our side. So the political analog would be – which is roughly about half of Americans, would be someone who is really interested in politics. But they’re super biased. They only look for information that confirms their own views. They regard people on the other side as evil and stupid and unworthy of consideration. They’re nasty and divisive and polarizing and they’re not really – they don’t really think about politics in a rational way.

Finally, if you think about Vulcans from Star Trek, they’re dispassionate, rational. They are not loyal to their beliefs. They give up their beliefs readily when the evidence calls for it and the reason I use that category is that very few people are Vulcans. Pretty much me and no one else actually.

Trevor Burrus: I knew you would say that.

Jason Brennan: Right. Pretty much me and no one else. But in a sense, a lot of democratic theory and a lot of views about why democracy is supposed to be good is written as if we were Vulcans or could turn into them and very few people are and very few people who engage in politics are likely to become one.

Trevor Burrus: You went for Against Democracy as the title of your book. It sounds like it’s against bad voters.

Jason Brennan: Well, I am actually arguing against a view I call “democratic triumphalism”. So democratic triumphalism holds that democracy deserves three cheers. Cheer number one is participating in politics makes us better people. You should do more of it. My response is empirically speaking, no, it doesn’t. No, it makes us worse.

Cheer number two is your political participation is good for you and my response is, no, it really isn’t. It doesn’t really do much for you.

The final claim is that democracy is the most just and best system and what I’m trying to convince people of in this book is that that probably isn’t true. It’s true that in general democracy is performed better than non‐​democracies, that going from monarchies to democracy was a good move. But democracies, I’m trying to argue, are not intrinsically just. You are not owed the right to vote as a matter of just – of justice. Rather I think the value that a democracy has is the kind of value that a hammer has.

It’s just a purely instrumental value. The only reason to have a democracy is because it turns out – the only reason to put up with democracy is if it turns out no other political system performs better and in the same way that if – no one would insist on using a hammer if a wrench works better. If it turns out that another alternative political system works better than democracy, then we should be – feel free to replace our system with that.

Aaron Ross Powell: Well, on the justice side of it though, like yes, we want a governing system that works and produces results that we find appealing and valuable. But isn’t there a strong argument that like, look, if you’re going to be ruled, if you’re going to have people holding power over you, you’re going to have a state, then justice demands that you have a say in how it operates, that you have a say in what it does to you?

Jason Brennan: Yeah. You know, I find that kind of appealing. But the thing is, you don’t get a say in democracy really and the system that I have as an alternative, you might – which I call epistocracy, you might not get a say either. So I think here – there’s a nice story by the libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick called The Tale of the Slave and he says, you know, imagine that you’re a slave who’s owned by a kind of cruel master and he has you – he goes through a series of steps in which you go from – like this master becomes nicer and nicer. He sets up a set of rules. He lets you live outside the manor. But he can still control your life. Then when he dies, he decides to leave you, like your life, to the other 10,000 slaves he owns.

So the 10,000 slaves collectively own all the slaves including you and then they make decisions. Then eventually they say – they ask you for your opinion. They find it kind of useful. So eventually they decide whenever we’re split 5000 to 5000, we will let your vote carry the day.

Then at the end, they just decide to throw your vote in with everybody else. Nozick’s point here isn’t that you’re a slave in a modern democracy. That would be like certainly hyperbolic. But his point is that your right to vote doesn’t really get you much. If you’re – here’s how we’re putting it. Like, if you’re Jewish in 1932 in Germany on the federal election, you might as well vote for the Nazis or stay home. It has no effect.

So your right to vote isn’t really a say or as the philosopher Ben Saunders says, “When we’re thinking about political power, in a democracy, each of us gets so little that fighting over equal rights is not like fighting over equal sizes of a cake but fighting over crumbs.”

Trevor Burrus: Does this theory then change based on the size of the democratic policy? So if you’re living in a 100‐​person town, does this have a scalability issue to it in terms of how factual your vote is? If that’s true, how does that – just being against democracy or against big democracy or you’re just against even 10 people voting to go to lunch?

Jason Brennan: I think the argument that like it’s important that you have a right to vote because it gives you say a say or some degree of autonomous control works better when you’re talking about small democracies of a couple hundred people where your vote might actually have a chance of counting for something.

So my point here is just that in any modern nation state, your individual right to vote is not giving you power. By the way, that’s not a bug of democracy. That’s the whole point of democracy. It’s not supposed to empower individuals. It’s supposed to empower the collective and democracy, the majority of the moment is the thing that rules. It’s not the individual.

Trevor Burrus: Well, that’s what I want to actually push back on because you – it’s a weird use of the word “empower”. I mean – well, it’s a literal use of the word. It’s not weird but it’s literal.

Jason Brennan: Yeah.

Trevor Burrus: So you write in one section of the book. You said, “When suffragists succeeded in getting women that right to vote, they empowered women as a group. But for the most part, they didn’t empower any individual woman, except for a tiny minority that won political office.”

Now that’s interesting. I feel like that’s just a miscommunication that when people say we empowered women, they’re saying – it’s kind of symbolic. They’re saying that they have political power now. But I think they’re saying it symbolically, that it’s now important that women have voice in political process. It’s not really important that any individual woman is not that powerful in democracy. But they were definitely disempowered symbolically and literally when they couldn’t vote at all. So it was very important that they got the right to vote and it’s more of a metaphorical empowerment than literal.

Jason Brennan: That might very well be the case and that’s – I think one of the things we’re supposed to do as philosophers is take these speeches and hyper – claims that people make, these high‐​sounding, highfalutin ideas and ask, “What are you actually saying?” So Elizabeth Cady Stanton says women without the right to vote, they’re mere petitioners to the government and I say – then she said when we get them the right to vote, they stop being mere petitioners and I think it’s true that women as a group now have significant power. They’re no longer mere petitioners but at the same time, any individual woman remains a mere petitioner in a democracy or another system.

Then if she says, “Well, that’s not what I really mean,” I’m like, “Great! Well now you can clarify. What are you actually getting at?” I think the thing that you’re getting at is sort of the symbolic value of having the right to vote. So the Nazis in like – I keep using Nazi examples but they work. The Nazis made Jews wear the Star of David as a way of expressing in public that they are inferior to everybody else.

In modern democracies, we use the right to vote as the equivalent – sort of the opposite. It’s a signal that you are a full, equal member of the national club. It’s our way of publicly expressing that you are valuable and you count.

So my question that I ask in chapter five of the book is, “Well, should we do that?” Do we have to think that way? Is that actually a good way of thinking about the right to vote? Is it built into the fabric of the universe that the right to vote is an expression of your fundamental value into society or is it possible that we can instead think of the right to vote as being like a plumber’s license?

The US government denies me the right to engage in plumbing. If I were to – if you give me 100 bucks to fix your pipes, I’m doing something legal apparently. But I don’t think that in virtue being denied a plumber’s license, that I’m somehow signaled to be an inferior member or a second class member of society. Why can’t we think of the right to vote that way?

Aaron Ross Powell: But don’t we talk about – this is back when you blogged at Bleeding Heart Libertarians and when Bleeding Heart Libertarians first launched. One of the arguments that was made a lot on it and particularly by Matt Zwolinski was that things like occupational licensing and other regulatory barriers weren’t just making people poorer by limiting their options, but were disrespecting them in an important way, that these rights – that these economic rights are as meaningful and this is the knock against say Rawls’s list of the central rights. They seem to exclude these extremely meaningful economic rights and choices to author one’s life.

So it would seem that from the one side, the libertarian argument is – saying you can’t be a plumber is judging you as second class or is taking away an important liberty. So it seems odd to be using that then as an argument, also that it’s not.

Jason Brennan: Yeah. I mean that’s what Matt said. That’s not what I said.

Aaron Ross Powell: Yes. But it’s a common sort of argument against these very limitations.

Jason Brennan: Yeah. So I think when I – how do I put it? I don’t think anyone thinks that because you lack a plumbing license, that you’re seen as second class. I don’t regard that as a knock on your status. You can say that even if you think plumbing licenses are a bad idea. So I would get rid of occupational license here for the reasons that most of your listeners would think I would. It doesn’t work very well. It isn’t a front, et cetera, et cetera. But it’s also worth noting that these kinds of rights are different. So I think when you think about civil liberties or economic liberties, what these – such as the right to free speech or the right to choose your own religion or choose whether or not to have children or choose whom you have sex with or whom you marry or what job you have.

These are things that are meant to give you a sphere of autonomous control over yourself where you have a significant degree of unilateral decision‐​making that affects you and all – I mean it affects other people but only in a kind of secondary sense.

The right to vote is different and I think a lot of people, even on the other side, agree with that. To have the right to vote or to run to office is about not empowering you to make decisions for yourself but empowering you to be among a group of people which will then make decisions for everybody and impose these decisions a monopolistic way through violence on everyone.

So that’s – I give you the right to vote. Then if the government gives you the right to vote, then to some degree, you’re reconciled to the government because you have a say over the government. But at the same time, when we give you the right to vote, then suddenly I go, “Hey, why does that dude get a right to impose laws upon me? What justifies that?” So that’s I think a lot different from all these other rights.

Trevor Burrus: Would you call it more of a privilege then? Like, we treat driver’s license this way. We would say – you parent, my dad – I’m 16 and through him the state is saying we’re going to empower you – we’re going to give you the privilege of having a multiple‐​ton piece of steel that goes 70 miles per hour that endangers other people and we’re going to make sure you don’t do that and we will take it away if you misuse it. If you get a DUI, we’re going to take it away because it’s dangerous to other people in a way that maybe plumbing isn’t. So that makes it a privilege. Would you sign on on that idea?

Jason Brennan: Yeah. In fact, this is what I’m arguing for in the last third of the book is that we should experiment with apportioning political power according to competence to use that power. So in the same way that like – I think a – a defendant in a trial is entitled to a fair trial by competent jury that will decide the case competently.

If the jury acts incompetently, then he’s entitled to a new trial. It’s a bad trial. It shouldn’t be enforced. I think in the same way, I as a citizen or all of us as citizens are entitled to competent government. Every single government decision ought to be made by a competent body in a competent way. If it’s not, then it lacks legitimacy and authority.

For that reason, you might think it’s – there are reasons to maybe disempower people who are going to misuse their power, who aren’t going to use it competently. So here are – it’s not really about individuals because your individual incompetence won’t really matter and your individual incompetence won’t really matter. Mine won’t matter, but rather the process as a whole. So I want to think of the right to vote. How should we allocate that in terms of – which way of allocating it leads to the most competent, the most – the best outcomes, the best, most competent process?

That might mean that some people don’t get the right to vote. It might mean that some people get extra rights. It might mean that we do some other kind of convoluted system. But I don’t think anyone has any inherent right to participate in politics in the sense of voting.

Aaron Ross Powell: So this question of competence gives us an opportunity to jump back. I think we’ve gotten ahead a bit in the argument. We’re been talking about the ways to solve the problems of democracy without necessarily yet going through what those problems are.

So in what ways is democracy, as it’s practiced now with universal or close enough to it, suffrage, incompetent? On the one hand, there’s the argument. Like there’s a wisdom of crowds argument that yes, these people are like – people are ignorant, often rationally so. They have incorrect ideas about policy, but it all comes out in the wash.

Jason Brennan: Yeah. So when you look at voter behavior, it’s clear that most people have very low levels of information. It’s clear that many of them have misinformation on even basic questions such as who the president is or what’s the unemployment rate and things like that. They get – a large percentage of people get those questions wrong. Who’s in office? What the trends are. They don’t know much about the social sciences. What you would need to know in order to be a good voter, you need – it’s not enough to know what our candidate wants to do. You need to have some knowledge of what’s likely to happen if they do that.

So if Trump says, “Let’s get rid of immigrants,” and Hillary says, “Let’s let more in,” you need to know some economics to know which one of those proposals will actually help more and votes don’t know that.

The problem isn’t just that voters are ignorant because ignorance by itself won’t matter. It’s that they’re misinformed and they make systematic mistakes and information changes the policies that they would prefer. So there are these wisdom‐​of‐​crowd type arguments that try to say, “It’s OK. It all washes out,” and they’re all based on these a priori mathematical theorems, which are fine in terms of the math. But the question is, “Does it actually say anything about the real world?” and I think it probably doesn’t.

So there’s this thing called the miracle of aggregation which says ignorance doesn’t matter because voters will vote randomly. So all the ignorant voters will cancel each other out and smart voters will decide the day. Empirically it turns out they don’t actually vote randomly. They have all sorts of biases and so that – it’s just not the true. The theorem doesn’t hold.

There’s something called the “Hong‐​Page Theorem” which says if people are sufficiently sophisticated in their mental models of the world and they come together to try to solve a problem together where they agree on what the problem is and what would count as a solution, then as long as they have diverse models, that’s as good as making people smarter. Again the mathematics of that is fine. But when you actually look at real world democracy, what you can say is most people don’t have a sophisticated model. They have systematic errors. They all make the same mistakes, so there isn’t actually diversity. They’re not actually trying to solve the problem together. They don’t agree on what counts as a solution so that it ends up being just this mathematical curiosity that isn’t actually telling us much about real world democracy.

Aaron Ross Powell: But is this an argument against – most of these critiques sound very much directed at things like referendum on the ballots where the people are voting specifically on whether policy A is adopted or not. But that’s not how most of democracy works in this country. Instead people aren’t really voting on policy. They’re voting on a candidate who represents a bundle of policies and beliefs and temperaments and attitudes.

If your ultimate solution to the problems of democracy is – you called it epistocracy, right? It’s a rule of the knowers. Isn’t that basically what we get? Because the American people say I’m going to pick candidate A or candidate B. Then once candidate A or B gets into office, they are making decisions informed by a whole bunch of experts. They’ve got advisers. Congress is a very select slice of America who arguably – no matter what you think of congressmen, they know more about politics than the average American. So those are the people who are actually then making the decisions.

Jason Brennan: Yeah. I think that’s right to an extent and unlike a lot of people who get upset about this, I say, “Yay!” You know, so Martin Gilens came up with the book saying that the medium voter theorem isn’t strictly speaking true and higher income voters who, oh by the way, happen to be higher information voters, have much more influence. There’s a lot of political science showing that bureaucracies and other politicians have significant independence from what voters want.

I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s why democracy over‐​performs. The policies we have are significantly better than they would be if we simply did what the medium voter wants.

So the structure of the argument is almost like this. The first third of the book is meant to show you that politics makes you dumb and mean. The second third is meant to show that there’s no such inherent right to vote. It goes through all these arguments about why democracy is inherently just. I just try to take them all down.

The last third is to get you to be an instrumentalist about democracy. You will either do one of two things. You either go – voting doesn’t matter at all. Elections don’t matter at all. In which case, you’re not with me but you’re also not against me. You would just be like, “Yeah, whatever system works better, that’s fine,” because I’ve already taken down the reason to prefer democracy. Or you think voting still does matter in which case you should be in favor of experimenting with epistocracy.

So the thing is though, like it’s true that voters don’t completely decide things by themselves. But it is still the case that a lot of policies that get implemented, that the candidates’ platforms and – in general what politicians tend to do is strongly correlated with what voters want. What voters want is strongly correlated with what they know and if they’re misinformed, they want the wrong things.

So I mean if – suppose four years ago, I had waved a magic wand and I made everyone in the United States have the knowledge that you get – they’re all able to pass Econ 101 perfectly. They’re all able to pass Poli Sci 101, History 101 and they can answer every single question on the American National Election Studies quiz of basic knowledge perfectly.

There’s no way we would have Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton. We have much better candidates pushing much better policies. So the candidates that make it on the ballot are themselves a product of who the voters are.

Trevor Burrus: The Econ 101 thing strikes me as interesting because if we’re trying to come up with criteria that would make someone a voter in your system, who would have the privilege to vote, we could talk about many tests that could do this. There’s a lot of people out there who are not totally stupid, who think that Econ 101 – they’re kind of the people who use the word “neoliberal” all the time is a bunch of neoliberal fabrications and it’s not really something you need to know about the world. They’re not stupid. I mean in a basic sense. So if we say, “Do you have to take Econ 101 to become a voter?” there would be very resistance to that and any sort of qualification about what it would take to be a voter would be kind of like a discussion about what should kids learn in school.

Jason Brennan: Yeah.

Trevor Burrus: Music or art or does it need more history? Does it need this kind of econ? Like those people should be voters. That seems to be almost an intractable problem because even the idea of the people who are allowed to vote is wrapped up with this idea of citizenship and like the kind of people we want in our society and therefore – how would we decide that line? Because we couldn’t vote on it or it seems – it would be kind of weird that we couldn’t vote on what the line – it’s about who could vote. So how do we implement this system?

Jason Brennan: Yeah. So it’s true that – if you said – you’re not allowed to say you have the right to vote unless you pass Econ 101 or if you pass Econ 101, you get an extra right to vote. That’s going to be really contentious because there are a lot of people that just want to reject economics because it’s not flattering to their ideology. I mean if I could, I wouldn’t let people with English PhDs vote. Like, oh, you’re having a PhD in English. You probably are crazy.

Trevor Burrus: They would probably say if you have read Shakespeare, then you shouldn’t vote.

Jason Brennan: Yeah.

Trevor Burrus: Well, maybe not now.

Jason Brennan: In this case, there is a truth which is you should know Econ 101. But let’s just say that that’s contentious for the sake of argument. There are more mild things that we can do. You can take basic political knowledge, the kind you can Google very quickly and the kinds of stuff that’s going to clearly be relevant, things like – so the American National Election Studies surveys, they ask this sort of stuff. Who is the vice president? Which party controlled congress last week? Is the unemployment rate going up or down? Can you estimate it within five percentage points? Can you estimate roughly how much money is spent on the following things?

So this really basic stuff that is seen as non‐​contentious. It’s non‐​ideological. It turns out empirically – and it has been this way for 60 years and it’s true in the other countries, not just in the US. Your ability to answer those questions determines what your policy preferences are very strongly even when you control for the effective demographic factors like the fact that you’re male or rich or female or poor, whatever.

Also interestingly, it turns out that the people who – if we were to wave a magic wand and make it so the American public could score perfectly on that, it looks like that they would start to have the same kinds of views that economists have. When we wave a magic wand and make it so they don’t score it, they get all the answers wrong, they have the kinds of views that like Bernie Sanders has.

Aaron Ross Powell: But how much of that is because they have – they don’t know that stuff because there isn’t an incentive to know that stuff. So the reason – like if that – you know who the president is and who your congressman is and that you happen to know economics, is probably just a sign of having generally a higher level of education. But those – it’s one thing – it takes a lot of effort to learn Econ 101. It’s a large body of knowledge. But knowing those simple trivia questions on the survey doesn’t.

So wouldn’t that correlation disappear if we said in order to vote, which a lot of people think – even if they don’t exercise it, they think they ought to have the right to do it. You just need to learn these three dozen facts that lots of people are going to learn those three dozen facts and we’re going to see a decoupling of the actual knowledge.

Jason Brennan: I think you’re right that people probably would learn the facts just to get the right to vote and so there would be more of a decoupling. See, again, I’m just looking for a better hammer. I’m not looking for a perfect hammer. So I think it would improve things at least somewhat. If it would improve it somewhat, I’m open to it.

I think what you’re asking for here is not what’s the best possible system but we’ve got this thing that works pretty well. Is there a way to make it even better? That said, people don’t take their votes very seriously. A lot of people don’t exercise it. It’s hard to take a quiz. Your vote doesn’t count for very much. You don’t get much use out of it. So I think a lot of people would just be like, “Hey, I’m not going to bother to learn that,” or they might study a little bit and they come in and they don’t get it. It’s not valuable to you in a way that like a license to drive is where people really try hard to pass that. It’s not valuable to you in a way that like the SATs are, where it’s really important. You get a good SAT score.

So they don’t have as much incentive to game it, as they do with these other things.

Aaron Ross Powell: There are several points throughout the book where there’s – I can imagine – you make uncomfortable arguments that would seem too late. Say maybe on a university campus require trigger warnings or something in the sense that – so you talk about the demographics of people with political knowledge and you are quite open in saying, look, if we quiz people on political knowledge and either privileged the votes of people who had it or excluded the votes of people who didn’t, it would mean keeping from voting a lot of black people and a lot of women and that white men and wealthy people are the people who ought to be voting or ought to have their votes privileged.

So there are kind of tinges of like – so is this a racist or sexist position? Could be it read that way? Then when you’re talking about these – there are costs involved in learning this stuff. But there’s also like wealth correlates highly with knowledge. So should we – should we return to poll taxes? Would that be a way to solve this? Which also sounds kind of scary.

Jason Brennan: Yeah. So there are these correlations and it’s worth noting that really the thing that most predicts political knowledge, like as a highest effect on whether you know something is simply interest. Do you find politics interesting? That dominates over things like IQ and education and race and richness and wealth and other stuff.

So it’s really interest. That’s the thing that matters most. But that said, we have 60 years of data and it’s clear that on a quiz of basic political knowledge, a middle aged, high income, white male will score 2.5 to 3 times higher than a low income, young, black woman. That’s clearly the case.

So if you had a voting knowledge test, it’s going to be the case that certain demographic groups are going to do better than others and they’re going to have more power and oh, hey, it happens to be the groups that are already advantaged.

So I put that in the book and I said this is an objection to the view. This is a real correlation. I’m not making it up. How troubling is that? So if you’re of the view that like having the right to vote is a signal that you’re an equal member of society, then you’re going to think this is infuriating. But I have a whole chapter called Politics is Not a Poem, which is trying to disabuse you of that view.

In fact, I’m here to throw stones not to apologize. So my view is if you think that the right to vote is a signal that you are an equal – like it’s important that we use the right to vote as a – proving that you’re a good member of society that we care about. It’s because you subscribe to a morally yucky view of the symbolism of democracy and politics. I’m trying to convince people of that in that chapter.

That said, what about the worry that maybe people just run – like white people will run things for their own benefit. So here we have to think a little bit more carefully about how people vote. One interesting finding is that people don’t vote selfishly. They vote altruistically for what they perceive to be the national interest rather than their own interest and empirically it looks like they will continue to do that as long as they have like less than 1 in 100 chance of being decisive.

So any of the policies that I propose are going to be ones where the chances of you being decisive are so low that you’re not going to bother to vote selfishly. So the question here isn’t whether they’re voting for white interest or black interest. It’s whether the thing that they think is helping everybody actually helps.

So then we can look at disadvantaged groups who can say – if you’re a low information voter and you’re disadvantaged, you might know what you need. You might think I need a job or I need like better opportunities. I need less crime. You know the outcomes that you need.

But to then know what policy instruments are likely to achieve those outcomes or which candidate is likely to push for those policies that would achieve those outcomes requires tremendous social scientific knowledge, plus knowledge of basic facts about who’s what, which the test itself is showing they don’t actually have.

So it would be like – you’re like, “I know my kid is sick. But I have no idea what to do about it.” Like whom – do I bring my kid to a plumber to make him better? Do I bring him to a doctor? I don’t even know. That’s ineffectively what the position of the voters are. I tend to think that the disparity we’re seeing in knowledge here is a result of systemic racism. It doesn’t mean that the policy thing that I’m advocating is itself racist. It’s just that it will have racial disparities because of other racism. What I argue in the book is we should actually fix the problem. Not the thing I’m talking about. Like giving everyone equal right to vote doesn’t fix the – it hasn’t fixed the problem.

Trevor Burrus: So you’re saying racial disparity is in the input, in the votes, but not on the outputs. It’s what you’re saying. Hopefully if they do better policies.

Jason Brennan: Yeah. So why is it let’s say blacks in the US are lower income? Why is it that they’re less educated? Well, I mean we could spend a long time – we could spend hours talking about that. But it has to do with a wide range of policies about housing, about property rights, about licensing, about how public education is allocated and so on.

So I say fix that stuff. That’s actually the problem and giving them the right to vote isn’t going to fix it. It hasn’t. It hasn’t really made any impact at all actually. So in the same way, like if you have a license to be a medical doctor, it’s true that medical – black medical doctors are – blacks are underrepresented among medical doctors. There are only about three percent of medical doctors but they’re about 15 percent of the population.

So you might then say, “Well, we should just make everyone a doctor,” or you might say, “Well, the problem here isn’t the medical license process itself. It’s about stuff that comes before that and that’s the stuff that we should fix.”

So I almost think like that – well, we will give everyone the right to vote. That will fix the problem. It’s like facile and excuses people from dealing with the actual issue.

Aaron Ross Powell: The studies on selfish versus altruistic voting. I see those come up a fair amount and I’ve always been curious about how those studies are conducted because I can imagine that – you ask people whether – like would they vote for something that’s closely in their self‐​interest or would they prefer to vote for the general good and they will – they will say the general good. But what counts as the general good is an epistemic question and it feels like a lot of people tend to just conflate their own interest, not intentionally but like you really only know you and your immediate group. So you kind of think like it’s the – like what’s good for General Motors is what’s good for America or the Trump voters who think – you know, what’s in the best interest of America is to shut down trade to bring back Rust Belt manufacturing jobs.

So we would have these rich white people who would say, “Yeah, I’m voting for everyone’s good,” but would really end up looking like it was going to promote their interest even if unintentionally.

Jason Brennan: Yeah. So the way to summarize this research is to say when people started studying “Do voters vote selfishly?” they expected the answer to be yes and because they expected the answer to be yes, every time they got a no answer, they don’t. Like, a bunch of new literature came out, trying to test it a different way. So it’s almost like there are hundreds of papers trying to test this and they tested it hundreds of different ways and they get the same result.

So yeah, if you just ask people – if you ask people, “How do you vote?” everyone says, “I vote altruistically.” If you ask them how other people, they say they vote their pocketbooks. But we know that in surveys, even anonymous surveys, people suffer from social desirability bias. They answer the survey in a way they think sounds good rather than what’s true.

So, political scientists aren’t resting on that. They instead might do things like put them in experimental situations where there’s real money at stake and there’s a kind of collective action problem where you can either behave in a selfish way that screws over other people or a way that kind of helps everybody. They can see – they can vary experimentally the chances of you being decisive and they can watch you switch from being selfish to altruistic. It happens around like 1 in 100 chance of being decisive or they can do things like look at people’s political ideology and see if it correlates with things that are kind of obviously in their self‐​interest.

So young and old people don’t have much difference in their attitudes towards social security even though old people are receiving it right now and young people are being taxed to provide it. Men and women don’t have very significant attitudes in their attitudes towards abortion rights. In fact, sometimes when you do polls, you find that men are more in favor of it than women, which is why when I see women who say, you shouldn’t be allowed to vote – like talk about this unless you have a uterus, I’m like, well, you might actually get the opposite result if we did that. Know what you want.

Welfare, attitudes towards welfare are quite complex. But really high income people and really low income people don’t have very different attitudes. You know, high income people are more likely to vote democratic than they are to vote republican. So the relationship between – if you think of republicans as being for the rich, well the relationship between income and voting one way or the other is kind of a U‐​shape. Really low income, really high income people vote democrat and middle income people tend to vote in between.

So we don’t even find correlations that seem to track what you would independently call self‐​interest. Again, hundreds of studies are trying to test this hundreds of different ways and they just come out – no, it’s a really weak predictor.

Trevor Burrus: Some people might be listening and thinking that basically you’ve created an argument that libertarian policies are substantively right. I’m going to characterize the argument here.

Jason Brennan: Yeah.

Trevor Burrus: People – at least free trade, open …


Trevor Burrus: … schools. It’s like these are substantively correct. People don’t vote enough for these, which means they shouldn’t have the right to vote because they’re hurting people by not putting in place more libertarian policies. So there would just sort of be this roundabout way of getting libertarian.

On top of being probably offended by that, because they disagree substantively with those being the best policies, they might say, well, look, even if they are wrong policies – like if Bernie Sanders’ policies are wrong, it is at least OK for a small group of people, let’s say a – let’s say 100 percent of the people all vote to have socialism and all of them – like they all want that for themselves.

The people have spoken and they want socialism. They don’t really care. That’s the kind of trade‐​off they want to make. They prefer more insular to more open. They prefer more security to more dynamism. That’s what they want to vote for. They should have the right to do that. So what is your response to that? Like even a small 100 percent group voting for policies that you say hurt them but they want …

Jason Brennan: Yeah. I’m not a paternalist. So if you’re listening right now and after – and you say, “After I’m done listening, I plan to light myself on fire,” like I will let you do that. Like, I’m cool with that.


Trevor Burrus: … your kind of metal than my kind of metal.

Jason Brennan: Yeah. Yeah, your kind of metal is more like chilling. I’m looking at a – at like …

Trevor Burrus: Spinning lights, yeah.

Jason Brennan: Yeah, spinning lights. So I’m OK with that. But in a democracy, in a political system, we’re not talking about people choosing for themselves. We’re talking about collectives, a small percent of people choosing for everybody else and imposing these decisions through violence. We shouldn’t go through the whole consent argument here. But if you look in the book or if you look at one of my previous interviews, we talk about is there any meaningful sense in which you can send to government and it’s clear that you don’t.

So we’re talking about a collective imposing its will upon everybody else. Not just the people – not just the minority voters, not just children and others who can’t vote. But also foreigners who are affected by these policies, but who don’t get a say. We’re choosing for everyone and that’s why it becomes a matter of justice and I think – you could have a view that’s like justice is just whatever democracy says. If you really believe that, then you have to believe the following.

If democracy decides to legalize child rape, child rape is OK, and that’s super implausible. Like, if you’re willing to bite that bullet, I’m happy to watch you bite it. But I don’t think you’re willing to say that. So instead, almost everyone is going to say, “No, there are substantive constraints on what democracies can do,” and then you’re back in my court. You can start saying, “Well, how are they making these decisions?”

So that’s it. Like you ask about – am I pushing for libertarian politics? And upfront in the book, I’m like I’m not. When I say things like better‐​informed people favor free trade and less‐​informed people don’t, yeah, I happen to favor free trade too because I took economics and non‐​English professor.

But I’m not relying on that. I’m just saying like it turns out that people with high information have systematically different preferences than people with low information, even when you correct for the effect of demographics, and it turns out the American public behaves as if it were a low information voter.

I would say the same thing if the policies came out differently. I’m not arguing that we should have libertarian politics. So I’m basically saying to you, if you’re a social democrat, you should instead be a social epistocrat.

If you’re a conservative American constitutionalist republican, you should be a conservative American constitutionalist epistocratic republican. If you’re a libertarian anarchist, then you should say that democracy still stinks but epistocracy would be better even if anarchy would be even better than that.

So there’s a sense in which is not a libertarian or a non‐​libertarian thing. That said, I was writing about this the other day in my blog. I was wondering, “Why is it that libertarians are writing a lot about democratic ignorance and the problems with democracy in a way that others aren’t?”

I think this is the explanation, a sociological account. Most people on the right and the left regard democracy as sort of sacred, inherently just as having a kind of majesty to it and politics is a kind of majesty. So for them, they have this emotional draw towards democracy and towards political participation. I think libertarians, they look at democracy and they think it’s like a hammer.

They’re just like, “I don’t have a bias one way or the other.” I don’t have any inherent – I personally don’t have any inherent emotional pull towards epistocracy or towards democracy. For me, asking which one is better is like asking like which brand of coffee tastes better. It’s like, well, whatever the answer is, that’s fine. There’s this one way in which I think libertarians might be somewhat liberated from a bias and that’s why they might be more open‐​minded about these things than your average philosopher.

Trevor Burrus: I’m trying to figure out though. Why should a social democrat or a Bernie Sanders person for example believe in epistocracy? Because if it is the case that smart people disagree with them generally on what the policies should be, then their substantive view of what is a just world is most people disagree with them but they basically just think that because I need more time to convince them and all this stuff. Then why should they agree with this? Why should a social democrat who – the epistocratic class completely disagrees with them. Why should they believe …

Aaron Ross Powell: Or more pointedly, I mean the entire argument of the Trumpkins is the elites disagree with them. So – but we’re right.

Jason Brennan: Yeah. Well, I don’t – first of all, I don’t expect them to actually change their minds. I mean part three of the book and part two of the book are – the second and third chapter are all about how people don’t change their minds even with like completely disconfirming evidence.

When it comes to politics, I can show you definitively that you’re wrong and the normal reaction to that is that you become more convinced you’re right. So I don’t actually expect them to change their minds. But in a sense, I’m giving them a procedural argument. I’m showing them how democracy incentivizes people to behave in certain bad ways. These ways don’t get washed out. It leads to systematic problems. You can say all this without taking a stance on like particular policies.

Then the final third of the book, I start defending something I call the “competence principle”. So my argument is that we’re entitled to competent government and I use this analogy I brought up before of a …

Trevor Burrus: That’s not ideological you’re saying. It’s just competent.

Jason Brennan: Yeah, with a kind of – non‐​ideological sense of competence. So we think about a jury trial. Like let’s say you’re a defendant. You’re getting tried and a third of the jury just flips a coin and a third of the jury decides to find you guilty because they think you’re a lizard person or they believe in some bizarre conspiracy theory. And another third decides to find you guilty because they just have utterly bizarre beliefs about the world or whatever or because they just don’t like you, the color of your hair.

We would think that when they find you guilty, they’ve done something wrong. They’ve misbehaved. They’ve mistreated you in some way. They owe either you the defendant or maybe us, the rest of the American public whom they’re presenting, better behavior and it’s an unjust decision because of their lack of competence.

So what if a president did the same thing? Like you’re the president and you have to decide like what to do today and you’re like, well, I’m going to flip a dice. Oh, it came out number 18. That corresponds to go to war. OK. Now I have to pick the country. Throw a dart. Russia!

Trevor Burrus: Didn’t Reagan use a horoscope or Nancy Reagan? He was like reading horoscopes I think at different times.

Jason Brennan: Yeah. I don’t know if that’s true. But if they did, that was real …

Aaron Ross Powell: She had an astrologer …


Aaron Ross Powell: … had a mini documentary that came out today or yesterday that talks about it.

Jason Brennan: Yeah, great. Well, she was the first lady I guess. But if Reagan were doing that, it would be like, yeah, bad behavior Ronnie. You’re just deplorable. You owed us better behavior. When you go to a doctor, you expect the doctor to know your symptoms, to think about your symptoms in a scientific way, to make a decision on your behalf, to consult the scientific evidence. Not to just say, “Open up a can of tomato soup, pour it out and see what the letters spell out and use that.”

But voters are kind of like – they’re kind of like the people I’m talking about that are misbehaving. So what I’m saying is regardless of your ideology, you should think that that is bad behavior and what politicians and voters and others owe to the people they govern is competence. What comes as competence here? I mean luckily the American public sets the bar so low for me, that like even a really mild theory of what competence is, they’re not going to pass it.

It’s knowing the relevant facts and thinking about the facts in light of like background and social scientific knowledge. If I ask just for that, they don’t need that …

Trevor Burrus: But it seems like you’re – so you’re really actually seemingly against force or illegitimate – I feel like that the – the doctor who does that, the alphabet soup thing you said, I mean there are people who go to doctors, who have practices that are not much but – I mean homeopathic, faith healers, whatever. That have practices that are not much better than that.

Jason Brennan: Yeah.

Trevor Burrus: And we let them.

Jason Brennan: Yeah.

Trevor Burrus: We think that’s OK. It seems to be difference, the problem you really don’t like is you owe competence when force is involved to others who did not actively consent.

Jason Brennan: Yeah.

Trevor Burrus: To it. So it’s not just – we don’t even actually necessarily owe ourselves competence. We just owe competence to people when some sort of seemingly justifiable force is being employed. So maybe your analogy – it’s like the doctor that I’m going to make you go to, a different level of competence, than me going to a doctor, which I could use a witch doctor or someone who reads the auguries of birds or whatever I want. So it’s the force problem here that you’re really against and how people choose how to use force.

Jason Brennan: Yeah, that’s right. So with the jury example, what makes this work for the jury – most everyone who I ask agrees that yeah, the jury owes it to you to – or at least to the people that they’re representing, to decide competently and in good faith. It’s because the decision is high stakes. It can greatly affect a person’s life, liberty and happiness. It can deprive them of those things and the decision will be enforced involuntarily through violence and threats of violence.

So high stakes involuntary decisions that can affect people’s life, liberty and property. And then you’re asking – then you saying, if you agree with that, it comes to what a jury owes the defendant and/​or the American people that it’s representing, well, those same features apply to most governmental decisions. Not all of them.

So if we were choosing what the national anthem would be, this so‐​called competence principle that they defend, I don’t think it applies to that. We can just – whatever we pick is fine. It doesn’t really matter.

If we’re making decisions that don’t have any real impact, you’re not owed competence. But I think in involuntary high stakes decisions, which many political decisions are, then the people making those decisions have to be competent and act in good faith.

Trevor Burrus: So the question now I think obviously – I think probably you’ve been asked this before. You’ve done a lot of – discussing this book anyway. Why do you leave any amount of democracy? It’s purely instrumental. So if it’s epistocracy, it seems like allowing any amount of democracy is putting a little bit too much error in there. We should just have one really, really smart guy who knows all these things.

Aaron Ross Powell: Or at least a panel of technocrats.

Trevor Burrus: Yeah, something like that.

Jason Brennan: Yeah. So in principle, I am trying to get – people who read this to be quite instrumentalist about politics. So I personally would say that if making you dictator happens to lead to – like come up – whatever the correct theory of justice is, just outcomes. If it turned out that making you dictator led to that, then I would be happy with making you dictator.

Trevor Burrus: You’re going to have to listen to my metal though. You can’t listen to your metal anymore.

Jason Brennan: Well, so that’s what we know about you in particular.

Aaron Ross Powell: I think that the taste for metal discredits the claim to epistocracy …

Jason Brennan: Yeah. It very well may. So I’m in a sense willing to like – say like whatever system happens to produce the most just outcomes is probably OK. I’m not sure if there’s any real system that’s inherently unjust or inherently just. But I don’t – for the purposes of the book, I’m not taking that extreme claim. I’m saying epistocracy versus democracy, that in itself is purely instrumental. We should just ask which system turns out to produce the most just outcomes.

So here are some reasons for thinking it’s not going to be a panel of technocrats. So first of all, when you use the word “technocracy,” you’re usually picturing a small body of experts who have a lot of education, who get tremendous power in terms of the scope of what they do. They’re allowed to control your life and make decisions for you.

I’m not advocating any of that. In fact a lot of democrats advocate that – a lot of like small D and big D democrats, they are in favor of technocracies. They want groups to like decide your life for you. I’m not here talking about even the scope of government, what’s under the control of government. I’m just talking about whatever the rightful scope of government is, who should be making those decisions?

So, one reason not to make it a small group of people is that if it’s a very small number of people, it’s easier to buy them, to engage in rent‐​seeking. It’s easier – it’s more likely that they will use power for their own ends than for their ends of others and also this thing, the Hong‐​Page Theorem which says that adding cognitive diversity into a collective decision making process can improve the process and make it smarter. It’s not completely wrong. There’s a lot of truth about that and so in an epistocracy, for that reason, we want voting power to be fairly widespread, just not as widespread as a democracy.

So I am having a debate with a philosopher at Yale called Helene Landemore and she thinks the Hong‐​Page Theorem says all heads are always better than just some of the heads and that’s I think clearly not what the theorem says. I think it’s a misreading of it. You can’t get that out of it.

But it does say that sometimes, it’s better to have say many not as smart heads to just a few smart heads. I think that’s probably true. So when I read something like the Hong‐​Page Theorem, I go, “This is a good reason for epistocracy to have say 10 percent of the American voting public voting rather than just one percent.” I don’t think it gets you to 100 percent or 60 percent or 80 percent.

Aaron Ross Powell: Most of the argument that we’ve been talking about today has been on this instrumental side of democracy in terms of the policies it produces. So letting everyone vote or requiring more people to vote has worse outputs on the policy end. But a lot of the book is dedicated to also countering the argument about the effects that democracy has on – not on the policies it creates but just in very fact the participation within it.

So I wanted to ask a bit about that. I mean you – in chapter nine, you have a long quote from what sounds like a fascinating essay from political commentators Aaron Ross Powell and Trevor Burrus about the way that democratic participation creates conflict.

But there is this counterargument that like no matter what the policies are producing, democratic participation, deliberative democracy is ennobling. It creates more tolerance and respect for each other and you push back pretty strongly on that.

Jason Brennan: Yeah, that’s right. So in the beginning of the book, I see myself having a conversation with John Stuart Mill from the 19th century who wrote on representative government. He had a bunch of hypotheses which he admitted were hypotheses and he hadn’t really tested them. He couldn’t really and one of his hypotheses was that getting people together to discuss politics would educate them and ennoble them. It would educate them in the sense that it would make them learn a lot about the world and how it works. It would motivate them to learn. They would discover other people’s points of view. Maybe like a fish discovering that there’s a world outside the ocean. It would ennoble them in the sense it would make them care more about each other to find consensus, to try to work things out.

But these are empirical claims. They are testable, empirical claims. So since then, we’ve had a large body of experimental work and also – just work observing behavior and I kind of summarize all of that stuff in chapter three and say in general, empirically it looks like deliberation causes polarization. In general it looks like participating in politics makes you a mean person. It makes it so that if you decide to engage in politics, you’re likely to be tribalistic and hateful towards the people with whom you disagree. In general, it looks like it doesn’t make you smarter. The kind of victories deliberation gets are the sorts of things where you could have just written down some information on a piece of paper and given it to them ahead of time.

It actually makes people dig in their heels. They’re more likely to – when they talk to people with whom they disagree, the normal effect is, well, those people are stupid and I must be even righter than I thought.

So there are all these weird biases and bad effects and the response from deliberative democrats to this empirical literature has been I think pretty weak because what they often do is they say, “Oh, you don’t understand. You see, deliberative democracy, the claim is that if people deliberate according to the following criteria, then these good things will happen.” What your empirical works show is that when we put them together in a room, they don’t follow those criteria and bad things happen.

So I’m saying if A, then B, and you’re showing me not A and not B. That doesn’t disconfirm my view. Logically speaking, they’re right. But I think it’s a weak victory. So the metaphor I use in the book and elsewhere is college fraternities – and I was in a fart. But college fraternities in general behave really badly. In general, empirically, they’re drunken rape factories. They lower students’ grades, et cetera, et cetera. That’s how it works out.

But if you look at their mission statements, they have very noble ideals about SAE wants to create the perfect gentleman and Sigma Nu wants to have people live a life of love and honor. They have these wonderful ideals and they have guidelines about how fraternities are supposed to be run and then they say if the men in the fraternities behave this way, then this is what we expect to happen.

The empirical work says they don’t behave that way and those good things don’t happen. So then imagine somebody said, “Oh, I’m doing ideal fraternity theory. I’m talking about the ideal of a college fraternity.”

You might be like, “Yeah, you’re right I guess. If they did it the right way, it would be great. But I’m talking about actual college fraternities and actual college fraternities in general stink.” Not mine where I was at, but I was at a very nerdy school where it had kind of a different result.

So similarly, deliberative democrats responded by going, “Oh, no. You don’t understand. I’m doing ideal theory,” which is their response. I have quotes in the book showing that. It’s like, yeah, OK, fine. I’m willing to say ideal deliberation would be a wonderful thing. But in the actual world, engaging in politics makes us worse people.

Trevor Burrus: If someone has gotten this far in both – this episode who’s maybe very angry or feeling very upset about what you’re saying and maybe not able to refute everything you’ve said, I bet that person maybe doesn’t exist. They probably turned off after 10 minutes. But if they’ve gotten this far, and they’re like – they might be thinking, “Why did this guy even do this?” Why did this guy even write a book about how – there seems to be – at the very least to be making the problem worse and destructive to the kind of participation because democracy can be better and they would definitely say that.

Jason Brennan: Yeah.

Trevor Burrus: They’re all for it being better and the democracy fetishes are just all about civic participation and civic voting and all these things and like what you’re going to get out of this book is like we’re not going to go and take away half of the federal government and get rid of all these things. We’re not going to get that. At the very best, we’re going to get a bunch of people who are just like, well, I guess I’m not going to vote anymore. Then it’s going to get a big – people who should be voting and it’s going to be a big problem.

So you just wrote a book that is either offensive or destructive and that’s the best you can do. How do you respond to that?

Jason Brennan: Yeah. See, I think they’re the bad guys. I’m here to throw stones. I’m not here to apologize. I’m without sin and I’m here to throw the first stone. So I’m trying to do two things with all the stuff we’ve been learning about democracy and even some of my other work.

One thing is many people have the view that political participation is sort of elevated. To be in politics is to be better. I have a quote from Auberon Herbert saying how – what we do in democracy is we have – take the majesty that we used to give to kings and we give it to everybody. I’m here to desacralize politics and say it’s nothing special.

So in fact, if you read some of my earlier books, I have a very populist view of civic virtue where I think being a stay‐​at‐​home mom, being an auto mechanic should be elevated and that political participation should be lowered. Keep in mind that’s a very unselfish thing for me to say because what basically all my colleagues are doing is like the good citizen is a person like me but I don’t want to be an egalitarian. So I’m just going to pretend everyone is as smart as I am. What I’m saying is like, no, I’m actually better at a few things than other people and it’s not a big deal. What you do is just as good or better. So I’m actually the only populist out there. Everyone else has like a weird quasi‐​elitism that they’re not owning up to.

Secondly, this book, Markets without Limits, what they’re meant to do is kill symbolic reasons for – there are things that we could do that would make our lives better. But people aren’t willing to do them because they think it expresses a wrong thing. So they will say things like, “We shouldn’t have markets in kidneys because yeah, that will save lives. That will save 100,000 lives if we have a market in kidneys. But man, that just expresses the wrong thing. It’s ugly what that market says. It’s ugh!”

I’m here to wage war against these symbolic arguments and that’s what they’re doing to democracy. It’s like yeah, epistocracy would work better. We would have less unjust war. We have better welfare policies. We have like better policies towards pollution. We have better mortgage policies. Government would work better. We would be happier, healthier and lead better lives. But it says the wrong thing. So I don’t want to do it. I’m like no, I don’t want you to think that way.

Aaron Ross Powell: Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed today’s show, please take a moment to rate us on iTunes. Free Thoughts is produced by Evan Banks and Mark McDaniel. To learn more, find us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.