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Self-deception as the root of political failure

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  • Tyler Cowen

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Abstract

I consider models of political failure based on self-deception. Individuals discard free information when that information damages their self-image and thus lowers their utility. More specifically, individuals prefer to feel good about their previously chosen affiliations and shape their worldviews accordingly. This model helps explain the relative robustness of political failure in light of extensive free information, and it helps explain the rarity of truth-seeking behavior in political debate. The comparative statics predictions differ from models of either Downsian or expressive voting. For instance, an increased probability of voter decisiveness does not necessarily yield a better result. I also consider political parties as institutions and whether political errors cancel in the aggregate. I find that political failure based on self-deception is very difficult to eliminate. Copyright Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Suggested Citation

  • Tyler Cowen, 2005. "Self-deception as the root of political failure," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 124(3), pages 437-451, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:pubcho:v:124:y:2005:i:3:p:437-451
    DOI: 10.1007/s11127-005-2058-y
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1007/s11127-005-2058-y
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Geoffrey Brennan & Alan Hamlin, 1998. "Expressive voting and electoral equilibrium," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 95(1), pages 149-175, April.
    2. Klein, Daniel B., 1994. "If Government is so Villainous, How come Government Officials don't seem like Villains?," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 10(01), pages 91-106, April.
    3. Loomes, Graham & Sugden, Robert, 1982. "Regret Theory: An Alternative Theory of Rational Choice under Uncertainty," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 92(368), pages 805-824, December.
    4. Friedman, David, 1987. "Cold Houses in Warm Climates and Vice Versa: A Paradox of Rational Heating," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(5), pages 1089-1097, October.
    5. Matthew Rabin & Joel L. Schrag, 1999. "First Impressions Matter: A Model of Confirmatory Bias," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(1), pages 37-82.
    6. Caplan, Bryan, 2001. "Rational Ignorance versus Rational Irrationality," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(1), pages 3-26.
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    Cited by:

    1. Schnellenbach, Jan & Schubert, Christian, 2015. "Behavioral political economy: A survey," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 40(PB), pages 395-417.
    2. Hillman, Arye L., 2010. "Expressive behavior in economics and politics," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 26(4), pages 403-418, December.
    3. Hamlin, Alan & Jennings, Colin, 2011. "Expressive Political Behaviour: Foundations, Scope and Implications," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 41(03), pages 645-670, July.
    4. Bryan Caplan & Stephen Miller, 2012. "Positive versus normative economics: what’s the connection? Evidence from the Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy and the General Social Survey," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 150(1), pages 241-261, January.
    5. Bjørnskov, Christian, 2008. "Healthy and happy in Europe? On the association between happiness and life expectancy over time," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(8), pages 1750-1759, April.

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