lewrockwell.com / By Thomas J. DiLorenzo / January 3, 2013
In the sub-discipline of economics known as public choice, an important concept is the theory of “rational ignorance.” First articulated by political scientist Anthony Downs in the 1950s, and expanded upon by economist Gordon Tullock and others, the theory of rational ignorance holds that it is perfectly rational for individuals to largely ignore politics, or even not to vote. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and we all spend most of our time doing our jobs, pursuing an education, raising families, paying bills, and planning our private lives. We rationally spend very little time becoming informed about politics and government policy.
From an economic perspective, it is irrational for most people to vote in presidential elections since, in a country as big as the United States, the probability that your vote will “make a difference” is about 1/100,000,000, with the denominator being the number of voters. The main reason people vote, therefore, is similar to the reason why they cheer for their favorite sports team. Or, they have been so bombarded with government propaganda for their entire lives that they believe it is their “patriotic duty” to legitimize the state and all that it does by “voicing their consent” at the voting booth.
One consequence of the rational ignorance effect is that, since the general public is largely ignorant of the machinations of the state, political outcomes are controlled by special-interest groups, the largest of which is the state itself and all of its functionaries. This is true as far as it goes, but it is much worse. The average citizen in a democracy is not only rationally ignorant, but rationally misinformed, thanks to the relentless statist propaganda that is drummed into the heads of nearly everyone beginning in pre-school. The entire educational system in America has become one gigantic, state-funded statist brainwashing operation.