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Scientists, CEOs or politicians?

March 11, 2020 5:45 pm A+ / A-

INFOBAE – The presidential speeches for the opening of the ordinary sessions of Congress are usually considered by the strategies that are presented, the measures that are announced and also by the concepts expressed. These may be more important than the previous ones because they reflect a vision of reality that will surely influence the design of strategies and the announcement of measures. Analysis of the political discourse of the Argentine president

There are several in Alberto Fernández’s recent speech, but I am going to concentrate on one: “We are a government with scientists, not CEOs. A government with the conviction that knowledge is key to public policies and development. ”

In reality, the two have knowledge, even if it is of a different nature, but the problem regarding knowledge is not that of a CEO as opposed to a scientist, but that of politicians in relation to voters.

During the second half of the twentieth century authors such as Anthony Downs, James Buchanan (Nobel 1986) and Gordon Tullock developed an entire area of ​​economic theory that they called “public choice”, unlike the choices we make in the market, which we usually translate as an economic analysis of politics. One of the first things that stood out was the difference in incentives that politicians, officials and voters have.

Bryan Caplan, author of the book The myth of the rational voter, has indicated that in polls conducted since the 1940s a majority have been unable to name one of the powers of the State, define the terms “liberal” or “conservative” or explain what It is the Bill of Rights. More than two-thirds are unaware of the content of the Roe vs. Wade ruling, which allowed abortion, and they don’t know what the Food and Drug Administration is, which regulates both medications and foods. Almost half do not know that there each state has two senators and three quarters do not know how many years of mandate they have. Forty percent cannot name one of their senators. And we are talking about the oldest democracy with more than 200 uninterrupted years of elections.

Why are voters so ignorant? According to the first authors, it is rational that they be so, because their vote does not decide the outcome of an election. When you go to a supermarket, what you choose is what you take, but when you vote, you can take the opposite. Those who voted for Macri received Fernandez instead. As the link between the decision that is made and the result that is obtained is very weak (my vote for president is one among many millions), why dedicate much time and effort to being informed.

Unlike voters, politicians have a strong incentive to be informed, because it depends on their success or failure in the profession. They have to know very well the impact of a certain measure on their voters and, above all, to whom they can assign both success and failure. That combination of uninformed voters and informed politicians does not necessarily yield good results.

The entire existence of the lobby has to do with it. Well, let us ask ourselves: how is it that, in a democracy, where a majority governs, measures are passed that ostensibly benefit a few, at the expense of everyone else? Well, the answer is that those few have strong incentives to be informed while the rest do not. Suppose that now the importation of a certain product requires a very restrictive import license. The local manufacturer of that product is very aware of that standard, looks for it in the Official Gazette and celebrates the day it is published. The rest does not even know, since it is even written in a way that is very difficult to understand. The politician knows this and knows that it can benefit that producer, or that sector, without greater political cost because voters are, say, distracted. The lobby flourishes.

The normative conclusion of authors like Buchanan and Tullock is that there is hardly a perfect system. That is why the recommendation is that the power be as decentralized as possible, as it is easier for a voter to be aware of what is happening in the neighborhood than what the Central Bank does, or move from one municipality to another, and that the use of power is restricted as much as possible, either for CEOS or for scientists, and especially for politicians.

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