Reflecting on a bizarre conversation I had a couple of weeks ago, I have gradually come to realize that anyone who takes the notion of economic efficiency seriously must conclude that Al Gore should be president.
The basic assumption needed for this conclusion is that there is a tendency for ardent Democrats to have great faith in the ability of political processes to cure social ailments. Market processes are more often seen as the source of social problems than as a solution. In contrast, there is a tendency among ardent Republicans to have more trust in market processes than in political processes to solve social problems. These Republicans fear the potential of government to cause problems more than they cheer the potential of government to solve them.
If the difference assumed above exist, there is an asymmetry in the psychic losses of presidential elections. Both sides are unhappy when their candidate loses, but Republicans should get over it more quickly. Because they have little faith in political processes, it should not surprise them when the election results in the "wrong" candidate being elected--they should almost expect bad outcomes from political processes. However, the situation is completely different for Democrats. When the political process of an election results in the "wrong" candidate, the result is the pain of cognitive conflict. How can a good process yield a bad result? What are we to do when a political process, the most reliable solution to problems, breaks down?
Hence, it would seem that the psychic pain of the ardent Democrat in losing is greater than the psychic pain of the ardent Republican. Since there seems to be less sadness when Democrats win than when Republicans win, it follows that the country should always elect Democrats in the name of economic efficiency. Thus, Al Gore should be president.
There are three obvious objections to the above argument. First, some economists will undoubtedly drag out the old argument that interpersonal comparisons of utility are impossible. This argument is fine for the ivory tower, but real-world policy cannot be made without interpersonal comparisons. The interpersonal comparisons in the above argument are at least as reasonable as those commonly made in policy decisions.
Second and much more serious, the religious right, which tends Republican, may violate the initial premise. The election of Bill Clinton, for example, seems to have greatly annoyed them and they never did get over it. Their reaction seems very similar to what we see among many Democrats, which indicates that they suffer some sort of cognitive conflict from Democratic victories. If they are a big enough contingent of the Republican party, the religious right may invalidate the above argument.
Finally, because the election of 2000 was so close, Democrats have argued that George Bush did not actually win the election. Instead, Al Gore actually won, the process worked, and the Republicans stole the election. Because this argument relieves cognitive conflict, the psychic loss describe above is now eliminated, and so is the case that the election of Al Gore would have been economically efficient.
Can you believe that I have students who do not think economics is fun?
Tue, 13 Mar 2001