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Princeton gives up on us

By Owen Paine on Friday April 21, 2006 01:44 PM

From "Musical Chairs: Pocketbook Voting and the Limits of Democratic Accountability," by Achen and Bartels:
First, the voters are poorly informed, as so many have noted. But second -- and here we part company with the consensus -- citizens cannot perform sensible retrospective judgments at election time. They reward and punish for events no administration can control.

Moreover, while they know how they feel at the moment, they lose all track of how they have felt over the course of the administration's term in office. Like medical patients recalling colonoscopies, their assessments of past pain and pleasure are significantly biased by "duration neglect" (Kahneman 2000; Redelmeier, Katz, and Kahneman 2003).

Comparing a Presidential administration to a colonoscopy is certainly fair enough. But what is curious about this paper is what it omits to mention. Achen and Bartels, from their Princeton chairs, are very severe on the poor voter, who is said to be ill-informed, ill-educated, and let's face it, not very bright. But their discussion proceeds from start to finish as if the voter had a real, important choice to make. On that assumption, the voter's susceptibility to last-minute weather, fair or foul, seems very light-minded. But what if voting really is a meaningless act -- wouldn't you then expect that rational people would vote for the guy with the nicer necktie?

Comments (7)


perhaps i didn't make clear enough a second observation

the woodstock generation
ivy elite

---the minds
inside the neo lib
excellence machine ----

with their
rage and contempt
for all things both white and pleb
now claim the masses disfunction
is "fixless "

even "the roosevelt" thing was no more
then a
wild mistaken identity farce
with an improbable
coincidence rittled
happy ending

as a consequence
seeking truth from facts
is a waste of time

the minutiae
of social klass reality
has no interest for them

the whys
of wrong headed
views and actions ???

why bother
the results
will be nothing more then diverting
freak show stuff

if social progress is your mission
the road ahead is clear:

get out of our way
you charm and trinket

these double domed
geeks are like
soap replicas
of voltaire's
18th century fans

J. Alva Scruggs:

What a fetid offering that paper is. I don't keep close track of intellectual trends for a reason, and that one embodies it well. The first premise is utter, unredeemable nonsense. The "best current defense" of democracy is that it confers legitimacy. We are not feckless shareholders anxiously looking for better management.

From the eagle's nest vantage point of the priviledged few, there's probably a world of difference between the Republicans and the Other War Party.

From the vantage point of us unwashed masses types, the difference is between Jason Voorhees and Michael Meyers.


There's some wonderful stuff in this paper. It doesn't take our Tigers long to eulogize Walter Lippman, for example:

More than other commentators, Walter Lippmann (1922; 1927) faced the inevitable limits of human cognitive ability in politics, and he remains the deepest and most thoughtful of the modern democratic critics. He engaged in a life-long struggle to put democracy on an intellectually respectable foundation, but in the era in which he wrote, few could hear. It was all too easy and convenient to dismiss the entire intellectual lineage as elitist and cynical, based on nothing but jaundiced interpretations of personal experience.
Then of course one of the sages holds an appointment in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. I know, I know, what's in a name, but I'm with Mr Shandy Sr. on this one.

"...but in the era in which he wrote, few could hear..."

Perhaps they were distracted by the memory of all the "War to End All Wars" dead. There were scores of intellectuals around then who were happy to lie about the nature of that conflict for their own purposes, I'm sure. Some things have always been the same.


Yeah. And I love the idea that Lippman was some kind of contrarian voice crying in a wilderness of obstinate neglect. On the contrary, he was widely read and revered as a sage -- the Thomas Friedman of his day, you might say.


god my prayers are

walt the lip
one of the most
gravely self preening
pigeon toed
mental fluffs of
sheer inhuman ugliness
ever produced
by our penny a line
big foot system

to think
i'm seeing himself
savagely attacked

and meanwhile me
never even mentioning
his name

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