Robert Whaples and the Modern Principles

A blog on my teaching with Modern Principles of Economics by Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok

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Political Economy in Cowen and Tabarrok

Posted by Robert Whaples on October 22, 2009

Yesterday I finished the microecon portion of my Intro to Econ class, covering the last chapter of the micro split, “Political Economy.”  (On Friday, I’ll discuss the Social Security system and have a review session, with our second mid-term exam on Monday.)  The chapter opens with what I’ve come to regard as the most salient point of all public choice econ/political economy — the rational ignorance of voters.  “It’s not hard to find evidence that Americans are uninformed about politics.  Consider the following questions.  Who is the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives?  Who sings Oops … I Did It Again? Be honest,” the text continues, “Which question was it easier for you to answer?”  Accordingly, I asked these two questions as extra items on yesterday’s quiz, awarding a quarter of a point for each.  Here are the results: 63 of 65 students knew that Britney signs Oops (97%), while 55 of the 65 (85%) students knew that Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker.  (I was pleasantly surprised that the percentage knowing Pelosi was so high — and I awarded the two students who didn’t get the Britney question right a half point congratulating them for NOT knowing (both students are not natives of the U.S.).

The chapter continues with compelling discussions of the importance of special interest groups and “One Formula for Political Success: Diffuse Costs, Concentrate Benefits.”  I’m less sanguine about the need for a two-and-a-half page discussion of myopic voters and political business cycles, however.  My colleague Jac Heckelman studies this issue pretty closely and has convinced me that they aren’t all that important.  Fortunately, the chapter closes with a good discussion of the economic performantce of democracies vs. non-democracies — perhaps two and a half cheers for democracy are in order?


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