Commissioned Editorial Commentary

Public Choice

, Volume 142, Issue 1, pp 1-8

First online:

Persuasion, slack, and traps: how can economists change the world?

  • Bryan CaplanAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, Center for Study of Public Choice, and Mercatus Center, George Mason University Email author 


Contrary to my critics, voter irrationality does not imply that economists cannot mitigate political failure. With rational voters, reform-minded economists have few viable tactics; with irrational voters reformers have more options. Rational voters can be swayed only by facts and logic; irrational voters could respond to better rhetoric. Rational voters strategically punish those who ignore their policy preferences; irrational voters use less effective disciplinary strategies that create political slack. Even with irrational voters, efficiency-enhancing reform is hard. With rational voters, however, democracy’s failure to adopt a reform is strong evidence that the reform does not enhance efficiency.


Voter irrationality Political failure Economic reform