When I speak on college campuses, students often ask what can be done about the "problem" of young people who don't care enough to vote. I always say that I don't see it as much of problem "because most of you don't know anything yet. I'm OK with you not voting!" The students laugh, but I'm not joking.
It wasn't until I was about 40 that I started to believe I had acquired a good sense of what domestic policies might serve people well. (I still have no clue about international affairs.) I only started to think I knew what ought to be done after years of reporting and reading voraciously to absorb arguments from left and right. The idea that most voters vote without having done much of that work is, frankly, scary.
I'm not alone in this concern. An economist at George Mason University, Bryan Caplan, says few people think about their vote or even see any benefit in doing so. His new book, "The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies", argues that most voters cast their ballot on the basis of irrational biases about economic matters. That's why so many candidates hostile to free markets, profits, free world trade and immigration get elected. People tend to acquire their wrong opinions about economic policy packaged in worldviews they inherited while growing up. They never test their views against the evidence because that would be unsettling. No one likes having his worldview challenged. So people vote for candidates who make them feel good. They vote irrationally.
Caplan stresses that most voters see no reason to do otherwise because they don't bear the consequences of their choices. This irrationality does not carry over into their personal lives because there they bear the brunt of their own decisions. But when irrationality is free, notes Caplan, people will indulge their biases.