September, 2003

Self Deception as the Root of Political Failure

  • Tyler Cowen

    Holbert L. Harris Chair of Economics at George Mason University
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This paper considers models of political failure based on self-deception. Individuals discard free information when that information damages their self-image and thus lowers their utility. More specifically, individuals prefer to feel good about their previously chosen affiliations and shape their worldviews accordingly. This model helps explain the relative robustness of political failure in light of extensive free information, and it helps to explain the rarity of truth-seeking behavior in political debate. The comparative statics predictions differ from models of either Downsian or expressive voting. For instance, an increased probability of voter decisiveness does not necessarily yield a better result. This paper also considers political parties as institutions and whether political errors cancel in the aggregate and finds that political failure based on self-deception is very difficult to eliminate.