Top-Down and Bottom-Up Solutions to the Problem of Political Ignorance

George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 22-36

Hana Samaržija and Quassim Cassam, eds., The Epistemology of Democracy, Routledge, Forthcoming

37 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2022

See all articles by Ilya Somin

Ilya Somin

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty

Date Written: August 26, 2022

Abstract

There is broad, though not universal, agreement that widespread voter ignorance and irrational evaluation of evidence are serious threats to democracy. But there is deep disagreement over strategies for mitigating the danger. 'Top-down' approaches, such as epistocracy and lodging more authority in the hands of experts, seek to mitigate ignorance by concentrating more political power in the hands of the more knowledgeable segments of the population. By contrast, 'bottom-up' approaches seek to either raise the political competence of the general public or empower ordinary people in ways that give them better incentives to make good decisions than conventional ballot-box voting does. Examples of bottom-up strategies include increasing voter knowledge through education, various 'sortition' proposals, and also shifting more decisions to institutions where citizens can 'vote with their feet'.

This chapter surveys and critiques a range of both top-down and bottom-up strategies. I conclude that top-down strategies have systematic flaws that severely limit their potential. While they should not be categorically rejected, we should be wary of adopting them on a large scale. Bottom-up strategies have significant limitations of their own. But expanding foot voting opportunities holds more promise than any other currently available option. The idea of paying voters to increase their knowledge also deserves serious consideration.

Keywords: Democracy, foot voting, voting with your feet, elections, juries, political participation, political ignorance, federalism, misinformation, plea bargaining, rational ignorance, rational irrationality, sortition, education, fake news

JEL Classification: D71, D80, H10, H11, H41, H70, H73, H77, K00, K3, K30

Suggested Citation

Somin, Ilya, Top-Down and Bottom-Up Solutions to the Problem of Political Ignorance (August 26, 2022). George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 22-36, Hana Samaržija and Quassim Cassam, eds., The Epistemology of Democracy, Routledge, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4201759

Ilya Somin (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States
703-993-8069 (Phone)
703-993-8124 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://sls.gmu.edu/ilya-somin/

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
249
Abstract Views
954
rank
180,864
PlumX Metrics