Can Democracy Work in a Nation of Fools?


A new study out of Cornell University indicates that Americans are too stupid for democracy to work:

The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people’s ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments.

As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, “very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is,” Dunning told Life’s Little Mysteries.

Trending: Army found Guilty of Discrimination for Barring Transgender MAN from Female Restrooms

In case you were wondering, this helps to explain why Donald Trump might end up being president in 2016. Or Hillary Clinton. Whichever. They’re both incompetent leaders. But the American populace is unable to discern that. I’ll leave you to infer what I mean by that.

So you might ask what the solution should be? Some people, especially those already in power, would recommend that we “save the people from themselves” by adopting more totalitarian mechanisms. It’s why Obama will use his phone and pen to “reduce gun violence” rather than going through democratic processes. He thinks he knows better. In fact he doesn’t.

schoolduncesAnother option is to attempt to educate people. That’s also problematic. Ignorant people tend to hate the truth. It requires effort and makes them feel small and stupid. A recent excellent movie, The Big Short, attempted to explain the housing bubble collapse to the everyday American. It was an admirable effort, but I’m afraid it will probably fail. Rather than recognizing that federal government corruption led to crony capitalism and banker fraud, most people will probably think the main problem is greed (the only part of the movie they certainly understood), and they will, if they do anything at all, give over more power to the agency they believe to be a referee and moderator of greed—the federal government. It just so happens that the federal government is at the root of the problem. If people had discernment, they would realize this. But they don’t.

Furthermore, most people don’t have the reasoning power to understand causal chains. It’s easier for them to believe that problems have simple causes and simple solutions. And of course, politicians are quite eager for people to believe this. But it simply isn’t the case. Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. More education doesn’t always make you smarter. One warm winter doesn’t confirm global warming. One cold summer doesn’t confirm the opposite. Expensive things aren’t always more valuable. The way to end poverty is not always to give money to the poor. Making abortion illegal will not make it disappear. The list could go on and on.

So what’s the solution? To emphasize local government. Think about it. Policies governing national politics are complicated by necessity. We should do everything we can to reduce the number of local affairs that are governed by national policies. Because even very ignorant people are generally better-informed about their local concerns. And it is also the case that local people tend to trust and respect their local leaders. That would allow local experts to help their less educated fellow citizens to make the right choices. It would save us from the difficulty of making everyone an expert. It would also free us from the “charms” of totalitarian solutions.


from Last Resistance

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

Join the conversation!

We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, vulgarity, profanity, all caps, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain a courteous and useful public environment where we can engage in reasonable discourse.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!

Send this to a friend