Rational Irrationality Across Institutional Contexts

Ryan H. Murphy 1
  • 1 SMU Cox School of Business, O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom, Southern Methodist University, P.O. Box 750333, Dallas, TX 75275, USA
Ryan H. Murphy


This paper considers how Bryan Caplan’s concept of rational irrationality may manifest in various political institutional arrangements, building off the demand curve for irrationality. Mob democracy, anarchy, autocracy, and constitutionally constrained democracy are the governance structures addressed. While anarchy is strictly better than mob democracy, under certain conditions, democracy, anarchy, or constitutionally constrained democracy may yield the best outcomes depending on the circumstances.

  • Acemoglu, D., and J. Robison. 2012. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. New York: Crown Business.

  • Almeida, H., and D. Ferreira. 2002. “Democracy and the Variability of Performance.” Economics & Politics 14 (3):225–57.

  • Brennan, G., and L. Lomasky. 1993. Democracy and Decision: The Pure Theory of Electoral Preference. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

  • Caplan, B. 2001a. “Rational Ignorance Versus Rational Irrationality.” Kyklos 54 (1):3–26.

  • Caplan, B. 2001b. “What Makes People Think Like Economists? Evidence on Economic Cognition from the ‘Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy.” Journal of Law and Economics 44 (2):395–426.

  • Caplan, B. 2003. “The Logic of Collective Belief.” Rationality and Society 15:218–42.

  • Caplan, B. 2007a. The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Caplan, B. 2007b. “Have the Experts Been Weighed, Measured, and Found Wanting?” Critical Review 19 (1):81–91.

  • Caplan, B. 2008. “Reply to My Critics.” Critical Review 20 (3):377–413.

  • Caplan, B. 2010. “Persuasion, Slack, and Traps: How Can Economists Change the World?” Public Choice 142 (1–2):1–8.

  • Caplan, B. 2012. “Why is Democracy Tolerable? Evidence from Affluence and Influence.” Econlog. http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2012/09/why_is_democrac.html.

  • Collier, P. 2010. Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places. New York: HarperCollins.

  • Easterly, W. 2011. “Benevolent Autocrats.” Working Paper. http://williameasterly.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/BenevolentAutocrats.pdf.

  • Freedom House. 2014. Freedom in the World. https://freedomhouse.org/.

  • Friedman, D. 1989. The Machinery of Freedom: A Guide to Radical Capitalism. La Salle, IN: Open Court Publishing.

  • Fukuyama, F. 2011. The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

  • Johar, J. S., and M. Joseph Sirgy. 1991. “Value-Expressive Versus Utilitarian Advertising Appeals: When and Why to Use Which Appeal.” Journal of Advertising 20 (3):23–33.

  • Klein, D. 1998. “Quality-and-Safety Assurance: How Voluntary Social Processes Remedy Their Own Shortcomings.” The Independent Review 2 (4):537–55.

  • Leeson, P. 2014. Anarchy Unbound: Why Self-Governance Works Better Than You Think. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  • Marshall, M. G., and B. R. Cole. 2011. Global Report 2011: Conflict, Governance, and State Fragility. Vienna, VA: Center for Systemic Peace. http://www.systemicpeace.org/vlibrary/GlobalReport2011.pdf.

  • Murphy, R. 2015. “The Willingness-to-Pay for Caplanian Irrationality.” Rationality and Society forthcoming.

  • Rodrik, D. 2000. “Institutions for High-Quality Growth: What They Are and How to Acquire Them.” Studies in Comparative International Development 35 (3):3–31.

  • Somin, I. 2013. Democracy and Political Ignorance. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press.

  • Taylor, B., and E. Crampton. 2009. “Anarchy, Preferences, and Robust Political Economy.” Working Paper. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1340779.

  • Zakaria, F. 2003. The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Log in with your institution

Journal + Issues

The Journal des Économistes et des Études Humaines (JEEH) addresses economic issues in political theory, social dynamics, social science methodology, and philosophy. JEEH has an international audience and welcomes contributions written by scholars from around the world.