Friday 6 May 2016

Democracy and Political Ignorance

Ilya Somin will be speaking here in Wellington next week at Victoria University on his recent book on democracy and political ignorance. I really hope you can join us. An American perspective on political ignorance, given the current GOP nomination, could be rather enlightening.

One of the biggest problems with modern democracy is that most of the public is usually ignorant of politics and government. Many people understand that their votes are unlikely to change the outcome of an election and don't see the point in learning much about politics. This creates a nation of people with little political knowledge and little ability to objectively evaluate what they do know.

Ilya Somin mines the depths of public ignorance in America and reveals it as a major problem for democracy. He weighs various potential solutions, provocatively arguing that political ignorance is best mitigated and its effects lessened by decentralizing and limiting government. People make better decisions when they choose what to purchase in the market or which state or local government to live under, than when they vote at the ballot box, because they have stronger incentives to acquire relevant information and to use it wisely.

Somin walks us through the connections between political ignorance and the disproportionate political influence of the wealthy, new proposals for increasing political knowledge, and up-to-date survey data showing just how little Americans really know about their government.

About the Speaker:

ILYA SOMIN is Professor of Law at George Mason University. His research focuses on constitutional law, property law, and the study of popular political participation and its implications for constitutional democracy.  He is the author of Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter (Stanford University Press, 2013), The Grasping Hand: Kelo v. City of New London and the Limits of Eminent Domain (University of Chicago Press, 2015), co-editor of Eminent Domain in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming), among several other books.

Somin’s work has appeared in numerous scholarly journals, including the Yale Law Journal, Stanford Law Review, Northwestern University Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal, Critical Review, and others. He features regularly, either in the opinion pages or quoted as expert, in American media outlets from the Wall Street Journal to the Washington Post, and from the New York Times to Al Jazeera. He has testified before US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights and the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. Somin writes regularly for the popular Volokh Conspiracy law and politics blog, affiliated with the Washington Post. From 2006 to 2013, he served as Co-Editor of the Supreme Court Economic Review, one of the country’s top-rated law and economics journals.

Location GBLT4, Victoria University of Wellington

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