People do not grasp the “invisible hand” of the market, with its ability to harmonize private greed and the public interest. ~Bryan Caplan

Some unfortunate phrasing, perhaps, but even so it is an interesting claim that, because most people do not see the imaginary, metaphorical force that surrounds and binds together economic activity, they thereby must have an “anti-market bias.”  More likely, these people lack the invisible hand-detectors that libertarians receive upon obtaining their libertarian membership.  Caplan continues:

They underestimate the benefits of interaction with foreigners.

Perhaps some people underestimate them, but if anyone overestimates the benefits it is surely a free-trading libertarian, who seems to see no real downside to such interaction.

Caplan again:

They equate prosperity not with production, but with employment.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if someone lacks employment it doesn’t matter to him how outstanding the GDP has been.  If we’re talking about politics, and not what constitutes good policy, the lack of employment today is more pressing and will move more votes.  19th century liberals at least understood this and restricted the franchise accordingly to keep the electorate from expanding much beyond their base of support.  Once the electorate grew in size beyond the buergerlich urban voters that supported liberal economic policies, these new voters quite rationally embraced policies that would work to secure their interests–whether of agricultural land or labour or small artisanal workshops–rather than endorse those that tended to benefit middle-class businessmen and industrialists.  As 19th liberals were bewildered then by the choices of the mob, so, too, are libertarians today, yet like the 19th century liberal the libertarian is an interesting, eccentric and fun figure who can command no great political following.  Liberalism flourished in the early phase of industrialisation, and the effects of that same industrialisation worked to overthrow and destroy classical liberalism.  Likewise, it is not “baffling” that American labourers sought and supported the politicians that at least promised to secure them certain basic protections with respect to the length of the workday, safety and health regulations and the like.  (It is a separate question where the federal government gets any authority to do these things.)  These choices may not be optimal for maximising productivity, but that doesn’t necessarily matter to the labourer.  The interests of labour actually involve more than the compensation for work that has been done.  Voters act irrationally just as Caplan claims if you have already determined that labourers’ voting for policies that govern workplace conditions, for example, is a form of irrationality.   

If someone’s job has been outsourced to another country (there’s my anti-foreign bias!) or eliminated for the sake of efficiency (my anti-market bias is taking over), it is unreasonable to expect him to say, “That’s all right.  The economy grew by 4%!”  Voters are often irrational when it comes time to select candidates (because candidate preferences are driven by all sorts of intangibles and identity politics quite distinct from policy questions), but they are not so blindly, willfully hostile to their own self-interest that they misunderstand their own immediate economic interests.  They may very well not see “the big picture” and they may support policies that seem immediately beneficial to them (for instance, nationalisation of an industry or massive redistributionist taxation), but which have overall negative consequences for the entire economy. 

This complaint has ever been the lament of the classical liberal when confronted with a mass electorate: “Why don’t you people realise that the policies that will make me wealthier are the right ones?”   

Of course, voters are short-sighted, prone to misguided enthusiasms and vulnerable to the predations of demagogues.  I don’t like democracy.  Generally speaking, I’m against it.  It is injurious to liberty, because no mass electorate presented with the ability to control, however minimally, a huge coercive apparatus is going to endorse a platform of austerity, limited government and decentralised power.  It will abuse to some extent this power, and demagogues will encourage this abuse for the sake of concentrating more and more power in their own hands. 

No one will confuse me for a defender of the rationality and sanity of democratic politics.  However, policies aimed at shoring up or protecting domestic industry do not strike me necessarily as being at all obviously “socially harmful.”  They contribute to increased prices on imports, and often provoke retalitatory tariffs on exported goods, but is such protectionism actually “socially harmful”?  Beyond the diminished consumption of commodities that such a tariff war might cause, what exactly is the harm?

Whatever else this study reveals, it definitely explains why no one will be bending over backwards to run on a libertarian economic platform anytime soon.