The Caplanian Myth

Roland Koch, facing a fight to be re-elected as the Christian Democratic minister president of the state of Hesse on January 27th, seized on the assault of a pensioner in Munich to call for a crackdown on delinquent youth. There are too many "criminal young foreigners", Mr Koch opined, provoking a storm of protest from liberal-minded Germans, migrants’ groups and the Social Democrats, who are trying to unseat him...He played the scary foreigner card because his opponent, Andrea Ypsilanti, a former stewardess who had looked like a no-hoper, was gaining traction with the SPD’s demand for minimum wages...

The minimum-wages-v-maximum-sentences spat may be a preview of the 2009 national elections, which will again pit the CDU against the SPD. That would be depressing. Both appeals aim at voters’ less-worthy instincts. Few experts think that boot camps will deter young criminals. And minimum wages, if set too high, are likely to destroy jobs without curing poverty...The Social Democrats, who enacted necessary but unpopular reforms, are now running away from that legacy. The Christian Democrats dare not defend economic liberalism (or resist minimum wages too stoutly). What is left to them but to prey on voters’ fears?

It's not just fear that evokes irrationality in voters--it's endemic to the activity itself (but that's a subject for another post). One empirically demonstrated phenomenon in the United States is that voters do not tend to vote for policies that are best for themselves, but instead vote for what they think is best for society. This might work fine if voters did not suffer from systematic biases (such as underestimating the social benefits of markets), but they do, and thus selfish voting could well yield more utilitarian outcomes.

Given Germany's culture of collectivism, I'd wager that Germans tend to vote in similar patterns as the Amis with the same deleterious effects.