New Thinking in Political Economy series
Edited by Laura E. Grube and Virgil Henry Storr
Chapter 9: A critical appraisal of the concept of cultural capital
Some of our excursions into other disciplines have been quite profitable. Public Choice’s application of economic methods to the study of political behavior, for instance, was a significant contribution to the field of political science. Its insistence that all individuals, even bureaucrats and politicians, rationally seek to maximize their self-interest has improved (amongst other things) our understanding of why bureaucracies grow, why interest groups are effective and why voters are typically uninformed (rational ignorance) and are sometimes irrational (rational irrationality). In the latter half of his influential An Economic Theory of Democracy (1957), Downs explained that given the tiny probability that any individual’s vote will affect the election it is not in the interest of the rational voter to become informed about his political beliefs. Similarly, Caplan (2001) pointed out that the personal cost of maintaining irrational political and religious beliefs is virtually nonexistent and, thus, it makes sense that irrational views are commonplace in these areas. Other forays, however heralded by my fellow economists, have not been so successful. In some spheres where we have journeyed, the language of economics (though sometimes illuminating) seems out of place and, at times, can sound a little crass. Think of the economics of the family.
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