Learning Liberalism and the Welfare State
New Thinking in Political Economy series
Chapter 4: The Underestimation of Political Opportunity Costs
4.1 INTRODUCTION AND OUTLINE OF THE ARGUMENT In the last chapter I discussed limitations on admissible politics in democracy which derive from individual autonomy in democracy. In so doing I have distanced myself from positions which conceive democracy as a pure decision rule for collective choice and thereby ignore individual autonomy as a constitutional constraint on politics. Instead, and in contrast to conservative political theorists such as Hayek, I stress that democracy is committed to the rule of law, which makes the distinction between preferences and choice a key point in the realm of democratic politics. However, one cannot take it for granted that citizens are aware of the peculiarity of political acting when they articulate their political preferences. This means that the practice of successful democratic politics becomes a matter of learning to acknowledge the real capacity of democratic politics and thus the feasibility of political preferences. I have thus prepared the ground for the argument which I put forward in the following: the coexistence of individual autonomy in politics and markets explains why individuals misperceive their political preferences;1 that is, their self-interest when they act as political agents. I will not explain this misperception by questioning the rationality of citizens nor, alternatively, by emphasizing their ignorance concerning political aﬀairs which could result from rational behaviour of individuals who know their political preferences will not make a diﬀerence (for example in analogy to rational ignorance of voters). Rather, I stick here to an ideal conception of...
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