Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How Rational Citizens Reduce Information Costs

by Anthony Downs

Rational citizens under a great pressure to cut down the quantity of scare resources they use to obtain political data. Society's free information stream provides some citizens more politically useful information than others. Specialists in the division of labor act automatically to reduce data costs drastically to focus attention on areas most relevent to decision-making. Rational men might remain completely ignorant. Any society containing uncertainty and a division of labor will see that men will not be equally well-informed about politics, no matter how equal they are in other respects. Any concept of democracy based on an electorate equally well-informed citizens presupposes that men behave irrationally.

The Nature and Sources of Free Information:

By the needs of production and psychological necessity, free information is made readily available for a number of things. Time nontransferable, other ones are. In the self-interest of political elite to distribute information. Free information is the floor for all types of rational calculations. The factor most important in determining how much free information a man can fruitfully receive is his ability to bear the nontransferable costs inherent in all information.

How Attention is Focused By Information Providers:

Political decision-making cannot be undertaken without fanstastic costs unless information is gathered for many decision-makers by a few specialists and the information each citizen recieves is prefocused upon the differential areas of decision.

How Rational Citizens Reduce Their Data Costs:

Rational men expend no more time or money on acquiring political information than its returns warrant. Rational citizens will seek to receive free information from other persons if they can. Can recognize problems without specifying their nature.

Delegation of Analysis and Evaluation as a Means of Reducing Costs:

Many areas of decision are noncomprehensible for those who are not experts, but nonexperts often must have opinions concerning the aptness of policies followed in these areas to make important political choices. Citizens can buy generalized opinions of experts in each area at much lower costs than they would incur by manufacturing similar opinions on their own. Democracy is impossible without a shifting of factual analysis onto specialists. Professional standards in most areas provide an independent check upon expertness. Evaluation is a process of judging means in the light of ends; thus the ends are all-important. To be rational, a delegator must personally determine whether the agent he selects has goals similar to his own, possesses more data than he himself does, and has powers of judgment that are, at worse, not so inferior to his own that they offset the advantages of better information. It may be rational, therefore, for a man to delegate all or part of his decision-making process to others, no matter how important the decision is. S cannot be an expert in all fields of policy that are relevant to his decision, so he will seek assistance from people who are, share his goals, and own good judgment. S should make no decisons himself save to evaluate whether T knows best.

We cannot trust party leaders because they are only interested in maximizing votes, never in producing any state per se, where voters are concerned with the latter. A rational voter cannot assure members of any political organization have goals similar to his own unless he beleives a certain political party will maximize votes by catering to the desires of a specific interest group or section of the electorate, and its own goals are identical with the goals of that group. This requires some cost, but it also rewards poltically motivated, and hence, radical elements of the electorate.

The Differential Power Impact of Information:

A man's ability to use the information he recieves depends upon the time he can afford to spend assimilating it, the kind of contextual knowledge he has, and the homogenity of the selection principles behind the information with his own selection pricninples. One's job and education background impact your ability to comprehend. Since the mass media is owned in many democracies by high-income interests than low-income ones, low income citizens are more likley to recieve data selected by principles conflicting with their own than upper income ones.
If our model were populated by rational individuals with equal intelligence, equal interest, and equal incomes, they would nevertheless not be equally well-informed: division of labor always puts men in different situation with different access to information.

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