Questioning the Wisdom of Crowds

Bryan Caplan spoke at SxSW and questioned the popular wisdom of crowds theory propagated by James Surowiecki. Notes from his talk:

The idea that voting works is based on the so-called “Miracle of aggregation”, which Caplan likens to a form of alchemy. You take some uninformed opinions, mesh them together, and shake it all up and voila, it’s informed.” While Surowiecki’s book cited a number of examples of crowd wisdom (groups of people collaboratively guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar or guessing the weight of a cow), Caplan criticized what he saw was a “(weak) hunt for counter-examples.” His one-off counter-example: In polls asking voters what percentage of the budget is spent on foreign aid, averages come around 10-20 percent, when in fact it’s actually just 1.2 percent. Ultimately, in Caplan’s view: “The miracle of aggregation fails and it fails very directly.” As that relates to democracy: “What’s interesting about this miracle of aggregations is it gives people a way to believe democracy works despite the public’s deficiencies.”

Caplan is one of the most interesting thinkers I’ve come across. He blogs at EconLog.

One Response to Questioning the Wisdom of Crowds

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *