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.