People employ what economists call “rational ignorance.” That is, we all spend our time learning about things we can actually do something about, not political issues that we can’t really affect. That’s why most of us can’t name our representative in Congress. And why most of us have no clue about how much of the federal budget goes to Medicare, foreign aid, or any other program. As an Alabama businessman told a Washington Post pollster, “Politics doesn’t interest me. I don’t follow it. … Always had to make a living.” Ellen Goodman, a sensitive, good-government liberal columnist, complained about a friend who had spent months researching new cars, and of her own efforts study the sugar, fiber, fat, and price of various cereals. “Would my car-buying friend use the hours he spent comparing fuel-injection systems to compare national health plans?” Goodman asked. “Maybe not. Will the moments I spend studying cereals be devoted to studying the greenhouse effect on grain? Maybe not.” Certainly not —and why should they? Goodman and her friend will get the cars and the cereal they want, but what good would it do to study national health plans? After a great deal of research on medicine, economics, and bureaucracy, her friend may decide which health-care plan he prefers. He then turns to studying the presidential candidates, only to discover that they offer only vague indications of which health-care plan they would implement. But after diligent investigation, our well-informed voter chooses a candidate. Unfortunately, the voter doesn’t like that candidate’s stand on anything else — the package-deal problem — but he decides to vote on the issue of health care. He has a one-in-a-hundred-million chance of influencing the outcome of the presidential election, after which, if his candidate is successful, he faces a Congress with different ideas, and in any case, it turns out the candidate was dissembling in the first place. Instinctively realizing all this, most voters don’t spend much time studying public policy. Give that same man three health insurance plans that he can choose from, though, and chances are that he will spend time studying them. Finally, as noted above, the candidates are likely to be kidding themselves or the voters anyway. One could argue that in most of the presidential elections since 1968, the American people have tried to vote for smaller government, but in that time the federal budget has risen from $178 billion to $4 trillion. George Bush made one promise that every voter noticed in the 1988 campaign: “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Then he raised them. If we are the government, why do we get so many policies we don’t want?