politics is often irrational

Philosopher Michael Huemer’s TEDx talk on figuring out if you are biased in your political thinking.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 22, 2012 at 12:06 am

4 Responses

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  1. I think some of the premesis are rather questionable:
    1) He is explaining why people are irrational using the rational-choice theory. Now he does that rather convincingly but the rational-choice theory may be questioned.
    2) He describes the politic as irrational. But maybe it’s only the explanation which is irrational. Example: Maybe the war on terror is rational, if it’s not waged because of terrorist killings, but for other reasons (economically or whatever). Same goes for protectionism.



    February 22, 2012 at 10:02 am

  2. Daniel Khaneman does, I think, much more interesting studies of irrationality, but even in his case, I want to argue (a) using experiments to study human behavior is iffy; and (b) it is probably much nearer the truth to talk about multiple forms of rationality that sometimes come into contradiction with one another than it is to talk about “irrationality.”



    February 22, 2012 at 1:39 pm

  3. Powerpoint, ew. Somebody give this guy a copy of one of Edward Tufte’s books.



    February 22, 2012 at 6:59 pm

  4. It is a shame that his language doesn’t map better to the language of game theory. There are two things he might mean by irrational, the cost of information, or alternatively just simply not willing to do the backward induction. Then he would have the more general conclusion about govt policy, that the aggregation of preferences can lead to something nonsensical. As it is, he has tied irrational results too tightly to irrational actors, and the magical belief that the degree of rationality of citizens will change. OTOH he does identify some missing information like collateral deaths. I can remember the feeling ten years ago, that this would be a costly endeavor to be avoided as much as Viet Nam. Maybe it would have made a difference to have the projected numbers laid out, the 200,000, or the tripling of American dead from 9-11, but then again rational choice would have to acknowledge the verifiable value of the tit for tat strategy for avoiding the next hit.

    So maybe the conclusion should have been, “we need some better strategies.” Kind of disappointing to hear all the same sabre rattling from the State Dept over Iran, but rational. We are such a primitive society.


    Don Saxton (@euphobot)

    February 22, 2012 at 7:27 pm

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