A Review of A Review of Enlightenment 2.0
I am very glad I read Alex Tabbarok’s review of “ENLIGHTENMENT 2.0: Restoring Sanity to Our Politics, Our Economy, and Our Lives,” by Joseph Heath. Tabbarok is a leading ultra pro market libertarian and “Joseph Heath is a Canadian philosopher who is unusually conversant with economics and also unusually capable of writing sparkling prose for a popular audience. ”
I have some thoughts. I advise the reader to click the link, and recklessly attempt a very brief summary of the book and the review.
1) Heath says our intuition and heuristics are unreliable, so we should try to use reason and logic.
Tabbarok says Heath focuses to much on logic and too little on empirical investigation.
2) Heath notes that advertizers gain by exploiting heuristics and biases, that we are constantly bombarded with alleged information and that this is making things worse.
Tabbarok notes that capitalism rewards rational producers. He hints at a market selection argument (I think he is careful not to spell it out *again* because he has done so too often for one lifetime).
3) Heath notes that the GOP has become extremely dumb and crazy.
Tabbarok discusses collective action problems a lot.
OK my comments
Heath also glosses over the fact that in the modern era measured IQ scores have risen, not fallen. IQ scores have risen especially in tests of abstract reasoning ability. Just the kind of ability that German social philosopher Georg Simmel argued was promoted by capitalism. Simmel argued that increasing familiarity with money as an abstract, representative unit of value improved abstract reasoning and rational calculation in other spheres of life. This kind of abstract thinking is also what makes people capable of understanding the idea of universal human rights.
First I note that another German social philosopher Karl Marx made the same point (no cite — its an aside on the origin of Protestantism in the Communist Manifesto). Here money abstracts value from the particular characteristics of goods and services — it encourages us to think of goods & services in isolation and treated equally. It encourages a view of people as individuals shorn of clan, guild, and (after centuries) sex and race. This has its costs but does help peopl understand the idea of universal human rights. I think history tends to support Simmel’s hypothesis.
Another possibility is that markets are unstable and disruptive — some rich people become poor and some poor people become rich. That churn disrupts traditional hierarchies. Hereditary rank ceases to be almost perfectly correlated with economic power. I’d tend to guess it was wealth => power => new political institutions => new habits of thought and new ideologies designed to praise and defend the new establishment.
On IQ tests I have another concern. The old Otis IQ tests includes simple logic puzzles. Simple algorithms for solving them can and have been taught. The aim of the test is to detect general cognitive ability. Our scores depend on what we have been taught (I would not score very well on IQ tests where the questions were written in Chinese). IQ like SATs affect lives. The problem, as always, is we can’t tell whether test scores correspond to that which the test was designed to measure. They can be increased by teaching to test. The new knowledge and skills may be narrow — useful for the test but not generally useful. In the extreme, the knowledge can be “the correct answer to question 3 is b to 4 is d …”, that is there is a grey area between teaching to test and teachers cheating. The test is valid so long as people don’t have an incentive to score high.
Tabbarok has a crazy idea of using betting markets to make public choice decisions. First he notes a fact
When pollsters ask Democrats and Republicans factual questions such as did inflation fall during Reagan’s presidency or were weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, they answer in a highly partisan manner. But partisan bias greatly diminishes when voters are told that they will be paid if they answer correctly. Betting is a more reliable guarantor of objectivity than voting. Or, as I once wrote, “A bet is a tax on bullshit.”
Then he discusses a proposal to base collective decisions on betting markets.
But once we decide on values, let us then bet on beliefs. Do we agree that lower unemployment would be a good thing? Ok, let’s then bet on whether fiscal policy or monetary policy would best achieve that goal and let’s then go with the betting favorite. Economist Robin Hanson terms this “rule by prediction markets,” or futarchy. Is betting on policy a crazy idea? Perhaps so
I think the proposal is somewhere along the spectrum, serious proposal-provocation-joke, but I will take it seriously.
Here notice Tabbarok has no problem with rich people having more power over public choice (he likes markets and doesn’t mind inequality). The proposal is based on ignoring (not clearly rational) actions of rich people who use their money to get the political results they want. Now it’s campaign contributions and such, but with a betting market it would be direct. If there were a market on “the affordable care act will cause a dramatic decline in the number of uninsured” the odds paid for guessing yes would have been huge, because the Kochs would have bet however much they had to to make no the odds on favorite.
Here again, a measure is reliable exactly because it isn’t important, because it isn’t used to make a decision.
Now it may be that there is a collective action problem in betting in a way such that there are expected losses in order to affect the market odds. But in the real world, people do act collectively and serve a cause beyond their narrow personal interests. Also the actual market is not populated with huge numbers of people each of whom has wealth trivial compared to the total amount of money in a specific market. There are big players and they throw their weight around.
OK I feel a bit like a fool for taking a joke seriously. Why go half way ? click more for my crazy suggestion
This will start boring. It is sometimes argued that gerrymandering leads to un-reasonable political arguments which aim to fire up the base. I definitely have no citations, because I think serious political scientists are very skeptical. One of the apparently neutral rules of districting is that a congressional district should include people who have something in common. This seems odd to me as it seems to favor a politics of competing interests not of competing ideas of how to serve the common good. It is one of the apparently neutral rules which is very helpful to Republicans. I think a first step towards better politics would be random Congressional districts — start with a precinct, add one that touches it chosen at random, then add a third chosen at random which touches the first two. Continue until you have the right number of people (huh about 700,000) in a district. Now choose a precinct which isn’t in that district and repeat.
I think candidates who have to appeal to a lot of different voters will rely less on tribal appeals and also on appeals to specific interest groups. Also if it is random, it isn’t deliberately gerrymandered.
But I want to go further much much further into cloud cookoo land. People like to stay in bubbles of like minded people (I sure do — Tabbarok is about as far as I am willing to go out of my comfort zone). So how about we force citizens to interact with complete strangers in order to participate in the political process.
No hear me out my idea isn’t as crazy as it sounds at first (it is much crazier). One alternative to voting is caucuses which elect delegates to higher caucueses etc. I think this is a terrible system, but I want to modify it to Cyber-Caucuses !
Here the idea is people log on to the Cyber-Democracy platform and find themselves in a chat room with 19 other cyber-citizens chosen at random. They have to elect a delegate to a higher caucus of 20 & so on until we get to a convention.
To participate, one would have to discuss things with complete strangers. The conversation would be dominated by Trolls who would *not* be elected to move on.
Obviously every adult citizen is given a citizen-pc so they can participate.
The whole point is that political activity is only possible for those who are willing to interact with other citizens with whom they have nothing in common but citizenship.
Now *thats* a crazy plan which will never be tried and that’s a good thing because it would be a disaster. Now Alex do *not* try to out-crazy me. I would view it as a challenge.
If the common good is the objective then fully randomized districts such that there is only a random chance that any one district has a majorty with narrow common interests.
The are a couple simple ways to do this. One is semi-regional, the other completely unrelated to regionsalities.
The semi-regional one is to divide the entire nation into small geographic squares — like a checkerbooard, then go top to bottom or left to right (or the other direction… pick one) adding adult citizens in successive squares unlll the 700k (or magic number per district) is achieved.The idea is to randomize interest groups into each district.
The fully non-regional one is easier. Each citizen is given a voter ID number — they are automatically registered to vote at age 18. Pick 700k voter ID’s (of numbers with age 18 or more) at random, without replacement, for district 1, Do the same in sequence until all voters have been assigned a “district number”. This has the advantage that representatives for each district number have to appeal to the most common good to get elected… very few voters are likely to be in the same physical region.. even members of the same family are likely to be voting for different representative candidates..
In this option keeping the voter’s physical location as an unknown is critical so that representatives can’t know what proportion of voters in each district number are in a given physical region and thus bias their spiel to appeal to a plurality of common special interests.
Any decent pseudo-random number generator would probably be sufficient but more rigorous generators are just as easily used.
I think the common regional interests method we use promotes and extends tribalism. It is a lousy method for promoting a nation’s common good.