Political ideas meant to provoke thought

post by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-06-02T01:20:12.305Z · score: 5 (19 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 141 comments

Politics as gymnastics for rationalists.  No one one Less Wrong is quite sure why politics is a taboo topic or how things got to be that way.  What we do think we know is that politics is a great way to bring out the irrationality in people.  So why not take advantage of that and use politics as a way to measure rationality?  Since politics brings out the most irrationality, it should provide the strongest signal.  Since there aren't useful objective metrics of how a political discussion went, we'd have to use subjective judgements by neutral third-party raters, kind of like they do in gymnastics.  (In the comment thread for this post, feel free to find fights that you have no dog in, improvise a rationality rubric, and grade participants according to your rubric... let's see how it goes.)

Be a sheep.  This is probably the exact opposite of what you were taught in your high school civics class.  But if my friend Jane is more intelligent, more informed, and less ideological than I am, it seems like voting however Jane is going to vote is a strict improvement over voting however I would naively.  It also saves me time, and gives Jane an incentive to put even more time in to carefully considering political issues since she now controls two votes instead of one.  Done on a large scale, this could provide an interesting twist on representative democracy.  Imagine a directed graph where each node represents a person and an edge is directed from person A to person B if person A is auto-copying person B's votes.  There's a government computer system where you can change the person you're auto-copying votes from at any time or override an auto-copied vote with your own personal guess about what's best for society.  Other than that, it's direct democracy... all bills are put before all citizens to vote on.  Problems this might solve:

If Less Wrong thinks this "sheep" idea is a good one, next time there's a major election in a country with lots of LW users, we could have a gymnastics tournament (see previous idea) and determine a set of recommendations for other users from that country to vote with.

Capitalism as delayed gratification.  Debate rages endlessly between pure capitalists and those who want some socialism thrown in.  The pure capitalists argues that capitalism fosters innovation and increases economic growth.  The socialists point to the negative effects of inequality that they say capitalism causes.  My compromise: let's stick with capitalism for a while longer and then switch to socialism when we can't take it any more.  The bigger the pie the capitalists make, the more there will be to go around when we crank up the redistribution.  At a certain point we hit diminishing returns for additional innovations and it makes sense to optimize for poor peoples' quality of life instead.

It's not big vs small, it's smart vs dumb.  Debate rages endlessly between paternalist/nanny state types who say people can't be trusted to make decisions for themselves vs people who are sick of government interference and want to be able to make all of their decisions for themselves.  The correct answer to this question depends on the composition of your government.  If the average government official is smarter than the average member of the populace, it's potentially a win to have the government make decisions for population members.  Examples of government stupidity that libertarians like to talk up are just that--stupidity.  If government officials were smart, the government would probably be less stupid (like in Singapore).  Unfortunately, the libertarian chant of government stupidity ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy as smart people decide that the government is lame and work in other areas.


141 comments

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comment by ChristianKl · 2014-06-02T08:59:11.771Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Debate rages endlessly between pure capitalists and those who want some socialism thrown in.

That's not a good set up for rational discussion. Rational discussion works much better when you discuss actual policy issues than when you discuss highly loaded catchphrases.

comment by jimmy · 2014-06-02T15:14:55.129Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

While I agree, I think that was his intent. Make it too easy and it doesn't tell you anything about the participants ability to withstand highly loaded catchphrases. You don't always want to talk politics with people who require careful wording.

When talking politics, I'd prefer to talk to someone who can keep up with tabooing most loaded terms by default while also maintaining sanity if I want to use a broad strokes description of "capitalist pigs vs dirty commies" - similar to how moldbug talks about the "jews" and "aryans" when talking about bitcoin. It's a way of saying "get over yourself or get out". It's a simple filter.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-06-02T21:15:55.866Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

While I agree, I think that was his intent.

The first idea of "be a sheep" seems like John is actually engaged in wanting to have a serious discussion about politics. He lacks the knowledge that he's advocating liquid democracy but that's sort of okay.

The second paragraph of capitalists vs. socialist on the other hand is hard to address on a serious level. When Lenin got to power in Russia he didn't attempt to introduce socialism directly but tried to put state capitalism into motion because he didn't consider Russia to be advanced enough to introduce socialism directly.

Sticking with capitalism for a while till socialism can be introduced is what Lenin advocated. Moldbug knows his history. John doesn't seem to be aware of the fact that his compromise is basically what Lenin advocated 100 years ago.

Furthermore John probably means something different when he says socialism then Lenin did 100 years ago. The problem is that I honestly don't know what John means. The notion of John that "we" can stick with capitalism presupposes that we are capitalist. Does John means that Germany is capitalist and not socialist? Scandinavia? I have no idea. On the other end of the spectrum there are various libertarians who say that the US isn't pure capitalist.

But even if I would know what he means, framing the debate that way is problematic. I think it's much more useful to discuss whether markets are better than hierarchical structures to solve certain problems than to discuss government vs. private ownership.

The frame also ignores issues such as whether companies are lead by their owners or by hired MBA's who get payed on short term metrics and who have no real incentives to act in the long term interest of the company. The frame isn't helpful for discussing issues such as an unconditional basic income or single payer healthcare.

I can keep my sanity if I talk with someone who's a racist and spreads a lot of bad memes. I can also keep my sanity when I hear someone talk about capitalists vs. socialist. That doesn't mean that I shouldn't speak up when someone spreads harmful memes in any of those cases.

To come back to Moldbug, the interesting thing about the post that you linked is that his prediction about bitcoin turned out to be wrong. Bitcoin trades higher than when I wrote the post and is very far away from 0.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-03T01:22:51.669Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

To come back to Moldbug, the interesting thing about the post that you linked is that his prediction about bitcoin turned out to be wrong. Bitcoin trades higher than when I wrote the post and is very far away from 0.

Well, his prediction about what the central banks and governments would do was wrong. His prediction about what effect such actions would have may very well have been correct.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-06-03T08:37:57.336Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

He don't know about the effect such actions would have. I don't think that 0 is a good representation of what would happen if you just juke the exchanges. Nuking the exchanges would prevent a lot of people from selling bitcoins.

As far as the prediction that he made that we can evaluate on the other hand he was still wrong. I do think that thinking too much in a blue vs. green is part of the reason why Moldbug made that error.

Yes it's fun to engage into blue vs. green debates but you really have to take care to avoid coming to false conclusions.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-06-02T23:35:20.445Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

While I agree, I think that was his intent.

You flatter me :) Nope, that wasn't my intent. I probably should have talked in terms of redistribution or some other object-level policy proposals.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-02T17:02:56.955Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

But if my friend Jane is more intelligent, more informed, and less ideological than I am, it seems like voting however Jane is going to vote is a strict improvement over voting however I would naively.

No. You're missing a huge component: values. Political choices are typically between conflicting sets of values or between competing interests of social groups.

Debate rages endlessly between pure capitalists and those who want some socialism thrown in.

What exactly is a "pure capitalist"? This is a strawman frequently erected, but there seems to be a major absence of real people with views that can be described as such.

when we can't take it any more.

Who's "we"? Society is heterogeneous. Some want redistribution right now, some would never want it.

If the average government official is smarter than the average member of the populace, it's potentially a win to have the government make decisions for population members.

Again, no for the same reason. Values are hugely important and you're ignoring them. Besides, government officials have their own incentives which do not necessarily reflect the well-being of the population. And, I hope you have heard that power corrupts..?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-02T02:09:05.856Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Politics as gymnastics for rationalists.

As something which provokes the worst impulses, I consider it good training as well.

who say people can't be trusted to make decisions for themselves

But they can be trusted to make decisions for others if they're smart? Intelligence doesn't give one knowledge or shared values.

Much of your discussion is flawed because you ignore values. Clippy may be smarter than all of us, but I'm not going to be his sheep because I don't want the universe converted to paper clips. Values matter.

At a certain point we hit diminishing returns for additional innovations

Actually, accelerated returns mean we get more bang for increased innovation each year. This year is always the worst year ever to hinder innovation.

As for giving up on Capitalism, not gonna happen. While you focus on Capitalism, many who support it are focused on a Free Market. We like the Free part, not just the mountains of stuff it helps produce.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-06-02T03:27:54.303Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But they can be trusted to make decisions for others if they're smart? Intelligence doesn't give one knowledge or shared values.

Fair. I think this can be solved for the "be a sheep" idea, just find someone who shares your values in addition to the other stuff. But it's trickier for the paternalists idea.

Actually, accelerated returns mean we get more bang for increased innovation each year. This year is always the worst year ever to hinder innovation.

Hmm. Economic growth historically has looked like an exponential. And traditionally it's recommended to make your utility function logarithmic with respect to your net worth. Take the logarithm of an exponential and the effects cancel each other out. So there may not be a general-purpose principle here. (This analysis assumes that everyone's welfare is growing at the same exponential rate as the economy as a whole.)

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-02T08:57:13.067Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

just find someone who shares your values in addition to the other stuff.

It seems to me that modern day politics consists of people sheepily cheering for their values team without looking into whether their team's proposed policies actually further their values - which largely seems to be the proposition here.

I see some glimmer of sense in wanting a less ideological leader in creating a system to further a set of values, but it doesn't seem likely that the least ideological will win a competition for leadership in ideological organizations, or that they would be the best choice as the head of the group if they were, as furthering the ideology seems more effective for gaining and keeping power than efficiently putting the ideology into practice.

As long as there is a war to be fought for power, you want someone good at war. When the war is won, then you want the guy who can win the peace.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-03T01:14:48.624Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Also, could you taboo "ideological". I suspect in practice it tends to mean some combination of "disagrees with me" and "contrarian".

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-06-03T02:57:28.249Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's probably used that way in practice, but it does seem likely to me that there's a useful concept lurking around here. I've definitely noticed that some people are much more inclined to stick with their guns in an attempt to save face during disagreements than others, and I think I've observed long-term changes in that personality characteristic in myself over the years.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-03T03:02:52.334Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So what you're talking about is susceptibility to peer pressure?

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-06-03T03:45:59.654Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not according to the traditional usage of "peer pressure".

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-03T18:58:08.531Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, in practice, the usage of "ideological" is ideological.

But I think there is a meaningful sense to it. We are all acting out of our motivation to further our values, but some of us, more than others, can and will still recognize and be honest about reality, even when it is inconvenient to making our case. The inability or unwillingness to do this is being ideological.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-06-03T20:06:21.138Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, in practice, the usage of "ideological" is ideological.

Yo dawg, I heard you like some ideology in your ideology

comment by jimrandomh · 2014-06-02T22:29:03.263Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

So why not take advantage of that and use politics as a way to measure rationality? Since politics brings out the most irrationality, it should provide the strongest signal.

Only in one-on-one conversations or very small groups. If you try to use politics as a rationality test in a room with too many people, someone is going to fail and get triggered, and in the process they're going to cause everyone to have a very unpleasant evening.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-06-03T07:39:36.087Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Also, if there are other people in the room, it is not obvious whether the person currently speaking is using their rationality skills to analyze the problem, or using their social skills to prevent other people from screaming.

comment by Creutzer · 2014-06-02T06:34:47.526Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Aren't government officials also incentivised to do stupid things? If so, replacing them by smarter people won't solve many problems.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-02T09:04:46.694Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Aren't government officials also incentivised to do stupid things?

More accurately, their incentives often don't align well with the purported incentives of their organization, and the organizational incentives are largely the opposite of the purported incentives of their organization.

Short term, bureaucracies usually gain power as the problem they were created to solve gets worse.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-06-02T08:33:28.838Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How are they so incentivized?

comment by Salemicus · 2014-06-02T12:33:37.065Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

There is a rich literature, normally referred to as "public choice", which looks at the incentives facing government officials. There's far too much to describe in a short reply, but the Wikipedia article is a good starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_choice

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-06-02T17:04:36.830Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If you employ someone to work on problem X, under what circumstances does that person have an incentive to tell you that ...

  • Problem X has been solved, and no longer needs effort;
  • Enduring problem X is less expensive or harmful than current efforts to solve it; or
  • X is actually not a problem at all and efforts to stop X are entirely misplaced.

For instance, if you employ a Witchfinder General, whose job it is to locate witches and prosecute them for laying curses that sicken their neighbors' cattle, that person may resist coming to the realization that cattle get sick due to pathogens, not curses ....

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-23T12:42:37.289Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fortunately, bureaucrats are part of a wider ecosystem including opposition politicians and journalists, both of whichparties are well motivated to seek out waste and ineffectiveness.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-06-02T19:15:51.054Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We vote for politicians that do what we want them to do, not for ones that are successful. For example, we might decide that we want to increase minimum wage, and regardless of if that's a good idea, increasing it will help a politician win the election.

They are also incentivized to do what people who pay for lobbyists want them to do, since they need campaign contributions to win the election.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-03T01:54:45.496Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Re: Capitalism.

Even if we accept the premise that socialism reduces inequality, your argument boils down to that we should make the poor a little worse of (relative to where they'd be otherwise) in order to make the rich significantly worse of in the name of "fighting inequality".

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-23T12:51:53.576Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

All other things are not equal, and that can have nett benefits. See The Spirit Level.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-03T02:00:21.279Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

As Taleb points out here it's not even clear that socialism promotes less inequality.

In the U.S., when I look at a room with hotshot businessmen in 2014, I know that the 2024 one will be different (except for businessess subject to bailouts). The same cannot be said in Europe or in places where the state is powerful. And if I look at the bureaucratic and academic establishments, the only people who would drop out of the 2014 cohort are the retired/deceased ones.

Static measurements of inequality are defective (in addition to their traditional lack of mathematical rigor). True equality in income is probabilistic: it requires downward mobility. This should map to opportunity. I quickly wrote down the sketch of what such a true measurement of equality would be like.

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B8nhAlfIk3QIX3AzcHFkaGtORkU/edit

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-06-03T07:55:10.196Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

it's not even clear that socialism promotes less inequality

As a socialism survivor, I can confirm that equality is not only about money.

In socialism, an important Party member could have exactly the same salary as everyone else, and yet be a thousand times more rich than the average peasant, if we use a meaningful definition. They would get a lot of stuff and services for free, as a bribe; it wouldn't be even considered a bribe, because everyone would do it to maintain good relations with the powerful Party members. They would be allowed to use privately many things that technically are a common property, but it is a property inaccessible to the average peasant. They could get almost everything they want (as long as there is not a political reason against it) without using money. So the fact that they would have the same amount of money as everyone else would be completely irrelevant, even if it was true, which it probably wouldn't be anyway.

Money is just a civilized way to get stuff and services. If you have power, you simply take the stuff and services, without paying. In socialism, people even give it to you "willingly", because they are aware that if you are in a bad mood, you could ruin their lives and lives of their familes just by making a phone call.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-04T00:40:07.362Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Batman Begins (2005) Carmine Falcone: Now, I wouldn't have a second's hesitation of blowing your head off right here and right now in front of 'em. Now, that's power you can't buy! That's the power of fear.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-23T12:48:31.127Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Apple's and oranges. Virtually nowhere is socialist in the one party state sense.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-24T00:27:05.592Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The point is that Europe is more socialist than the US.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-24T08:29:38.671Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Europe is also more equal than the US. The counterargument put forward to that is that the Iron Curtain countries were not particularly egalitarian. My countercounterargument is that social democracy is not commensurable with single party state socialism.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-25T01:44:36.291Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Europe is also more equal than the US.

That is precisely the claim being disputed. In particular, as Taleb points out in the document I quoted in the great-grandparent, when you stop trying to use static measures of inequality and instead base it on the amount of turnover at the top, you see that Europe is much more unequal (almost an oligarchy) than the US.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-25T12:42:09.833Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Europe is more equal on empirical measures such as the Gini Coefficient.

The comment in Talebs aphorisms does not refute that, because it is not evidence based. Instead, Taleb is making some sort of circular, ideology driven argument...that Europe is "socialist" and under "socialism" the state runs everything., therefore no healthy competition, therefore stasis..but no. in Socially Democratic Europe, the government does not intervene in the boardroom.

What's more, the empirical evidence actually contradicts Talebs untested expectation:

"according to the latest Global 500 CEO Departures™ study by global public relations firm Weber Shandwick, departing European chief executives were also more likely to be forced out of office than North American and Asia Pacific CEOs during this 2007 time period."

http://www.reputationrx.com/Default.aspx/CEOTURNOVER/GLOBAL500CEODEPARTURES%E2%84%A2andCEODEPARTURESSTUDY%E2%84%A2

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-06-25T13:13:33.902Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The comment in Talebs aphorisms does not refute that, because it is not evidence based. Instead, Taleb is making some sort of circular, ideology driven argument...that Europe is "socialist" and under "socialism" the state runs everything., therefore no healthy competition, therefore stasis..but no. in Socially Democratic Europe, the government does not intervene in the boardroom.

No, I think the argument Eugine is refering to is that more companies in the SAP 500 weren't there 50 years ago then corresponding European indexes. It's a data driven argument. I'm however not sure that it measures "equality".

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-25T13:24:01.712Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Me neither. Turnover in companies isn't the same as turnover of CEOs....and the relationship between CEo stability and oligarchy, in the polsci sense, is rather murky too.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-26T02:00:34.014Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Europe is more equal on empirical measures such as the Gini Coefficient.

Here is Taleb's paper about the problems with measures like the Gini Coefficient.

comment by satt · 2014-06-26T03:55:59.859Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If I understand Taleb correctly, his objection is that if X's distribution's upper tail tends to a power law with small enough (negated) exponent α, then sample proportions of X going to the distribution's top end are inconsistent under aggregation, and suffer a bias that decreases with sample size. And since the Gini coefficient is such a measure, it has these problems.

However, Taleb & Douady give me the impression that the quantitative effect of these problems is substantial only when α is appreciably less than 2. (The sole graphical example for which T&D mention a specific α, their figure 1, uses α = 1.1). But I have a hard time seeing how α can really be that small for income & wealth, because that'd imply mean income & mean wealth aren't well-defined in the population, which must be false because no one actually has, or is earning, infinitely many dollars or euros.

[Edit after E_N's response: changed "a bias that rises with sample size" to "a bias that decreases with sample size", I got that the wrong way round.]

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-27T01:36:27.991Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But I have a hard time seeing how α can really be that small for income & wealth, because that'd imply mean income & mean wealth aren't well-defined in the population,

Um no. They're not well defined over the distribution, they will certainly be well defined over a finite population.

which must be false because no one actually has, or is earning, infinitely many dollars or euros.

You seem to be confused about how distributions with infinite means work. Here's a good exercise: get some coins and flip them to obtain data in a St. Petersburg distribution notice that even though the distribution has infinite mean all your data points are still finite (and quite small).

comment by satt · 2014-06-27T02:52:27.697Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Um no. They're not well defined over the distribution, they will certainly be well defined over a finite population.

I'm lost. A statistical distribution characterizes a population (whether the population is an abstract construction or a literal concrete population); if the mean isn't well-defined for the population it oughtn't be well-defined for the distribution allegedly characterizing the population.

Taking annual income for concreteness, the support of a power law distribution would include, for example, $69 quadrillion. But no one actually earns so much (global economic activity, denominated in dollars, is simply too small), so the support of the actual annual income distribution must exclude $69 quadrillion. Consequently the actual annual income distribution and the power law distribution cannot actually be the same distribution; they have different support.

You seem to be confused about how distributions with infinite means work. Here's a good exercise: get some coins and flip them to obtain data in a St. Petersburg distribution notice that even though the distribution has infinite mean all your data points are still finite (and quite small).

In the case of the St. Petersburg distribution one defines an abstract data-generating process which, by construction, implies a particular distribution with infinite mean. In the case of people's incomes or wealth, by contrast, we know that the output of the data-generating process is constrained from above by the size of the economy, so the resulting population (and the distribution representing that population) must have finite mean income and finite mean wealth. (It's as if we were talking about an imperfect real-life instantiation of the St. Petersburg process where we knew the casino had a limited amount of money.)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-06-27T07:00:16.940Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Consequently the actual annual income distribution and the power law distribution cannot actually be the same distribution; they have different support.

Every actual population differs from a parameterised mathematical function with few parameters, and for pretty much anything you can measure, if the mathematical distribution has infinite support, there will be some reason that the population cannot. But the question to ask is not, are they different, but, does the difference make a difference?

The way to answer this question is to repeat the analysis in the paper Eugine cited using a truncated power law. The bounds must be placed at the limits of what is possible, not at the accidental maximum and minimum values observed in the current population, as the point here is that the population is not fully exploring the tails.

I have not done this, but I did once do a simulation for the Cauchy distribution (which has no mean), finding empirically the standard deviation of the mean of samples of size N. Each individual set of N values has a mean, but they will be wildly different for different samples. Increasing N does not reduce the effect for any practical value of N (and I did this in Matlab, which is optimised for fast number-crunching on arrays). This is completely different from what happens for sample means drawn from distributions with finite mean and variance, whose means converge with increasing N to the population mean.

For my experiment with the Cauchy distribution, not a single one of my samples had to be rejected due to exceeding the limits of finite precision arithmetic. The absence of infinite tails from the samples made no difference to the experimental results, even though it is the presence of those infinite tails that gives the Cauchy distribution its lack of moments.

This may look like a paradox. You have two distributions, the Cauchy distribution and its truncation at 1e50 or wherever. The former has no moments, and the latter does. Yet the empirical behaviour of samples drawn from the latter agrees with mathematical analysis of the former, even though in the latter case the standard deviation of the sample mean must converge with increasing sample size to zero, and in the former case it remains infinite.

The resolution of this paradox lies in the fact that as the variance of a distribution that has a finite variance becomes larger and larger, the rate of convergence of sample means becomes slower and slower. For the Cauchy distribution truncated at +/- X and a sample size of N, for large X and N the variance of the sample mean is proportional to X/N. If we take the limit of this as X goes to infinity, we get infinity, independent of N. If we take the limit as N goes to infinity we get zero, independent of X. The behaviour found when both X and N are finite will depend on which is bigger. When X is very large, even the entire population (conceived as a sample from an underlying data-generation process) may not give a good estimate of the distribution mean.

Taleb and Douady's point is that for a power law distribution, wealth owned by the top 1% is subject to this phenomenon. A larger population will explore more of the tail of the distribution, and unlike the normal distribution, the tail is fat enough to give a different value for the statistic. The "true" distribution does not have to actually have infinite support, for the entire population of a country to be insufficient to explore the tails.

The authors draw the implication that as both population and technological development grow, the top 1% will be found to have larger proportions of the wealth, not because of any change in the mechanisms of society to favour them, but because more of the sample space is being explored. "So examining times series, we can easily get a historical illusion of rise in wealth concentration when it has been there all along." (Presumably one could quantify the effect and correct for it.)

A possibility that the paper does not raise is that instead of calculating the actual wealth held by the actual top 1%, you could estimate the Gini coefficient from the whole population, and calculate a theoretical 1% wealth. This may be substantially more. The authors suggest that Pareto's empirical observation of the 80/20 rule, which implies 53% wealth held by the top 1%, might actually correspond to a figure of 70%.

This could be spun in opposite ways. If you want to boom freedom and boo levellers, you can point to this and say there's always more room at the top. If you want to boom equality and boo the rich, you can say that the true situation is even worse that the 1% figure says, indeed that the figure is a systematic underestimate, a piece of evil propaganda used by the rich to conceal the true extent of the inequality inherent in the system.

Take your pick.

comment by satt · 2014-06-28T16:32:41.975Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for your detailed reply, which seems more responsive to me than Eugine_Nier's.

Every actual population differs from a parameterised mathematical function with few parameters, and for pretty much anything you can measure, if the mathematical distribution has infinite support, there will be some reason that the population cannot. But the question to ask is not, are they different, but, does the difference make a difference?

Yes, just so.

The way to answer this question is to repeat the analysis in the paper Eugine cited using a truncated power law. The bounds must be placed at the limits of what is possible, not at the accidental maximum and minimum values observed in the current population, as the point here is that the population is not fully exploring the tails.

OK, so, I think this has helped me pinpoint the root of the disagreement here: we have different beliefs about what the relevant statistical population is. Here are four possibilities, in increasing order of expansiveness.

  1. The statistical population is whatever big sample one can get one's hands on.

  2. The statistical population is the literal population of (working-age? adult?) people in a place of interest at a given time.

  3. The statistical population is that implied by "a truncated power law", with its bounds "placed at the limits of what is possible".

  4. The statistical population is that implied by a power law with only a lower bound.

(1) is what E_N apparently believes I endorse, even though it's obviously a stupid choice based on confusing sample & population. I actually contend (2). You propose (3). T&D seem to assume (4).

In other circumstances one could simply elide the differences between these distributions, as there'd be no reason to expect the precise choice to matter much; the analysis being carried out would be insensitive to it. But here T&D's analysis rests on a particular subtle, pathological feature, and the chance of that feature being present likely depends on which population one chooses.

Given that a choice should be made, I think (2) is a more natural, sensible choice than (3) & (4) for the purposes of estimating inequality at a given point in time, because (2) refers to the actually existing population of interest. (4) is a mathematical abstraction which might be a useful approximation in other circumstances, but risks spuriously introducing a pathological feature here. (3) better matches reality (having an upper bound) but is less parsimonious and harder to operationalize; how do we determine "the limits of what is possible"? And which upper limit ought one use — the maximum individual income/wealth that one'd witness if one could see into the pre-ordained future of humanity, or the maximum individual income/wealth possible under some counterfactual ensemble of futures, or...?

We might choose (3) or (4) in spite of these issues if we wished to predict the future course of inequality, because then we'd need to go beyond people who currently exist (and could simply have their incomes observed) and start modelling the distribution of incomes which haven't been earned yet. But if we'd just like an index of current (or past) inequality, our interest is in the population of people who exist now (or existed at a given time in the past).

If God handed a data file with the income of everybody on the planet to an economist, and the economist used that to calculate some inequality index, the economist wouldn't wring their hands about that index being a noisy sample statistic; they'd consider it the precise population value of the Gini coefficient (or whatever coefficient) for the world, and mark that job as done. (At least until they had to produce next year's statistics, and needed fresh data!) In T&D's notation, the number they'd come up with wouldn't be κ-hat but κ. Complaints about κ-hat systematically diverging from κ would therefore be irrelevant.

Returning to what you wrote, yes, the way to answer the question is to repeat T&D's analysis with a different distribution — but if I used a truncated power law it would be because it matched the empirical distribution of income/wealth well. (It would also be useful to see how κ-hat and κ differed under different sampling strategies; economists often deliberately try to oversample the upper end of the wealth distribution by using tax data or rich lists, and I'd expect that to lessen the small-sample bias T&D identify.)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-06-28T19:55:03.109Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

OK, so, I think this has helped me pinpoint the root of the disagreement here: we have different beliefs about what the relevant statistical population is. Here are four possibilities, in increasing order of expansiveness.

1. The statistical population is whatever big sample one can get one's hands on.

2. The statistical population is the literal population of (working-age? adult?) people in a place of interest at a given time.

3. The statistical population is that implied by "a truncated power law", with its bounds "placed at the limits of what is possible".

4. The statistical population is that implied by a power law with only a lower bound.

(1) is what E_N apparently believes I endorse, even though it's obviously a stupid choice based on confusing sample & population. I actually contend (2). You propose (3). T&D seem to assume (4).

I introduced (3) to demonstrate that it has almost the same observational properties as (4). If the bounds are drawn widely enough that no member of a population of the given size drawn from the full distribution is likely to exceed the truncation, then that population has exactly the same properties as if drawn from the full distribution.

The proper concept of "population" is an important issue in statistics, the two main concepts being "all actually existing examples" (your (2)) and "all hypothetical examples that could be produced by the causal process responsible for creating the existing examples, in the proportions that they would be produced" ((3) and (4)). Each of these concepts has its uses, but both are called "the population". This can produce confusion. There is no such thing as the "right" concept, only the concept that is relevant to whatever the context is.

I believe that some statisticians argue that the "hypothetical" concept of population is moonshine, but I don't know if that view has a serious following. (I am not a statistician.) WWJS? (What Would Jaynes Say?)

If you just want to describe the existing population, e.g. finding what proportion of the wealth is currently owned by the currently richest 1% of the population, then you are talking about the first. If you want to make predictions about other populations, e.g. what proportion of the wealth will be owned by the top 1% if the population doubles and the Gini coefficient remains the same, then the hypothetical concept is involved: you have to calculate the expected value of the top centile on the basis that the new population is a random sample from the full distribution.

The practical point made by the Taleb and Douadi paper, put in terms of observations of actual populations, is that for a fixed value of the Gini coefficient, as the population grows, the actual top 1% will come to own an increasing fraction of the total wealth. This will happen not because of any change in the causal mechanisms by which people acquire differing wealth, but just because the population is larger and is statistically likely to explore more of the fat tail. Observing such an increase therefore cannot be used to argue that the rich are being increasingly favoured, unless a correction is first made to account for this effect.

As a footnote, I also note that the paper does not consider the issue of how accurately the power law fits the distribution of wealth, especially at its extremes. By definition, if the entire population of the country has only explored a certain way into the tail, it provides no evidence for how far the power law distribution continues beyond that point. One might justify the use of the power law as being some sort of maxent prior (I don't know if it is), but that amounts to the same thing: a profession of maximal ignorance about the whole distribution, conditional on having observed the actual population, and one would have to be willing to update to a different law on discovering that the tail actually stopped. If one was doing science, and had a well-understood mechanism that could be demonstrated to yield a power law distribution, then one would have more solid grounds for applying it.

comment by satt · 2014-06-30T19:39:07.781Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with every paragraph there but one. Unfortunately the paragraph I disagree with is the important one.

The practical point made by the Taleb and Douadi paper, put in terms of observations of actual populations, is that for a fixed value of the Gini coefficient, as the population grows, the actual top 1% will come to own an increasing fraction of the total wealth. This will happen not because of any change in the causal mechanisms by which people acquire differing wealth, but just because the population is larger and is statistically likely to explore more of the fat tail. Observing such an increase therefore cannot be used to argue that the rich are being increasingly favoured, unless a correction is first made to account for this effect.

If that is the practical point made by T&D — and I'm not sure it is — it seems to me fallacious. Doesn't it amount to saying, "the parameters baked into the underlying data-generating process we posit may be constant, so who cares that the actually existing level of inequality is increasing?" It confuses what I really care about (actual inequality) with the imperfect model (the power law) of what I really care about.

There's also a risk of equivocating about what "the rich are being increasingly favoured" means. If it means "the power-law-producing process which, by assumption, decides people's incomes & wealth is itself changing over time to favour the rich", then that would be falsified by the underlying power law being constant over time. If it actually means instead e.g. "the economy will distribute a growing proportion of its output to the rich" or "underlying causal economic processes enable positive feedback loops that engender Matthew effects for income and/or wealth", then it is quite consistent with the underlying power law being constant over time.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-07-03T16:11:16.655Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If that is the practical point made by T&D — and I'm not sure it is — it seems to me fallacious. Doesn't it amount to saying, "the parameters baked into the underlying data-generating process we posit may be constant, so who cares that the actually existing level of inequality is increasing?"

Taleb is not talking about what one might care about, but pointing out some mathematical facts about fat-tailed distributions (distributions with a power-law tail) and quantiles. The population top centile, he shows, can be a substantially biased underestimate of the distribution top centile, even for very large populations (100 million).

Among the consequences of this is that if you take ten countries, each with the same value for the top centile, and aggregate them, the top centile of the combined population may be substantially larger. In that situation, what is the "real" fraction of wealth of the top 1%? The value for any individual country, or the value for the aggregate? Would the answer depend on whether the countries were all economically isolated from each other?

It confuses what I really care about (actual inequality) with the imperfect model (the power law) of what I really care about.

I've never understood what people find so objectionable about inequality. Poverty, yes, inequality, no. To me, what is wrong with some people being rich while others starve is only that some starve. It bothers me not at all that among those who are not poor, some are vastly wealthier than others, even though I am not one of them.

If your objection to the richness of the rich is a claim that it is causally responsible for the poorness of the poor, then you are interested in underlying mechanisms described by the distribution.

comment by satt · 2014-07-04T06:01:30.572Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Taleb is not talking about what one might care about, but pointing out some mathematical facts about fat-tailed distributions (distributions with a power-law tail) and quantiles.

The practical import of those mathematical facts lies ultimately in their relevance to features of the concrete world. If they do not bear on features of the concrete world which you or I care about, then they may have intrinsic beauty as mathematical results, but it would be mere misleading mathsturbation to present them as practically significant, as T&D do.

In that situation, what is the "real" fraction of wealth of the top 1%? The value for any individual country, or the value for the aggregate?

Whichever "is relevant to whatever the context is". If the actual region of interest were the aggregate, the relevant value would be that for the aggregate.

If your objection to the richness of the rich is a claim that it is causally responsible for the poorness of the poor, then you are interested in underlying mechanisms described by the distribution.

The mechanisms entail a particular distribution, or family of distributions, and in this case the mechanisms are underspecified given the distribution. (Hence my pointing out that the phrase "the rich are being increasingly favoured" "is quite consistent with the underlying power law being constant over time".)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-07-06T11:17:10.218Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If your objection to the richness of the rich is a claim that it is causally responsible for the poorness of the poor, then you are interested in underlying mechanisms described by the distribution.

The mechanisms entail a particular distribution, or family of distributions, and in this case the mechanisms are underspecified given the distribution. (Hence my pointing out that the phrase "the rich are being increasingly favoured" "is quite consistent with the underlying power law being constant over time".)

"Increasingly favoured" is a statement about mechanisms. If the mechanisms remain the same as the population increases, then every individual who ends up rich is still working within the same mechanisms. It's just that when the population increases, chance alone, operating on the same mechanisms, will produce many richer individuals.

Technically, the population top centile is a biased underestimate of the distribution value even for a thin-tailed distribution, but for those distributions the bias is unmeasurably small with country-sized populations.

comment by satt · 2014-07-08T22:51:20.063Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Increasingly favoured" is a statement about mechanisms.

When you personally state it, or in general when it's stated by anyone? If the former, fair enough. If the latter, I disagree (cf. the last paragraph of an earlier comment). As a down-to-earth example, if I lost a game of Monopoly to you and afterwards ruefully remarked that "the dice were favouring you more & more towards the end", I would not automatically be accusing of having swapped the original dice for a different set of dice partway through the game.

If the mechanisms remain the same as the population increases, then every individual who ends up rich is still working within the same mechanisms. It's just that when the population increases, chance alone, operating on the same mechanisms, will produce many richer individuals.

Right (accepting arguendo the premise that the relevant mechanisms imply a power law-like distribution with α appreciably less than 2). And in that situation one could react as T&D might, i.e. by arguing that since the mechanisms remain the same, the resulting increase in equality is chimerical. Alternatively, one could react as I would, i.e. by arguing that an increase in some quantitative property of a concrete group of people does not magically become chimerical just because it arises from immutable mechanisms. (This is essentially the disagreement I laid out before between definitions (3) & (4) and definition (2) of the relevant statistical population.)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-07-09T05:57:14.736Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Increasingly favoured" is a statement about mechanisms.

When you personally state it, or in general when it's stated by anyone?

Ok, those words could be used for either meaning -- to the confusion of discussion. T&D do say:

So examining times series, we can easily get a historical illusion of rise in wealth concentration when it has been there all along.

which could also be read in either sense. But the population centile and the mechanisms whereby people get rich are what they are. They are both real things, the divergence of which does not make either less real than the other.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-07-01T00:50:19.924Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A possibility that the paper does not raise is that instead of calculating the actual wealth held by the actual top 1%, you could estimate the Gini coefficient from the whole population, and calculate a theoretical 1% wealth.

Taleb would probably object on the grounds that the above will lead misleading results if the population is actually composed of a supper position of several distinct populations with different Gini coefficients.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-07-03T15:51:35.326Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

His paper does go into these and other elaborations of the basic point.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-06-02T07:47:20.870Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I like the idea of vote copying. With good implementation, it would make entering politics easier and cheaper, just like blogging made story publishing easier and cheaper. Specialization means that there will always be a specialized "political class", but the costs of entry (in both dollars and number of followers) could be significantly reduced. Right now, you need thousands of followers and millions of dollars to start a political party. With a good system, if there are five people willing to follow your vote, you could already have a micro-party.

Some thoughts about implementation:

Public or private voting? The advantage of private voting is that your neighbors can't punish you for voting for the "wrong" party. Even if you are a politician, a member of a party X, it is unlikely that you would vote for someone else; but still your vote is secret. I think this feature is necessary to preserve. So there should be a private vote, which cannot be made public in any way; and an optional "voting recommendation", which is public, and is just an information for other people to read. The voting recommendation could simply be an option, plus a link to your web page where you explain the reasons. This format would allow easy aggregation -- let's say that you "follow" ten politicians, look at their recommendations, and if nine of them agree on something, you vote for it, or if there is more disagreement, you read their blogs and decide.

Your private vote could be an opposite of your public recommendation, which is a feature. Imagine that you live in a fanatically religious community, some vote is proposed, and the religious leader commands all their believers to make a public voting recommendation for some law. You have the option to make a public recommendation with some super lame reasons, to avoid punishment from your community, and then secretly vote the other way round.

Since the votes are separated from voting recommendation, with a good infrastructure you could separate the voting recommendations from your identity. In other words, you could become an "anonymous politician". Just a blogger who recommends this or that, everyone can follow your opinions, but no one knows who you are. Not sure how resistant this would be against doxing (also depends on who would own the servers). You could have multiple profiles, for example the same recommendations but different explanations, for different audiences. Or even different recommendations: one for your religious community, and one for everyone else; there is no need for anyone to know that these two are the same person.

An equivalent of a political party could have one common account; they would have some internal decision mechanism about how to determine their public vote if there is an internal disagreement (they could describe it in the linked blog post, or precommit to keep quiet).

So at the end I imagine something like direct democracy, with an infrastructure that would also allow you to just copy your political party's opinions. For the case of privacy, you could probably discuss the whole thing online, but then you have to go to the voting room to make a vote on paper (to prevent someone literally or metaphorically putting a gun to your head while you vote online from home).

comment by Psychosmurf · 2014-06-05T03:02:52.426Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What we do think we know is that politics is a great way to bring out the irrationality in people.

Yes, and the irrationality comes in before the discussion even has a chance. In these kinds of discussions, almost without fail, people take their circumstances as a given, and then ask what set of policies would be optimal. The (mistaken) assumption being that their circumstances are immutable while policy is entirely malleable and controllable. The opposite is true. That is, we have the most control over our own situation, and the least control over public policy (effectively none).

Inevitably, people in different circumstances will have different preferences over policy outcomes, and so the discussion degenerates into people bickering about which set of policies is "best", i.e. everyone tells everyone else that their preferences are wrong (and then they try to rationalize their preferences in order to "prove" that they are the correct ones, and then arguments become soldiers and so on and so forth).

Virtually every single "debate" in politics is dissolved once one questions the assumption above. If we have almost no control over public policy, then is it even worth considering our preferences over them? To illustrate, a question like "should the government raise taxes?" is about as relevant as "should Jupiter be painted blue?" if I can do nothing to effect either case.

I propose that we turn politics on its side. Instead of asking "Given my circumstances, what policies are best?" we should ask "Given the current policies, what circumstances are best?". That is we should be engaging in is sociopolitical Munchkinism. We ought to be studying the sociopolitical system and taking advantage of its patterns and loopholes. The best political ideas are those that most improve the circumstances of a given person. There are many objective measures one could use to evaluate them. That would be the only way to have a rational discussion of politics.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-06-09T16:27:57.863Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

we should ask "Given the current policies, what circumstances are best?".

I guess it's to be born in a powerful family of oligarchs, preferably ones that are not abusive to their children, as an intelligent non-asperger person who can learn how to play the game.

We ought to be studying the sociopolitical system and taking advantage of its patterns and loopholes.

Uhm... any useful reincarnation tips?

Actually, I like your idea. I am just not sure how big change could we make "merely" by studying the system and applying the advantages. More than zero, certainly, but we could still be kinda disappointed with the result, because we expected more. (Also, it may require us to sacrifice some other values.)

But taking advantage of the system seems to me like an experimental verification that your model is correct.

This reminds me: many years ago, one of my friends expressed a strong political opinion that in capitalism you don't need any skills or work to get rich; you just have to start with some money and then it automatically makes more money. Thus people born in rich families get more rich, and others don't have a chance. I said that to make your money make more money, you still need some plan, and you need to execute it, which not literally eveyone can do. My friend objected that you just pay other people to do the work and the thinking for you, and that's all.

At that moment I started playing with numbers, and showed my friend that he could get enough money to start a company and pay two or three people for one year... which according to his simplistic model should be enough to start the accelerating money spiral (he just needs to make one of them a manager, who would design plans and make the other person or two realize them; and then my friend can pay them fixed salary and take all the profit). I told him that if he really believes that, I will get him the money, in return for a part of the profit. My friend quickly updated his theory, and said that this is not enough, and you need 100 × more money to get to the level where money starts making other money automatically. (Of course, no justification for the number 100 was provided.)

comment by Psychosmurf · 2014-06-12T05:47:33.457Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, I like your idea. I am just not sure how big change could we make "merely" by studying the system and applying the advantages. More than zero, certainly, but we could still be kinda disappointed with the result, because we expected more. (Also, it may require us to sacrifice some other values.)

Well more than zero is still more than zero, right? I think if you expect to be disappointed by the results of an endeavor, then you may as well revise your expectations downward from the start, so I don't see that as much of an obstacle. (I also don't believe in the existence of values, so no problem there either).

This reminds me: many years ago, one of my friends expressed a strong political opinion that in capitalism you don't need any skills or work to get rich; you just have to start with some money and then it automatically makes more money. Thus people born in rich families get more rich, and others don't have a chance. I said that to make your money make more money, you still need some plan, and you need to execute it, which not literally eveyone can do. My friend objected that you just pay other people to do the work and the thinking for you, and that's all.

I actually agree with your friend that you don't need any special skills to get rich(er) (neither in capitalism nor in any other socioeconomic system), you just have to do the bare minimum required not to sink your business, (and yes you can pay other people to do the work and the thinking for you), but I would disagree with the notion that this will lead to automatic success.

Since there are many more poor people than rich people, it follows that not only is it difficult for poor people to become rich but also that it is easy for rich people to become poor. Some rich people get richer, but most get poorer. (Nonetheless, I do believe that the richer you are the harder it is to fall to a given level of wealth) Hence, it is my belief that the most successful businessmen are outliers and their success is mostly due to variables that are out of their control.

Ultimately, I think your friend's reluctance toward your plan was justified (though maybe not for the same reasons he had).

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-05T04:03:45.322Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

we should ask "Given the current policies, what circumstances are best?" ... The best political ideas are those that most improve the circumstances of a given person.

That's a good point, the only problem is that has nothing to do with politics as commonly understood. You are just changing subjects, not turning the politics on its head.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-23T12:25:31.257Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Capitalism as Delayed Gratification. You don't "have capitalism" you have a mixed system, wit fairly strong elements of redistribution, and a large private sector that is regulated but not micromanaged. Cranking up redistribution is not a disconntinuous shift, to socialism, as some commentators would have you believe. Cycling between free market-ish solutions and redistribution-ish solutions is an emergent feature of most democracies and therefore does not need to be invented.

comment by blacktrance · 2014-06-02T17:36:52.645Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In addition to the already mentioned differences in values and incentives when having a government official decide for you, there is also an information problem - a more intelligent person can do worse than you when deciding for you because they lack your local knowledge, both of your situation and your preferences.

comment by chaosmage · 2014-06-02T11:16:41.047Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If the average government official is smarter than the average member of the populace, it's potentially a win to have the government make decisions for population members.

Let's assume the average government official is smarter than the average member of the populace - of North Korea. Is this "potentially" a win, and for whom?

I think you need to make your reasoning conditional to what Karl Popper considered to be the necessary ingredient for free societies: The ability to remove the government without violence.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-02T19:40:02.659Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Note that much of US government at all levels is a civil service next to impossible to remove by political means, and I assume this is similarly true in most politically "stable" countries.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-03T01:28:15.841Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I assume this is similarly true in most politically "stable" countries.

Well, during the 19th century the US had a system whereby the entire civil service was replaced whenever the party in power changed.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-03T19:03:07.983Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Pretty sensible. I believe people eventually concluded that this was terribly partisan and corrupt. Which it was. But the current alternative is a vested aristocracy with a perpetual right to rule.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-06-02T09:11:22.652Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

representative sample of ten thousand smart neutral people is plenty.

I can be neutral about politics of Bahrain but I per definition can't be neutral about the politics of the country in which I'm living. Being a citizen of a country means having interests.

The obsession about neutrality in US political discourse is quite a strange thing.

Specialization of labor FTW.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita says in the Dictators handbook: "The difference between tyrants and democrats is just a convenient fiction. Governments do not differ in kind but only in the number of essential supporters, or backs that need scratching."

Defining having a lot of essential supporters as waste leads you in the wrong direction.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-06-03T02:02:21.698Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita says in the Dictators handbook: "The difference between tyrants and democrats is just a convenient fiction. Governments do not differ in kind but only in the number of essential supporters, or backs that need scratching."

Isn't that an awfully convenient position to find in a Dictator's handbook?

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-06-03T08:15:23.354Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is one of the most data driven political analysts out there. He has a big computer model in which he feeds various expert assessments of political situations and uses them to make political forecasts for the CIA and DoD.

He for example predicted the second Intifada two years in advance, When he makes the statement he means that his mathematical models make better predictions when he makes those assumptions. Bueno makes money with selling high quality forecasts. He doesn't make money with selling books. The point of the book is more about serving as advertisement for his expertise.

comment by torekp · 2014-06-03T00:53:14.223Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And also: regarding "waste", there's a glaring fact about a great many humans, summarized in Aristotle's "man is a political animal." Politics, like dancing or making music, is something a great many people find directly fulfilling.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-06-03T02:49:02.574Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I noticed something interesting reading the comments on this thread. I consider myself to be someone who's politically non-ideological (that is to say, I don't identify with any particular political affiliation), and when I wrote my post, I was feeling playful... I didn't have any strong feelings about what I was writing about. Similar to how one might feel if one was trying to figure out the best strategy for beating a video game. However, reading the comments to this post, I find myself getting annoyed with the commenters for the political bias I perceive in them. The emotion I feel is similar to how I felt talking about politics during an earlier period of my life when I would classify myself as politically ideological. Therefore, I propose that the politics "mindkiller" functions as something of a memetic virus, in the sense that if someone starts to converse in a partisan way, others are likely to respond in kind. The quote in this post constitutes further evidence for this position.

Takeaway: Think really carefully before discussing something in a partisan way, especially if it's never been discussed in a partisan way before.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-03T03:00:53.231Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I consider myself to be someone who's politically non-ideological,

I think the problem is that being "politically non-ideological" is a meaningless phrase. Rather, if someone describes himself as "non-ideological" that generally means he's bought into his ideology so strongly that he no longer perceives it as an ideology.

comment by blacktrance · 2014-06-03T04:35:29.646Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Or someone whose ideology isn't one of the mainstream ones, and thus is rarely stated explicitly.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-06-03T05:41:29.216Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you feel angry, defensive, threatened, annoyed, or aggressive when you think about politics? Then you might be an ideologue. Do you feel curious, compassionate, thoughtful, surprised, or playful when you think about politics? Then you might not be an ideologue. Personally, my intuition is that a conversation in most any domain, politics included, with a curious thoughtful person is likely to be much more productive than a conversation with an angry, defensive one (where productivity is defined as learning what the truth is).

Rather, if someone describes himself as "non-ideological" that generally means he's bought into his ideology so strongly that he no longer perceives it as an ideology.

I know nothing about Australian politics. Am I allowed to refer to myself as non-ideological when it comes to Australian politics? Or do I have an ideology regarding Australian politics that's so strong that I don't even perceive it as an ideology? ;) [winky face is supposed to put you in a curious, playful mindset ;)]

To take my point even further: do I have an ideology regarding the best way to use a bucket full of Legos? What is it about politics that causes everyone to have an ideology a priori? It sounds as though you think that thinking about politics the same way I think about the best way to use a bucket of Legos is somehow ruled out by definition. Would you say that's an accurate summary of your position?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-04T00:42:35.318Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you feel angry, defensive, threatened, annoyed, or aggressive when you think about politics? Then you might be an ideologue.

Or, you might be someone who has values and recognizes that the political ideas of others harms those values.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-06-04T01:06:53.796Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Sure... and as soon as you've made that transition to seeing politics in terms of conflict, then you've become more of an ideologue, according to how I've been using the term. So ideally you want yourself and others to make that transition as late as possible (or not at all) because once you get in that state, your rationality is impaired, defection spirals are possible, and finding mutual wins becomes more difficult.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-04T07:15:52.051Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sure... and as soon as you've made that transition to seeing politics in terms of conflict, then you've become more of an ideologue,

You've become more accurate in your assessment of the situation.

So ideally you want yourself and others to make that transition as late as possible (or not at all)

That's not my ideal.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-06-05T02:50:27.488Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that many political arguments are not about values, e.g. people both for and against nuclear power will typically argue that their way of doing things will be better for the environment. My guess is that nuclear power debates would be more productive if participants did not see things in terms of conflict. Do you disagree?

Elsewhere in this thread you say that politics brings out the worst in you rationality-wise. It doesn't sound like you agree with my proposed explanation for why this might be happening. I'd be quite curious to hear yours.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-05T20:30:50.135Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that many political arguments are not about values

Political conflict comes from conflicts over facts and values. Facts are relatively easy to establish. Values simply conflict.

people both for and against nuclear power will typically argue that their way of doing things will be better for the environment.

Where "better" drops the context of "better according to my values", so that better to me is not better to you. Better is a value judgment, and our values are not identical.

People are hopeless to talk politics with until they grok this.

The first thing to do in any honest negotiation is to mutually communicate your values.

Elsewhere in this thread you say that politics brings out the worst in you rationality-wise.

People tend to think poorly when something is on the line, in conflict with what others have on the line. But there is a conceptual difficulty prior to that, where they mistake their preferences for facts of the universe, equally applicable to all.

It's difficult to be rational when you're in conflict with others about significant values. It's next to impossible if your fundamental concepts structurally commit you to error about the reality of the conflict.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-05T20:46:33.209Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Political conflict comes from conflicts over facts and values. Facts are relatively easy to establish. Values simply conflict.

Not only that -- there are also models (which, for the purposes of this thread, we can define as maps that produce forecasts).

To reuse the example in the grandfather post, Alice and Bob arguing about nuclear power could have exactly the same values and agree about the facts. However Alice has a model which forecasts that in a hundred years nuclear power leads to radioactive deserts and Bob has a model which forecasts that in a hundred years nuclear power leads to nothing but some safely hidden away containers with radioactive waste.

Alice and Bob differ in their expectations of the future -- that's neither facts nor values.

(Yes, I'm familiar with the Aumann's Theorem, but it just doesn't work in reality)

where they mistake their preferences for facts of the universe

Yes, I agree it's really hard to talk to people who don't realize this.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-05T23:21:20.794Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not only that -- there are also models

Yeah, it's probably worthwhile to separate out models and their predictions from facts.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-06-05T23:05:15.365Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Facts are relatively easy to establish.

Tell that to a scientist (one who establishes facts as a profession).

Where "better" drops the context of "better according to my values", so that better to me is not better to you. Better is a value judgment, and our values are not identical.

I disagree this is the case for folks who argue about nuclear power.

comment by blacktrance · 2014-06-03T18:10:34.427Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

By "ideological", do you mean "partisan"? If not, could you taboo "ideology"/"ideological"/"non-ideological"?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-04T00:20:14.855Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I know nothing about Australian politics.

Yes, you do. I assume you're at least aware that it's a parliamentary constitutional monarchy with norms resembling those on other advanced western democracies.

Am I allowed to refer to myself as non-ideological when it comes to Australian politics?

You have an ideology about how governments ought to work, you may not know enough about Australia to know what its doing wrong or which party is closest to pushing things in the wright direction, but if you did the research you'd either find yourself sympathizing with one of them or conclude that all of them are insane and advocate some radical (from the point of view of internal Australian politics) position that hardly anyone there is advocating.

Let's replace Australia with something like Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Belarus, or Kazakhstan. I'm guessing you probably know about as little about at least one of those countries as you know about Australia and yet you probably have opinions about what's wrong with those countries.

To take my point even further: do I have an ideology regarding the best way to use a bucket full of Legos?

You have priors and preconceptions about it.

What is it about politics that causes everyone to have an ideology a priori?

Because the word "ideology" is generally used to refer specifically to politics.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-06-03T03:56:31.902Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting! That's a notion that I would generally associate with the postmodernist academic left.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-03T04:00:54.492Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The difference is I believe that some ideologies are truer, i.e., better correspond to reality, than others.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-03T15:17:32.929Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am not sure "truth" or match to reality is a useful metric to apply to ideologies. Ideologies are mostly normative and prescriptive. Their two basic ways of failure are (1) produce a system which is unlike what the ideology wanted and/or expected; and (2) produce a system which you find unacceptable because of a major mismatch with your values.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-04T00:03:34.019Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ideologies frequently make falsifiable statements. They tend to say X is true so one should do Y to produce good outcome Z. The statements "X is true", and "doing Y produces outcome Z" are both falsifiable. Granted the statement "outcome Z is good" is harder to analyze given the current state of metaethics, but in practice one can get remarkably far just looking at the first two statements.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-04T00:51:18.520Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ideologies frequently make falsifiable statements.

Ideologies rarely make easily falsifiable statements.

Karl Marx said that a proletarian revolution will lead to heaven on Earth. This is a falsifiable statement (and it was successfully falsified), but in order to falsify it you have to try it which is often all an ideology wants.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-04T05:41:15.647Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ideologies rarely make easily falsifiable statements.

Agreed, my point is that it is still meaningful to speak about ideologies being right or wrong.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-06-03T04:26:10.744Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's not a difference.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-23T12:02:23.854Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Interests are important. If Jane is a well informed rich person, and you are a poor person, handing your vote to Jane might not end in a solution that is optimized to your interests.

Liquid Democracy sounds OK if everyone is equal and all transactions are voluntary,, but those are naive assumptions. I can envisage situations, where, eg, some Victorian style paterfamilias browbeats his family into handing over their votes. Perhaps listening to well informed commentators and then casting your own vote is the low hanging fruit here.

comment by trist · 2014-06-02T17:35:44.955Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The "be a sheep" voting system is also known as assignment voting.

comment by ntroPi · 2014-06-03T08:38:57.506Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I know it as Liquid Democracy or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delegative_democracy

comment by trist · 2014-06-03T16:43:12.456Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Nothing like a good idea to get lots of names.

comment by Illano · 2014-06-02T15:13:42.970Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Your vote redirection idea is interesting, but a simple 1 to 1 mapping may make it just as difficult to find a surrogate voter as it is to research a valid candidate. I've tossed around the idea of a learning system where you could log your preference for multiple issues, then based on those preferences, the system could predict your preference on future issues based on the logged preferences of others. I think a system like that would be a great aid for representatives to use to visualize the current thoughts of their constituents, and could be an intermediate step towards the system you propose here.

comment by Squark · 2014-06-02T12:56:55.914Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Regarding vote redirection in a direct democracy. Straightforward implementation is incompatible with ballot secrecy. This can be remedied by allowing each person to cast two votes: a public vote and a private vote. Redirected votes copy the value of the public vote, but only private votes are counted directly.

comment by roystgnr · 2014-06-02T15:25:02.973Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Ballot secrecy is to protect against intimidation, right? But in a vote-redirection scheme, intimidation is likely to focus on the more popular "nodes", and all it needs to affect is the public vote. If you can bully someone into changing their public vote and thereby changing the private votes of their multitude of followers, who cares if their single private vote was unchanged?

comment by Squark · 2014-06-05T18:19:03.934Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The meganodes would be public figures which would be difficult to intimidate. Even if you succeed in intimidating one, her followers might realize that and redirect their votes elsewhere.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-06-03T08:11:23.261Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you can bully someone into changing their public vote and thereby changing the private votes of their multitude of followers, who cares if their single private vote was unchanged?

If someone is a politician, and a member of a party X, it seems likely that they would vote for the party X. This seems to be analogical to the public vote. Why exactly aren't we afraid that the politicians would be bullied to join the opposing party?

Probably because most people aren't politicians, and if you think that after entering politics you could be bullied into joining the party of your enemy, then you have the option of not becoming a politician. And if you don't even have that option, then the country is probably not a democracy under a meaningful definition.

To preserve this, I'd suggest the public vote to be an exception, not the rule. (Also, it should be okay to vote publicly on one topic, and abstain from voting about other topics.) By default, you didn't make a public vote. That would probably be enough so that 90% of people will never make one. So you can pretend to be one of them.

But yes, there is a legitimate concern that the easier it is to express one's political opinion, the easier it is for their employer or their family to pressure them into expressing someone else's opinion. The barrier against voluntary participation in politics also acts a barrier against such involuntary participation.

Fuck, sometimes I think that it would be best to completely fragment our identities, and pose as completely different people in different context. So there could be a professional!Viliam who doesn't have opinions about anything else than design patterns in Java, the friendly!Viliam who only posts pictures of cute kittens on social networks, and the political!Viliam who hates religion and irrationality, and no one could connect these three identities together. It would be good to have it done so easily that creating a new identity for a new context would be trivially easy.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-06-02T23:40:30.754Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Good point. My understanding is that we don't keep the votes of our elected representative secret, so it doesn't seem like that much of a loss to have all public votes be public.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-06-02T08:51:11.597Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It also saves me time, and gives Jane an incentive to put even more time in to carefully considering political issues since she now controls two votes instead of one. Done on a large scale, this could provide an interesting twist on representative democracy.

The idea is called liquid democracy.

As far as practical attempts to implement it goes there's https://makeyourlaws.org/ and Liquid Feedback that for example get's used by the pirate party in Germany.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-06-02T01:38:13.581Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As far as "be a sheep"; most people are doing this already to some extent. They draw their opinions from a combination of media they watch and friends and social groups they identify with. Directly evaluating a policy can be very difficult, so they instead rely on a network of trusted opinions.

Letting people do it totally passively, however, could be bad. We know that people lean heavily towards default behavior when possible. So if the person you mirror starts deviating substantially from what you expect of them, you will be unlikely to change your preferences in a timely manner.

There's a whole host of other problems with such a system that make its marginal advantages seem not worthwhile.

Capitalism vs socialism debates generally happen without acknowledging that the vast majority of the world uses a relatively narrow spectrum of hybrid systems. Some free markets, some social safety nets and regulations.

Pure socialism and pure free markets have rarely existed at any sort of scale or for any substantial length of time.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-06-02T09:12:05.088Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Letting people do it totally passively, however, could be bad. We know that people lean heavily towards default behavior when possible. So if the person you mirror starts deviating substantially from what you expect of them, you will be unlikely to change your preferences in a timely manner.

Consider that under our current system of representative democracy, politicians are typically up for re-election only every ~4 years, incumbents have a strong advantage in elections, and people ideologically cling to a single party for an entire lifetime. If my idea were the status quo and you suggested a shift to our current system of representative democracy, I might point to gerrymandering or the possibility of a hung parliament as arguments against such a shift.

It'd be easy to have peoples' political preferences expire every X years and force them to re-confirm them. To simulate the effect of term limits, you could cap the number of votes a person could control or the duration for which a person could have their votes be auto-copied.

There's a whole host of other problems with such a system

Go on if you like!

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-02T17:16:30.076Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

people ideologically cling to a single party for an entire lifetime.

[Citation needed]

Counter-meme: "If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain."

comment by Nornagest · 2014-06-02T17:37:06.968Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This paper references Green, Palmquist, and Schickler (2002) finding .97 correlation across surveys for party identification after correcting for methodological issues: not necessarily lifelong, but about as stable as anything I've seen in social science.

I haven't been able to find the Green paper on the open Web, though.

comment by gwern · 2014-06-02T18:05:58.023Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Green et al 2002 is a book according to the bibliography: Partisan Hearts and Minds: Political Parties and the Social Identities of Voters. No surprise it's not on the open web.

You can find it on Libgen: http://lib.freescienceengineering.org/view.php?id=557285 (If you did check Libgen and failed, I'd guess it's because you searched the full title, which fails, rather than just 'partisan hearts and minds', which succeeds; I've noticed the Libgen search engines seem to have problems with long titles and/or colons.)

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-02T17:45:29.673Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

97% correlation in social studies raises a red flag for me...

A real-life example: the switch of the (white) US South from voting Democrat to voting Republican in early 1970s and forwards.

comment by gwern · 2014-06-02T18:14:09.320Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't find it much more surprising than, say, a 97% correlation between being male in one survey and male in another, or 'American' in one survey and 'American' in another, or 'Catholic' in one survey and the next. Political identity is deeply fundamental to people - 'politics is the mind-killer', remember?

A real-life example: the switch of the (white) US South from voting Democrat to voting Republican in early 1970s and forwards.

At least in the case of Goren's linked paper, an extremely high stability would be unsurprising since the data period is a fairly normal period: "data from the 1992–94–96 National Election Study panel survey" (although only fairly since this was, after all, during the Gingrich period).

Using the Libgen link above for Green et al 2002, you can verify that the 0.97 estimate is not a misquote, and by browsing the various tables, you can see that in all listed surveys the persistence of partisanship is extremely high. In fact, they also discuss your example, starting on pg85:

Because partisan attachments predict how individuals vote, the distribution of these attachments in the electorate has important consequences for election outcomes. Although the outcome of each election reflects the idiosyncrasies of personality, campaign events, and policy stances, it remains the case that candidates tend to fare better at the polls when their fellow partisans constitute a larger share of the electorate.

...This point is illustrated vividly by the partisan politics of the South. In the s, the overwhelming majority of Southern voters called themselves Democrats, and Republican candidates seldom won seats in the U.S. House. Indeed, recognizing their slim chances of victory in these Democratic strongholds, few Republicans bothered to run at all. A half century later, the situation is reversed, and Democrats struggle to field viable candidates in Republican enclaves from South Carolina to Texas.

[Table 4.1. How the Distribution of Party Identification Affected Presidential Voting, 1960 and 2000]

The influence of partisanship on presidential election outcomes can be illustrated by a counterfactual exercise. The election of  produced a dead heat between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Gore received .% of the vote, to Bush’s .%, only to lose narrowly in the Electoral College. In this election, according to the NES survey, Gore received % of the vote from Democrats, % from Independents, and % from Republicans.1 As shown in Table ., these numbers resemble voting patterns in , another close presidential contest between a sitting vice president, Richard Nixon, and a challenger, John F. Kennedy. Gore, although more successful in garnering votes from Democrats than Kennedy, labored under a disadvantage. Democrats comprised % of the voting electorate in  compared with % in . If the electorate of  had the same balance of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents as the electorate of , Gore would have won an additional % of the vote. Although the forgoing example artificially assumes that nothing about the contestants would have changed in a different partisan environment, the basic point remains: The relative proportions of Democrats and Republicans can be quite important politically. The significance of the partisan balance, which MacKuen, Erikson, and Stimson () have termed macropartisanship, is reflected in the intense scholarly interest in an array of interrelated research questions. How stable is the partisan balance, and to what extent does it change in the wake of economic downturns or political scandal? Are the misfortunes of the political parties inscribed in the allegiances of voters, and if so, for how long? If the aggregate distribution of partisanship varies over time, what does that suggest about the nature of individuals’ party attachments?

In this chapter, we take a closer look at the behavior of partisanship in the aggregate. Using summary statistics on the ratio of Democrats to Republicans, we show that the distribution of partisanship evolves slowly over time, both during and between election campaigns. When times are good, the partisan balance tips gradually in favor of the party that controls the White House; when scandal or economic downturn erodes presidential popularity, the outparty draws more adherents. Aggregate time-series analysis, in other words, allows us to better understand the “time shocks” that we posited in our investigation of individual-level panel data. The microlevel and macrolevel processes fit together in a coherent fashion.

Described in this way, macropartisan movement conjures images of a public rationally choosing its partisan allegiances on the basis of expectations about party competence, but one must bear in mind the sluggish pace with which this process unfolds over time. In the last chapter, we saw that time shocks of appreciable size rarely turn up in panel data. The present chapter underscores this point, showing that the aggregate distribution of partisanship seldom shifts abruptly. Instead, change tends to occur gradually, so that only dramatic changes in party fortunes sustained over long stretches of time are sufficient to produce politically significant swings in the balance of Democrats and Republicans. Even so, we find changes in economic performance and presidential popularity alone to be insufficient explanations for what are generally termed realignments. Although both factors played an important role in the transformation of Northern party loyalties during the New Deal and Southern party loyalties during the s, the partisan movement that occurred went beyond what can be explained by reference to short-term political conditions. To explain the magnitude of these changes, one must take into account the transformation of the social stereotypes of the parties, a theme to which we will return in Chapter .

That is, huge political re-alignments can be caused by subtle population shifts (because political races are typically decided by very tiny margins compared to the overall population; remember how few people even vote) over long time periods (because we telescope the time periods in retrospect), and so this is perfectly consistent with the extreme durability of partisan identity.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-02T18:32:18.157Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Political identity is deeply fundamental to people

To some people. Not to all people.

I may be falling victim to the typical mind fallacy here (my identity is not linked to any political group), but the latest Gallup poll says: "Forty-two percent of Americans, on average, identified as political independents in 2013, the highest Gallup has measured since it began conducting interviews by telephone 25 years ago. Meanwhile, Republican identification fell to 25%, the lowest over that time span. At 31%, Democratic identification is unchanged from the last four years but down from 36% in 2008."

The same link shows a graph for declared political affiliation and I it doesn't look likely to me that the shifts in political allegiance are solely due to some cohort dying off and another cohort growing up to be counted in the poll.

comment by Prismattic · 2014-06-03T01:44:16.940Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The myth of the Independent Political Voter

See also an earlier treatment here

comment by Nornagest · 2014-06-02T18:25:14.624Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can't say for sure without reading Green et al (edit: which I'll now do; thanks, Gwern!), but they're probably being run yearly. Assuming independence, a 3% year-on-year chance of changing parties gives roughly 20 years of stable party identification on average and 20% of all people sticking with the same party lifelong, which seems reasonable (though it's less than I was expecting).

In actuality, of course, these numbers aren't independent and a substantial portion of that variance is going to come from large-scale political events like the Southern shift you mentioned. That implies more stability in the absence of those shifts, though I don't think we have enough information to say how common lifelong party identification is. Intuitively I'd expect a lot more than 20%.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-02T18:39:14.370Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A complicating factor is that political parties change, too. There is allegiance to a political party and there is allegiance to certain political ideology -- and over time (e.g. a couple of decades) you can get a serious divergence.

they're probably being run yearly

That may make more sense -- I assumed (without a good reason) a much longer time horizon.

comment by gwern · 2014-06-02T19:26:07.118Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

and over time (e.g. a couple of decades) you can get a serious divergence.

So: politics is not about policy. But we already knew that...

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-02T19:34:51.947Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Politics is complicated and multifaceted and diverse. It is about identity, and about policy, and about power, and about money, etc. etc.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-06-02T18:55:22.411Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There is allegiance to a political party and there is allegiance to certain political ideology -- and over time (e.g. a couple of decades) you can get a serious divergence.

I wouldn't expect that to matter much. Political parties being made of people, I'd expect their ideological alignments to shift no more quickly than their constituents'; weird network effects might override this under certain circumstances, but in the context of US politics this historically doesn't seem to happen very much. (Even the Southern shift was almost exclusively about emphasis on civil rights; both parties' economic policies and broader ideologies remained more or less stable.)

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-02T19:30:15.690Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Political parties being made of people, I'd expect their ideological alignments to shift no more quickly than their constituents';

Political parties are also often made of factions. The outcomes of their power struggles might significantly change the party's character.

In general, I suspect we need to be clear about when we are speaking about human universals and when we are speaking about politics in a given country. The US political parties are not the same as, say, the European political parties and I would expect the political behaviour (e.g. party loyalty) to be noticeably different between the continents.

In particular, under a two-party system the opportunities for changing party allegiance look to me much more limited compared to under a multi-party system.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-03T01:12:15.396Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Pure socialism and pure free markets have rarely existed at any sort of scale or for any substantial length of time.

Um, Soviet Union, Cuba.

comment by TimS · 2014-06-03T01:22:27.298Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Presumably, people who support whatever "pure socialism" is think that the USSR or Cuba didn't do it right. Which justifiably raises No-True-Scotsman objections.

But I think the argument on that point is close enough that your pithy one-liner is not responsive to the general point:

Capitalism vs socialism debates generally happen without acknowledging that the vast majority of the world uses a relatively narrow spectrum of hybrid systems. Some free markets, some social safety nets and regulations.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-06-03T02:06:56.424Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Alternately, one could be looking at their extensive capitalist black markets. Those may have provided an important function without which they would have failed(/ will fail) much quicker. Just because someone says it wasn't pure communist doesn't mean that they thought that pure communist would have worked.

comment by TimS · 2014-06-03T13:29:24.804Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Everything you said is very very plausible, but it doesn't make Eugine's comment responsive to Punoxysm

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-06-03T15:24:00.450Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was agreeing with you on the point that Eugene's comment wasn't responsive, though for different reasons. Not every reply is a perfect rebuttal.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-06-03T05:19:57.834Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is pretty fair, but there's a vast spectrum of flavors of socialist economies that have never really been executed, or only existed very briefly. Soviet-style bureaucratic central planning is a very limited slice of the possible permutations.

But the fact that the other flavors (say, anarcho-syndicalism) have never existed and seem unlikely to happen anytime soon, DOES speak volumes. Just as it does in the case of purely imagined "pure capitalism".

comment by 9eB1 · 2014-06-02T06:03:49.297Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Letting people do it totally passively, however, could be bad. We know that people lean heavily towards default behavior when possible. So if the person you mirror starts deviating substantially from what you expect of them, you will be unlikely to change your preferences in a timely manner.

You could designate a group of people to set your vote for you (since we are sheep, we should call them wolves, but of course that doesn't strike the right emotional chord [except that it might foreshadow a foreseeable outcome of such a program]), and fall back on personal research if there isn't a majority or supermajority or whatever.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-06-03T01:07:32.084Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You could designate a group of people to set your vote for you

I believe they're called "political parties".

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-06-02T08:42:11.694Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Some people find sheep, flock, and Shepherd quite emotionally satisfying metaphors.

comment by 9eB1 · 2014-06-05T18:38:46.532Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, now I feel dumb.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-02T17:22:29.133Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Some people find sheep, flock, and Shepherd quite emotionally satisfying metaphors.

Well, as long as the Shepherd is a supernatural being with the power to grant eternal life... :-)

comment by lmm · 2014-06-02T18:59:20.192Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The "sheep" approach makes some things much more gameable. Lobbyists could just find people with lots of followers and bribe them (whether outright or more subtly). You could say this happens already and your proposal just makes it more efficient; true, but that's by design. It's supposed to be hard to change the nation's mind. It's supposed to be difficult to turn money into votes. I also worry that this proposal disenfranchises those who are too stupid to use the system optimally; presumably we have good reasons for wanting to live in a democracy rather than a singapore-esque technocracy.

Capitalism: Haven't we already reached the point where we should shift to the left? I mean, it's a continuum, not a discrete jump, but it seems to me that a nation as wealthy as ours has already hit the point where policies like nationalized healthcare, subsidized public transit and a high minimum wage are worth it. (Honestly I suspect most politicians agree with your core point that countries should start on the right and gradually move to the left as they get richer - my view is that there's actually quite a lot of consensus in politics, but we argue about the parts we do differ on, because there's no point arguing where there's already a consensus. So the discussion is not about whether the basic principle is true or not, but about how fast we should be moving to the left right now).

Smart vs dumb: Well, smart policies are smart and dumb policies are dumb, sure. But there are real, extrinsic differences between what government can do (enforce cooperation, avoid negative equilibria, account for some kinds of externalities, function effectively in natural monopolies) and what private industry or individuals can do (eliminate inefficiencies in competitive markets, respond rapidly to change, give minority viewpoints a chance to prove themselves) ; it's legitimate to say that certain industries or services can be more effectively run by one or the other and certain kinds of decisions should be taken by one or the other, and it's legitimate to disagree as a matter of policy over where exactly the line is.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-02T19:32:32.082Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So the discussion is not about whether the basic principle is true or not

Huh? From a normative point of view I see no reasons why poor countries should be "more on the right" and wealthy countries should be "more on the left".

comment by lmm · 2014-06-02T21:07:51.609Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know about normative, but I'm assuming the same reason given in the post - because for poor countries high growth is a priority, whereas for rich countries reducing inequality is more valuable.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-03T14:47:57.079Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

because for poor countries high growth is a priority, whereas for rich countries reducing inequality is more valuable.

Two questions. One, are you using "poor" and "rich" in absolute or relative sense? Given a society, how would it decide whether it is poor or whether it is rich?

Two, why is high growth more valuable than reducing inequality for poor countries, but it's the reverse in rich countries? Contemporary poor countries often have more inequality than the rich ones, and surely the plight of the poor people in the poor countries is much more acute than in rich?

comment by lmm · 2014-06-03T21:43:14.745Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Two questions. One, are you using "poor" and "rich" in absolute or relative sense? Given a society, how would it decide whether it is poor or whether it is rich?

I'm defining absolutely. The society would have to measure its economic productivity in some sense - GDP per capita is probably a reasonable first approximation (though it begs the question of how to denominate it). I take the view that there's a certain level at which a state pension became worthwhile (that is to say, at which taxing and funding such a thing had positive utility, in some kind of maximising-what-people-value sense), a level at which public education became worthwhile, a level at which public healthcare became worthwhile and so on (or rather, a monotonic relationship between how wealthy the nation is and how much public education it should be funding, and so on), and would expect this to be borne out by utility calculations.

Two, why is high growth more valuable than reducing inequality for poor countries, but it's the reverse in rich countries? Contemporary poor countries often have more inequality than the rich ones, and surely the plight of the poor people in the poor countries is much more acute than in rich?

The marginal value of wealth increases is much higher for poor countries, whereas the cost and utility of reducing inequality is reasonably constant.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-04T00:56:36.326Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm defining absolutely.

So, from a viewpoint of, say, a couple of hundred years from now, would you say the current Western societies are "rich"? We would probably look as poor to them as pre-industrial Europe looks to us now.

Given the whole arc of human history, absolute measures of wealth look highly suspect to me.

would expect this to be borne out by utility calculations.

Can you give a worked example of such a utility calculation?

the cost and utility of reducing inequality is reasonably constant

Why is that so? The marginal value of wealth increases and the marginal value of reducing poverty should be similar because these effects are similar.

comment by lmm · 2014-06-04T12:42:16.377Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So, from a viewpoint of, say, a couple of hundred years from now, would you say the current Western societies are "rich"? We would probably look as poor to them as pre-industrial Europe looks to us now.

Yes - and we will probably look as right-wing/unsocialist to them as pre-industrial Europe looks to us now.

Can you give a worked example of such a utility calculation?

No. I don't have the skills to do an explicit calculation, I only have a qualitative impression.

Why is that so? The marginal value of wealth increases and the marginal value of reducing poverty should be similar because these effects are similar.

"reducing poverty" is conflating two things, because general wealth increase also reduces poverty; I'm thinking of "reducing inequality" as the zero- or even negative-sum component of reducing poverty. So for a poorer country the gain to the poor from reducing inequality is larger, but so is the cost to the (relative) rich; the overall effect wouldn't scale the same way as increasing general wealth does as far as I can see.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-04T14:35:17.781Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

we will probably look as right-wing/unsocialist to them as pre-industrial Europe looks to us now.

LOL. Are you quite sure about that? You seem to be remarkably certain that Cthulhu always swims left :-D

I'm thinking of "reducing inequality" as the zero- or even negative-sum component of reducing poverty.

Ah. So if you just hang the top 1% from the lamp posts and throw all their wealth into the sea, that would be a good thing? It would certainly reduce inequality and you seem to be fine with negative-sum approaches to the issue.

comment by lmm · 2014-06-04T21:53:51.103Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to be remarkably certain that Cthulhu always swims left

Certain no, but I think the trend is real.

So if you just hang the top 1% from the lamp posts and throw all their wealth into the sea, that would be a good thing? It would certainly reduce inequality and you seem to be fine with negative-sum approaches to the issue.

If you're attempting to reduce poverty in a way that's not increasing overall wealth, then it's zero- or negative-sum in wealth terms by definition (e.g. redistributive taxation would be zero-sum except for the overhead, so it's negative-sum). I'm saying that a) some negative-wealth-sum actions (such as redistributive taxation) are positive utility in some circumstances b) an intervention that destroys X amount of wealth (or even X% of wealth) and produces Y amount of utility will be worthwhile in countries that are richer than some threshold and not worthwhile in countries that are poorer than that threshold, because the marginal utility of wealth decreases as you get richer.

(and c) these are the main kind of policies where there is left-right disagreement; everyone supports policies that increase wealth and don't increase inequality or have other negative effects).

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-05T01:11:27.069Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

...are positive utility in some circumstances ... and produces Y amount of utility

Of course, all this depends on how do you understand and calculate utility. Your statements are true for certain values of "utility" and not true for other values.

...where there is left-right disagreement; everyone supports policies that increase wealth and don't increase inequality or have other negative effects

That's actually not true. You are assuming that wealth and inequality are all that people are interested in. Let me suggest to you another value: power. For example, going a bit off the left-right axis we can find statists -- people who really like government power and think that the more the better. They don't necessarily care much about wealth (or about inequality either) -- what they care about is the power of central authority and that's the yardstick they'll be using to support (or not) certain policies.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-23T13:03:04.781Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Almost everyone values lower crime, lower stress, etc. These are cooperated with higher equality.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-23T13:00:47.303Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And who will admit to being a power loving statist?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-23T17:04:51.075Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And who will admit to being a power loving statist?

A lot of people as long as we call it "the power to right wrongs, solve problems, and lead to prosperity".

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-06-23T17:24:10.405Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

IOW , they don't admit to it, where "admit" means "admit", and instead require you to divine their true meaning.

PS are you aware that you admit to being a selfish money grabber every time you say you are a freedom lover who just wants the state to stay out of people's lives? :-)

comment by Nornagest · 2014-06-02T20:20:46.282Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The grandparent sounds to me like it assumes the thrive/survive model of ideology, which I've got to admit I don't find entirely convincing.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-03T14:42:55.672Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The grandparent sounds to me like it assumes the thrive/survive model of ideology

That model is descriptive, it says, quoting Yvain, (emphasis mine) "My hypothesis is that rightism is what happens when..."

On the other hand, here we are talking about normative, prescriptive policies.