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The Two-Party Swindle

37 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 January 2008 08:38AM

The Robbers Cave Experiment had as its subject 22 twelve-year-old boys, selected from 22 different schools in Oklahoma City, all doing well in school, all from stable middle-class Protestant families.  In short, the boys were as similar to each other as the experimenters could arrange, though none started out knowing any of the others.  The experiment, conducted in the aftermath of WWII, was meant to investigate conflicts between groups. How would the scientists spark an intergroup conflict to investigate? Well, the first step was to divide the 22 boys into two groups of 11 campers -

- and that was quite sufficient.  There was hostility almost from the moment each group became aware of the other group's existence. Though they had not needed any name for themselves before, they named themselves the Eagles and the Rattlers.  After the researchers (disguised as camp counselors) instigated contests for prizes, rivalry reached a fever pitch and all traces of good sportsmanship disintegrated.  The Eagles stole the Rattlers' flag and burned it; the Rattlers raided the Eagles' cabin and stole the blue jeans of the group leader and painted it orange and carried it as a flag the next day.

Each group developed a stereotype of itself and a contrasting stereotype of the opposing group (though the boys had been initially selected to be as similar as possible).  The Rattlers swore heavily and regarded themselves as rough-and-tough.  The Eagles swore off swearing, and developed an image of themselves as proper-and-moral.

Consider, in this light, the episode of the Blues and the Greens in the days of Rome.  Since the time of the ancient Romans, and continuing into the era of Byzantium and the Roman Empire, the Roman populace had been divided into the warring Blue and Green factions.  Blues murdered Greens and Greens murdered Blues, despite all attempts at policing. They died in single combats, in ambushes, in group battles, in riots.

From Procopius, History of the Wars, I:

In every city the population has been divided for a long time past into the Blue and the Green factions [...] And they fight against their opponents knowing not for what end they imperil themselves [...] So there grows up in them against their fellow men a hostility which has no cause, and at no time does it cease or disappear, for it gives place neither to the ties of marriage nor of relationship nor of friendship, and the case is the same even though those who differ with respect to these colours be brothers or any other kin.

Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

The support of a faction became necessary to every candidate for civil or ecclesiastical honors.

Who were the Blues and the Greens?

They were sports fans - the partisans of the blue and green chariot-racing teams.

It's less surprising if you think of the Robbers Cave experiment.  Favorite-Team is us; Rival-Team is them. Nothing more is ever necessary to produce fanatic enthusiasms for Us and great hatreds of Them.  People pursue their sports allegiances with all the desperate energy of two hunter-gatherer bands lined up for battle - cheering as if their very life depended on it, because fifty thousand years ago, it did.

Evolutionary psychology
produces strange echoes in time, as adaptations continue to execute long after they cease to maximize fitness.  Sex with condoms.  Taste buds still chasing sugar and fat.  Rioting basketball fans.

And so the fans of Favorite-Football-Team all praise their favorite players to the stars, and derogate the players on the Hated-Rival-Team.  We are the fans and players on the Favorite-Football-Team.  They are the fans and players from Hated-Rival-Team.  Those are the two opposing tribes, right?

And yet the professional football players from Favorite-Team have a lot more in common with the professional football players from Rival-Team, than either has in common with the truck driver screaming cheers at the top of his lungs.  The professional football players live similar lives, undergo similar training regimens, move from one team to another.  They're much more likely to hang out at the expensive hotel rooms of fellow football players, than share a drink with a truck driver in his rented trailer home.  Whether Favorite-Team or Rival-Team wins, it's professional football players, not truck drivers, who get the girls, the spotlights, and above all the money: professional football players are paid a hell of a lot more than truck drivers.

Why are professional football players better paid than truck drivers?  Because the truck driver divides the world into Favorite-Team and Rival-Team. That's what motivates him to buy the tickets and wear the T-Shirts. The whole money-making system would fall apart if people started seeing the world in terms of Professional Football Players versus Spectators.

And I'm not even objecting to professional football.  Group identification is pretty much the service provided by football players, and since that service can be provided to many people simultaneously, salaries are naturally competitive.  Fans pay for tickets voluntarily, and everyone knows the score.

It would be a very different matter if your beloved professional football players held over you the power of taxation and war, prison and death.

Then it might not be a good idea to lose yourself in the delicious rush of group identification.

Back in the good ol' days, when knights were brave and peasants starved, there was little doubt that the government and the governed were distinct classes.  Everyone simply took for granted that this was the Natural Order of Things.

This era did not vanish in an instantaneous flash.  The Magna Carta did not challenge the obvious natural distinction between nobles and peasants - but it suggested the existence of a contract, a bargain, two sides at the table rather than one:

No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land.  We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.

England did not replace the House of Lords with the House of Commons, when the notion of an elected legislature was first being floated.  They both exist, side-by-side, to this day.

The American War of Independence did not begin as a revolt against the idea of kings, but rather a revolt against one king who had overstepped his authority and violated the compact.

And then someone suggested a really wild idea...

From Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787:

[The delegates to the Constitutional Convention] had grown up believing in a somewhat different principle of government, the idea of the social contract, which said that government was a bargain between the rulers and the ruled.  The people, in essence, agreed to accept the overlordship of their kings and governors; in return, the rulers agreed to respect certain rights of the people.

But as the debate progressed, a new concept of government began more and more to be tossed around.  It abandoned the whole idea of the contract between rulers and the ruled as the philosophic basis for the government.  It said instead that the power resided solely in the people, they could delegate as much as they wanted to, and withdraw it as they saw fit.  All members of the government, not just legislators, would represent the people.  The Constitution, then, was not a bargain between the people and whoever ran the new government, but a delegation of certain powers to the new government, which the people could revise whenever they wanted.

That was the theory.  But did it work in practice?

In some ways, obviously it did work.  I mean, the Presidency of the United States doesn't work like the monarchies of olden times, when the crown passed from father to son, or when a queen would succeed the king her husband.

But that's not even the important question.  Forget that Congresspeople on both sides of the "divide" are more likely to be lawyers than truck drivers.  Forget that in training and in daily life, they have far more in common with each other than they do with a randomly selected US citizen from their own party. Forget that they are more likely to hang out at each other's expensive hotel rooms than drop by your own house.  Is there a political divide - a divide of policies and interests - between Professional Politicians on the one hand, and Voters on the other?

Well, let me put it this way.  Suppose that you happen to be socially liberal, fiscally conservative.  Who would you vote for?

Or simplify it further:  Suppose that you're a voter who prefers a smaller, less expensive government - should you vote Republican or Democratic?  Or, lest I be accused of color favoritism, suppose that your voter preference is to get US troops out of Iraq.  Should you vote Democratic or Republican?

One needs to be careful, at this point, to keep track of the distinction between marketing materials and historical records.  I'm not asking which political party stands for the idea of smaller government - which football team has "Go go smaller government!  Go go go!" as one of its cheers.  (Or "Troops out of Iraq!  Yay!")  Rather, over the last several decades, among Republican politicians and Democratic politicians, which group of Professional Politicians shrunk the government while it was in power?

And by "shrunk" I mean "shrunk".  If you're suckered into an angry, shouting fight over whether Your Politicians or Their Politicians grew the government slightly less slowly, it means you're not seeing the divide between Politicians and Voters. There isn't a grand conspiracy to expand the government, but there's an incentive for each individual politician to send pork to campaign contributors, or borrow today against tomorrow's income.  And that creates a divide between the Politicians and the Voters, as a class, for reasons that have nothing to do with colors and slogans.

Imagine two football teams.  The Green team's professional players shout the battle cry, "Cheaper tickets!  Cheaper tickets!" as they rush into the game.  The Blue team's professional players shout, "Better seating!  Better seating!" as they move forward.  The Green Spectators likewise cry "Cheaper tickets!" and the Blue Spectators of course cheer "Better seating!"

And yet every year the price of tickets goes up, and the seats get harder and less comfortable.  The Blues win a football game, and a great explosion of "Better seating!  Better seating!" rises to the heavens with great shouts of excitement and glory, and then the next year the cushions have been replaced by cold steel.  The Greens kick a long-range field goal, and the Green Spectators leap up and down and hug each other screaming "Cheaper tickets!  Hooray!  Cheaper tickets!" and then tomorrow there's a $5 cost increase.

It's not that there's a conspiracy.  No conspiracy is required. Even dishonesty is not required - it's so painful to have to lie consciously.  But somehow, after the Blue Professional Football Players have won the latest game, and they're just about to install some new cushions, it occurs to them that they'd rather be at home drinking a nice cold beer.  So they exchange a few furtive guilty looks, scurry home, and apologize to the Blue Spectators the next day.

As for the Blue Spectators catching on, that's not very likely.  See, one of the cheers of the Green side is "Even if the Blues win, they won't install new seat cushions!"  So if a Blue Spectator says, "Hey, Blue Players, we cheered real hard and you won the last game!  What's up with the cold steel seats?" all the other Blue Spectators will stare aghast and say, "Why are you calling a Green cheer?"  And the lonely dissenter says, "No, you don't understand, I'm not cheering for the Greens.  I'm pointing out, as a fellow Spectator with an interest in better seating, that the Professional Football Players who are allegedly on the Blue Spectators' side haven't actually -"

"What do you mean?" cry the Blue Spectators.  "Listen!  You can hear the Players calling it now!  'Better seating!'  It resounds from the rafters - how can you say our Players aren't true Blue?  Do you want the Green Players to win?  You - you're betraying Our Team by criticizing Our Players!"

This is what I mean by the "two-party swindle".  Once a politician gets you to identify with them, they pretty much own you.

There doesn't have to be a conscious, collaborative effort by Your Politicians and Their Politicians to keep the Voters screaming at each other, so that they don't notice the increasing gap between the Voters and the Politicians.  There doesn't have to be a conspiracy.  It emerges from the interests of the individual politicians in getting you to identify with them instead of judging them.

The problem dates back to olden times.  Commoners identifying with kings was one of the great supports of the monarchy.  The commoners in France and England alike might be cold and starving.  And the kings of France and England alike might be living in a palace, drinking from golden cups.  But hey, the King of England is our king, right?  His glory is our glory?  Long live King Henry the Whatever!

But as soon as you managed to take an emotional step back, started to think of your king as a contractor - rather than cheering for him because of the country he symbolized - you started to notice that the king wasn't a very good employee.

And I dare say the Big Mess is not likely to be cleaned up, until the Republifans and Demofans realize that in many ways they have more in common with other Voters than with "their" Politicians; or, at the very least, stop enthusiastically cheering for rich lawyers because they wear certain colors, and begin judging them as employees severely derelict in their duties.

Until then, the wheel will turn, one sector rising and one sector falling, with a great tumult of lamentation and cheers - and turn again, with uninhibited cries of joy or apprehension - turn again and again, and not go anywhere.

Getting emotional over politics as though it were a sports game - identifying with one color and screaming cheers for them, while heaping abuse on the other color's fans - is a very good thing for the Professional Players' Team; not so much for Team Voters.

(This post is related to the sequence Politics is the Mind-Killer.)

Comments (65)

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Comment author: Ian_C. 01 January 2008 08:42:06AM 2 points [-]

One advantage of the Two Party Swindle is that swing-voters usually decide an election. That is, the small percent of people who don’t fall for Us vs. Them.

So though it may be designed to distract the populace while their purse is being lightened, the Swindle also results in the more unbiased voter having more influence (even though on paper it’s still one man, one vote).

Comment author: beriukay 24 November 2010 04:42:24AM 8 points [-]

That may be true, but the unbiased would still be voting for, to borrow from South Park, either a giant douche, or a turd sandwich. When given that kind of choice, I wouldn't really claim I did anything useful, even if I did manage to block that horrible Republican, or that wretched Democrat.

Comment author: DanielLC 10 December 2011 04:28:52AM 2 points [-]

But they have to compete for your vote. As such, they're much less of a douche and turd sandwich than they would be.

Alternately, you can vote for a third party. In that election it's pretty much the same as not voting, but it makes it very clear why you're not voting, and the party closest to you will try to get your vote next election.

Comment author: beriukay 12 December 2011 08:26:16AM 0 points [-]

I'm not sure if it is necessarily the case that they are competing for my vote. Listening to some of the debates from the Republican Presidential candidates, it is rather clear that they would rather appeal to their base than cater to "the enemy". But yes, I intend to vote third party, since my vote is pretty much a throwaway in this state anyway. Split the Republican vote between a write-in and the official candidate, and they still get more than the next guy.

Comment author: DanielLC 12 December 2011 07:57:45PM 2 points [-]

That seems unlikely. They get their base to vote for them no matter what. They have to worry about the edge cases. I suppose it's possible that they're trying to get their base to vote, as opposed to not voting.

I don't pay that much to politics, but I would suspect that, if the circumstances point to a Democrat winning, for instance, the Republicans will try to move more towards the middle ground so they still have a chance.

It's not really catering to the enemy. It's just the middle ground. And that's only if you're talking about the effect of voting for one of the main parties. I very much doubt that Republicans would call Libertarians the enemy, for example.

Comment author: dlthomas 12 December 2011 08:26:11PM 3 points [-]

I suppose it's possible that they're trying to get their base to vote, as opposed to not voting.

This. With low voter turnout, rallying the base is a far more effective strategy than competing for marginal voters.

Comment author: Nornagest 12 December 2011 10:16:50PM *  6 points [-]

That's intuitively plausible, and in fact I think it's likely to be true, but as it happens it's also a testable proposition. Voter turnout varies quite a bit among modern democracies: for some voting is mandatory, for others it's optional, and levels of enforcement vary among polities with mandatory voting. Do the dominant parties within high-turnout polities tend to be more moderate relative to the polity's baseline?

Unfortunately you also need to control for architecture -- first-past-the-post election systems, for example, are often thought to have polarizing effects. That makes testing a lot harder than it'd otherwise be, and scopes it out of my relatively modest familiarity with different political systems. But it should be feasible in principle.

Comment author: dlthomas 12 December 2011 10:53:29PM 0 points [-]

Agreed.

Comment author: Mat 06 November 2012 08:31:50AM *  0 points [-]

They have to worry about the edge because they get their base vote no matter what

that's true... but it is still a fact that

they would rather appeal to their base than cater to "the enemy".

I think because in this way they charge up their base voters, which are then more willing to do some work for them, such as proselyte around, sharing on facebook, talking only about the good things of their party and the bad things of the opposite one, and that kind of stuff. In this way they can easily catch the edge voters who see the distinction between voters and politicians, because the proselytes come from other voters "just like me" and not from politicians.

Comment author: pinyaka 06 November 2012 05:00:59PM 1 point [-]

They get their base to vote for them no matter what.

I don't know that this is true. The primaries effectively screen out candidates who aren't blue or green enough for the base. From this anchor point, the winning candidate may moderate somewhat to try and attract swing voters, but they aren't starting from a position of trying to get undecided voters.

Comment author: bio_logical 17 October 2013 07:43:33PM 0 points [-]

This is known as Duverger's law. Bryan Caplan explains why it fails, here.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 01 January 2008 09:45:40AM 2 points [-]

It would be better if they rested on their laurels. They don't, they scorn and disdain the very policies they were elected on, because the "base" has nowhere else to go. Instead they grab at the opponent's half of the undecided middle, by implementing the very policies they were elected to oppose. This contemptuous practice is called "triangulation".

NB: in this current presidential race there is at least one Republican who tries to actually shrink government, and two Democrats who actually vote against war. It's rare to find a presidential campaign so blessed with honesty.

Comment author: Joseph_Knecht 01 January 2008 10:00:00AM -3 points [-]

Why are professional football players better paid than truck drivers? Because the truck driver divides the world into Favorite-Team and Rival-Team. That's what motivates him to buy the tickets and wear the T-Shirts. The whole money-making system would fall apart if people started seeing the world in terms of Professional Football Players versus Spectators.

I think this point is off the mark. Even if the truck drivers of the world did not divide the world into in-group and out-group (which they do in pretty much every aspect of life, not just politics and sports), the football players would still be paid thousands of times more. You certainly know why this is the case, and it doesn't have much to do with the way people in general -- and we dumb plebes in particular -- divide the world into mine and theirs.

Is there a political divide - a divide of policies and interests - between Professional Politicians on the one hand, and Voters on the other?

Of course. The divide is between the privileged few who live the high life at the expense of the many, and the rest of us who allow ourselves to be manipulated and coerced into supporting them. The politicians are the puppets of their respective parties, and their parties care about nothing so much as the perpetuation of the party and vanquishing of foes (which leaves more at the trough for the party and party loyal).

And I dare say the Big Mess is not likely to be cleaned up, until the Republifans and Demofans realize that in many ways they have more in common with other Voters than with "their" Politicians; or, at the very least, stop enthusiastically cheering for rich lawyers because they wear certain colors, and begin judging them as employees severely derelict in their duties.

I agree with you that it is not going to be cleaned up any time soon. However, I believe that the necessary but unfulfilled condition for things improving is not that voters self-identity with other voters, irrespective of party allegiance, but that voters have the ability to think critically about the issues that concern them and to distinguish between pandering bullshit and a substantive position (and that they actually hold their politicians to their promises). As long as we all remain stupid, it doesn't much matter with whom we identify.

For as long as a politician can rally up a frenzied, rabid herd with a 15-second sound-bite appealing to God and country and all that is good and holy about our righteous American way of live that is founded on freedom, liberty, and justice for all, and which 'they' will certainly destroy and replace with its very antithesis, we will remain just as well and truly fucked as we are currently.

Comment author: Joseph_Knecht 01 January 2008 10:05:09AM 4 points [-]

Ian C: One advantage of the Two Party Swindle is that swing-voters usually decide an election. That is, the small percent of people who don’t fall for Us vs. Them.

That's small consolation when what you actually get to decide is whether you'll receive a hefty kick to the groin or a stick in the eye.

Comment author: Chris 01 January 2008 11:33:36AM 0 points [-]

Politicians are the Hated Enemy today ?

Comment author: burger_flipper2 01 January 2008 01:04:37PM 0 points [-]

This coming Monday at burger-flipping centrail (Norman, OK) there is going to be a bi/non-partisan pep rally convened by David Boren and some other cheerleaders. They've invited each R and D presidential canidate (so far only magic undies has agreed to come) along with Bloomberg. They plan to elicit pledges for some tangible plan for bipartisanship, or create a justification for Bloomberg to go 3rd party (my understanding is he is fiscally conservative and socially liberal). I'm going to have to shut down the q'ing ovens, dig the heat lamps out of the dumpster, premake about 700 Mac's, and play hookie to be there. Some of us more discriminating politicos don't cheer for blue or green. We wanna see the clown juggle at half time.

Comment author: steven 01 January 2008 01:18:11PM 2 points [-]

So is there any reason to think policies would be better if they were closer to what people wanted? And are democracies with more than two parties really free(er) from these problems?

Comment author: Shalmanese 01 January 2008 01:34:38PM 2 points [-]

I object to your assertion that football players are paid disproportionate salaries relative to other fields. What does the average football player make? It's tricky to answer because it depends on who you regard as a football player. If you include everyone in the minor leagues, everyone playing college football, every high school quarterback who seriously considered a footballing career, then the average is quite low because the majority of "football players" make $0.

The reason why top footballers are paid enormous sums of money is because lots of people want to play football and the incentive structure is heavily skewed towards lavishly rewarding a small group of people. There are other fields with similar characteristics like writing. Restricting our sample to just the NFL is like arguing that authors are overpaid based on the average salaries of those on the NYT best sellers list.

Drug dealing is another good example, individual drug kingpins rake in far more than the highest paid football player could even imagine but the average pusher on the street is earning less than they would working minimum wage at McDonalds ("An Economic Analysis of a Drug-Selling Gang's Finances." Steven D. Levitt and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh; Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2000, 115(3), pp. 755-89. http://search.epnet.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&an=3474881).

Comment author: RobinHanson 01 January 2008 02:46:20PM 4 points [-]

And I dare say the Big Mess is not likely to be cleaned up, until the Republifans and Demofans ... stop enthusiastically cheering for rich lawyers because they wear certain colors, and begin judging them as employees severely derelict in their duties.

You have not offered evidence that politicians have failed their duties. Bryan Caplan argues persuasively that we roughly have the polices that the public wants.

Comment author: Caledonian2 01 January 2008 03:06:23PM 5 points [-]

Bryan Caplan argues persuasively that we roughly have the polices that the public wants.

And that is why it's such a disaster!

The purpose of most systems of government is not to make quality decisions, but to prevent wasteful and destructive conflicts over who will wield power. But a system that ignores quality decisionmaking will eventually collapse under the weight of its own ineptitude...

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 January 2008 04:05:28PM 6 points [-]

Knecht: Even if the truck drivers of the world did not divide the world into in-group and out-group (which they do in pretty much every aspect of life, not just politics and sports), the football players would still be paid thousands of times more.

If the truck drivers of the world did not divide the world into in-group and out-group there would be no such thing as football.

Shalmanese: I object to your assertion that football players are paid disproportionate salaries relative to other fields.

Yes, I read Freakonomics too. I said "professional", and as for it being disproportionate, it's not disproportionate to a scalable economic where one person can provide a service for many people (and everyone competes to be that one person). But the service provided only exists in the first place because of team thinking, and you have to take a step back to see that.

Hanson: You have not offered evidence that politicians have failed their duties. Bryan Caplan argues persuasively that we roughly have the polices that the public wants.

Then why have politicians? Who says the duty of a politician is to do whatever the public wants? But if the duty of a politician is something other than this, then the public must still decide whether the politician is good at it. Otherwise, why have voters?

Comment author: Richard_Hollerith2 01 January 2008 04:16:51PM 2 points [-]

The American War of Independence did not begin as a revolt against the idea of kings, but rather a revolt against one king who had overstepped his authority and violated the compact.

And then someone suggested a really wild idea...

Er, it is not as if there did not already exist many European governments without kings and not as if the English did not fight a civil war (1642-51) many of the losers of which emmigrated to American colonies to escape persecution for their anti-monarchist views and for religious opinions that were persecuted largely because they correlated with anti-monarchist views.

Comment author: Colin_Reid 01 January 2008 04:42:10PM 1 point [-]

The whole tribal thing is something of an exaggeration when it comes to politics. You do get people who are totally dedicated to one party and would continue to support it even as its policies totally transformed, but I think more people are interested in particular issues. For instance, can you imagine an African-American fanatically opposing the Democrats in the 2006 midterms on the basis that they want to treat him as an inferior, because he decided his party alignment while living in 1950s Alabama and hasn't thought about it since? A few people may be like this, but I doubt it's a mainstream position.

What does happen though is that people become partisans for or against particular policies or approaches, such as small government or states' rights; they may support these policies conditionally, having examined the available evidence to decide what is best, but more likely their support for the policy is intellectually divorced from any benefits they might actually derive from the policy being put into action.

This is not to say that people will support the party whose policies most closely align to these wishes, of course, because people are often hopelessly incapable of analysing what politicians actually achieve when in power. The way policy support turns into party affiliation is more through marketing, where a party gives the impression that it's 'good' for supporters of a given policy or approach in the same way an advert for men's sunglasses implies that wearing the shades will make you attractive to women. Marketing works more on the basis of Pavlovian conditioning than tribal loyalty. (A particularly bizarre example of this was the association of France with all things evil by some Iraq war supporters in the US, to the point where describing John Kerry as 'French-looking', alluding to his partial French ancestry, was meant trigger an instinctive antipathy. I wonder how one is supposed to react to the knowledge that one of their favourite allies in foreign policy, Tony Blair, is also a fluent French speaker and has given at least one speech in the language to France's National Assembly?)

Comment author: RobinHanson 01 January 2008 04:52:56PM 2 points [-]

Eliezer, you are complaining that the public is not judging politicians "as employees severely derelict in their duties." If politicians are in fact implementing the policies that the public wants them to implement, and if this is what the public wants politicians to do, then it is hard to see the basis for your complaint that politicians neglect their duties as employees.

Comment author: burger_flipper2 01 January 2008 05:35:48PM 0 points [-]

Mamet: "The stoics wrote that the excellent king can walk through the streets unguarded. Our contemporary Secret Service spends tens of millions of dollars every time the president and his retinue venture forth.

Mythologically, the money and the effort are spent not to protect the president's life--all our lives are fragile--but to protect the body politic against the perception that his job is ceremonial, and that for all our attempts to invest it with real power--the Monroe Doctrine, the war powers act, the "button"--there's no one there but us."

Comment author: Recovering_irrationalist 01 January 2008 05:46:22PM 0 points [-]

If the front page link's broken for Eliezer's last post "Posting on Politics" (might be fine for your time zone), it's here.

Comment author: denis_bider 01 January 2008 06:04:17PM 0 points [-]

I agree with Eliezer that it seems to be the in-group/out-group dynamic that drives the popularity of sports. The popularity in turn drive the ads, the ads provide a revenue opportunity, and the revenue opportunity drives the high salaries of popular players.

The dynamic seems ridiculous to those of us who find the in-group/out-group dynamic silly. Then again, those of us who find that silly, and so do not contribute to the salaries of football players, still support the high salaries for superstars in other roles. Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano probably made more money than most football players delivering a one-to-many service based on humor rather than on identification with a group. Maybe someone who doesn't understand their humor finds it ridiculous how these guys make so much money pandering to an audience so inept as to enjoy these guys' unfunniness?

And yet the audience laughs, enjoys it, and pays for a service they perceive as well performed.

I wonder whether people, at some level, might be aware of the silliness of their group identification, but enjoy it nevertheless, just like most of us enjoy sex, even after taking actions to prevent it leading to reproduction, which is its whole evolutionary point.

If that is the case, then those of us who cannot bring ourselves to identify with a group, might be handicapped in a similar sense as a person who doesn't see the humor in comedy, or a person who derives no joy from sex.

Politics, meanwhile, is tough. I think it's more productive to provide constructive arguments why a certain policy is sensible, and try to spread support for that policy, than to try a meta-analysis of why existing policies are ineffective, and trying to get people to understand that.

Nature abhors a vacuum: if you have a room filled with ineffective thoughts, concepts, ideas, and you try to take them out, this will create a vacuum which will cause more ineffective ideas to flood in through the cracks in the walls. But if, instead, you fill the room with effective ideas, they will displace the ineffective ones.

Telling people what does not work is much less useful than showing them what does.

Comment author: Tony_K 01 January 2008 06:05:20PM 1 point [-]

One of the factors that propagates our two party system is our election system, not electoral college, but rather the plurality/first past the post voting.

It allows the participation of people like Nader in 2000 and Perot in 1992 to draw votes away from the candidates who have a realistic chance of winning.

The primary system of the two main parties forces polarizations among the two leading candidates, which they have to carry into the final round.

We the people are left with a crazy right and a crazy left candidate with nothing in a reasonable middle position that has a chance. If you have a preference of one of these over the other you must vote it or run the risk of your third party vote counting against you a la Gore Florida 2000, or Bush Texas 1992.

Better would be some kind of ranked voting or even approval.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_system#Single-winner_methods

Comment author: TobyBartels 26 September 2012 03:58:42PM 0 points [-]

Point of information: Bush won Texas in 1992. You may want to use Georgia instead; Clinton won that with less than 44%, and Perot got 13% there. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Comment author: Chris 01 January 2008 06:21:01PM 0 points [-]

Between the post and the comments we have a slippage from : a) the human tendency to sort ourselves into 'us' vs 'them', presumably for reasons which had selective advantage (group solidarity and heightened stimulation levels) b) our capacity to keep the positive aspects of a diluted form of this tendency, without having to pay the price of all out warfare, by choosing (deservedly highly paid) sports teams to be our 'champions' (in the sense of the word where a 'champion' was designated to represent a warring group in single combat) in facing 'them' c) the transfer of this 'champion' role from sports teams to elected politicians, typified by the Blues & the Greens d) the confusion between the 'champion' role and the 'delegate' role, to which I could add the 'mandated' role, in our actual political systems. e) then all the usual mutterings about politicians.

OK so we're tribal, and IMO we're confused in what we want from our politicians. So what ? Where do we go from here ?

Eliezer suggests a further development in the theory of democratic government, that of considering our elected representatives as 'employees'. I disagree. The role of employer supposes an autonomously chosen set of strategies which it is imposed on the employee to execute. How do you get to set the strategic agenda without first being a politician (or, better, a politician's 'ĂŠminence grise'. Or spouse) ?

Comment author: Chris 01 January 2008 06:22:00PM 0 points [-]

Between the post and the comments we have a slippage from : a) the human tendency to sort ourselves into 'us' vs 'them', presumably for reasons which had selective advantage (group solidarity and heightened stimulation levels) b) our capacity to keep the positive aspects of a diluted form of this tendency, without having to pay the price of all out warfare, by choosing (deservedly highly paid) sports teams to be our 'champions' (in the sense of the word where a 'champion' was designated to represent a warring group in single combat) in facing 'them' c) the transfer of this 'champion' role from sports teams to elected politicians, typified by the Blues & the Greens d) the confusion between the 'champion' role and the 'delegate' role, to which I could add the 'mandated' role, in our actual political systems. e) then all the usual mutterings about politicians.

OK so we're tribal, and IMO we're confused in what we want from our politicians. So what ? Where do we go from here ?

Eliezer suggests a further development in the theory of democratic government, that of considering our elected representatives as 'employees'. I disagree. The role of employer supposes an autonomously chosen set of strategies which it is imposed on the employee to execute. How do you get to set the strategic agenda without first being a politician (or, better, a politician's 'ĂŠminence grise'. Or spouse) ?

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 01 January 2008 07:12:32PM 4 points [-]

I wonder if politics is saner in constitutional monarchies, where everyone can tribally identify with the same figurehead, and thus perhaps think a bit more rationally about their elected officials.

Comment author: Recovering_irrationalist 01 January 2008 07:36:10PM 1 point [-]

Excellent post, especially the important point that conscious dishonesty or specific conspiracy aren't required for this to happen.

Robin: If politicians are in fact implementing the policies that the public wants them to implement, and if this is what the public wants politicians to do, then it is hard to see the basis for your complaint that politicians neglect their duties as employees.

The best doctor isn't the one who just gives patients whatever treatment they ask for. It may be the one who gives them what they would ask for if they were equally informed.

In Tony Blair's first term, he made policy largely based on popular opinion. They asked focus groups their priorities, railways scored low, money was poured out of railways, the railway infrastructure fell apart, people were understandably angry. Joe Public can't be expected to have the knowledge and experience to judge the possible implications of every political decision.

Tony K: Better would be some kind of ranked voting or even approval.

Here, here. But it would weaken both sides of the currently in power, so...

Comment author: Mike_Linksvayer 01 January 2008 07:49:29PM 0 points [-]

It's not clear to me the swindle described has anything to do with n parties.

Comment author: RobinHanson 01 January 2008 08:00:01PM 0 points [-]

Recovering, by doing what their bosses want, politicians might well be neglecting their duties as benefactors by not as employees. When a boss makes it very clear what he wants done, an employee is supposed to just do it, or quit, even if he disagrees with the boss.

Comment author: Chris 01 January 2008 08:07:44PM -1 points [-]

Come to think of it, there was a system which held the rank and file to be the employers and the politicians to be employees. It was called Marxism.... Must check up how it worked out.

Comment author: Ben_Jones 01 January 2008 08:28:10PM 0 points [-]

Mike, the number's not the issue. As long as n > 1, you're all set. It's just that two happens to be the smallest, simplest, and hence most likely number.

Robin and Eliezer - I think the argument as to whether or not current politicians are derelict in their duties is not a productive one. I'd even say that 'duties' is very much the wrong word. If we relied on politicians to have 'duties', we'd all be screwed. Of course policies are going to reflect what the public want - that's how you attract that 2% swing vote that gets you in. The problem is the degree to which these are then carried out. Equally, I don't think anybody would argue that for the most part, governments come in and do everything they promised to do. Funnily enough, this degree always seems to hang around the 'what we can get away with' mark.... No 'dereliciton of duties', just the normal response you'd expect from a large organisation with so many different areas. Even those noble types who genuinely want to Make A Difference end up thwarted by the massive infrastructure they find themselves in. I would even go so far as to say that over there in the States, the perceived primary role of government is to get reelected, and at least half of this revolves around Beating the Other Guy (in case you're wondering, the other half seems to involve photo ops). Blair's special talent was dumping on the Conservatives, and damn good at it he was too. I'd say this chimes with Eliezer's sentiment.

Oh, and Eliezer - if this is as specific as your election posts are going to get, I'd say you have nothing to worry about!

Comment author: Recovering_irrationalist 01 January 2008 08:35:01PM 0 points [-]

Robin: Normally yes, and normally it's in an employee's contract to follow clear and reasonable instructions from the employer. For a government, I'd interpret an election or referendum result as a clear and reasonable instructions from their employer. But AFAIK it's not in the US government's "contract", nor would they be expected to automatically do whatever the less informed majority would decide on each policy issue. Though it's often in their interests to approximate that, even if to the detriment of their duties as benefactors.

Chris: If Marxists say the sun is shining, that doesn't necessarily make it dark out.

Comment author: poke 01 January 2008 08:41:47PM 1 point [-]

I think the fallacy here is presuming that representative democratic politics could be anything other than in-group/out-group rivalry. If the choice of candidate is actually supposed to represent the will of the people then a unbiased sample of the population would have to be used to decide which candidate gains power. Obviously the electoral system is not an unbiased sample; the whole idea is for a self-selected group to vote after years of attempts by all parties to bias them. The results of elections are therefore meaningless.

So what is the point of holding elections? People have come up with all sorts of reasons - allowing the people to remove a leader without revolution, etc - but it's difficult to see how you could establish them given that elections straightforwardly fail to represent the will of the people. Looking at other governments in the world and in history, what decides whether a country is successful or not and provides a good standard of living or not, does not seem to be electoral democracy but other practices such as rule of law, constitutional governance, rules of succession and economic freedom.

I have my doubts that holding elections gives you anything but a way to keep the population distracted and entertained, like football games.

Comment author: gregory 01 January 2008 08:55:22PM 1 point [-]

stylishly written, nice flow

there are not two parties, there is only "the party". you have got the analysis done, so the next article will be the action steps to take, right?

Comment author: Joseph_Knecht 01 January 2008 10:52:49PM 1 point [-]

Yudkowsky: If the truck drivers of the world did not divide the world into in-group and out-group there would be no such thing as football.

Why do you believe this? You certainly haven't given reasons why this would be the case, but you state it as if it's a prima facie truth.

Some people enjoy football but don't have a favorite team, and thus have no out-group. I personally don't care for football, but do occasionally watch a tennis or soccer match. I don't care who wins. I enjoy soccer, for example, for the same reason that I might enjoy watching a skilled martial arts bout -- to see what physically talented human beings who have dedicated themselves to some discipline are capable of, and to see the strategizing made physical that is the essence of physical/athletic competitions at the highest level.

Please explain how my occasional appreciation of soccer reveals that I divide the world into in-group and out-group, when I couldn't care less who wins and who loses. Or perhaps you think football is radically different than soccer, and that nobody likes football for the reasons I like soccer.

Comment author: denis_bider 02 January 2008 01:09:44AM 1 point [-]

Joseph - well, people like you aren't the ones who need to be accompanied to the stadium by the police.

Comment author: Michael_Sullivan 02 January 2008 06:41:29PM 2 points [-]

But the service provided only exists in the first place because of team thinking, and you have to take a step back to see that.

This statement is too bold, in my opinion. I think that's a large portion of the service, but not all of it. I watch some sports purely because I enjoy watching them performed at a high level. I don't particularly care who wins in many cases. This makes me weird, I realize, but the fact is that college and professional sports players create entertainment value for me, comparable to that of actors or musicians. Value which I am happy to pay for (though not generally at the prices and quantities expected of the most dedicated fans), despite me not really knowing who I am "rooting" for in many of the games I watch.

Consider that two sports that are big money even though the interest in "sides" and rivalries is much smaller than in football (of any kind) or basketball: tennis and golf. Sure, there are tiger woods fans and phil mickelson fans, but I think more people are generally "golf" fans with mostly minor sympathies toward one or another player, akin to those I have for basketball or baseball teams whose style I happen to like.

Comment author: Elisa 02 January 2008 07:58:54PM 0 points [-]

Professional athletes are like writers? Hmm ... I believe the average salary of a professional football player is $1M, with many going higher. With a few exceptions like J.K. Rowling, I don't think even well-known writers are really in the same range.

Comment author: Joseph_Knecht 02 January 2008 09:32:31PM -1 points [-]

denis bider: Joseph - well, people like you aren't the ones who need to be accompanied to the stadium by the police.

True enough, but the point I was making was that Eliezer's statement that football would not exist without the truck driver in-group/out-group mentality is false.

And that was Eliezer's non sequitur response to my pointing out that his previous statement, below, is nonsense.

Why are professional football players better paid than truck drivers? Because the truck driver divides the world into favorite-Team and Rival-Team.

Comment author: Benquo 02 January 2008 10:51:58PM 3 points [-]

I thought the point was not that nobody likes football for reasons unrelated to allegiance, but that there would not be the kind of support that sustains professional football without team loyalty.

For instance, Mr. Knecht, I highly doubt that there are enough people like you who "occasionally watch a tennis or soccer match" to support anything like professional tennis or soccer. I suspect there is a core audience that regularly spends a lot of money on tickets etc.

Mr. Sullivan makes a good point though; perhaps the tournament nature of golf and tennis generate a different kind of interest than that generated by more team-ish sports? Or perhaps those are just counterexamples and most sports fans are like you? (OTOH, from what I understand, most professional golfers and tennists are not paid nearly as well as most footballers etc.)

Comment author: Joseph_Knecht 02 January 2008 11:19:48PM -1 points [-]

Benquo: I thought the point was not that nobody likes football for reasons unrelated to allegiance, but that there would not be the kind of support that sustains professional football without team loyalty.

No, Eliezer's statement wasn't that there would be much less support but that football would not exist without the truck driver in-group/out-group mentality. The exact quote is "there would be no such thing as football." When somebody says "there would be no such thing as X", the standard interpretation is not "X would be different" or "there would be much less support for X" but that "X would not exist."

For instance, Mr. Knecht, I highly doubt that there are enough people like you who "occasionally watch a tennis or soccer match" to support anything like professional tennis or soccer. I suspect there is a core audience that regularly spends a lot of money on tickets etc.

Do you believe that most tennis fans are rabid fans with single-player allegiances, as in football? I don't think that is the case, and tennis seems to be doing fine -- it's not the grotesque extravagance that football is, granted, but it certainly exists.

Of course, football in particular would have much less money without the in-group/out-group mentality, but many of those now more enlightened former fans might still appreciate the sport, just as I and many people appreciate tennis without turning it into an tribal us-vs-them affair.

Comment author: Caledonian2 02 January 2008 11:26:49PM -1 points [-]

I thought the point was not that nobody likes football for reasons unrelated to allegiance, but that there would not be the kind of support that sustains professional football without team loyalty.

Bait and switch! Eliezer wasn't talking about professional football, he made the claim about football, period.

The actual claim is far, far less defensible than your altered version.

Comment author: Caledonian2 02 January 2008 11:56:09PM 0 points [-]

The bias is that maths has somehow something to do with truth or reality.

This is the single stupidest thing I've read at this blog yet. And that is saying quite a lot.

Comment author: Chris 03 January 2008 12:08:51AM 1 point [-]

:-) Maths is the product of the same abstracting mechanisms that create all our visions of the world. As such, maths has no more or less validity than any other of our self-consistent constructs of reality, and it is no accident that our maths has applications in our real world models. They're the products of the same mental systems. What is depressing is when a mathematical model which represents 5% of the available data is worshipped because it has internal coherence. As in Aumann's model. Tara.

Comment author: steven 03 January 2008 12:17:52AM 2 points [-]

The "no in/out group psychology -> no sports" may apply to typically American sports like football and baseball even if it doesn't apply in general. Not that I mean to troll, but to my uninformed eye those sports seem baroque and boring, so all that's left is team rivalry.

Comment author: Benquo 03 January 2008 12:38:55AM 0 points [-]

Caledonian, why do you feel the need to assume bad faith? Perhaps I, not seeing how a literal reading of "there would be no football" made sense, interpreted it as accidental exaggeration. There are more civil ways to express your incredulity, as Mr. Knecht's comment demonstrated.

Mr. Knecht, I concede your point RE: tennis.

Steven might be on the right track. Perhaps football's current non-tribalist support would be sufficient to sustain it, but would a non-tribal humanity have invented football in the first place?

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 03 January 2008 12:45:21AM 4 points [-]

I think the point of the agreement theorem is that it has nothing to do with real people - it shows how far everyone is from Bayesianity almost all the time.

Comment author: Rolf_Nelson2 03 January 2008 02:04:14AM 0 points [-]

I don't find the polls consistent with the picture of libertarian voters vs. colluding statist politicians. Only a significant majority (not an overwhelming majority) seems to support lower taxes, and when the question is phrased as costs vs. benefits (rather than "taxes in a vacuum") that majority tends to disappear.

Comment author: Benquo 03 January 2008 05:50:24AM 0 points [-]

Caledonian -- in retrospect, I realize you may have intended the "Bait and switch!" comment as a playful criticism. If so, I'm sorry I didn't give you the benefit of the doubt. It's hard to read tone in text interactions.

At any rate, thanks for keeping me honest. ;)

Comment author: Caledonian2 03 January 2008 02:54:45PM -3 points [-]

in retrospect, I realize you may have intended

Intention is irrelevant. What will it take for you people to get that through your heads!

Comment author: Zubon 03 January 2008 04:05:39PM 6 points [-]

Re: Bryan Caplan and politicians as employees (since I just read his book):

A secondary point in The Myth of the Rational Voter is that politicians enter office with two potentially mutually exclusive commands: "Enact the policies I want," and, "Achieve the policy outcomes I want." Muck around with the economy without mucking it up. So say Americans want lower gas taxes, lower gas prices, no rationing or queuing at gas stations, lower oil company profits, reduced fossil fuel consumption, less carbon dioxide emission, well-maintained roads, no construction delays, larger SUVs, safer cars, ethanol subsidies, and low food prices. I think most of those would get majority support as desirable things. We have a mix of policies and outcomes demanded, several of which are mutually exclusive, and good luck figuring out which ones will get you voted out of office.

This might be unnecessary detail for this discussion, since I presume that policy is more important to re-election considerations. "Doing something" is visible; problems down the chain of cause and effect can be blamed on others. So the theory of our republic is that we elect legislators who can make those good decisions for the long-term health of the country, but the practice is often one of kicking out legislators who try to do so.

Comment author: Alex_Martelli 06 January 2008 08:10:55PM 3 points [-]

If you're interested in the Blues and the Greens, check out Alan Cameron's "Cirus Factions" (Oxford University Press), a reasonably thorough monograph. There were originally two teams in chariot racing (Reds and Whites), then four (adding Blues and Greens), then six (Domitian added Purples and Golds, which faded shortly after the end of his reign), and then the Reds and Whites kinds of merged into the Blues and Greens by the 3rd century AD and those remained important for a millenium as Byzantium endured. They were handy "parties" that were often grabbed by the issue of the day (e.g., monophysites took over the Greens for a while) and eventually institutionalized as citizen militias.

Comment author: WingedViper 04 November 2012 02:37:42PM 0 points [-]

I would be interested in the conclusions you (all) draw from the two-party swindle. Do you think it gets better with multiple party politics? And what would be the best political system? Direct democracy? A council based republic? I agree that the two-party system is greatly flawed, but what is best (multiple parties is better, but clearly not best, right?)

Comment author: erikerikson 06 November 2012 12:46:27AM 0 points [-]

It is simply less demanding to choose a small set of ideas one supports or the contrary than to understand both and perform the even more difficult reconciliation of the differentiated concepts.

For example: the individual versus society. Individuals are by definition part of the collection of people that is a society and societies do not exist except where there are individuals. The greater utility exists where both individuals and societies are served to their greatest interests by the choices we make but it is much easier to communicate about the importance of one over the other. The falseness of the division or belief in the contention is the problem/distraction rather than the solution.

If intelligence is efficient optimization across domains then satisfying the utility of a greater set of domains requires greater intelligence. Increasing the number of sides or the complexity of the considerations and you reduce the population that can grasp or support the initiatives or arguments and as a result reduce your success as a candidate. This, of course, is the difficulty of improving beyond the current steady state.

Comment author: bio_logical 17 October 2013 07:37:32PM *  -2 points [-]

But that's not even the important question. Forget that Congresspeople on both sides of the "divide" are more likely to be lawyers than truck drivers.

The "lawyers" filter is just one of many filters put in place by sociopaths to favor sociopaths. Another such filter that was fought bitterly by Lysander Spooner was the licensing of lawyers (the licensing of lawyers has brought all lawyers under the power of judges, who are almost always bar-licensed ex-prosecutors). Before 1832 in Ohio, lawyers weren't licensed. Spooner overturned the licensing of lawyers in 1836, but then it came back when he died.

It's a huge benefit to the cause of consolidated power ("unquestionable tyranny") be able to say "you can't defend true justice unless you have a license, and we control the license." Ultimately, this isn't for any grand scheme, other than "we get to steal most of what you make, if we hold political power."

If sociopaths make the laws and have a general predisposition to "never interfere with another sociopath who is trying to grow the overall size or scope of government power" then you start to see how sociopaths can consolidate power, even if there is no overt "conspiracy." Of course, there are several actual conspiracies: the plan to profit from trading carbon credits was one of them, the Federal Reserve system was and remains another. The people who run those institutions have pocketed billions of dollars by creating them, and maintaining control of them.

If I can pay you $85,000,000,000 to protect a drug running ring, then the drug laws don't apply to me. Then, consider the fact that if I do that, I can steal another $100,000,000,000 per year by maintaining a prison industrial complex that imprisons millions of people unjustly. This means that I can be a complete self-serving hypocrite, dominate everyone else, and not be dominated myself. It doesn't matter whether you would do such a thing, if you had power (you probably would, unless you're a modern Spooner or Thoreau-type). The kind of people who have that sort of power have instituted precisely that kind of system.

Those who benefit from it don't need to support it to maintain it. It maintains itself, once it's set in motion. Since it's not a threat to them, they tolerate or even encourage it.

Getting emotional over politics as though it were a sports game - identifying with one color and screaming cheers for them, while heaping abuse on the other color's fans - is a very good thing for the Professional Players' Team; not so much for Team Voters.

What evidence do you have for this? Let's test your theory against the evidence: The abolitionists were most successful when they used (emotional, moral appeals) or (dispassionate, pragmatic appeals)? I think that Douglass's speeches contain your answer.

Also, what kind of monstrous idiot or jerk would you have been considered if you called yourself an abolitionist in the days of abolitionism, but weren't an abolitionist?

If you believe your philosophy is correct, then you owe it to your philosophy to learn how to win. Unless the suffering of innocents is unimportant to you, in which case your philosophy has nothing to say about morality.

Comment author: Moss_Piglet 17 October 2013 10:22:57PM 6 points [-]

Sociopath is a psychiatric diagnosis which has a very specific meaning; using it outside of that context, especially as a pejorative towards people you disagree with, dilutes and pollutes that meaning.

This is especially true here, where your "sociopaths" are evidently very good long-term planners capable of coordinating through trust (the "general predisposition" not to harm other "sociopaths"). Needless to say, these are not exactly typical sociopathic traits; several of the diagnostic criteria for sociopathy/psychopathy depend on their relative absence. There is little evidence to suggest that even so-called subcriminal sociopaths, such as are found in slightly elevated numbers in CEO positions, are as a rule much less impulsive or unreliable than the standard model.

In the dual interests of accuracy and minimizing the demonization of the mentally ill, can we agree to avoid using the term sociopath when "power-hungry asshole" is sufficient?