EppsNet Archive: Politics

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

12 Dec 2014 /

The notion that we have limited access to the workings of our minds is difficult to accept because, naturally, it is alien to our experience but it is true: You know far less about yourself than you feel you do.

 

A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.

 

It is the consistency of information that matters for a good story, not its completeness. Indeed, you will often find that knowing little makes it easier to fit everything you know into a coherent pattern.

 

The exaggerated faith in small samples is only one example of a more general illusion — we pay more attention to the content of messages than to information about their reliability, and as a result end up with a view of the world around us that is simpler and more coherent than the data justify.

 

Narrative fallacies arise inevitably from our continuous attempt to make sense of the world. The explanatory stories that people find compelling are simple; are concrete rather than abstract; assign a larger role to talent, stupidity, and intentions than to luck; and focus on a few striking events that happened rather than on the countless events that failed to happen.

 

Hindsight bias has pernicious effects on the evaluations of decision makers. It leads observers to assess the quality of a decision not be whether the process was sound but by whether its outcome was good or bad. . . . This outcome bias makes it almost impossible to evaluate a decision properly – in terms of the beliefs that were reasonable when the decision was made.

 

Stories of how businesses rise and fall strike a chord with readers by offering what the human mind needs: a simple message of triumph and failure that identifies clear causes and ignores the determinative power of luck and the inevitability of regression. These stories induce and maintain an illusion of understanding, imparting lessons of little enduring value to readers who are all too anxious to believe them.

 

For some of our most important beliefs we have no evidence at all, except that people we love and trust hold those beliefs.

 

Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it. It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.

 

We know that people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers.

 

The idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every day by the ease with which the past is explained. . . Everything makes sense in hindsight . . . And we cannot suppress the powerful intuition that what makes sense in hindsight was predictable yesterday. The illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future.

 

[Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania] interviewed 284 people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends. . . . In all, Tetlock gathered more than 80,000 predictions. . . . Respondents were asked to rate the probabilities of three alternative outcomes in every case: the persistence of the status quo, more of something such as political freedom or economic growth, or less of that thing.

The results were devastating. The experts performed worse than they would have if they had simply assigned equal probabilities to each of the three potential outcomes. In other words, people who spend their time, and earn their living, studying a particular topic produce poorer predictions than dart-throwing monkeys who would have distributed their choices evenly over the options. Even in the region they knew best, experts were not significantly better than nonspecialists.

 

Rehearse the mantra that will get you significantly closer to economic reality: you win a few, you lose a few.

 

Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.

 

During the last 10 years we have learned many new facts about happiness. But we have also learned that the word happiness does not have a simple meaning and should not be used as if it does. Sometimes scientific progress leaves us more puzzled than we were before.


Whatever the Party Holds to Be the Truth

8 Nov 2014 /

“I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.”

— George Orwell, 1984

Proud to Be a Coal Miner’s Daughter

7 Nov 2014 /

Loretta Lynch

If she is nominated and confirmed by the Senate, she would be the first coal miner’s daughter to hold the job . . .


It’s Election Season in Irvine

26 Oct 2014 /

It’s election season . . . campaign signs dot the Irvine landscape.

As I drove to lunch with co-workers, one of them pointed out a sign for Ira Glasky, who’s running for school board or city council or something.

“He’s probably trying to cash in on the name recognition of Ira Glass,” he said.

“Who’s Ira Glass?” I asked, and he told me but I’ve since forgotten. A person on the radio, I think.

If I were a campaign manager, I wouldn’t be advising my clients to coattail on the popularity of people no one’s heard of.

“Maybe he’s trying to play into the popularity of Dashiell Hammett’s 1930s crime novel The Glass Key,” I suggested.

Another Irvine candidate, Lynn Schott, is in a local women’s networking group that my wife belongs to. I offered her a free campaign slogan — “Lynn-sanity!” — but she’s not using it.


Darth Vader for President

28 Jul 2014 /
Darth Vader

People are so fed up with the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington. Congress is unfortunately unable to even agree on the most obvious kinds of things. I think Darth Vader looks pretty good to a lot of people.

— Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, on CNN, responding to poll results showing voters say they prefer Darth Vader, the fictional villain in the Star Wars films, for president over her and several other potential candidates.
  1. Are people fed up with gridlock? I’m not. I love gridlock. It’s when those meddling idiots actually do something that life gets worse for everyone.
  2. Jokes aside, I think Darth Vader would be an exceptionally good president in some respects. Imagine him, for example, in an Israel-Hamas negotiating session: “Whose trachea do I have to crush with my mind to get some peace around here?”

This Kid Made an App That Exposes Sellout Politicians

8 Jul 2014 /

Via VICE:

http://www.vice.com/read/greenhouse-app-hannah-ewens-nick-rubin-201

Yes, the algorithm is


if (isPolitician(x)) {
    x.sellout = true;
}

Thus spoke The Programmer.


I Am Disenfranchising Myself

1 Jun 2014 /

I was looking over my vote-by-mail ballot for the California election . . . there’s not one person on there I would trust to represent my interests above their own. It’s like voting on which gang of thieves will be allowed to break into my home and rob me.

In previous elections, I’ve usually voted for all the Republican candidates because I dislike 99 percent of Democratic programs, whereas I only dislike 95 percent of Republican programs. Not much of a choice.

This year, I ripped up the ballot and threw it in the trash.


A Spectacularly Bad Job of Rigging the System

19 May 2014 /

If you nevertheless believe that the capitalists have been busily rigging the system in their own interest, you’ve got to admit they’ve done a spectacularly bad job of it. How else to explain the quintuple taxation of capital income, where you can invest a dollar that was taxed the day you earned it, then pay corporate income taxes, dividend taxes, capital gains taxes and inheritance taxes on the income it throws off? Surely any concern that the rich are calling the policy shots should melt away in the face of actual policy.

— Steven Landsburg

The Single Greatest Source of Economic Error

11 May 2014 /

But the underlying fallacy — the failure to notice that things must add up — is, in my experience, the single greatest source of economic error. Politicians routinely promise to make medical care or housing or college educations more widely available by controlling their prices; economists routinely scratch their heads and ask where the extra doctors or houses or classrooms are going to come from. You can no more speed up the line for medical care by lowering prices than you can speed up the deli line by handing out tickets.

— Steve Landsburg, The Big Questions

More People I’m Sick Unto Death Of: Angela Davis

8 May 2014 /
Angela Davis

I still believe that capitalism is the most dangerous kind of future we can imagine.

Alternatives to capitalism have resulted in shortages, famine, mass murder and societal collapse (cf., Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the Soviet Union, Communist China, North Korea, Cuba, Libya, Venezuela … I could go on and on but I think we both get the point).

Can anyone list a few capitalist countries where this has occurred? If not, what does the word “dangerous” mean in this context?

Angela Davis is now 70 years old. Can anyone list a few well-known Angela Davis-style radicals who lived a long life in any of the aforementioned countries?


That’s Why It’s Called the Opposition Party

6 May 2014 /
Charlie Crist

Charlie Crist, former Republican and currently Democratic candidate for governor in Florida, on why he changed parties:

I couldn’t be consistent with myself and my core beliefs, and stay with a party that was so unfriendly toward the African-American president. I’ll just go there. I was a Republican and I saw the activists and what they were doing, it was intolerable to me.

It was so intolerable that Crist left the GOP in 2010 — four years ago — and he’s just bringing this up now?

Has anyone asked this fool why Republicans have been unfriendly to all other Democratic presidents? Or why Democrats have been unfriendly to all GOP presidents? What is his theory on that?

Is he really this stupid or is he counting on his target audience being this stupid? I suspect the latter . . .


The War on Poverty is 50 Years Old

6 May 2014 /
(Old) War Police Department & Jail

The New York Times has an update from McDowell County, West Virginia, on how the War on Poverty is going after 50 years . . .

Of West Virginia’s 55 counties, McDowell has the lowest median household income, $22,000; the worst childhood obesity rate; and the highest teenage birthrate.

It is also reeling from prescription drug abuse. The death rate from overdoses is more than eight times the national average. Of the 115 babies born in 2011 at Welch Community Hospital, over 40 had been exposed to drugs. . . .

Many in McDowell County acknowledge that depending on government benefits has become a way of life, passed from generation to generation. Nearly 47 percent of personal income in the county is from Social Security, disability insurance, food stamps and other federal programs. . . .

The poverty rate, 50 percent in 1960, declined – partly as a result of federal benefits – to 36 percent in 1970 and to 23.5 percent in 1980. But it soared to nearly 38 percent in 1990. For families with children, it now nears 41 percent.

“Worst childhood obesity rate.” Poverty is different in America. In most countries, poor people aren’t fat.

According to the United States Census Bureau, there are 9,176 households in McDowell County and the mean (not median) household income is $33,506. Multiply the two together and we get a total annual income for the county of $206 million.

If 47 percent of that income, as the Times article states, comes from federal programs, that’s almost $100 million per year. Since the War on Poverty has been waged for 50 years now, a crude approximation of the total amount of taxpayer money sent to McDowell County would be 50 times $100 million = $5 billion.

Possibly the annual federal contribution was less 50 years ago, even adjusted to 2014 dollars, but we’d also need to account for the fact that the county population at that time was five times higher than it is today. Taking even a small fraction — say, 20 percent — of $5 billion as our approximation, we can say that the War on Poverty has cost at least a billion dollars ($1,000,000,000) just for one small county in West Virginia.

Oh, and the people are still living in poverty. Evidently you can’t eliminate poverty just by giving people money.

As David Mamet pointed out in The Secret Knowledge:

There’s a cost for everything. And the ultimate payer of every cost imposed by government is not only the individual member of the mass of taxpayers who does not benefit from the scheme; but likely, also, its intended beneficiaries.

In the case of McDowell County, the intended beneficiaries are being paid to continue making bad decisions with their lives, most notably to continue living in a place where there’s no work and no hope for improvement.


Childish Economics

22 Mar 2014 /

I have a very difficult time imagining the economic ‘theory’ that motivates proposals such as this one by Pres. Obama [to “streamline” the Fair Labor Standards Act so that more white-collar employees would be eligible for overtime pay]. The best that I can do is to imagine how a two-year-old child would respond if asked to propose a way to raise workers incomes.


The kind of man who demands that government enforce his ideas is always the kind whose ideas are idiotic. — H. L. Mencken


More People I’m Sick Unto Death Of

30 Jan 2014 /
Eric Garcetti

Eric Garcetti

The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, said this the other day:

“Some of the monies that will come from that will go to other parts of the city too that connect in with that . . .”

OK, that’s out of context and it doesn’t make any sense, but — “monies”?!

“Hi, I’m Eric Garcetti. I have a dollar bill so I have a money. If you give me another dollar, I’ll have some monies.”

No. You can have a dollar or a billion dollars. One word covers all the possibilities and that word is “money.”

“Monies” is a word used by politicians and academians and other posturing pricks who’d like you to think that they’re doing the Lord’s work and not soiling their hands with anything as grubby as “money.”


Unconstrained Thinkers

10 Dec 2013 /

Unconstrained thinkers either do not recognize, or refuse to come to grips with, the fact that not everything that is good is worth the cost of its achievement — and that not everything that is bad is worth the cost of its obliteration. Unconstrained thinkers are also typically gripped by romantically unrealistic notions of the abilities of people wielding power, as well as of the trustworthiness of such people. Unconstrained thinkers, because they can imagine people with power exercising that power for the greater good and only for the greater good, are unwilling to suffer any imperfections in reality –- for why suffer such imperfections if a Great and Good Leader (or Great and Good Council) can possibly make the world a better place?


IRS Refunds $4 Billion to Identity Thieves

1 Dec 2013 /
IRS Seal

The Internal Revenue Service issued $4 billion in fraudulent tax refunds last year to people using stolen identities, with some of the money going to addresses in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Ireland, according to an inspector general’s report released Thursday.

The IRS sent a total of 655 tax refunds to a single address in Lithuania, and 343 refunds went to a lone address in Shanghai.

In the U.S., more fraudulent returns went to Miami than any other city. Other top destinations were Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta and Houston.

Hmmm . . . aren’t there some sort of sanity checks built into the IRS system? Doesn’t a warning bell go off when 655 tax refunds are sent to a single address in Lithuania?

Does this erode your confidence in the federal government’s ability to manage complex systems and gigantic sums of money?

I’m sure they’ll do a much better job managing health insurance, right? Right?


Another Smoking Gun on “Keep Your Coverage”

1 Dec 2013 /
Christina Romer

Christina Romer

The conversation below took place more than four years ago — June 23, 2009 — at a congressional hearing on Obamacare. The topic was the keep-your-coverage promise, and the participants were Christina Romer, then chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Rep. Tom Price, who is also a doctor.

The conversation plays out like one of those word puzzles where you start out with one word and change one letter at a time to get a completely different word. Watch Romer’s responses on keeping your coverage go from “Absolutely” to a stammering “I’d have to look at the specifics.”

It’s also yet another reminder of what a pig in a poke Obamacare was. Even the people advocating for it had no idea what was in it.

REP. PRICE: You also mentioned, as other folks have, that the president’s goal — and it’s reiterated over and over and over — that if you like your current plan or if you like your current doctor, you can keep them. Do you know where that is in the bill?

MS. ROMER: Absolutely. And things like the employer mandate is part of making sure that large employers that today — the vast majority of them do provide health insurance. One of the things that’s —

REP. PRICE: I’m asking about if an individual likes their current plan and maybe they don’t get it through their employer and maybe in fact their plan doesn’t comply with every parameter of the current draft bill, how are they going to be able to keep that?

MS. ROMER: So the president is fundamentally talking about maintaining what’s good about the system that we have. And —

REP. PRICE: That’s not my question.

MS. ROMER: One of the things that he has been saying is, for example, you may like your plan and one of the things we may do is slow the growth rate of the cost of your plan, right? So that’s something that is not only —

REP. PRICE: The question is whether or not patients are going to be able to keep their plan if they like it. What if, for example, there’s an employer out there — and you’ve said that if the employers that already provide health insurance, health coverage for their employees, that they’ll be just fine, right? What if the policy that those employees and that employer like and provide for their employees doesn’t comply with the specifics of the bill? Will they be able to keep that one?

MS. ROMER: So certainly my understanding — and I won’t pretend to be an expert in the bill — but certainly I think what’s being planned is, for example, for plans in the exchange to have a minimum level of benefits.

REP. PRICE: So if I were to tell you that in the bill it says that if a plan doesn’t comply with the specifics that are outlined in the bill that that employer’s going to have to move to the — to a different plan within five years — would you — would that be unusual, or would that seem outrageous to you?

MS. ROMER: I think the crucial thing is, what kind of changes are we talking about? The president was saying he wanted the American people to know that fundamentally if you like what you have it will still be there.

REP. PRICE: What if you like what you have, Dr. Romer, though, and it doesn’t fit with the definition in the bill? My reading of the bill is that you can’t keep that.

MS. ROMER: I think the crucial thing — the bill is talking about setting a minimum standard of what can count —

REP. PRICE: So it’s possible that you may like what you have, but you may not be able to keep it? Right?

MS. ROMER: We’d have — I’d have to look at the specifics.


Great Moments in Presidential Prevarication

24 Nov 2013 /

“I am not a crook.” — Richard Nixon

 

“Read my lips: no new taxes.” — George H.W. Bush

 

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” — Bill Clinton

 

“If you like your plan, you can keep it.” — Barack Obama


Obama Did Not Lie

18 Nov 2013 /
Barack Obama

When President Obama said that he could provide health care to millions without taking any health care away from people who have already got it, he had no chance of being believed. The statement was absurd on its face. This is a law of arithmetic: If you invite a bunch of friends to share your lunch, there’s going to be less lunch for you. Everybody understands that. . . .

So when the President said he could expand the availability of medical care while allowing everyone else to keep the care they’ve got, it was like saying he’d take us for a tour of England in his rocket ship. It had absolutely no chance of being believed, and therefore, it seems to me, does not count as a lie.

It counts instead as an expression of contempt for the many entirely reasonable people who tried to point out that it is not within a President’s power to suspend the laws of arithmetic.

That expression of contempt was arguably pretty contemptible, and arguably as contemptible as a lie. And of course he’s compounding it by trying to tell you with a straight face that everyone who has to switch health plans will end up with “better” plans that allow them to consume even more medical care. I could give you some pretty striking counterexamples among people I’m personally close to, but there’s no need for that, since anyone who grasps basic arithmetic can see that the president’s words cannot be true. But speaking untruths is not enough to make him a liar. For that, he’d have to speak plausible untruths, and he has too little respect for the American people to bother coming up with any.


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