Tag Archives: democracy

Would a protest influence you?

Help, a politician I don’t like is in power! I should do something about it. But what? I know! I will join a protest – this is something. Now I can feel good about myself for having done something. And post on social media how I opposed evil so effectively. I am a socially conscious, altrustic person.

On a more serious note, one way to evaluate whether a given protest could change the situation is to put yourself in the position of the target audience. If your favourite politician was in power, would this protest change your support for said politician? If you were the politician in power, would you change your policy when many opponents use this protest against it?

Even if the answer is no, a protest may still have some effect, because it may change the preferences of the swing voters. The „no” may come from deeply ideological people, whereas more open-minded folks may conform to the herd. If they see many people opposed to something, they may start to oppose it too.

On the other hand, a protest may have the opposite effect to the one intended. It may harden ideological positions and increase polarisation. If the majority is weakly in favour of a policy, then protests against it may strengthen the support of the majority for it, leading to greater turnout and more yes-votes.

From an economic viewpoint, marching on the street with signs, chanting slogans or commenting on social media has no direct impact on politicians or most voters. The exception is those who are stuck in a traffic jam when a protest closes a street. Rational agents should not pay attention to protests which do not affect them (such activism is „cheap talk” in economic jargon, or at best „money burning”).

Real people may be swayed by the opinion of a large crowd. However, a form of protest that has an objective impact on people’s lives is likely to influence people more, because it affects them via both the opinion of the crowd and the direct impact. Both the belief shift and the hardening of the opposition are probably greater.

There are many illegal means of directly affecting the population, but also some legal forms of protest with objective impact. Economic protest is boycotting certain countries, firms or goods, refusing to work for the regime, and moving elsewhere („voting with one’s feet”), and is usually legal. The objective impact is that if enough intelligent and hardworking people shift their spending and taxpaying elsewhere, then the regime will be in fiscal trouble. If this does not change the policy of the leadership, then at least the lack of money will make the program harder to carry out.

There is a larger personal cost for economic protest than for cheap talk. One has to give up certain goods, or pay more, or experience the hassle of moving residence. This is why most people who threaten to boycott a firm or leave a country do not end up doing so. The threats are just another form of cheap talk, which can be posted on social media to impress other cheap talkers.

On Trump and strategic voting

Edit 9 Nov 2016: I was wrong. To avoid publication bias, I will leave this post up. It will teach people not to trust my political judgement.

Commenting on Trump is fashionable lately, so let me jump on the bandwagon. Probably these points have all been made before.
It seems the people most against Trump are the Democrat supporters, which suggests they are ignoring strategic voting. A famous voting example is that if A is preferred to B by the majority, B to C and C to A by different majorities (1/3 of people prefer A to B to C, 1/3 prefer B to C to A and 1/3 C to A to B), then with naive voters the order of votes matters. If first the A vs B vote is held and the winner goes against C, then A wins against B, after which C wins against A. But if B and C are voted first, then B wins, after which it loses to A.
One possibility is that Trump is preferred to other Republican candidates, who in turn are preferred to Democrats, who are preferred to Trump. In this case the Democrats should strategically support Trump against other Republicans and be happy that the primary vote between Republicans happens before the general election, not after. A conspiracy theorist might even suspect collusion between Trump and the Democrats or at least secret Democrat support for Trump to split the Republicans, like in the plot of All the King’s Men.
What if the polls show swing voters to favour Trump over the Democrats? Who people claim to support in elections is not necessarily who they actually support (the Bradley effect). Voters may claim to support Trump as a joke, or actually favour him now, but reconsider closer to elections. Putting Trump in power is like a dangerous adventure – there is a thrill at the possibility and many (claim to) want to do it when it is in the distant future. When the opportunity actually arrives, it may look too scary and people may get cold feet.
In the end, if Trump actually becomes President, he has antagonized many Republicans. There is a good chance of a bypartisan effort to block all his initiatives. The crazy and illegal things Trump has promised to do are just election promises – politicians break those all the time. Even reasonable promises are broken – radical ones are even more likely to be ignored. If Trump tries to do the unconstitutional lunacies, both parties have an incentive to impeach him. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, so taking down Trump may be just the thing to make Republicans and Democrats strange bedfellows and narrow the political polarization in the US.

Why politics is as it is and how to change it

Politics in all democratic countries is dishonest, propagandistic, riven by special interests etc. From time to time politicians who promise to change this arise. Mostly these politicians fall into the old ways and create no change but sometimes they turn their countries into dictatorships.

It is very difficult to change the way politics is done because there is a reason why politics is the way it is. Not many people set out to lie and cheat their way to the top. Mostly they start with good intentions but gradually adopt the tactics generally used.

The reason for dishonesty is that politics is an evolutionary process (mutation, selection, reproduction). People invent new ways to manipulate others all the time (mutation). Those who use the kind of tactics generally used in modern politics are likely to get elected (selection). Their tactics are then copied by the next generation of politicians (reproduction). The end result is a thoroughly dishonest political class because lying and cheating work as ways to get to the top. There is no lack of idealists trying to do honest politics but mostly they won’t get elected because their restriction to honest methods severely limits the crowd-manipulation tools available to them. If they do get elected, they will be outnumbered by the dishonest ones.

 

Proposed method of change

Trying to get enough honest politicians elected to change the system just won’t work because honesty limits their tools of making people elect them. Politicians use dishonesty because it works and gets them power.

In a democracy the power ultimately rests with the people. If all people or even just a bare majority were rational and perfectly informed, there would be no room for manipulation and dishonesty. The present political situation is only possible because people are stupid enough to be manipulated into electing the people who create such a political situation. Every nation deserves its leaders.

The way to lessen dishonesty in politics is to make people recognize and dislike it. Most people are not clever enough to see through the manipulation themselves, so the media and perhaps scientists should help them.

When televising speeches of politicians the news agencies could place a running commentary on the speech in the subtitles, pointing out logically or factually wrong statements, demagogy and meaningless phrases, giving examples of the politician’s possible motives for saying certain things, pointing out the interest group to whom a promise is aimed.

The news agencies could keep a file on every politician of sufficient influence. The file should contain their earlier promises, statements, voting record and press releases. Every time the news agency runs a story containing that politician the online version of the story should have a link to that politician’s file. If the politician contradicts his or her earlier talk, it should be pointed out by the news agency and a link to the appropriate place in that politician’s file placed next to the reference.

People could be educated in basic mathematical logic so they could notice some logically false statements (one can never teach most people enough to make them recognize factually wrong claims, that is what the politician’s file would be for).

In countries where a certain number of citizens can initiate laws, those interested in honest politics could campaign for a law recalling a politician who has lied. Then a referendum can be organized to pass that law because politicians themselves certainly would not do it. Lying would need to be clearly defined in the law so that uncertain statements and slips of the tongue would not empty all government institutions. In some cases, however, it can certainly be proved that what the politician said contradicts the facts or is logically false.