Archives for September 2012

The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan’s take on Romney’s 47% comments

I ran across a mention of a PUP book (The Myth of the Rational Voter) on Hit & Run at Reason magazine. This led me to author Bryan Caplan’s blog where he discusses Mitt Romney’s 47% “gaffe”:

Many people believe that voters’ positions are determined by their objective self-interest. I call this the SIVH – the Self-Interested Voter Hypothesis. A massive body of evidence shows that the SIVH is just plain wrong. Self-interest has no more than sporadic marginal effects on political views.

Successful politicians usually seem well-aware of the weakness of the SIVH. To win support, they appeal to the public interest and ideology, not self-interest. What’s really strange about Romney’s recently revealed gaffe, then, is that he seems to take an extreme version of the SIVH for granted. “There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.” Why? “47% of Americans pay no income tax.”


Wrong, wrong, wrong. The 47% won’t vote for Obama “no matter what.” Almost half of voters who earn less than the median income vote Republican in the typical election. A person doesn’t support the nanny state because he wants government to take care of him; a person supports the nanny state because he wants government to take care of us.

Whether you agree with him or not, Bryan’s book has become the go-to book for understanding voter motivation, or as the copy describes it, “misconceptions, irrational beliefs, and personal biases held by ordinary voters.” You can sample the introductory chapter of The Myth of the Rational Voter here: The Paradox of Democracy.

 

bookjacket

The Myth of the Rational Voter
Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies (New Edition)
Bryan Caplan

#ExamSchools featured in op-ed in New York Times

Are Exam Schools an under-appreciated resource that could serve thousands more high achieving youngsters? Checker Finn argues that current education policies like NCLB virtually ignore high-potential students and this “doesn’t just deny individuals opportunities they deserve. It also imperils the country’s future supply of scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs.”

BARACK OBAMA and Mitt Romney both attended elite private high schools. Both are undeniably smart and well educated and owe much of their success to the strong foundation laid by excellent schools.

Every motivated, high-potential young American deserves a similar opportunity. But the majority of very smart kids lack the wherewithal to enroll in rigorous private schools. They depend on public education to prepare them for life. Yet that system is failing to create enough opportunities for hundreds of thousands of these high-potential girls and boys.

Mostly, the system ignores them, with policies and budget priorities that concentrate on raising the floor under low-achieving students. A good and necessary thing to do, yes, but we’ve failed to raise the ceiling for those already well above the floor.

Read more over at the NY Times op-ed pages.

bookjacket

Exam Schools:
Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools
Chester E. Finn, Jr. & Jessica A. Hockett

ELECTION TUESDAY

FACT: “In 1964, Ronald Reagan was co-chair of Barry Goldwater’s campaign in California. He spoke out frequently in support of Goldwater’s brand of conservative Republicanism. But Reagan’s big moment in the campaign, the event that would put him on a trajectory for the White House, came by accident. Shortly before the November election, Goldwater canceled a major Los Angeles fund-raising speech. The organizers asked Reagan to fill in. Reagan, though tailoring his remarks to promote Goldwater, gave the same basic speech he had been honing for years. However, few Americans outside of GE plants or what Reagan self-mockingly called the ‘mashed potato’ lecture circuit had ever heard it. The crowd of bigwig Republican donors was starstruck by Reagan’s performance. Especially as compared to Goldwater (but really as compared to any contemporary political figure), Reagan was, as soon would be said everywhere, a great communicator. A group of wealthy men asked Reagan to repeat the speech on national television. They would buy the airtime.”

The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism:
A Short History

by David Farber

The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism tells the gripping story of perhaps the most significant political force of our time through the lives and careers of six leading figures at the heart of the movement. David Farber traces the history of modern conservatism from its revolt against New Deal liberalism, to its breathtaking resurgence under Ronald Reagan, to its spectacular defeat with the election of Barack Obama.

Farber paints vivid portraits of Robert Taft, William F. Buckley Jr., Barry Goldwater, Phyllis Schlafly, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. He shows how these outspoken, charismatic, and frequently controversial conservative leaders were united by a shared insistence on the primacy of social order, national security, and economic liberty. Farber demonstrates how they built a versatile movement capable of gaining and holding power, from Taft’s opposition to the New Deal to Buckley’s founding of the National Review as the intellectual standard-bearer of modern conservatism; from Goldwater’s crusade against leftist politics and his failed 1964 bid for the presidency to Schlafly’s rejection of feminism in favor of traditional gender roles and family values; and from Reagan’s city upon a hill to conservatism’s downfall with Bush’s ambitious presidency.

The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism provides rare insight into how conservatives captured the American political imagination by claiming moral superiority, downplaying economic inequality, relishing bellicosity, and embracing nationalism. This concise and accessible history reveals how these conservative leaders discovered a winning formula that enabled them to forge a powerful and formidable political majority.

We invite you to read the Introduction here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9119.pdf

Be sure to check in every Tuesday for a new tidbit from our great selection of politically-minded books.

Safari Time: C is for Cape Buffalo

 

This post is part of a Safari Series to celebrate the publication of Birds of Masai Mara by Adam Scott Kennedy and Animals of Masai Mara by Adam Scott Kennedy and Vicki Kennedy.

Check out additional Safari photographs of birds and animals here.

Animals of the Masai Mara
Adam Scott Kennedy & Vicki Kennedy

Birds of the Masai Mara
Adam Scott Kennedy

Jason Brennan on Why We’re Dumb at Politics

Jason Brennan‘s recent book The Ethics of Voting challenges the common assumption that everyone who can vote, should vote, arguing instead that uninformed voters are to blame for everything from bad laws, to wars and disastrous economic policies. In an ongoing series of popular posts for Election 101, (check here, and here, and here), Brennan takes the view that it’s no wonder things are in the state they’re in when the average voter heads to the polls armed with more personal biases than real information, and no ability to tell the difference. With so much at stake, why aren’t we all a bit smarter when it comes to politics? Are we indulging our irrational beliefs at the risk of our own futures? Where does the turf war end and real assessment begin, and why is it so hard for any of us to actually get to that point? Read his new post here:


Why We’re Dumb at Politics

Jason Brennan

 

Smart Doesn’t Pay

            You cross the street only when you think it’s clear. If you’re wrong, you die. So, you have every incentive to form beliefs about whether the street is clear in a rational way.

Now suppose you are about to vote. What happens if you make a mistake? Alas—not much.
Suppose Obama credibly promises me $10 million from the treasury if he is re-elected. If so, then from a selfish standpoint, having Obama win is worth $10 million more to me than having Romney win. However, that doesn’t yet show it’s worth my time to vote for Obama. My vote is just one of many. I have a better chance of winning Powerball than changing the outcome of the election.

People are fairly rational about checking for street traffic—and they’re not perfect about that—because irrationality is punished. They are irrational about politics because rationality does not pay and irrationality goes unpunished.           

When you go to a new restaurant, you probably spend some time looking over the menu. Maybe you ask the waiter which dishes are best. Maybe you deliberate about pasta or pizza. You put in the effort because you get what you choose.

Imagine a restaurant with a hundred million customers. Each customer places an order. However, customers don’t automatically get the meal they order. Instead, everyone gets the same meal—the most popular item on the menu. In this restaurant, if you order pizza, this has almost no chance of helping you get pizza. You are more likely to win Powerball than to place a tie-breaking order for pizza. In a restaurant like that, you might not even bother to look at the menu. You might not even bother place an order. Putting in effort to make a good choice seems pointless.

Now you know why so many citizens are ignorant and irrational about politics. Regardless of whether we care about others or just ourselves, most of us don’t invest in political knowledge because political knowledge doesn’t pay. We are ignorant because we lack the incentive to be well-informed. We are irrational because we lack the incentive to correct our biases.

Dumb Pays

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt says, ”Reasoning was not designed to pursue truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments.” Robert Wright concurs that the human brain evolved to be “a machine for winning arguments,” that is, for seeking victory, not truth.

Motivated reasoning occurs when the brain tries to arrive at beliefs a person finds pleasing. According to the theory of motivated reasoning, we have preferences over beliefs. We enjoy some beliefs. We tend to believe what we prefer to be true. Motivated reasoning occurs when the brain tries to arrive at beliefs that maximize good feelings and minimize bad feelings. Our beliefs are determined by emotions, not evidence. For example, I might prefer to think I am smart, I might prefer to think Democrats are good and Republicans are selfish, or I might prefer to think God created the earth 6,000 years ago.

Psychologist Drew Westen performed a famous experiment in which he scanned committed Democrats’ and Republicans’ brains as they engaged in motivated reasoning. One scary finding: As the partisans denied and evaded evidence right in front of their faces, pleasure centers in their brains lit up. Our brains reward us for intellectual vice.

In politics, dumb is fun. It’s fun to think my coalition is made up of all the good guys. It’s fun to feel superior to the other side—to imagine they are all ignorant and corrupt. It’s fun to allow our political beliefs to form an essential part of our identities. It’s fun to treat the Democrat-Republican rivalry like the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry.

We can afford to indulge pleasurable but grossly irrational political beliefs. And, so, most of us do.

The News Once Again Indicates I Was Right All Along

When we first begin thinking about politics, we don’t start as agnostics. That is, we don’t start with the attitude, “Oh, I don’t know anything, so I will withhold judgment until I first study a whole bunch.”

Few of us form our original political beliefs after first weighing the evidence. Instead, when we first start thinking about politics, we come to the table with groundless political beliefs. We begin with bents to believe some things and disbelieve others. For no good reason, each of us starts off left or right, libertarian or authoritarian, market-friendly or anti-market, and so on.

Our political beliefs are at least moderately hereditable. You genes dispose us to vote one way rather than another. Early childhood experiences also push you one way rather than another. By sheer accident, you might come to associate the Democrats with compassion or the Republicans with responsibility. For you, for the rest of your life, the word “Democrat” will automatically conjure up positive emotions. For the rest of your life, you’ll have a bent—based on no evidence at all—to vote one way rather than another.

When people first start thinking about politics, they come to the table with (often strongly held) pre-existing beliefs. That’s already a worry. Yet if we were really good at assessing evidence and changing our beliefs in light of evidence, then our non-rational bents would not be so bad. Sure, we’d start with groundless, baseless beliefs, but we’d end up with well-grounded beliefs. Young people would start as hacks, but end up as sages.

Alas, we are bad at assessing evidence. Most of us stay hacks.

In politics—but not only in politics—we exhibit strong confirmation bias. This means we tend to pay strong attention to and accept evidence in favor of beliefs we already hold, and tend to ignore, reject, or be bored by evidence against beliefs we hold. We tend to be impressed by evidence that confirms our pre-existing beliefs. We tend to ignore or be suspicious of evidence that this confirms our pre-existing beliefs. We are bored by evidence that tends to confirm views we reject. We cannot even be bothered to evaluate it. We give every benefit of the doubt to arguments and to people who support our views. We are quick to dismiss arguments and people who reject our views.

Confirmation bias means we don’t act like good scientists when thinking about politics. Instead, it means we act like highly corrupt scientists. We don’t care about the truth. We care about defending our turf.

Confirmation bias explains how we consume news. Thanks to the Internet, information is cheaper and easier to get than ever before. Why isn’t everyone much better informed and much less biased, then? Here’s the problem: People seek out news sources that identify and promote their own points of view. Libertarians read libertarian blogs. Left-liberals read left-liberal newspapers, such as the New York Times. Republicans flock to Fox News. People who consume news want to be informed—they want to be informed that they were right all along.

Jason Brennan is assistant professor of ethics at Georgetown University. He is the coauthor of A Brief History of Liberty.

This Week’s Book Giveaway

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: Fourth Edition
Roland Greene, editor in chief
Stephen Cushman, general editor
Clare Cavanagh, Jahan Ramazani & Paul Rouzer, associate editors

Through three editions over more than four decades, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics has built an unrivaled reputation as the most comprehensive and authoritative reference for students, scholars, and poets on all aspects of its subject: history, movements, genres, prosody, rhetorical devices, critical terms, and more. Now this landmark work has been thoroughly revised and updated for the twenty-first century. Compiled by an entirely new team of editors, the fourth edition—the first new edition in almost twenty years—reflects recent changes in literary and cultural studies, providing up-to-date coverage and giving greater attention to the international aspects of poetry, all while preserving the best of the previous volumes

At well over a million words and more than 1,000 entries, the Encyclopedia has unparalleled breadth and depth. Entries range in length from brief paragraphs to major essays of 15,000 words, offering a more thorough treatment—including expert synthesis and indispensable bibliographies—than conventional handbooks or dictionaries.

This is a book that no reader or writer of poetry will want to be without.

  • Thoroughly revised and updated by a new editorial team for twenty-first-century students, scholars, and poets
  • More than 250 new entries cover recent terms, movements, and related topics
  • Broader international coverage includes articles on the poetries of more than 110 nations, regions, and languages
  • Expanded coverage of poetries of the non-Western and developing worlds
  • Updated bibliographies and cross-references
  • New, easier-to-use page design
  • Fully indexed for the first time

The random draw for this book with be Friday 9/21 at 3 pm EST. Be sure to like us on Facebook if you haven’t already to be entered to win!

Safari Time: B is for Bee-Eater

 

This post is part of a Safari Series to celebrate the publication of Birds of Masai Mara by Adam Scott Kennedy and Animals of Masai Mara by Adam Scott Kennedy and Vicki Kennedy.

Check out additional Safari photographs of birds and animals here.

Animals of the Masai Mara
Adam Scott Kennedy & Vicki Kennedy

Birds of the Masai Mara
Adam Scott Kennedy

Noam Chomsky cites Marty Gilens’s eye-opening new book AFFLUENCE AND INFLUENCE

Noam Chomsky recently featured Martin Gilens’s new book AFFLUENCE AND INFLUENCE: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America in his column on AlterNet.org.

AIDP Book of the Year Award to Professor David Scheffer

On September 7th in Cleveland, Professor David Scheffer received the 2012 Book of the Year Award from the American National Section of L’Association Internationale de Droit Penal (AIDP) for his recent book, All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals (Princeton University Press, 2012).    Scheffer, who was U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues during the Clinton Administration, recounts his eight-year mission to confront the atrocities of the 1990s and build five war crimes tribunals to render justice.  The legal and diplomatic challenges he undertook at home and abroad frame this personal story of law, politics, and morality.

 

Professor Jens Meierhenrich of the London School of Economics and Political Science wrote of Scheffer’s book: “All the Missing Souls is a masterful, well-paced read that fills a glaring gap in the literature on international justice.  I have no doubt that All the Missing Souls will come to rank alongside Telford Taylor’s The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trails.  Scheffer is the Taylor of our times.”

 

Print and e-book versions of All the Missing Souls are available from Princeton University Press. The audio book will be available from Audible.com in late September.

Safari Time: A is for Agama

 

This post is part of a Safari Series to celebrate the publication of Birds of Masai Mara by Adam Scott Kennedy and Animals of Masai Mara by Adam Scott Kennedy and Vicki Kennedy.

Check out additional Safari photographs of birds and animals here.

Animals of the Masai Mara
Adam Scott Kennedy & Vicki Kennedy

Birds of the Masai Mara
Adam Scott Kennedy

Going on Safari, the birds and animals of the Masai Mara National Reserve

To celebrate the upcoming publications, Animals of the Masai Mara & Birds of the Masai Mara, Princeton University Press invites readers to join us on a mini-safari–a sampling of images and text from these two must-have books. Whether you are planning an adventure in Kenya or simply an arm-chair traveler like me, these books are delightful excursions into the wildlife you might encounter in the Masai Mara National Reserve.

Check back frequently for more pictures of the familiar (lions, zebras, masked weavers) and the lesser-known critters (springhare, guereza monkeys, sunbirds and the violet-backed starling) that reside in this popular tourist destination.

Books for travelers to Masai Mara:

Animals of the Masai Mara
Adam Scott Kennedy & Vicki Kennedy

Birds of the Masai Mara
Adam Scott Kennedy


 

Use this map to explore additional bird and natural history titles that may be of use to those interested in traveling to Africa.

Click on map pins to view cover and read brief review/summary of book.

To see list of books, click: Africa List

 

Birds of Western Africa Birds of Western and Central Africa A Guide to the Birds of Western Africa The Birds of Africa, Volume II: Game Birds to Pigeons The Birds of Africa, Volume III: Parrots to Woodpeckers The Birds of Africa, Volume V: Thrushes to Puffback Flycatchers The Birds of Africa, Volume VI: Picathartes to Oxpeckers The Birds of Africa, Volume VII: Sparrows to Buntings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



List of African birds and natural history books:

BOOK FACT FRIDAY

FACT: 100 years ago, on September 12, 1912, Woodrow Wilson delivered a talk to New York State Democratic Leaders in Syracuse, NY. Here’s a snippet of his talk that day:

“…there is no use being the representative of the party for the time being unless you understand it, unless you know the man you are dealing with. I must in candor, I must in faithfulness to you, try to show you the inside of my mind, and if I have found the words to do so, I am very happy.”

The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Volume 25: Aug.-Nov., 1912
by Woodrow Wilson
Edited by Arthur S. Link

This volume opens with Wilson’s speech of August 7, 1912, accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, and ends with his election as President of the United States on November 5, 1912.

All of Wilson’s significant extant personal and political correspondence and all significant incoming correspondence for this period is published, most of it for the first time. The most important contents of this volume are the texts of Wilson’s campaign speeches. A few have been omitted, and some are excerpted to avoid undue repetition. Most of his speeches are included, however, not only because they are essential to understanding his political philosophy and oratorical style, but also because all previous editions were found to be both incomplete and defective. The major accomplishment of this volume is the textual restoration of the great New Freedom speeches to their original majestic language and form. Altogether, they constitute one of the great oratorical accomplishments in modern history. Complete texts or substantial portions are provided of forty major addresses and many short speeches and remarks.