Princeton author Daniel Stedman Jones had a busy day on 16th January promoting his recently published ‘Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics’. In the afternoon he appeared on BBC Radio 4′s ‘Thinking Allowed’ and that evening he was the lead speaker at a public lecture based around the book at the London School of Economics where his respondents were Professor Lord Skidelsky and Professor Mark Pennington. Please follow the links to catch up with both events.
Political and constitutional theorist Corey Brettschneider has been busy doing a number of interviews to promote his book, When the State Speaks, What Should it Say: How Democracies Can Protect Expression and Promote Equality. His book looks at the quandary often faced by democracies when they are forced to choose between protecting the right of its citizens to engage in hate-related speech, or violating freedom of expression. Brettschneider argues that the state should protect the right to express discriminatory beliefs, but that it should actively engage in democratic persuasion, publicly criticizing or giving reasons to reject such hate-based views. Check out his first interview on Bloggingheads about his book, and his second, a discussion of race and public / private distinction. Corey also appeared on Public Ethics Radio (sponsored by Carnegie Endowment) with Christian Barry to discuss his book, and took part in a New Books in Philosophy interview with Robert Talisse.
For a detailed look at When the State Speaks, What Should it Say, check out the online symposium on Publicreason.net, an ongoing chapter-by-chapter discussion of his book, with contributions by an array of prominent scholars.
In a 1, 2, 3 punch, we’ve seen in quick succession, a review of Two Cheers for Anarchism in the Wall Street Journal, a feature on author James C. Scott in the New York Times, and a review for our UK colleagues in The Independent.
Well, one thought that came to mind reading these articles is that we may all secretly be anarchists, or at least benefit from anarchy in our personal lives.
As the feature in the New York Times points out (alongside a delightful photo of the author with his flock of chickens), “To most Americans the term anarchism probably invokes bomb-throwing radicals. But seen through Mr. Scott’s squint, anarchist principles are in action all around us, whether in jaywalking, the anti-SAT movement or assembly-line slowdowns — all examples, he contends, of everyday resistance to the rule of technocratic elites.”
So where are these sites of anarchy? If one is to believe The Independent–small businesses are hotbeds of anarchy, mom and pop shops are run by the true anarchists. Tom Hodgkinson asks, “Are shopkeepers the only true anarchists?”
Prof Scott points out that when American wage slaves, tied down to factory jobs, are asked by opinion polls what sort of work they would prefer, most say they yearn to run their own shop, restaurant or farm. Prof Scott goes on to say that, “the desire for autonomy, for control over the working day and the sense of freedom and self-respect such control provides, is a vastly under-estimated social aspiration for much of the world’s population”.
Truly, to be a shopkeeper is a revolutionary act. As Prof Scott asserts, “[A] society dominated by smallholders and shopkeepers comes closer to equality and to popular ownership of the means of production than any economic system yet devised.” Yes, comrades, rise up, throw off your chains, open a shop!
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Michael Weiss calls the book “intriguing,” and goes on to say, “Mr. Scott doesn’t pretend to abide by a utopian antigovernment philosophy or to renew the prescriptions of 19th-century Russian anarchists who wanted to overthrow the czarist state. Rather, he argues for a return to “mutuality” and organic human cooperativeness. The bulk of his book is thus dedicated to criticizing the niggling little tyrannies of everyday life in free-market democracies, from superstores that have replaced more humane mom-and-pop enterprises to the attempts of agribusiness to impose factory-like standardization on nature itself.”
Learn more about this book:
Two Cheers for Anarchism
Voting is a good example of the kind of large-scale cooperation among non-relatives that makes our species so unusual a member of the animal kingdom. In their new book Meeting at Grand Central: Understanding the Social and Evolutionary Roots of Cooperation, Lee Cronk and Beth Leech explain that cooperation is stymied by two things: coordination problems and collective action dilemmas. In their previous post on this blog, they explained how ballots solve a coordination problem by allowing people to cast their votes strategically, i.e., for candidates who may not be their first choices but who have some chance of attracting enough votes to win. In this post, they take a look at voting as a collective action dilemma: Why do we vote when our chance of having an individual impact is so small?
Lee Cronk and Beth L. Leech
On Tuesday, well over 100 million Americans will go to the polls to vote (or will have voted already through early voting options). They will do so despite the fact that voting takes time, effort, and preparation. They will need to figure out where their polling place is. They will need to find time before or after work or while the kids are at school to travel to that place. They may have trouble finding parking. They may have to stand in line. And they may worry whether they know enough about issues and whether they are making the right choice.
Each voter goes to this effort despite the fact that the chance that his or her vote will affect the outcome of the presidential election is infinitesimally small. One scholarly estimate puts the chance that a given vote, even in a battleground state, will change the course of an election at 1 in 10 million. Why, then, does anyone actually bother to vote?
Collective action dilemmas arise whenever everyone in a group would like some public good to be produced while also preferring that others in the group do the work to produce it. The problem becomes worse whenever the group becomes large and whenever the impact of each individual contribution is low. Voting in a large, democratic society thus should pose a collective action dilemma in the extreme. The “paradox of voting,” as described by political scientist Anthony Downs more than a half century ago, asks why voting does not pose more of a collective action problem than it does. Clearly the costs exceed the benefits for the individual voter, and clearly the individual has little impact on the election outcome. And yet, if no one voted, democracy would collapse.
Fortunately for democracy, many people tend to overestimate their own efficacy. One well-known study documenting this tendency comes from political scientist Terry Moe, who found that members of the economic organizations he surveyed tended to overestimate the extent to which their own dues and other contributions would help the organizations achieve their goals.
Why do people tend to overestimate their own efficacy? One possible evolutionary explanation of this finding begins with the simple observation that most people are not particularly good at understanding large numbers. Why would they be? Although the modern world may force us to deal with large numbers every day, for our ancestors, who lived in small groups and had no money, small numbers were the order of the day. Even today, many languages have counting systems that amount to nothing more than “one,” “two,” and “many.” Thus, even something as commonplace and essential to today’s society as voting may rely upon the difficulty we have with large numbers and our resulting tendency to overestimate the impact that our vote will have on an election’s outcome.
Another possible reason why we tend to overestimate our individual efficacy arises from an evolutionary insight regarding the way we make mistakes. Ideally, natural selection would have designed our minds with the ability always to make the right decision, accurately weighing the costs and benefits of our different options. In reality, we make errors, and those errors come with costs. If the cost of making one kind of error is much larger than that of making another kind, selection pressure on how we make that kind of decision will be asymmetrical. A tendency to make more of one kind of relatively low-cost kind of error rather than more of a relatively high-cost kind may be a design feature, not a flaw, of the human mind. This is the idea behind error management theory, developed by evolutionary psychologist Martie Haselton and her colleagues. Another evolutionary psychologist, Randy Nesse, explains the idea with an analogy to smoke detectors. You might like to buy a smoke detector that only goes off when there is a true emergency and not simply when you are making toast, but in reality such a perfect smoke detector is impossible to design. Given a choice between a smoke detector that sometimes goes off when there is no real threat of a fire and one that sometimes fails to go off when there is a real threat of one, which would you choose?
Applying this idea to Moe’s observation, it may be that the error of contributing to a public good and having that contribution not bear fruit is often a small price to pay compared to the error of failing to help create a public good from which one would have benefitted greatly. Given that our ancestors lived in small groups, this could easily have pushed our psychology in the direction of erring on the side of participation by overestimating the degree to which our contributions really matter to the success of the collective action. Thus, an additional reason why we vote may be that the cost of voting is so small that it is worth paying on the off chance that one’s vote will actually make a difference. Something to keep in mind on November 6.
Lee Cronk is professor of anthropology at Rutgers University. He is the author of That Complex Whole: Culture and the Evolution of Human Behavior. Beth L. Leech is associate professor of political science at Rutgers University. She is the coauthor of Basic Interests: The Importance of Groups in Politics and in Political Science (Princeton).
A great number of things have changed in American airlines since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Newer, “safer” procedures have been introduced, and seemingly outdated processes have been cast aside. What’s questionable, however, is if these new procedures really hold much of a benefit or any advantage at all. With the creation of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act on November 19, 2001, airlines no longer contracted with private companies for airport screening. The federal government has taken over airline precautions in the form of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA has implemented a number of policies to make the airports and airlines safer places to go. A more watchful eye now oversees our airline’s customers.
Long gone are the days when passengers could enter the cockpit at free will. Flight decks now include bulletproof doors made with heavy duty materials, such as ballistic aluminum armor unified with composite armor laminates to prevent unauthorized access by terrorists or anyone wishing to do harm. While procedures like these seem to bear little negative repercussions in regard to travel safety, there are certainly some security actions on the social side of the spectrum that could be categorized as socially questionable. Tallying off the list of possible missteps in airline security policy prompts many experts in sociology, law, and philosophy to dissect the newer airline security model. Perhaps there should be some consideration given to the fact that certain regulations have “pushed the envelope” a little too far.
Take for example the case of Nick George, as reported by PBS NewsHour. George was passing through security in a Philadelphia airport on his way back to college in California. While going through the security checkpoint, George had been carrying some 200 flashcards written in Arabic. Around ten of the flashcards had ‘alarming’ vocabulary written on them, such as “bomb” or “terrorist.”
George was using these flash cards for his Arabic language course and had merely been trying to study more about the Arabic media. George’s offered explanation did not prevent him from being meticulously questioned by the FBI and TSA for hours on end. The vocabulary words were not in fact used for sadistic doctrine, as the airport security officials’ actions might have suggested. This raises the question as to whether or not George’s First and Fourth amendment rights were violated. A suit had been filed on behalf of The American Civil Liberties Union and has since been dropped by the federal defendants and is now “proceeding to discovery,” which means further investigation is underway.
So, are basic human rights being violated by some of the more radical regulations instituted by today’s airlines? Harvey Molotch, author of Against Security believes there is a case to be made. Molotch addresses some of the most controversial policies that have sparked heated debates across human rights and political forums across the nation. When it comes to de-humanizing individuals, Molotch believes the movement to ban public restrooms is at the paramount of humiliation and degradation aimed toward the human species. To deprive people of such a basic human function is frightening to anyone who values their freedoms and constitutional rights.
Read more about airport security and what we can do to make travel in our country safer without sacrificing our dignities and the right to live life peacefully:
PUP author E.J. Dionne Jr. is mentioned as a noteworthy intellectual of liberal Catholicism in a New York Times op-ed
In last weekend’s NY Times, Molly Worthen laments the caricatured, politically right-wing version of Catholicism portrayed in the U.S. Presidential campaign, and argues for increased attention to an all-too-often ignored and ill-understood social justice orientation of liberal Catholicism. The tradition of liberal Catholicism, which is incompatible with the Ayn Randian visions of Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, remains alive and well, and is discussed and defended with eloquence in a recent Princeton University Press book by EJ Dionne Jr. policy making:
If the Democratic Party is not listening to liberal Catholics, it is partly because they are not in a position to speak very loudly. They are dodging the sights of a Roman hierarchy more preoccupied with smoking out left-leaning nuns than nurturing critical thinking.
“Is liberal Catholicism dead?” Time wondered a few years back. The answer is no: in some regards, liberal Catholic intellectuals are flourishing. They are writing and teaching, running social justice initiatives at the church’s great universities, ensconced in professorships around the Ivy League. Yet a cozy academic subculture can be as isolating as it is empowering.
The handful of nationally known Catholic political thinkers who might be called progressive, or at least compassionate and cosmopolitan — like the journalist-scholars Garry Wills and E. J. Dionne Jr., blogmeister Andrew Sullivan, or the feminist nun and blogger Sister Joan Chittister — are far outnumbered by the ranks of prominent Catholic conservatives in the trenches of activism and policy making.
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:
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.
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.
Political theorist at Cambridge and British journalist David Runciman has offered us some of the most thought-provoking takes on the problems that plague modern politics. Author of The Politics of Good Intentions as well as Political Hypocrisy, his forthcoming book, The Confidence Trap, a history of democracy and crisis, is due out in Fall of next year. Here he discusses the idea of crisis elections: Certainly we faced one in 1932, 1980, and 2008, but are we facing one now? Peggy Noonan thinks so. What has been the historical impact on elected governments during times of crisis, and what makes election 2012 different? Read Runciman’s post here:
Major economic crises make it very difficult for elected governments to hold on to office. During the first four years of the Great Depression, every democracy around the world, from Australia to Austria, from Brazil to Bulgaria, changed government at least once. Many of them gave up on democracy altogether and reverted to some form of military rule. It was a sobering fact, much noted at the time, that when the world’s states gathered in London in June 1933 for the World Economic Conference, only two countries were still being run by the same people who had been in charge when Wall Street crashed in October 1929. They were Mussolini’s Italy and Stalin’s Russia (and Stalin didn’t even bother to send a delegation to London). It added to the impression that crises suit dictatorships, not democracies.
The global economic crisis of the mid-1970s also proved a very tough time for democratic leaders. They found themselves being forced from office just about everywhere, either though defeat at the ballot box or driven out by scandals. Almost the only one to hold on was Indira Gandhi in India, and she only managed it by using emergency powers to suspend Indian democracy altogether in 1975. When she relented twenty-one months later and finally allowed elections, the voters kicked her out too.
This crisis has been different. Plenty of elected leaders who were in charge when Lehman’s went under nearly four years ago are still there now. Manmohan Singh in India, Angela Merkel in Germany, Stephen Harper in Canada and Recep Erdogan in Turkey have all been in office for well over the duration. This reflects the widely varying impact of the crisis on different parts of the democratic world. These four countries have all had relatively benign crises and their economies have proved fairly robust. The same is true of Australia, which has changed leader from Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard, but only because of an internal party coup; the same party is still in power. In fact, of the members of the G20, ten have had the same government since 2008, and only two of these are straightforwardly undemocratic (China and Saudi Arabia).
The result is that no clear pattern for democracy has emerged in this crisis. In some places, including Southern Europe, democracy has looked very fragile and in Italy and Greece there have been temporary suspensions; elsewhere, democracy has looked strong. The patterns of earlier crises were much clearer. The Great Depression was very bad for democracy and nearly destroyed it. The 1970s, in retrospect, were good for democracy. Countries that were able to change governments found an outlet for popular discontent. Authoritarian regimes that lacked a comparable outlet either fell apart (as in Greece and Portugal) or were forced to suppress the symptoms of the crisis (as in Eastern Europe) with disastrous long-term consequences. The democratic tendency to switch horses in tough times was a weakness in the 1930s. During the 1970s it was a strength.
The lack of a clear pattern this time round makes it hard to know where to place the US election of 2012. Is it even a ‘crisis’ election? The election of 2008, which took place two months after the Lehman’s debacle, definitively was. That was what helped Obama win. He inherited the crisis. In four years he has neither fixed it nor has he allowed it to spin out of control. He has surfed along with it. He doesn’t ‘own’ it, for better or for worse. That means there is still scope for competing narratives to take hold before November. Is it time for a change or time to stay the course? Either line might stick, depending on how well the candidates can deliver it.
But there is also still scope for the crisis to take another turn. This crisis differs from previous ones in being more inconclusive. It simply drags on, unresolved, unfathomable, and littered with false dawns. Though Europe has stabilized for now, it is not hard to imagine another lurch later this year, triggered by a Greek default or a political meltdown in Italy or a bank run in Spain, which takes the crisis to another level, and sweeps away another raft of elected governments, including in Germany and perhaps further afield.
Will the next wave hit before November? Who knows, but at the moment it seems unlikely. Obama has always struck me as a lucky politician. In crisis politics, as in comedy, the key to success is timing.
David Runciman teaches political theory at the University of Cambridge and is a fellow of Trinity Hall. He is the author of The Politics of Good Intentions and Political Hypocrisy, and writes regularly about politics for the London Review of Books.
FACT: “A feature of the ‘great compromise’ between the North and the slave-holding South was the provision for electing two senators from each state. That arrangement has given those chosen to represent small, sparsely populated states—then Rhode Island and Delaware, now Vermont and Wyoming—equal power with the most populous. In 1790 Virginia had ten times the population of Rhode Island; California now has more than seventy times the population
Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition
by James T. Kloppenberg
With a new preface by the author
Derided by the Right as dangerous and by the Left as spineless, Barack Obama puzzles observers. In Reading Obama, James T. Kloppenberg reveals the sources of Obama’s ideas and explains why his principled aversion to absolutes does not fit contemporary partisan categories. Obama’s commitments to deliberation and experimentation derive from sustained engagement with American democratic thought. In a new preface, Kloppenberg explains why Obama has stuck with his commitment to compromise in the first three years of his presidency, despite the criticism it has provoked.
Reading Obama traces the origins of his ideas and establishes him as the most penetrating political thinker elected to the presidency in the past century. Kloppenberg demonstrates the influences that have shaped Obama’s distinctive worldview, including Nietzsche and Niebuhr, Ellison and Rawls, and recent theorists engaged in debates about feminism, critical race theory, and cultural norms. Examining Obama’s views on the Constitution, slavery and the Civil War, the New Deal, and the civil rights movement, Kloppenberg shows Obama’s sophisticated understanding of American history. Obama’s interest in compromise, reasoned public debate, and the patient nurturing of civility is a sign of strength, not weakness, Kloppenberg argues. He locates its roots in Madison, Lincoln, and especially in the philosophical pragmatism of William James and John Dewey, which nourished generations of American progressives, black and white, female and male, through much of the twentieth century, albeit with mixed results.
Reading Obama reveals the sources of Obama’s commitment to democratic deliberation: the books he has read, the visionaries who have inspired him, the social movements and personal struggles that have shaped his thinking. Kloppenberg shows that Obama’s positions on social justice, religion, race, family, and America’s role in the world do not stem from a desire to please everyone but from deeply rooted—although currently unfashionable—convictions about how a democracy must deal with difference and conflict.
“James Kloppenberg, one of America’s foremost intellectual historians, persuasively argues that [there is] a broader shift in American philosophy away from appeal to general principles, valid at all times and in all places, toward a reliance on local, historically particular values and ideals. Kloppenberg’s own endeavor, in surveying the work in political and legal theory that seems to have shaped President Obama’s thinking, is to argue for the coherence, the Americanness, and the plausibility of Obama’s approach to politics and to the Constitution.”—Kwame Anthony Appiah, New York Review of Books
We invite you to read the Introduction here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9277.pdf
Be sure to check in every Tuesday for a new tidbit from our great selection of politically-minded books.
We invite you to check out new and forthcoming books in our 2012 political science & law catalog at:
We are sorry to say we will not see you at the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting in New Orleans. Due to Hurricane/Storm Isaac we decided to play it safe and not attend. Is everyone going to Vegas now? Yes, we’re following the #APSA2012 tweets.
Even though you won’t find our booth at APSA, you can still order PUP books using the conference discount. Because we could not make it to the meeting, we are offering 30% off when you order at press.princeton.edu. Please enter code P05129 in the Catalog Code box when you check out. Your discount will be applied when the order is processed. This special offer expires October 31, 2012. You can also order by phone at 1-800-777-4726, just make sure to mention the special offer code P05129.
You can start browsing the catalog, or start browsing these great new and forthcoming titles below (just to name a few):
The Unheavenly Chorus:
Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy
Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba & Henry E. Brady
Read chapter one online.
The Spirit of Compromise:
Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It
Amy Gutmann & Dennis Thompson
Read the introduction online.
How to Win an Election:
An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians
Quintus Tullius Cicero
Translated and with an introduction by Philip Freeman
Read the introduction online.
Creating a New Racial Order:
How Immigration, Multiracialism, Genomics, and the Young Can Remake Race in America
Jennifer L. Hochschild, Vesla M. Weaver & Traci R. Burch
Read the introduction online.
How Law Can End the Poverty of Nations
Robert D. Cooter & Hans-Bernd Schäfer
Read chapter one online.
And of special interest – two chapters available for free download:
by John Sides & Lynn Vavreck
We hope everyone stays safe. We’ll see you next year at APSA!
To learn more about new political science and law books, you can sign up for our new book e-mail announcements at:
Jason Brennan, author of The Ethics of Voting created quite a stir here yesterday with his post on why most people shouldn’t vote, so I asked him to sound off on some of the comments he received, including the question of how to identify what some called the all-too-subjective “bad voter”. The burning question seems to be, how do you know if you’re a bad voter? Well, as Jason argues, you probably are. But read on for some interesting findings from political psychology that explain his views, as well as some practical advice on improving cognitive biases and becoming a good voter.
How Do I Know if I’m a Bad Voter
In The Ethics of Voting, I argue that most people have a moral duty to abstain from voting. See my previous posts, “Bad Government is Our Fault” and “Most People Shouldn’t Vote” for part of my explanation why. (Note that in “Bad Government is Our Fault”, I explain why I focus on bad voting even though bad voting is not the only thing that causes bad government.)
Here’s a problem: the people I describe as bad voters are unlikely recognize that they are bad voters.
To confirm this in at least one instance, as an unscientific experiment, I discussed my thesis with a person whom I believe exemplifies bad voting. He agreed that other people should not vote.
More scientifically, psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger have shown that incompetent people systematically overestimate their own knowledge, competence, and mental acuity, while they systematically underestimate others’ competence. The less incompetent people know, the less they know it. In contrast, more competent people tend to be more modest about their abilities. They know much, but they also know how much they don’t know. They overestimate how much others know. (This is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.)
In chapter seven and in the afterword of The Ethics of Voting, I give an overview of some findings from political psychology, as well as other studies in voter rationality and knowledge. The upshot of those findings is, in my opinion, that any random person should assume she is politically incompetent until she has good reason to think otherwise. The issue is not “How do I know I’m a bad voter?”—you probably are.*
Instead, the issue is “How could I possibly become a good voter?” In the afterword to the paperback edition, I give some practical advice about becoming a good voter. Becoming a good voter takes significant knowledge of the social sciences and of some current events, but that’s not the first step. Getting information is not only useless, but downright harmful, unless you have disciplined your mind to process information in a dispassionate, scientific, unbiased way. So, in the afterword, I outline some of the main cognitive biases we suffer from, and describe practical steps one can take to overcome those biases.
Now, I freely admit that most bad voters do not recognize they are bad voters. If so, one might object, how can they have a duty not to vote? They do not know they are bad voters, so how can they have a duty to abstain?
I don’t find this objection persuasive. Here’s an analogy. Suppose Bob beats his children for any minor infractions. He refuses to educate them, holding that education corrupts the soul. He verbally abuses them because he thinks this builds character. Bob does all of this because he thinks it’s best for his children, even though it’s clearly not. Now, suppose Bob isn’t crazy. Rather, he’s just in the grip of some false, bad beliefs about child rearing. In this case, most of us would hold Bob responsible for his actions. Sure, he thinks he’s doing the right thing, but he should know better. He’s a bad parent and should act better.
I have often compared bad voters to drunk drivers—they are like people steering the state while intoxicated. Suppose I am driving drunk and a child is crossing at a crosswalk. Because I am so drunk, I am unable to see the child, and so I am unable to recognize that I have a duty to stop. Still, even though I don’t know that the child is there, I have a duty to stop. Though I am unable to know I have a duty to stop, I am not relieved of that duty, because I had a responsibility to make sure I only drove the car while competent to do so. Similar remarks apply to voters. Many of them are too biased and irrational to make wise choices. But it’s their fault that they’re like that in the first place. So, they aren’t excused when the vote badly.
*However, people reading the Princeton University Press blog are much more likely to be good voters than randomly selected US citizens. I’m not saying that to suck up to readers, but because it’s true. The demographic factors that positively correlate with reading this post are also positively correlated with being a good voter, as I define the term.
The Comparative Urban Studies Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center in D.C. recently hosted author Daniel A. Bell for a great discussion around his recent book, The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age, co-authored with Avner de-Shalit.
Bell was joined by John J. DeGioia, President of Georgetown University. This event was also co-sponsored by the Program on America and the Global Economy and the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. You can download the full audio podcast and PowerPoint presentation on the event page on the Woodrow Wilson Center site.
Do you have any questions for Daniel A. Bell or Avner de-Shalit about cities? Let us know in the comments section!