by Tyler Cowen
on May 6, 2012 at 2:06 pm
1. On Posner and Weyl, John Cochrane is essentially correct.
2. Peter Thiel lecture notes on attracting venture capital.
3. Who complains the most about political polarization”: the polarized.
4. Is it worthwhile to recycle eyeglasses?
5. Scott Sumner on strategy and monetary policy.
3 seems staggeringly obvious.
Does it? And even if it does, that’s no reason to not test for it. Many things that seemed “staggeringly obvious” have been wrong once they were examined more closely.
In other news, those standing at the south pole or the north pole find that the greatest distance of polarization relative to them is twelve thousand miles, while those on the equator find relative polarization to be at most only 6 thousand miles. Next week, in tautology club…
I get your geophysical analogy, but you are missing the point.
The issue is who PERCEIVES and DISLIKES partisan rancor the most.
Every election cycle we hear politicians saying that the nature of politics has never been more divisive and that they wish to rise above it through bipartisan cooperation.
It’s poppycock. Politics is not more divisive now than when politicians would literally kill one another or start civil wars over difficult issues. These words are intended to appeal to the median voter who does not identify with either party and is perceived to be near the middle of the spectrum on most individual issues.
When people like Nancy Pelosi talk about political rancor, you can’t take it at face value. She was, by nature, a political divider who made no pretense of reaching across the aisle.
The study finds that the people who perceive and complain about partisanship are those with the most staunch and polarized of viewpoints. This is counterintuitive. We expect partisans to recognize partisanship, but they ENCOURAGE confrontation. It is the center of mass who we most often see on TV as saying the extreme right and left are the obstacles to progress.
I think most of America’s political center is mostly apathetic and ambivalent about most issues except those that concern themselves directly. They don’t often know much about issues and actors. One would think they complain the most about divisiveness.
Actually, the study has nothing to do with dislike of partisanship, only perception of it.
I suppose what riles me is that the perception of polarization is attributed to a psychological mechanism – projection. The point of the geophysical analogy is that the mechanism could be, quite simply, geometric. If ‘polarization’ in politics is not simply a bad metaphor, but if it actually makes sense to think of political ideology as a spectrum with two poles, then… so much for psychological sympathy, spatial distance is a much more parsimonious explanation. The more extreme one’s own politics, the less one shares with the politics of others, by definition
These quotes sum up the problem (emphasis added):
“Our central hypothesis is that people perceive political polarization insofar as they themselves are politically polarized. People with more extreme partisan attitudes perceive greater political polarization than do people with less extreme partisan attitudes, projecting their own attitude extremity onto others.”
” Conceptually, polarization projection reflects people’s assumption that others share their attitude extremity, not that others share their particular attitudes.”
” We suggest that polarization projection occurs partly because people perceive that others engage in similar attitudinal processes as themselves. That is, people not only project what they think (simple projection) they also project how they think.”
The problem here is that an objective measure of relative “attitude extremity” is a function of one’s relative position. As one moves from an extreme to the middle of the road, the average and maximum distance between oneself and any given political position shrinks. One need posit nothing about political psychology.
But this process is being explained by subjective-psychological ‘attitudinal processes’ and sympathetic (emphasis on the pathos) reasoning by projection, while the purely logical explanation is not countenanced.
Do I buy the psychological explanation that projection of opinion formation practices can explain why partisans both see stronger in-group cohesion and out-group polarization, while non-partisans would see less coherence among anyone (because their political positions are incoherent – cf. all that stuff about voter ignorance)? Sure, makes sense, they have support.
But whatever effect that has needs to be dis-aggregated from the objective, structural part of the problem.
As to what to expect of partisans and the apathetic center, I expect partisans to make ideological claims for reasonableness and I expect non-partisans to have basically no knowledge of politics, let alone meta-politics (political polarization).
OK, well I took “complain” in the post title to mean “express dislike.”
It’s not much of a stretch to say that perceived polarization, with a decidely negative connotation to ‘polarization’ to be an observation of discontent.
It has been shown in a recent study in experiments that people tend to express more extreme views when grouped with likeminded people and more moderate views when grouped with moderate to polar opposite people. To the extent we bicker in disagreement over abstract principles, we tend to be more cordial to human beings.
I’m not arguing with your spatial analogy, aka the ice cream salesmen on the beach metaphor. In fact, I rely on it. With an equilibrium of both candidates side by side in the center with perfect information, in a world of imperfect information you have to trick the median voter into thinking your ice cream cart is closer than the other one. From the perspective of the extremists, the median voter is ALWAYS between him and his opponent.
The purely spatial model fails because this experiment involves perception, not full information. This is a Behavioral Economics modification to the rational, positivist view of Public Choice theory.
To the contrary, I think that voter apathy, ignorance and fatigue can greatly contribute to electoral contests. Indiana didn’t go for Obama because he appealed to them. Voters didn’t throw Democrats out of the House two years later because they suddenly found Jesus in the eyes of Republicans. Present attitudes matter greatly when elections hinge on 3% of voters in a handful of states.
This situation is more akin to Tyler’s Fallacy of Mood Affiliation.
But Tyler’s byline isn’t what the study found. The study measured perception of polarization, not dissatisfaction with polarization.
But yes, of course there’s a difference between perceived polarization and actual polarization. But a lot of the time what we perceive cues off of what is actually there, and as far as what is actually there goes, partisans live in a relatively more polarized world than non-partisans, as a matter of objective reality, not pathetic fallacy.
Completely OT, but something you all might enjoy:
Rory Sutherland: Perspective is Everything.
Comedy, psychology, behavioral economics, marketing, Von Mises, and the European Union.
It’s my understanding that it’s illegal, at least in California, to distribute used eyeglasses. You can collect them for export, but you can’t give them away in California. The optical trade in effect has a legislated monopoly, at the expense of the poor and others who can’t afford glasses.
re: #4, i had no idea that making new eyeglasses was so cheap.
That’s mass-produced with simple prescriptions. Go look at the reading glasses aisle next time you are at CVS.
So I guess these kids are still screwed?
Are glasses for the nearsighted much more expensive to produce than for the farsighted?
Nope. But Steve Sailer should be chiming in real soon now. Limited cranial capacity, brains pushing against the eyeballs, distoring the optical field, all predictable by race. Wait for it.
He’d probably say the opposite. Nearsightedness is directly correlated IQ and, not surprisingly Asians (then whites) are more likely to have the trait than other groups.
-1 to Bob, +1 to WutIz
See, Bob, it has nothing to do with race.
I agree, the article seemed to use an apples to oranges comparison. If everyone could get by with drug store glasses, like me, the optometrists would be out of business real fast. I am a member of Lion’s International and am involved in eyeglass recycling. It does not take $0.78 to throw about 5000 glasses in a pickup truck and drive them 50 miles to the processing center. There, volunteers clean and classify their magnification. Groups overseas can request the precise number and magnification of glasses that they need.
What about the issues of differential prescriptions, astigmatism, and bifocals that the article mentioned? My left lens has a much stronger prescription than my right lens, I have slight astigmatism, and I wear trifocals. I have old glasses that I would willingly donate but I find it staggeringly unlikely that even the Lions Club can find a donee who could use my eyeglasses.
If it’s just the frames and not the lens that the Lions Club uses, I could see that working, but only one commenter to the article said that’s how the donation process works.
The eyeglasses example is not unlike the case of people sending used shoes to Haiti after the earthquake. It is a wasteful activity that must be designed to make the people donating worthless junk feel like they are actually doing something charitable without making any sort of sacrifice at all.
The costs of manufacturing virtually any small, commodity-type object today is minuscule when compared with the total costs incurred in getting that product to the end user. In many instances, recycling makes no sense because the labor costs are actually higher for preparing the goods for use by another than they are for making a whole new thing. Because the only costs saved through recycling are the costs of making the physical product, which are tiny, it makes no sense to recycle in many cases. This is especially true when the products must be shipped from the U.S. to the country where they are to be used.
You are incorrect that reuse (not recycling) only offsets manufacturing. The supply chain is completely different. When my mother and her other house-wife friends without any children at home run used glass drives, take a few lessons in diagnosing children’s eyesight, and then personally fly to Uganda to distribute them, the equation is not so simple. I’ll agree that an overseas doctor running clinics and purchasing new glasses from the standard supply chain is a better solution, but these villages are visted by an optometrist perhaps once a decade. And given the potential dangers, our economy is better off putting otherwise nonproductive members in harms way even if the children may not receive the perfect prescription. Plus my mom is now much more supply-chain conscious and feels the hero. She is now considering joining the workforce full time, and I would attribute it in no small part to the lessons learned.
The whole article stank of ivory tower number crunching disassociated from reality.
voluntourism is a complete waste of resources. i can’t live with that of course, but i’m sure your mom can.
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