Thursday, April 15, 2010

We are in this together -- let’s throw out the bums!

An asteroid is going to hit the earth in 24 hours destroying us all. Okay – so you prefer tsunamis or earthquakes or a visit from your mother-in-law. Whatever. Let’s assume we all have very little time left. What are you going to do? Will you argue with your neighbor about the leaves from his tree that blew into your yard? Will you complain to the Mayor about excessive traffic calming devices? Will you argue with your Dad about the unfair burden left to you by spendthrift baby boomers?
Most of you probably won’t do any of those things. If you really only have 24 hours left, there is a lot to do. So what are you going to do? Of course, you will do things that are most important to you. Some of you will spend time with your families. Some of you will pray. Some of you will make apologies to people you might have harmed. Some of you will go to Vegas one more time. Get the point? There are things that are really important to each of us and there are things that are less so.
Why am I saying this? Just to remind you that we all have a lot in common. It is pretty naïve to think that we are all alike in this regard – but it seems to me that most of us share a lot of values. In the economic sphere we want to do the best we can to provide security, food, and general well-being for our families. Most of us would like to see more effective ways to reduce crime, improve education, reduce discrimination, and so on. Most of us would like to find effective ways to take care of the earth’s resources and not waste them. Most of us want to be healthy. I don’t know many religions, community groups, or political organizations that stand against any of these things. We have common bonds and we share in the need to attain our goals in the best ways. We are deprived when we can’t attain our goals.
Today we are involved with very large short-term and long-term challenges. If there was ever a time to see our shared interdependence it is now – when the stakes are the highest. We don’t have a lot of time to mess around. Solving these challenges unites us and brings us all benefits.
Yet we fiddle while Rome burns. We point fingers and call people names. I talk to so many people who are sick and tired of the process. It really is outrageous yet the solution is simple. We are in it together. Okay – so we come from a lot of different backgrounds and we don’t agree on a lot of things. But we do agree on the key things. My liberal friend tells me that conservatives are rich, hateful jerks who don’t want to help people get out of poverty. Do you REALLY believe most conservatives are such cold-hearted brutes? Is it possible that they have different beliefs about the best ways to approach the poverty issue? My conservative friend says that liberals are all heart and no brain and won’t rest until they have spent all our money. Are most liberals really like that or do they have a different way of viewing the problem?
The sad truth is that NOTHING will get done to relieve poverty or our other challenges because we won’t even talk to each other. Rather than spend a little time actually listening and talking to each other, we spew invectives and platitudes and all manner of ugliness. Where did we learn this behavior? Why do we prefer to do nothing about our most pressing problems? Is there no stomach left for real discussion and negotiation? Could we not go into discussions with good faith -- with the understanding that all parties want a good shared outcome? Could we not honestly negotiate knowing that we might win a few – lose a few.
You probably think I am off my rocker. And maybe I am. But I really think change is going to come because the average person is starting to realize that we now have the worst group of politicians in memory on both sides of the aisle. The change will not be a red/blue Party thing so I am betting that the middles of both parties are going to get rid of the trouble-makers. Major political change can happen but only if we demand it. What can you do to get the message to these troublemakers? It is a very simple message – all of us need to require than political candidates pass the intuition test. First they have to stop all the self-defeating name-calling. Second, they have to show to us they are acting logically and in good faith with respect to our many challenges. At minimum we need to know that they are willing to: identify the problems, discuss and debate their solutions, and give us results that make us better as a people and a nation.



  2. Mike -- you left a link to an explanation of Prisoner's Dilemma. Can you elaborate?

  3. The House of Representatives has become the American version of the House of Lords. When such overwhelming #'s of incumbents get routinely re-elected, the incumbents are naturally pulled away from the political center (where I suspect the plurality of voters reside) and towards the extremes of their party's respective bases. Pandering to the extremes for campaign cash can't help but polarize the overall political climate.

    Redistricting Congressional districts to do away with as many "safe" seats as possible for BOTH parties is my suggestion as where to start.But that is really just another pipe dream as that would be directly antethetical to both parties' interests.

    Another suggestion is Open Primaries where any voter can vote in any party's primary.

    When politicians get to pick their voters, do we really have a representative democracy?

  4. Here is the first line of the wiki blurb I linked to.

    "The prisoner's dilemma is a fundamental problem in game theory that demonstrates why two people might not cooperate even if it is in both their best interests to do so."

    No one is against a better world, the problem is how do we get there. If game theory is to be believed it is not quite so simple as everyone just getting along.

  5. Mike,

    Nice application of game theory but keep in mind that the Prisoner's Dilemma is a very special situation which pits on against the other. There is a similar pricing game in which both firms would be better off if they colluded and charged a higher price but it leaves them over-exposed if one later decides to cheat. I am wondering how this can be usefully applied to voters who should collude to vote for good candidates but instead are duped by extremists? What bad outcome do voters protect themselves from by voting for the worse candidates?

  6. Hi Larry,

    Voters often vote for self interest over the common good. Waste worker unions are a classic example. Garbage workers are hard to find most places because they don't get a market clearing wage. In NYC a starting garbage worker makes North of $US200K plus benefits and the best way to get a job like that is be the son of a retiring worker.

    On a more general level the spread between govt expenditures and govt revenue to a great part is due to voters voting for pols who build bridges to no where, increase SS, SSI, Medicare, Medicade, and a whole bunch of other goodies.

    Voters idea of a "good candidate" may be the candidate that brings pork home helping their district. The voters are protecting them selves from the "worse candidate" who would not spend tax dollars on silly projects that enrich the locals.

    I voted against Alan Boyd, my local congress man, who recently bragged he was responsible for the infamous "turtle bypass" North of Tallahassee. It is basically a tunnel under US27 to allow turtles to cross under the road from Lake Jackson to Little Lake Jackson. I have lived in Tallahassee since 1975 and never seen a turtle killed in this stretch of road, but it did bring jobs to the area.

    I may vote against guys like Boyd, who I view as the worse candidate, but he has been re-elected forever and is favored to win again.

    For me game theory is applicable locally, and I suspect nationally as well. Unfortunate but true.