Friday, May 04, 2007

First Republican Primary Debate

I've been hunting around for the entire Republican debate and so far this is the best that I can find. The setting is exactly the same as the Democrats background: a huge American flag. Such art demonstrates the vast creative power of our political leaders and media machine. The questions in Democrat debate were bad. The only information of substance that I remember getting out of it was that the Iraq war should be stopped and that Hillary and Barack want universal healthcare (a policy I vigorously disagree with, but that's for another post).

SO I loaded up this clip and had to laugh when Matthews asked Romney what he hated the most about America. Romney, of course, chased the hardcore right by responding that he "loved American" and "loved most of all its people", who are the "best people in the world and always will be." And more nationalistic blather.

You know, when I was a young child people always used to tell me that politicians were dirty slimeballs. I always figured it was on some level untrue - that politicians must be smart leaders. These days I've begun to realize how wrong I am. How can we reconcile the competence and character of our past and current leaders with rational choice theory, the idea that people make rational decisions? Why wouldn't rational populations choose the most qualified, intelligent individuals rather than people who build their careers through their ablitiy to schmooze and slander?

Rational ignorance is often cited as the reconciliation between the two. To put it simply, it says that the cost of education is higher than the benefit. What most economists don't tell you but is quite implicit is that the perceived cost and benefit rather than the true cost and benefit is the one which influences people's decisions. We live in a world of imperfect information and the only hope of improving that is to educate people into the importance of the issues today. That change seems to be happening.

The other claim is somewhat more interesting and perhaps linked in how the situation appears to voters. When I go to vote, I don't really influence the result at all in most cases. I don't encourage other people to go vote simply by voting. Even if I promote voting, my actual vote doesn't do anything. The system instead works through the aggregate of people arriving at the decision to vote independently. The game is the classic prisoner's dilemma: the group as a whole would be better off if everyone voted (and, most importantly, researched), but each individual can be better by not spending the time on voting. (The problem is that these people are worse off in the long-run when they don't vote, but even if they had voted it wouldn't have made them less worse off - their vote makes no difference.)

UPDATE: Here is the debate. The idiots running MSNBC didn't build it to run in Firefox.

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