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What should an average person do to improve the policies of his country?

         27 April 2015 07:21 AM




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FrameBenignly 1 May 2015 07:08 PM
75%

Trying to understand the entirety of the government is an impossible task for the average person. Even people who do this for a living often struggle with it. Even if the average person slightly increases their degree of knowledge, compared to an expert they will still be hopelessly lost.

To account for this, I recommend focusing on one or two areas and getting to know them pretty well rather than the whole picture. You should evaluate politicians not based on their degree of agreement with you, but based on their degree of understanding of policy. US Senators will often argue against a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees, and yet that is exactly what we do to politicans who are running for office. Political office is the only kind of job where I've seen this done. To get the best policy, we need the most knowledgeable policy makers; not the people who agree with your opinion (which is likely insufficiently informed).

One great thing to evaluate them on is general scientific principles. When they talk, do you get the sense that they understand introductory statistics and the distinction between good data and bad data? This can sometimes be difficult as politicans have to carefully choose their words for a broad audience. Did he say that because he believes it or because he thinks it's what he needs to say?

Asking the public to micromanage policy is a fool's errand, and is a primary cause of bad policy.


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FrameBenignly 1 May 2015 07:12 PM
71%

Some questions as examples of the complexity of politics:

Macroeconomics
What does MV=PQ stand for? Please explain.

Health Care
Laws banning insurance from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions such as the ACA are generally said to require two other changes to be enacted simultaneously to prevent major problems. What are those two changes and how do they interact?

Price Controls
What happens when prices are fixed above market equilibrium? Why is the minimum wage often considered by liberal economists to be an exception?

Education
What is the PISA?

Immigration
Immigrants compete with natives for jobs, yet empirical studies have found they are often found to make natives the same or often slightly better off in terms of economic standing. Why?

Abortion
Roughly how developed is a fetus at 9 weeks? 16 weeks?

Negotiation
If 7 people are deciding on a policy proposal, and they are evenly distributed from left-right where Person A is the most liberal and Person G is the most conservative, and 4 votes are required for the proposal to pass, which person has the most bargaining power? If Person C wishes to increase his bargaining power, is it better for him to become more liberal or more conservative? What about Person A?

Political Science
What are the 3 branches of the Iron Triangle?

Public Opinion (US based)
Rank these federal spending programs in order of popularity:
Foreign Aid
Social Security
Education
Defense

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Jiro 6 May 2015 07:46 PM
70%

I think the immigration question is ill-posed. Empirical studies show that something happens. They don't show why something happens. At best, the empirical studies provide data which you can use to create hypotheses to later test. A question that asks why an empirical study shows something is asking for pure speculation, not for knowledge or reasoning (unless you want the respondent to answer based on the result of other studies to which you are not referring).

Worse yet, the question includes the weasel word "often". Since "often" can be less than 50%, one possible speculation which answers the question as asked would be "immigration is harmful to natives, but the data has a lot of noise and confounding factors".

Finally, "immigration" is itself a slanted term. Actual political controversies surrounding "immigration" are not about immigration in general; they are about ... read more


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Dahlen 2 May 2015 01:10 PM
70%

For some reason I'm tempted to read this as a quiz to determine if a person is informed enough to vote. (I'm almost sure you didn't mean it this way, though.) If that's the case, I sure as hell failed it.

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melian 2 May 2015 05:15 AM
64%

Some questions as examples of the complexity of politics:

Immigrants compete with natives for jobs, yet empirical studies have found they are often found to make natives the same or often slightly better off in terms of economic standing. Why?


I don't think this is a complex question. The economic impact of immigration on natives is indeed complex, but the results of "empirical studies" are generally predictable. Researchers who would dare to claim that the effects on natives are negative would become academic pariahs and, quite likely, lose their jobs.

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Fwiffo 7 May 2015 02:58 PM
60%

While the topics might be okay the wordings of the questions are way way too opinion loaded to work as a good knowledge test. The health care question is especially bad as it test memory more than being able to apply a concept and can be read almost as if testing for an attitude (for which a leaning neutral test should not do, it should just stick to knowledge).

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DonaldMcIntyre 1 May 2015 12:16 PM
69%

When I came to live to the US from Argentina I initially found very curious how Americans voluntarily respected traffic rules, paid taxes, respected the lines at Starbucks, and spoke in a moderate tone in airplanes.

It was always a contrast when I traveled back to Buenos Aires and everything was the opposite, to the point that Argentines actually find it dumb to respect rules.

Part of the answer, I think, is network effects. A recent poll found that 79% of Argentinians believe that in the country people live outside the rule of law.

Network effects, where the value of the network increases as more people participate in it, respond to standards and in Argentina the standard is to free ride and take advantage of others, not to support the system.

In the US the opposite must be true, I haven't read any polls, but my intuition tells me that the standard is to follow the rules and respect society.

There is a Social Dilemma here and I don't think average people can improve policies.


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melian 1 May 2015 02:46 PM
71%

I think the differences are based in political history. In Anglo-Saxon countries, the laws were for many generations made by parliaments chosen by their own populations (or at least by a significant fraction of it). Thus people there tend to feel that laws are made largely for their own benefit. By contrast, in countries traditionally ruled by autocrats (or worse yet, foreign autocrats, like in Sicily), people often take pride in successfully breaking the law.

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zslastman 3 May 2015 06:57 AM
65%

This difference is also very striking between Ireland and Germany. Ireland was colonized for a long time, so the reply here about Anglo Saxon countries and non autocratic governments may apply.

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MaximumLiberty 1 May 2015 12:20 PM
62%

Hayek talks about the role of institutions in a similar way. He focused on honesty as the institution in question. I can;t remember which book.

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strangeattracto 2 May 2015 12:37 AM
66%

A few suggestions:

-Talk to local government representatives. Write letters. According to people who work in the offices of politicians, writing letters can be very effective, even though it kind of feels like the letter is disappearing into a black hole, never to be seen again, and responded to with a form letter if you're lucky.

-Make it easier for people to be automatically updated about what their politicians are doing. The RSS feeds on the Openparliament.ca site about how each Canadian MP votes, and what they say in Parliament are an example of that.

-Organize guest speakers in one's community to educate oneself and one's community about the issues. When aiming to increase awareness, don't aim for "this problem exists", aim for "how can we be smarter about this issue?"

-Volunteer for, or start, a non-profit organization that will help improve some aspect of the world

-Donate money to organizations whose goals and methods you agree with, and to politicians who do something that you respect.

-Write reports on a topic where you would like to see a policy change, and publicly release it, and do something to get the media interested

-Interview the people who would be most affected by the policy change and tell their stories

-Encourage people to vote, no strings attached, for whichever candidate they want.


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ChristianKl 1 May 2015 03:06 PM
61%

The average person in the US doesn't even know the three branches of government.
The best thing those people could likely do is to start informing themselves to stop being clueless.


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melian 2 May 2015 07:15 AM
67%

The problem is there is no personal incentive to do that. A single vote never changes the outcome of elections.

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Fwiffo 7 May 2015 02:54 PM
57%

What is an election but a multitude of votes?

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Fwiffo 26 May 2015 09:29 AM
59%

Bring problematic phenomena to the knowledge of the politically active. That is raising discussion in the media seems to be an adequate mechanic for any system where politicans try to listen to public opinion. That is part take in the deliberation part of the process by providing information. This doesn't work so well for things that have already been raised. But it is the thing that isn't undercut critically by all the various effects (in conrtast to political party membership, running as a candidate or using legistation draft rights).


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