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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

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.


DonaldMcIntyre 1 May 2015 12:16 PM

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.


strangeattracto 2 May 2015 12:37 AM

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 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.


ChristianKl 1 May 2015 03:06 PM

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.


Fwiffo 26 May 2015 09:29 AM

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).