Monday, January 16, 2012

Freakonomics round-up

I've been catching up on more Freakonomics podcasts (as noted in this recent post), and part of what I like about listening is the that  their shows tend to inspire some thoughts in my noggin, such as these I'll share with you:


A question on which they touched: Should there be a requirement of those running for political office that they complete some classes on at least the rudiments of various topics (such as economics, history, etc.) that would seem applicable to running a government? And the obvious question that arises from such a suggestion: Who decides what is to be required? And who of those already in power would want to subject themselves to that, so conceivably they would exclude themselves (all present politicians would be grandfathered in), thereby making it more likely for those incumbents to stay in power as of the next election, because challengers would be less likely to jump through the extra hurdles then required to take on those incumbents.

And thus we are back to the primary difficulty of implementing what even seems on the surface to be reasonable changes: Nobody who has power would want to introduce something to make it harder for them to retain that power.

Also, there's the standard joke about anyone smart enough to pass such classes to qualify to run would be too smart to want to run. Which, looking at the GOP field, seems like it's not really a joke at all.

This is why there are coups and revolutions. Not that I'm endorsing that—merely acknowledging the advantage those methods of change have.


Similarly, on the topic of requiring some level of certification for potential parents—because, really, what's more important than raising the next generation?—it would be way too easy for those charged with coming up with the test to gear it such that it's unfair, and thus would essentially be making those whom they do not want to reproduce to either do so illegally or to prevent them from doing so, and thereby eliminate them from the population.

And while it's easy to sit there and say, Yeah, but if all they're doing is preventing stupid people from producing another generation of stupid people, that doesn't seem so bad, are any of us so confident in our intelligence as to believe we'd never be on the wrong side of that situation?

If we could only come up with some test that would eliminate human corruption, that is the one that we should implement with all due haste.

But that, too, would be twisted somehow.


They had a brief one about what makes someone donate to a charity or other contribution-supported organization. One particular part of the story focused on how the numbers showed that something that got people more likely to donate was giving them a one-and-done opt-out option, where they had a checkbox on the donation form to indicate they did not wish to receive future solicitations. The charities grasped that a big part of what turned people off was getting hounded by the organization for more money after they'd already been generous. However, interestingly, although having that option made people more apt to donate, they often did not avail themselves of the option, and thus got solicitations, and still donated more.

It's not so much that people who donate are unwilling to donate more later, but they like having the ability to easily get off the mailing list if they so choose.

Back when the Haiti earthquake hit I gave some money to an organization offering medical assistance for the victims. And to this day I still get something in the mail from that organization numerous times a year. I have not donated any further funds to them, not because I feel like there have been no further tragedies in the world since the Haiti quake, but because that happened to occur at a time when I was inclined to donate. An

And the reality is: I will donate when I am of a mind to do so, not when I get a mailing or a phone call. Perhaps I'm a horrible person, but I am not one to be guilted into giving. Thus, the solicitations only make me less inclined to donate again—not only to that particular charity but to all such organizations in general; my association becomes not feeling good for helping the unfortunate but feeling like I'm signing up for a life of unwanted mail and screened phone calls.

Happily I'd give up any tax benefit about donating in order to be able to anonymously give without that continuing tacit obligation, but having a don't-bother-me-after-I-give-this option would be a worthwhile enticement for me.


They also talked about how money doesn't win elections. The candidate with the most money often wins, but that's because his/her popularity with the voters translated into making them popular with those inclined to donate.

There is a definite logic to it.


They noted that we seek information to reinforce our preexisting biases rather than to form our opinions, and generally that's inspired by a desire to fit in with a peer group over a desire to gain some sort of empirical facts. They cite the disagreement over climate change as an example of a topic where it's not so much whether scientists say it's real or not; it's a matter of whether one's peers hold a certain belief about it one way or the other.

The truth is not absolute; it's whatever makes you fit in.

Also, the studies showed that the more educated one was did not make one more inclined to believe climate change was true; it merely made one more inclined to hold a strong belief one way or the other, but not necessarily to only one extreme over the other. (The less educated presumably didn't hold as strong a belief, perhaps because they felt they lacked the expertise to have any strong beliefs.)

Or more than that, one chooses to believe to not be aligned with those whom one finds otherwise objectionable. Alignments only tend to work against us, or so the facts suggest.

Of course, whether you believe that take on "the truth" or not is probably influenced whether that sort of suggestion already jibes with your preexisting beliefs.


Clearly many Freakonomics topics play into what I'm inclined to believe... or at least think.

That is, when I get around to listening to them...

1 comment:

So, what do you think?