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July 03, 2016


Adrian D

I'm wondering what effect the 'good begets goo' heuristic may have had on the attendance numbers of those at he Remain rally yesterday.

The good of European friendship and integration begetting the good of, er, the looting of Greece.


Actually it is entirely rational to distrust the long term predictions of economists, for obvious reasons.


And I'm not really sure how centralizing power into a huge supra-national institution is going to help inequality of power, or wealth.


No. People form opinions for many different reasons, the false consciousness argument is profoundly wrong, because it starts from the presumption that you, who sees this fault in others, must always be right.

There is no good reason, however, to assume that you alone have such clear insight that you can see the truth, and no one else can.

Remember the saying that the really clever human is the one who knows they might be wrong. You have, for reasons of confirmation bias, presumably, completely ignored this possibility.

Best to just accept that sometimes people will have different opinions to you, and will have arrived at them from a different perspective. Their life experiences are different, their priorities different, their information gathering procedures different, their value judgements different. They may, horror of horrors, think other issues like the cultural impact of too much immigration, or concern over the future of the EU, are more important than economic issues!!!! I know it's painful, but it does happen. When an issue is a constitutional one, the impact on the economy may just not be so important. Also economic impact is not experienced in a universal way, there are always winners and losers, and temporary setbacks, that right themselves. Not everyone had a bad experience of the 2008 financial crisis. So perhaps the economic arguments just weren't persuasive enough.

Sorry, but this is just completely the wrong road to go down, it really is it takes you down an anti-democratic cul de sac. Bad, bad, bad.


@ Jane - yes, I might well be wrong about many things. But am I and millions of others, many of whom are smarter than me, really wrong about so many things: Brexit, the economics of immigration, freeish markets etc? If we believe not (and obviously we do) we must explain why others believe otherwise. Yes, there are be rational reasons for them to do so, but also perhaps irrational ones. If we reject this, we come close to a wishy-washy relativism.
It wouid be really weird if people are rational in their political views when they aren't about many other things (in much of my personal life, I've been as stupid as hell).
And I don't like your argument that this leads to anti-democracy. For one thing, ideas are right or wrong, regardless of their consequences. And for another even if I'm right, there's still a strong case for democracy eg because it sustains legitimacy and social peace, or Tocqueville's view that it promotes an energetic citizenry.
I actually favour the extension of democracy, into the workplace.
@ Endrew - I thought we'd covered the predictions thing; there's a massive difference between an unconditional forecast (which economists - like everyone else - are bad at) and conditional ones. (I agree with you about EU institutions being flawed, though).


Chris, you might find this an interesting read


@ AndrewD - thanks. I did like that. I stress that I'm not accusing Leavers of being morons acting in moronland: as I say, everyone is prone to these cognitive biases, even (sometimes) experts.

Dave Timoney


The theory of false consciousness holds that everyone is subject to the same forces, though they react in different ways. The idea that lefties are uniquely free of it and can criticise others from a position outside society is a canard used to paint such critics as patronising and elitist.

The presentation of false consciousness as binary - you either suffer from it or you don't - is ideological in that it assumes a worldview that is internally consistent. In fact, most people get by with a mix of ideological fragments, some of which may be contradictory (i.e. cognitive dissonance).

The recognition of false consciousness proceeds from "the saying that the really clever human is the one who knows they might be wrong".


Not sure though that the idea of extrapolating real life interactions from laboratory experiments is not itself an instance of a false consciousness. The Study of Scientific Knowledge (especially the "strong programme") has for some years been delineating how science itself is far from being the objective, disinterested activity it publicly purports to be.

I think Jane has a point in that voters may place various concerns over the purely economic, and though these may sometimes have a status preservation aspect, I suspect often they don't.

Let's take immigration. I might live in a relatively homogeneous "Anglo-Saxon" street in which I know most of my neighbours. As immigrants move in, I will be aware that "white flight" will gradually come into effect, and that many of the people who I know well will move away, making me more socially isolated. I can overcome this perhaps by making friends with some of the immigrants and this may be an enriching experience, but this is by no means guaranteed. If the immigrants are primarily Muslim I know that I can expect that the local pub, once a focal point of community activity, will almost certainly close at some point due to a lack of customers. Essentially, I am experiencing alienating social change which I have no absolute guarantee of mitigating.

I would therefore have a specific motive to oppose immigration even though I might accept that on the macro level immigration is economically beneficial. I would also have absolutely no motivation to explain my reasoning to any academic economists.

Note I am not suggesting any of the above is a justification for opposing immigration, just that the reasons for peoples' attitudes are almost certainly myriad, particularistic, difficult to tease out, resistant to universalising theories, and not necessarily replicable in laboratory experiments.


It seems to me that Robin Hanson raises false consciousness in his blog today too:

Peter William Risdon

If you measure results of Marxist, and more generally left wing, economic policies against results you have a lamentable picture. The cognitive bias, surely, lies in trying to justify these despite the results in practice.

Matt Moore

' This suggests that as inequality increases, our perception of what’s fair becomes more unequal.'

Why is this a problem? Seriously? Is there some objective correct level of perceived unfairness for a given level of inequality? Surely if everyone agrees that something is fair, then it is?


This annoyed me too.


False consciousness is a justification for dismissing peoples views/decisions, when you disagree with them. Cognitive dissonance.

No wonder we hold experts in contempt, they have too narrow a field of vision; and fail to see the wood for the trees.

Yet try and impose their view on the public, by appeals to expertise they do not possess.

People voted from experience of Europe and immigration, and politicians, who refuse to address the issues.


I agree totally Chris - this was about control. When I saw this interview, I suspected Remain were in big trouble:



@ Aragon, Peter - This isn't a left-right issue. People also have anti-free market attitudes - very many, for example, favour price controls and nationalization. Unless you think the public are right about everything - and I suspect you don't - the question remains: why do people sometimes have wrong ideas? Cognitive biases are one possible answer. This is why Robin Hanson and Bryan Caplan - who deffo aren't Marxists - also worry about public irrationality.
@ Peter - I agree of course that central planning was a terrible failure. Those of us who are market socialists don't need telling this. It is the right - those who want a points-based immigration plan - who favour central planning these days, not me.

Luis Enrique

What's the word for something that evolution throws up but isn't actually useful in survival of the fittest, terms? it has slipped my mind.

I wonder if this set of cognitive biases should be understood as something that was useful in an evolutionary sense, or just a bunch of not very helpful stuff (but not too harmful either) that got thrown out by a messy process.

Dave Timoney

@Luis, a "sport", perhaps?

Michael Gatton

What's the word for something that evolution throws up but isn't actually useful in survival of the fittest, terms? it has slipped my mind.



Hi ... I think the real challenge with your analysis (Remain, pro-immigration etc.) is that you implicitly assume race is not real; that it's just a matter of skin color and slow/fast twitch muscles and that brains function exactly alike across races. But the data don't corroborate that. I'd propose that you're operating inside an Overton Window that no longer holds credence with the majority of private-sector, tax-paying men of European descent. They've read the data and reject the cultural-Marxist analysis of race. Whether I think they are right or not is beside the point. This, I think, is a big part of what is driving the change in the political climate.

Chris Herbert

Luis. Extinct? Something like 96 percent of all species are extinct. About confirmation bias as it pertains to politics and political economy (economics).. My question is that if you held one narrative to be true, then discovered it was false and thus accepted a competing narrative, do you still have confirmation bias? My view is that it is likely you might have some remaining confirmation bias, but it will be less than before. My specific example was that I was a Republican for more than 30 years (believed in neoliberal economics) then realized absolutely none of my predictions or promises became true. That narrative never delivered on its promises. I'm no a social democrat. A progressive. A MMT/Keynesian/FDR type of narrative is what I believe. I studied the facts, real academic studies that are worth of citation.


Think the word Luis might have been looking for is "vestigial" ?


Luis, are you talking about a "spandrel"?

Churm Rincewind

Jane has it right. As she says, people may well think that "other issues like the cultural impact of too much immigration, or concern over the future of the EU, are more important than economic issues" and Chris's answer that "am I and millions of others, many of whom are smarter than me, really wrong about so many things...the economics of immigration..etc?" spectacularly misses the point.

As I understand it, Jane was not saying that anyone has got the economics of immigration wrong. She was saying that there are other considerations involved, such as the cultural impact, which might sway voters' opinions.

This seems to me to be an uncontentious observation.

Over the years I've often taken issue with Chris's refusal to contemplate any aspect of immigration outside the economic. So when he says "we economists – especially those of us who are on the left - have got a problem: voters don’t agree with us" he's wrong.

As Jane points out, voters are in fact bringing other considerations to bear - considerations which Chris seems unable/unwilling even to consider.

No wonder "voters don't agree with us". They're taking a holistic view, which in the end of the day is probably the right one.


"The idea that lefties are uniquely free of it and can criticise others from a position outside society is a canard used to paint such critics as patronising and elitist."

Pretty convincing as canards go.

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