Saturday, October 20, 2012

One Thing To Remember About Polling

You may have some interest in the upcoming election. If so, I'm sorry. You should seek treatment. But until you do, here is one helpful tip that may help you survive the next fortnight.

My name is Poling. I'm going to talk about polling. And I've been hearing a lot about polling lately. You don't need an advanced degree in Mathematics to realize that Republicans will vote for their guy, Democrats will vote for their guy.

And Whigs (like me) will vote for the right guy.

The people who put compile polls realize this and they can adjust how many Rs and Ds they put into their sample to get whatever number they want. You might think that those evil lefty liberal newsies will put in a bunch of Ds to make their guy look good, or you might think that those corporate drones will put in a bunch of Rs to suck up to their bosses (who go around in striped pants like the Monopoly guy). (Nobody bothers with Whigs, so my opinion doesn't count.)

All these news outlets who do opinion polls have one thing in common: they like money. And there's more money in telling the story of a close game that's tied with two out in the ninth inning than the story of a game that's a lopsided 10-to-0 blowout. If there's going to be a landslide victory that has Donkeys or Elephants dancing in the streets, we'll never hear about it until the last minute.

(Incidentally, I think this upcoming election has been a foregone conclusion for the last year. If the final result is close, then I'm wrong and you should not pay any further heed to my prognostications.)

The way we get political news is what's wrong with American politics. Contrast it with Plato's dialogs. You have Socrates chatting up guys who forcefully disagree with him, yet Socrates gives those he disagrees with all the time in the world to explain their positions. When Socrates interrupts, it is not to contradict the fellow, but to get him to clarify some point he might not clearly articulate. Socratic questioning often brings to light things out unintended consequences of the position as well. By this means, the reader comes to understand all the different points of view and has the facts in hand to make tradeoffs between them.

This makes for boring TV.

If a politician says, "I favor buggy whip tariffs and my opponent is a poopy-head." The substantive buggy-whip advocacy will be edited out because the ad hominem attack sells more papers. Is the public diminished by this? Yes. Is there a better way? Yes. Is it to take the profit motive out of news coverage? NO WAY.

The better way starts with you, dear reader. You have the power to sift through the good, the bad and the ugly. Ignore the advocacy-speech of both parties and the news media and google for primary sources. Read the text of the propositions on the ballot. Choose that which corresponds to what you believe is best.

The ancient Greeks distinguished between politicians who were like confectioners and physicians. The confectioners dispense sweets that rot your teeth, but taste good, while the physicians dispense bitter tasting medicines that are good for health.

When a country is going through economically painful times, the electorate will appreciate a candidate who feels their pain and promises analgesics. But pain-killers are not cures, and thus we see places mired in economic doldrums for generations.

I think we saw this in Argentina when Juan Peron took power and set a fairly advanced 2nd-world country onto the path that has brought it to its current status. Meanwhile, countries that the US had bombed into rubble or that started out with nothing have far surpassed the economic performance and standard of living of Argentina.

It is too easy to say this is a left versus right thing. I want to suggest this is a confection versus medicine thing.

A populace that's been devastated or that has never had anything, may tolerate some short-term pain because they've become inured to pain. They can go off their economic analgesics and take the bitter pill. After the economic poisons are flushed out of the system, the society is positioned to enjoy strong growth. Conversely, a nation that's comfy where they are will choose the drug to help them get through another term of economic decline.

Does this fit into a 10-second sound-bite? No. Does it give you any coded message about who to vote for in the next election? I already told you: Vote Whig. Neither the Rs nor the Ds are promising to stop handing out confections and start handing out bitter pills.

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