Links, 12/18/09

  • Megan McArdle, “Personal Finance” – a discussion about social norms and how they keep institutions we take for granted afloat. The central theme is that not everything can be strictly legal, but there’s a lot more going on, esp. as regards “trust” in a society.
  • Matt Welch, “Why I Prefer French Health Care” – there’s a lot not to like about the US system. Perhaps if advocates of reform were this clear from the get-go, I would be sold on reform.
  • Jay Cost, “Welcome to the New Gilded Age” – contrast the anger of this with his latest post, “The Democrats’ Health Care Dilemma.” I think one thing that can happen to any political scientist is that we use tools for reasoning about politics may be too finely-tuned. We see the situation in an entirely different way from decision-makers, and the way we’re constructing our viewpoint – we’re trying to put ourselves in the shoes of the decision-makers as much as possible – is actually exacerbating the problem. We’re seeing the situation in a way that could be described as “optimal;” we’re not realizing how emotive the process may actually be, and we’re not doing justice to what may genuinely be turbulence only (i.e. we’re trying to consider how a populist left-wing party is dealing with populist anger that is sinking their poll numbers in ways they hadn’t even dreamed). I think it’s important that a political scientist sees what people would see if their heads were clearer, or if they could divorce themselves from their immediate situation just a little bit. Our job is not to predict, it is only to describe: the immediate question should always be whether we’re seeing all the variables. If we can get an explanation somewhere down the road, terrific. If not, the details and conjectures about what’s going on are there for others to reconstruct what went on, if it is possible.

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