Greedy Goblin

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Representatives: why politics gets polarized

Have you noticed that in normal everyday life conflicts are settled, but in politics they are not? I mean, most lawsuits end in settlement, most divorces end in an agreement, most employment termination doesn't end up on court, most broken up couples don't harass each other and so on. On the other hand political disagreements tend to live on for decades. How come that emotion filled couples can find a compromise over what's best for their child in a divorce but professional politicians can't find a compromise on abortion?

The answer is simple: personal self-interest. In the normal life, people are personally interested in an acceptable outcome. While they wish to win, their will to not lose is stronger. They are also deterred by the cost of the competition. For example, if one chooses to go for full custody of the kid, he will surely pay high legal fees and risks ending up with no kid at all as the court finds him a liar who uses the kid for his power plays with nor regard of the kid's interest. If he agrees to a reasonable custody, the fees will be low and he will have fair access to the kid.

On the other hand representatives (politicians, activists, journalists...) are not personally involved in the issue. None of the pro-life or pro-choice activists are fetuses or have friends who are fetuses. Nor they are uneducated poor women who don't know about or can't pay for contraceptives. So even if the other side would score a total victory, they wouldn't suffer personally. Actually, they would probably be better off, as a total defeat would surely fire up their side which can lead to mass donations. Being the defeated sucks, but fighting for the defeated is "noble".

Because of this, we cannot expect politics to be more compromise seeking and decent, we can expect the direct opposite, more partisan, more extreme. To change that, one must decrease the level of representation, delegating decisions to as low level as possible. Cities, counties, states should have as much self-governance as possible to allow the people affected make the decisions, as such people are motivated to seek compromise.


Smokeman said...

The other aspect of this is that representatives at the top become more corrupted as they remain in power. At some point, they operate almost solely for their own self interests and use "Useful Idiots" to feign concern for some cause that will net them more power.

This is straight up "Market forces" at work. People that want this power and are willing to execute whatever Machiavellian mechanics are required will be inexorably drawn to those positions, and will do anything to keep them.

As such, you MUST limit the top end of the political pool. Tragically, the people you are trying to limit are the ones making the rules. Hmm. Bit of a conundrum there.

Oh. "Useful Idiots." Here's an example from the past: In 1913, Congress ratified the 16th Amendment (Individual income tax.) as well as creating the FED. This was great for bankers and those that wanted to focus power at the federal level. There was just one problem... there was no reason to tax individuals! The Federal Government ran on Booze... literally. From excise taxes. Enter the Anti Saloon League, led by Wayne Wheeler (And others) who wanted, (And rightly so, this was a big problem at the time.) to eliminate drinking among the common man. Wayne succeeded spectacularly, eventually drafting the Volstead Act and being instrumental in pushing through the 18th Amendment.

The result? Prohibition. But good news! Congress had the 16th Amendment to fall back on (Lucky, huh?) for new revenue sources... sources that were a really deep well... fueling progressive policies that exist to this day. Did Wayne Wheeler have some help? Was he used as a "Useful Idiot" to further the aims of the progressives? I think so.

The lesson here is to keep government local to prevent the open ended power structures that allow shenanigans like that. But at the same time, have a strong enough Federal Government to push forward "Best Practices" that benefit all the states.

Chad Masterson said...

Hey so I'm just going to assume that you're talking about american politics here since you mention state control in opposition to federal control.

The idea that people aren't "friends of fetuses" is pretty stupid, like everybody is a fetus at some point, and everybody knows at least one person who has had a fetus inside them it's a pretty universal thing, and the argument in the United States isn't over how much resources our government should allocate to "Providing abortions" where one side thinks it should be less and one side thinks it should be more. It's about the legality of the medical procedure. One side thinks that all women shouldn't have access to abortions at all (because they consider it murder and they think that the other side is doing a bunch of dubious moralizing(but really they aren't)) and one side thinks they should (because they see abortions as an important medical procedure and they think that the other side is doing a bunch of dubious moralizing(but really they are this time)). And it's not like we got there by moving the goalposts over decades, it's been a constant static fight since the women's suffrage movement.

You're right that everybody finds this shit distasteful and they just want to get on with their lives, but that doesn't mean there isn't a very real intractable split in opinion even within individual communities (just like how there are plenty of shitty relationships that last decades making everybody involved totally miserable), and it's incredibly naive to think that by just sort of dividing people up a little bit more you could make everybody ok with the situation.

Anonymous said...

> But at the same time, have a strong enough Federal Government to push forward "Best Practices" that benefit all the states.

Yeah, we tried that. We called it "The Voting Rights Act". It included a bunch of best practices, such as "don't use literacy tests".

Then Shelby v Holder happened. It turns out that as soon as the best practices stop being mandatory, various shitheads at the state level will choose to ignore them. The North Carolina General Assembly commissioned a report on the topic of "which registration and voting practices are commonly used by black people?". And then they restricted or eliminated all of those options in a shameless attempt to silence minority voters.

Voluntary best practices are useful only if the state-level guys are interested in good governance. You can setup a recommended curriculum with literacy, math, science, etc. But the Oklahoma legislature might decide to waste its students' time with lessons on ABCs (Abstinence, Bible Study, and Creationism). The people who write the laws don't care whether the policy is effective, because they're just doing it to score points with hardline voters. They can send their own children to private schools which are exempt from their stupid curriculum. If the quality of public education declines (because of their meddling) then that just strengthens their argument for public education to be defunded and abolished.

tl;dr people suck

Anonymous said...

Conflicts are not always settled IRL. Families go decades without speaking to each other, or fight every time they see each other. Friendships break down and turn nasty. Divorces turn into decade long hatred, spilling over to the children.

People go for costly court battles demanding full custody of the children.

"On the other hand representatives (politicians, activists, journalists...) are not personally involved in the issue. None of the pro-life or pro-choice activists are fetuses or have friends who are fetuses."

Are you sure none of them have ever had abortions, or had family members who have had abortions? Are you sure none of them have ever been unable to access healthcare or contraception?

It is not because people are not personally involved that it gets heated, it is because it personally involves everybody that politics gets heated.

You are not personally a refugee, or an immigrant, nor are you a social benefits claimant, and yet you have blogged about, and have very strong opinions on, all of these things.

Anonymous said...

The problem is more about how the US political system has become the playground of two parties, and removed every representation other than their own, mostly through the use of primaries and removing independence in the candidates.

Polarization is a natural result of the two-party system.

Multiple parties have to find compromises and keep discussions open between the groups, and no political group that represent at best 20 to 30% of the population can decide for the other 70-80% without at least finding compromises with other, even smaller, groups.

Anonymous said...

The decision at which level of government should operate should be decided on who is best placed to take action. In general, operations should be provided at the local level (and centralised when opportunities exist for economies of scale), while strategy comes the centre (localised to the level that is able to provide solid oversight and ensure goal congruence).

I'd argue that self-interest in representative governments is generally a bad thing. Representatives are supposed to act in the interest of the people, not themselves.
Self-interest in government does play an important role and that is catered for through the legal system (affected partys taking action), local surgeries and town halls with elected representatives (individuals expressing their needs), public consultations (all interested parties can speak), randomly selected citizen's assemblies (representative demographics but members represent only themselves) and direct action. Representatives work in parallel with those systems and when they have direct knowledge it generally gets co-opted via the committee process.

Localisation does not reduce partisan politics. It just means you have lower level politicians making the same decisions but with less stringent oversight. Political tribalism is even more extreme on a local level. National politicians have to moderate, compromise and debate and their actions affect their re-election chances. Local elections are normally decided by national issues. Since their actions have minimal impact on their chance to retain power there is no incentive to listen to other opinions and rational discussion is marginalised.

Gevlon said...

@Anon: I'm quite sure that virtually no politician (or educated people in general) had problems with accessing contraceptives and properly using them. Access to stuff is typically a problem for the poor as they have no clue about where to find them or can't pay for transportation or even a partial deductible.

I'm not an immigrant, refugee or welfare recipients. I'm someone who personally pays tax to support all these nothingdoers.

@Next anon: no. While there are only 2 parties in the US, there are pre-elections where very different candidates can run. Bernie was very different from Hillary, such differences warrant different parties in Europe. Same for Jeb vs Trump.

@dobablo: localization helps by making "the other" visible and human. For a national politician "conservative" simply means "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, islamophobic, you name it", as he never met a single one in his personal life. For a local politician, it means "my father-in-law". While he still believes that abortion is good and creationism is bad, he no longer dismisses "the other", but tries to win him over or at least make a compromise.

maxim said...

It's worse than that.

Professional politicians are paid to maintain a political position, even if that position puts them in conflict with professional politicians maintaining an incompatible position. Furthermore, even if an individual politican chooses to abandon his or her position, he will quickly be replaced.

Political conflicts are only settled in two ways. Either when there is no longer any demand for one of the conflicting positions, or when there is a higher level position supressing the conflict between lower level ones. Neither solution is peaceful. In fact, most instances of peaceful settlement of political conflicts in my memory seem to only result in the conflict reappearing again at a later stage in a worse form. However, given the choice of having many small entities conflicting with each other against two superpowers divvying up the world, i'd honestly rather have two superpowers.

Political conflicts tend to be much more real than most conflicts most people have.

Chad Masterson said...


The US debate about planned parenthood isn't about people being upset that a few cents of their tax dollars goes towards handing out condoms. The Pro-Life movement wants to prevent any and all abortions (including medically induced abortions) full stop.

It's a stated agenda that if it was to be taken to it's logical conclusion would affect literally everybody in the United States (Having an employer who will pay for your health care doesn't matter if the procedure you or your daughter needs is illegal), and it's been the stated agenda of the pro-life movement since it's start in the 1800s, it's extremism isn't something that's going to be arbitrated out and isn't something that comes from politicians and activists it's something that comes from a wide base of voters who hold two very real very conflicting sets of values on an incredibly universal issue.

Gevlon said...

@Chad: I don't think that ordinary people CARE much about this. Sure, they have an opinion, but 99% would say "meh" if it's not followed. Just like I have an opinion about the middle east, but wouldn't care much if my government would do the opposite. It's activists and politicians who fuel the fire.

Anonymous said...

>I don't think that ordinary people CARE much about this.

To quote John Oliver: "congratulations on your white penis." You don't care about it because - at a fundamental level - you know that you won't need to deal with the consequences. It academic to you, like a hypothetical 90% estate tax on trillionaires.

For half of the population, this is a serious issue. The idea of "some dude in Charlotte signed a piece of paper, so now I need to move to a different state or never have sex again" is completely fucking absurd. When someone restricts a woman's reproductive freedom out of religious bigotry, she doesn't *need* an activist or demagogue to make her angry.

The issue is going to be contentious because - as @Chad said - there's a fundamental disagreement about life-vs-liberty. It's not some fake conflict invented or perpetuated by a rent-seeking politician. There isn't an acceptable-to-everyone consensus which has been secretly suppressed. If you devolve the issue to the local level then you won't reach a unifying compromise; the status quo will persist in most places and you'll get absolute bans in the shitty parts of the country.

Gevlon said...

@Anon: you act like pro-life activists were men and pro-choice activist were women, despite the gender distribution of these groups is near-evenly split. Also, the point is - dumbly addressed by Lena Dunham herself - is that educated and middle+ class women has nothing to fear: they won't have an abortion because they are smart enough to pop a pill a day and can afford it too.

The only really affected population are:
- fetuses
- impoverished and dumb women

For everyone else, it's a surrogate issue they can stroke their morality around.

Chad Masterson said...

? I never said that pro-life activists are men and pro-choice activists are women, what makes you think I'm implying that?

also you don't have to be stupid to get pregnant without wanting to be pregnant, condoms only work 99% of the time, every kid is stupid kids can get pregnant people want to protect their kids and that's not just activists.

it's an issue that directly affects literally half of the population directly which means it affects everybody, what's so hard to understand about that? it's not conjured out of some "politics zone" where only "activists" live, Trump wouldn't be president right now if he was pro-choice because his voting base would of rejected him from the ground up if he was. Like you aren't talking about foodstamps, this is like blood and guts life and death morality that everybody at least sort of cares about unless they're totally up their own ass.

Gevlon said...

@Chad: if it was affecting half the population, there wouldn't be a debate, just like there is no debate over women's vote or "rape should be a human right". Most women never had an abortion and will never have.

Evangelical Christians is a significant base of Republicans, but even they are a 10-20% minority, and their rallying cry wasn't abortion but "liberals want to force me to make flowers for gay marriages" (which is probably the dumbest thing liberals ever did)

My point is exactly that it's in a "politics zone" where only "activists" live, and Trump just proved that. He didn't win by being the first pro-choice Republican. He didn't win by "even rape babies are blessings of God". He won by largely ignoring the issue and running a "I will bring middle class salaries back by kicking out immigrants" populist campaign. Because good salary is something everyone wants.

maxim said...

The most interesting thing to me in an abortion debate is that there really is not solution that a state can offer on this question. The best it can do is support the medical facilities well enough to handle both those who want the abortions and those who don't.

If state bans abortions, then not only it incurs the political cost of creating a "move to another state or not have sex again" situation for women, but - and that's a more serious argument - abortions will still be done, but it will happen outside of legal institutions and will involve everything happening outside of legal instutions.

On another hand, an overt pro-choice stance by the state will quickly result in increased amount of abortions and general abuse of the system.

The only thing a state can do is to maintain the middleman position in this conflict. The kind when it says "sure, i will support any of your decisions, because individualism liberalism freedom etc, but if you REALLY want my opinion, then i think keeping the kid is best (and i will remind you of that constantly)". In that case, the state can prevent a serious conflict between pro-choice and pro-life by having both of them engage in lighter conflicts with itself. That way, the state gets more kids, also more demand for abortion services (that someone eventually pays for) and avoids having messy and politically costly street demonstrations.

Chad Masterson said...

Yeah no shit everybody wants a good salary, like HRC supporters think we should get there by "investing in education" which is it's own sort of bullshit, and Trump supporters think we just need to kick out all of the immigrants (because the notoriously high profit margin restaurant, care, and agriculture industries will now have to offer competitive salaries due to a labor shortage) I don't really see any sort of difference between that and the abortion debate. Why is one from "real life" and one from a "politics zone"? Like, there are some issues that only wonks really care about like what the fuck the FCC is up to or whatever but abortion is pretty nuts and bolts stuff. Like it's not that every woman gets an abortion in their 20s it's that pretty much any woman might want to be able to get an abortion in their 20s (or if they're married with 3 kids at age 22 they might think that's grossly immoral). Like obviously I'm giving you the lefty argument here because I'm a lefty from politics land but I'm pretty stunned by your insistence that abortion is something that nobody really cares about, when pregnancy is again something that has massive consequences in the lives of literally everybody.

as of 2013 the reported abortion ratio in america was 200 abortions per 1,000 live births, that's not a small amount and it's not all coming from a small group of "serial aborters" at the bottom of the food chain like you suggest.

Also Trump's even light pro-life stance was enough to secure him the votes of the evangelicals despite their moral opposition to him being a sexual predator who doesn't properly value women.

Gevlon said...

@Chad: everyone is AFFECTED by "good salary", so it's "real life", while only a tiny minority is personally affected by abortion access, so it's "politics zone" for the large majority.

Actually most abortions come from small group of "serial aborters":
55% of abortions were first,
24.8% were second
11.4% were third
8.8% were fourth or more
please note that the above does NOT mean that 55% of the abortions are done on women who have one abortion in their lives, since every 2-3-4 abortion woman had his first abortion sometimes. So actually only 10% of the abortions (55%-45%) are done on "single aborters", so 20/1000 live birth. As an average woman has 2.06 live birth during her lifetime, it means that one out of 24 woman has one abortion during her lifetime. So indeed, this is a problem of impoverished, uneducated women and all the educated people protesting for or against are just showing off how moral they are without any personal consequences.


Bosh said...

You're paying taxes for do-nothing immigrants? The bulk of immigrants (like me) are people of working age who work hard and pay a lot of taxes to support retired citizens in the country they live in. A lot of countries with low birth rates desperately need more immigrants just to keep the working age population from dropping to the point that the pension system would run into serious problems.

Gevlon said...

@David: it's easy to spot a hard-working immigrant, he has a green card (or whatever certificate he got when he was legally admitted). He was invited in for his skills. On the other hand there are illegals who were not given such, exactly because they are useless. Yet they sneak in anyway to leech. I live in Europe, we have these wonderful Syrians and Libyans and Somalians and Afghans you can see on TV burning things or mass-raping women.

Luckily they are very rare in Hungary since we built a WALL (OK, it's mostly just barbed wire fence).

Anonymous said...

Your abortion users calculation has a double-count. You calculated one-off aborters as first time less 2nd, 3rd and 4th+ because 2, 3 and 4 had at one point been first timers, but 3rd and 4th+ are already included in the 2nd time numbers since they had at one point had a second termination. That leaves you with about 30% of all abortions being a first and only time and 55 unique individuals per 100 abortions.
200 abortions per 1000 live births = 110 abortion users per 1000 live births.
2.06 live births per woman = 485 women per live birth.
Therefore 110 abortion users per 485 women or 22.7% of DC&NYC women at some point having an abortion.

For comparison I looked at the England and Wales NHS numbers for 2015 -

There were 16 abortions per 1000 women of approximate child-bearing age (compared to 12.6 in the NY paper).
38% of abortions in were to women who had already had one or more abortions. A rough calculation puts 1% of UK women of child-bearing age have a first-time abortion each year. Extrapolated across 30 child-bearing years, approximately 30% of UK women will have at least one or more abortion in their lifetime.
To check I used the tables on page 26 and 27 to work out a cumulative probability of a women getting a first time abortion between the ages of 16 and 45 and come out with a similar answer.(

Anonymous said...

@Gevlon - Some additional calculations with similar results.

A 2011 study based on 2008 abortion rates calculated a one in three women abortion rate (however US abortion rates have fallen since then) -

“One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, British Pregnancy Advisory Service, based of 2014 NHS data. -

In an attempt to dispel your thinking that abortion users are mostly impoverished, uneducated women, More than half pregnancies occur while using a contraceptive -

Hanura H'arasch said...

@dobablo: You're ignoring that contraceptive usage was self-reported and thus is probably unreliable, and likely to be lower. Also, in about 50% of those cases the women reported they had not used contraceptives properly or consistently.

I'd say that Gevlon's point, that impoverished, uneducated or just plain stupid women make up the majority of abortions, is mostly true. I disagree though, that only a tiny minority is personally affected by abortion access. Sure, not many women will ever need an abortion, but it still increases the risk of having sex significantly for everybody.

It's sort of like having a high crime rate in a country. It affects everybody, even if only a tiny minority will be robbed/raped/killed.

People do react unproportionally to this issue though, I agree. I remember being thrown out of class for merely disagreeing with the teachers stance on abortion and telling her about my view on the issue.