Monday, February 8, 2016

Is evidence-based politics possible?

If one asks conservatives, liberals and others if their personal politics and policy choices are mostly rational and evidence-based, most (maybe about 95%) would say yes. If one asks one side whether the opposition's politics is mostly rational and evidence-based, most (maybe about 90%) would say no. It is reasonable to assume that about 35% of adult Americans are more or less liberal, about 35% are more or less conservative and about 20% are a mix of the two or something else.

Presumably most people, > 50%, in the mixed/other group sees maybe about half of liberal and conservative politics and policy choices as mostly rational and evidence-based, with the other half not so rational and evidence-based.

From Dissident Politics' objective point of view[1], that situation is reasonably accurate. It constitutes compelling evidence that the politics and policy choices of at least 50% of Americans is not mostly rational and evidence-based. That's just simple math and logic.

Evidence-based politics is possible in theory
If there is a political will politics can be made to be much more objective than it is now. In a recent article, In Praise of Human Guinea Pigs, The Economist observed that to "live in a modern democracy is to be  experimented on by policymakers from cradle to grave." Citing education and prison policy and experimental medicine, The Economist went on to argue that "without evidence, those setting policy for schools and prisons are little better than a doctor relying on leeches and bloodletting. Citizens, as much as patients, deserve to know that the treatments they endure do actually work."

The Economist was arguing for using the randomized controlled trial concept that guides new medicine development to political policy development. DP has argued for the about same thing. The concept of evidence-based politics is simple, easy to apply and injects a degree of objectivity into politics that currently doesn't exist.

From DP's public interest point of view, there is no logic in opposing evidence-based politics. 

Evidence-based politics is impossible in practice . . . .
because American politics is not public interest-oriented
Unfortunately, there are "rational" arguments to not implement evidence-based politics from other points of view. Those points of view are personal ideology and/or economic self-interest.

Despite a powerful rationale to adopt evidence-based politics in American politics from an objective point of view, it simply isn't possible now. Overwhelmingly powerful forces oppose both objective evidence and unbiased reason in politics. For example, conservatives and/or threatened special interests oppose generating data that they believe would undermine their ideology and/or economic interests. That is true for gun control, objective policy analysis, climate science and other topics. Research shows that the political power of economic (and maybe ideological) special interests backed by money utterly trumps both public opinion and any desire for objectivity:

“In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover … even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

That sad reality reflects the fact that American politics is dominated by wealthy, organized special interests who want their own needs and desires attended to. Service from the two-party system to those interests occurs with little or no regard to objective evidence or an objectively defined conception of the public interest. Instead, special interests simply assert what they want best serves the public interest and our political leaders and both parties in power provide the demanded services in return for the money.

Other than parties, politicians and special interests in the two-party system, no one denies that American politics is a pay-to-play system:

"There's no shame anymore. . . . . We've blown past the ethical standards; we now play on the edge of the legal standards. . . . . money and its pursuit [have] paralyzed Washington. . . . . Nothing truly important for the country is getting done."

Reason or logic and evidence have nothing to do with the situation. That's why evidence-based politics is impossible for the time being.

1.  An objective point of view: Politics has to be (1) based on facts (reality) and logic (common sense) that are as unbiased by subjective personal political ideology or morals and/or self-interest as human cognitive biology can reasonably allow and (2) those unbiased facts and logic must be focused on service to an objectively defined conception of the public interest (general welfare).

There is at least one way to make the mostly subjective public interest concept materially more objective. One does that by subjecting all significant subjective ideology or moral beliefs to a transparent competition among policy choices to find the best choice based on the unbiased facts and logic, i.e., all policy choices have to win on the objective merits, not on people's subjective beliefs. Human cognitive biology does not allow for near-perfect objectivity, except maybe for a very few people with unusual brain structure or function, so this is about the best that be done in view of (i) how the human brain evolved and works and (ii) a political system that is dominated by constitutionally protected spin (lies, misinformation, deceit, opacity, withheld information, etc) and detachment from both unspun reality and unbiased common sense.

All significant ideological/moral political beliefs in American politics currently includes liberal, conservative, capitalist, socialist, libertarian and various strains of Christianity and Judaism. Moderate beliefs are not included because moderates mostly hold a mix of extreme liberal and conservative morals or ideological beliefs. Apparently, there are few or no real political moderates in America.

If anyone can conceive of, or is aware of, a better conception of how to inject more fact- and logic-based objectivity into politics based on current understanding of our fundamentally intuitive-subjective (and morally judgmental and intolerant) human cognitive biology, Dissident Politics would very much like to hear about it. 

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