Confidence: A Basic Politics Puzzle

Robin Hanson (
Tue, 18 Feb 1997 14:35:24 -0800 (PST)

Haveing now spent several years in pursuit of a Ph.D. in political
economy, the following observation stands out to me as the most
puzzling: Why do people seem so damn confident of their political

On topics such as physics or computers, most people are willing, even
anxious to admit that they don't know very much, and they are willing
to defer to a surprizing degree to people who specialize in such topics.

On political topics, however, most people hold surprizingly many
opinions, seem remarkably confident in those opinions, and seem
unwilling to defer to people who spend their lives studing such
topics. They are even most unwilling to grant that people with
contrary opinions may know something that they don't. This holds most
directly for political science, but also for related areas of
economics and sociology.

I see this behavior on this list as well. Why? Why so few
qualifiers and "I don't know"s on political topics?

Yes, of course part of what brings us together is an interest in
anarcho-capitalist type political institutions. But why are so many
of you so damn confident that you know how such things would actually
function, or which minute variation would actually be best?

Social systems are perhaps the most complex systems we know, and for
which our ignornance should be the most vivid. Why is this so hard to

Robin D. Hanson