Re: Confidence: A Basic Politics Puzzle

Robin Hanson (
Tue, 18 Feb 1997 17:10:59 -0800 (PST)

I asked:
>Why do people seem so damn confident of their political opinions?

"Kathryn Aegis" replied:
>And what are the stakes? Power, authority, influence, and face.
>Politics and money are merely tools towards these ends, and players
>are not willing to concede ignorance on any point when this would
>give a competitor an advantage in acquiring them. (But isn't that
>basic political economy?)

But why would feigning such an exaggerated overconfidence help you
over a competitor? (Imagine a toothpaste ad with testimonials of how
switching to their brand was the key to getting promoted, into med
school, winning a Nobel prize, becoming president, etc.) And if it
did, why would the size of the stakes matter? Wouldn't the same
strategy give an advantage when smaller stakes were at play?

Michael Lorrey replies:
>Probably because, IMHUQO, people tend to base their political opinions
>on their own experiences, they know what doesn't work, what does work,
>and what is likely to benefit them as individuals or members of a group.

This goes against a large empirical literatures that suggests that
voters know very little about politics. But there is your contrary view.

>Conversely, when was the last time the average joe got a chance to bake
>a quark for breakfast?

Come on, physics is about lots of very useful stuff like momentum, E&M
radiation, heat diffusion, etc. which touch lots of lives in lots of
ways, and yet most people will defer to experts on these topics.

Robin D. Hanson