I'm a Ph.D.!

Robin Hanson (hanson@hss.caltech.edu)
Thu, 10 Jul 1997 17:50:33 -0700 (PDT)

As of this hour, I have a Ph.D. in Social Science from Caltech!

My thesis is available (minus some figures) at:


Paper copies are available to those who ask in the next week, and who
promise to look at it.

The Acknowledgements conclude:

"Finally, I thank these older but still strong influences on my
intellect, Eric Drexler, David Malament, Mark Miller, Riley Newmann,
and many discussants on the Extropians email list."

So thank you all.

Here is a title and abstract:


Four Puzzles in Information and Politics: Product Bans, Informed
Voters, Social Insurance, & Persistent Disagreement

In four puzzling areas of information in politics, simple intuition
and simple theory seem to conflict, muddling policy choices. This
thesis elaborates theory to help resolve these conflicts.

The puzzle of product bans is why regulators don't instead offer the
equivalent information, for example through a ``would have banned''
label. Regulators can want to lie with labels, however, either due to
regulatory capture or to correct for market imperfections. Knowing
this, consumers discount regulator warnings, and so regulators can
prefer bans over the choices of skeptical consumers. But all sides
can prefer regulators who are unable to ban products, since then
regulator warnings will be taken more seriously.

The puzzle of voter information is why voters are not even more poorly
informed; press coverage of politics seems out of proportion to its
entertainment value. Voters can, however, want to commit to becoming
informed, either by learning about issues or by subscribing to
sources, to convince candidates to take favorable positions. Voters
can also prefer to be in large groups, and to be ignorant in certain
ways. This complicates the evaluation of institutions, like voting
pools, which reduce ignorance.

The puzzle of group insurance as a cure for adverse selection is why
this should be less a problem for groups than individuals. The usual
argument about reduced variance of types for groups doesn't work in
separating equilibria; what matters is the range, not variance, of
types. Democratic group choice can, however, narrow the group type
range by failing to represent part of the electorate. Furthermore,
random juries can completely eliminate adverse selection losses.

The puzzle of persistent political disagreement is that for ideal
Bayesians with common priors, the mere fact of a factual disagreement
is enough of a clue to induce agreement. But what about agents like
humans with severe computational limitations? If such agents agree
that they are savvy in being aware of these limitations, then any
factual disagreement implies disagreement about their average
biases. Yet average bias can in principle be computed without any
private information. Thus disagreements seem to be fundamentally
about priors or computation, rather than information.


Robin D. Hanson hanson@hss.caltech.edu http://hss.caltech.edu/~hanson/