Monday, June 11, 2012

Wisconsin Recall and Feedback Loops

A frustration in political argument is the other side not accepting one's arguments.  Each side has a tendency to accuse the other of being non-analytic, mostly for not supporting the politician they have chosen to support.  Regrettably, I'm afraid people's choices are logical though.  The proposition most people undertake is simple:

Did doing 'x' advance my interests the last time I did it?

For the analytically inclined, it is a simple feedback loop.  Before dismissing it, keep in mind that it has the ability to explain why people adopt positions that aren't in their theoretical interest and it explains why people tend to make very radical shifts when they abandon a position.  

Using feedback tends to be a superior way of gaining knowledge because there are very few operative principles.  The guiding principle is simple: relationships within systems are complex and measuring the outcomes to inputs is more reliable than making adjustments to theoretical explanations.  This is not without its issues.  One can reasonably argue that the housing bubble was largely caused by use of feedback models.  Knowing this policymakers would be wise to make unstable markets less responsive, but that is an argument for another time.  

As far as politics goes, we can apply this to Wisconsin.  One of many things that bothered people about the results were the number of unionized household members who voted for Scott Walker.  Theory would suggest that a man who disdains the rights of unions would not advance the interests of union members.  An easy explanation is that these people are self loathing and simply voting on other issues.  An explanation that doesn't confirm one side in their moral superiority is the idea that the union members did not think recalling Scott Walker would advance their interests.  One doesn't have to be a Mises Institute (perhaps scare quotes would be appropriate) to find plausible the idea that many workers do not believe the unions that represent them advance their interests.  By looking at how unions are operating in practice, an impartial observer will readily notice that there are some grossly deficient unions out there.  Sure in theory, they help the worker smash the iron fist of capital, but people don't live theoretically.

While there are plenty of memes on the right about the election that should be addressed, there are some on the left that have enjoyed too long of a life.  For example the left seems to believe that the perception of teachers using their power to only benefit themselves is only believed by a small minority.  I can't count the number of people who claim that the general public loves teachers.  I feel like the guy telling the 45-year-old beauty queen that 20-year-old men aren't really into her.  Teachers have not been seen as self-sacrificing public servants for awhile because they haven't been.  Teachers are well compensate professionals, and in our better moments we take a little pride in that.  I'm not claiming we should go back to a day when teaching was a sacrifice, but the 45-year-old beauty needs to start having people appreciate her for who she is because only the most sympathetic are going to appreciate her for what she was 25 years ago.  Walker campaigned in the recall and the budget on an equity claim, one that democrats and union leaders conceded early upon in hopes of retaining collective bargaining rights.  When everyone in the room is agreeing that the financial terms were equitable, is it a surprise that there is little sympathy for the loss?  I'm not claiming the wages and benefits were unreasonable, but the union leaders conceded they were.  The givebacks obviously weren't occurring on their own before Walker's proposal, so there should be little shock that no credit was given for the magnanimity of the teachers and public workers.

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