A hypothesis.

Concerning politics, it is often said that “reasonable people can disagree”.


After all, when it comes to most political issues, it would seem that one side must be right and the other must be wrong, since they appear to believe the exact opposite things on all issues. Presumably, therefore, reasonable people will all be able to figure out what the correct policy is, leaving only unreasonable people to oppose them.

The answer to this, however, is that most people are not (and maybe nobody is) totally sure what the best policy is in most cases. Often, two opposing policies may have different pros and cons and it may not be clear which (to borrow a term from economics) maximizes societal welfare.

However, because this sort of thing is very hard for the average person to understand–no one really has time after a hard day’s work, to examine political nuances–this sort of thing is up to experts to discuss. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to discuss them, so their explanations must be succinct.

(This, in turn, leads to simplifying the issue into terms which make political polarization virtually inevitable, i.e. “It’s impossible to explain all the details–all you really need to know is that [whoever] is bad.”)

It’s not that people are stupid–it’s just that you need an advanced degree in economics to understand whether the Fed ought to print money in a recession or not. And if you go and get that degree, you won’t be able to get the necessary degree in climatology to understand climate change. Add in all the other issues we face and, well, nobody has the time for all that.

This means that we must rely on experts in these fields to make policy recommendations, but this inherently makes people who are not experts in any of these fields feel annoyed, especially if the experts are (or even appear to be) wrong at any time.

This sort of thing, of course, leads to populism and anti-“elitism”. It’s understandable, really–who would want to feel they were being controlled by a bunch of (mostly well-to-do) people who appear (to the layman) not to know what they are doing half the time?

Now, we seemingly have a solution to this problem ready-made in the form of the internet. Unfortunately, so far, it doesn’t seem to be working. Most people don’t seem to use the internet for the purpose of gaining access to more knowledge on many of these difficult subjects.

Two questions:

  1. Is my assessment correct?
  2. If so, what could be done about this problem? 

What's your stake in this, cowboy?