Thursday, June 18, 2009

Empiricism in Politics

The last few weeks have not been the most reassuring in terms of politics. I suppose this is mainly due to seeing the health care debate in America. From what I have seen of the argument, and my cursory examination of other countries health care options, I believe that a single-payer plan would be the best, and if not that, then at least a public option. Thus, reading the news on the health care debate alternatively angers and saddens me.

I hope that it works out in the end. After all, I could be wrong. I don't understand anything close to all the details in the plans being suggested now, and it is possible that the conservatives do have some good points. Possibly, whatever half-assed mess of a compromise that is delivered will actually function. I don't think it will be as good as what I want, but I can't tell for sure.

Thinking of this brought to mind an article I had read on empiricism in politics, claiming that in the future mankind would move towards making political decisions more on the basis of factual evidence. After a fair amount of searching, I believe I might have found it, in an article by J. Craig Venter. Of course, at times I doubt that facts will make anything of a difference in political debate. It's an effort having to bite my tongue around my girlfriend's father when he starts going on about how humans don't cause global warming.

There will always be policy debates, and most likely I won't be happy with what the majority decides. Obama's election did give me some hope that one could convince the public of a good idea, but I cannot put all my faith in this. Given my dim view of human nature, I put much more hope towards a technical solution to our problems. Or, to rephrase, a technically aided solution. It is not that I think that old-school political maneuvering for what I believe to be the right ideas is useless, it is that I think that relying only on them is inefficient. I have much more hope that we can do something new that will change the game and get us out of this mess.

How exactly this Democracy 2.0 can work out is still being worked on. I see several ways in which things could improve. I hope the social sciences, especially economics, can make some large leaps forward as more and more information is recorded and made accessible on the Internet. I imagine that some day we could have a good map of most people's social contacts, their locations, their tastes and preferences, and also a good idea of what they're spending money on. This seems fairly likely to me as things like Facebook,'s recommendations and become more widely used, and hopefully their information will become more open in the future. We've also got things such as reality mining that will provide a great amount of information. Put all this together with greater computing power to enable larger simulations, and maybe we can get to the point where we can actually make meaningful and useful economic predictions.

As far as actually making politicians try to work for the common good, well there's the hope that things like reputation markets and the Sunlight Foundation can force some more accountability out of elected officials.

Of course, as I said earlier, facts often don't do much at all in affecting a political debate. I can hope that a lot of the more idiotic political positions out there can be alleviated by neuropharmacology that raises every one's IQ 30 or so points. Beyond that, some bastards just disagree with me, and there's not much I can do about that.

All of the above are mainly ideas to make our current form of government more efficient and don't affect the major problems of democracy itself. How to replace democracy with something better though is quite a question. It's something I've put a good bit of thought into, and have only some vague ideas. As this post is getting fairly long, I'm going to save some of those thoughts for later.

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