Thoughts on operating in a world of limited knowledge, and how to pick a political party
With the midterms right around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to provide some thoughts regarding the question of how a smart person should go about choosing a political party, and why I consider Republicans the lesser of two evils. Of course, most people rely on tribal signals. But you aspire towards something better. How should an intelligent person who wants to improve the world go about deciding whether to vote for, give money to, or otherwise support either the Democrats or Republicans in zero-sum political contests?
The information problem related to this question is very rarely treated with any depth. I think most intelligent observers would say that you should look into the issues and decide which side, on balance, has superior policy ideas. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a poll asking “Which party has a better economic plan to make life easier for people like you?”, and found that suburban white women said Republicans, whereas they had supported Democrats two months earlier.
I find this shift amusing, not only because most suburban white women are not studying policy documents, but because deciding whom to vote for based on the specifics of either party’s “plan” – as if such a thing even exists in the first place – isn’t a plausible standard for anyone, even those who follow politics fulltime for a living. But what’s the alternative?
You Need to Pick an Ideology
To get a scope of the information problem facing the voter, consider that an American president is allowed to appoint up to 4,000 officials in the federal government, although many jobs go unfilled at any one time. How many of those appointed by Trump can you name, and of those, how many policies that they implemented are you familiar with? The last president signed 220 Executive Orders throughout his time in office, Biden added around 2,000 pages to the Code of Federal Regulations in 2021, and the current Democratic-controlled Congress has passed 213 laws since the beginning of last year. You probably have never read a single page of the CFR.
The point here is that “become informed about policy” is not a realistic goal. You might focus on gathering facts in one or two areas, but you will remain extremely ignorant about over 99% of what the government is doing. I know civil rights law and foreign policy very well, and have done a lot of research on issues related to the pandemic. But I have limited knowledge on basically everything else, despite still being more informed than all but the tiniest sliver of the population.