Hope vs. Belief, Part II: Voting is Bad, Choice is Good

In Part I, we saw how opinions and wagers can draw out different sides of what people think about an issue. Basing a wager on a wrong prediction has definite costs, so people use more belief. Having a wrong opinion on a distant issue is costless, so people use more hope.

Bryan Caplan has pointed out that people buy more wrong opinions when they cost less, as with any good. Hence, he says, people are much more likely to have hope-based opinions about issues like politics, where being wrong has very little impact on them. People will choose based on what makes them feel good or what people they want to be associated with[1]. Contrast this with an opinion about whether it is safe to cross the street, where an error may result in a literal impact.

Voting, unfortunately, is an activity with many emotional connotations where choices have essentially no impact on the voter's life. So it is no surprise that people often choose based on hopes rather than beliefs. But while hopeful voting has little impact on the individual, it does affect society. The result of all these decisions to cheaply purchase wrong opinions[2] is a muddle-headed political system based on demagoguery and emotional appeal rather than facts and logic. It is not because voters are irrational, but rather the result of a system which elicits that side of human nature.

What are the alternatives? First, note that the smaller the demos, the greater an impact one vote has. So reducing the size of political units helps alleviate this problem. The extreme case is individual autonomy - a demos of one, where the consequences of a vote are the same as a wager. So the more we let people make individual decisions, the more they will act based on belief instead of hope.

This is unsatisfactory, however, because group efforts are useful. How can we harness the power of a group and the benefit of belief-based decisions? The simple answer is freedom of association. When people can choose which group to join, their decision creates their consequences, hence they'll use more belief. An example is most markets: we do not vote on a national cellular provider, we each choose one. We get the economies of scale of having a large group effort, yet we have reason to make a good decision about which group to join.

A governmental example is that each American can choose from among 50 states. While people often vote for politicians who will increase spending, things are different when the decision directly affects their lives: they move from high-tax to low-tax states several times as often as vice-versa. Many more people hope the government benefits will be worth the extra taxes than seem to believe it.

While geographic federalism, ala the Free State Project, is one way of choosing instead of voting, moving is expensive. This may eventually be addressed by my idea of dynamic geography, but we need ideas that can be implemented here and now. Hence the benefit of more general market federalism, like being able to choose from among several schools, social security plans, and package shippers. Taken to the extreme, where even laws and courts are chosen individually, this becomes market anarchy. While many may not wish to go that far, it is worth noting that anarchy theory is a fertile source of clever ideas about how choice can be extended to many areas of life where we take "voting on how everyone will do it" for granted. We do not have to follow the idea to an extreme to benefit from its insights.

Choosing is a fundamentally different method of making group decisions than voting, and I believe it is generally a better one. It does not rely on making humans into angels who will carefully ponder decisions which don't affect their lives. Instead, lets use systems which bring out the best in our nature. If we choose decision-making methods which encourage the use of beliefs, rather than hope, our collective efforts will be based on more accurate views of how the world works, and more likely to accomplish our collective and individual goals.

[1] The problem becomes worse when we add findings on the irrationality of human opinion. In short, while we may come to hold a wrong opinion because it is cheap and feels good, as time goes on we are likely to find reasons to support it - especially if we encounter opposition.

[2] Note that wrong here is not a moral statement, I am not judging ends. It means an incorrect description of the world. For example "increasing trade barriers, on net, helps our country" is almost certainly wrong.

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Note that Robin Hanson has

Note that Robin Hanson has made similar arguments for an idea futures market, as a way to elicit scientist's beliefs rather than hopes:

Could Gambling Save Science?

Robin Hanson has a

Robin Hanson has a fascinating alternative method to use markets to make any government use beliefs rather than hopes:


For some reason copying a

For some reason copying a posted link in your comment section is impossible for my computer -- except in copying the whole post to a word program and then copying the link only from there. :dunce::sad::mad::furious:

There should be some

There should be some key/mouse combination (on a mac its holding control while clicking, on windows its right-clicking) that lets you copy the link from your browser.

Thanks for the direction, it

Thanks for the direction, it works -- i'm using windows though . . .
WordPress 's site doesn't have the same difficulty in their comments section at their forums. Of course, just posting the link in html would clear the problem. As a groveling, novice, code learner, what's the brackets to post a link in html? Just the brackets please.

Perhaps you could use the

Perhaps you could use the theory to improve your chances in the Presidential Market game.


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