The Policy Popularity Game

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S1: The following recording may contain explicit language I can’t get more explicit than May.

S2: With literacy it may be It’s Wednesday November 6th 2019 from slated to just die.

S3: Mike Pesca Fox News today embarrassed itself slash engaged in brand extension when it published an excerpt of a book by author Doug Reed writing about CIA officers in the Trump administration. Read quotes a source as saying.

S4: Next thing they said was that in the previous administration they spent a lot of time in the White House doing nonstop. P.S. parentheses political correctness meetings they would have a meeting every week at the conclusion of the meeting. There was always the suggestion let’s meet again in two weeks. Nothing was ever resolved immediately. Hundreds of people caught the mistake made by Doug Weed author of Game Of Thorns The Inside Story of Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign and Donald Trump’s winning strategy. And it was that P.S. In this context does not stand for political correctness. It stands for principles committee the inner circle of the National Security Council when told of the error Fox conceded. But a careful vetting of Doug weeds overall might be in order for instance. There was this assertion that John F. Kennedy created a P.C. or political correctness agency which sent idealistic young Americans throughout the world to help indigenous peoples. That P.C. was even said to be the toughest job you’ll ever love. Cue drums wait. I have the audio Peace Corps.

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S5: The toughest job you’ll ever love.

S4: Oh OK. Not political correctness huh. All right. Well there was this story that we’d broke that P.S. had gone so far as to allow gay couples to get married at least no religious institution would be heartened by weeds reporting that P.C. or political correctness paved the way for gay couples to be married.

S6: The Presbyterian Church USA just paved the way for same sex couples to get married. Oh I guess also the wrong.

S4: P.S. we did uncover the fact that the U.S. consumer information center was practically based on political correctness.

S7: A new catalog is free right. Consumer Information Center Pueblo Colorado 8 1 0 9 2 8.

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S8: Makes me wonder about weeds. Extensive reporting that the Beatles wore politically correct suits or that political correctness coach the Seahawks to a Super Bowl or that political correctness can feel it coming in the air tonight. Or maybe that political correctness was a place said to be where the grass is green and the girls are pretty. It’s all kind of embarrassing you’ve got to wonder if Fox distances themselves from Doug Weed or if they stand by their man as political correctness famously saying on the show today who to believe when they tell you not to believe the polls.

S9: But first along with co-author and economist Daron Acemoglu James Robinson’s 2012 book Why Nations Fail was an epic treatise on both just that now the two have taken their acumen and understanding of history to pinpoint that thin slice of opportunity that allows nations to thrive that allows liberty to take hold. Their analogy and title is that of a narrow corridor. In this interview we will refer to a diagram that shows the different states that allow for liberty to flourish. You can totally understand and appreciate the arguments without the visual but if you want the visual arts in the show notes today and now in your ears. James Robinson co-author of the narrow corridor states societies and the fate of liberty. Sometimes on this show we get into picayune details we get into trivia. We get into a Fallujah today I want to go back way back and talk about pretty much the biggest issues in the world today.

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S10: Joining me now is James Robinson. He along with his co-author Daron Acemoglu have written the narrow corridor states societies and the feet of liberty if you recognize the names of those two authors yes. About seven years ago they wrote the seminal book Why Nations Fail which a lot of people have been thinking of lately. This is their newest effort to sort of redefine our experiment in civilization. Hello Professor Robinson. Thanks for coming on. My pleasure. Let’s talk Leviathans and hops shall we not. I mean this is an obvious place to start when you’re talking about how to define liberty and society. Was your mental process to start with Hobbs or do you think about these issues and then you said you know it really does come back to Hobbs.

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S11: Yeah I think we start with Hobbs but as soon as you start thinking about Holmes you see you know how problematic many of the things he said were and many of his arguments. So it’s about Hobbs but it’s also about broadening and complicating the Hobbs his argument about you know what is it that creates liberty in a society right.

S12: Well to be fair to Hobbs you know he was writing in the 16 50s and he was ahead of his time then and also he was living in an age I suppose that called out for order from chaos and our age is a little different from that.

S11: Yes that’s right. I mean he was writing in the middle of the English Civil War and and he was you know he was saying you know the solution to this was very strong central authority a state which would stop this state of war as he called it and provide you know basic order and public goods. And our starting point is that well actually you know that might have looked like a good idea in the 60s and 50s but if you look at history you see that leviathans of that sort. There’s just as common that they actually create war as to stop it. So you have to think about the governance of the Leviathan and in whose interests the leviathan works and whose preferences it represents. So the governance of the state is critical and that’s that’s a crucial part of the book.

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S8: And when Hobbes was talking about war he spells it W.A. army and it doesn’t just mean war W.A. Ah I meant sort of all manner of oppression and all manner of privation and all manner of anarchy.

S11: Absolutely and the threat of it it didn’t actually have to happen it was just the potential for it could have enormous consequences for people’s lives. So yes it’s a very rich argument it’s not just about international warfare as we might think about it right.

S8: So I read Why Nations Fail and I’ve been thinking about it. I think a lot of people have since populism began to sweep through Europe and then in the United States this is well you tell me. But I look at this book as an acknowledgement that success is not the same as not failure.

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S11: I mean I think you know you know the connection between this book and why nations fail is really you know we’re trying to get much deeper into the long run political dynamics that create inclusive political institutions and we’re trying to unwrap in some sense the challenges that politically inclusive societies face you know and the idea of the narrow corridor as you know within this corridor there’s a balance between states and society which is critical for having inclusive political institutions. But there’s dangers on either side of the corridor. You know there’s dangers when the state becomes too strong and starts to dominate society. But there’s also dangers when society becomes too strong or disillusioned with inclusive political institutions and that’s something that is not at all and why nations fail. You know that I think we emphasize very much these kind of elite overthrow of inclusive political institutions such as the case of Venus historically. But we underplayed you know you try to make these arguments simple and you know anyone can make a complicated argument about the world you know so our job as social sciences social scientists is to try to find a simple way of talking about these things. And I think at the time we didn’t really have a way of talking about that so we just sort of finessed it. But obviously in the world today you see it’s not elite you know discontent that’s created Trump ism or to tat a or you know many of these other movements. It’s actually popular discontent with the way things are. And we couldn’t talk about that in Why Nations Fail. But but we can with this book. So you’re right. You know that’s a perceptive comment that this framework allows us to illustrate much better these challenges to inclusive political institutions.

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S12: I want to I want to follow up on exactly some of what you just said but I also want to bring up the example of Singapore because I think in the last book that was consider it was often held out as a very useful counter example for some of its neighbors and other states.

S8: It is a non failed state is it is a highly functional state. If you judge it based on failure. But if you judge it based on the narrow corridor I don’t know how much liberty a Singaporean would have of Singapore society would have. And I wonder if Singapore is an example of the deaths Partick Leviathan then the shackled Leviathan which is your framework for a roughly functioning state.

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S11: Yeah I mean I think I think you know I’d say China is probably a better example than than Singapore. You know that no theory explains everything. And I think you know it’s very difficult to base a theory of comparative development around the case of Singapore because you know it’s a small state it’s an island you know it wasn’t a poor country in 1960 it had many modern institutions and it’s you know it’s had a remarkable it’s had a remarkable history of leadership you know with the kind of vision that’s lacking in most poor countries and you know that’s very hard as a social scientist to sort of explain where that came from. So I you know it’s not liberal in the western sense but it’s not like China either so. So if it’s despotic it’s a fairly soft sort of despotism not a Singapore I would say. I mean I think the Chinese case is much clearer obviously or North Korea or you know so. So that’s that’s a better example for us. And you know here you’re raising this other issue I think which is very different from Why Nations Fail which is you know we’re trying to talk not just about economic development of course that’s important but also you know things that we think are fundamentally significant for the quality of human life and what is it that makes society desirable. And you know this is this notion of liberty I think that’s something we value a lot. But where does that come from. You know how do you explain the enormous variation in that in the world.

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S10: Now I want my listeners to think of because there are a lot of graphs in the book so I want to. I want them to think of two axes and when you talk about the narrow corridor it’s pretty much right in the middle of the two axes. So it would be the line at a 45 degree angle from the zero point the two axes are a strong state and a strong society and a strong state I think we all understand that if it gets too strong it gets despotic and it oppresses its people but a strong society isn’t the same as a weak state and it’s not exactly the same as anarchy. So tell me what you mean by the strong society. Because I think it’s a really interesting concept.

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S11: Yeah I mean we mean how society is organized you know its ability to act collectively mobilize and that you know that that terminology bundles you know many things into into it you know let let me give you an example you know I mean and I think this is why the concept of liberty is so interesting you know so. So if you talked about China you know that would be an example of what we call a despotic Leviathan whether where the state is strong and society is very weak and then you could say well there’s not much liberty in China right. You know but then there’s many other parts of the world that definitely don’t look anything like China. Look at think about Yemen. Yemen. There’s not much liberty in Yemen either. But the state doesn’t dominate society in fact there’s hardly any state at all in Yemen if it’s society all power and authority is actually in society and society is very organised through tribes and kinship groups and you know which which operate completely autonomously from the from the state and have resisted the state in fact you know the big story about the who’s the rebellion in some sense in Yemen is it’s a it’s a rebellion of against society against the state to control the state to get the state back in its place. So so their society is organized and the state isn’t you know and that doesn’t create Liberty either you know but it’s very different from China. And I guess the more we thought about those sorts of examples in Lebanon you know the Philippines Pakistan you know Afghanistan you know it’s not that the state dominates society in Afghanistan the state has never ruled the mountains in Afghanistan never just the river valleys and the plains. And so we wanted to have a framework to think about that.

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S10: You know one frame which could help us put all of that together are there examples in the industrialized world or maybe not because that’s one of the things that makes it industrialize of a really really strong society. So you talk about Afghanistan Yemen I understand this tribal it goes back thousands of years but are there more modern examples maybe society has gotten ahead of the state.

S11: Well absolutely. I mean I think that’s a great question. You know and that that in some sense you’re raising here one of the what we think is the most original interesting parts of the book because yes it’s true that you know society in Yemen you know is powerful compared to Chinese society. But I would say society and the United States or Western Europe is even more powerful than Yemen because it’s outgrown or it’s dissolved. These tribal structures or kinship structures and it’s able to act you know on a much broader and much larger basis. So that’s that’s an even more powerful society from our perspective because it can broaden the agenda it cannot. It can get out of the parochial oddness of tribes which can be very effective. But this could be even more effective. So from our perspective you know the society in the United States is even more powerful than. And that’s part of this process of what we call the Red Queen effect. It’s part of this competition between the states and society. And in that competition both state and society change at night you know. So that’s my that’s that’s the argument.

S8: Right. And the Red Queen effect is that reference to Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll where you have to be pretty much run to keep up. So you’re saying that a very well functioning Western European or maybe I hope still American experiment is strong society and the and the state is commensurately strong with the society. And that’s that’s where you get liberty. Exactly. Is there any examples on the other end of that access like this state and society are both equally weak and that’s working out in terms of liberty.

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S11: Not not too much. I mean we have we have a concept which comes right at the end of towards the end of the book which you know which we call the people Leviathan which is there are parts of the world and I you know I think of Latin America like this where you know you take a country like Colombia you know that you have a weak state and and a weak society. So you’re sort of more balanced but you get stuck there. And the Red Queen effect never comes into operation. So so but that’s there’s not liberty. You know in that in that context you know Colombia was you know for many years the kidnapping homicide and drug capital of the world gun it’s still they’ve had they’ve they’ve maybe we hope are just getting out of essentially a 50 year civil war. Yeah I think that most Latin American countries are fairly fairly stuck in that situation. But on the other hand you could sort of say well from the point of view of our framework in many ways there’s room for optimism there because you sort of if they’re in this balance then that’s a heck of a lot better than you know China or Yemen. And there’s actually some prospect maybe that if you gave a push in the right place and we’d discuss a little bit that towards the end of the book you could get this red queen effect going and you could get Latin America moving. So you know that’s one way of thinking about it.

S9: James Robinson along with Daron Acemoglu is the author of the narrow corridor state societies and the fate of liberty. If you don’t read it for the diagram we talked about read it for details about intentionally wounding dogs with a powder of sympathy.

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S13: I won’t say anymore but what a detail. Thank you so much. My pleasure.

S9: And now the spiel. Beware ideologues arguing not just for their policies but for the popularity of their policies. It’s one thing to advocate for a policy to explain why it’s the right policy while it will help people. Why once becomes law. The population will come to support it. You can assert that it’s another thing when they start telling you that the policy is already popular much more popular than you might imagine much more popular than available evidence indicates it is so curious how often the advocates of a policy say Medicare for all or tax cuts for the top 10 percent or this or that military intervention or raising the Pentagon budget or lowering the Pentagon budget or the defense of marriage act. They’ll often tell you that that’s the right policy it’s wise and good. But also despite other indications people like it it’s popular maybe even secretly popular Medicare for all does not poll well. That is not the end all and be all of the issue. There are reasons to pursue Medicare for all despite the fact that Medicare for All is less popular than less ambitious proposals. But notice what I said despite the fact that Medicare for All is less popular than less ambitious proposals. I want to establish my credentials and tell you some Paul. A list of policies that I favor. These all have something in common. You ready. I favor registering all handguns a 60 day waiting period for guns I favor laws allowing abortion to be performed by a doctor at any stage in a pregnancy. I want to end the death penalty. I favor the Ryan franchise ment of ex felons in Kentucky and I favor eliminating pennies. What all those things have in common is that they are unpopular and I am not here to lie to you to trick you to somehow assert Oh no they really are popular just because I think they are good policies. I mean advocates of abolishing the death penalty can cite so many polls about changing attitudes and different circumstances where localities abolish the death penalty and it worked out and governor is abolish the death penalty and they were popular but the evidence it’s clear it’s just clear which would weren’t this way but the death penalty remains significantly favored by more Americans than not.

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S12: Same with every policy I cited. I’m in favor of all of them. Americans aren’t pennies are close. You vast vast would you favor or oppose eliminating the penny coin so that the lowest value coin available would be the nickel 16 percent said favorite strongly. 18 percent said favor somewhat whereas the opposition opposed strongly or somewhat was 51 percent.

S1: And 14 were unsure. So it’s going to close. But I a lie my A.P. any policy is not popular. I do wonder. If I were a supporter of Medicare for All would I convince myself that everyone else agreed with me at Politico on Kyle Q Linsky cited this statistic when you look at a Medicare for all poll it’s a 70 percent are in favor of it and even 52 percent of Republicans are in favor of it.

S14: It’s really a political no brainer in the direction of fight for it.

S1: What 70 percent are in favor 70 percent of Americans are in favor now it’s just not true.

S9: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation latest health care tracking poll a small majority of adults say they would favor putting all Americans in a single national health care plan 51 percent in favor 47 percent opposed. But the margin shrunk significantly from the beginning of the year when it was 57 percent backing the proposal 37 percent opposed as my colleague and honest broker on this. Jordan Weisman wrote the phrase Medicare for all tended to poll well early on but its popularity tended to drop once respondents were told it would require them to give up private insurance. Pew has been polling on this over and over again they found that 44 percent of all Democrats preferred Medicare for all the popularity goes down when another option is introduced in the conversation or introduced in the poll.

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S12: And since every debate we’re seeing there is more than one option introduced Biden and British judge do not favor Medicare for all. They’ll tell you so but a judge calls it Medicare for all those who want it. But once you mentioned that it’s accurate to say that Medicare for All is less popular than popular. Now what about this idea that 52 percent of Republicans want Medicare for all I tracked it down. It comes from a poll from Hill TV The Hill newspaper. They apparently have some tea. It’s not a TV channel. They play videos whether you want them to or not. And a polling company called Harris X.. I guess that’s the regular Harris poll to the extreme. Harris X is an online poll they are not even in 538 database of pollsters.

S1: Their parent company Reagan’s legacy company Harris poll that rates a C plus. But none of that even matters. I’m not trying to discredit the pollster per say they don’t think they have much credit. Just listen to the phrasing of their poll would you support or oppose providing Medicare for every American. If I was asked that I’d say I support it. Who doesn’t want Medicare when they reach that age. I mean they’ve been paying into it to deny Americans Medicare.

S12: See the problem with that ridiculous question framing sort of believe in the idea of Medicare for All is a good idea. Are you required to buy that it’s a popular idea. I guess you are. I haven’t met too many people who will say I like it but I know most people don’t. I actually haven’t heard anyone say that on a TV station after one of these debates. I don’t know. Maybe we’re only listening to advocates and they feel that by dishonestly framing support or citing polls favorable to themselves that it’s more likely to get it passed and then we’ll have it and then people will like it and it’s a good policy. So do whatever you can. Ends justify the means. As a journalist not an activist I have no qualms about acknowledging that some ideas even some ideas that I favor are unpopular not that unpopular is dispositive or disqualifying it’s just a statement of fact a statement of what my fellow Americans think about this issue. Every idea that’s good and proper is not good and popular. Same phenomenon is taking hold with Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy at large. Elizabeth Warren is doing quite well. She’s at or near the top in all the national polls and in most of the early states six days ago the New York Times in Siena published this headline and the poll that packed it up. Warren leads tight Iowa race as Biden fades. Poll Finds and Warren’s supporters retweeted that exuberantly. Yet a couple days ago when there was a poll that showed Warren doing less well than President Trump in key swing states and that poll was also by the New York Times in Siena those same people dismissed it and shouted oh why would you trust the centrists at the New York Times for your polling data. Centrist pundits I think overread that poll. Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine ran an article under their headline new poll shows Democratic candidates have been living in a fantasy world whereas progressive types like the activist Jess McIntosh and the activist David Adkins activists lashed writer journalist. They tweeted out a different poll with different results that showed Warren doing better in swing states only. That poll was not taken by the New York Times and Siena College but was taken by data for progress which is a very progressive polling firm. Its head Sean McElwee hosted the gist. He’s a justice Democrat. He’s an AOC backer and activist. But his results tend to. Who would’ve guessed advance his overall world view. I’m not here to argue to look at the poll and the data for progress poll in the New York Times CNN poll. I’m not here to argue one’s right and one’s wrong. I’m here to criticize arguments which all flow from the way that the activists want their policy to be regarded. It’s already regarded as popular watch out from the handcuffing of we believe in the rightness of this stance to we believe in the popularity of this stance especially when there’s lots of other evidence that the stance is not as popular as all that. If you spent a lot of time denigrating the New York Times result that showed Warren trailing Trump by a little in Wisconsin I mean it showed Trump beating Warren by 2 percent in Wisconsin. I mean this poll literally showed Biden beating Trump by 2 percent in Wisconsin and Warren losing to Trump by 2 percent Wisconsin. That’s so hard to believe that that needs to be rebutted especially because that data for progress poll says otherwise.

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S1: Ever so slightly I don’t know which or if either of these polls are right. And you know that both of the polls are within a margin of error of about four and a half since the polls themselves are saying that either Biden or Trump or Warren could very well win in Wisconsin. And

S12: oh by the way the elections in a year are you doing a service by dismissing the notion that it’s really quite possible in five states that all voted for Trump in 2016 that Trump is slightly more popular than Elizabeth Warren you’re doing a lot of work to scoff at that notion put forth by a new york times Siena College poll and by the way that notion happens to align with your own preferences. In one way this whole thing has been an argument about a subjective take on a snapshot. That’s within a margin of error. I get that. But globally what it really is is an argument about examining the biases of our viewers when considering the argument we should take into account. What is good. We should also know what is popular. We shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good but we should also not automatically mistake the good for the popular.

S15: And that’s it for today’s show that just was produced by Daniel Schrader who believes there is a narrow corridor between self-awareness and a smug unwillingness to change because hey it’s just me you know me going to put Shatner in that corridor. Cristina to Joseph just producer thinks there’s a narrow corridor between a good old fashioned red sox Italian place and is the owner doing some lady and the Tramp re-enactment here. The gist we believe in the narrow corridor between not forgetting where you came from and going on and on and on about how that used to be in safe hands. I used to be a Ramada with a rotating restaurant. Yeah. Oh it actually rotated Yahtzee. Room for a temperature Peru. And thanks for listening.