Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Monday, February 01, 2016 :::

As Steven alluded to in the last post, there are a lot of spurious accusations of hypocrisy in politics. I'm generally more opposed to some hypocrisy (that is often not called out as such) than to other hypocrisy, and am fairly tolerant of non-hypocrisy that is (hypocritically) called hypocrisy.  One of the contexts in which people seem very confused about hypocrisy is in the context of voting.

Suppose you think Bernie Sanders is the best choice for President,[1] but you think he has no chance of winning the general election and that Hillary is the closest feasible alternative.[2]  In my mind, the principled thing to do is to vote for Hillary.[3]  In fact, I might go so far as to call it hypocritical not to — to instead claim to support what Sanders stands for while failing to act in the way that best promotes that position.  There is a simple interpretation of a vote for candidate X as signifying "This is my favorite candidate," and people who insist that this is the "correct" interpretation sometimes call voting correctly "strategic voting".  In the context of voting, I think the term "sincerity" is adequate; perhaps my term and not theirs comprises those situations in which voting for one's favorite candidate happens to best promote one's ideals.

It is also in the context of the simplistic "interpretation" of votes that one sometimes hears complaints about the voting system that it is not "strategy proof" or (in the economists' lingo) "incentive compatible".  To emphasize, it is not incentive compatible if one's lodestar is that there is a special connection between voting for a candidate and believing that voting for that candidate is one's best available option; most economic epistemology is built on what economists call the principle of revealed preference, which everyone else calls "actions speak louder than words".  If you are inferring someone's preferences or beliefs according to a scheme in which they're supposed to be intentionally failing to best serve their ideals, you're either supposing or inferring that that person is a hypocrite, or you yourself are privileging fantasy over reality.  The conflict here is created by the interpretation, not the voting system, and a fortiori not the voter.[4]

Indeed, in that simplistic interpretation, especially in the absence of a secret ballot — for example, in the caucuses tonight — voting for a candidate is a public claim to support that candidate and the candidate's ideals; if the very same action is in fact undermining those ideals, that would seem to be about as clean an example of hypocrisy as one could hope for.[5]

[1]I don't.

[2]To be clear, I am very emphatically assuming away, for these purposes, that vote totals will affect political capital, and that Hillary is so corrupt as to override one's attractions to her similarities to Bernie.  The hypothetical which this post is examining is the one in which the voter prefers BS but holds beliefs on the basis of which a vote for Hillary would best serve the voter's ideals.

[3]Quoting this sentence out of context might not be hypocritical, but it would definitely not be fair play.

[4]There are, I should add, reasonable critiques of the voting system that do not depend on hypocritical interpretations of votes; indeed, the potential strategic complexity of the voting system is one that is probably closely related to the "incentive compatibility" complaint that assumes the problem.

[5]I might note, here, that at the Democratic caucuses in particular, it is fairly straightforward to publicly start off in support of one candidate and then change one's vote.  Especially for those BS voters who hold out some hope that their candidate will win, it might make sense to start off publicly supporting him, see how the other people in your precinct feel, update your beliefs about the rest of the world accordingly, and change if you're pretty sure at that point that that's optimal.


::: posted by dWj at 9:47 AM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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