The Evolutionary Psychology Of Revenge, with Dr. David Barash

Welcome to Amy Alkon's HumanLab: The Science Between Us, a weekly show with the luminaries of behavioral science. Evolutionary psychologist Dr. David P. Barash has taken on the fascinating subject of revenge: why we seem to need it, the different kinds, and how we might avoid leaping to clobber those who do bad things to us. His book, Payback: Why We Retaliate, Redirect Aggression, And Take Revenge, is co-authored with psychiatrist Dr. Judith Eve Lipton.
  
A very frank discussion about the current "standard of care" for type 2 diabetics and how you don't want to sucked into it.

The Primal Blueprint PodcastThe Primal Blueprint Podcast wrote the following post Mon, 03 Sep 2018 14:45:52 -0400
Ken Berry MD
Elle Russ chats with Ken Berry MD about the epidemic of Diabetes and how a patient can navigate test results, treatment, prevention, and reversing the disease. Dr. Berry is also the author Lies My Doctor Told Me which reveals the truth behind the lies told by well-meaning doctors. Whether it’s recommending a low-fat diet, or warning you to avoid the sun, these medical lies can cause really harm to your health. This book will help you sort through the medical myths and the outright lies, and begin to develop a health partnership with your doctor.

Dr. Berry has been practicing Family Medicine in rural Tennessee for over a decade.  He is board certified in Family Medicine, and was recently awarded the degree of Fellow by the American Academy of Family Physicians. Having seen over 20,000 patients of all ages over his career, he is uniquely qualified to advise on both acute and chronic diseases. Dr. Berry has focused of chronic disease caused by the Standard American Diet and Lifestyle, and has made it his mission to turn the tide on the epidemic of Type 2 Diabetes, chronic inflammation and dementia.

Selected Links:

Lies My Doctor Told Me

Dr. Ken Berry – Facebook

Dr. Ken Berry – Twitter
Dr. Ken Berry – Instagram
Dr. Ken Berry – YouTube
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Since I have shared a few Building Tomorrow podcasts lately, I thought I would build a feed channel for it.


https://hub.farthinghalearms.com/channel/buildtom
  
Health Care without Health Insurance

What if there was a way your family doctor could provide you with better care for less money and do it without using health insurance at all? Dr. Ryan Neuhofel joins us to discuss what direct primary care is and how it might benefit you.

Doctors offices spend an inordinate amount of time and expense filing paperwork with health insurance companies. By not taking health insurance, direct primary care physicians, like our guest Dr. Ryan Neuhofel, can simultaneously increase the amount of time patients get with their doctors, create price transparency for medical services, improve the work-life balance for physicians themselves, and save money doing it. It’s a radical idea when the conversation about fixing healthcare involves getting more people on health insurance and spending more money in so doing, but it could transform how 80% of Americans access healthcare for 80% of their lives.

What is direct primary care? Is it a more efficient way to deliver care? What is “telemedicine”? Has primary care become a gate-keeper rather than an actual provider? In the future, could we have a system that is like “uber for doctors”?
  
I imagine a lot of us embrace being called "troublemaker"

EconTalkEconTalk wrote the following post Mon, 27 Aug 2018 06:30:10 -0400
Charlan Nemeth on In Defense of Troublemakers
Image/photo
Psychologist Charlan Nemeth of the University of California, Berkeley and author of In Defense of Troublemakers talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in the book–the power of groupthink, the power of conviction, and the opportunity for an authentic, persistent dissenter to have an impact on a group’s decision. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the challenges of doing careful research in modern times.

This week's guest:This week's focus:Additional ideas and people mentioned in this podcast episode:A few more readings and background resources:A few more EconTalk podcast episodes:
TimePodcast Episode Highlights
0:33
Intro. [Recording date: August 16, 2018.]Russ Roberts: Charlan Nemeth's latest book is In Defense of Troublemakers: The Power of Dissent in Life and Business, which is our topic for today.... This book is about decision-making: in particular about how our awareness of what others say and believe, how those others affect our own decisions. Let's start with the power of the majority. How is my decision or opinion affected by knowing what the majority believes, or if there's some kind of consensus?

Charlan Nemeth: That's probably the most powerful phenomenon in social psychology, in all honesty: is that, back in the 1950s even, this classic study by Solomon Asch had shown that even when you are making judgments about things that have factual evidence right in front of your eyes--even when there are things you make [?] mistakes on, making judgments alone, such as, you know, which line of three is equal to a standard, or 'Is this blue or is this green?' Anything in which there is truly a factual basis. And where people literally make no mistakes. What will happen is that as few as 3 people agree on an erroneous answer, can actually get you to agree with them--contrary to what your own senses tell you. And, you are often unaware of it. I can go into the specifics of the whys if you want, but, basically, those studies in the beginning had enormous impact in the field, and it's one of the few studies that's been done in over a dozen countries with essentially the same results, and where there's enormous power in the judgments of the majority in terms of shaping the judgments--what we think is accurate. And it's obviously a business model for many, many companies who rely on the opinions of others, particularly [?] great numbers in order to sell products make you think of, you know, if something is true even if it isn't. I mean, you think of the fake news: you see it often enough and if enough people agree in your sphere you start to become unsure of what you know and what you believe. And it has enormous power, which we see in every place--in groups, mainly in organizations; and even in all these experimental studies which, as I said, have stood the test of time.

Russ Roberts: What's strange for me--and, of course, I may be very unrepresentative of the average person in these experiments--but, I tend to be kind of a contrarian. Not 'kind of.' I'm a contrarian. I tend to be automatically skeptical of what's popular, what "everyone else thinks." Aren't there a lot of people like me who are actually going to go the other way? Who are not going to be swayed by the majority, the so-called consensus?

Charlan Nemeth: There may be fewer than you think. Or, at least most of us who think we are contrarians, myself included--I think there's a reason why I studied this all of my life; and my colleagues, I can guarantee you, would attest to the fact that, you know, speaking up is certainly not always welcomed. But, I think, though, that it partly depends on the situation, as well. And I think it also depends to some extent on whether or not it's an issue about which you have conviction or deeply held views, as opposed to something where you are not so sure. But I really do believe, though, that it affects all of us, regardless of how we view ourselves. And the main reason, I think, is that we're unaware of doing it--

Russ Roberts: Yeah, for sure.

Charlan Nemeth: is that many times we do so habitually. And, if I mention, because I find it slightly humorous, but I mention often will show it, a very, very dated episode of Candid Camera. You are probably too young to remember it. But I certainly remember--

Russ Roberts: No, I remember Candid Camera--

Charlan Nemeth: Do you? Okay. But there was one segment that I often use in courses. It was called "Facing the Rear." And basically, as you know, Allen Funt used to kind of do experiments in the street to show--human nature, essentially. And in one of them, he had three confederates--you know, people that were asked to do this, who were in an elevator--and then this one innocent person walks in. Any, the bottom line is that after the doors close, all these people are turning in a different direction--turning to the rear, for example, of the elevator. And so, the doors will then open, and you'll see that the innocent person has also turned to the rear. And it's because there is an assumption that if they're all doing something, it must be right: 'There's something I'm missing.' But, it's not so many who kind of think out and calculate. So, you see this guy turning around--okay, it's funny in a way. But then the thing proceeds where, even if they--this was a day when men wore hats--but even when they take off their hats, he takes off his hat. And he looks puzzled; and he's looking around because he doesn't really know why he's doing what he's doing. Anyway, without going into all the specifics of the episode: Any class you show it to, even decades later this is, they are just laughing--roaring on the floor--

Russ Roberts: Because they knew they would do that.

Charlan Nemeth: Well, at an intellectual level, yes. But the laughter is because they know they [?] be doing that. There's a recognition because you identify with this guy, who, when you think about it, this is in the face of even roll[?] evidence. Because, it isn't just a matter of, 'They're doing it so I think it's right, so I'll do it.' When that door opens, he sees they are facing the wrong way. Namely, that's not where the door is going to open. And yet he continues doing it. And, what I love about it is that it sort of captures in a human, humorous way essentially what that research all shows: Namely, how blindly we follow; how unaware we are of what we are doing; and yet the fact that we do it even despite physical evidence to the contrary.
6:48Russ Roberts: Now, Allen Funt is not a social scientist. He's an entertainer, the host of Candid Camera and the person who created it. But, he doesn't show us the clips where the people didn't turn around, because that's not interesting or amusing. But what you are suggesting is that that's rare: that most people, subconsciously even, follow the majority or follow the consensus. Why don't you speculate a little bit about why you think that's true, either evolutionarily or for whatever other reasons? I think we all recognize that there's a certain wisdom of crowds that we're drawn to. And that if, "everyone's doing it, there must be something to it," as you suggested. Anything more you want to add to that?

Charlan Nemeth: Yeah. Actually, I do. Because it's--at one level, it's at the heart of one segment of the book. What most of the research trying to find out why--I mean, some of it done by interviews with people afterwards that were pretty in-depth, but more done by even experimental follow-ups in which you can actually, you know, change some of these reasons. But, what it comes down to is that, Number One is that there is an assumption that truth lies in numbers. It's what you were talking about, the so-called wisdom of crowds. And we can go into that if you want. But the fact is, is that numbers are only better than the individual. Namely, there's wisdom in the crowds only under certain circumstances. And, one of them that's quite critical is that they need to be independent judgments. Namely, if you've got a bunch of people but they are all herding and following each other, that's like equivalent to the judgment of one. It is not a group of independent judgments--which does have value and power. It also assumes that they each--that the task is something that they have some knowledge about. So, if I'm going to--if you want to know, for example--

Russ Roberts: I've always liked that caveat. Because, some people seem to think, 'It doesn't matter. You just average them all out and it comes up with the right answer.' But, I'm a little skeptical when people are totally unaware of what's going on and not knowledgeable.

Charlan Nemeth: Yeah. Well, many of the studies, when you think about it--I mean, if you look carefully even at the stuff that the, that the books on wisdom of crowds talk about--there's, like, you know, estimating the number of balls in a jar: something that asks for. Well, everybody's got some knowledge. But if I were to ask, like, you know, 'Who is the Nobel Laureate known for finding the transuranium elements?' for example, a lot of people wouldn't know. And it wouldn't matter if I asked 50 people and they gave me a name. You'd ask somebody, for example, who understood chemistry or who had heard of Glenn Seaborg, or whatever. So, what I'm really getting at is that: majorities can be correct; but they are not necessarily correct. The real concern is that when they are wrong, we still follow them. And we do so, in part because we make that assumption that truth lies in numbers. So, as an aside, where it concerns me a little bit: the books that help, that have you believe that somehow you should[?] believe in it, because I think that's a problem we have anyway. We start by assuming there's truth in numbers. And, all you need is for some, you know, people to basically come out and basically tell you that you should trust that and not trust your own judgment. And that's exactly what I argue against. Because what we need is independence of judgment. Which means that: If you choose to follow them after assessing the value of what they are contributing, that's great. There's nothing inherently right about being a contrarian as opposed to following the majority. The question is whether you are reflective about it. And you make a considered, independent judgment. While I'm at it, though, the second reason--sorry to go on, but I'll stop--is that, the other reason, which is a powerful one, is that people fear being in the minority. They fear being the odd man out--the old adage that the nail that sticks up is going to get hammered down. They fear reprisal, and they fear rejection. And so, what happens is, is that--sometimes this isn't even conscious. It isn't even a considered notion that I'm not going to disagree: They actually don't even know that they have a different opinion. In part, because the assumption that the truth is in the numbers and they are missing something, coupled with the fact that that's a more convenient truth to have--namely, to join them and not to be the odd person out--those two conspire to be very powerful reasons for following error[?].
11:12Russ Roberts: It seems to me--we've been talking a lot about tribalism in recent episodes. And, it seems to me it's a, part of this is a variant is a desire to make sure you are in the tribe. You are in the outcast--if you are an outcast, if you fail to meet the norms of the tribe, you are going to lose access to the tribe's benefits. You risk, as you say, reprisal, rejection, quarantine. And just being lonely. And so, I think there is a very powerful impulse we have to go along. To conform. And, it's--many times it's a good impulse, right? It keeps families--in the tribal setting, it keeps families together. It keeps marriages together. It keeps religions together. Communities of various kinds. Which is--you kind of accept of the norms of the group. And there comes a day, sometimes when you wake up and go, 'Uh oh. What have I been doing?' And you are forced to confront the fact that you've blindly been following these norms. And, again, many of the times, that's great--those blind followings; and it economizes on time. You can't sit every minute thinking, 'Should I do this? Should I not do it? Which way should I face on the elevator? Should I wear a hat? What kind of hat?' All those decisions in much of life we make unconsciously--which is really helpful most of the time. But, when we are acting politically, when we are making business decisions, investment decisions, personal-life decisions, you probably want to pay a little more attention. And I love this idea that runs through the book that you really have to be aware of this. Because it's working on you sometimes--maybe always--when you don't know it.

Charlan Nemeth: Yes. That's exactly right. I mean, as you were talking, I mean, it's clear that you don't have to be authentic and discuss everything and say everything that's on your mind. I think to some extent even some of the recent conversations--which I'm sympathetic with the principles--to use a Dalail[?] quote of transparency. But you don't have to say everything that is on your mind every single moment, without any regard to what the impact is going to have or whether you are going to succeed, or the other considerations. I think, though, that, what I'm sort of really arguing about though is that so often, we really--Number One, we aren't aware of when we are just following blindly. And, I think that you need that wake up call. But I think the second thing is that: People are afraid to speak up. I mean, much for the reasons that you are saying. So that, what happens is: We are not honest with one another. And, it's easier said than done. But, there are many cases--it doesn't even have to be something dramatic. But, let me just for a moment kind of go to maybe the more dramatic kind of things where people are, kind of, recognize the importance of this: Is that, you know, you have planes falling out of skies which is an illustration I use because somebody doesn't speak up, or doesn't speak up forcefully. You know, they kind of note something in passing as though it's a paraphrase rather than, 'You know, we're running out of fuel,' and that plane falls out of the sky. You know, you have surgeons can operate on the wrong limb. And, again, you can have members of the surgical staff who--they may not be absolutely sure, but it looks as though, say, a piece of equipment is malfunctioning. Well, instead of speaking up and saying, 'Hold it. Stop. This may be a problem,'--now, again, you are weighing that decision, obviously; there is some urgent situations in which, you know, you have to be quite sure; and that's still going to be a calculation. But nonetheless is that there are many, many reports of people who had a differing viewpoint who never spoke up. And catastrophes occur. You see them in business, with mergers--you know, even the old AOL/Time Warner one. You know, it was done in a matter of a few months, and there was strong dissent from people within the company, some of whom happened to be correct, at least with hindsight. But they weren't consulted. They had no opportunity to express it in that particular case. But the point is, is that there's sometimes truths out there that go unexpressed, because people are afraid of it. And there are studies that show that even, like, 70% of people report not speaking up about a problem in a company. And it's not a great way.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. It's perfectly rational on one level, which is, 'If they're not saying anything--if the surgeon, who is much smarter than I am, much more experienced than I am--thinks that's the right legislation, I must be the one that's wrong.' So, there's a certain natural self-doubt there, that, in the face of "expertise." But a lot of it is like what you said; and I think this is the more interesting point. I think a lot of it is fear--just pure fear of the remark coming back to you like, 'What are you thinking? Of course, we're doing the right leg.' And I think the lesson here for managers and for families and for friends is to react graciously to negative comments or constructive criticism. That's very hard for us. Right? We don't like to be told we are doing the wrong thing. And, the more we bark back at the people who criticize us in those settings, the more we create groupthink. Which is, as you said, it's the Wisdom of One.

Charlan Nemeth: Mmmhmm. Yeah. I had several thoughts as you were talking. Because--I mean--first, let me just--when you commented on expertise: It's interesting because you sounded almost as though you trusted that.

Russ Roberts: Well, I tried to put it in scare quotes. Very subtle. Maybe you missed it. Because I'm kind of a skeptic about expertise generally.

Charlan Nemeth: Okay. I was just going to say, I certainly have been. Because, I live in a world where everybody presumes expertise because, and they'll trot out all their degrees and this and that and the other thing. But, I did jury consulting for a number of years at one point, and the thing I was often struck by is--because judges always think they know more than jurors, you know--but sometimes I'm often struck by the fact that common sense is not so common. And that many times people can see through things: where you can see judges who are very articulate and can create a brief that looks very brilliant; but the fact is that it represents a very single perspective, you know, his own opinion. It's just that he's more artful in the way that he conveys it. And so, I've learned kind of long ago not to trust, essentially, things of status and prestige. Or, at least to question it.

Russ Roberts: Yup.

Charlan Nemeth: So, that falls in the same camp as the assumption that truth lies in numbers. Because, what happens is that we just assume that what we know or what we see can't be true. And, we tend to discount it. Which is, like, the worst way to make a decision, you know.

Russ Roberts: You know, a variant on that is when you go to a movie that everyone is raving about, and you are just struck by how bad it is. And, I walk out of that--and it happens to me. Not infrequently, but occasionally, right? And part of it is--well, I'm not like everybody else. But, a lot of the times, I'm thinking, 'Did I miss something here? Was I in a bad mood when I watched this movie?' Or, 'What were those other people thinking? Were they just--they got swept up?' And I'm just struck--you know, after going to certain movies, reading certain books--it's like, 'Gee, this didn't work for me at all.' It's not, 'Well, I didn't like it as much as they did.' It's, 'I didn't like it. I actually disliked it.' And 'How could they have raved about it?' And you wonder, 'How much were they swept along by that consensus, majority feeling?' and 'How much am I, you know, maybe misreading what it's real value is? And maybe I need to see it again.' And occasionally I have. I've gone back and watched a movie a second time that was raved about, or read a book or parts of a book that were raved about that I couldn't get into. It's not as if it's different. But often it does speak to me, just the way it is.

Charlan Nemeth: Yeah. I have that experience often, particularly with restaurants that are raved about. In San Francisco, that's all we do is eat, basically. You know. But, when I go, and sometimes realize that not only is it overpriced, or it's remarkably mediocre, or it is just novel for the sake of being novel even though it isn't a particularly pleasant experience. So you can go through all kind of things. I think, though, that sometimes it really is a herd. There is something to be said for a place because they work on it in marketing--it has a kind of a cache. It has the buzz, if you will. It's where all the hip people are going.

Russ Roberts: Yup.

Charlan Nemeth: I mean, Apple was great--whenever they were launching a product they'd have long lines out the front. They'd turn it into a happening--

Russ Roberts: It's brilliant--

Charlan Nemeth: and so people would go just to kind of be part of the crowd, part of the latest of whatever it was. And, you're an economist. I'm clearly not. But even, you know, a lot of the bubbles are attributed to kind of herds on the way up, and herds on the way down. And so those notions of contagion, and even the difficulty of being a contrarian, even in those situations, because you think, if you are a contrarian--if you are right, you are a genius, you think; and if you are wrong, you are an idiot, you know with big reputational fallout. But sometimes even if you are right, there's a quick way to view you reputationally as somebody who got lucky, for example.

Russ Roberts: Yep. Hard to know.

Charlan Nemeth: So, I'm just saying that it has costs in many different fields, being that contrarian. So, I don't underestimate for a moment the difficulty of it.
21:02Russ Roberts: Well, let's turn to dissent. Because, that's the troublemaker part of your book, and the part that, being again myself a little bit of an outlier and not much of a majoritarian in terms of my outlook, I've gotten used to being something of a dissenter. And, dissent is a fascinating piece of your book. You argue that dissent, even when it's wrong, helps our decision-making process. Explain that, and talk about dissent more generally.

Charlan Nemeth: Okay. Well, I think that's the powerful message, in all honesty, because most of the time people think, 'Well, dissent is fine,' because they think, 'We're tolerant people, and everybody should have a voice.' But the reality of it is that--myself included, we're not immune to the human tendency to get irritated when someone challenges a view that we believe. And, we don't mind them saying it; but we don't like when they persist. And so, what happens is you are tolerant for a short time; and then what happens is that you start to both think and many times speak in rather derisive ways toward them. I mean, again, it's sort of like when I was teaching classes in this sort of thing: I'd sometimes do demos. And, I'd just bring people up practically at random, and I'd just plant one individual ahead of time who only took what I knew would be on a very different viewpoint: It was like, how to deal with a juvenile delinquent. Anyway, so they'd have this discussion in front of the class. And when the one individual espouses what I knew was going to clearly be a deviant viewpoint, what happens--and you can see it dramatically--it's one of those things that you don't take a risk in doing this demo: The phenomenon is so powerful that it works all the time, and it doesn't matter who is up there. And, what it does is supports the research findings, which now the students will start to pay attention to because they've witnessed it. And the first thing is, is that all the communication gets directed at the dissenter. Like, 'Why do you think that?' 'How can you believe that?' [?], whatever. So, everything zeroes in on him. The same thing like in the film of 12 Angry Men, when Henry Fonda is the only lone hand going up for not guilty, everything goes in with him, with the opening caveat of: there's always one. Okay? But what happens as it persists, you start to see derisive behavior. And so, even when you do the demo in class, you'll find that the other individuals, may be perfectly well-behaved college students; and they will start to, at first by innuendo and then more directly, suggest that the guy is either stupid or immoral--one of the two. 'How could he have this particular position?' And there's really pressure on him. And so--and then what happens is that at the end, even if I have them all turned around; I say, like, essentially, 'If the group had to be smaller and you had to exclude somebody, would you vote for x, y, z?' So you think, like, maybe there would be a bunch of hands admiring this lone dissenter. And there are very, very few. Maybe, almost everybody makes it clear he should be thrown out--

Russ Roberts: Well, he's ruining it. He's ruining it for everybody.

Charlan Nemeth: Yeah. I'm sorry--I went off on a tangent. I think maybe I didn't address the question you were raising. So, bring us back, if--
24:22Russ Roberts: Well, we started off by saying that a dissenter bears a cost. They get treated derisively, sometimes violently. Sometimes they are shoved aside or ignored. I think I've probably told the story on EconTalk where I voiced some support for shopping at Walmart at a dinner party with a little bit of humor, and the reaction from the person I was talking to was to stand up and say, 'I don't have to listen to this.' And she walked away. Not, 'Oh, that's interesting. Oh, you're an economist. How would that work?' It just isn't--people's normal reaction is an enormous wall goes up. They are not interested in hearing a contrary opinion. Most people aren't. There are exceptions, obviously. So, the first thing is that the dissenter gets derided, criticized, insulted; and usually treated with some anger, as you point out many times in the book. But the other part that's interesting, you didn't say enough about, is how it forces the group consensus to evaluate, re-evaluate. And to confront it. Even though they might not say it so publicly. Which is even more interesting to me. They might publicly just continue to resent and dismiss the minority opinion, the dissenter. But inside actually something is going on. So, talk about how a dissenter improves the process.

Charlan Nemeth: Okay. Because, again, what happens is, you are bringing up a lot of thoughts. The one thing: First, in terms of it being private, it is set[?], many, many studies we did, particularly in the early days, show that, you know, we'll do mock jury deliberations or things of that sort. And what happens is, is that they won't move one inch in public to the dissenter. And it--sometimes I'd be asked for combat pay, actually, by people I put in, in that position of being the dissenter. But what happened, though, is if you asked them later--and you can't ask them very directly--so, if you really say, 'Did you change your mind?' it would be 'No, no, no.' And, 'He's still an idiot.' And so, you can have all the, you know, great questionnaires you want, but it still comes down to the fact that they dislike him and think he's ridiculous, etc. But, what happens is, is that if you are even slightly subtle--so, if you say, 'Well, you know, supposing he asked for twice the amount in compensation. What would have been your judgment, then?' Or, if you say--

Russ Roberts: For an injury. It's an injury case. Right?

Charlan Nemeth: Yeah. Yeah. This is a personal injury case. Is the one I'm thinking about. Or, if you say, if you go along with the judge rather than a member of the group operating as a jury, what would your decision? Those are like variants. You'd think it wouldn't vary at all. But, more importantly, is: You give them, then, totally new injury cases, where the facts are quite different and everything else, and ask for compensation. Basically, what you find is that there is noticeable attitude change. Namely: They have actually moved in the direction of what the minority judgment was. The one that persisted over time. As--that's a caveat in that. Because, to have any impact as a dissenter, you have to be consistent over time. It isn't a one-shot thing and then you are out of there. You really do have to continue, which means you are taking the risk. You are going to be the subject of derision. But that's where the impact is. But, don't expect it to be public, or you are going to be applauded for it. You will be derided. And, at the end of it all, there is noticeable attitude change; but it occurs at the private level. And that's the hard part about this message, is that: You can be standing up and taking the risk, but you won't necessarily benefit from it, in the sense that people will think better of you. And many times people will not even be aware of the fact that their opinions have changed. What I think is more important in terms of the research we then were doing more, and they--later, many years of my career--is taking a look at influence at a different level. Namely: Not whether or not you win as a dissenter--whether or not you've changed their mind, but whether or not you've changed the way they think about the issue. So, the reason I use a film like 12 Angry Men is not so much for what most people see--which is the ability of a dissenter, an alone individual--the Henry Fonda character--to win, actually to change the minds of the others. But, rather that it changed the nature of thought about the issue. So, what I pay attention to--and, again, it's more of a dramatic vehicle in 12 Angry Men--but you start to see the mechanisms by which, some of which have to be strategic, in terms of keeping the discussion open. Because, otherwise, they'll just sort of stop talking to you, and essentially try to yell you out of the room if they could. But, what you start to see is they start to look at, say, the downside as well as upside of their own positions. They start, for example--before, it was like, 'We've got two eye witnesses. What's there to talk about? I'm out of here.' And they start to kind of question whether that eye witness is accurate. And then they start to notice and remember other pieces of evidence that start to call it into question. And in one case, they recreate the scene, only to find that it couldn't have happened as the witness described it. Now, that's a dramatic vehicle. But it parallels what we did in many different studies. Which is that what we tried to do is to try to look at a lot of elements of what constitutes good decision making. And, things like, when you search for information, do you search for information on, say, both sides of the issue? As opposed to favor one. Or: Is your recall selective? Or, in other studies, you know: Do you consider alternatives? As opposed to just ruminate logically a lot about the one position, the yes or no? Or--sorry, I'm trying to just kind of scan some of the different studies. But, essentially, what you are looking at, is, if I use one word for it, it's divergent thinking--is that, instead of a kind of a linear, problem-solving thinking is that you start to think about the ups and the downs of each position. You start considering alternatives you wouldn't have considered otherwise. You start--in problem-solving, we've got studies where you utilize multiple strategies. And to great effect. Because the performance is much better. But, the bottom line of it is, is that the mind opens. And it opens because it's challenged. And so, we can kind of think that personally people don't want to hear it. But, if they do have to hear it, and it persists over time--so, it's in a meeting and they can't just sort of walk out and tell you to go home from your dinner party, you know, that you describe--what happens is, is that that challenge just changed the nature of discourse. And that's why, what all these studies show--and I think, for me, the most heartening finding was that: Whether or not they were right or wrong, is that, that kind of thinking is the kind that was stimulated by the challenge to the majority opinion. And that's in some ways surprising, because we see its value when it's right. I mean, who wouldn't argue that the guy shouldn't have spoke up when they were running out of fuel on the plane? But, what's a harder thing for people to get their arms around--but I think is most important--is that you profit from that dissent even when it's wrong. Because even if you are not totally aware of it, even if you don't want to give him credit, is that study after study shows that you think better. You actually are wiser in the kind of way you search for information, assess it, and think about it. And that's the beauty of it. So, it really suggests that you shouldn't just tolerate dissent: that you should welcome it. And I'm paraphrasing Senator Fulbright[?], which is a quote I happen to like. I've got certain authors that I love quoting. But that's one of them.
32:24Russ Roberts: It reminds me of--long-ago EconTalk guest Ed Leamer, who said, 'Man is a pattern-seeking, story-telling animal.' And I think, it is also in the work of Nassim Taleb. It's a common problem we all have. We have a linear story; we cherry-pick the data that makes us confirm that story. And we're not really interested in looking at other parts of the story: 'It's a nice story. Don't ruin it.' And when the dissenter comes along and says, 'Are you sure? But what about this?' It forces you to imagine that there is more than one story. And I think that's really an important--it's important for, again, I think our personal decision making. And what I've found in interacting with people, both when I use this technique and I hear, feel, hear it used on me--how powerful it is--someone will make a bold claim: 'So and so is the all-time leader for doubles in the season, in baseball.' And I'm thinking, 'I don't know if that's right. I think it's Earl Webb. I think it's '67.' I'm thinking to myself, when this person says this other person--sometimes I just say: 'Are you sure?' I don't say, 'Oh, that's ridiculous. It's Earl Webb.' Instead I say, 'Are you sure?' Those three words, 'Are you sure?' It's remarkable how quickly people climb down from their over-confidence. And I feel it in myself. I'll make a claim. And part of the confidence I'm exuding is just pure conversation. Right? And in a meeting, that can be very powerful. And, someone will say, 'Sure.' And I realize immediately, 'Oh my gosh: Maybe I'm not so sure.' And I just think it's just opening that lid, just a little bit, does make a difference.

Charlan Nemeth: I agree. And that's a very artful way--

Russ Roberts: of dissenting, I am sure--

Charlan Nemeth: of dealing with it. But also, I think you are honest enough that when people say, 'Are you sure?' you take that seriously, and at least ask yourself whether or not you have full confidence or there is an area of doubt.

Russ Roberts: You can double down.

Charlan Nemeth: Yeah. I mean, some people actually will know--we see it every day--is that for a lot of people, 'Are you sure?' would be kind of like, 'Of course I am. You just don't know what you are talking about.' Or, you know, it can have any kind of a reaction to it. And, I think that, if you do that, I think to an honest person who is listening, I think it does open the door for conversation. And that's an enviable way for it to occur. I think in a lot of settings, though, and particularly ones where the decisions are really important, you are not really asking whether they have a doubt. You are really telling them that you think they are wrong.

Russ Roberts: Yeah.

Charlan Nemeth: That there's something else that's true. And, you can even say, I'm not 100%, but this is what I believe and think is true. And here is why. And however you want to phrase it, that you are wrong. But that there is an authentic difference of opinion. And I think that's the challenge that stimulates thinking. You see, you are opening a door to open-minded people who really worry about whether they are being accurate. I think, for a lot of people--I hate to say this, but I think for most people--they have to be challenged frontally, in a way. It doesn't mean you have to be rude, or angry, or certainly not disrespectful. But, you have to be clear. And it is when there is an opposing truth that someone really believes, that I think that's where the challenge comes for, really, re-thinking your own position. For wanting to search for information, to find out which is accurate. For considering other options. I think it requires--I think there's power in that. It's like--often, I think about, like, martyrs. You can think that they are dying for something that you can't imagine or may even seem wrong-headed to you. But the fact that they are that convinced and willing to pay that price--you don't just dismiss it. And, it is certainly food for thought. And many times in ways that you are not even fully aware is a stimulant for reflection, for searching for other information. All the things that I think are extremely important in good decision-making or in a vibrant society.
36:44Russ Roberts: And you mentioned authenticity. And in the book, you point out--this also, I found very interesting--that being a Devil's Advocate is not enough. You can't just say, 'Well, what about this? Have you ever thought about this?' It's the persistent, consistent, authentic statement of an alternative truth that gets people to think. And, just merely stating an alternative view--and particularly if you make it clear, 'Well, I don't really believe this, but I just have to play Devil's Advocate to make sure we consider all viewpoints,' that that makes a difference. Talk about that.

Charlan Nemeth: Oh, yeah. Yeah. You know, to me, 'Devil's Advocate' is one of a bunch of things that have always kind of bugged me. Because they seem like an intellectual game. As though, everything is about transferring of information, and if we think if we can kind of intellectualize it and be logical about it that we are kind of, kind of arrive at truth. Or that we are really going to consider multiple options because we are such well-meaning people. And we are well-meaning. It's not that our intentions are bad. The thing is that I don't think people operate that way. They may try for a while, but they don't seriously reconsider something they believe. And, they can pretend--I mean, it's not total pretense. I mean, they are sort of like trying. But it's--one level, it's sort of like lip service. It's sort of like--I liken it akin to an intellectual game. And I always had that sense, about Devil's Advocate. So, for years, whenever I taught Group Think, and there was always the, you know, the antidote to group think--one of them was Devil's Advocate. And they'd been teaching this forever in Business Schools, for example. And, I just never believed it. And so, finally, I think particularly because a couple of students really got interested and one I did work with me on it, and then we did a couple of studies, and then it garnered a fair amount of attention, or at least it garnered a lot of discussion and rethinking: Okay, even if people were pushing back because they were kind of married to a--

Russ Roberts: You were dissenting.

Charlan Nemeth: Yeah. Well, also, I mean, they were married to that, um--that antidote. I mean, not just academics who might like it because it was sort of, you know, treasured territory for them. But, even, in many ways, I think even businesses said, they were searching for a way to get some of the benefits of dissent. At least as well as they understood them. But it was usually thinking that maybe there was some truth in there, someplace. But always they wanted to do it where we sort of stay still friendly. And we're [?] high. And we're kind of nice to each other. And we are kind of back-slapping. And, so what happens is, if you can use a device where, you know, you don't create the conflict and irritation but you still gain some benefits: I mean, that looks like a win-win. [More to come, 39:31]
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Title reminds me of King Ahab calling the prophet Elijah the troublemaker of Israel. Thing was, Ahab was the one causing all the problems.
  
Now that I have caught up on my podcast backlog, I have been going back and listening to older episodes from before I subscribed. Today, I happen to be listening to this episode of "Move Your DNA" (formerly "Katy Says") and it is on a topic I see a lot around here -- community. I thought I should share it. There is a link to the podcast on Stitcher (34 minutes) as well as the transcript at the link below.

Community, Podcast Ep. 24
  
EconTalkEconTalk wrote the following post Mon, 20 Aug 2018 06:30:40 -0400
Lilliana Mason on Uncivil Agreement
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Political scientist Lilliana Mason of the University Maryland and author of Uncivil Agreement talks about the book with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Mason argues that political partisanship has become stronger in America in recent years because it aligns with other forms of community and identity. People are associating primarily with people who share their political views in their other social activities outside of politics. As a result, they encounter fewer people from the other side. The intensity of partisanship can even overcome ideology as partisans change their policy positions in their eagerness to be on the winning side. The conversation closes with a discussion of what might be done to improve political discourse in America.

This week's guest:This week's focus:Additional ideas and people mentioned in this podcast episode:A few more readings and background resources:A few more EconTalk podcast episodes:
TimePodcast Episode Highlights
0:33
Intro. [Recording date: August 6, 2018.]Russ Roberts: Lilliana Mason is the author of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity, which is our topic for today.... In a recent EconTalk episode that we'll link to, I did a monologue on the tribal nature of politics and the decline in civility. And your book takes us, I think, quite a bit deeper into those ideas and really gives some insight into what's been changing, which I think is the biggest challenge. I think a lot of people understand that things seem a little bit different. The question is why, and what has changed? And let's start with a story that you tell at the beginning of your book, the Robbers Cave Experiment. Tell us what happened there.

Lilliana Mason: Yes. So, this is a very old experiment done in 1954. Social psychologists recruited a bunch of 5th grade boys from Oklahoma city, and tried to gather boys that were as similar socially to each other as possible: so, they were all white; they were all Protestant; they all did sort of, had sort of similar educational and social fitness. And, they divided the boys into two different camps, and put them in a summer camp in Robbers Cave State Park outside of Oklahoma City. And the idea was that they wanted to figure out how--what it looks like when two groups, sort of, form, and then, to what extent are they naturally inclined to engage in conflict between each other. And so they spent a week with the boys not knowing about the other team. They came up with their own names: they called themselves the Rattlers and the Eagles. And after a week, they were told about the other boys. And they immediately started competitions with the other team. Just baseball games--various kinds of competitions. And very, very early on, they started calling each other names. Derogatory names. And then, gradually, they, their conflict escalated beyond the competitions and they started doing things like attacking each other's camps. And then, by the end of the second week, the counselors--who were actually the social psychologists, had to stop all the competition, because the boys were starting to engage in violent attacks on each other--like rocks, throwing rocks, and that type of thing. So, the idea was that it took very little for these two, these two very similar groups of kids, to, you know, engage in relatively high levels of conflict. Really all it took was separation and competition for that to happen.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. I'm a little bit skeptical of those, that experiment. And actually, a whole bunch that were done in the 1950s that seem to have persisted. I wonder, you know, how much the experimenters tweaked [?] the experience to get something dramatic. I wonder how many, if they'd done it 20 times, would have happened every time. But, putting that to the side, I want to read a quote from the book that I thought summed up the phenomenon quite well. You say,
Humans are hardwired to cling to social groups. There are a few good reasons for us to do so. First, without a sense of social cohesion we would have had a hard time creating societies and civilizations. Second, and even more basic, humans have a need to categorize. That's how we understand the world. This includes categorizing people. Third, our social categories don't simply help us understand our social environment. They also help us understand ourselves and our place in the world. Once we are part of a group, we know how to identify ourselves in relation to the other people in our society. And we drove an emotional connection in a sense of wellbeing from being group members. These are powerful psychological motivations to form groups.

And I think it's important to say from the outset that what I call 'tribalism' in my essay, and EconTalk episode, and what you call sorting or various types of identity: This is a very normal--it's a human thing. There's nothing inherently bad about it. It doesn't have to lead to violence. There are many good things about it. So, just comment about this--the human nature aspect of this. Human nature aspect.

Lilliana Mason: Yeah. So, this is a point that I try to make a few times in the book, because I think it's really important: The idea that we, you know, are strongly identified with our groups is not, it's not an insult, to say that we do that. We are all doing it at the same time. We are all, really, deeply motivated to behave in this way. The, you know, there are a few studies that I talk about in the book, you know, where there are real biological evidence of group membership--people's, you know, levels of cortisol in their saliva increases when they feel a threat to their group. The idea that your body is responding to your group membership suggests that it's very hard for us to control that. You can't control the level of cortisol in your saliva. And so, these are things that we shouldn't try to avoid, but instead learn how to work with, and learn how to sort of better understand what's happening so that we can stop it from getting out of control. It's one of those things where, you know, understanding it is the first step to being able to manage it.
6:22Russ Roberts: I think the fascinating part about this is that, it's one thing to think about your own group, or the pleasure or comfort you get from feeling part of something larger than yourself--which I think is a deeply human urge that we economists neglect, simply I think because we don't have the tools to deal with it very well. But, the other part of this, that's the darker side, is the desire to look down on The Other. To look down on people who aren't in the group, people in the Out Group. And: What kind of research--what do we know about that phenomenon? Obviously the Robbers Cave Experiment, the Rattlers and the Eagles, is an example of that. You know, whether it was increased through some decisions made by the experimenters, who knows? But it was definitely a human urge to not just feel part of your group, but to look down on the other people not in your group.

Lilliana Mason: Right. So, the--one thing that we know is that there is sort of this basic--in terms of the basic group membership, there is work by Marilyn Brewer, a social psychologist, that has found essentially that, being a member of a group doesn't necessarily make you hate the other group. It just makes you love your group the most. And it isn't until there's a conflict between your in-group and your out-group that you start to despise the people in the out-group. But the most basic nature of group membership is just loving your group the most, thinking they're the best. One of the things that we know is that when you are a member of a group, you tend to view the world in a way that makes your group seem better. So, one of the examples from the Robbers Cave Experiment was that, you know, the boys were asked to pick up beans from the ground. And then they were counting the number of beans that each boy had collected. And, the experimenters were actually putting the same exact handful of beans on the projector for the boys to count them every single time. But, every single boy estimated that there were more beans when it was one of their in-group members than when it was one of their out-group members. We also know that partisans, for instance, think the economy is a lot better when their party is in power. And that literature can reverse, overnight, like overnight, after election day, or after inauguration. And so, there are just sort of ways in which we see the world in a biased way that makes our group seem to be, not just the best but also the most beloved and the most powerful.

Russ Roberts: And I want to mention an essay I forgot to mention in my monologue episode which is by Scott Alexander at the blog Slate Star Codex. He wrote an essay--I'm close to the right title--"I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup," so that the modern reverence we have for tolerance breaks down when it's really somebody we're not supposed to like. And I think that's a huge challenge that all of us have. What do we know about what's happened to partisanship in recent decades? There's a debate in political science--Mo Fiorina, my colleague here at the Hoover Institution who has been a guest talked about, I'm pretty sure, in that episode I did with him a while back, and we'll link to that as well. But, he's a skeptic: He doesn't think that things have gotten particularly more partisan. And yet, there's a lot of evidence also that perhaps it has. So, talk about that dispute and why you believe it's gotten stronger--partisanship has. Or the evidence that it has; and then we'll talk about why that phenomenon is happening.

Lilliana Mason: Right. So, his work is actually one of the major reasons that I started this project, because he and another political scientist, Alan Abramowitz, were having this sort of back and forth in multiple articles debating whether or not polarization was increasing in American politics, with Fiorina saying that it was not and Abramowitz saying that it was. And, in reading this debate, what I started to think is: They are both talking about polarization and defining it as 'Americans are disagreeing with each other more about policy.' And that is the traditional definition of polarization: That Democrats and Republicans are becoming more liberal and more conservative--more extreme in their issue positions. So, essentially, our attitudes are distributed across, you know, the spectrum from Left to Right in like a bimodal distribution. But it wasn't matching what I was seeing in politics, because I was seeing a lot of anger and incivility. And people seemed to be really riled up at each other but not really connected perfectly to policy positions. And so, I started looking into this and thinking, 'Well, what if we think about partisanship as just any other group identity?' And, if we do that, then there's a wealth of literature and research on intergroup conflict, mostly looking at intergroup racial conflict. And, if we can apply that research to the parties, then maybe we can understand what could motivate them to, partisans to hate each other, without necessarily disagreeing on policy positions. Because, most inter-group conflict is not rooted in policy debates. Most inter-group conflict is rooted in deep identities that people hold, and this sense of 'us versus them.' So, that was the beginning of this project--really was trying to think about Democrats and Republicans not as simply purveyors of policies, but instead as really strong groups that people can identify with so powerfully that they might be willing to even change their policy positions in order to just, sort of, have that group win.
12:30Russ Roberts: Let's turn to that; but I want to just say as a footnote: An example would be that there would be an issue in the public debate, in the public sphere, that it used to be a source of contention--could be gay marriage, could be, say, legalizing marijuana--that used to be extremely contentious. Now, people seem to be closer together. So, there seems to be less polarization on many issues. And yet, as you point out, on the feeling of us versus them, that seems to be getting stronger. So, what evidence do we have, that that is stronger--the us versus them, or my policy, my party identification, separate from my policy positions or my ideology? [

Lilliana Mason: Right. So, we have, just sort of in general, there are increasing numbers of people that are calling themselves Strong Partisans. We have on a scale that goes from Independent to Weak Partisan to Strong Partisan: People are moving toward the Strong Partisan ends of the spectrum. Partisans are increasingly not wanting their party to compromise with the other side. They tend to rate the Out Party as much more extreme than they used to, and tend to rate their own party as not as all extreme. Partisans are happier with their neighborhood, if they are told that in-group partisans live there; and they are less satisfied with their neighborhood if they are told that outgroup partisans live there. So, we have a lot of information about partisans just sort of feeling this sense of, you know, disdain and discomfort with the other side.

Russ Roberts: What's weird about that [?]--I'm not a political scientist, but I have, many of my friends are. I just want to say that right up front. So, I talk to political scientists and read political science literature a little bit. And it was my impression till fairly recently that party identification was getting weaker in the 0-1 sense: That more people were identifying as independent. So, is the claim here is that that trend is reversed? Or is the claim are that the people who still identify as Republicans or Democrats are more intensely identifying as party members, or as partisans?

Lilliana Mason: Yeah. It's more the latter. [More to come, 14:53]
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A very interesting listen. I look forward to part two. It starts with the provocative idea that "the past" and "history" are not the same thing. Once you stop and think about it, you realize they couldn't possibly be the same thing without an omniscient historian. Even then, two omniscient historians with different biases may have two different versions of history.

Creative Historical Thinking, with Michael Douma, Part One
Michael Douma joins us for the first part of a two-part series to discuss how we see the past as as an interpretative history. He argues that history is a creative discipline because we choose to arrange facts in a certain way.

Douma goes through his new book, Creative Historical Thinking, and how he typically asks his students to draw a timeline of their lives or a timeline of American history. Quite often, each students’ timeline forms differently. Relating that to the study of the past, Douma argues that every timeline a historian draws, is a different interpretation of the past, creating history. Everyone has a different mental model or “timeline” in which they view their lives and that allows history to be a creative endeavor.

Is the past simply what happened? With that in mind, is history our interpretation of the past? Is history how we give meaning to the past? What is the difference between an error in conception and an error in fact? If you had to drawl the timeline of your life how would you draw it?
  
Part 2

More Creative Historical Thinking

Our conversation about how all history is revisionist and open to creativity with Michael Douma continues this week.
  
Peak ProsperityPeak Prosperity wrote the following post Mon, 06 Aug 2018 17:52:40 -0400
Joel Salatin: The Rise Of Rogue Food
Joel Salatin: The Rise Of Rogue Food

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This week, we welcome back Joel Salatin to the podcast. Labeled by The Washington Post as "the most famous farmer in America", Joel has spent his career advocating for sustainable farming practices and pioneering models that show how food can be grown and raised in ways that are regenerative to our topsoils, more humane to livestock, produce much healthier & tastier food, and contribute profitably to the local economy.

Who wouldn't want that?

Well, the government and Big Ag for starters. Joel refers to himself as a 'lunatic farmer' because so many of the changes he thinks our food system needs are either illegal under the current law or mightily resisted by the deep-pocketed corporations controlling production and distribution.

And this anti-competitive restriction and stifling of small sustainable food producers is only getting worse. While dismayed at this, Salatin finds hope in the burgeoning rebellion of the "rogue food" resistence breaking out.

Join the conversation »

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My problem with "net neutrality" has less to do with the concept and more to do with implementation -- namely making the FCC responsible for it. If you can't understand how someone could be concerned about that, you should learn a bit about what the FCC has done in the past to hobble technological advancement.

Free ThoughtsFree Thoughts wrote the following post Fri, 20 Jul 2018 00:15:00 -0400
The Sad History of the FCC (with Thomas Hazlett)
Thomas Hazlett joins us for a discussion on the history of the U. S.  government’s regulation of the airways.  Efforts to liberate the radio spectrum have generated so much progress, ushering in smartphones, social media, podcasts and online media providers.  But the battle for reform is not even half won. Further Readings/References:Check out the book: The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the SmartphoneLearn more about Thomas HazlettCheck out our new podcast on emerging technology Building Tomorrow 
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If listening to an hour long podcast (or reading its transcript) is too long, considering reading the accompanying essay (see "This week's focus" below).

EconTalkEconTalk wrote the following post Mon, 16 Jul 2018 06:30:10 -0400
Russ Roberts on the Information Revolution, Politics, Yeats, and Yelling
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EconTalk host Russ Roberts does a monologue on how political discourse seems to have deteriorated in recent years and the growth in outrage, tribalism, and intolerance for those with different views from one’s own. Roberts suggests that part of the problem is the revolution of the market for information caused by the internet that allows people to customize what they see to fit their own political narratives and worldview. In short, the market for news works to make us feel good rather than to help us to discover the truth. The monologue closes with some suggestions for how we might improve the way we consume information and interact with those we disagree with.

This week's guest:This week's focus:Additional ideas and people mentioned in this podcast episode:A few more readings and background resources:
  • Information and Prices, by Donald J. Boudreaux. Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.
  • Internet, by Stan Liebowitz. Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.
  • Advertising, by George Bittlingmayer. Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.
  • Socialism, by Robert Heilbroner. Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.
  • Adam Smith. Biography. Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.
  • Externalities, by Bryan Caplan. Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.
A few more EconTalk podcast episodes:
TimePodcast Episode Highlights
0:33Intro. [Recording date: July 5, 2018.]Russ Roberts: I'm going to do something I haven't done in a while, which is a monologue episode--my thoughts on an issue that I thought you might find interesting. And, that issue is the state of political conversation, discourse in America. And it probably applies to lots of places as well: it's not just America. And I'm going to be talking about the role of social media and other websites and their impact on that conversation on our political system. I realized in getting ready for this episode that some of this goes back to my conversations with David Weinberger--I think it's the 2007 episode, which is crazy--and a more recent episode with Cass Sunstein on his book, #Republic, as well as an episode with Matt Stoller on monopoly issues. But it's also a theme I've been thinking about quite a bit in the last year or two--the angry nature of American politics, the loss of civility, usual respect, and so on. And it's somewhat related, I think, to the episode with Megan McArdle on internet shaming, and those kind of things. I'm basing this episode on an essay that I hope to post soon on Medium.com, and I'll link to that. It should be up by the time that this airs.
2:00Russ Roberts: So, one way to sum up what I'm talking about is best expressed by the poet Yeats in his powerful poem, "The Second Coming." He says the following--it starts at the third line of the poem:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

So, that seems to be a pretty accurate description of what's happened in America in the last few years: the center cannot hold; we've moved to the extremes. And I particularly like, unfortunately, the accuracy of the last two lines: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." So, it feels like political conversation in America has deteriorated a lot in the last few years. There's a lot of yelling, a lot of arrogance, a lot of overconfidence. People parroting, retweeting, sharing stories that confirm what they already believe as opposed to stories that challenge what we only think we know. And a lot of people sharing information with each other and believing things that simply aren't true. And some of this is just factually inaccurate; but it's also much more, as listeners know, I'm much more interested in these questions of evidence for various beliefs that we hold and this idea that 'studies show'--as if certain research is irrefutable. As if, 'My side has all the good studies and the other side has nothing.' And I think that feeling is increasingly growing among a lot of people, that they have all the answers and that the other side is just awful. And, of course, it's not enough just to disagree with someone: People can't imagine how a decent human being could disagree with their view of, say, immigration, or the minimum wage, or President Trump. And the other two episodes I just want to reference here are Arnold Kling on the three languages of politics and the episode of Pluckrose and Lindsay on modernity. So, it's not just that, 'I don't see the world the way you see it,' which is Kling's point; but Pluckrose and Lindsay made me realize that not only do I not see your vision, your framework, but 'Your framework is awful. It's dangerous. It's evil. It's got to be stopped, destroyed; everything depends on that, making sure that doesn't get used, doesn't happen.' And, a lot of this is feeling that you are part of the virtuous tribe--which means not only do you have the correct card in your wallet to reassure yourself you are on the good side--but you have to believe that the people who carry any other kind of card are irrational, or evil. And this means an end to civilized conversation. It probably often means an end to any kind of conversation at all. And this is extremely dangerous. When you can't imagine that your political opponents might possibly be right--when you are certain that you are right and they are wrong--it dehumanizes them and it justifies the worst atrocities that human beings are capable of.

Russ Roberts: Now, we have to be careful. Some of this feeling that this is the state of the world of course comes from being on Twitter or Facebook where there's a lot of ranting and yelling, and a lot of normal people aren't there. Of course. And people say things anonymously that they wouldn't normally say. And that maybe that's misrepresentative of what's actually going on. Politics is a blood sport. It's been a blood sport forever. You should see the things they said about Thomas Jefferson when he ran for President. And so, I don't want to romanticize the past and say that the world we're in now is unique; or, I want to be careful not to overstate how different things are. But I do think things are different. And, just to reference one more episode, I think the Jonah Goldberg episode on Suicide of the West, his book, I asked him at one point, 'What's changed?' And I think I also asked that of Phillip Auerswald in his episode, the conversation I had with him, and we were talking there about populism. And I think a common answer--I think it's what Jonah said--maybe also what Phillip said, although Phillip I think had other aspects as well--but a common answer you hear, at least, is, 'Well, it's immigration. There's all this turmoil about what's going to happen to the nature of our country, and our national identity, our culture?' And I think that's part of it, but I don't think that's what's going on in America. And, in fact, I think that immigration has been used to enflame the feelings of tribalism that are already there under the surface.

Russ Roberts: I think it's all about tribalism, in the following sense. What do I mean by tribalism? Tribalism is our desire to join together with others and be part of something larger than ourselves. It can be a very beautiful thing. It can explain our embrace of religion, our sports teams; certainly our politics. It's very old. It's probably embedded in our DNA [deoxyribonucleic acid]. So, that's not what's changed. What has changed is our ability to feed and indulge our tribalism, particularly in the area of news and politics. And this newfound ability to indulge and let our tribalism run wild is, I believe, the result of the transformation of the news and information landscape. And it began with cable news, and cable generally; and it's been taken to a new level with the Internet.

Russ Roberts: So, I don't want to be totally negative--or negative at all--in a summary way about that transformation. Most of that has been glorious. For a curious person--I often say this here--this is the greatest time to be alive, if you want to discover things about the world and how it works, podcasts, online education, courses on anything; Wikipedia; YouTube videos on how to carve a turkey or how to change your oil. You name it. You can find so much extraordinary stuff, practical and impractical. You can explore all kinds of wonderful things on the Internet. And that profusion, that incredible landscape allows me to customize the news and the information that I consume. And there are many ways to do that. But, some of the most obvious ways are social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. They entertain us; they allow us to keep in touch with friends; they let us learn things we couldn't have imagined. Knowing and by friending and following the right people they let us discover and unending stream of content, a stream that we curate for ourselves. So, I don't want to listen to one news channel, or even three, or one newspaper or a few magazines. With Twitter or Facebook or the Internet generally I create my own newspaper, my own news channel, by choosing who to follow or who to friend. I can get the highlights of every network, every newspaper, every pundit, every talking head, any reporter who does interesting work. And this information revolution is an extraordinary achievement; and much of it is glorious.
9:50Russ Roberts: The metaphor I want to start with--I'm going to use a couple here today, but the one I want to start with is a buffet. A restaurant that's got a bunch of food out and you can help yourself. In the old days, there were only three suppliers to the buffet: ABC, NBC, CBS [American Broadcasting Company, National Broadcasting Company, Columbia Broadcasting System]; and maybe a fourth--your local newspaper. It was a pretty cushy environment for the networks. They jockeyed for market share, but they all had a pretty good deal. And bland was the order of the day.

Russ Roberts: Now, one reason it was bland was you don't want to ruin a good thing. But the other reason is totally driven by technology, and it's a really an interesting just sidebar I want to mention. When you live in a world where a house has at most one television--so, for a while only a few people had televisions; then, maybe televisions started to become more common, but very few people had two televisions. That was a big luxury. So, when you have one television, you've got to put out programming that makes pretty much everyone in the household happen. Because--this comes back to the Nassim Taleb point about the power of the minority--if there's something awful on TV to one person's taste in a family, we're not going to watch that because we don't want to make the mom or the dad or the kid unhappy. Everybody might not be ecstatic with what's on, but we're going to pick things that appeal to a common denominator. And so, when there's only one TV per household, you've really got 2 or 3 or 4 people, maybe 5 watching something; and it's not literally a majority rule--people don't generally make decisions that way in small groups--they're going to have a conversation, and if there's something that one person hates, then you're not going to show it. So, you're going to watch something else. So, that, of course, affects what they're going to put on TV because they're in competition with each other. And they're going to tend to produce bland stuff. Meat and potatoes. There was some variation: not much. Each station pretty much served up the same meat and the same potatoes every night on the network news; and the same type of silly sitcoms, and the same type of procedural police dramas, say. A show would come along like the Carol Burnett show that was a little outside the box; we look at it now and it's not so outside the box. But at the time that was kind of like an innovative show. People would go, 'Oh, this is different.' And it struggled. Some of those shows struggled to be successful, those innovative shows. And, when they failed, the networks took notice and said, 'Don't do that. Stick with the meat and potatoes.' Maybe one had french fries. The other had baked. Maybe the third had hashed browns. But it's potatoes. And that buffet of news in particular was only open a few hours a day.

Russ Roberts: And then cable comes along. And, one of the reasons that cable comes along isn't just technology that we could have cable television, but also this point about multiple televisions per household. Once you had more TVs per household, you could allow people to customize what they watched. And people would then watch in smaller groups when they had more televisions. And so cable comes along, and suddenly there are more choices. You could have Fox News, and MSNBC [Microsoft + National Broadcasting Company], you could have [FSH?], [?]; and they are open all day long. A lot of them are providing 24-7 coverage. Then the Internet comes. And with Twitter and Facebook: there's ethnic food and fancy cuisine and diner food and paleo and even some crazy stuff like chocolate covered locusts. You can go back for more any time you like. It's open all the time. And, of course, everybody's got their own device now. Everybody has the equivalent of their own television in their own pocket, which is their smartphone, so, 'I'm going to watch what I want to watch.' I'm not going to watch anything that I don't love: I'm going to find stuff I love. And suddenly it's now possible to cater to what people love, and that's as individuals, not giving them the lowest common denominator.

Russ Roberts: And so, that changes everything. And, of course, one of the things it changes is that it suddenly becomes very difficult to run a news organization. It's a lot harder to make money because there's a lot more competition out there. And it--I was going to say it took a while for people to figure that out; I'd say they haven't quite figured it out. But some people went to subscription basis; some went to advertising. But, no matter how you look at it, it got a lot harder. And a lot of places didn't make it. A lot of newspapers went out of business. A lot of news sites on the Internet still struggle to pay their bills or to make it. And there's a big shakeout. And that transformation--that disruption, as it's frequently called--is still going on. But one thing is very clear: traffic is still crucial. Visitors, eyeballs, attention: they are all scarce, and getting more of them helps pay the bills.

Russ Roberts: And that's the obvious part. So, the obvious part is--we all know this--that the Internet has disrupted the news business and the information business. It's a lot harder to make a living. And some people decried this as, 'It's awful.' But of course what's great about it is for most of us now we get to watch news that's more like the news we want to watch. We get to watch entertainment that's more we want to watch. The quality is, you know, extraordinary. I mentioned this recently--I don't remember which episode--but the quality of, say, Netflix drama or Amazon drama, it just dwarfs what used to be and still now is to some extent network television. It is an extraordinary--it's the golden age of visual storytelling. The movie business struggles some. It's doing okay. But what is doing extraordinarily well is--it doesn't have a name. What's doing extraordinarily well is stuff that's great for you and me to watch. There's just too much to watch. It's fabulous.
15:44Russ Roberts: So, that's the good side. And that's the obvious part--that, to thrive in that world, it's really hard. Because there's a lot more competitors all of a sudden, jockeying for those scarce eyeballs' attention and visits. So, the important, not-so-obvious part--obvious once you notice it--is that when it's a giant buffet and there aren't just three providers doing meat and potatoes--when it's a giant buffet with people all over the place and people are able to customize what they see and read, the providers aren't going to keep providing the kind of food that they provided before. So, it's not just that there are new kinds of food: everybody, people who were already in the business, are going to have an incentive to change what they do, because now they are in an intense competition. And they are going to be much more eager and much more intensely focused on giving people what they want. So, there's an increased urgency to give the viewer what the viewer wants. And if you do what you've always done, you are probably not going to survive. Nobody wants the same well-done steak and over-cooked mashed potatoes any more. They put up with it when they had to, when that's all there was on the other plates, the other parts of the buffet: the other channels. But now they don't have to.

Russ Roberts: So if you are a news organization and you want to stay alive, you have to attract more viewers, more attention. You have to do your job--I was going to say you have to do your job better; but what doing your job better means is really the crux of this whole conversation and episode. Because, what they are going to try to do better is make me happy.

Russ Roberts: Now, that may not necessarily--I'm going to suggest it doesn't--mean they do a better job covering the news. Which is inherently indefinable. But you'll understand what I'm talking about in a minute. So, here are the dynamics--and this is, I think, easily forgotten and missed: Who is CNN's [Cable News Network] biggest competitor? Well, most people think it's Fox News. Of course. But that's not their biggest competitor. Their competition is really MSNBC and the Huffington Post and the Daily Kos and Twitter, on the Left, who give people what they want on the Left. The competition of CNN is people who lean Left. The biggest competitor of Fox News isn't CNN. It's Breitbart and Rush Limbaugh and other sites that cater to the Right.

Russ Roberts: So, to get more views in that competitive landscape, you have to be a little bit louder in favor of the home team, and a little less nuanced. You can't just politely disagree with the other tribe. You need to vilify them. Outrage sells, when competition is this intense. And, just to get people to pay attention, you have to be more entertaining than the rest of the options that people have for screen time, because you are not really just competing with the other news organizations.

Russ Roberts: So, look at your own habits. What do you want to watch? What grabs your attention when it comes to news and politics? Well, if you are like most people, you have a tendency to read what makes you feel good about yourself. It's hard to read things that challenge your preconceptions, that are charitable to the other side. How many stories have you read that turned out just to be wrong? Well, do you even know? Of course you don't. You have no idea. I don't. How much time do you spend making sure that what you believe about some policy issue--immigration or trade or the President's whatever--that those views are really backed up by the evidence or by the facts? When somebody writes a speculative story that turns out to be false--and I've noticed these; they are out there all the time, now--when do you notice? When does a price get paid? When does a reporter who runs a story like that or an op-ed writer who writes a speculative predictive story that turns out to be wildly inaccurate, do they pay a price for that? I don't see it. In fact, they're doing fine. They are making their readers happy.

Russ Roberts: Reporters that I follow on Twitter, who are all over the political, ideological spectrum--they often make claims that don't hold up. They are competing for attention. They say dramatic things. And they are louder and angrier and more partisan than reporters were in the past by my very crude, non-scientific assessment. I just see people saying things that are shocking from reporters who purport to be objective. And that's from the Left and the Right. Louder and angrier sells. That's part of the reason Trump won the nomination. Look at Bernie Sanders. He's a self-proclaimed Socialist. He is louder and angrier, and almost beat Hillary Clinton. What I see is people treating the news the way they treat sports: It's more about entertainment than a search for the truth; more about tribalism and worshiping than being well-informed.

Russ Roberts: It's a little like horror movies. It's a weird thing--I'm not a horror movie fan, but I'm obviously--I don't know what kind of minority or majority I'm in, but obviously a lot of people like horror movies. Actually pay to be scared. Which is--interesting, right? Normally, you would not necessarily think that would be a good product to put out, a creepy movie. People like creepy movies. Part of the reason they like creepy movies is that, when they're over, they get to go back out to their car and go home and it's safe. But I think the other part is, I suspect there's some kind of evolutionary explanation that we're drawn to worrying. We're drawn to paranoia. And, I think--well, I don't 'think.' The news business taps into this big time by showing us the risks of the other side gets in power and whatever policy issue is up for grabs. And, this demonization--it's really turning the political debate into a horror movie: the other side, zombies or vampires, or they're just--they're creepy. And what then happens is: if you are a Left-leaning viewer, Trump isn't just somebody whose policies you don't like. He's 'threatening the country. We're going toward Nazi Germany.' And on the Right, if you are a Right-leaning person, Hillary Clinton wasn't just a liberal. 'Had she won, the country would never have recovered.' And, I know smart people who believe both of those things. Not at the same time--to be clear. But, I know smart people who think that Hillary Clinton would have destroyed America forever; and I know smart people who think that Trump is taking us down the path towards Nazism. And, that's--I don't think that's a good thing. That's an incredible example of the center not--I don't think either of those is credible, to put it a different way. I think both of those are wildly exaggerated. And, if you are sitting there going I'm wrong, 'He's so naive,' maybe we have different definitions of how to use certain words. It doesn't mean that everything is great but [?] the Trump Administration, or Hillary Clinton would have been a fantastic President. It's just--I'm just saying that the extremes there, the extreme reaction is an example of the center not holding.

Russ Roberts: Outrage sells. A lot of news these days seems designed to get people outraged. And people enjoy--I know I do; I'm not proud of it; I work on trying to stop it--but people enjoy being outraged. They like working themselves into a state. And, the news is one way to do that. A Twitter feed is one way to do that. Or a Facebook is another way to do that.
23:08Russ Roberts: Now, the news industry, and the market for news, the market for information really isn't that much different from any other product where there's a lot of competition. Suppliers work hard to make the customer happy; otherwise, the customer will turn elsewhere. I'm sure you all remember my favorite quote from Walter Williams--this is my relationship with my grocery: 'I don't tell them when I'm coming. I don't tell them what I want to buy. I don't tell them how much of what I want to buy I'm going to buy. But if they don't have it when I get there, I fire them.' And that's because I have a choice. That's because there's a lot of competition out there. And that means that I have to be made happy, and it keeps suppliers on their toes. And that's usually a very good thing. In this case, I'm going to suggest it's not such a good thing. But, in most markets it's a fabulous thing.

Russ Roberts: So, think about the market for shoes. Think about Zappos, which is a website that sells shoes. They carry about 50,000 kinds of shoes in 2018; more, I think--that's my best discovery of doing a little poking around on the Internet. That's a near-infinite, unimaginably large selection to find the shoes you want. There's no charge for returns. It's really delightful if you love shoes. I don't love shoes, but every once in a while I have to buy some and I've used Zappos. And when you shop for shoes, what do you care about? Well, you want them to fit. You want to be comfortable. And you want them to have some kind of style--you want other people to think you are stylish and look good. You don't want someone judging your shoes as old-fashioned or out of date unless that's the look you are aiming for--in which case old-fashioned could be just right. But the three things you care about are fit, comfort, and style. So, how does that work in the shoe market? Do I get fit, comfort, style? You bet. Zappos is just one example of it. It's fabulous. It's easy to find the shoes that do what I want. That's what the Internet let's me do. It lets me find shoes that are comfortable, that fit me, and that are stylish.

Russ Roberts: And I think that's increasingly the way the Internet lets people get their news and information about the way the world works--fit, comfort, style. I want to consume news that fits my preconceived notions. I want to consume news that makes me comfortable. And I want to consume news that makes my friends think I'm really a great guy, and really smart, and really understand the way the world works. Fit, comfort, and style.

Russ Roberts: Now, when the shoes I buy don't fit, my feet hurt, so I return them. But what's my incentive to get rid of the views or return the views or drop the views I hold that aren't true? Or that hurt the country? Or that hurt you? That are dangerous? that are unhealthy? that are bad? I can keep watching a news channel; I can keep following people on Twitter who are wildly inaccurate. And, where's the feedback loop to tell me to change the news I consume? Well, there isn't one. With shoes, I have to wear them. I have to live in the world of the shoes that I bought. With my political views, I don't live in that world. I'm not in charge. I get some tiny--in my case almost no--aspect of my worldview gets implemented, so I don't really bear any of the price of the views that I hold. I have no skin in the game--literally, almost none. And, even if something I do favor happens, and the world takes a turn for the worse because of some position I've advocated, it's really easy to convince myself that, 'Oh, well that turn for the worse, that wasn't because of that. It was something else. The world's complicated. I don't need to--'. And it is complicated. So, it's really hard to figure out what the independent effect of one change is, relative to all the other stuff that's going on.

Russ Roberts: And so, what I want to believe in is sort of up for grabs. It's really a personal choice. It's like deciding what color of shoes to wear or what cut of my coat, or what style of my dress. It's just--fit, comfort, and style. I don't need to worry about whether it's really great for the rest of the world.

Russ Roberts: Now, on one level, I shouldn't care. If you want to watch Shakespeare and I want to watch cat videos, that's what makes the world go 'round; and we each consume what gives us pleasure. I don't try to convince you, 'Oh, you bought the wrong shoes. You are hurting your feet.' If you say you are comfortable, I just say, 'Well, fine.' But it's a little different when it's the news, because it might start to change how you vote, and how you feel about your neighbor who doesn't vote the same way you do.
27:35Russ Roberts: And all of the above is, by the way, just as a side note: That's all about actual things: real people shouting and yelling. It doesn't include fake accounts that try to rile people up and manipulate them. You know, one of the sub-themes of this conversation--a long side right now in my monologue--is the power of the Internet and Internet sites like Twitter, Google, and Amazon to affect our lives. And, you know, I've said many times on the program: You know, it's not a big deal if they're powerful: you can stop using them. The problem is, of course, if I stop using them and you don't, and you start getting, through political manipulation a lot of things in your feed that gets you really angry, and they are able to do that because they know a lot about you and what your habits are, that's kind of scary. That's not good for democracy. And, we're going to talk at the end of this conversation about what we can do about that. But, it's not an easy problem to solve. And I think we're going to be struggling with this for quite a while. I think it's--and I think it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. My joke is: Everyone assumes the next election is going to be something like Joe Biden against Mitt Romney, but it's more likely to be Oprah against Ronda Rousey. I just--you know, I just don't have any idea how the Internet is going to be used to get people worked up. It's a real issue. And, as I said, that's just with accurate information, not just--who knows what it's going to do when people are going to be making up stuff. Literally.
29:26Russ Roberts: So, the standard answer to this problem, these problems, is an answer I used to give. Now, I'm laughing because I just find it a little bit, just a titch naive, which is: Media literacy. 'We just need people to understand that not everything you read is true; so you need to be skeptical. All we need to do is help people understand that not everything they read is true. You just have to kind of take things with a grain of salt. Be skeptical.' And, of course, that's--I confess, when I laughed that I'm suggesting it because I'm a little naive: it's part of the goal of this program. Part of my goal here is to help people become better skeptics about what they read. And part of my goal, a personal goal, is to understand the limits of my own knowledge, and to figure out what I don't know; and to be skeptical about what I think I know. And I think that's all great. I'm a big fan of that, still. But I'm not sure it's a national policy.

Russ Roberts: And, one of the reasons it's not likely to be so helpful is you have to ask the question: What if people don't care about what's true? Think about that. What if most people don't care about what's true? Just hold the beliefs that make them feel good--just like they wear the shoes that make their feet comfortable. Now, I know you're different. But, if you really are--if you really just care about objective truth and never indulge in your tribal urges--you are really special. You are probably one of a kind. The rest of us, alas, are deeply flawed. Truth is not the only thing we care about. And if we care about it at all, it's pretty far down the list, long after fit, comfort, and style, I'd suggest. The return to discovering the truth just isn't high enough. As a citizen, your incentive to figure out whether your deeply-held policy views are good or bad for your country, or the world, is pretty small, after all. You are not in charge. Even if you bother to vote, your one vote is unlikely to break a tie. So, why spend a lot of time studying the evidence for and against your views?

Russ Roberts: I was giving a version of this talk publicly and someone in the Q&A part said, 'Well, I don't know. I think I care about the truth.' And of course, we all think we do. That's another thing we like to believe about ourselves, because, you know, as Adam Smith said, 'Man naturally desires not only to be loved, but to be lovely.' And that is to be respected and admired, and to earn that respect and admiration and praise honestly. So we don't like to think bad things about ourselves. We like to think, 'Yeah. I'm a truth-seeker. I want to make sure that everything I believe is true.'

Russ Roberts: So, here's a story to help you put that in perspective. Around 1846 or so, Ignaz Semmelweis proposed that the reason that up to 20%, sometimes more, were dying in childbirth of puerperal fever was because doctors didn't wash their hands after they went to the morgue. This is a story I've told on EconTalk before. I'll give a slightly different emphasis for why I'm telling it this time. But, so, Semmelweis makes this hypothesis, and he tests it. And he has people in this hospital start washing their hands with this solution of--I think it's chlorine, some kind of disinfectant. And mortality rates drop. And he's thrilled. And he starts spreading the word that we need to[?] wash our hands, as doctors. And, he made almost no impact whatsoever. It wasn't at least for another decade, maybe more, until Pasteur came up with the theory of germs that people started thinking he might have been right. And why is it? With this horrible tragedy of women dying in childbirth because of doctors themselves? Why wouldn't doctors take his hypothesis more seriously? And, one answer, I'm afraid, is that, even though of course they wanted to know the truth, the idea of that truth was really unpleasant. It was a very unpleasant truth. It was a truth that said that it was the doctors themselves that were killing these women. And they just didn't want to face it. And they found a lot of reasons to dismiss his work--some of which might have been right, by the way. It wasn't perfect. He didn't do a great job. He had a difficult personality. He didn't do a very thorough test. And it was easily dismissed. He wasn't 100% right--he didn't totally understand germs. He totally didn't understand them at all. But he did see this correlation. And, of course, easily dismissed as correlation isn't causation. And, for decades or more, another few decades women continued to die needlessly because of their unwillingness, doctors' unwillingness to see Semmelweis's hypothesis as correct.

Russ Roberts: So, I just would suggest that we struggle with the truth. Here's another, less dramatic, more whimsical example. You may remember Deflategate--a scandal where Tom Brady of the New England Patriots was accused of deflating footballs below the regulation level of pressure to make them easier to throw. And, most of you know that I'm a Patriots fan. I wrote a lengthy essay, which we ought to link up to as to if I remember, as to why the evidence showed that Brady didn't do anything wrong. I wasn't alone. An MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] physicist also gave a lecture on the Internet about this. A theme of both that lecture and my article was that weather explained--the temperature and the moisture in the air explained the level of deflation of the footballs without relying on the possibility that Brady cheated. But, of course, there's also--there was some questionable stuff in there; there never is. Naturally. We had some texts between him and people who worked for the team that were at least ambiguous at best about his interest in having them do something that wasn't 100% kosher. So, it was hard to know, with any certainty. But, I don't think it's a coincidence that I, as a Patriots fan, and an MIT professor who I presume was a Patriots fan, were out there spreading the word that maybe Brady was innocent.

Russ Roberts: They did a survey--just fabulous--they did a survey of the American people--this was not an Internet poll. I think. It was an actual survey: 75% of the American people thought Tom Brady was a cheater. Seventy five percent. So, 3 out of 4. They found the evidence conclusive that he was a cheater. But in 4 states--not 5, not 3. Four. Four states, 22% or less of the people in those states thought that he was a cheater. So, 75% is the national average. But in 4 states the proportion who thought he was a cheater was 22% or less. I wonder if you could guess what those 4 states are? You could turn off, you could pause the episode here and just, maybe, speculate what those four states are. One of them is Massachusetts, where the New England Patriots find their home. The other three, of course, are Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Deliciously, Connecticut, which is the dividing line between Boston and New York sports fans, was at 55%. Right in between.
36:52Russ Roberts: So, people's views on Deflategate were correlated with their tribe--the group they identified with. The group they rooted for. Or, the group they hated. I don't think evidence was the decisive factor for whether you thought, or think now, that Tom Brady was a cheater. Tribalism is a much better predictor. This is not surprising. And, it's not that important in the ultimate scheme of things, even if you are a Patriots fan or a Patriots hater. But it's kind of important for whether or what the influence of the Russian government was on the election of 2016. Did Donald Trump collude with the Russians? Did he get framed? Did the Russians interfere in a substantive way with our election? That's a little more important than Deflategate; and it's really hard to know what the answer to those questions are. You may think you know with certainty and you are really angry about it on one side or the other. But I'd say it's not so obvious. And, I don't think most of us who hold strong views on those questions have a lot of evidence to defend what we believe. A lot of it is just our tribal instincts. And those are what we use to make our political judgments, and lots of our judgments.

Russ Roberts: So, if we only consume news that confirms our tribal identity, and that shows up, humiliates the tribes on the other side of the political fence, we will not only stick to our views, but we will stick to them with a lot more enthusiasm and undeserved certainty. If you read The New York Times day in and day out, you are going to be much more confident that Trump is a threat to America, impeachment is necessary to prevent racism and oppression from running rampant in[?] America becoming unrecognizable. If you watch Fox News day in and day out, you are going to be much more confident that Trump is the victim of a left-wing conspiracy, he's all that stands between the United States and something unrecognizable. When tribalism trumps the search for truth, democracy is going to struggle. The ability to indulge our tribalism and the increased certainty that many people have about what is true, and the faith they have in their own beliefs, makes it a lot harder to have a country that works--political system that works. As Yeats said, when "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity," the center will not hold. I worry we are heading toward a very dark place. One of the greatest virtues of the American system of government has been its inertia--that checks and balances make it hard to move the ship. But, if the views of the citizenry head toward extremes and become less amenable to change, we may get some very unusual political candidates and politicians and political outcomes may oscillate a lot more widely.

Russ Roberts: The other day I came across an article, "How to Fix What's Gone Wrong with the Internet." I don't know what the article was about. But, if we want to fix what's gone wrong with the Internet--what if what's gone wrong is us? What if our nature is the problem? How do we fix ourselves?

Russ Roberts: So, to summarize the problem: The freedom of the Internet and the social media ecosystem lets us tailor our news to what we want to hear. The competitive landscape of the information in a news world encourages media outlets to be louder and more tribal. They sing to their own particular choir, the louder the better. And this is going to change how we vote, and how we interact as citizens. It's already doing it.
40:09Russ Roberts: So, what's to be done about this natural impulse besides go off in a corner and cry? Or continue to do EconTalk and hope for the best? So, I want to try to suggest some things that might make this a little bit better. And I do this with a lot of trepidation, obviously. It's very hard to know what is to be done here.

Russ Roberts: Well, the problems I'm laying out, these are a classic case of what economists call a market failure. A situation where my private incentives lead to unattractive outcomes for others. You can call that a negative externality, or just a market failure in general. So, if I don't care much about the truth and care instead about fit, comfort, and style, my choices are going to end up hurting you--the way I vote is going to end up hurting you. Your choices are going to end up hurting me. We are going to vote for things that aren't really in our actual interest. We are going to hold views that don't make sense. We're going to believe things that aren't true, because the incentives we have to find out the actual truth are relatively limited.

Russ Roberts: And when we're in a situation like that, a lot of economists typically advocate government intervention of some kind to fix these kind of problems. And, there's usually a presumption that if we do that, the bureaucrats and the politicians will just implement the things we tell them to. And listeners will know that I'm usually, often skeptical of these kinds of interventions. But, not always. There are things the government does better than the private sector. But I'd argue this is not one of them, unfortunately, because politicians and bureaucrats face their own private incentives that often conflict with what's a good outcome. So, you know, the competition that usually would self-regulate here by having firms take care of their customers is really the part of the problem. It's the fact that the firms themselves are providing information that customers want to hear, even if it's not 100% objectively true. So, competition is not the--is actually exacerbating the problem, is making it worse. It's the wrong kind of feedback loop.

Russ Roberts: But the problem is, is that there's no reason to think that the government can do it any better. Not just 'no reason to think': It's actually the same problem. Putting the problem into the government's inbox doesn't do anything to avoid it. The whole problem is that the way we choose our politicians and policies are being corrupted by the information landscape. There's no reason to think that people chosen by that process will be interested in providing the truth or being objective. So, one way to just frame this whole problem is: The news providers have lost any sense of objectivity. It just doesn't pay. It doesn't pay in politics or policy either. Letting the government decide speech or news or anything to do with the stream of information we receive is unconstitutional; but it's also, I think, dangerous. There's a reason it's unconstitutional. So, that's not going to work very well.

Russ Roberts: And, just to step back for a second--I just want to mention this because it fascinates me: Journalists still have a code that they are objective, and that they are truth-seekers. And, when I--if you tell a journalist that they have a bias, or that their newspaper or their network has a bias, they get really mad. They get deeply offended; they'll yell at you and say, 'You don't understand. Our job is to be objective. That's what we're paid to do. We have to present both sides.' And, as an economist, I step back and I look at the incentives they face; and the incentives they face are to get eyeballs. And if you want to have a story on the front page of the New York Times or the lead at Fox News or wherever, you are going to naturally be pushed relentlessly toward drama. 'If it bleeds, it leads' is the joke in the news business--not the joke: it's the slogan of the news business. And people like dramatic things. And I think we're just seeing, with the Internet and with cable, we're just seeing the most extreme versions of that.

Russ Roberts: So, I don't want the government to try to fix this. I don't think they can. That's scary, actually, deeply scary. That the government is going to decide what's true, what's not true, say 'fine' or regulate these providers of content or their platforms where we find content to only do the things that are true and correct is a horrifying thought; and I don't want the government involved in that at all.

Russ Roberts: One private solution is: Elon Musk having been, in his opinion, mis-covered and covered badly in the news about--I think it was some investor's a comment he made. So he proposed--I think I have this right--a Yelp-like solution so you could rate the truthfulness of news stories. That works okay with restaurants, where we eat the food. But we don't eat the political views that we hold. We don't know if our political food is really good or if it's actually poisoning us. The world's too complicated. A Yelp-like solution is going to end up like a Deflategate poll: People just indulge their tribalism. And you can see this in comment sections. In theory, when I'm on Amazon and I'm trying to decide whether to read a book, and I read the reviews, I learn, by the way the review is written and the type of person, something about the type of person who is writing it. And I can decide, 'Is that person kind of like me?' And, of course, there are people who give dishonest reviews. But a lot of reviews, I think, are honest. People say what they liked or didn't like about a book. Go and read the comment section to, say, Megan McArdle at the Washington Post, or Paul Krugman at the New York Times, or anybody who is writing in a mainstream media outlet with some kind of viewpoint. And you just see comment after comment about how horrible and evil the person is, or how brilliant and wonderful they are. It's just--we're not going to learn a lot from voting on stories like that.

Russ Roberts: Now, the other worry I have--we don't have time for this in this episode, but it's somewhat related to what I talked about with Matt Stoller but not the direction that he's worried about--let's say there is some monopoly power, which I think there is, with these large Internet folk like Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, etc. Well, they are self-regulating. They are already talking about how they are going to fix this for the next election; they are not going to let it happen again. But, I'm not convinced that what they're going to propose or what they're going to do is so conducive to objective truth. They have their own axes to grind, their own tribalism. To the extent they have monopoly power, they can indulge that power and indulge their own flavors of tribalism to enhance the chances that their kinds of politicians, their kinds of policies get passed. So that's also kind of scary. And, again, I don't really think there's going to be a good way for the government to regulate that. So, I think that's the--top-down correction of those kinds of impulses is not so healthy.
47:32Russ Roberts: So, I want to now suggest what I think we can actually do, both as individuals and perhaps in groups to make things better. And I don't want to pretend this is going to be--don't get your hopes up. This is not going to be like this fabulous list of suggestions. They are quite modest--as you'd expect. It's like: 'Well, we've got to do something.' Well, no, we don't. What we have to do probably is something that actually is good. That would be my first rule. Not, 'We have to do something.' We have to do something that's good. Something that actually makes the problem better. Improves things. That's always my first rule of thumb.

Russ Roberts: So, first thing, not surprisingly, for long-time listeners, I would suggest humility. We don't know everything we think we do. I've learned to enjoy saying, 'I don't know.' Admitting ignorance is bliss. Recognize, as Shakespeare suggested, 'There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' That's not so easy. And, as I've alluded to in a few times in recent conversations, humility has got its own risks. Which, if things really are going badly, you don't want to be humble. You've got to be passionate. So, you don't want just the certain people to be passionate. You do want some of the humble people to be passionate. If you are always saying, 'I don't know,' you tend not to be very proactive. So, that's a genuine concern. It's an issue I'm sure I'll be returning to now and then, inevitably. But that's a real problem. Both those things: We are too arrogant, we need to be more humble; but we also have to keep in mind that there may be some things that are genuinely dangerous and we can't just sit on the sidelines and say, 'Who knows?' There are some things we know. So we should stand by our principles. But we should be humble and aware of the possibility that some of those principles may not be correct.

Russ Roberts: Second piece of advice is to follow people on Twitter or Facebook who don't agree with you. Try to find folks who are relatively civil. That may be unrealistic. They just may make you madder. So if you follow people on Twitter or Facebook who are different from you, instead of getting educated you might just get angry. So, that's not the best solution, perhaps. But it's a thought.

Russ Roberts: The third is to hold your anger for a day--a wonderful expression, which I'm a big fan of. Don't ratchet up the rhetoric. Do your part to bring more civilization and more civility to social media. Don't answer emails from strangers who hate your guts with the same kind of angry rhetoric. Answer people calmly. Don't play the game. Don't lower yourself. That's really just good advice generally, not just for this issue but just for one's own sanity and soul.

Russ Roberts: Fourth: Spend less time on the Internet, more time with human beings. That's easier said than done, especially for young people. But if you can't quit, take a day off--a Sabbath or [?]--I think that's a great idea if you can handle it.

Russ Roberts: And, the fifth is: Try to notice when you enjoy outrage. Just be aware of the fact that you may have that personality trait. I think many of us do. Then, when you find yourself feeling the sweetness of that anger, to realize that that's a very unhealthy emotion, and that you should keep an eye on it.

Russ Roberts: Now, I have some other things to say, but those are just sort of personal pieces of advice to, I think, move us in the right direction; and I think the more people who follow that, the world would be a better place. I try to do all those things. I struggle. It's not easy. They are not straightforward. They are not effortless. They are hard.
51:09Russ Roberts: There's also the possibility that market forces may create a set of objective, civilized news sources. But, that's a long shot. That's going to be hard, for reasons I've talked about. But, market forces may improve things through a different set of channels. Someone might start a Facebook competitor or Twitter with a different set of incentives for making you feel good about yourself by attracting eyeballs [?] being loud and angry. So, consider using those options when they come along. And I think they will. If you are worried about the power of Google, you might consider using DuckDuckGo or another type of search engine that knows less about you. True, it won't know when you are taking a trip and slot it into your calendar--which I confess I find really cool. But, it's not really that important.

Russ Roberts: Arnold Kling, frequent EconTalk guest, economist, recently, quote:
I am sick of reading about people who want to regulate Facebook. You didn't come up with the idea. You didn't build the business. Now that it's here, who the heck do you think you are telling them how to run it?

It's not that I'm happy with Facebook. Far from it. But to me, the best way to fix it would be to come up with something better. I figure that if we really do come up with a much better way of running a social network, then some entrepreneur will be able to make a success out of our idea.

That's a great point. It's not a bad thought to try to build an alternative social network that is less about ranting and yelling, or finds ways to reward people other than just attracting followers to make them feel good about themselves. I'm not saying that's an easy thing to do, but I think it's going to happen. People are going to try it. They may try it for different reasons than just these political reasons that I'm giving, but I think people will try it.

Russ Roberts: The last thing I would say is: I think there are things that foundations and think tanks can do. I am a Fellow at the Hoover Institution. We work with Brookings on financial regulation. Brookings and AEI [American Enterprise Institute] have for a long, long time done work on regulation generally, together, trying to find common ground from people who are generally on the Right and generally on the Left to work together. So I think that's a great idea. Of course, part of the problem is that, in many dimensions, Hoover, Brookings, AEI--we're like just totally centrists compared to some of the extremes that are getting more attention. And, I think those extremes are going to find their own think tanks and generate their own sets of policies to gather attention and to gather money. And, it's a lot harder for somebody on the far Right to work with somebody on the far Left than it is for somebody on the centrist Right, like Hoover, to work with somebody on the centrist Left like Brookings, or AEI with Brookings. I think these are--I don't want to overstate how exciting this is. It's not ¬that exciting. But I think it's a step in the right direction.

Russ Roberts: And, I think within a discipline, like economics, it would be really cool if some of us had the courage to partner with an economist on the other side of the ideological fence to come up with a research project, a research agenda, that held each side accountable--that held each other's feet to the fire, so to speak. That is, let's say you are talking about the minimum wage. Well, there's a lot of people who are convinced the minimum wage is relatively benign: It doesn't, at current levels it has very little impact on employment. There are a lot of people who disagree. They each do their own studies. Strangely enough, they find evidence for their viewpoints. But what if there was a new data set, or a new social experiment--like a new city, like Seattle has done recently: they went out and then raised the minimum wage dramatically. And two economists, one from each side of the fence--one who is a worrier about the impact on employment, and one who is not so worried about it--said, 'Whatever data comes out of this, we're going to work together to try to see what the actual impact is.' And I think that would be a fascinating thing. You know, I tried to do that on EconTalk a little bit with--I'm going to hedge[?]--John Christy and Kerry Emanuel on their talk about climate change. So, it's an issue that people are very passionate about. They are a rare duo in that I think they disagree very strongly about climate change and their understanding of it. But they are civilized, and civil to each other and can have a real conversation. So I think that would be a great thing. I'm not sure it would revolutionize the debate on immigration, if a pro- and anti-immigration economist went and looked at data together. But, I think it's a good idea. And I think a bunch of issues--the minimum wage, the macroeconomic role of stimulus, immigration, trade policy--it would be really interesting if we could find two civil economists on different sides of any issue who are both empirically minded and both willing to be brave enough. The problem is: it's really scary. Because you might find out that your view is wrong. That would be really awful. But I think--the challenge here is that those types of empirical findings I think are just not so important--unfortunately, are not. It doesn't really matter. I think economists like to think that their work determines the policy landscape--their findings. But I think they are just tools that politicians use to justify their beliefs, and justify their positions. I don't think they are really--I'm not convinced they are decisive. I think they are more window dressing for politicians. So, I'm not sure this is a really important idea. But it's, I think, a useful idea.
57:06Russ Roberts: But, I think a more general point I want to make is that: I think we have to hope that a cultural norm is going to emerge that it's a bad idea to indulge a tribalism all the time. And, cultural norms are really powerful. They really run our world in all kinds of ways under the surface that we don't even think about or realize. And I think there's going to--I'm hopeful that there will be some kind of pendulum swinging back on these issues that I'm talking about, that people will be more uncomfortable, embarrassed to be as tribal as we are right now, and to be as outraged as we are right now. And, perhaps it will become a cultural norm to be more thoughtful, a cultural norm to be more open-minded, a cultural norm to be more humble. A cultural norm not to yell at your opponents. A cultural norm not to dehumanize your opponents.

Russ Roberts: The only problem with this as a solution is that we don't know how to create cultural norms. But, they are the results of lots of individuals doing lots of things. And organizations like think tanks and foundations can have a role in encouraging us in those directions, and I think that would be really helpful. So, while we don't know what creates cultural norms and we don't know how to control them, and there's no lever or knob for making sure that we've got these norms to change toward a more healthy or more skeptical structure about, say, our own views or how right we are, or how extreme we should be in the face of the other side, it's also the case that our own individual actions do matter. Not so much by themselves, but in cumulative fashion alongside the actions of others. So, the more and more people who are humble, the more and more people--the more people who are humble, the more people who are nuanced, the more people who are empathetic, kind, non-dehumanizing, humanizing, it adds up.

Russ Roberts: And it's something you have control of: You. You. Not your Representative who you have to call, and not the think tank you maybe donate to but thank-you-very-much. But you, in your personal actions, alongside millions of others, you eventually determine the landscape of civility or non-civility in our political discussion. And every time you dismiss someone as evil or an idiot or a Nazi or whatever term that you use to demonize the people who don't agree with you, you are taking us in a bad direction. And every time you are open-minded and kind and skeptical and humble, you take us in a different direction. So, I try to do what I can. As I said before--it's under my control, it's under your control, those decisions, tiny decisions about how to respond to people on Twitter, how to respond to people via email. How to respond to people over the dinner table. Those are our lives. Those are the things we do that make up our lives. And, added together across all the people who make up a country, or even the world, those are the things that determine the culture. So, each of us can help push us in the direction of creating a norm that's better than the one that we seem to be heading toward now. And I encourage all of us to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Russ Roberts: Thank you very much. Thanks for listening. If you have any feedback, there will be a place to comment, of course, at econtalk.org. And I look forward to interacting with you there when this comes out. Thanks so much.
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I just started listening to a new podcast that might appeal to some of you. While it is a libertarian podcast, I expect it will focus on areas likely to have overlap with the rest of you.

The first episode summary:
Building Tomorrow explores the ways technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship are creating a freer, wealthier, and more peaceful world. In our first episode, we survey how major recent advances in tech have made it harder for the State to “read” citizens, deepened networks of trust between activists, expanded ownership of our bodies, and created new sharing economies.

The second episode summary:
This week, we discuss cryptocurrency and security.  There was a hack recently of a digital currency storage site. We’ll talk a little bit about what that means, what cryptocurrency ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ wallets are, what happens if you lose your password, and the sometimes surprising lengths to which major cryptocurrency owners have gone to secure their holdings. (Warning: Severed fingers make an appearance.)


Building Tomorrow

Building Tomorrow explores the ways technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship are creating a freer, wealthier, and more peaceful world.
  
The Pursuit

A podcast about government action and individual liberty. Hosted by Tess Terrible.

The first season of The Pursuit (6 episodes, less than an hour and a half in total) focuses on civil asset forfeiture and eminent domain.
  
If you are having issues with low blood pressure, this will help raise it.

Peak ProsperityPeak Prosperity wrote the following post Mon, 04 Jun 2018 14:19:07 -0400
Bartlett Naylor: The Banks Are Becoming Untouchable Again
Bartlett Naylor: The Banks Are Becoming Untouchable Again

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Summary:

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Bartlett Naylor (55m:53s).

Join the conversation »

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When the dust settled after the Great Financial Crisis, we learned that the big banks had behaved in overtly criminal ways. Yet none of their executives would be held criminally accountable.

And while legislation was passed in the aftermath to place restrictions on the 'Too Big To Jail/Fail' banks, it was heavily watered down and has been under attack by financial system lobbyists ever since.

To talk with us today about the perpetual legislative warfare pitting citizens on one side and lobbyists (and many lawmakers) on the other, is Bartlett Naylor. Naylor is a veteran of the Wall Street wars. He spent a number of years as an aid to Senator William Proxmire at a time when Proxmire was head of the Senate Banking Committee. Naylor himself served as that committee's Chief of Investigations.

Sadly, Naylor sees the banks winning out here. More and more of the prudent restraints placed on the banking system are being dismantled, as further evidenced by the recent bill President Trump just signed:
  
I should have tagged my comment with sarcasm. :-D
  
I figured it probably was, but thought it was worth pointing out how little friction it takes to start changing behavior.
  
My new Visa card arrived and I took great pleasure in running my Wells Fargo cards through the shredder.

I was also pleased at the lack of resistance when I cancelled them via email. I expected to be told I'd have to call in and get the hard sell from a rep to stay, but I got one email telling me the implications of closing the account (losing my $4.83 in accumulated rewards) and, after confirming that I understood and still wanted to cancel, they canceled it. It may have helped that I told them I had already destroyed the cards.
  
Free ThoughtsFree Thoughts wrote the following post Fri, 25 May 2018 00:15:00 -0400
Tomorrow 3.0: Uberizing The Economy (with Mike Munger)
Tomorrow 3.0: Uberizing The Economy (with Mike Munger)

Mike Munger joins us to discuss his new book Tomorrow 3.0: Transaction Costs and the Sharing Economy.

We discuss the future of the sharing economy,  the role of the middle man, and the fundamental economic concept of transaction costs.
  
Mastodon got mentioned in the context of sex workers sites being shut down due to FOSTA-SESTA.

Free ThoughtsFree Thoughts wrote the following post Fri, 04 May 2018 00:15:08 -0400
What’s Facebook Done With My Data? (with Will Duffield)
What’s Facebook Done With My Data? (with Will Duffield)

Will Duffield joins us again to discuss Cambridge Analytica and the future of social media.
  
EconTalkEconTalk wrote the following post Mon, 23 Apr 2018 07:20:46 -0400
Jonah Goldberg on The Suicide of the West
Jonah Goldberg on The Suicide of the West

(2018-04-23 6:30, Podcast Episode)

Image/photoJonah Goldberg of National Review talks about his latest book, Suicide of the West, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Goldberg argues that both capitalism and democracy are at risk in the current contentious political environment. He argues that we take for granted what he calls "the miracle"--the transformation of the standard of living in the democracies with market economies. Goldberg argues that unless we actively work to preserve our political and economic systems, the forces of populism, nationalism, and tribalism will work steadily to destroy them.

Play
Time: 1:27:24

How do I listen to a podcast?

Download
Size:40.1 MB

Right-click or Option-click, and select "Save Link/Target As MP3.

Read More below the fold at http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2018/04/jonah_goldberg.html (0 COMMENTS)
  
The Urban Monk Podcast : Your Wired Child with Guest Richard Freed
Technology in all of its forms is becoming more prevalent in our every day lives. From mobile phones to tablets and video games and social media, it's quite pervasive. For developed adults, we've come to adapt, but how does it affect the development of a child? Pedram talks with psychologist Richard Freed about the studied effects of technology on the developing brain. How much is too much? Is there an acceptable amount of screen time at all for younger children? How can a parent best control the amount of time their children spends in front of the television or holding a tablet?
  
Why Are Cops Unaccountable? (with Jay Schweikert and Clark Neily)

Jay Schweikert and Clark Neily join us for a conversation on law enforcement and accountability. We also discuss qualified immunity and how technology is helping to combat police misconduct.
 law  podcast
  
I brought this feed channel back while I was at it.


https://hub.farthinghalearms.com/channel/freethoughts
  last edited: Thu, 05 Apr 2018 20:25:27 -0400  
Elizabeth Anderson on Worker Rights and Private Government | EconTalk | Library of Economics and Liberty

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Philosopher Elizabeth Anderson of the University of Michigan and author of Private Government talks about her book with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Anderson argues that employers have excessive power over employees that we would never accept from government authority. Topics discussed include the role of competition in potentially mitigating employer control, whether some worker rights should be inviolate, potential measures for empowering employees, and the costs and benefits over time of a relatively unregulated labor market.