Bayesian Analysis of Hypocrisy
By Bryan Caplan
Hanson and Balan aren’t the only sharp tacks at Overcoming Bias:
Politicians want voters to have a positively-biased view of themselves. Consequently, voters learn more about politicians from their failings than from their good deeds.
Barack Obama, for example, smokes. If being known as a smoker was politically beneficial to a candidate then we couldn’t know if Obama really enjoyed smoking or if he was just pretending to enjoy smoking to appeal to voters. But because being known as a smoker will probably hinder Obama’s political career, we know that he really wants to smoke. Consequently, Obama’s smoking reveals something about his character. Perhaps, for example, it shows he is not very future oriented and is willing to suffer long-term harm for a short term benefit.
Finally, it was recently revealed that Al Gore’s mansion uses 20 times as much energy as the average American’s home does. If Gore personally used much less energy than most Americans did we couldn’t be sure if he was doing this because he genuinely cared about the environment or if he merely wanted people to think he cared about the environment. In contrast, since his large energy use harms him politically, we can be sure that he didn’t use vast amounts of energy just to help his political image.
Politicians are legendary for their hypocrisy. Journalists are legendary for their superficiality. So who would have thought that journalism about politicians’ hypocrisy could be so informative?