Can politics be studied scientifically?


I’m going to add some qualification though. Let me work through a hypothetical example from economics.

Q: Has inequality increased or decreased in the US since 1970?

Since most of the data points in the same qualitative direction AFAIK, that’s a question that can be answered: it has increased. Now that’s a question that the public is interested in that can be definitely answered, setting aside the phenomenon of zombie lies. The problem for researchers is that it’s too easy. So let’s continue.

Q: Why has inequality increased since 1970?

Such a question can be addressed with statistical techniques. But the answer is unlikely to be definitive. In practice, a successful paper will deliver a piece of the puzzle, but not a full answer. There may be exceptions, but that’s the (common) scenario that I think Exapno Mapcase and I had in mind. The newspaper reading public doesn’t want a piece of the puzzle: they want the whole answer. Hobbyists and book readers are another matter of course.

Also, AFAIK economics generally has better data than political science but (much) worse data than physics.

Sorry, it still seems like . . . you’re doing backflips and snake-contortions in yoga-postures, just to keep up the dishonest pretense that the study linked in the OP has no political relevance to anyone but political scientists. Nevertheless, it does, and will and should in November 2014. FUCK AND KILL THE PLUTOCRATS!

He’s not saying that, if I’m reading him right. He’s saying that the popular interpretation of their work can’t possibly line up with their scientific conclusions. Which is probably true: the scientific conclusions support the popular interpretation, but don’t make an airtight case.

In what order? Also, I doubt whether this report will substantially reverse the Democrats’ historic off-year turnout problem.

Meh, toss a coin.

Pay-per-view, baby, pay-per-view.

MfM reads me correctly. The question people want answered about inequality is why, and far more importantly, *who *is doing this to me so I can fuck and kill them. They’re never going to get that answer.

As everyone who posts to Politics should understand, every bit of numerical evidence is processed through chiral filters. There is left-handed reality and right-handed reality. This is something new in the world. Pardon me while I have a strange interlude.

For most of the first century of the technological world, people on all sides started to give up on (abandon or at least diminish) the western Christian outlook that the answers could all be found in the Bible. Systematic and scientific investigation of reality seems to have begun in German universities in the first half of the 19th century and slowly spread outward. By the close of the century most prominent American universities had reconstituted themselves as research universities with specialized graduate schools.

The incredible pace of technological advancement drove the optimistic notion about the future that everything could be quantified and placed onto a rational, scientific, neutral platform in which the One Right Answer could and would be found and implemented. The most specific expression of this was in the Technocracy movement, the early one patterned after Thorstein Veblen’s The Engineer and the Price System but echoed in the loony Depression-era fad. Engineers, in the larger sense of scientific workers outside theorists, would control policy instead of politicians. Science fiction writers lapped this stuff up and you see it all over Golden Age science fiction, though seldom mentioned by name.

Technocracy never happened. Instead the Depression saw the social revolution they wanted and WWII brought along an alliance with manufacturing to form the military-industrial complex. Many now very funny but then serious and highly-thought-of books were written saying that the liberal viewpoint had permanently won. As should have been expected, this brought an intellectual conservative revolutionary movement into play that happened to coincide with a general public conservative backlash.

What people didn’t expect was the death of the notion of the One Right Answer. Instead, intellectual thought became the essential equivalents of Euclidian and non-Euclidian geometries. They start with different axioms about the world and therefore the theorems and proofs they derive from these axioms are not merely different but often contradictory.

All results of scientific studies (some say all scientific studies themselves) are run through these fundamentally diverging viewpoints. You can’t have an answer, only a conservative answer or a liberal answer. Or an answer from another different geometry with other axioms, like libertarianism or socialism or what have you.

I personally think this is an unstable condition and that some synthesis will emerge in the future. I don’t expect to be around to see that world, sadly. In our world, politics can not give satisfactory scientific answers because it doesn’t ask satisfactorily scientific questions. Physics doesn’t answer whys about the world, either, of course. It like asking what should we do about climate change. Science is not even on the lineup of players.

No, that scientific study didn’t say we’re an oligarchy.

Sez who? Sez author of study because oligarchy is a mishmosh of a term.

So they call it “Economic Elite Domination” – but we all know that means oligarchy as the term is generally understood by people who know it at all. The author seems to be saying in that quote that we’re not dealing with a mere cabal but a whole social class; which has been true of many oligarchies in history, including the classical Greek ones.

To me the big question is the one that hasn’t been answered: has this ever not been true in America? Or elsewhere? If so, what conceivable meaning does oligarchy have?

No, it’s not the same everywhere; see the Democracy Index. Granted, “democracy” as used there might not be quite the same thing as what the study in question calls “Majoritarian Electoral Democracy,” but it’s probably close or correlated.

You cannot use different measures on this subject. The only way to test the results of the OP’s study is to examine those results against other time periods and other countries and see if they come up with the same dimensions - which explicitly were not measures of oligarchy.

Not to mention that the Democracy Index is not scientific, doesn’t measure oligarchy, and wouldn’t indicate whether the U.S. was an oligarchy even if it did. Less flawed democracies could still be oligarchies, especially if my point that every country is an oligarchy is valid.

You can’t make “oligarchy” mean whatever you feel like meaning. Or, rather, you can’t unless you want to prove my other contention that the word is meaningless.

Yeah, that’s where the conversation is heading. The next step is, “Oligarchy isn’t and either/or: it’s a continuum.” ::Class nods::

So under one definition, the US isn’t an oligarchy, and on another, it’s more of an oligarchy than the US in 1955 (I suppose the continuum back then might be, “Racist police state”) and less than Russia in 2014. Incidentally, it’s not at all clear to me how Europe would rank. eg I understand France and Japan are each run by graduates of one major University (University of Tokyo and Université Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne(??)).

Exapno Mapcase: The last lengthy post (45) was nice. I think it’s worth qualifying and recasting.

Qualification. Yes, I understand there are space constraints in posts (go 2 screens and reader nods off). I’d say though that technocrats typically envisioned 2 lines rather than One Right Answer. The first line had, well, the right answer at one pole and public opinion on the other. It was hoped that politicians might choose a point in between.

The second line consists entirely of right answers, but there’s allowance for varying tastes for public goods. So the Brookings Institution gets funded, the American Enterprise Institute gets funded, they both send their minions off to the Center on Taxation, who develop a rationalistic menu of policy choices. The idea being that reasonable people can disagree on certain things.

Recast. This one is more serious: you make false equivalences towards the end. There are 2 bins here. We have a conservative/liberal rationalistic line on the one hand. And a nonrationalist/tribalist conservative movement on the other. The main symptom of the latter is shifting positions. First conservatives opposed healthcare reform, because they wanted to keep the insurance companies in business. Then Romneycare was passed. Then Obamacare dropped the public option and Romneycare passed at the national level. Then conservatives decided that they didn’t like the plan that the Heritage Foundation had proposed years earlier for reasons they feel no need to explain. In fact they decided it’s tyranny. Another emerging example is solar power. Neocons used to like it because it hurts the Saudis. But now Koch/ALEC are passing anti-solar legislation at the state level, never mind the declines in panel costs.

This isn’t 2 sciences. It’s one party substituting tribalism for rationality. Honest and sane people don’t change their positions based upon what their perceived adversaries believe.

At any rate I don’t think the situation is stable either and I would bet that Qin at least will live to see its successor.

I’m not clear why you say that 1955 would have higher citizen input than today. Organized citizens groups are far stronger today than in past decades and the study finds them ineffective.

While I’m throwing out generalizations I would agree with you that large countries are more oligarchic than small countries, simply because there’s so much more money at stake. I just disagree that the lack of huge money prizes implies that the elites don’t control what little there is.

It feels like that some days, and certainly the public rhetoric on any subject that hits the Internet is largely tribal, although not completely one-sided. I’m arguing with BrainGlutton here just as fiercely as I do adaher.

I see the split going back 50 years, though, and something that trickled down from the highest intellectual echelons of the conservative movement. It’s the extremism that I think is unstable. It should be possible for both parties to regroup to include liberal, moderate, and conservative wings as in the past and that will be the path toward picking from a rational policy continuum.

According to a rising Libertarian intellectual named Bryan Caplan, plutocracy is the only thing that makes democracy tolerable.

Brian Caplan is actually an author worth reading. He attacks the rational voter model espoused by certain scholars, arguing that unlike choices made in the market, there is little positive or negative feedback to bad choices in the polling booth. I might add that the market isn’t all that severe a taskmaster either: most Americans don’t subscribe to Consumer Reports and their dubious purchases reflect that.
I have a somewhat analogous view towards our plutocracy. Sure, lots earn riches on the basis of efforts that add little or negative value: much of financial engineering falls under that category. But our plutocrats have sharply circumscribed power on an historic basis. Bill Gates isn’t a kingmaker and the most that inherited wealth magnates like the Kochs and Steve Forbes can do is exert influence, not dictats. This isn’t ancient Rome. Class interests of course are an entirely different matter and ALEC might conflict with my characterization.

:confused: No, class interests, as expressed in policy outcomes, are the matter under discussion.

I’m trying to contrast today’s plutocrats with yesterday’s. This isn’t ancient Rome and it isn’t Medici Italy. I’m suspecting that rule by elites is the norm and that the 1950-1980 period of higher income equality was the exception pace Piketty. I also don’t think we’ve figured all of this out.

I’ve been wanting to reply to Exapno Mapcase for a while:

(I actually didn’t mean to imply that and I’m not sure that’s accurate.) I do suspect that poorer countries tend to be more oligarchic. We are mostly discussing within-OECD patterns though. I have the data on corruption by Transparency International in mind and I’m assuming that corruption is correlated with oligarchic control.

There were far higher tax rates on the rich and more income equality during the 1950s. I frankly don’t know how to process this conflicting evidence.

There’s something unstable about non-optimal policy. I think there are other paths to rationality. If the Chinese rack up 30 consecutive years of rationalistic macro economic policy, that might be noticed. If Abenomics succeeds and the Japanese rack up 20 years of rationalistic economic policy, that might be noticed as well, though their demographic challenges are greater than our own. The point being that the US plutocrats have an interest in a strong US economy and a scientific policy apparatus. But… many are essentially specialists with an outsized view of the breadth of their expertise. For examples of clay feet, think of Adelson and Don Sterling of the Los Angelos Clippers. It’s hard to square that nuttery with claims that our system is brutally meritocratic.

I happen to be reading a biography of Henry Luce, the proprietor of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines. I’ve just gotten to the chapter in which he decides to make Wendell Willkie the presidential candidate in 1940. Not only did Luce put the power of his magazines behind him - the most powerful of all the national publications and far more influential than local newspapers: imagine Fox News if there were no other major cable stations - but he had the editor of Fortune resign to be Willkie’s campaign manager while editors at Life wrote speeches and articles to be published in the magazines.

That’s why I pooh-pooh any talk of the ascension of plutocracy today. As you note, the rich have much less direct power than at any time in the 20th century.

No, Piketty would also call it the exception.

Woops, that was a vocabulary error. :smack:

I agree: Piketty’s point is that the era immediately after WWII was unusual, insofar as nominal growth was higher than returns to capital.

Huh. Well that’s a kingmaker. Any examples from the 1950s?