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Emoting Is Easier Than Thinking

In my latest column for AIER I note that much bad policy receives public support because thinking through the full consequences requires effort. A slice:

The more complex the issue, the lower the proportion of dispassionate thought, and the higher the proportion of emoting will be. To understand complex issues requires greater application of dispassionate thought; Complex issues feature more steps to be analyzed with dispassionate thought than do simpler issues. Because dispassionate thought is costly, the general public is more likely to ‘decide’ complex issues emotionally rather than rationally. It’s more costly to think dispassionately through, say, four steps of reasoning, than to think dispassionately through two steps of reasoning. Many individuals, therefore, will bring their dispassionate thinking to a halt before enough such thought has been done to get a good handle on the matter. The remainder of the analysis will be done with emotions or prejudice. Because politicians ultimately seek votes rather than truth or justice, the electoral advantage is had by politicians who most warmly embrace the emotions or prejudice that voters use to assess issues — especially the complex ones.

Unfortunately, the larger the role government plays, the more complex, on average, will be the policy issues that voters are required to assess. The role in public policy of emotions and prejudice will grow relative to that of dispassionate thought. Public policy will tend, over time, to worsen. And we’ll all suffer.

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