Seeking Unbiased Game Host

Alex Tabarrok recently proposed:

A game show, So You Think You Can Be President? … [with] at least three segments.

Coase it Out: Presidential candidates have 12 hours to get a bitterly divorcing couple to divide their assets in a mutually agreeable manner. …

Game Theory: Candidates compete in a game of Diplomacy.   I would also include several ringers …

Spot the Fraud:  … candidates are provided with an economic scenario (mortgage defaults are up, hedge funds are crashing, liquidity is tight).  Three experts propose plans.  The candidate must choose one of the plans.  After the candidate chooses, the true identities of the "experts" are revealed. One is a trucker, another a scuba diver instructor and the last a distinguished economist.

I fear the public would not respect candidates willing to play such a game; it might tarnish their presidential image.  Worse, I fear our society is too polarized to choose a neutral host to run such a game.  Hosting such games would require many detailed judgment calls, calls which a secretly-partisan host could use to favor one side or the other.   

If a politically partisan group proposed a particular host, the other sides would suspect that group of being secretly partisan toward the group who proposed it.  So the host would have to be proposed by a major respected non-partisan group – but who could that be?  And even if the host started out non-partisan, partisans would lobby it any way they could, and it would be very hard for it to remain non-partisan. 

This raises the question:  what groups in our society are trusted to be non-partisan, and would we trust them to remain so if they had such a position of power?  What would it take for a group to create a believable long-term reputation for being strictly non-partisan, even under very high stakes?   If a group could achieve this, would we make use of it? 

Alas the economics profession is not such a group.  While we can be reasonably objective when the stakes are low, we seem to sell out to the highest bidder when the stakes rise, such as in legal testimony.

Added: In general it seems reliably non-partisan and unbiased advisors could help us in many ways, such as to resolve family and business disputes.  But in fact we make little use of such advisors.  Is this because they are so rare, or because we really don’t want unbiased advice?

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  • savagehenry

    Watching presidential candidates play a game of Diplomacy would be lots of fun!

  • In general it seems reliably non-partisan and unbiased advisors could help us in many ways, such as to resolve family and business disputes. But in fact we make little use of such advisors. Is this because they are so rare, or because we really don’t want unbiased advice?

    I would bet on the latter combined with that we are unsure of how we’d identify unbiased people.

  • itchy

    I fear the public would not respect candidates willing to play such a game; it might tarnish their presidential image.

    Is that sarcasm?

    Dukakis in a tank, Clinton playing sax, “Joementum,” Kerry contending that he listens to “hip hop, because there’s a lot of truth in it.” Sorry, I’m sure there are as many examples of goofy Republican stunts, but I’m not thinking of them off the top of my head.

    Yes, they wouldn’t want to tarnish their image. The public respects them so.

  • josh

    Maybe it would be better to have a host with well-known biases.

  • Gray Area

    A related interesting question is whether it is possible to build ‘unbiased systems’ out of biased components, like the well-known fair way of dividing a pie between two self-interested parties (one divides, the other picks his piece).

  • Why is being ‘nonpartisan’ a benefit?

    Now in normal conversation we often identify partisanship with the sort of emotional favoritism that we usually associate with sports teams. That is favoring one side or another just because it’s your team not because you have good reason to believe they are better. Obviously one would want to eliminate this sort of bias but I don’t think this kind of bias is that hard to avoid. In fact I suspect most people who academically study issues of public policy don’t have this sort of bias in those areas.

    I would argue (like the argument in the myth of the rational voter) that this sort of bias is primarily the result of the low cost of most people’s opinions. For most people identifying themselves with certain social groups or showing they have the right sorts of values is more important than favoring the better candidate because their choice has so little impact. If you actually put these people in a position where their call mattered much of this bias would disappear.

    However, you seem to be worried about a much larger category of partisanship, namely anything which systematically favors one sort of policy or group over another (I take this to be the motivation for the remark about economists). I don’t see the reason to fear this sort of partisanship, certainly not the partisanship of favoring the individual who would objectively be the better leader. Now of course no human is perfect so they would make some mistakes but the question is would the hosts mistakes would be worse than those of the electorate at large?. I’m not sure.

    Also I took the suggestion not to be that we have such a game show in addition to the election but INSTEAD of it. Maybe that’s a reading comprehension problem on my part. I do think there would be problems with eliminating the election system, but not because the actual voting is a goo way to choose between the two candidates. In the long run which candidate wins doesn’t make much of a difference but the systematic pressure on candidates to adopt policies that resonate with more voters does.

  • Widely-respected unbiased parties:

    Consumer Reports
    Underwriter’s Labs
    League of Women Voters

    Of these, the LWV is most obvious for a political event, but Consumer Reports maintains its objectivity jealously. I’ll bet there are a few other organizations that I’m not thinking of at the moment.

  • It would actually be awesome to see Consumer Reports host a political event. You’re right, they’ve built the best “objectivity” brand of which I’m aware.

  • Doug S.

    Judges (as in those people who preside over a courtroom) are one of the groups that are supposed to be politically neutral and are often respected as such.

  • Chris and Doug, there are indeed groups now who are trusted to be neutral, but that trust is limited to certain areas. The question is whether they could remain neutral on very partisan topics, especially when the stakes were high. Consumer reports, for example, seems to lose its neutrality when topics become political.

    Logic, for this purpose the public needs to believe the host is neutral, else the candidates will not accept it.

  • “Consumer reports, for example, seems to lose its neutrality when topics become political.”

    I’ve never heard this claim. Sources?

    Beyond that, this whole train of thought still seems inferior to either Caplan’s proposal of allocating more votes to economically competent voters, or creating and expanding spheres of futarchy for decisionmaking.

  • Doug S.

    Another strategy might be to have multiple hosts, each with “obvious” biases, so as to achieve “balance.”

  • Konrad

    This problem can be restated as a special case of Yudkowksy’s Coherent Extrapolated Volition. Essentially, you want a system that will:
    1. Allow voters to judge candidates who are smarter and more powerful then they themselves are, with the hope of:
    2. Identifying those who will act in the combined interests of the voters as a whole, (whatever that means), so that:
    3. The chosen canidate can be given immense power, with the hope that the previous condition will still hold.

    Good luck with that.

  • Konrad

    As for the person who described the League of Women Voters being as unbiased, you may be confusing their tax status as a non-partisan group, with a commitment to avoid taking sides on political issues. They certainly do give active support to their chosen political causes, and those causes are decidedly leftist.

    While they don’t go out of their way to advertise themselves as a lobbying groub, they’re fairly open about their politics, as seen in the section below, from

    After studying and debating issues, the League develops consensus positions which we then actively work to support through grass-roots lobbying.”

    Barbara Stuhler, a 50-year LWV member and author of a forthcoming documentary on the League to be published next year, is candid about it: “People associated with more-conservative groups or causes will not be comfortable in the League of Women Voters. As with any organization, you are going to find like-minded people, people with like-minded attitudes concerning the appropriate role of government in society.”

    Whatever the reasons, the partisanship of the LWV is so established that the best example then-president Becky Cain could come up with in 1996 when asked whether the LWV had ever “boosted a GOP policy” was that they backed President Nixon’s establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA — 30 years ago!