Natural Hypocrisy

This video offers a window on natural hypocrisy:

Most people believe that redistributing money within a nation is good, but that redistributing GPA within a school is bad, and if asked why these should be treated differently, have little to say. My point isn’t to say one can’t come up with reasons to treat these differently.  One could, for example, argue that we prefer differing school signals to help employers sort people into jobs, to achieve higher productivity so that the pie is bigger when we redistribute money. My point is that most people can’t think of such reasons, making it pretty unlikely that such reasons are the cause of their opinions.

Some observations from this and my many class discussions:

  • Ask random colleges student random policy questions and they will feel compelled to come up with opinions.
  • Ask them for reasons for those opinions and they’ll feel compelled to come up with such reasons.
  • Such opinions strongly tend to support the status quo – mostly whatever is, is assumed good.
  • There is only a weak added tendency for students to offer similar opinions and reasons on similar policy questions. Opinions and reasons are not being generated by processes that tend to produce much added similarity.
  • Students are mostly satisfied to grasp at any plausibly policy-relevant difference to justify treating things differently, even when such differences don’t obviously “make a difference” to the issue at hand.

We humans are much better at coming up with reasons for opinions than at choosing coherent sets of opinions – we clearly have a powerful inbuilt capacity for hypocrisy.

Added 28Apr: Those who think it unfair to evaluate what students said on the spot, how much better do you think the reasons would have become if the students were given an hour to think about it by themselves?  A week?

Added 6May: Megan McArdle weighs in.

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