The arbitrariness of political identification is underestimated, not mentioned here.  Fans of football teams will fight each other.  Clearly we are evolved to rally under a banner.  To a very large extent, I think political ideology comes to us from more or less the same place as our religious beliefs, from our parents.  

Expand full comment

It might be worth comparing political ideology to the outcomes of Realpolitik. That is, to the socio-econo-political system in which we actually live. Compared to all the textbook ideologies and 'isms' - Capitalism, Socialism, Welfare Statism, Democracy, etc, what name would best suit our political reality? I would say; Lobbyism.

• Lobbyism implies the dominance of lobby groups, advocacy groups and NGOs, in our political structure and operation. For example, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wik...

• Lobbyism implies a government mainly sensitive to at least nominally private* pressure groups, implying an underlying (although somewhat secondary) democratic structure. [* An exception being the IPCC, the first fully public lobby group.]

• Lobbyism implies big government, as lobby groups create a bias toward greater government by holding political influence but being insensitive to the costs of the state sponsored programs they favor, because these costs tend to be spread socially, rather than impacting mainly on the lobby group or the people it represents (or claims to).

• Lobbyism suggests entrenched sectional interests that once formed, are very hard to elliminate, regardless of their negative consequences for society as a whole.

• Lobbyism suggests distorted social and economic outcomes, and these distortions in turn suggest a backlash against the governments that play on these interest groups in the first place.

• Lobbyism suggests other stuff i will think of after clicking Post as...

So what do most people really support - their favorite ideology or the reality of Lobbyism?

Expand full comment

people have ideologies to practice in the public sphere moral habits useful to them in the private sphere.

An example you give in your article is:

Some clues about how these values emerge from ordinary life are provided by societies where the dominant values belong to the conservative cluster. In these traditional agrarian societies, respect and subordination figure large in most people’s lives.

This suggests to me that conservatism should decline with increasing urbanization. Does it? Having said that, your habit theory of ideology is worth reading.

On top of this, there comes the usefulness of ideologies for signaling. A social conservative signals obedience to traditional private virtues; a liberal signals generosity and broadmindedness; a libertarian signals self-reliance and willingness to be held responsible.

A way of looking at individual humans in to regard them as agents acting in various domains, where each domain requires the agent to fulfil an input or output requirement - Humans as a set of quotas. There are quotas for basic survival needs like water and nutrients. There is a reproduction quota. A social participation quota. A moral quota. No doubt others. Your signalling notion of ideology, if at least partly true, might indicate that people are looking to fulfil their social (non-survival) quotas by taking shortcuts. Why obey traditional private virtues when you can sprout your conservatism instead? Why be generous when you can just root for Obama instead? Why be broadminded when you can claim the moral high ground of Liberalism instead, and then do this? http://www.youtube.com/watc... Why be totally self-reliant and industrious when you can praise an Ayn Rand novel instead?

To me, holding and advertising a political ideology means an individual attempting to fulfil important socially related quotas by pinning their identity to a set of abstract ideas and assuming the intention of the ideas equals the outcome, if and when they are adopted by society as policy. The benefit of ideology then, is that it allows individuals to fulfil social quotas at no personal cost. It is not difficult to see why these ideologies almost always tend toward increasing the role of government. Who but the state would be willing to accept peoples offloaded responsibilities and yet be better off for it?

Expand full comment

So why bother having one?

My answer: people have ideologies to practice in the public sphere moral habits useful to them in the private sphere. 

See: "A habit theory of civic morality" — http://tinyurl.com/7t3zrrl

On top of this, there comes the usefulness of ideologies for signaling. A social conservative signals obedience to traditional private virtues; a liberal signals generosity and broadmindedness; a libertarian signals self-reliance and willingness to be held responsible.

If these ideologies had no actual practical usefulness--which I think consists of practicing the corresponding moral habits--they would be too cheap to be signals.

Expand full comment

 EM for president? :)

Expand full comment

Having a political ideology is like voting. It doesn't make any difference to social outcomes, just as voting makes no difference to election results. So why bother having one?

Expand full comment

"the question of how to best aggregate info on policy effects seems a pivotal core issue, with strong implications for many specific policies."

aggregate info on policy?

You would have to find a policy analog.Run that model with your aliases.

Expand full comment

 Not as long as humans are running it.

Expand full comment

"What is a political “ideology”?"

A mutating aggregate. Much like cancer.

"To the extent that the main political dimensions are associated with policies, they are mostly associated with lots of particular policies, instead of a few key principles".

That is due to the fact there are no principles of politics.  For something to be principled it needs to be rational. Principle provides for novelty.  Can anyone show me a novelty that has arisen from politics over the last two centuries?

Expand full comment

It seems to me that the primary divide may be along the authoritarian scale, as described here: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca... . The article may be going too far but it definitely seems to me that most of disagreement falls along the axis of proneness to some sort of submissive aggression.

Expand full comment

In countries with different voting systems and multiple political parties, these parties are often understood as somewhere on a linear "left to right" scale. And many voters explain their votes as voting for the left, for the right, or for middle -- because this explanation is easy to understand for people who don't understand details.

And most voters really don't understand details; they just see "our team" and "their team", or more nuanced "the balance between the two teams" or "our team, but in a less extreme version". But still, most of the issues are compressed into one linear scale; you just have more than two points on it.

Then sometimes you have an additional dimension, for example the right can be split to religious right and non-religious right, or the left can be split to nature-preserving left and nature-ignoring left. But it usually does not become more nuanced than this.

Expand full comment

"To me, principles like maximize liberty or minimize inequality seem pivotal, but not very sensible. I’m more fond of the principle of economic efficiency, but it is pretty hard for ordinary voters to see what more specific policies this principle implies."

Will we ever have an intelligent and well-run government?

Expand full comment

The point about parliamentary coalitions leading to bipolar (as in Cold War, not Carrie Mattheson) partisanship is the same story I told Caledonian/melendwyr a while back.

Expand full comment

they are about how exactly we should aggregate info on the efficiency, and other consequences, of policies.

Is "aggregate" a term of art? It seems you're not really talking about how you "aggregate" information but how to generate it.

In that light, isn't this just the dispute that has become increasingly central to right versus left: the market versus central planning? You advocate extending the sway of markets, creating markets even for such abstracta as predictions. (Central planners should be divided into two camps, bureaucratic and democratic.)

Perhaps this controversy can best be understood as one concerning the use of the market, the use of technology, and the use of ultrademocracy to generate the information society can use. It's a very interesting claim, but it explains rather than supersedes the political division into left and right over centralism and redistribution.

Expand full comment

I would think that aside from goals and methods there is another dimension to ideology: the definition of society itself, or the construction of the ingroup to which the ideology applies, even if not stated explicitly. The predominantly one-axis, bipolar spectrum develops *within* a society of more or less closely interacting groups - the interactions among competing societies are more likely to be multipolar.

This said, I absolutely agree that the meta-ideological level, comparative analysis of methods given goals, is much more fruitful and interesting than debating base-level ideological tenets you alluded to. What matters most is the computational structure of the society, how it generates policies given goals. If you find a good computational structure then good (leading to fulfillment of goals) policies will follow.

I tend to think that at present the most pressing meta-ideological issue is the tension between the need for highly parallel computations (markets, prediction markets, polycentric forms of law production and social organization) and the common human bias towards the much less robust, hierarchical and serial computation methods (centralized governments, large companies).

It is a pity that the methodology of computation in social settings seems not interest most people. 

Expand full comment

 [These] procedures … have also been applied to a number of other legislative bodies besides the United States Congress. These include the United Nations General Assembly, the European Parliament, National Assemblies in Latin America, and the French Fourth Republic. … Most of these analyses produce the finding that roll call voting is organized by only few dimensions (usually two): “These findings suggest that the need to form parliamentary majorities limits dimensionality.”

Expand full comment