Bryan Caplan  

Boo for Applause

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Almost everyone takes this for granted, but it still freaks me out: Audiences in presidential debates applaud just because a candidate says something they agree with. See for example the crowd's reaction when Giuliani scoffs at Ron Paul.

You can say "it's only human" to clap for our spokesmen, but consider the consequences. Audiences are giving speakers powerful psychological incentives to conceal any information that challenges their beliefs. Why not just hold up big signs that say: "TELL US WHAT WE WANT TO HEAR"?

Keep this in mind the next time someone blames politicians for the low quality of political dialogue. The hard truth is that politicians are just responding to the perverse incentives that the people give them. Voters do not hold foolish views because their politicians mislead them. Politicians mislead voters because voters have foolish views - and respond poorly to criticism.


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COMMENTS (15 to date)
mgroves writes:

I don't think clapping has much of a function in a real debate. This is a debate of ideas, not popularity.

David Thomson writes:

Nonsense. The crowd in this particular instance clapped approvingly when Rudy Guiliani took to task the utterly foolish remarks of Ron Paul. We are in a fight to the death against Islamic nihilism. This has little to do with what we may or may have not done in the Middle East. These thugs hate us for who we are.

Ron Paul and perhaps even Bryan Caplan need to put down the absurd works of Edward Said and Noam Chomsky and start reading the brilliant insights of Bernard Lewis. Of course, has Caplan ever read Lewis? I doubt it. Our young scholar seems to subconsciously share Karl Marx’s view that everything can be reduced to economics. If this is indeed the case---he will forevermore be unable to comprehend the great existential struggle of the current era. Sigh, I also hate to think that Caplan might become another Murray Rothbard. The radical libertarian economist got so goofy at the end of his life that he became a cheerleader for Che Guevara!

Scott Clark writes:

David Thomson,

They may hate us for who we are, but i think what Paul was saying is that just general hatred probably isn't sufficient to plan suicide attacks from a continent away. The hate is there, but the tangible events on their home turf provides a focal point for that hate that spurs them into action. If americans were just living decadent lives over here, drinking booze and looking at naked women or making money or not submitting to Allah or whatever, they might hate that, but you probably wouldn't be able to recruit suicide bombers, and go through all the effort, etc. But if they see US troops, american weapons systems and political meddling, you get the old Sith tipping point that turns hate into anger and anger into action (suffering).

And Bryan's larger point is correct, the audience claps when they here pleasant fictions and bumper sticker, feel good messages, therefore politicians deliver more fictions and feel good messages.

Dan Weber writes:

Was that a joke?

Ron Paul said that part of the reason we were attacked was because we were in Saudi Arabia. The 9/11 Commission said so, too.

Nor did Senator Paul didn't say that we deserved it.

Constant writes:

Nor did Senator Paul didn't say that we deserved it.

Nor did he didn't say... so...

Senator Paul said that we deserved it... ?

David Thomson writes:

"The hate is there, but the tangible events on their home turf provides a focal point for that hate that spurs them into action."

"Ron Paul said that part of the reason we were attacked was because we were in Saudi Arabia. The 9/11 Commission said so, too."

I could care less what the 9/11 Commission said. The Muslim world is in a free fall collapse. Its values are not reconcilable to achieving success in the Modern world. Envy, bitterness, and even a sense of entitlement underpins the attitudes of these madmen. Confrontation with them is inevitable. We could do everything possible to stay out of their way---and it wouldn’t make a bit of diferrence. They are totalitarians. Such individuals will not be satisfied until we are completely under their rule. The very concept of live and let live is utterly alien to them.

Arnold Kriegbaum writes:

Bryan is correct, unfortunately for the long-term success of this country.

In this case, Guiliani used a "second-tier" candidate to get an emotional response out of the crowd. In advertising, all press is good. In politics, all emotions are good, even if based on incorrect history (Giuliani).

Barkley Rosser writes:

Bryan,

Clearly this is a two-way street. The politicians mouthing what the hungry ignorami wish to hear reinforce their ignorant beliefs.

D. Thomson,

Oh why is the blogosphere full of people like you who indulge in declaring that somebody has not read something and then proceeds to misrepresent what that something says? Your views as stated here most definitely do not correspond with those of Bernard Lewis, whom you threw at Bryan Caplan. Lewis clearly recognizes that there has been much rationality and non-authoritarianism in Islam. He advocates siding with those elements in the Muslim world. He belived (wrongly, I think) that invading Iraq to overthrow Saddam would aid those elements. Unfortunately, it has failed to do so.

While Lewis is probably the deepest living scholar in the US of historical Islam, he is not perfect. But someone like you does not even present his ideas in a reasonably accurate way, the correct ones or the incorrect ones.

David Thomson writes:

“Your views as stated here most definitely do not correspond with those of Bernard Lewis, whom you threw at Bryan Caplan.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. I strongly advise everyone to read Bernard Lewis’s article in the September 1990 issue of The Atlantic entitled “The Roots of Muslim Rage: Why so many Muslims deeply resent the West, and why their bitterness will not easily be mollified.” Lewis clearly understands the threat of Islamic nihilism. He warns the West that our foes will not rest until we are destroyed. This is an existential struggle to the death.

Sheldon Richman writes:

Bryan--Right again, I'm afraid. The only times politicians have an incentive to tell people something other than what they want to hear are those odd times when people want to hear what they don't want to hear. The media will praise the politician for being a gutsy maverick who tells people what they need to hear, and people will like that. Then he'll go back to saying what his potentially winning constituency wants to hear.

Barkley Rosser writes:

Uh, Thomson, your remarks imply that the entire Muslim world is "in a free fall" and that these negative remarks about some Muslims apply to all Muslims. Is that what you meant to say or imply? That is most certainly not what Lewis has ever said anywhere.

TGGP writes:

To say that Ron Paul is wrong would be one thing (it would also be mistaken, in my opinion). To say you've never heard that explanation, when the CIA and the 9/11 commission endorsed it marks one as extremely ignorant.

I don't trust all the stuff Osama or al Qaeda releases publicly, but I do believe the communications within their organization that have been captured by our intelligence services and detail their plans and motivations. Their real enemies are the Arab regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and so on. They see the U.S as an obstacle to removing them. Osama bin Laden's serious turn against the U.S began when he offered to have his mujahedin defend Saudi Arabia against Saddam, but his offer was rejected in favor of U.S forces, which were stationed in the "holy land".

jf writes:

I could care less what the 9/11 Commission said.

I think you mean you couldn't care less, genius. Try not relying on articles from 17 years ago and make and argument based on the past 6 years.

Floccina writes:

I do not believe what Ron Paul said was completely true (there is no way to fully know why they attacked us) but I do believe this:

“.The Muslim world is in a free fall collapse. Its values are not reconcilable to achieving success in the Modern world. Envy, bitterness, and even a sense of entitlement underpins the attitudes of these madmen. “

So I am still a strong Ron Paul supporter. The Muslim world is weak and getting relatively weaker all the time. They do not present much of a credible threat. The implosion of the USSR has made this the ideal time to elect a Ron Paul for president.

BTW Paul support the action in Afghanistan.

Matt writes:

Getting back to the point, and then veering off again immediately with a broad generalisation verging on sterotype:

American audiences tend to clap and cheer and boo a lot more than is good for debate. This struck me while watching the BBC Question Time programme before the last Presidential election. Just watch for the first few minutes, the emotion just gets in the way.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/nol/newsid_3960000/newsid_3963700/3963759.stm?bw=nb&mp=rm#

Very different from most editions of the show and it doesn't help the debate as the panel just start waffling slogans and nonsense. It might just reflect the importance of the issues to the audience... Still not good for the debate though.

Actually I have just started watching it again, and the polarization in the audience is absolutely terrifying.

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