Simple Consistency

So, if as noted last night, consistency in political stance was seen as valuable is this even possible. Consistency, or the lack thereof, is used often as a rhetorical weapon for example, “how can you support/oppose abortion saying life is valuable if you oppose/support the death penalty?” is an example. Here lack of consistency is seen as a failing. Yet every political plank is wrought through and through with inconsistencies. Is a global consistent stance on issues possible?

Looking the maths as a template, often in group theory a trivial example which satisfies your criteria serves as both a useful model and an existence proof. It so happens that with respect to consistency. So is there a (or set of) trivial consistent ideological stances one might take? Indeed. It seems apparent that the single issue (if simple enough) individual can take an internally consistent stance, if “oppose abortion”, “love pets”, or “taxes suck”  is your only public position then you can consistently offer a position on all relevant issues and abstain on the rest consistently.

This is of course, not something anyone does. People have have a varied number (in which that number is greater than one) of positions they’d like to hold. Many times these issues are in conflict. How a particular resolves a conflict differ, but it also demonstrates the relative importance of those same issues. A Democrat driving/owning an SUV indicates that status symbol ownership is more important than climate.

So inconsistency is not exactly an indication of actual inconsistency, but one of the evaluation of multiple criteria and their weightings. Thus a SUV owning Democrat who claims global warming is an urgent priority is signaling that the “urgency” part of this statement is at best empty rhetoric (more likely an untruth). This ownership doesn’t signal an inconsistent belief, just that it signals the priority of which this particular belief holds in their panoply of positions.

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3 comments

  1. Boonton says:

    So inconsistency is not exactly an indication of actual inconsistency, but one of the evaluation of multiple criteria and their weightings. Thus a SUV owning Democrat who claims global warming is an urgent priority is signaling that the “urgency” part of this statement is at best empty rhetoric (more likely an untruth).

    See I think this basically scuttles your essay. You seem to be making a point against foolish consistency. Fair point, most issues are complex so even if you place a high value on something, you may occassionally support going against that value. For example, someone who advocates for lower taxes may sometimes be seen supporting eliminating some deductions, even though strictly speaking that would be advocating a tax increase.

    Yet you then ruin your thesis by essentially arguing for foolish consistencies. If your doctor is 40 pounds overweight, then don’t believe him when he says your poor diet and lack of exercise is putting you at risk of a heart attack. If the global warming scientist drives an SUV or happened to turn up his heat to 71 last winter rather than to 68 then you needn’t concern yourself with his ‘science’. Rather than signaling ’empty rhetoric’, instead your attack is itself ’empty rhetoric’.

    I also note that your argument here seems to bring us away from discussing the actual issue at hand and instead focusing the discussion towards trying to discern motive and honesty of the speaker. Is this useful? I’m not sure.

    Take the doctor who says my lifestyle is putting me at risk of a heart attack who is himself overweight and a fast food eater. There are a lot of possible explanations for what seems to be inconsistency between his advice and his own personal behavior. Perhaps the whole thing about exercise and food is a big lie promoted by mysterious powers and he’s playing into it for unknown reasons. Or perhaps he has been diagnosed with a fatal illness and has less than a year to live…so trying to lower his risk of a heart attack decades later is irrelevant to him personally. Perhaps he hates his life and has little interest in prolonging it, but assumes you do since you are taking the time to see the doctor. Perhaps he himself knows to behave better but has difficulty balancing his short term desires for immediate pleasure with long term investments. Only the first possibility would represent a real inconsistency that would be worthy of our attention.

  2. Mark says:

    Boonton,
    Another blogger, arguing a similar point, started calling Mr Krugman inconsistent, but has changed it to inconsiderate. Perhaps “inconsiderate” is a better point, these drivers of SUVs fail to consider their own actions in the context of their own beliefs w.r.t. global warming.

    Both of these are rule based inconsistencies (inconsiderations).

    For the CO2 case, the rule would be if you believe X then your purchases and behavior should reflect your belief in X. What I don’t believe in this case is if you put “X” for human generated CO2 is a cause of global warming (and is bad) then your actions should reflect that. That so many democrats own and drive SUVs is either inconsistent with this belief (and yes perhaps some have reasons, but that would normally be a minority of said SUV owners). One can put driving speed, thermostat control, and many other personal behaviors that are inconsistent with said belief.

    For Mr Krugman, he makes the statement that one can ignore X if the results of X are uncertain and the harmful effects of X (if they do occur) are years or decades down the road. If X is debt he follows his rule, if it is CO2 he adamantly does not. What this may reflect however is that perhaps he has reasons for doubting the predictions of economists but has great faith in the predictive ability of weathermen (??!!).

  3. Boonton says:

    Another blogger, arguing a similar point, started calling Mr Krugman inconsistent, but has changed it to inconsiderate. Perhaps “inconsiderate” is a better point, these drivers of SUVs fail to consider their own actions in the context of their own beliefs w.r.t. global warming.

    Actually there is a much more simpler explanation, the tragedy of the commons or ‘don’t be a sucker’. Consider a fisherman who notes that at the rate he and his buddies are fishing an area is greater than the fish stock can replace themselves. In a few years this will cause the fish to go extinct in the area and end commercial fishing. If all fishermen agree to cut their fishing by 20%, however, the stock can sustain itself.

    But there are hundreds of fishermen who fish the area and many take the view that since their own fishing is such a tiny part of the problem, they might as well cheat and keep fishing as much as they always have. The logical response from the fisherman raising the alarm, then, is to keep doing what he is doing. Otherwise he will give what little income is left before the fish go extinct to those who are ignoring him anyway. There are tipping points where the fisherman may become ‘rationally altruistic’ (i.e. reduce his fishing for the sake of the stock) rather than ‘rationally selfish’ (keep fishing and let someone else solve the problem…or ride it until the party ends).

    I think what gets you is that the fisherman who notes the problem and also voluntarily cuts back his fishing is *signaling* both that he believes the problem is real (he will put his actions where his mouth is) and is willing to take a personal hit for it (he’s not trying to con his fellow fishermen into pulling back on fishing so he can catch their fish!). This makes it easier for you to judge the question using emotions rather than facts. And I agree that’s an important thing but it doesn’t change the facts and they are what ultimately count. The fisherman may be 100% committed but also 100% wrong. Perhaps the fish have sufficient stock to bear all the fishing and cutting back 20% does nothing. Perhaps the fish are doomed even if fishing was cut back 99% so each fisherman might as well grab every fish he can while they are still there.

    As for Mr. Krugman, I think the problem is you are trying to equate different things. There are harmful effects of deficit spending and helpful effects as well. Opposing deficit spending when the effects are helpful is itself a harm. While a few people like you have tried to argue that global warming may be helpful to humanity on a whole, no one serious has made that argument. At best they have argued the bad effects might be small.

    If you want an analogy then consider immune suppressing drugs versus getting drunk. To my knowledge, no medical benefit has ever been made from getting drunk. Getting drunk has harmful effects that range from minor to severe. A doctor then could advise a patient to never get drunk as no good will probably come of it. Immune suppressing, though, has a much more complex payoff schedule. Suppressing your immune system clearly leaves you vulnerable to infection. However auto-immune diseases are caused by your immune system attacking your own body hence immune suppressing drugs can save your life. So it would not be inconsistent for a doctor to always oppose getting drunk but take a less dogmatic view of immune suppression.