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RS 198 - Timur Kuran on “Private Truths and Public Lies"

Release date: December 10th, 2017

Timur Kuran

In this episode, economist Timur Kuran explains the ubiquitous phenomenon of "preference falsification" -- in which people claim to support something publicly even though they don't support it privately -- and describes its harmful effects on society. He and Julia explore questions like: Is preference falsification all bad? Are there ways to reduce it? And how much has the Internet changed the dynamics around preference falsification?

Timur's Book: "Private Truths, Public Lies"

Timur's Pick: "Micromotives and Macrobehavior" by Thomas C. Schelling

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science


Full Transcripts 

Reader Comments (10)

The most conservative republican I ever knew was a democrat.
December 10, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterlion
As Suze Orman said, balance is when what you say, think and do are one.

Here's an example of imbalance:
"Military veterans working at Pinterest have played down their background in the armed services because of concerns that colleagues will assume they are conservative, said a person who has heard these concerns being discussed at the company. This person added that not all of the veterans are conservatives."

In other words, even liberal veterans play down their military service so coworkers won't assume they're conservative. Wow.
December 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Preference falsification could produce social inertia in favor of a despotic regime, and thereby inhibit a liberal revolution. However, preference falsification could also have positive effects, such as the racist or chauvinist who keeps their views to themselves instead of making other people uncomfortable.

Many people have a private preference for surviving and social acceptance, and express this by publicly supporting whomever wields power. In fact, many people care much more about their own survival and acceptance than about the particular political leadership of their government.

As Julia points out, without a public record of how our representatives vote, we lose the ability to hold them accountable. Article I, Section 7 of the US Const actually requires a public tally and disclosure of all votes in the Congress. A secret ballot would allow representatives to betray their constituents, perhaps in exchange for bribes or other inducements.

Sort of amazing that an oppressive regime such as the East German Communist Party would actually conduct an anonymous survey without persecuting those that answered in a manner critical of the regime. Also amazing that the East German students actually trusted the regime to abstain from persecuting them.
December 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
Seems like there are a lot of ways to consider such things, such as how one responds to polling vs. how they actually vote (especially with controversial votes). Or how about politicians themselves who claim to support one thing publicly and maintain another view privately?
December 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJustin
"A secret ballot would allow representatives to betray their constituents, perhaps in exchange for bribes or other inducements."

On the other hand, a secret ballot would allow representatives to betray their big donors. That's why many states outlaw ballot selfies, to prevent vote buying, since voters can't prove that they didn't betray the vote buyer.
December 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Congress can do a voice vote when it's expected to be a landslide. It's kind of anonymous, since they don't record individual votes, although people may want to know which representatives went against the overwhelming majority.

It would be impossible to assess a representative's voting record if it were secret. The representative could pretend to be a member of one party, but secretly always vote with another party.
A previous RS episode on vote swapping pointed out that lawmakers swap votes all the time, it's called politics, but that would be harder if the votes were secret.
December 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax
This podcast reminded me of wildebeest crossing the Mara river (plenty of videos of this annual event can be found online.) The animals congregate along the shore of the crocodile infested river, refusing to cross until some critical mass is achieved and a few choose to brave the dangers of the river. At this point, hundreds start crossing in mass and the sheer numbers overwhelm the crocs. If the members of the herd crossed willy nilly, without taking into account how many others were willing to follow, more of the animals would die than otherwise.

This notion of mass preference falsification that persists right up until something snaps and large masses express an opposing view has this same character. It seems to me that the so-called lack of efficiency of preference falsification isn't really a lack of efficiency at all. Rather, like the wildebeest, it's a defense mechanism designed to ensure that the brave few who are eventually willing to step out and express something different will be less likely to get destroyed by the opposition.
December 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel T 1263
Didn't hear anyone mention tipping points, as in "Why 'The Weinstein Effect' Seems Like A Tipping Point"
December 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Article I, Section 7
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February 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterN.J.
I imagine the case of the legendary father who asks his child if he chopped down the cherry tree. If the child tells the truth, he risks being punished. If he lies, he might escape punishment.
So a parent has to decide whether that's the game he wants to teach his child.So it seems better to act as if the child is telling the truth, whatever they answer, whatever the truth, even if you know he's lying. And when the child learns he his word is trusted, he will feel safer to tell the truth and face the consequences now, and he will listen to his own conscience and not depend on an external authority to control him.
September 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTom R

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