June 2009 STATEMENT TO ACCOMPANY RELEASE
OF “RED GENES BLUE GENES: EXPOSING POLITICAL IRRATIONALITY”
Lessons from Behavioral Politics:
Why It’s Time to Try Democracy
Guillermo C. Jimenez[*]
I. The Emerging Science of Political Irrationality
A survey of recent research from over a dozen different academic disciplines now allows us to assert, with a good deal of confidence, that humans are systematically irrational in their political thinking. Although it is widely-accepted that humans are frequently irrational in the management of their economic and emotional affairs, it now appears that humans are also especially and acutely subject to irrationality in the political sphere.
My book “Red Genes, Blue Genes: Exposing Political Irrationality,” (“RGBG”) provides the first book-length, cross-disciplinary analysis of human political irrationality. I not only introduce and review the evidence for political irrationality, I also review suggestions for antidotes and correctives, new ways of working toward rational democracy in the future.
Coping with political irrationality is arguably the world’s most important challenge. All attempts to manage humanity’s other problems (war, disease, environmental degradation, poverty, etc.) will be hampered by ineffective government. Government failure is an inevitable by-product of political irrationality.
Perhaps the biggest cost of our irrational group-bias is that it sustains an inefficient two-party duopoly. The elites of both parties are able to perennially escape scrutiny by provoking hostility against the other party. Democrats exploit hostility toward Republicans in order to monopolize liberals, while Republicans exploit hatred of liberals to monopolize conservatives. Americans become like the citizens of two parallel, Soviet states, with most voters turning out at every election to vote for the same party as in the previous election. Consequently, our Congressional incumbents are re-elected at the Soviet-style rate of 95%.
However, though we continue to vote our politicians into office, we have recently been reminded that we cannot trust political elites to look out for the public interest. This was demonstrated in the 2008-2009 financial crisis, which occurred when politicians from both parties were bribed by Wall Street to look the other way. Regrettably, most citizens are so blinded by partisan bias that they habitually blame all social ills on the other political party, limiting their political hopes to fantasies of permanent electoral victory. There is a better way.
An understanding of political irrationality provides us with a fresh perspective on the illogic of our current political landscape. Consider the following brief examples, each of which is explored further below (or at length in RGBG):