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Basic Principles and Useful Heuristics

What is Power and Why Does It Feel So Good?

Being at the mercy of another person means feeling one cannot get away from them, because they have something one wants badly and that something is not readily available elsewhere.

Connecting the "Is" of Human Nature to the "Ought" of Politics

“With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true, beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. ... Individualism will also be unselfish and unaffected.” Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism …“…conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectibility. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerable ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order.” Russell Kirk, Ten Conservative Principles

Is Moral Indignation a Necessary Emotion?

Of course, some people need to be punished as a way to deter further bad behavior and protect the rest of us. We can still savor the satisfaction of someone getting their “just desserts” without elevating what is essentially a vindictive emotion to a moral principle.

Reconciling the Politics of Responsibility and the Politics of Conviction

As an imaginary politician, I care deeply about the environment, affordable housing, universal healthcare, maintaining a robust economy, the value of work, and the “American Project”: the idea of unity in diversity as we work together for the common good. Then I chill the passion to develop specific policy goals and proposals. And I make sure my proposed policies do not become an end in themselves but are easily scaled back, revised or reversed if they don’t work.

The Net Price of a Public College Education in the US

… if you’re on a tight budget and seeking a two- or four-year degree, public colleges are the way to go (unless, of course, a private school is offering a fantastic scholarship package). My basic message is that college degrees from public institutions are usually very affordable. Scary news stories about the cost of getting a degree usually refer to the “sticker price” of colleges, but that’s a ridiculous metric: only the affluent pay anything close to the full sticker price. What’s important is the net price of college - that is, after grants and scholarships.

With Liberty, Justice, and More Disposable Income for All

In 1960, food, clothing, housing, healthcare, and transportation accounted for 86% of household spending. That left just 14% for everything else. In 2017, food, clothing, housing, and healthcare accounted for 73% of household spending… Progress has been made.

Neither Right Nor Left Nor In-Between: Thinking Outside The Line

There is no natural connection between being pro-business and anti-environment. Nor natural connection between embracing gender fluidity and advocating for a more generous social welfare system. Nor between being a fiscal conservative and an evangelical Christian. These political orientations are correlated in the US, not because they “naturally” go together but because the American system of government favors a two-party system, which is turn favors broad coalitions. This is not the case in European countries with strong multi-party traditions, where you find much greater mixing of political views than in the US.

The Feeder Streams of Happiness

The feeder streams of happiness include:

  • Sense of control: you can actually change a situation

  • Sense of purpose: there are things you want to achieve

Personal Initiative and Happiness

Personal initiative is a proactive and goal-oriented mindset, characterized by long-term focus and persistence in the face of obstacles and setbacks.  Such a mindset is action-oriented, planful, and anticipatory: quickly turning goals into actions - with back-up plans ready just in case.

The Power To Leave Empowers

Having more power makes it easier to lie, cheat, steal, inflict pain, or otherwise engage in bad behavior. …Having less power means being at the mercy of someone more powerful. …Being at the mercy of another person means feeling one cannot get away from them, because they have something one wants badly and that something is not readily available elsewhere.

The Dark Side of Empathy

Empathy is also associated with ingroup bias and outgroup antagonism. One is more likely to feel the joys and sorrows of some people more than others, especially if they’re the same ethnicity.

Moral Outrage and Governing Wisely

Moral outrage makes ends absolute: This must stop! That must happen! No ifs, ands, or buts…. Governing wisely is about setting priorities, a process that assumes scarcity: the principle that valued ends require scarce resources with alternative uses.

Designing a Society for Human Flourishing: A Framework

In its original Founding-Father sense, happiness was akin to felicity, a kind of well-being that comes from living a purposeful and productive life.  Today we would call that sense of well-being flourishing. …So what does a government need to do to create conditions conducive to flourishing?  Put differently, what does a government need to do to increase the sense of control and self-efficacy of its citizens, allowing them to pursue purposeful and productive lives?

Free Will and Decision-Making Machines

It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the idea of being a machine with free will. It would be easier if we expanded our understanding of machine and shrank our notion of free will.

Making Science Real: A Guide

The rest of us rely on mental shortcuts to arrive at our opinions on climate change - mostly to do with trust and perceived plausibility. In other words, how we feel/think about climate change depends in large part on whom we trust or don’t trust, as well as what information, explanations, and opinions fit with our understanding of how the world works. This is not an irrational way for non-scientists to approach a subject as complex as climate change. 

But we could do better. We could live the words “science is real”…