There are a series of issues that, I think, heavily condition one's political beliefs. They are empirically solvable, and this is good.
One could be a perfectly coherent communist that accepted that communism doesn't produce as much material wealth as capitalism, and ends up stagnating, and even accept that a fraction of rulers will be murderous, and accept everything bad that has been said about communism, and still be a communist just because one has the idea that it is just and good. This happens because of the is-ought gap: from a mere description of reality no moral conclusion follows.
But most of us care about things like lifespan, health, wealth, happiness, meaningful lives, etc, and so we can use that as a yardstick to compare political institutions. Of course, agreeing on what exactly matters, and how to aggregate over people, and whether or not rights matter intrinsically or just as a means to another goal (I'm looking at you, utilitarians!), is a difficult task. But still, I think we can safely predict that more rational, smart, and informed people will gravitate towards the same solution for political questions. That attractor right now seems to be something like a State that upholds the rule of law and free markets, and some degree of redistribution. There is a full gamut of proposals here, from school vouchers to fully public education, from basic incomes to earned income tax credits, etc. This does not mean that this is correct, though, just that if you want to argue against that position, you'd better do lots of literature reviews to tell the consensus that they are wrong and you are right.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. Here there's a list of questions whose answers condition to some extent the political beliefs one will hold. That is, to change those political beliefs, one would have to deal with these questions.
Of course, all data is so within a theoretical framework, and the questions below are open to some interpretation, and there are also some minor normative elements hidden there (What does 'work well' mean, what do we mean by 'exploitation', etc), but I still think these questions are largely not about oughts but about is-s.
- What caused the Great Depression?
- What caused the Great Recession?
- Why did literacy improve?
- How were living conditions for the elderly before public pensions?
- What was the origin of the modern Welfare State?
- How well does worker ownership of firms work?
- How well do the poor without a Welfare State?
- Can computers solve the economic calculation problem?
- How easy it is to plan a system such as a national economy?
- Was Hobbes right? Is the State a necessary institution?
- Why were central banks created?
- Where is the problem in our current financial system?
- Does inequality generate social instability?
- Are voters irrational?
- How well does democracy work?
- Is democracy the best political system to organise a society?
- To what extent market self-regulation can ensure quality and safety?
- Are there active (besides rule of law, police, etc) State policies that foster economic growth vs a counterfactual?
- Same, but to get economic growth kickstarted in LDCs?
- What is the effect of the minimum wage?
- Is there a one-size-fits-all political framework? (For example, for each society, does democracy works best?, or some societies are better governed by direct democracy, others by monarchies?, etc)
- How bad are informational asymmetry problems?
- How prevalent, on the one hand, and solvable, on the other, are market failures in general?
- Why do the conditions of the average citizen improve?
- Which contributed the most to the improvement in the life conditions of workers: unions and 'class warfare' or economic growth?
- Is it possible to accelerate the pace of general technological innovation?
- How self-interested are people? How well does the Homo Economicus assumption describe human beings? Is altruism something so important as to take it into account explicitly in economic models?
- Is the environment degrading? At which rate?
- Is there race or gender discrimination prevalent in markets?
- Does capitalism generate power structures that oppress people? (e.g. patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, etc)
- What caused the Industrial Revolution?
- Did the First World got rich by exploiting the Third?
- Does industry protectionism work?
- Does capitalism require some sort of exploitation to get started and/or get going?
- Are we in the path of overpopulation?
- Does democracy bend to the will of the powerful, or is it generally responsive to the popular will?
- What are the effects of immigration in the receiving society?
- What are the effects of marriage on welfare and economic security?
- To what extent is education just signaling?
- Does greater government expenditure increase self-reported happiness?
Comments from WordPress
- Why I am not a Bowmanite neoliberal, and why that doesn’t matter | Nintil 2016-08-30T13:21:37Z
[…] Furthermore, I think that the main debate shouldn’t not be about values (redistribution, how much weight to give to the poor, what’s the correct ethical theory), but about facts. I wrote about that here . […]
In academic work, please cite this essay as:
Ricón, José Luis, “Empirical questions at the root of ideological disagreements”, Nintil (2016-07-20), available at https://nintil.com/empirical-questions-at-the-root-of-ideological-disagreements/.