Maybe people aren’t as stupid as psychologists think

While browsing the slides from Joshua Porter’s lecture, Leveraging Cognitive Bias in Social Design, I came across the following one, which presents the canonical example of the conjunction fallacy from Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman:

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.      Which is more probable?         1. Linda is a bank teller.        2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

I wonder if a better explanation for the fact that about 85% of people pick the latter option is that, rather than the second option seeming simply “more ‘representative’ of Linda based on the description of her, even though it is clearly mathematically less likely,” people assume that the first option is implicitly “Linda is a bank teller and not active in the feminist movement.”

Rather than a logical fallacy, this may just be a case of a very common misinterpretation of the question.

Greenspan’s mea culpa

Alan Greenspan reflects on how his ideological belief in the ability of markets to self-regulate has been shaken. Henry Waxman, Chairman of the Oversight [pun?] and Government Reform Committee is on a bit of a self-righteous crusade and is obviously looking for a sound bite from Greenspan (which he gets). But it’s an effective approach, and they’re questions that need to be strenuously pursued. And then followed by formal censure.


Could you have a base without a superstructure?

I don’t believe the terms ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’ were articulated by Marx/Engels until later, but the gist of these distinctions is already apparent in the earlier work, The German Ideology. Reading the first part, on Feuerbach, one can’t fail to notice that while the critique of the young Hegelians is in itself generally cogent, the reasons for what appears to be a relatively simplistic conception of history, in which productive forces and relations are the real bases of the shadow play of ideas and conceptions (religion, politics, law, philosophy), are almost entirely lacking. Marx and Engels provide nothing other than rhetoric as to why we should swing vigorously from one pole, in which the self-unfolding of Spirit (or what have you) determines history, to the opposite pole, in which the development and revolutionizing of productive forces determines history.

The much more reasonable conclusion is of course that both are mutually dependent. And while later Marxists generally attempt to interpret Marx this way (and decry those who adopt a naive economic determinism as “vulgar Marxists”), there is little in The German Ideology to prevent the reader from reaching this vulgar conclusion.

If the economic base “gives rise to” or “conditions” the superstructure, then that may leave room for the superstructure to in turn exert causal influence on the base. But why make the base dominant at all? What historical or philosophical evidence is there for making the base the more fundamental of the two? It cannot be the case that a superstructure could not exist without a base, because by the same token an economic base could not exist without a superstructure (law, politics, mores, etc.). In the haste to undertake the worthy and necessary criticism of the (young) Hegelian over-emphasis on the role of the concept/idea/Spirit, early Marxism clearly swung too far in the opposite direction.

Ontario launches anti-poverty plan amidst economic turmoil

The Ontario government has launched a comprehensive anti-poverty plan that is receing warm reception from advocates like the 25in5 Network for Poverty Reduction. The fact that this has taken place during particularly bad times for Ontario’s economy is all the more impressive, and makes me proud to be an Ontarian–not something that happens every day. As is recognized today by nearly everyone, from economists to G20 leaders, now is actually a fairly auspicious time for large-scale government investment, not just in physical infrastructure but also in “social infrastructure,” of which poverty reduction is a key componenent.

In related news that makes this development even more timely, a study from UC Berkeley has found that the negative effects of poverty on children’s brains can in some cases be so severe that they resemble the impact of a stroke.