Thursday, September 6, 2012

Adherence to Identity Trumps Policy Coherence

We all know the ethical and political preferences of individuals and political parties are often not consistent or logically coherent. But how can we explain these deviations? The simplest answer is that parties, like individuals, are pluralistic entities with many competing impulses. Action is the result of complex bargaining processes among internal coalitions and is highly contingent on contextual factors and chance. But that doesn't get us very far when trying to explain specific instances of ridiculous ideological contradiction (like how Republicans oppose market efficiency-increasing pollution taxes). An interesting explanation that seems to be gaining currency is a general formulation of the idea of cultural cognition: basically that beliefs and preferences are driven largely by adherence identity and group.

Matt Yglesias has a great blog post about conservative opposition to zoning deregulation in Hollywood that perfectly illustrates the idea: the policy preference for regulation-free markets is trumped by the cultural allergy to urban density and its associations (bicycles, Democratic voting patterns, liberal new urbanist principles, young people, diversity, etc.). For more on this idea check out Jonathan Haidt's new book The Righteous Mind.

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