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Belmont Club

Last-Mover Advantage

March 26th, 2013 - 1:38 am

The phrase “low-information voter” was originally coined to describe people who were too stupid to vote for liberal policies because they didn’t know what was good for them. “Low-information voters will vote against labor unions, in spite of the fact that the labor unions are responsible for getting them the 40 hour work week, decent wages, employer provided health insurance, vacations, lunch hours, and breaks, among other things.”

In September 2012, comedian and political commentator Bill Maher made fun of undecided voters on his HBO program Real Time calling them “low-information voters, otherwise known as dipshits.” Also in September, the NBC program Saturday Night Live ran a mock public service announcement featuring undecided low-information voters asking questions such as “When is the election?” and “Who is the president right now? Is he or she running?”

What supposedly distinguished LIVs from “thinking” voters was their use of cues instead of individual, reasoned analysis. “Cues” are proxy measures of the underlying questions they are unwilling to answer for themselves. They are a shorthand way of arriving at answers. We look to see what other people do, and by imitating them harvest the benefit of their wisdom.

It crucially depends on whom we consider wise. Do we prefer a man of the people? Then vote for Bill Clinton since he eats at McDonald’s. Do we hate elitists? Then hate John Kerry because he goes windsurfing.

The use of cues is not entirely irrational. Because people often do not know enough to judge a thing for themselves, they sometimes look to see what well-known people choose. It’s like being at a formal dinner with a dozen forks, spoons, and knives arrayed beside the crockery. If we ape the monocled aristocrat beside us, we are bound to be right.

So with the vexing questions of the day. Does Jim Carrey hate guns? Well then guns must be bad. Does Lena Dunham like Barack Obama? If so, vote Barack Obama. We don’t need no steenkin’ knowledge. All we need to do is watch the celebrities.  Cues are “a statistic or signal that can be extracted from the sensory input by a perceiver, that indicates the state of some property of the world that the perceiver is interested in perceiving.”

Unfortunately this inflates the influence to the famous, who are very often the only source of cues that LIVs know. Their proxies are often reality-show actors, bombastic politicians, and successful self-promoters. Why? Because they’re on TV. What is worse, since these celebrities run in the same circles, their opinions tend to feed back on each other, a self-reinforcing effect that produces conventional wisdom.

Conventional wisdom is something everyone knows is true but almost no one knows why. However, as Wikipedia notes, “conventional wisdom is not necessarily true. Conventional wisdom is additionally often seen as an obstacle to the acceptance of newly acquired information. … For example, it is widely believed that conventional wisdom prior to Christopher Columbus held that the world was flat, when in actuality scholars had long accepted that the earth is a sphere.”

Once something becomes CW it is almost cast in stone. John Maynard Keynes said that after age 25 or 30 people seldom change their understanding of how economies work. Therefore if you can convince an elementary-school kid that socialism is grand and communism is even better, that locks a generation or two into that CW.

There is a big first-mover advantage to creating an item of conventional wisdom. Once established, it is hard to overthrow. Consider global warming. Ask about it and one might receive the answer: “Of course it exists.” Or ask about Operation Iraqi Freedom: “Of course it was a failure.” However, the respondent may not be able to explain why. It is just something that “everybody knows.”

Even when confronted with unremitting rebuttal it may take an extraordinarily long time to overthrow a widely held belief. For example, how long did it take for German citizens to reject the legitimacy of the Nazi government? Among the few films to explore this question is the masterpiece Decision Before Dawn, which almost nobody remembers was nominated for best picture in 1951. Decision Before Dawn was shot entirely on location inside Germany, and much of the cast probably wore a uniform only a few years before. The dialogue is something that viewers with an immediate, first-person recollection of World War Two would have found credible.

It tells the story of a German enlisted man, played by Oskar Werner, who volunteers to spy for the allies against his own government. One of the most memorable scenes is when Werner, traveling as spy through his own country, is befriended by an SS courier. As they sit in a cafe, amid dancing girls who have lost a leg or two from bombing raids, the SS man offers him a bottle of wine. “Drink, for we’ll be dead any day now,” he says. “I know the amis are coming.” And then he adds that, anyway, “we’ve given the world twelve years they’ll never forget. They’ll never get over us.”

So the answer to how long it took the conventional wisdom to change in Nazi Germany is “too long.” For strange as it may seem, the flesh often changes before the spirit. As applied to business, it implies that companies don’t change. They go bankrupt. As applied to history, it suggests that dysfunctional regimes don’t discover remorse and reform. They are simply defeated. Neither Nazi Germany nor imperial Japan experienced a change of heart. They experienced a radical change in circumstances.

The body got there before the soul.

Few in error see it coming. Or if they do, they act as if they don’t. A careen toward a cliff is often ended by the physical fact of falling over the precipice. Gamblers, drinkers, debtors, and criminals of all stripes don’t as a rule stop because the conventional wisdom has changed in their heads. They stop when they look around to see The End staring them in the face.

The way conventional wisdoms end is they are taken to their logical conclusions.

If the first-mover advantage belongs to the originators of the narrative, then an equally important role must be accorded the last movers. Their strategy is to remain the last man standing, and pick up the pieces. The last movers don’t argue; they survive. They don’t have to worry about the nonsense low-information voters believe because that entire system of cues will crash, and therefore the LIVs will be blank slates ready to be overwritten.

One often thinks of arguments as being settled by debate, via a kind of dialectic. Yet in fact arguments are often decided by survival. The narrative that wins in history isn’t the most beautiful meme; often just the one that can show up tomorrow. One interesting example of this strategy is Palestine, and similar nationalisms. Their power is based on repeatedly saying “no” to anything and everything except their maximum demands. The Israelis think that reason is important. The Palestinians know that reason is unimportant. It is far more decisive to be the last mover.

Even on the global scale this has surprising implications. The United States after World War Two probably dominated the world simply by being the last mover in that conflict. There was a whole slew of pre-existing conventional wisdoms — like colonialism — which became irrelevant because they were consumed in the cataclysm. This insight has not wholly been lost. One way to think about China and Russia’s grand strategy is that each aspires to be the last mover in a world without America.

The practical implication of this in politics is that success often depends less on persuasion than on assured survival. One of the first modern figures to realize this was James Michael Curley, four-time mayor of Boston. He had no interest in persuading the voters that he was an honest, upstanding politician. He simply set about turning Boston “into a city that would elect him.” He packed it with the Irish constituents, in the process destroying the municipal economy. But though he ruined Boston, he was re-elected as often as he wanted.

Just as the power of conventional wisdom was never in the truth of its precepts, the destruction of established memes is not always a function of rational rebuttal. Myths are compounded of some truth, but are mostly held together by human ingenuity. Their job is to create cues; to illuminate the path of the LIVs.

The real function of knowledge is to enable survival. The function of narratives is to create a mental universe for the LIVs.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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Top Rated Comments   
LIVs aren't the only problem; so are single-issue voters (SIVs). I believe that the Obama campaign was brilliant at exploiting these voters, and OFA knows these people are legion. SIVs do not care at all about the unintended consequences of their narrow reasons to vote a certain way; but then, a majority of SIVs have no idea about unintended consequences to begin with.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Although the new PJM, has been a near total disaster, I must commend it for the email post from the Stansberry Investment Advisory. This is the kind of information that needs to be constantly thrown at the LIV; basically we are facing a ruinous debt trap brought upon by Buraq and his minions with the near complete assistance of Speaker Boehner and his RINO Traitor faction.

In his post, Stansberry asserts that the trigger event for the coming debt trap will be America's loss of it's status as the World's Reserve Currency which Stansberry asserts is already starting to happen. According to Stansberry, our known plus off book real debt exceeds 20 trillion dollars right now, not counting the trillions Buraq and Boehner want to squander. At historical T Bill rates of 6%, that's $1.2 trillion in debt financing costs per year. At over 10%- which is more reallistic given our current debtor status - almost all of current Federal government revenue would be needed to finance our current debt load.

The coming collapse will likely not permit our government to run deficits - the markets of the near future, once they have been shaken to their foundation by this debt crisis , will likely not finance government borrowing of the big debtors- so we may have very little left to even finance our defense, and nothing left to fund things like Social Security, Medicare or Welfare.

But again this is the kind of info that needs to brought to the attention of the Low Info Voter damn quick or we are in big trouble.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A minor corollary to the argument is that First Mover advantage gives an enormous incentive to people to engage in dishonest conduct. Lie cheat and steal because it just doesn't matter how you get into office. Once in you can change the conditions to enable your reelection. The trick is that first election when the LIVs may have other realities to rely on. The media and public education apparatus, which extends beyond your local school teachers to include a vast array of both government and NGO agents shaping perceptions, spent decades shaping the battlefield for the 2008 election.

The US Constitution relied on interlocking checks, both formal like the role of the states in the Electoral College or the restriction to enumerated powers and customary like respect for property, to prevent the accession of deliberately seditious to power. All that relied on human agents being willing to act. All that failed.

What could have prevented the series of disasters that are following the election of 2008? If George Bush had viewed the effort to steal the election in 2000 correctly and acted then he could have shaped conditions and frustrated the efforts to insert an Obama into the Presidency in 2008. GWB proved passive in response to what had been an attempted coup d'etat that was barely frustrated by the SCOTUS. He should have responded by aggressively using all the tools at his command, such as defunding prosecution and immigration controls, to shape the electorate against the Democrats. Bush gave up his First Mover advantage.

Compare that to the struggle in Wisconsin where Gov. Scott Walker seized his narrow window of opportunity to pass legislation that changed narrative for many LIVs and shaped the conditions for future battles. He also faced an attempted coup.

By my reasoning showing restraint and not throwing people engaged in conspiracy and fraud into jail and not defunding the agencies that support them, such as charities NGOs and public universities is failing to fulfill the constitutional oath.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (56)
All Comments   (56)
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"Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any
other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst.
Nations and peoples who forget this basic truth have always paid for it
with their lives and freedoms." - Heinlein

The future history of the USofA will be determined by how soon your meme
is adopted, and how widely, by High Information voters, businesspeople and
politicians; The survival of free society will require preparation beforehand;
Governments which arise out of harsh necessity after the collapse will not
be pleasant to live in - unless one is on The List.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
LIVs from that paragon of reasoned and civil discourse in the public square Bill Maher. Soi-disant, self-confessed "comedian". That as given then perhaps his comments should be taken as given: "comedy", laughable, ludicrous, ridiculous...

But but as it appears his major audience comes form the HIV (no not necesssarily that HIV) of the "High Information Voters" from the faculties, student bodies, graduates and followers of the spokespersons and models from Social "Science" and Media Studies departments of "elite" and wannabee universities, it makes sense that he spouts absolute garbage. As in GIGO?

Sad, but probably to be expected, to see joining these useful idiots/fellow travelllers Liberal Arts Faculties who might be expected to be more astute and balanced in their affiliations were it not for the takeover of those faculties with career opportunities by the "compassionate illiberal liberals" within the past half century.

And of course the Law Factulties with BH Obams, "Constitutional Scholar" graduate and Elizabeth Warren our most renowned Cherokee? as example so the "training" from eg Harvard as Highest of the High Information Voters from the highest of the high law faculties..
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Mr Fernandez,
I love irony and I thank you for your contribution. On the one hand you seem to regard Conventional Wisdom as an arena populated by easily manipulated fools, yet your snide comments regarding the original inhabitants of Palestine, and their lack of "reasoning", reveals that you know absolutely nothing about what is happening there and that you are relying solely on Conventional Wisdom to formulate your understanding of the situation.
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Sheesh!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"The body got there before the soul."

In other words, when you got 'em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1) The link to Jim Curley's biography is a garbled mess.

2) Curley was defeated in his first attempt at re-election as Mayor of Boston in 1917, for election as Mayor in 1937, and 1941, 1951, and 1955, and for re-election in 1949.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Very nicely done, Mr. Fernandez.
So; We now know that We have a Party of Palestinians in the highest positions of Our government, according to your definition.
BUT: People like these Palestinians do not care about collateral damage of their policies.
The "last movers" may be left without an arm or leg, or two.
And anyone in America, today, can clearly see that to survive these "palestinian politicians", will require some sharply honed survival skills.
This might include the ability to "play dead" to survive.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Another historic example was the impact of relativity and quantum theory. Max Planck said,
"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's a short hop from selling Presidents like mouth wash to literally coming to believe that identity trumps principle. That's how David Duke put on blackface and became President, his dreams at last fulfilled.

That's because black folks "CANNOT be racist." Just ask any liberal moron.

Neither can women hate men. I saw that on an ad for bear repellent. Or maybe it was Amanda Marcotte's blog. Their eyes are both set so close together I become confused.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
RWE3 said:

"Aside from Conventional Wisdom, people are capable of “logical” but uniformed analysis that leads them to totally erroneous conclusions."

There are a bunch of classic math puzzles that turn conventional wisdom on its head. "Business Insider" recently described many of these puzzles, refer to:

I first heard of "The Monty Hall Problem" over a decade ago and it had me baffled for many hours. The key to understanding the Monty Hall Problem is to restate the problem with 50 doors rather than 3 doors.

The above link also refers to "The Birthday Paradox". The Birthday Paradox provides a good way to make some money at a party where there are 30 or more people by betting someone that there are two people in the room with the same birthday (there's a better 70.6% probability that two people have the same birthday in a random group of 30 people). These paradoxes based upon probability tend to contradict "conventional wisdom". One wonders how much illogical human behavior is driven by this contradiction.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One of the problems in intelligence is getting it right for the wrong reasons. The analyst then proceeds to make future estimates based on faulty methodology or assumptions and gets burned big time.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not "logic." In Phillipe Roger's 2005 book, "The American Enemy: The history of French Anti-Americanism," he writes "in France, anti-Americanism's existence always preceded any essence of America." This is also known in less erudite circles as putting the cart before the horse.

And Sartre, the infinitely stupid Sayd Qutb, and the photographer Robert Frank all did the same thing with America within a 10 years period in their work. They could've just looked at a post card of the Empire State Building, never come to America and essentially done the same intellectual expressions.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The following Wikipedia article provides a better description of the "The Birthday Paradox" along with a useful table:
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The "birthday problem" is legit.

The "Monty Hall" problem is not. Anyway it's only the junior version of the paradox, there's an "End of the World" version that is much more clearly bogus. Take the same model, that there is a one in a trillion chance on any given day, that the earth will be hit by an asteroid and all life wiped out. Do the math from the last actual strike, and there is no chance we are standing here. Oops.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Once something becomes CW it is almost cast in stone John Maynard Keynes said that after age 25 or 30 people seldom change their understanding of how economies work.

Oh yes, back in those lazy yesteryears when we didn't actually change our economy every two or three years.

Anyway, are we not ALL LIVs, compared to The Bernanke? Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus; and we petty men walk under his huge legs, and peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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