Belmont Club

The Iron Fist

This chart from the Washington Post and ABC appears to show Romney breaking away. How does this happen?


Why is it that trends can be tight for a while and then suddenly one side pulls away? History is full of these discontinuities. Glenn Harlan Reynolds ascribes such sudden shifts to what he calls a Preference Cascade.

After 9/11,enough people started flying flags to make other people feel safe about doing it too. Now you can see a lot of flags on the cars in that garage. Have people become more patriotic? Maybe. But more likely they’ve just become more willing to show it.

This illustrates, in a mild way, the reason why totalitarian regimes collapse so suddenly … Such regimes have little legitimacy, but they spend a lot of effort making sure that citizens don’t realize the extent to which their fellow-citizens dislike the regime. If the secret police and the censors are doing their job, 99% of the populace can hate the regime and be ready to revolt against it – but no revolt will occur because no one realizes that everyone else feels the same way.

This works until something breaks the spell, and the discontented realize that their feelings are widely shared, at which point the collapse of the regime may seem very sudden to outside observers – or even to the citizens themselves. Claims after the fact that many people who seemed like loyal apparatchiks really loathed the regime are often self-serving, of course. But they’re also often true.

In his view there are no “sudden shifts”. Reynolds argues that the underlying reality often changes unnoticed before it becomes manifest. The changes stays hidden until they revealed by some event which triggers a preference cascade. What we are witnessing is not the change, but the change in perception.

In this link Jon Parshall describes to an audience how disaster crept up unnoticed on the Kido Butai until it was finally made manifest at 10:25 am local time, June 4, 1942. But the disaster that unfolded in that moment was much more deeply rooted. It lay in the failure of Yamamoto’s strategic conception; in the damage to Shokaku and Zuikaku at the Coral Sea that kept them from Midway. But none of this was obvious until the Iron Fist came plummeting down from the sky. Then it was OMG.

Is Romney pulling away? If so, when was the fatal moment for Barack Obama’s campaign?

Open thread.

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