I’m continuing my read of Somin’s book on ignorance and democracy, and getting increasingly depressed, as he methodically marshals research demonstrating both the depths of our ignorance and the inadequacy of the so-called “shortcuts” we use (reliance on our everyday experience, political parties, etc.) to improve the bases on which we make our political choices.
Somin talks a lot about the very human tendency to “cherry pick,” to focus on information that supports our preconceptions and preferred beliefs. (As the old Simon and Garfunkel lyric goes: man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest…) I am going to prove the point by sharing research that supports one of my preconceptions: studies indicating that highly informed voters are disproportionately socially liberal, fiscally conservative, and supportive of higher taxes.
Now, without going back to the cited research and examining its definition of these terms, we can’t know for sure what is meant by “socially liberal”—although we can reasonably assume that it means what it does in everyday parlance– pro-choice, pro-gay rights, “live and let live” folks.
Fiscal conservatism is a more ambiguous descriptor. For me, at a minimum it means paying as we go: if you invade a country, you pay for it. Then and there, not three generations hence. It doesn’t mean government emulating business, but it does mean that government operates in a businesslike fashion. For some self-described “fiscal conservatives,” of course, it means cutting social programs (but generally not business subsidies, or favored tax treatment for farmers and oil interests). I would hope that all people who consider themselves fiscally conservative would endorse lots of transparency, so that (the few) voters who follow such things could know what is on or off the books (and increasingly, who’s cooking them).
Likewise, “supportive of higher taxes” raises the reasonable question: higher than what? For what?
That caveat aside, a willingness to support “higher taxes” is often shorthand for a willingness to pay for the common good.
Evidently, it’s also a shorthand for understanding the way things work—and the fact that we get what we pay for.