Articles about politics

Proofiness – Charles Seife

This is a great survey of all the ways to lie with statistics, and how to avoid being fooled by them. So many of the things we read and hear are based on numerical data, and often it’s hard to argue with them — “the numbers don’t lie”, they say. And it’s true: numbers don’t lie. But people lie, sometimes using words and sometimes using numbers.

There are sections on politics, discussing gerrymandering and also counting election results. Seife’s analysis of the 2000 US presidential election is excellent, laying bare the frankly ridiculous voting systems in use. He also reveals what the actual result should have been, after all the court cases and recounts. His conclusion surprised me, but it is actually the only sensible option even though it would probably have caused outrage.

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Get it Together — Zoe Williams

I love this book. It’s a heartfelt, clear-eyed, inspiring clarion call for everyone to get together to make the world more livable. Her ideas are all so practical and achievable that I actually feel hopeful that they could really happen.

If more people read this book, the world would be a better place.

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The Confidence Trap — David Runciman

The Confidence TrapAn interesting survey of the working of democracies, as illuminated by their responses to the last hundred years of democratic crises. The idea is that the inherent flexibility of democracies is their main strength but also an inescapable weakness:

This is the confidence trap. Democracies are adaptable. Because they are adaptable, they build up long-term problems, comforted by the knowledge that they will adapt to meet them. Debt accumulates; retrenchment is deferred. Democracies are also competitive, which means that politicians will blame each other for their failure to tackle the long-term problems. However, they do it in a way that gives the lie to urgency, because if it were truly urgent, then to they would compromise to fix it. Instead they squabble. They are comforted as they squabble by their knowledge that the system is resilient.

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Low voter turnout favours the Right

Does low voter turnout favour right-wing political parties? Common wisdom says it does: for example, non-voters tend to be poorer people who would have favoured left-wing parties. In the recent New Zealand general election, the centre-right National Party won an absolute majority in parliament, but only about 77% of eligible voters actually voted. I found some interesting data on non-voters and used it to see whether the result would have been different if all eligible voters had exercised their democratic duty. The results:

1. Yes, low voter turnout favours the right-wing parties.

2. If everyone had voted, the result would have been much closer: the Labour Party may have been able to form a government. Continue reading

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