Are older people worse politicians? (& 4 good questions)

CBS News presents a survey suggesting people want younger politicians. Okay, sounds great! But not so fast. We’ve got questions.

Why am I seeing this? Courtesy of Sir David Spiegelhalter, this question wants us to consider why this is on a screen eighteen inches from our nose. Is it because it’s essential information for the functioning of our lives, like the weather or the email about our daughter’s swim meet location change? Or rather than essential it’s emotional like politics, religion, or social media brouhahas?

Am I switching questions? Courtesy of Daniel Kahneman, this question wants us to consider what question we are really answering. Sometimes we answer an easier question because life’s questions are really freaking difficult. Plus, we’re lazy. ‘Should centenarians be senators?’ doesn’t lead us to balance the merits of experience and patience relative to bias and cognitive decline. Rather, we’re reactionary and switch the questions to: ‘Are these politicians good?’

Am I thinking symmetrically? Courtesy of Bob Moesta, this question wants us to consider when opposites are the wrong solutions. Is it that legislators are too old or that their policies are antiquated? The solutions to loud, more, and high are not necessarily quieter, less, and lower. The solution to older may not be younger.

Why is this the right metric? Courtesy of Billy Beane, this question wants us to consider the best metric for the chosen outcomes. What if rather than age, the best metric was presence (or absence!) of a law degree. About half of the 117th US senate went to law school. Is that good? About two-thirds went to college in the state they represent. Is that good? Is education a better predictor of senator success?

Spiegelhalter was first with this idea (in my notes) but it’s Tim Harford’s Data Detective that I suggest.

Kahneman talks about A LOT of related ideas in Thinking Fast and Slow.

Moesta talks about symmetrical suggestions in his Circuit Breaker podcast. It’s also in Rory Sutherland’s Alchemy.

Beane’s story is told in Moneyball.

Why and Am I are hard questions because they force us towards discomfort. Why takes work, sometimes impossible amounts. It’s easier not to. Am I forces us to face our ego. Sometimes we are wrong.

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