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.

Envy, the least fun mistake

Maxim 17 from Richard Zeckhauser is “Strive hard not to be envious – see your friend’s success as your gain”. Envy is an obstacle to be recognized early in the decision making process warned Charlie Munger in his Psychology of Human Misjudgment speech.

A 2021 Sports Illustrated profile of Pete Sampras addressed his envy, or lack of. When Roger Federer broke his record of fourteen major wins. A friend recalled this conversation:

‘“I said, ‘It’s getting close. What do you think?’ ” recalls (Paul)Annacone.
“It’s pretty amazing!” Sampras replied.
“What do you mean?” pressed Annacone who, ironically, would go on to coach Federer.
“Well,” said Sampras, “I just know how hard it was for me. If anyone else can do it, that’s just too good. That’s amazing!”

Zeckhauser, Munger, and Sampras all express an idea seen every weekend at the local 5k race. There’s little envy because every runner is running their own race. The couch to 5k crowd is happy to finish and the elite runners are happy to see them finish too. Toward the front of the pack the attitude is that each person competes against the clock.

If envy is uninvited should it, like spam emails, be blocked and never surface in the mental inbox? Maybe not. Denise Shull advises her clients to accept and understand their emotions because emotions are information. But what kind of information? Shull said:

“Put your feelings into buckets. Which feelings are childhood repetition? Which ones are because the other guy is doing better? Which one is your market recognition? Which one is your intuition? People can learn this, but most men have been told to put all that stuff aside.”

When Hank Aaron was asked if he was going to give Barry Bonds the home run record, Aaron replied that he wasn’t giving anything, that records were made to be broken.

There’s this snarky idea that if you’re one in a million there’s still 8,000 people like you in the world. That’s true. But it only takes thirty-three binary variables to get to 8 billion unique answers. Do you like licorice? Y/N. Have you seen Star Wars? Y/N. And so on.

In that sense everyone is running their own race and envy is irrelevant. I think Shull is right about envy as information, the winning move is to play it like Munger, Aaron, and Sampras.

Unlocking the restricted actions section

There are (at least) four ways actions are restricted: macro-culture like society, micro-culture like an office, job mandates, and personal psychology. For Andrew Sullivan, the obstacle was the last one, the self.

“What I find that marijuana does, and to some extent — mushrooms definitely do, meditation does as well — is that they suppress the ego. They weaken the ego.” – Andrew Sullivan to Tyler Cowen, August 2021

Psychedelics, for Sullivan, offer a change in perspective., “You’re less attached to your own pride. Your mind is taken out of its normal rut,” he explained.

How much THC is TBD, but Sullivan’s point is healthy. Ego, for instance, is part of the reason Jason Blum is successful making horror movies. Ego, is part of the reason, Bank of America succeeded. The proletariat, it turns out, is profitable. “I don’t care where an idea comes from,” said Gregg Popovich, “You have to be comfortable enough in your own skin to realize that an idea can come from anywhere.”

A healthy amount of ego helped make Friends. An unhealthy ego meanwhile leads to dentists opening restaurants or financiers on movie sets.

This is one of those that-kinda-makes-sense ideas but a regular dose certainly helps.

Home Run King and Zen Master

I had hit 750-some-odd home runs, and Barry Bonds was slowly snipping at my heels — and people were saying that the reason that he was getting so close was because he was doing some things illegal. I didn’t know he was doing anything illegal, I’ve never known him.

But that’s what they were saying. And they were saying that, ‘Are you going
to give him the record?’ I said, ‘I’m not giving him anything.’ I said records are made to be broken. And no matter who it is, somebody is going to break somebody’s record, you know.

Hank Aaron, 2018