Home > Micro, politics > Revealed Policy Priorities; or “How I know the Pro-Life movement doesn’t care about babies”

Revealed Policy Priorities; or “How I know the Pro-Life movement doesn’t care about babies”

Political rhetoric is cheap talk; all the words in the world don’t change the facts on the ground, but it’s useful for signalling purposes.

So, here’ s a question: if I can’t believe anything political that people say, how can I know what they really think?

Consider this model (I’m basing this idea somewhat off the revealed preference idea in consumer theory):

  • Everyone has political priorities.  For simplicity, let’s use a subset of the possibilities: X, Y or Z.  For example, X could stand for  “Minimize abortions”, or Y could stand for “protect the unborn”.   Basically, this is not public choice theory, but I *think* that if you were to do this rigorously, then {X, not X} (for example) would partition the social choice rule in a well-defined way.
  • Except people are not allowed to simply pick political priorities!  They are allowed to signal X, say, as cheap talk, but in order to try to implement X, they would need to pick policy actions, say from among  a set {a,b,c}.  For example, a might be “package of onerous regulations on abortion clinics” and b might be “prenatal support for mothers”.

OK.  So let’s think about how this might work in real life.  A political movement adopts a political platform, which is a set of policy actions {a,c}; that group’s cheap talk indicates that those actions are to address priority Y.   Simple.  Look at how policy actions correlate with priorities.

For example, {a,b} above would implement priority Y… that is,  both policies protect fetuses (or at least it is reasonable to believe that they do).

Then, I know that a implements X, but b does not implement X.    So the difference between priorities X and Y is that supporters of X should be much less likely to support b than Y supporters.

Let’s g one step further… let’s add another policy (c: “accessible contraceptives”) and let’s give Z a meaning… in particular, Z will stand for “punish sexually deviant women (i.e. sluts)”.  I claim that these priorities are implemented as follows (given common assumptions among the public which may or may not be correct):

  • X: {a,c}
  • Y: {a,b}
  • Z: {a}

Does the pro-life movement support contraceptive coverage (c)?   Nope.  So X is out.   Does the pro-life movement support enhance prenatal support to mothers?  Nope, so Y is out.

Now, some individuals calling themselves pro-life may have priority Y (I was one of them, when I still called myself pro-life)… as I see it, that sort of thing is possible because only the activists know the actual policies the movement is pursuing, the rest of us are inattentive, so we’re lured by the group’s cheap talk.

There’s a few caveats here:

  1. I wouldn’t use this method to determine an individual’s priorities, since an individual can have multiple competing interests/views.   But for political movements, I think this is absolutely fair… I’m finding the priorities that those in the movement can agree on.   I.e., I’m not talking about you personally.
  2. My example doesn’t really include an exhaustive list of priorities or policies, which is fair.  Tho, I’d claim that what I have here is good enough and the same pattern will continue to show up no matter how careful you are.
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