Baloney Land

Persuasion tactics are all around us if you know how to spot them. Behavioral economics and government “nudge” units are versions of persuasion tactics.

These are mental hacks that folks think they can use to get you to do things that they believe are the right things to do.

If you’d like to know, a good place to start is Robert Cialdini’s book, Pre-sausion, A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.

The title of the book is misleading. Perhaps that’s a persuasion tactic, itself? The book isn’t about ‘a’ way to influence and persuade, but rather covers a laundry list of these tactics that have been discovered over the past few decades, describing origins and research.

Cialdini even broaches the topic of morality in using these tactics and warns that one risk of is loss of trust as people discover they’ve been manipulated.

Reading the book will give you a new way to see the world and you will see these tactics everywhere and you might recognize how much baloney you are surrounded with


I never liked the question, “What’s your favorite…?” Here’s why.

Even as a kid, when asked what was my favorite color or sports team, I didn’t like this question and folks didn’t like my answer:

“It depends.”

They often respond, “You have to pick one.”

“Why? Do you want me to make something up?”

Seth Godin explains my side well here.

Most people agree with me, but have been programmed to pick a favorite and don’t even seem to realize how inconsistent picking a favorite is to their own behavior. They think I’m the crazy one.

A very important fact, indeed

I agree with Yuval Levin, from his EconTalk podcast, about a simple point and an important fact:

I think Conservatives today don’t often enough make the simple point: that, when it comes to economics the market system that we are advocating has been the best thing that has ever happened to the poor in human history. And has dramatically reduced extreme poverty around the world and is still doing it right now; has been the way in which the needy and the vulnerable have been lifted up. It’s worked far better than anything else we’ve every tried, far better than anything the Left has tried to do economically. And that should matter. That’s a very important fact.

I hear this point made on occasion in left/right debates by the right. I find it interesting at how quickly it gets swept under the rug by the left. It’s usually with a red herring like, “but capitalism has its problems, too.” What I find interesting is how uninterested the left is in examining this important fact.

It goes back to the Levin quote in the previous post, “…the left takes for granted a thriving economy that just comes in the background…

This very important fact, in fact, was key in dislodging my liberal thinking. Before it was pointed out to me, I too, took the thriving economy for granted.

But, when it was pointed out to me, it was eye opening. Rather than sweeping it under the rug, I went silent and thought, if that’s right, how could I be against it? Isn’t it achieving the very thing that I say I want?

Levin went on to say:

Beyond that, the kind of society we are arguing for is a society that for very solid reasons we believe is grounded in a way of life that helps advance the moral good. A way of life that helps people build the sort of lives they want. That makes government more effective at solving problems that people confront. That gives people the room to build the lives they want and protects them from the worst risks that they might confront in modern life, rather than a society that says: This is the way, and you have to do it. Which, again and again, this is how the Left approaches the life of our society: centralize, consolidate, exercise authority to push people into the right grooves.

I couldn’t help to think of this quote when I read this Wall Street Journal op-ed on the politics around the federal nutrition standards for school cafeterias.

The nutrition mandates from 2010 First Lady bill centralizes nutritional choices for school lunches to “push people into the right grooves.”

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Two more good ones from Bryan Caplan

Bryan Caplan thinks it’s inconsistent for the left to believe the poor shouldn’t be blamed for their predicament, but Republicans can be blamed for a host of things like not helping the less fortunate or ignoring evidence of global warming.

He also points out that the predatory pricing practiced by public schools yields only a 90% market share after decades, not a monopoly as folks believe.


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Wisdom of the crowds

This week had a good example of why I don’t like or trust awards given out by small groups of people. The smaller the group, the more prone that group is to be biased and wrong, making the reward meaningless. It turns out that the Nobel committee is just a set of humans, it’s not made up of supernaturals conferred with some higher degree of judgement than the rest of us.

Personally, I have no opinion on who should have won the Nobel Peace Prize, but the media seemed disappointed that Malala didn’t win.

The media should keep that in mind when they appeal to the authority of other Nobel Prize winners.

I think Nelly captured the sentiment in his song, Number One:

You aint gotta gimme my props
Just gimme the yachts
Gimme my rocks
Keep my fans coming in flocks

In other words, he agrees — awards are cheap, crowds speak.

Disagreement and compassion

Seth Godin on ways to disagree with people. He identifies a marketing problem, a political problem and a filtering problem.

I think there is also an identification problem: When someone agrees with you, but won’t admit it because it doesn’t fit in with how they self-identify. But, if I admit that I wouldn’t be in the compassionate crowd, for example.

Steven Landsburg has help for such people. Here’s his response to a commentator on his blog who cares about coffee shop owners on Capitol Hill who are being hurt by the

coffee and tee

In DC or Nebraska? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

shutdown but who must be…

…apparently oblivious to the fact that taxpayers also visit coffee shops, and that for every dime not being spent by a DC bureaucrat, there’s an extra dime available to be spent by a Nebraska farmer or a New York cab driver. Our commenter apparently remembered to care about the guys selling coffee in DC but forgot to care about the guys selling coffee in Nebraska.

The single biggest lesson that economists have to teach is that it’s important to care about everyone, not just about the people who happen to cross your path.

Small groups with power

I’ve delighted in hearing a local morning radio DJ go crazy recently because her city council refuses to approve a new and popular internet and TV service for the city where she resides, while nearly all surrounding cities have approved it.

She asks, “How is it that two guys can be holding up my consumer choice?” She’s even more put off that it’s not her own city councilman, because she can’t vote against the two hold outs.

This delights me because this particular DJ often goes on a pious rants about what she believes in and it sometimes entails sanctioning government action to force her agenda on people who don’t agree with her and “if you don’t like it, TOO BAD!!! That’s just the way it is!”

I enjoy when I see people like that confront a government action forced on them that they dislike or disagree with. That’s when they seem to discover the problems associated with giving small groups of people too much power.

Good Point

Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit, sums up Matt Ridley’s last Wall Street Journal column nicely: “Science is about evidence, not consensus.

Noise Grenades

Why are liberals so rude to the right? (via Instapundit)

The link above contains good examples of ‘noise grenades’ that I mentioned in the comments of this post. Noise grenades are what I call it when somebody rudely attacks your political leanings intent on rattling your cage, with the underlying assumption that you must be an idiot and having no intention to learn why you think the way you do.

I like this line:

Wouldn’t it be better for America if liberals really were liberal, and listened to other points of view?

It does amaze me at how often closed-minded liberals are mistaken for open-minded free spirits.

If tax cuts are spending, shouldn’t liberals want more tax cuts?

According to her comments, Nancy Pelosi considers tax cuts to be spending.

If Pelosi really believed this, shouldn’t she be as supportive of tax cuts as she is of real spending increases?

What’s the difference? Does she think tax cuts are irresponsible spending? If so, are there any other types of government spending she considers irresponsible?

My guess, the only stuff she finds irresponsible are changes that put more in the hands of citizens and less in the hands of government.