Posts tagged nutters

On dialogue with crazy people and the OECD

Am I one of the “paid up crew for the cratocrats*”? Am I “just instinctively carving a niche out of what’s available”? Am I “leading the conversation in a dance of small circles”? Buggered if I know what they’re on about, but this is what some people who have never met me think of me:
The implications of geoengineering schemes for NZ, third comment from end

Yes, it’s on a chemtrails conspiracy site and yes, they’re greatly misrepresenting what happened at the workshop I helped organise. But let’s ignore that for now, because I don’t believe it’s good enough to just say “nutters”. We shouldn’t ignore what anyone has to say, because at the heart of all conspiracy theories must be something that is personally useful to the people who have those beliefs. I’d put forward the idea that conspiracy theories are a comforting simplification of the complexities of the world. They are psychologically useful.

So that’s how they start, but why do they persist, when there is a colossal lack of evidence that supports those beliefs in any rational way? Is it just because it’s hard to back down from a public belief? The most interesting idea I’ve read recently about this is the idea that, for people to change their beliefs in the face of evidence, they need to have a face-saving way to back down, and that need gives you a lever to get in there and convince people.

Given that my job involves putting forward evidence with the goal of changing people’s minds, it’s a topic of perpetual fascination for me how little people’s beliefs and actions depend upon the evidence in front of them. The question for me is always “how I can I present the body of scientific evidence in a way that’s fair to the evidence and will convince people to act upon that evidence?” I think I’m doing it right, but I’m always keen on hints for how to do it better.

Alternatively, we have this statement from another group influencing New Zealand:
“Favourable tax treatment of housing… should be removed. These distortions exaggerated the surge in house prices, giving rise to wider wealth inequalities… Despite the slump in housing demand, property prices remain at high levels relative to rents and average incomes, keeping affordability low for less affluent households…”

Was that the Green Party? No, it was the OECD in their Economic Survey of New Zealand, released yesterday. (For those of you who aren’t employed doing economic policy, the OECD is roughly the equivalent of IBM, back when IBM mattered. You remember, “no-one ever got fired for buying IBM”? No policy wonk is ever going to get fired for doing what the OECD says, no matter how dead-eyed and slack-jawed that wonk is.

And of course, being the OECD, they also repeated the usual list of neo-liberal, Washington consensus recommendations that Don Brash will shortly be pushing on us: less government spending, more privatisation of power companies and state-owned assets, less environmental regulation, more market-based water charging, and the use of the police and armed forces to cull economically unproductive sectors of the population.

But hey, it’s the OECD, so you can’t just say “bunch of nutters” and ignore them, despite the lack of evidence for their macroeconomic policies. Instead, they’re in a situation of stating beliefs that are politically useful, rather than psychologically useful.

Still, those beliefs do change, as in the quote above. They were not suggesting capital gains taxes in their 2009 economic survey. So how to push them further?

Oh, and in other news, I arrived in NZ nine years ago. I will presume that any UK flags that I see in Wellington today are in my honour.

* – What the hell is a cratocrat anyway? I think it is being used to mean groups who are in power who have no dominant ideology other than being in power, as opposed to say technocrats who are in power coz they are technical experts in particular fields, or democrats who are voted into power. The only academic references I can find are in truely obscure stuff about power structures in post-Soviet Russia (like this one by Foursov), how that terminology made it’s way into the crazy corners of conspiracy culture, I have no idea.