Do Politicians Act Rationally?

Well, I wrote an article (in Hebrew) about it in the Newspaper Haaretz. An English translation appeared in the English edition. Here is an appetizer:

During World War II, many fighter planes returned from bombing missions in Japan full of bullet holes. The decision was made to reinforce the planes, and their natural tendency was to bolster the hardest-hit sections in the body of the plane. However, the mathematician George Dantzig suggested that it was precisely the parts that were hit less that needed to be armored. Was he right?

Months after all the commentators described Hillary Clinton’s chances as so slim she was bound to lose her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, she continued to fight for her candidacy, saying she believed she would win and keeping up her attack on her rival. Did she act rationally? And did Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni act rationally when each declared victory on election night? Did Meretz supporters who voted for Kadima act rationally? Is there an election method in which it would be rational for all voters to vote in accordance with their genuine preferences?

My conclusion is:

The prevailing popular feeling is that our politicians are clearly acting irrationally – but my impression is different. The problem is not irrational behavior but a real difficulty in making decisions under conditions of uncertainty, especially in a reality made up of multiple players with genuine – and sometimes immeasurably great – differences in terms of goals, interests and values.

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4 Responses to Do Politicians Act Rationally?

  1. Nick says:

    There is a selection bias at work in the first example of the planes. The planes that returned got hit in the hardiest places- or else they wouldn’t have returned at all.

  2. The public is generally not aware on the complexities involved.

    That the public does not understand fully the thoughts behond politicians’ actions, does not mean they are always rational.

    There is a lot of biases and lack of knowledge thoughts.
    Ego considerations play no doubt a role beyond their rational side.
    Much research has shown that when ego is involved we act in weired ways. Everythng feels heavier, self regulatory resources get depleted much faster and so on.
    When in a room full of mirrors people act quite differently.

  3. danny kaye says:

    Perhaps politicians always act rationally but, we who are not in possession of their view of the world, are not able to recognise that because of our limited understanding of their agenda?

    (where rationally implies an internally consistent logic to their actions)

  4. Gil Kalai says:

    A post on this Matter on Yosi Levy’s blog and some more discussion (all in Hebrew) can be found here:

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