Robert Putnam, Rollback Analysis, and Representative Democracy all walk into a bar…

This week’s reading “Political Competition, Partisanship and Interpersonal Trust in Electoral Democracies” examines a point that we may have already known — we trust those who are similar to us… but to what extent? They resolve through their experiment that “trust” is found to be highest when dealing with a partisan, and lowest therefore, with a non-partisan. Further, shocks to a national identity, such as the killing of Bin Laden, were found to close the trust gaps. After sifting through its’ 25ish pages, I concluded a few key points.

  1. Putnam & Bowling Alone – When I read the paper, I tried to think more generally about what is causing this distrust, and perhaps that it has nothing to do with race, class, or partisanship. The paper cites Putnam a few times and I thought back to the good ol’ days of POLI100 and ECON210 (both political philosophy classes…ish) Relating to the title, Putnam notes that in America, more people are bowling, but there are less leagues. This is analogous for social institutions or “social capital” such as Parent Teacher Associations, for example.  He noted drops in membership within civic organizations. This social capital or “the collective value of all social networks (no, not related to Facebook) and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other.”, according to Putnam, is correlated with economic prosperity. I see these inclinations for reciprocity as crucial. If people are not congregating and opening dialogue with other like-minded individuals, then they are less likely to cooperate (supposedly with anyone) and less likely to do things for each other. This lack of trust is detrimental to democracy as a whole, as people are less likely to value democratic processes such as voting (as seen in increases in voter apathy). I think this is perhaps why the killing of Bin Laden closed the gap, was because it increased social cohesion.
  2. The Sub-Game Perfect Nash Equilibrium – In class, while we were discussing the experiment’s design, I quickly sketched the sequential-move game in my notes. As mentioned in the article, in terms of payoffs, the optimal thing to do if for player one to keep all their money, and for player two to do the same. In my sketch I performed a “rollback analysis” (@walmart) and found the same. This is because player two has to give a number between 0 and 40 (within each subgame stemming from player one’s moves). To maximize their payoff, they choose give 0, because choosing anything less with yield a strictly lower payoff in each theoretical game composed of all of player one’s moves. Then, player one does the same for the same reasoning. BUT, in their experiments, the average “give” on the first round was more than 0. I think this has to do with the limitations surrounding classic game theory (in essence, Cost-Benefit Analysis). Not every individual is the same, every individual has a different set of preferences. Some may value money more heavily, others may place more importance on social norms. Aside from this digression, I just found it interesting that the average player did not move in the way that they were predicted.
  3. Representative Democracy and it’s paradox – Due to transaction costs of finding out each individuals preferences, we move towards representative democracy as a solution. From this, according to the paper, groups are formed based on “distributional preferences i.e.. partisanship” as opposed to other social identities. It is supposed that this formation creates great polarization and distrust, as trust solely within groups grows. I find it interesting that politics itself is meant to serve the people, but even in this way of organizing, it actually seems to do the opposite.

Let me know what you guys think!

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  1. Thank you for your reading response! Your points are interesting.
    Why do you think people is serving to politics?


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