|Tool of the Week|
Today, in recognition of the Presidential Election in the US, we’re diving into a tool to think through policy making. This isn’t going to be about what policy to make. Instead, it’ll focus on a particular strategy for how to make a policy. The tool is called the Veil of Ignorance.
The term Veil of Ignorance was brought to life in the field of Morals & Ethics but more recently popularized in Economics by John Harsanyi and John Rawls. A technical description can be found here, but the premise is that when making decisions that impact a large group of people, one should make the decision with the assumption that they don’t know where in society they will be. Another name for the same idea is the Ideal Observer Theory. In slightly different words, an ideal observer is one who is neutral to the decision, rational, and fully informed. If the ideal observer approves an idea, then it is likely a good idea.
Most people reading this are privileged in some way (myself included) and have a particular view of the world. If asked to make a policy for everyone in the United States, roughly 330 Million individuals, most people would come up with something that directly or indirectly benefits themselves. That isn’t necessarily bad, but it means someone else is probably getting the short end of the stick.
To get around that kind of win-lose policy making, the veil of ignorance is a thought experiment meant to force people into thinking from other perspectives. The name can misleadingly imply that ignorance is the goal. The use of the word ignorance is really about removing bias that comes from a personal perspective, though. In reality, the veil of ignorance encourages the use of many perspectives – hardly ignorant.
Across the US there are many different cultures, races, ethnic groups, genders, labor forces, religions, orientations and other ideologies. Making a single policy that affects everyone is no easy task and the Veil of Ignorance is ideally supposed to make more just laws. By taking into consideration that you could be in, either now or at a future time, a marginalized group, the policy you decide on would be something that is closer to a win-win than a win-lose.
One way to immediately implement this is to pick a topic you think about regularly, e.g. healthcare, and ask the following question- Would I make the same decision if I knew I was going to wake up tomorrow as a ___ person? (Insert different races, genders, socioeconomic groups, orientations, etc.) If the answer is no, you’ve got some thinking to do. If the answer is yes, ask the question again but insert a different group. Keep going until you’re totally sure that no matter where in society you are, the policy is agreeable.
With any tool, the point is to know the time and place to use it. The Veil of Ignorance isn’t a panacea that will create a totally just set of rules. It’s a tool that has a place in decision making when those decisions involve people that don’t look like you. The Presidential candidates, for example, are hopefully both applying this kind of tool to their decision making.
If you want to test your own thinking in more depth, try answering the following questions while imagining yourself in different groups. E.g. Imagine being a woman, a man, gay, straight, Black, Asian, Mexican, rich, or poor. Combine a few as needed. Add other categories as needed.
– What should healthcare cover? Where should the money come from?
– What is a suitable punishment for theft?
– Should one be able to vote from their phone?
– What’s the right amount to pay in taxes? What is the expected benefit?
The goal here is not to get everyone to think the same thoughts, but rather force people to think from more than one perspective. Sam Harris has famously said, “The quality of your life depends on the quality of your mind.” The Veil of Ignorance is a thought tool that helps strengthen the quality of one’s mind.
Have you changed your mind on a policy issue recently? Let me know on Twitter: @Quinn_Hanson22
|Now, the fun stuff|
YouTube Channel of the Week
Wendover ProductionsThis YT channel has nearly 3MM subscribers but it should be way higher. They make quality videos covering how the world works. Every other week, Wendover drops a new ~12 minute video explaining something like what happens after a plane crash, how a Covid Vaccine might be distributed, how Geography effects politics, or even how the Avengers movies were filmed. These videos are great for those in between moments when you’re in a waiting room, waiting for water to boil, or just have a few minutes to kill.
Here are a couple of my favorite videos:
The Five Rules of Risk
How to Beat the Casino, and How They’ll Stop You
The Broken Economics of Organ Transplants
Trivia of the Week
This week’s trivia is focused on stock ticker symbols. I’ll give you the symbol, you have to guess who the company is. Disclaimer, this is not any kind of investment advice.
Tweet of the Week
Matthew Ball is a fascinating person to follow on social media. His insight into streaming services, video games, tech companies, and how those are all related is unparalleled. The below tweet is a reference to video games being the primary competitor to content streaming services like Disney + and Netflix. They might seem like disparate businesses, but the thing that links them is attention. When given the option to stream a show or play a video game, playing games is gaining more attention every day. The future of streaming services may very well include gaming.
To explain further, the point Ball is making here is that Disney is not a monopoly when it comes to entertainment as a whole category. Sure, Disney owns Hulu, Marvel, ESPN, Pixar, and plenty of other content studios, but they don’t own video gaming (yet). As gaming becomes cheaper and more interesting to a wider group of people, all the content in the world won’t matter if it’s not playable.
Article of the Week
Focus Brands President on How to Transform the Workplace During a Crisis (note, this article was available to me on mobile, but required a paid subscription on a computer). This Wall Street Journal article written by Michelle Ma is centered on Chief Operating Officer Kat Cole’s advice for operating in a pandemic. Cole began her career as a hostess at Hooters and over the years was promoted up to the President of Cinnabon and now President and COO of Focus Brands. Focus Brands owns and operates Auntie Anne’s, Jamba, Carvel, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and Cinnabon.
Cole’s advice for businesses everywhere-
– Narrow focus to the most important priorities. In her words that is protecting employees and protecting cash.
– Use technology and real estate to serve customers. Things like drive-throughs or pick up locations combined with a mobile app have proven very successful during the pandemic.
– Create a flexible culture by starting from the top. Managers are also dealing with kids at home, for example, so allowing employees to tune into meetings without a camera on helps parents feel comfortable dealing with kids while still listening. When leadership does this, other employees feel comfortable doing it as well.
– Allow for a no meetings block. New regulations or protocols come out frequently at the federal, state, and local levels. Allowing for people to have a dedicated block of time where no distractions from work can interfere allows for real focus to be applied wherever it needs to be.
– Expand your network to hire a diverse group of people. If your business is hiring, think about reaching out to folks outside your normal network to ask for referrals and bring in people with different backgrounds. There is unlimited talent available with the work from home option on the table. Look hard for strong, diverse talent.
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2. Energy Transfer
3. South West Airlines
How many did you know?