What Your Time Travel Plans Reveal About Your Political Views
September 6, 2012 3 Comments
Think there’s nothing liberals and conservatives can agree on? Well….uh…you may be right. In fact, some new research suggests that should a liberal and a conservative team up to build a time machine, there’s a good chance they won’t agree on which direction to travel in.
What determines whether a person would prefer to visit the (certain) past or explore the (uncertain) future? We identiﬁed three factors that markedly affect people’s preference for (hypothetical) travel to the past or the future, respectively. Those who think of themselves as courageous, those with a more conservative worldview, and—perhaps counterintuitively—those who are advanced in age prefer to travel into the future.
It’s nice to see a study refute the stereotype of a scared elderly person pining for a simpler past. The fact that elderly people want to see the world that will outlive them suggests that deep down inside they cherish life and want to experience what will ultimately be stolen away by death.
As for conservatives’ desire to see the future, the authors speculate that it may have to do with their trust in the system.
Markets and individuals’ power to innovate will master…challenges. Less conservative people may be less inclined to believe in the current system’s self healing powers, and therefore, and in opposition to past centuries, be more pessimistic about the future.
Although the study ostensibly falls into the category of “linkbait with no practical use,” time preferences and perceptions do have real implications for public policy, particularly when it comes to education. For example, many people have criticized the Louisiana school voucher program for including certain religious schools that reportedly feature creationism films in their science classes. This is bad, but as Chester Finn explains, the system accounts for it. To remain eligible for the program a school’s students must do well on state science exams, and so students will either learn real science, or they’ll fail the tests, the school will become ineligible, and the students will find a new school. The net result of the program is that some students will immediately end up in better schools, and some students will initially end up in worse schools for a short amount of time, but then end up in better schools when the poor schools are booted from the program. The core issue is whether we’re willing to accept some of these short-term negative outcomes as the price we pay for bringing about better long-term outcomes.
You also see the “immediate cost vs. long term benefits” issue in school-closure fights, and it’s an idea that was central to the GOP opposition to the stimulus. Sure, all of these policy positions are politically motivated to some degree, particularly the GOP’s stimulus opposition, and thus time-preferences seem to mold to political leanings rather than the other way around. Still, people’s views about time, the past, and the future are important from a policy and public opinion standpoint, and research on them could ultimately prove quite fruitful.
Ettlin, F., & Hertwig, R. (2012). Back or to the future? Preferences of time travelers. Judgment and Decision Making, 373-382