Econstudentlog

Election stuff (reposts, ect.)

My recent post on the voting decision.

[A spaceship has just reached Earth...]
“A hatchway opened, crashed down through the Harrods Food Halls, demolished Harvey Nichols, and with a final grinding scream of tortured architecture, toppled the Sheraton Park Tower. After a long, heart-stopping moment of internal crashes and grumbles of rending machinery, there marched from it, down the ramp, an immense silver robot, a hundred feet tall.
It held up a hand.
“I come in peace,” it said, adding after a long moment of further grinding, “take me to your Lizard.”
Ford Prefect, of course, had an explanation for this, as he sat with Arthur and watched the nonstop frenetic news reports on television, none of which had anything to say other than to record that the thing had done this amount of damage which was valued at that amount of billions of pounds and had killed this totally other number of people, and then say it again, because the robot was doing nothing more than standing there, swaying very slightly, and emitting short incomprehensible error messages.
“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”
“What?”
“I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”
“I’ll look. Tell me about the lizards.”
Ford shrugged again.
“Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happened to them,” he said. “They’re completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone’s got to say it.””

(here’s the book)

Some stuff from a recent post:

“democracy made it possible to have status games where people didn’t argue about religion and politics started to matter a lot when it came to tribal affiliation. As the power of the state grew, handling more and more stuff, dealing with all kinds of related – and unrelated – stuff, it became a lot easier to use political cues as tribal markers. Political discussions got both complex enough for people to use discussion performance as an ability and loyalty signal, and the matters the politicians dealt with became important enough to merit people’s attention, at least in theory.

So people started telling their children both which god to believe in and which politician to vote for. They told their children. And they spent a lot of time arguing with other people, the other people who’d found out that ‘politics is the new religion’.

Some people enjoy political debates. Perhaps they like the mental gymnastics that some other people might get by dealing with mathematics or playing chess. Perhaps they think their opinion is important, that other people care about it. Maybe they think that they can change other people’s minds and thereby support the group by converting others to group X, just as they’re told to do by their politicians (and priests).

A lot of political views have an important value as a signal about which kind of person you are and/or which kind of person you’d like to be. Part of why you dislike the ‘opponent’ is that you disagree with him, but that’s not really all there’s to it. It’s also that you don’t trust him. He didn’t bow to Huitzilopochtli. His political views might have no influence on anything relevant to your relationship; you might be perfectly able to meet with him, have a long talk with him about his life, his family, his work, his hobbies – and you might end up being his best friend. Only that’s usually not how it goes, because when you hear about that ‘troublesome’ view on ‘the environment’/’god’/’fiscal sustainability’ you tend to make the ‘troublesome’ views relevant, because – he didn’t bow to Huitzilopochtli. Some people overcome politics by finding another individual with the same views or views which are dissimilar but unimportant, because their parents taught them the magic of ‘you should be able to be friends with everybody’ – which works for both until they meet a guy who bows to Huitzilopochtli. He will not be friends with them until they bow to Huitzilopochtli, and just a bow usually isn’t enough. So they have a tribe too which they’re forced into, even if they’d like not to be tribes members at all.

It’s not that political views matter in the big picture. Your political views that is. They don’t, they really don’t. But they matter in the small picture. Once a societal norm is firmly established it tends to get a life of its own. So people talk about windmills and fat taxes and public pension schemes instead of whether they should pray to Ares or Dionysus. If you talk about it many hours each year, you watch news and so on much of which is also just political posturing and games, then to actually go to the election booth on election day and cast your vote isn’t really a big deal. Also, politicians like voters more than supporters who don’t vote, just like priests like believers who give money to the church more than believers who don’t, so there’s consensus in the tribe that voting is the correct behavior, and if you don’t vote, you don’t bow to Huitzilopochtli and then you’d better have a good explanation.”

I should probably link to this one too (in Danish). And maybe this and this as well (in English). Yeah, a bit snarky, I know: “The illusion of control is the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events, for instance to feel that they control outcomes that they demonstrably have no influence over.”

No, in case you were wondering this post didn’t take long to write, it was just adding text and links from bookmarks collected at random points in time. I’ve never spent less time dealing with an election. Not wasting my time with this stuff was a good idea.

September 14, 2011 Posted by | politics, voting | Leave a comment

Public Choice lesson of the day

Most people having had a course in microeconomics know about Arrow and some of the problems relating to preference aggregation. Likewise most of them unfortunately probably forget about these things quite soon afterwards, thinking that these theoretical problems are just that – theoretical.

Now there’s some evidence to the contrary. Well, actually the first edition of the paper was published in 2001, so maybe ‘now’ is a bad word to use, but anyway I’ve never seen it before so it’s news to me. From Peter Kurrild-Klitgaards paper presented at The Annual Meeting of the European Public Choice Society: Voting paradoxes under proportional representation: Evidence from eight Danish elections:

The present analysis [...] suggests that some of the social choice paradoxes potentially occurring in proportional election systems actually do occur in reality. Specifically, one social choice paradox is present in virtually all elections using list-systems with proportional representation, albeit to different extents, namely the More-Preferred-Less-Seats Paradox, while two other paradoxes, the Condorcet-Winner-Turns-Loser Paradox and the Condorcet-Loser-Turns-Winner Paradox, seem to occur occasionally.

What does the existence of these paradoxes mean, I hear you ask. Well:

More generally the presence of this particular paradox would seem to contradict a premise underlying much of contemporary democratic theory, namely that if more people prefer one party than another, then it would be wrong for the latter party to receive more seats. It would in particular seem contrary to the views and justifications usually offered in favour of proportional representation, namely that this somehow is more in line with “what the people want”. Proportional representation obviously tends to add pluralism to a party system compared to, e.g., the first-past-the-post system, but it also seem not only to do so by benefiting some parties at the cost of others (which is inevitable) but also to do so in a way that seems intuitively in direct opposition to the majority principle underlying the democratic idea.

[...]

…apparently, it is quite often the case that the preference of a majority of the voters is quite different from what the seat allocations are under proportional representation. This is an insight which should make democrats careful about how they emphasize the values of the democratic process and its outcomes – and be more interested in the consequenses of alternative electoral arrangements.

I have only looked at a few of the papers from the conference, but it looks like there’s a lot of interesting stuff there. Do take a look if you have the time.

April 2, 2008 Posted by | economics, papers, voting | Leave a comment

Quote of the day

“The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford, “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”

Yudkowsky is writing about politics and democracy at the moment and I encourage all readers, if you can spare the time, to follow these posts closely. I quite think I’d rather you read his posts than mine these days, and I’m not sure dropping another three or four blogs to follow his posts is at all a bad trade-off.

I am finishing up on Douglas Adams now, and I remembered the bit above very well when I reread it. The quote is from Yudkowsky’s post Stop Voting for Nincompoops, and the rest of the post is very much quotable too. I will restrict myself to one more quote, from the conclusion:

If you vote for nincompoops, for whatever clever-sounding reason, don’t be surprised that out of 300 million people you get nincompoops in office.

The arguments are long, but the voting strategy they imply is simple: Stop trying to be clever, just don’t vote for nincompoops.

[...]

To boil it all down to an emotional argument that isn’t necessarily wrong:

Why drive out to your polling place and stand in line for half an hour or more – when your vote isn’t very likely to singlehandedly determine the Presidency – and then vote for someone you don’t even want?

January 3, 2008 Posted by | politics, quotes, voting | Leave a comment

   

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