Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sortition and Multiple Chief Executives

Do close elections for chief executive have to be resolved by having only one chief executive? Can we have an electoral system where the chief executive power can rest in one person, n person or no persons. Sortition-backed elections would work like this. I will put parameters in to lead in to the discussion on parametric constitutions.

Any person who has fourty percent (X) of the vote gets to be president. If one person gets sixty percent (Y) of the vote, they get to be the only president.

Thus if the population is united behind one president (say in wartime), it can be. If the population can't agree on its president, then there are several presidents.

When there are several presidents, a group of citizens gets selected randomly. The General (s) come in and say should we march Left or Right. President a says left and President B says right. The citizens then vote. Would urgent decisions get decided better this way? Assume that our early warning system detected missiles coming our way? Would a group of citizens be better able to decide whether to fire before the missiles come in first or wait and see if it is a glitch or false positive. Google books (Moral Principles and Nuclear Weapons by Douglas P. Lackey) has reports of early warning systems going off due to geese and the moon as well as later on due to computer glitches. Fortunately, these were all detected by human analysts. (One certainly could conceive of a sortition jury selected and specifically exposed to how our early warning systems work. Brian Martin in his 1995 article on "Demarchy" proposes specialized sortition groups.)

Note that we can allow continual voting rather than elections. That is, when citizens get tired of a President, they can change their vote. Some presidents might promise to only focus on one area of policy (say domestic, crisis handling, financial) This allows the people to choose (Should one of the presidents campaign on a platform of limiting their actions to a specific area, the people could vote to remove him.)

Note that I propose allowing continual voting. At any time a person can go down to their local Elections office and change their vote for president. Also, individuals can select their own number for the x and y, the thresholds for a President to loose their position or to be the only president. The percentages would only change a while later or be restricted to move giving us a hysteresis and preventing changing the percentage to be used instead of just voting in or out a particular popular or unpopular president. High school civics classes (timed just before people turn eighteen or whatever the voting age is) would go over the history of the presidents and their popularity. Then, the high school students upon registering would enter their values of x and y which would go in to the median value. (And of course when a voter dies, their vote would go out of the calculation.)

Power sharing can have problems. Combining it with sortition is an answer to these problems.

There is enough free time

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Time Use Survey shows that most Americans have time to partipcate each day in democracy. They spend five hours in leisure activities with 2.5 hours per day of that going to TV. Individuals over 76 spend 7.5 hours in leisure.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Share Economy Part four

OK, I borrowed ten thousand dollars on my "credit card" for an operation. At that time, I had an income of $50,000 per year, I was thirty years old and they figured that I would work another fourty years. So the credit card company figured I would have two million dollars in earnings over my life. So we agreed that I would pay 0.005% of my income back to the credit card company. I would hardly notice that.

Note that we don't have to worry about interest, inflation, deflation. All that would be taken care of by the growth in my income with time, which would include something for the general productivity of society and the economy.

I come into ten thousand dollars, I sell my patent, I get an inheritance, or I just have a stretch of time whmen I have few expenses and can save up ten thousand dollars. Do we need a mechanism where one pays back the loan.

At first I thought we should. But why?

The credit card companies thought I was a good investment; they saw I was a hard worker, had good grades, thought I would earn raises soon. Of course, should the "credit card company" have other investment opportunities, I could invest the ten thousand dollars with them. Or I could invest somewhere else. The web would grow as I invested money, and income from those enterprises flowed through me back to the credit card company and then back to its investors.

This is the fourth in a series of articles on the Share Economy Idea

Friday, June 12, 2009

Share Economy Part Three

In a share economy, individuals don't owe a sum. They have exchanged a share of their income for something else, a lump sum, a car, a home. Their firm has payments coming in. For example, each time a customer pays for a nights stay, each employee and each investor gets a share, a micropayment. As a computer professor, my University would have exchanged a share of each individuals future income for their "tuition." Each time, their employer gets a payment, they get a little share, and the University gets a little share and then myself as a computer science professor when the individual was a student get a share. And then my landlord gets a share and my "credit card" gets a little share, and the investors in the landlord and to the credit card company gets a share....

This means that all accounts, incomes and payments would be on a central system. Computers would have lots of divisions to create the little sums, each of which would be divided and subdivided as per the share. It would have to be centralized to prevent evasion of one's share. The computers in the system would be doing lots of divisions, and then additions to other accounts. Fortunately, computers do divisions and additions very fast!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wisdom of Crowds

James Surowiecki, "The Wisdom of Crowds" (Anchor Books, 2005)

This book shows dramatic examples of how averaging the results of a large number of individuals gives more accurate numerical answers than experts. Frances Galton who is known for his measuring of IQ looked at the average guess for the weight of an ox after it was "slaughtered and dressed." The crowd, including many who had no knowledge of butchering, entered a contest where they entered the number of pounds for the ox. The average was 1,197 pounds and the actual weight was 1,198 pounds.

And Mr. Surowiecki said that to harness "the wisdom of crowds," the individuals should make their conclusions independently and we need a way to aggregate or combine them. Often this is a simple average.

More practically, in 1968, the United States Navy submarine Scorpion disappeared. There was little information and many plausible guesses as to what caused it to sink. He assembled a group of experts. They individually bet on relevant information such as why the submarine crashed, it speed as it headed to the ocean bottom, and its rate of descent. He combined all these bets and came up with a collective estimate of where the submarine would have hit bottom. But these were guesses, perhaps slightly educated guesses. That estimate was 660 feet from accuracy.

Then the book went to a less useful scenario, "Who wants to be a millionaire" and here the contestant could choose between asking a person that the contestsant said was "the smartest person they knew." Or the contestant could poll the studio audience. The latter knew the correct answer 91% of the time wheile the "expert" was only right 65 per cent of the time.

Other experiments showed the same thing, with the classic of guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar, the temperature in the room, ranking items by weight. Again, the groups were very accurate and more accurarte than individual.

We all know of the Random Walk theory of finance. The estimate of stocks given by the many traders in the market is better than any of the traders. For example, ninety percent of mutual fund managers underperformed the Wilshire 5000 index and 95 percent of bond traders underperfomred the bond market.

After the Challenger Explosion, there were four firms that could have been rsponsible: Rockwell International, Lockheed, Martin Marietta and Morton Thiokol. At the end of the day, the latter was down twelve per cent. The remainder were down three per cent. At this point, noone could really tell which company was the one liable. We know now that Morton Thiokol was the party responsible for the guilty O-Rings.

The theory that Mr. Surowiecki holds is that bad information cancels out and the real information surfaces if one aggregates the result of a crowd.

James Surowiecki, and more importantly myself, speculate on how to use the "wisdom of the crowd" to improve democracy and he has a later chapter on Peter Fishkin's Deliberative Democracy. I will talk more about these in later posts.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Participatory democracy should fill our educational systems and our free time. Do we replace the sage on the stage (conventional lecturing)? Is this something the google and facebook generation wants? Many people feel this way. These ideas are well summarized by Don Tapscott. And how can we use the surplus of free time in the Post-Industrial world? I believe that Participatory Democracy is the answer. So instead of turning on the boob tube, going to a video-game or participating in meaningless social networking, one simply says, "I have some time." and you are assigned to a sortition jury. You may be deciding the taxes for a dry cleaner and learning about how the different dry-cleaning affect the environment and reviewing their labor record. Or you may be deciding which new tenant should be accepted at the housing complex in which you own a share as your grandfather worked on the construction crew, and was given a share of the future profits, which you inherited.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Share Economy Part Two

In The Share Economy: Reduction Ad Absurdum , I showed a share economy

  1. prevents layoffs. Each employee shares the revenue of the firm.
  2. eliminates bankruptcies and financial squeezes. Now, when an airline cannot pay its bond holders or those from who it has leased its aircraft, it goes bankrupt. Here, all share the good times and the bad times for the airline.

But what about for the worker. Their payments are a share of their income, too! My monthly rent is $225.00 and my monthly gross salary is about nine thousand. Thus, instead, I would pay 2.5 percent of my income as rent. This would apply to car payments, payments to credit card com panies, insurance, etc.

Workers won't be squeezed when the company for whom they work has financial difficulties. Their money for day to day expenses goes down. Those at the lower end of the economic spectrum might eat rice and beans instead of meat and have no money for Christmas presents. But they do not lose their home, have their car reposessed, etc.

This leads to another principle of the share economy:

Contracts do not have arbitrary expiration dates. Thus, one does not sign a lease for one or two years, or agree to pay back a loan within three years.

Payments can be based upon meaningful economic events related to the purpose. Thus, my landlord might say my lease terminates when I leave the employment of the University or am fired. (Of course, in a share economy, employees would not be laid off.)

At that point I have no particular reason to stay in that place and he might have made his investment decision by looking at the income of the University.

In the case of one buying a car, one should keep paying the income as long as the car functions. What a weopon against planned obscolecense and to ensure that the automobile dealer continues good repairs. And if one purchases a house from the builder, the payments should continue as long as the house stands!

I will talk later about selling that house or car.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Setting up rules on who to admit to this country is contentious.

There is a dramatic democratic alternative using sortition and participatory democracy. The first phase would be exploratory and competitive. The next ten thousand individuals wishing to enter the country or who are here illegally would be empaneled before juries. The juries would hear their stories and vote to allow three thousand permanent residency. Instead of seeing the situation abstractly--do we give "amnesty"-the jury would compare a family working hard as migrant farmers, albeit undocumented, with a lady being sponsored by an old "geezer" who met her via a "mail-order bride" service. The stories and the outcomes would be publicized. Perhaps, their presentations would be televised.

In recognition that this would be experimental, it would be understand the nation would let them try again as processes are scaled up for the millions who are applying for admittance and the millions who are already here. Each year, our country awards 55,000 immigrant visas by random selection to those who come from countries with low rates of immigration, so there is precedent for using random selection in awarding immigration opportunities.

Based on the first round the nation might set up other panels admit ten thousand of individuals. The nation could be asked to vote on:

  1. Do we have a panel of citizens, randomly selected and required to serve, as juries are today?
  2. Do we have a randomly chosen volunteers
  3. Do we have citizens who recently immigrated from specific nations whose familiarity with the political situations, languages and customs would help them evaluate the stories from those members
  4. Do we have groups to admit those seeking asylum because they fear persecution for their political beliefs o r ethnic identity
  5. Do we have groups representing specific professions or industries to determine those who might countribute to our nation by being admitted temporarily or permanently in these fields?
  6. perhaps young people should have special panels as they might have views on the long term demographics of the nation.

Again, the presentations, results, and possibly even the deliberations would be televised.

Now, it would be time for the American people to decide how many and how each decision would be made. They would get to decide how many would be admitted by each method. How many undocumented but worthy aspirants to American citizenship, how many of those seeking to immigrate to marry American Citizens, how many computer programmers, how many to work temporarily to harvest food.

And probably, the American people would have a general category to allow for those who might be deserving of citizenship or temporary stays but who don't fit neatly into one of the other categories. We are all aware of the great consternation over setting up rules on whom to admit to the country, whether it be for citizenship or to work in a profession such as computer science or as an unskilled job, for those tasks that Americans "won't do." We have seen the question of whether we provide a path to citizenship for those who have come in illegally but have worked hard and have otherwise fulfilled the American dream at the cost of not letting in the person who was patiently waiting on the visa queue for years to join a brother already in the United States. Our system allows all those who marry an American Citizen to become permanent citizens and citizenship in without a numerical limit. However, our current immigration law has specific limits for how many people are admitted for permanent residency to work in professional capacity (third preference). It also has a limit of 5000 people by nation. So there are longer visa backlogs for those from coming from larger countries such as India than smaller nations like the Comorros.

I have personally observed how the H-1 visa program works with those earning Master's Degrees in Computer Science in this country. There is a numerical limit per fiscal year and these visas are given out on a first-come first-served basis. Thus, those who get their application in before a certain date are given a temporary visa while others wait.

The immigration bill last defeated has a point system, which does help alleviate these problems. For example, people get points for skills, for learning English. Note that it has a separate track, a Z visa for those who may already be in the country but are "undocumented." Thus, the nation is still left in the quandary over how to deal with those who are awaiting immigration via the normal channels and comparing them to people who have worked hard and have been model members of the American community except that they entered illegally or overstayed a temporary visa.

I realize my critics would compare the proposal of televising proceedings to reality series such as Survivor. Obviously, we must ensure that it be done with good taste and with an aim to inform and appeal to the best in the viewing audience. In fact, a true "reality show" on which Americans can base extensive feedback to control an important aspect of our national identity, may be a partial antidote to the "vast wasteland" of our current mass media.

Instead of a counting and comparison as we do for candidates or referendums, the votes would be combined as a median. For example, the voting computer would sort each persons number for how many of the undocumented workers to admit next year. The voting computer would determine the number such that half of Americans want more and half want less. Unlike an average, this means means that a person en entering very large number, say a trillion, would not bias the result upward.

I anticipate that some of these numbers would stabilize. For example, we would see that each year the median number selected for the number of family reunifications might be approximately the same. Then, we would allow people to record a vote for five years. Other categories might change dramatically from year to year. For example, the demand for computer professionals recently has been notorious for its ups and owns.

This gets us out of the current gridlock. It allows us to try things on a small scale, see how they work, rather than setting up a system all at once for twenty million people that will inevitably have both intentional and inadvertent loopholes.

But more importantly, it gives Americans a chance to experiment with true democracy as opposed to representative democracy. Every citizen could have an opportunity to serve on an immigration panel. Every citizen will help determine the numbers that drive the immigration system.