Sunday, July 26, 2009

California: Sortition for constitutional Convention

Governing, July 2009, Volume 22, Number Ten, page thirteen

A business group in California, the Bay Area Council, is pushing sortition. A constituional convention would have delgates chosen randomly by a "jury-pool" approach. The article noted that the resulting constitution would have to be approved by the voters, and questioned whether experts and lobbyists would have undue influence on "semi-informed" delegates.

  • Why not let the political science professors at all of California's Universities act as advisors?
  • Why not allow the conv ention to send thorugh several proposals to be voted on by the votes by approval voting?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Public Plan, Heatlh Care option

Our goal is to provide a public option such that individuals who deserve it can get health care and to encourage people to pay as much as they can reasonably afford to do so. We want to avoid rationing and we don't want a government bureacrat determining who gets care and not. We want the private plans to be able to compete so as not to destroy the current system. We also don't want to mandate that individuals get health insurance. Individuals should be able to pay what they feel they can afford into the public option. Individuals would also have the option to save money and use that fund to pay part of the expenses. And they should be encouraged to do these good things.

These goals can be achieved simultaneously! The answer is that those who choose the public option, which is anyone who feels they need it, regardless of what other health insurance they may or may not have, regardless of their income, to get approval from a randomly selected jury for each health care procedure. That jury would have the full power to vote that the heart attack victim be left to die on the side of the gutter. They have full power to say the motocycle rider without a helmet does not get care and full power to deny care to those who drive drunk. That jury would have the full power to say go ahead and have that care and the government will pay for it. But we will have full control over your income until it is paid off. And if there is a controlled study running that is relevant to their condition, the jury would have power to say to the person they must enroll to get their care. The jury would have full power to make the person's medical records avaialable or even public, or keep them fully private if that is just. And the jury would have full power to mandate a specific care option, e. g. prostate removal when the person might prefer some other treatment choice. And the jury would have access to the person's financial and income history so they could decide whether the person presenting for case could have saved/contributed to the public option/bought private care and chose not to for foolish reasons, or they truly could not afford to do so. I made a more general post on a four part plan on how to apply participatory democracy to health care. However, now the main question is public plan, to be or not to be, so on that I blog now.

A government could not, it is simply not politically feasible to let a person die. The juries won't often vote to exercise this power, nor should they! But the power would be there--

(Victor Broadcasting versus Federal Communications Commission. WABZ was the incumbent broadcasting system and Victor Broadcasting wanted the frequency. They claimed that WABZ was simply not contributing to the community and frequently duplicated care. The case itself, of course, is not relevant to health care. But I remembered one dissenter's comment in the opinion for decades, when they observed that from 1961 to 1983, the FCC always let the incumbent license holder keep their license with one exeption. and he said the following.

One is reminded of the remark attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: "If the President of the United STates were obligated, irrespective of cause and at his own free choice, to put to death one man every year, the powers of the Presidency would be vastly enhanced." "If the Commmission would screw up its courage to a height never before reached by that agency, and firmly resolve to deny just one incumbent out of thousands of license renewals each year, the quality of television and radio programming ni America would be remarkably enhanced." Victor Broadcasting inc. versus Federal Communications Commission, 722 F.2d 756, 779, (1983, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit)

Everyone would get the opportunity to serve on such juries. Everyone would have the power to say, "you screwed up; you shall be left to die." Maybe once per year, this option will get a majority vote of a health care jury. But with that option, the public option and the private plans would be immeasurably enhanced.

(I searched for this quote. It appears to be apocryphal.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The July 20th 2009 shows that the mortgage system is still dysfunctional. One of the mortgage brokers who "specialized in the exotic mortgages that have proved most prone to sliding into foreclosure" is now selling dubious services for those struggling. Mortgages must be sold on a share economy basis, they must be based on a function of earnings, and bailouts and mortgage modfications must be approved by a sortition jury. Peter S. Goodman, "Cashing In, Again, on Risky Mortgages" The New York Times, July 20th 2009, Vol CLVIII, No 54, 742, Page One and A12

Sortition, Stealth Democracy and Particapatory Democracy

Dr. Hibbing and E. Theiss-Morse wrote a book about American's views of the mechanism of Democracy. Do we accept Republicanism and representative democracy as a feasible substitute for an ideal of truly democratic and participatory democracy(1)? They show a figure showing that Americans prefer a system midway between pure representative democracy (which is what we have on a federal level) and the fully democratic system that I advocate. The bell curve of beliefs is pretty similar to that of the bell curve between right-wing and left-wing beliefs. The majority of Americans are in the middle on the left-right scale and most Americans are not extreme in ideological spectrum.

Would Americans prefer that government be run by impartial empathetic experts and not have to be bothered by participating in democracy? These authors would say yes. Unfortunately, artificial intelligence has not advanced to that level yet, one might argue that this is the wrong question. Thus, the question might better phrased, if we could reform campaign contributinos and the like, and given the innate limitations of all humans, would you prefer a participatory democracy or a republican democracy?

Drs. Saebo and Nilsen in Norway had discussion boards on democracy models and compared four main themes:

  1. Passivity
  2. A combination of representative and technocrats running things--which is what Americans and the rest of the " first world" have
  3. Expanding citizen involvement using cybermedia which he terms "neo-republicanism." With some of the web ideas such as of the Obama administration, Electronic town halls seems to be what is what American democracy is moving towards.
  4. And lastly, Cyber-democracy.
Drs. Saebo and Nilsen report the discussion group did not support that, but they expressed cautious optimism that support might increase when citizens are given the opportunity to try cyberdemocracy. (Which is what I aim to do in my new research project.)

Muhlenberger did a study of on-line deliberation and found that after participating, Americans were more likely to suport cyber-optimistic ideas.

Sortition refers to the random selection of individuals to make decisions in government. Currently, in the united States, only juries and grand juries exemplifies this. Brian Martin is one person who advocates replacing representative democracies by series of juries that would deal with various issues which he terms demarchy. He points out the problems with referendums, the voters can simply give a yes or no.

Brian Martin points out in a community that there would be sortition juries chosen to handle art, transportation, etc. Athenians used this for many purpose, but not exclusvively. Later when I talk about parametric constitutions, we can discuss John Zube's Panarchy where several systems can be used. And he has several links to attempts to try this out. Paul Woodruff talks about democracy in ancient democracy, the importance of randomly selected legislatures to avoid the power of wealth in elections, and things that we take for granted in democracy but Dr Woodruff refers to as "doubles" for democracy.

Ernest Callenbach and Michael Phillips advocate the House of Representatives being chosen by lot. But one could have a parametric method. For example, there could be three houses, one chosen by sortition, one chosen as represenatives by district as we do now, and the Senate chosen by election from the states. In addition to voting for the second two houses, we could vote for the percentage of each house that is needed to pass legislation. Thus, at a particular time, 40% of the Senante, 60% of the Sortition House, and 37% of our House of Representatives. (There has to be a hysteresis, so that voting on this is not used to influence specific legislation. Thus, the vote might not take effect for fifteen years. Or there could be a rule that the percentages do not change more than five percent year regardless of the votes.) Obviously, the Senate and House are designed to reflect the paradigm between a strict system proportional to the number of voters and giving power on a state-by-state basis. One could average the votes for the percentages when accumulated on a per-state basis and on a vote. (I also will talk later about the min-max principle in voting to deal with this kind of divide.)

Wally Smith talks about Direct Democracies, and argues for having proxies. Everyone gets to either participate or nominate someone who they consider better qualified themselves, allowing the chain to go up by four levels. He also observes a back-of-the-envelope system that all the legislation which is less than one hundred thousand pages, could be voted on in ten page chunks with ten thousand people voting on each chunk. I proposed some mechanisms and (students here at Western Illinois are starting to implement in computer code for the Web )on how to combine decisions better than this.

But such a discussion would not be complete without mentioning Deliberative Polling and the work of Peter Fishkin. In deliberative democracy, individuals are chosen randomly. They are given "briefing material" which is "balanced" and an opportunity to question experts.

Here he implemented several nationally televised polls in Australia, Britain and the United States. And people's opinions did change. Most of the results he cited are on the order of fifteen percent, but there were dramatic changes in some cases, particularly a deliberative polling exercise done on sources of energy for several Texas utility companies where there were thirty percent changes. These changes are comparable to the changes in people's opinion after a debate on whether "Global warming is a crisis" that I heard on National Public Radio. They are also comparable to logical discrepancies in polling results. Wally Smith has several examples of these. 61% of Americans say that abortion should not be permitted after fetal brainwaves are detected. 58% say that abortion should not be permitted after fetal heartbeat detected. These occur at the sixth week of pregnancy and 18 to 21 days. On the other hand, 64% of Americans are in favor of letting Roe vs. Wade stand which permits abortion after three months, which was stated the indirect. And similarly sixty percent say abortion should be "left up to the women and her doctor." These results differ by twenty percent, about the same rate of change we saw in many of the deliberative polling exercises.

Opinion Leader Research and the Institute for Public Policy Reserch and others in Britain have tried out citizen juries to get input on a wide of usually specialized topics such as handling the rehabilitation of a specific site, or the types of medical care that should be provided for back pain. They were surprised on the level of suport for osteopaths and chiropractic. And this is a good source of links and definititons for what are termed citizen deliberative councils.


  1. J. R. Hibbing and E. Theiss-Morse, Stealth Democracy: American's Beliefs About How Government Should Work Cambridge University Press, Cambridge U. K. New York, 2002.
  2. Woodruff, Paul, First Democracy: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea, Oxford University Press, 2005.
  3. Oystein Saebo and Hallgeir Nilsen, "The Support for Different Democracy Models by the Use of a Web-Based Discussion Board" Electronic Governemnt, Third International Conference, EGOV 2004, Zaragoza Spain, August 30 - September 2004, Springer Verlag, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Volume 3183.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stimulus and Participatory Democracy

We all know the problems with corporate compensation systems run amok. Of course, its continuing that Goldmann Sachs and JP Morgan Chase have profits and renewed strengh. Yet both received (and repaid) bail money and paid them back. And it is expected that at least Goldman Sachs will give out more bonuses.

And unfortunately, the TARP and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Stimulus bill) were very long. I heard on CSPAN, Michele Bachmann complaining about the large bills (around one thousand pages) that are brought to the legislatures in a day or so without giving Congress time to read them. Time to read bills is an issue of this Republican Congress person from Minnesota. But is there an alternative to these big bills?

We need to track the StimBucks, and have juries vote on each expenditure. Thus, if there is a project or a bail out, money is put in a separate account for that business or individual. When they purchase a good or service, the money moves to a separate service. Each movement must be approved by a jury of randomly selected citizens, or at least randomly selected from the 15,000,000 unemployed or undemployed. Eventually, some goods and services are "off-the-shelf" like toilet paper for the business's bathrooms or an individual. Then, the money goes to the account.

The stimulus money thus is targetted like an anticancer drug or radiation attached to a monoclonal antibody. The money goes to the persons who need it. What are the side effects of stimulus money. Large bonusses to financial executives who most believe created the problem, are particularly galling, of course. But stimulus checks helped on-line adult web sites grow their traffic by twenty to thirty percent. (Admittedly, other economists analyzing this data show a much lower rate.

But much more to the point is whether a is saved, used to pay off debt or spent. Economists don't know what the size of the multiplier is. That is, how much will the economy or GDP increase as a proportion of the eight-hundred dollar stimulus. There are policy lags and we don't know how much will be saved and how much will be saved.

A stimulus bill, monetary policy are like broad spectrum like whole-body radiation or conventional monotherapy. I am proposing that juries finely target the stimulus, and much of the resulting spending by the people and businesses receiving the stimulus dollars, precisely at those people who need it.

  1. A Graham Bowley, "Two Giants Emerge from the Ruins on Wall Street" The New York Tmes, July 17 2009, Volume CLVIII No 54, 739 Page A1 and A3
  2. B Paul Krugman, The Joy of Sachs, July 17 2009, Volume CLVIII No 54, 739, page A23
  3. C Graham Bowley and Jenny Anderson, "For Goldman,A Swift Return to Lofty Profits" Page A1, The New York Times, Monday July 13th 009, Vol CLVIII, NO 54,735.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

New York Times Page A8 July 17th 2008 Voe l.LVIII No 54,739

Danny Hakim, "Senate Revises Its Rules to Give More Power to the Minority"

The New York State Senate implemented the ideas I posted on reforming the New York State Senante on Daily Kos.

NOw, "any senator can bring a bill to the floor if the majority of the senators support the move." It has to go through the committee process. But lawmakers can move a bill introduced int he first three and a half months of the session (to prevent things from coming up suddenly without thought) out of committee with 37 votes on a proportion.

And a third of any committee's members can force hearings on any bill.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Excesses of Finance and Goldman Sacks: What is the Solution?

The Wall Street Journal is criticizing the excesses of the system. And Huffington Post is quick to collect excellent evidence of the problems with our current system. However, the solutions proposed here and by Ms. Pettifor are too modest. We need more participatory democracy and a share economy where all risk is shared proportionally. Everyone agrees that the patient has a disease; but noone can agree on a remedy.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Coming First World Debt Crisis: A Book Review

I picked up Ann Pettifor's The Coming First World Debt Crisis (ISBN 0-230 00784-8, Palgrave, Macmillion, 2006)

First of all Ms. Pettifor earns an "I told you so" award. Writing in 2006 when "stock markets in both the US and UK are booming," she forsees "a time in the not-so-distant future" when there will be a debt crisis in the first world. She identified Iceland, United Kingdom and United States as the target. And she cited the Bank for International Settlements about the failure of large complex financial instituions could fail creating an international crisis.

She does a good job of explaining the history, before World War One, before World War Two, before the Bretton Woods agreement. She points out the unique situation of the United States

She identifies (on page sixteen), that "Finance" is a "parasite" and that profits are not used to finance research and investment, but repayment and mergers and acquisitions. She distinguishes between agriculture, labor and industry that produce real wealth and financiers who do not. She cites Aristotle who distinguished between the loan of an asset that provides its own repayment mechanism and the loan of money which doesn ot have a way of repayment. That is, a cow produces calves, a hen produces chicken and eggs, a factory produces goods. It is important to remember, as she herself says, her role in the concern about Third World indebtedness and the golden jubilee.

But the difference between myself and this blog and herself is not the concern and the diagnosis, but the cure. She advoactes "free money" She says that except for cash, most of the money is bank money and reserves, and thus when a bank gives a loan, it is not someone else's savings that get loaned, and it is not even restricted by the "reserve requirement." (I recall my intermediate macro-economics professor, explaining that with a ten percent reserve requirement, each dollar gets transferred into ten dollars of loans. This is true whether one assumes one bank or one has many. I asked him, does the bank make money on the interest on the one dollar in savings or the ten dollars that is loaned out. He said it is the latter. Thus, if one saves one dollar in one's bank, the bank effectively loans it out ten times, making interest each time. If the bank charged eight percent on average, it is getting eighty percent on the one dollar you saved, minus the miniscule amount you saved.)

She quotes Keynes who said, "Why then if banks can create credit, should they refuse any reasonable requrest for it? And why should they charge a fee for what costs them little or nothing?

She quotes Josiah Charles Stamp, who was President of the Bank of England and the second richest man in Great Britian:

"The modern banking System manufactures money out of nothing. The process is perhaps the most astounding piece of sleight-of-hand that was ever invented. Banking was concieved in inequity an born in sin.. But if you want to continue to be slaves of the bankers and pay the cost of your own slavery, then let the bankers continue to create money and control credit." Henry Ford argued that money should be interest free and quoted James Dyson, a manufacturer, argued for low-interest.

But she pointed out that Once banks are able to create credit is no longer constrained by saving. But Ms. Pettifor thinks this is a good thing, because credit at low interest rates allows investment in things such as factories and it benefits the productive part of the economy (industry, labor and agriculture).

But the problem is ensuring that the money goes to good things, not McMansions, second homes for the rich or the Syn Fuels Program even though there were many successful synfuels programs and reasons to believe new ones can be successful. But how do we find the good projects and not waste real resources on bad projects? I believe participatory democracy in both the governmental sector, to the extent that the government provides credit or stimulus, and in the private sector as the share economy is the only anser.

Finance is a parasite and it must be eliminated. Computerized approaches such as the Cashless Society and Deontic Logic can provide the mechanics at low cost. Mr. Craig Pilks and myself presented a paper on this issue in 1992 at the TIMS-ORSA meeting. We looked at the cost of payment system. And we looked at the cost of database processors using the TIPS benchmark, communications lines, etc. and found the computer cost to handle all our transactions was trivial, especially compared to the then cost of our payment system. And Humphrey and others shows that paper systems whether cash or checks cost much more than electronic transactions (Payment Systems in Global Perspective by Maxell Fry, viewed via Google Books)

There is a cost of the payment system. Some argue that those who use credit cards but pay off their balance each month should not pay any of it. Others say they should. The question is whether it is cheaper for the government to run one payment system rather than have separate banks. After all, there is only one mint or conventional currency in each country. The government provides IDs that we use for all sorts of private transactions. For example, I show my passport at the lobby of many New York City offices to the guard at the front door in order to get permission to proceed to one of their tenants in the floors above. And the government can pay for the central system by avoiding the tax gap

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Paul Krugman just had an article on protectionism in dealing with Carbon Taxes. What I like is Jerry's comment

Why is it OKAY to have these tarrifs on a carbon basis, but not include child labor, pollution, worker safety.

This is the idea of my first post

Wally Smith

I found a kindred spirit, Dr. Wally Smith, who writes on Interval Voting and Direct Democracy. His home page and list of papers is fascinating; Last century, my research area was symbolic computation for finite element analysis and constructive solid geometry which I proposed applying to the shape optimization problem. I printed out his material and will be reporting on it.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Approval Voting and Median Voting for Budget/expenditure/taxes

How can the whole population vote on a budget. Here is a mechanism I proposed on Usenet in 1992.

There are two parts. The first part is expenditures, voting for what projects and funding for entitlements. The second part is voting for tax rates.

Each project is funded on the basis of the percentage of voters that voted for them. (Representatives could propose omnibus bills such as funding all roads which presumably would get more votes than voting on a specific road that benefits only a few voters.) Each proposal getting 100% of the votes gets funded, then those that get 99%, etc. The legislature job is to find a funding formula that everybody (or as many as possible) can agree upon, not to make compromises.

Similarly, every entitlement spending gets funded the same way.

Lets say 100% of the the individuals feels that a service person who lost all four limbs should get a stipend of at least $30,000 a year. 99% say they should get $33,000.00 Similarly, the entire legislature agrees that a person who worked fourty years on a job that was covered by social security shoudl get $10,000 per year, 99% say they should get $11,500, 98% say they shoudl get $12,500, etc. Each would get funded at that amount until the money runs out.

I am starting research on adapating the Machine Learning Algorithm ID3 to voting on a massive scale for generating rules. This creates a decision tree and individuals can vote at each stage for the factors that would determine how much a person might receive. For example, for disabled service people, different factors such as type of injury, length of service, rank at the time of medical discharge, cost of living in their home state, etc. would be presented. People would first vote on what would be considered first (or is most important) and then vote on the amount to pay for each leaf node.)

On the revenue side, each tax rate is determined by median vote. We all vote on the percentage for each tax bracket, which could be divided based upon whether it was earned or unearned. WE could also vote on taxes on items we don't like but don't want to outlaw (alcohol, cigarrettes, twinkies). We just take the median of the excise tax that each person voted. If fifty percent of the people voted zero for any particular tax, that item would not get taxed. Thus if fifty percent of us felt that taxing twinkies or soft drinks was being too much of a "nanny state," they would not get taxed.

We also vote on what to borrow, whether we want a deficit. The deficit would be the median of what the voter select. The amount to be borrowed is also designated by median of the votes. (Alternatively, the legislature could decide that we would borrow as much as we can at x% where x is determine by median of the votes.)

Immigration, A News Article

Here is an example of the kind of case that are best handled by the sortition-based rulles approach to immigration I proposed earlier.

In the Friday July Third 2009, New York Times (page A18), discusses one case of what happens to an individual who was brought to the United States by illegal immigrant parents at a very tender age, in this case three. They go on and do very well in school (an honors graduate of high school and community college). The Dream Act proposed in Congress was supposed to do something about this.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

James Surowiecki, Wisdom of Crowds

Mr. Surowiecki talks about Coase's theorem. Firms will do things in house when the coordination costs that way are cheaper than the contracting overhead to outsource. He talks about decentralization and that even though decentralization and small teams were all the vogue, more and more money and attention was given to Chief Executive Differences. He says "What is perplexing about this faith is how little evidence there is that single individuals can consistently make sueprior forecasts or strategic decisions inthe face of genuine academics suggest that they have, at bst, a minor impact on corporate performance" Eighty percent of all new products fail and two thirds of all mergers end up losing money. I asked the question in my Daily Kos diary? a country really need a chief/executive/ prime minister/ president/ head of state pointing out the problems they seem to cause in many countries. All the comments were negative and people said that any organization needs a chief executive.