Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Thoughtful Thursday, More on Wally Smith and Voting Systems

I had some more thoughts on Dr. Smith's work on Range Voting, or more precisely:

As this is the first Thoughtful Thursday that will be on Thanksgiving, I close with a thanks to some of the wonderful people have explored the ideas of democracy. Political scientists study Locke but do not study Rosseua. I greatly enjoyed Dr. Smith's observations on the probabilities that face a single voter in an election, even a simple binary choice.

  1. One goes into a voting booth. What are the odds that your vote will make a difference--that A would have won except for your vote for B. It is 3/sqrt(8*pi*V) where V is the number of voters. If there are a million voters, it one out 1671. Not bad. But this assumes that the poll says the election is a virtual dead heat. That every other voter is as likely to prefer A to B as the other way around, or it is simply "too close to call."
  2. But many elections are that close. If the pollsters are saying that people are 60% for A and 40% for B, then the chances that your vote for B will make a difference are vanishingly small. (Even for a 51% to 49% case, the chances are about 1090)
  3. If we did not have any idea what other people thought--your electiont ou was too small to attract the interest of pollsters, then the odds that your vote would have an effect would be 1/V or (1/2V), depending upon whether V is even or odd. Thus, in our small-town Alderman election with a 1000 people, we would have about a one in 1500 chance of who votes.

Dr. Smith, with his wonderful wry humor, points out that in most elections it is not worth the voter's time to vote as their vote will never matter. And in spite of the hand-wringing of people complaining about voter apathy and lack of turn out, lots of people do vote. But on the other hand, people generally don't "waste their vote" on third party candidates that have even less of a chance than A or B. I can understand people not voting for Nader in the election of Bush vs. Gore, where it was close. But in the election of McCain vs. Obama, where it was clear who was going to win the Presidency, why did we not see more small party voters. As Dr. Smith pointed out that "rational voter" arguments should be given as much credit as most economists talking about a rational homo economicus.

The latter is the key assumption in Dr. Smith's work on Range Voting. Each voter looks at the poll data, and looks at the winner and closest runner up. Then,the voter decides which vote under the voting system, will he be most likely to affect.

And he gets the following algorithms for the Borda vote (a voter ranks the candidates adn the winner gets the sum of the ranks) and range voting.

Borda:: Look at the top two candidates in the polls. Award c votes to your favore. Award 0 votes to your second favorite. Now look at the third most likely to win (from poll data), if you think they are better than the average of the two previous candidates, give them c-2 votes. Otherwise give them 2 votes.

Range: Assume the maximum range you can assign is +1 and the minimum is -1 in this election. Go to the top two candidates, most likely to win--call them A and B. Decide which one you like the best out of those two, the lesser of two evils. Give them +1 to your favorite candidate and -1 to the worse of the two evils. Consult the poll data again and go to the third most likely to win. Call them C Give +1 if that candidates is better than the the average of candidates A and B, -1 otherwise. Then in deciding among the fourth most likely to win, if you like them better than the average of A, B and C, give them +1 , otherwise -1. Dr. Smith calls this generalization the Moving Average Strategy

Dr. Smith tries thirty voting system/strategy pairs. but all the strategic voting possibilities are individual strategies.

Let's say seven percent of the population follows the edicts of Demagogue C. the demagouge has considerable resources and hires computer boffins to determine the best strategic choice. Demagouge says give the vector <0.3,0.2, 0.8, 0.1> In a game theory setting, there might be another demagouge or interest group followed by five per cent that say give the vector< 0.6, 0.2,0.3,0.7> The other 88% are honest. Dr. Smith mentions the issue of allowing the honest voters to be honest which range voting does, and even ten percent honest voters will give better results for society than if everyone is strategic.

Coalitions are important. The wonderful paper of Vinent Conitzy, Tuomas Sandholm and Jerome Lang in Journal of Acm, volume 54, Issue Three discusses these--a topic for another Thoughtful Thursday. And as Dr. Conitzy pointed out, coalitions are weighted electoins. We may have these in shareholder elections where each vote is weighted by the number of shares that one has.

Thus, we should simulate it as a game. This means that each voter considers more possibilities than that given by the affine space and whether it makes sense to only look at the top two candidates in the polls.

I raise a possibility for elections to bodies like the house or Senate. The election is for m candidates over the n fielded. Each of the m winners are weighted by the number of votes they get. So in the Senatorial electon for State S, assume the Republican candiate, R gets 73% of the vote and the DemocratD gets 23% of the vote. There are two possibilities. Unlike the United States current system, the senators from each State are elected at the same time. R gets 1.46 votes and D gets 0.46 votes in the Sentate. The State loses 0.08 votes (for the minor parties). An alternative system which would be kinder to those voting for minor parties would be dividing by the number of votes for the top two candidates. Thus, here R would get 1.52 votes and B would get 0.48 votes so S would not lose a vote.

We should be thankful for the power of simulatoins to look at how large number of voters behavior under various models, and various possible voting systems. Dr. Smith is one such example. We should be thankful for the theoretical models that tells us that it is impossible to create elections and designing systeems that have certain properties. We should be thankful that there have been some trials of particapatory approaches, most notably Switzerland for referenda and cantonal democracy, Participatory Budgeting most notably in Brazil and to a lesser extent in south America, and Athenian Democracy And we should be thankful that somebody has asked in a survey-kind of way about participatory and direct democracy.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A link to Dr. Krugman's blog

Dr. Krugman is looking at the Minsky moment when "everyone has decided that debt is too high." Here is a link to his blog post with the links to the real analysis.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Facts and Factoids about Civil Wars, Thoughtful Thursday

Thoughtful Thursday James Fearon, "Iraq's Civil War" in Foreign Affairs March April 2007, Volume 86 Issue Two and the Wikipedia article on Civil wars.

  1. There have been 125 civil wars since the end of World War II--as defined as those leading to over a thousand dead.
  2. Another 104 civil wars occurred between 1816 and 1997.
  3. Ninety of the Post World War II civil wars killed more than one thousand per year.
  4. Nine Civil wars since World War II have killed sixty-thousand or more. These include Iraq. They also include Algeria, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru and Sri LAnka.
  5. Twenty civl wars were ongoing as of 2007.
  6. According to Fearon, the average civil war has been ten years with a median of seven years. Wikipedia has the number at four years.
  7. From 1900 to 1944, civil wars only lasted 1.5 years. They occurred just as frequently as after 1944, just lasted less time.
  8. Since 1945, civil wars killed 25 million people.
  9. 55 of these civil wars were fought to control a central government.
  10. The remainder were fought for secession (like Biafra or the United States) or regional autonomy.
  11. Of the civil wars fought to control a government, 40% of the time the government crushed the rebels. 35% of the time the rebels won. Sixteen percent ended up in a pwer sharing agreement.
  12. Most civil wars are fought in a guerilla fashion and are rural. Thus, the United States model of organized armies fielded by states is unusual.
  13. Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler, for the World Bank, argued that civil wars are primarily motivated by economic desires rather than identity issues. However identity issues did become important, and were a source to restart the conflict. I will report more on their work in a later Thoughtful Thursday.
  14. Having commodity exports dramatically increases the chance of civil war. A country with one-third of its gross product being commodities has a twenty percent chance of getting a civil war in a five-year period. Those countries lacking exportable commodities are spared the risk of civil war. (The tendency to create conflicts is part, but not all, of the resource course)
  15. And if there is a national diaspora, that dramatically increases (up to six times) the chance of a civil war. The diaspora finances the war. They are also likely to cause a flare up of the civil war, as the diaspora would often be nursing a grievance. (I had pointed out the possibility of giving the diaspora an explicit vote and say in my article on participatory-style Palestinian-Israeli Peace settlement.)
  16. If there is a ethnic group which has a majority with minority ethnic groups, then there is more chance of a civil war as the minority might feel oppressed.

James Fearon argues that power sharing requires that both sides be cohesive and that there is a group or set of leaders which truly speak for the side, rather than there being a group of militias or war lords.

The purpose of Mr. Fearon's article is to discuss Iraq situation in particular. But the wonderful statistics on the civil war phenomena and tragedy are why I am reviewing it here. Some of the data comes from the Wikipedia article.

Several weeks ago, I proposed a Constitution Construction Kit. The ratification procedure takes into account ethnic identity, so each group is and feels protected. Votes can use a similar principle--to pass legislation, one needs a certain percentage of the votes from each ethnic group. Or where there are several choices, the winner will be the choice that has the largest minima over all ethnic groups. Fact Sixteen shows this is sometimes a problem, but by no means the dominant factor in predicting ethnic conflicts. Forming a world government has much of the same problem as the world certainly has point-source resources unequally distributed.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Israel Palestinian Peace Talk Participatory Style

Let's not rely on negotiations between one pair of leaders or negotiating teams. Different pairs of people, groups of both Israeli and Palestinians randomly selected, sets of academics all make proposals. And then both Palestinians and Israelis vote on which proposal they like the most. The one that gets the max of the minima of the Israeli votes and the vote. Of course, if no proposal gets 50% of the votes from both the Israelis and the Palestinians, then nothing happens. (A null proposal also can be added to explicitly see if either side just prefers to do nothing. )

proposalIsraeli approval percentagePalestinian Approval percentqage
Here proposal a win's. It's minimum is 54 and that is more than the minima of b, c, d respectively (51, 52 and 53) respectively.

Following in the spirit of the X-Prize, the individuals making the proposal that wins, gets a few million dollars.

Of course, there are questions should there be three separate votes, the Gaza groups, the West bank and the Israeli's. Do those Palestinians who fled in 1949 and who are now living far away get to vote? If then, perhaps Israelis might say the Jewish diaspora, including those who may be several-generations American-citizens and residents, get to vote. There is certainly no reason that one could not do this with five or more groups.

proposalIsraeli Approval Percentage Gaza Approval percentageWest Bank Approval PercentageJewish DiasporaPalestinian Diaspora
a, c and d could not win since they have one percentage below fifty percent. Thsat leave c with a min of 52% and e with a minima of 51. So c wins!

The proposals would include of course several two-state solutions as well as one-state solutions. The Constitution Construction Kit would be used to allow the Palestinian voters and the Jewish voters to construct and try to see if they could live as one country.

Simulated Annealing or Hill Climbing

We can assume that there might be several proposals that might attract close to 50%, or better, of each group. Can we tweak them to get a better proposal. We can allow slight variations in a few items, for example, swapping a little bit of land here for a little bit of land there. And see if the amended proposal does better than the proposal. In the spirit of simulated annealing, big changes, and new proposals are allowed at first. Those proposals that have good agreement from parties, get tweaked. Then, these get tweaked by a lesser amount. We only take the tweaks that give a better min max than the base proposal.

The X-Prize Approach

Of course, simulated annealing conflicts with the X-Prize approach. Does a a party making a proposal that gets tweaked quite a bit entitled to the prize? A participatory democracy approach would be that the Quartet would put $25,000,000 in escrow. If and when a proposal passes, the people would then have another election to decide who gets the prize. In the spirit of Wait 'til we really know what you are worth, the first partition would be for two million of the $25,000,000.00. The remainder should be awarded twenty years later when we see that the peace really was stable!

The Literature on Civil Wars

The literature on civil wars shows that sometimes or often both sides have to exhaust each other more before one or both sides is willing to concede... (Foreign Affairs, 2007, Volume 86, Issue Two, Page Two, James D. Fearon, "Iraq's Civil War"--which has some great statistics information on civil wars in general and I will make a Thoughtful Thursday.)

A closing note based on a wonderful NPR Story

A conventionally-negotiated peace deal requires on the leaders having the courage to "take it back to their people and see if they can sell it." The participatory-democracy approach means that there are many proposals and the people can vote on the ones they want. Mr. Miller, who was at the Camp David talks, says don't go to a high level summit if both sides are not ready.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wally Smith on Range Voting, Thoughtful Thursday

Range Votting by Warren D. Smith (2004)

Dr Smith identified a class of voting systems where each voter is asked to send back a vector (one number per candidate). The vectors are summed. The candidate whose corresponding number is largest wins.

Many of the voting systems others have discussed are of this category. They each restrict what kind of vector get sent back. Assume, there are three candidates, B, N and G

In conventional voting, each voter simply sends back a one for a single candidate. That is each person has to vote for either B, N and G. thus, we may have the votes

Here the winner is B with three votes. Conventional voting allows a vote to be split. There have been several elections where write-in candidates won or split the vote, not just the recent Alaska Senatorial election. IN 1836, the Whigs ran two candidates including Benjamin Harrison for President in a bald-faced but unsuccessful attempt to split the vote. Of course Benjamin Harrison was elected President in 1840 but was to die shortly thereafter.

Then, there is approval voting. Here, each vector is still limited to zeros and ones. However, we allow the voter to enter as many one's as they care to. In the above election, we might have.

Here N might have been the second choice of many voters. The approval voting system seems to give a better result. There was a book on approval voting by Dr. Steven Brams and Peter Fishburn, which I will review in a later Thoughtful Thursday.

Then, there is the Borda voting, where each person gives a rank ordering. And we count a first place as one more than a second-place vote. In a three-way election, we will have the numbers zero, one and two with two going to our first choice.;

Here, G wins, even though N is practically everybody's second choice.

Range voting gives everybody the most expressiveness. Everyone can put any number between zero and one. (Actually, one can set up range voting with any defined range, say zero to ten like in the Olympics.) Question for the reader--why don't we allow to the voter to put any number without restricting them to a range.

There are other voting systems that one can use. However, they have the disadvantage as the algorithm has to store all the votes. The above types of systems which Dr. Smith calls COAF total, can just work with the totals. I wrote about some of them earlier. Some of them take exponential computer time just to find out who won. Also, each voting machine has to send all the votes to the main office so it can find out the winner. COAF systems are better, the voting machine can send the totals for each candidate to the central machine. That would add the subtotals to find out who won.

Range voting gets out of a lot of the paradoxes and problems in voting theorems. Both Arrow and Gibbard assumed that voters have to give a ranking. In range-voting, each voter provides real numbers.

I have seen several descriptions of Arrow's famous impossibility theorem. I like Dr. Smith's explanation the best (which he attributes to Dr. Fishburn). Each voter gives a ranking of all the voters. My job as a programmer is to write a program that takes the set of ranks and generates a ranking of the candidates. (Of course, in an election for a single senator or governor, we only need to know who won, we don't need to know who the first loser is.) I can write the program anyway I want, but I have to obey the following rules. Arrow also assumed that I have a finite number of voters. (Of course, I question whether the thing might go away with a huge number of voters and) where the probability of a manipulation goes down with the cube of the number of voters.)

In any event, I cannot write an algorithm that fulfills all of these conditions.

  1. There is a finite number of voters--obviously. in an election with three (or more) candidates.
  2. If all voters agree than one candidate is better than the other will that candidate come out ahead
  3. Let there be two sets of V voters each and we run the algorithm in (two parallel universities). Only one voter differs between the two universes. However, they both rank candidates B more than G but rearrange their choices for other candiates. The algorithm should both rank B more than G (or the other way around). This is that the final result should not be affected by how voters behave on irrelevant alternatives. Thus if B wins, if everyone rearranged their choices ranked beledow B, it shouldn't change the fact that B has won. (I have seen some argue that this is not an important criteria.)
  4. We also don't allow me to write a dictator solution. That is, I can't just copy one person's choices and ignore everyone else's choices.

Dr. Smith programmed what I would consider the obvious simulation. Some voters are honest. That is they simply send in their utility. Others try to game the system. Dr. Smith calls them rational. They are simply the people who will vote the lesser of two evils. That is those who would prefer N to win but who look at the polls would vote for B or G.

He generated random sets of preferences for candidates. Then he simulates each of them and see how preferred the candidates for each voting system. The honest voters vote their preference. The dishonest (or "rational") voters look at the polling data and vote the way that they think will give them the best possible candidate. (Dr. Smith also includes some nice results for the probability that one's vote will affect the outcome for various models.)

Dr. Smith tried 144 scenarios and in all of them range voting was the one that selected a candidate that made people, on average, the happiest. (I should add that Dr. Smith's papers on voting system are full of wonderful details and arguments and are a joy to read. I urge all to go to his home page and read his political science papers--he also writes papers on a wide variety of topics unrelated to politics.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

State Clawbacks; dealing with high pensions and salaries

New York State is suffering from a ten-billion budget short fall out of 130 billion total budget. Yet its retirement funds are bleeding money to those most New Yorkers would consider unworthy of their pension. On the top of that list are corrupt officials (*):
  1. The Former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi bringing home $105,221
  2. Joseph Bruno, $96,085.00, convicted of eight counts of corruption. He was New York Sate Senate majority leader.
  3. Guy Velella, $75,012, pleaded guilty of bribery, indicted for twenty-five counts. He was a state repres. and state senator to over thirty years.
But there are many others who earn outrageous pensions.

a firefighter receives $74,624 in disability pension money and is a fighter in martial arts championshps. 84% of New York city firefighters who retire do so as a disability. One problem is that any firefighter who worked at the 9/11 sight and who has a heart or lung problem is legally presumed related. (I have observed many disabled, whether a military disability, mental illnesses, an individual who worked as an executive chef who contracted emphesema . We have had interesting political discussions. Certainly, even if a firefighter might no longer be able to go into burning buildings, he could work in a participatory democracy sortition jury to help supervise firefighters.)

In New York City, eight thousand employees of the transit system earn over one hundred thousand dollarz per year. Twenty Five percent of the The Long Island RailRoad and the Metro North that serves the Northern suburbs of New York earn six figures. Another problem is the payout of unused sick leave upon retirement. The State of Illinois eliminated this give back but the the faculty and other employees who started last century still have a payout, sometimes hefty, coming to them. Sixty percent of the transportation expenditures are payroll as compared to the eighty percent in the social service and education fields.

Our Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said that he would handle the budget crisis by freezing salaries--the alternative being lay offs. At my University, the Union agreed to a salary freeze and many other cities. So far, fortunately, there has not been one lay off. But the New York City teachers, and I believe our faculty, will still get promotion raises and other uch raises as specified in the contract. In New York City, that is still 3.3 increase in salaries.

Chicago's Commuter Railroad, Metra, has G. Richard Tidwell earning 1.25 million in salary, bonus and benefits, a deputy executive director. And 18.4 percent of the work force made more than $100,000 dollars last year. Note that in New York City, the average pension for police and fire fighters is $62,208 and the average for all others is $25,947.00.

But these are contractual agreements--is there anything that can be done? More importantly we should not pick on government workers. I think most would agree that some teachers, transit workers, and government employees of all stripes have been hard working and definitely deserve every dollar of their pension. And there are political issues in attacking government workers who quite reasonably have strong lobbies and political action groups (both capital and lower case letters).

But we all realize there are lazy doctors, financial advisors who earned a lot of money and did not achieve much of substance. They are retired well whether from savings or pensions without earning that retirement.

Similar to handling executives and financial entrepreneurs, the answer is a clawback. The State go after those who arned over a million dollars total or who worked for the State's citizens for over thirty years. This could be those who worked for the State, a government agencies, or who worked in a position where there primary responsibility was serving those living in the State. A State does not want to go after executives who live or work in the state but primarily serve others. Thus, New York State does not want to tax Wall Street Investment Bankers--they would just leave, and the money to pay their salaries comes mostly from outside the State, and it would put New York's financial sector at a competitive disadvantage.. However, there is no reason not to tax the New York City area Distribution Manager for the beer company.

A person who purposefully does business in a State like working there or having a position such as head of distribution for that State for many years has met the "minimum contacts test" as required by the Constitution. (International Shoe Co. vs. Washington 326 U. S. 310 (1945))

States cannot reduce pensions as these are a contract and cutting them would involve the Contracts clause in the Constitution. However, that can be avoided by the tax proposed.

  1. Michael M. Grynbaum, "239,00 conductor Among M.T.A's 8000 Six figure Workers" The New York Times page A 30, June Third 2010
  2. Jennifer Medina, "Mayor to Cancel Teacher's Raises, Averting Layoffs" The New York Times June Third 2010,CLIX No 55,060, Page A1 and A30.
  3. (*) AM New York June 17th 2010, Page Four
  4. "finally cracking down" New York Post Page 20, august 7 2010, (editorial)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


A concern is who drafts the law, whether in a conventional democracy or a particpatory one. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEc), has corporations and state legislators as members. The corporations pay a total of six million dollars a year. They hold three annual conferences wehre companies present 'model bills' to the legilators. ALEC gives "scholarships" to the legislators to attend. The recent Arizona Immigration law was put together by corporations including Correction Corporation of America. NPR questioned whether ALEC should be treated as non-profit or a lobbying organization. Wikipedia, as usual, has a good article on ALEC. However, one should compare organizations such aas the National Conference of Commisions on Uniform State Laws that among other things is responsible for the Uniform Commercial Code, passed in all fifty states.

California Proposition 23 would suspend its greenhouse gas emissions law until the jobless rate falls to 5.5 per cen Valero Oil and owns several refineries in California and has contriubted five million dollars. Tesoro Energy is also contributing. However, in spite of the business money going to support the measure, Polls say that the greenhouse law will remain and the proposition to delay it will not pass. Of course, we know that the solution to the problem is a consumption and sortition based tax. They don't form pollution havens where all businesses relocate to the country with the least environmental restrictions.

In Brazil, voters can vote at age sixteen, a rarity. Fewer than half now choose to vote--when the youth first got the vote early, they were very excited.. On the subject of Brazil, Planet Money had a wonderful piece on how they solved their inflation of eighty per cent. Four College students were called in by the Minister of Finance to help control Inflation. They developed a "Unit of Real Value" It was parallel with the prices in the currency that was inflating. So everyone saw that each day widget was one URV. What changed was that one day a URL was ten cruzeiro's, the next twenty. Eventually, the government just declared that the URV was the real currency. A psychological trick, that worked and enabled the many accomplishemnts of which Brazil can be most proud.

Of course, could one get the same psychological affect by freezing and numbering the money supply.

We talked about Brazil and some other countrie's programs of participatory budgeting where the voters get to choose how some of the money is spent. My home state Illinois has a candidate for Governor on the "Independent" party. He is calling for particpatory democracy for part of the State budget.

My Chinese teacher was giving us the word for finance. (I have just started taking Chinese.) It contains the character for "bug" or "worm." I have blogged extensively about the financial system and whether we need one.

An educational toy and products company is having problems with its rock collection. Some of the minerals contain some lead. He is part of the set of business owners that are turning against the democrats--and an example of the complaints against stupid regulations. One of the ones I heard was about the requirements for having accessible drinking fountains. The plumbing code has rules about this. One might say these are too detailed. And they are ambiguous. And eHow has a somewhat different set. If one should inadvertently install a drinking fountain a little too high or a little too low, should one have to reinstall it? Oh and New York City Council voted to require all water fountains to be set up to fill up a water bottle; this is to give less money to the bottled water industry. I recall somebody complained that he inadvertently made his water fountains one inch too low for the Americans Disabilities Act regulations. He had to pay to have them all raised one inch. I wasn't able to find it by searching for it.
(Wall Street Journal October 12th 2010, CCLVII, NO 87., Elizabeth Williamson, "Business Backlash Grows"