Voting and Idea Futures

From: Robin Hanson (
Date: Wed Jan 19 2000 - 13:00:21 MST

Max More wrote [on who should vote]:
>Funny, this very topic came up in a class last night (a class in which I
>introduced transhumanism). My vote is for replacing the current system with
>a working Foresight Exchange (ideas futures). I suppose you can still have
>one-warm-human-body/one vote, but you'd be voting for representatives who
>would have to take into account the results of the Foresight Exchange. Any
>ideas on how, constitutionally, you could force the representatives to use
>the Exchange results in their legislation? If we could get the idea futures
>process widely accepted, it would tend to put pressure on legislators to
>follow it (especially if you could easily go on the web and check a
>representatives voting record against the ideas market's recommendations).
>But it would be good if there were a way of compelling reps to follow
>this--and a good democratic argument can be made that this would mean a more
>pure form of democracy in the sense of following the informed will of the
>people. (Given how much Americans love to gamble, I suspect that
>participation rates would be higher than we see in many elections too.)

A subject dear to my heart of course :-). The tricky issue is disentangling
facts and values. But I see three approaches worth exploring.

1) Have courts enforce a rule that policy makers must always (except for
specific exceptions) prefer a market estimate over other sources when
estimating matters of fact. Of course decisions also depend on values,
and it is harder to get markets to estimate values. In principle, policy
makers could use this ambiguity to avoid this rule, but in practice I
think the rule would bite a lot. If a market said drug A was more safe
and effective than drug B for treating a given problem, it would be hard
for policy makers to ban drug A and not drug B, unless they appealed
to something like one drug being produced by a monopoly, or by foreigners.
Similarly, if a market said a given treaty made war more likely the treaty
could not be approved on the justification that it would keep us out of war,
thought it might be approved on other justifications.

2) Have the rule be that decision D must be enacted whenever a market says
that there is more than an X (=75%?) chance that a random jury, chosen
twenty years later and paid twice the average wage to study the question
for a full year, would agree that D was better than the decision that would
have resulted had this market rule not been followed. Now I can see some
problems with this, but it relies a lot less on courts to work.

3) Choose some official national objective function, something like GDP,
only more carefully measured and trying to include more contributions like
the value of leisure, etc. Have some independent and well monitored agency
continually update this estimate of the state of the nation. Then have the
rule be that decision D must be enacted whenever a market says that among
all the decisions markets are considering (including letting policy makers
do what they want), D gives the highest conditional estimate for this
national objective. I think this is the most promising approach.

Robin Hanson
Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University
MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323

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