Re: Voting and Idea Futures

From: Robin Hanson (
Date: Fri Feb 11 2000 - 13:42:02 MST

Peter McCluskey wrote:
> >>... For example, I suspect markets would predict a slightly higher
> >>GDP (and gross world product) if the U.S. had picked a side at random in
> >>the Bosnian war and bombed it than if the U.S. had done nothing.
> >
> >Hmm, if so, what would are your grounds for opposing such a policy?
>I care about some things that aren't measured well by GDP, such as pain,
>death, control of one's destiny, etc.

Pain and death should lower GWP. I agree that in principle GWP could
be improved to measure individual preferences for "freedom", but I'm
skeptical that this choice is close enough to the border line that
adding freedom in would actually change the decision. How much larger
than the pain and death effects do you think the freedom effect would be?

> >... Consider the motto "Futarchy: vote values, but bet beliefs". ...
>You spoke of giving a single agency responsibility for measuring the
>objective function. Such agencies always have some ability to add their
>own biases into the decisions involved in producing such indicators. ...

I could go for having several competing agencies measure things with the
official measurement being some combination (e.g., median) of them.

>I want to insure that the value decisions are made by the average person
>if possible, or if that isn't possible, then by processes that the average
>person can understand well enough to hold accountable. I suspect that the
>average person will be better able to understand the value decisions being
>made if they are presented in the form "bombing Serbia will increase GWP
>by 0.001% and cause 100 innocent people to die" than if they are presented
>in the form of an objective function where the average person is asked for
>opinions on what numbers to use in weighting GWP versus innocent deaths.

The later doesn't preclude the former. The public is only willing to attend
to a small fraction of decisions. So the key is how to let the public
control all the decisions they don't attend to. I imagine the public using
decisions like whether to bomb Serbia to tweak existing weights.

That is, you might see that using the current weights the decision is to
bomb Serbia. Since you don't like this decision, you might "trace" this
decision by examining the different components, such as GWP up .001% and 100
deaths of innocents. You might see that increasing the weight on innocent
deaths by 20% could tip the decision the other way, and so you might lobby
for such a change. The people who would oppose you are those who see this
change reversing other decisions that they like.

Given some rough equilibrium of political pressure, the weights would settle
down somewhere. And the big benefit is that all the other decisions, the
ones the public isn't willing to attend to, will be made consistently with
the values that the public expressed in the decisions that they did attend to.
And as usual, any large enough faction could call the public's attention to
a particular decision they think is especially mistaken.

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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