Re: Voting and Idea Futures

From: Robin Hanson (
Date: Wed Mar 01 2000 - 11:50:22 MST

Peter McCluskey wrote:
> I was assuming that politicians will be about equally successfull at
>subverting the expressed opinions of the voters in either case, and am
>worrying about which approach will best insure that the expressed voter
>opinion correlates well with the voters' values. I think that asking
>voters to track down indicator problems by looking at numeric weights
>is likely to introduce errors because many people won't be willing or
>able to translate their values into numbers.

I didn't have in mind voters tracking down indicator problems via weights.

I had in mind political entrepreneurs trumpeting supposed conflicts.
That is, a group tells the public that given certain facts, the current
value function F chooses decision A, while everyone knows that decision B
seems right, and a small switch from F to value function G would choose B.
Opponents then can try to point out that value function G would also
prefer D over C, when everyone knows that C is better, and C is chosen
over D by F. Others might point out that function H chooses both
B over A and C over D. And so on.

Hopefully it would be easy enough to check what a value function could
choose, given certain facts, that groups wouldn't lie about this very much.
More problematic is the possibility of "bad cases making bad law", where
groups focus attention on the consequences in very uncommon situations.
Hopefully people would be less moved by hypothetical consequences than
real ones, but it's hard to be very confident about this overall.

I'm tempted to prefer demarchy here. That is, randomly select citizens
for well-paid (two year?) terms in legislatures where all they do is vote
on changes to the value function.

> >I'm intrigued by the idea of using random juries to set the value function.
> >But the details bother me. You want the function that best predicts random
> >jury opinions over some distribution of decisions, given some distribution
> >of the facts of the case. But who decides the distribution of decisions?
>I would have the voters decide, probably by grouping decisions into a few
>simple categories (economic, military, abortion/euthanasia/etc).

Here you would have to have political entrepreneurs who point out to the
public that there are too many of certain kinds of decisions in the official
mix. I think such groups would have more trouble making credible claims
about what sorts of different decisions or consequences would follow from
having a different mix. This is because first such a group would have to
persuade people to bet on what value function would best account for this
new hypothesized mix of decisions. In contrast, it should be relatively
easy to compute the decision consequences of any given status quo function.

I also worry about relying too much on decisions in narrow contexts.
For example, surveys on how much government should spend on various areas
tend to have people always think we should spend more. It is only when
you ask them to allocate a fixed budget that more reasonable choices come
out. I worry that these narrow jury decisions would be too much like
should we spend more on X.

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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