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Democracy

Given Kenneth Arrow’s impossibility theorem, it is a fair question to ask what voting system he himself would advise. There is a 2012 interview with him, with a phone recording and transcript, by Aaron Hamlin of the Center for Election Science. Arrow’s advice is:

  • Not plurality and no US Electoral College, with its winner-take-all selection of the US President
  • Not approval voting, since this uses too little information
  • A system that uses more information:

“Dr. Arrow: Well, I’m a little inclined to think that score systems [range voting] where you categorize in maybe three or four classes probably (in spite of what I said about manipulation) is probably the best. (…) In France, [Michel] Balinski has done some studies of this kind which seem to give some support to these scoring methods.”

His statement about strategic voting – or manipulation:

“Dr. Arrow: There’s only one problem that bothers me about that. And that’s something my theorem really doesn’t cover. In my theorem I was assuming people vote sincerely. The trouble with methods where you have three or four classes, I think if people vote sincerely they may well be very satisfactory. The problem is the incentive to misrepresent your vote may be high. In other words, a classic view is that there’s a candidate I really like, but I know is hopeless. I may put him down at the bottom and vote for the next candidate simply because I feel there’s a chance. Now, if you have a very large electorate you might say no individual has much of an incentive to misrepresent. But I’m not sure. You probably need experience rather than theory.”

Observe that Arrow cautiously states “a little inclined to think (…) probably the best”. His advice to have more empirical research can be supported. The interview touches on some points that call for a closer discussion, also in the light of this earlier weblog text.

Definitions

In plurality, voters only can vote for their best candidate. In a district, often the one with the highest score wins, which is the “first past the post” (FPTP) system. If there are only two candidates, then the winner will also have more than 50%. If there are more candidates, the winner may have less than 50%. There may be ways to assure that a final vote only concerns two candidates. A Putin hack that eliminates a particular candidate will not quickly be accepted, yet, voting theorists still wonder what method would be reasonable. A current example is that Donald Trump got elected with 46% of the popular vote, while Hillary Clinton got 48%. With a turnout of 60% Trump has only 28% support in the electorate, while the House of Congress depends upon district results too. A prime minister who is elected by a coalition in a parliament that has proportional representation (PR) generally has more than 50% support in parliament, and by representation also in the electorate.

In approval voting, voters mention which candidates they approve. The candidate with the highest total approvement is selected.

  • In economics this links up with satisficing (Herbert Simon).
  • Strategic voters will tend not to approve of candidates that might harm their best candidate (even the second best), so that this system devolves into plurality. Steven Brams claims that such fears are overrated but are they ? Brams declines to look into non-satisficing alternatives like the Borda Fixed Point method.

In Borda ranking, each voter puts the candidates in order of preference, and assigns rank numbers.

  • In economics this reflects the notion of ordinal utility.
  • Strategic voters will give a low score to candidates that harm their best candidate (even the second best), which means that “dark horses” (of mediocre approval) might win. See the discussion below.

In range voting, the voters grade the candidates like on a report card, and the candidate with the highest grade point average (GPA) wins. There is the tantalizing but empirically perhaps small complexity of the distinction between a 0 grade (included in the GPA) and a blank vote (not included in the GPA).

  • In economics this reflects the notion of cardinal utility (with voters restricted to the same range).
  • Strategic voters will give a low score to candidates that harm their best candidate (even the second best), which means that the system devolves into plurality. (The use of ordinal preferences and Borda explicitly intends to resolve this again.)

(See also the distinction in levels of measurement.)

Beware of the distinction between cardinal and ordinal preferences

Arrow’s impossibility theorem is about aggregating individual rank orders into a collective rank order. The theorem uses rank orders, or ordinal preferences. Arrow does more than only use rankings. He also defends the “axiom of pairwise decision making” (APDM) a.k.a. the “axiom of independence of irrelevant alternatives” (AIIA) as reasonable and morally desirable (Palgrave Dictionary of Economics).

Range voting allows more information than just ordinal preferences, and it is similar to cardinal preferences (but limiting people to the same range). Cardinal preferences imply ordinal preferences. Yet rank voting doesn’t satisfy the requirements of Arrow’s impossibility theorem, for cardinality violates APDM or AIIA.

One might say that Arrow’s theorem is not about voting systems in general, since it only looks at ordinal and not at cardinal preferences. Instead, Arrow’s position is that he looks at voting theory in general and only proposes axioms that are “reasonable” and “morally desirable”  When cardinality and range voting are excluded from his axioms, then it is because they would be unreasonable or morally undesirable.

These distinctions are discussed – and Arrow’s notions are debunked – in my “Voting theory for democracy” (VTFD). (See especially chapter 9.2 on page 239.)

Arrow’s theorem is only about those voting systems that satisfy his axioms. Since his axioms cause an inconsistency, there is actually no system that matches his conditions. Something that doesn’t exist cannot be reasonable and morally desirable. Arrow’s theorem confuses voting results with decisions, see this earlier weblog discussion.

However, there still remains an issue for voting theory. Range voting allows more scope for strategic voting or manipulation. The reason to restrict votes to rank orders is to reduce the scope for strategic voting.

Gerry Mackie’s “Democracy Defended

A reader alerted me to Gerry Mackie’s thesis with Jon Elster, now commercially available as “Democracy Defended“. I haven’t read this but the blurb seems to confirm what I have been arguing since 1990 on Arrow (but not on Riker).

“Is there a public good? A prevalent view in political science is that democracy is unavoidably chaotic, arbitrary, meaningless, and impossible. Such scepticism began with Condorcet in the eighteenth century, and continued most notably with Arrow and Riker in the twentieth century. In this powerful book, Gerry Mackie confronts and subdues these long-standing doubts about democratic governance. Problems of cycling, agenda control, strategic voting, and dimensional manipulation are not sufficiently harmful, frequent, or irremediable, he argues, to be of normative concern. Mackie also examines every serious empirical illustration of cycling and instability, including Riker’s famous argument that the US Civil War was due to arbitrary dimensional manipulation. Almost every empirical claim is erroneous, and none is normatively troubling, Mackie says. This spirited defence of democratic institutions should prove both provocative and influential.” (Cover text of “Democracy Defended“)

My point however would be that issues of cycling are of concern, like we see with the Brexit referendum question. The concern causes support for representative democracy with proportional representation, rather than populism with referenda.

The key context is switching to parliaments with PR

Discussions about voting theory best be seen in the context of the switch towards parliaments that are elected with PR and that select the prime minister. The president may have a cerimonial role and be elected by parliament too (like in Germany).

It is most democratic when there is proportional representation (PR) of the electorate in the elected body. The more complex voting methods can then be used by the professionals in the elected body itself only. A prime minister is best elected by a parliament with PR, instead of a president by direct elections.

The interview with Arrow contains a criticism on plurality and FPTP compared to PR.

“Dr. Arrow: Yes. I think definitely. I think there’s no question about that. The Plurality system chokes off free entry. In other words, in the economic world we’re accustomed to the virtues of free entry. We don’t want a small number of corporations to be dominate. We favor the idea of new firms entering in order to compete to bring in new ideas, to bring in new products. Well, the same way in the political field. We should be encouraging free entry, I think, in order to have new political ideas come in. And they may flourish. They may fade. That’s what you want, them to be available. So I’m inclined that the Plurality system will choke off by encouraging, the two-party system will choke off new entry. So I’m really inclined to feel that we don’t want Plurality as a voting system. It’s likely to be very stifling.”

“(…) proportional representation [PR] plays very little role in The United States, but they do play a role in a number of countries. And the question of whether single-member districts are appropriate or not. The Germans, for example, have some kind of compromise between single-member and broader districts. (…)”

See my comparison between the Dutch PR and the UK district system.

Proposals that assume that the voters themselves would use the complexer voting systems – perhaps an enlightened form of populism – are complicating election reform, because these methods put too high demands upon the voters and the electoral process.

In the interview, Arrow referred to the proportional systems, but still expressed the idea that voters themselves would use the three or four categories. In this manner Arrow contributed to this confusion on context.

“CES: If you could, just sort of dictatorially, change something about the way that we do voting in the US, something that would make the biggest impact in your mind, what do you think you would do?

Dr. Arrow: The first thing that I’d certainly do is go to a system where people ranked all the candidates, or as many as they wish, and not just two. And that these data are used in some form or another to choose the candidate, say by eliminating the lowest, or some method of that kind. I’d be interested in experimenting with the idea of categorization and creating interpersonal comparisons by that. And those are the things that I would argue for, and certainly the abolition of the Electoral College. It goes without saying.”

In my experience Arrow is often more confused than one would expect. (1) His original theorem confused voting outcomes and decisions. (2) If he really assumed that people would vote sincerely, then he might as well have assumed cardinality, but he didn’t, for then he wouldn’t have had a theorem. (3) He made a theorem on ordinal preferences but now is inclined to cardinality, even though he defends his theorem that cardinality would be unreasonable and morally undesirable since it doesn’t satisfy APDM a.k.a. AIIA. (4) He now mentions PR but doesn’t draw the conclusion of the selection of the prime minister by parliament, and apparently still thinks in terms of a direct election of the president.

Arrow’s contributions to economics derive from the application of mathematics to economics in the 1950s, and not because he was exceptionally smart in economics itself. Paul Samuelson expressed this idea about himself once too, as a physicist entering into economics. If Arrow had been real smart then he also would have had the common sense to see that his theorem confuses voting results and decisions, and that it amounts to intellectual fraud to pretend that it is more than that.

A major issue is that abstract thinking mathematicians can get lost about reality. In VTFD I show that Amartya Sen is confused about his theorem about a Paretian liberal. Sen’s article with Eric Maskin in the NY Book Review about electoral reform also neglects the switch to a parliamentarian system with PR. A major problem in society is that many intellectuals have insufficient background in mathematics and follow such lost mathematicians without sufficient criticism, even when common sense would warn them.

Warren Smith’s parable of the bees

Warren Smith suggests that bees also use range voting to select the next location for their hive. My problem is that bees aren’t known for strategic voting. My VTFD already suggested – as Jan Tinbergen – that aggregation of cardinal utility would be best indeed. Thus I don’t feel the need to check how bees are doing it.

The problem in voting theory is that humans can vote strategically, also guarded by secrecy in the ballot box. Potentially this strategic vote might be less of a problem when votes for the prime minister in parliament are made public, so that people can wonder why a party has a particular vote. But transparency of the vote might not be the key issue.

Smith on Bayesian regret

Smith has a notion of Bayesian regret, as a more objective criterion to judge voting systems. I am amazed by the existence of such a notion for social optimality and haven’t looked into this yet.

Smith is too enthousiastic about Arrow’s support

Smith interpretes Arrow’s “a little inclined to think” as an endorsement for range voting.  Smith provides full quotes properly – and I must thank him for directing me to this interview with Arrow. But I would advise Smith to be more critical. Arrow mainly indicates an inclination, he is also confused and doesn’t repeal his interpretation of his theorem. Also Smith is advised to grow aware and alert readers of his website that the real improvement in democracy lies not in range voting but in a switch to a prime minister selected by a PR parliament. It is another issue how voting mechanisms operate in other situations, like the Eurovision Song Contest.

Smith’s discussion of the dark horse and the war of the clones

To reduce the options for strategic voting, the voters can be restricted to the use of rankings, and then we get systems like Borda, Condorcet, or my suggestion of the Borda Fixed Point method (BordaFP). The latter wasn’t designed to be a compromise between Borda and Condorcet but still can be seen as one. For example, in the 2010 general elections in the UK, with David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg, it appears that Clegg would be a Borda Choice, but Cameron would still be the BordaFP choice because he would beat Clegg in a pairwise contest.

The reader would enjoy Smith’s discussion of the dark horse and the war of the clones, in his criticism of the Borda method. There is no need for me to repeat his short statement, and I simply refer to here. While you are reading, there is also a picture of Frisian horse Fokke of 2013, and we continue the discussion below it. This discussion is not in VTFD since I mainly pointed to strategic voting but didn’t develop the argument, and thus I thank Smith for his succinct criticism.

 

Frisian Fokke 2013

War of the clones

This assumes the Borda system. Smith (point 8) compares the election between Mush (51%) and Bore (49%) with the election between Mush and some clones Bore1, Bore2, Bore3 (leaving unclear who the real Bore is). Supposedly it is publically known that Mush selects Bore1 in second place, so that the Bores can collect all their votes on Bore1 too. Now Mush loses. This criticism is accurate.  With Condorcet’s rule, Mush would beat all Bores, but the idea of Borda is to mitigate Condorcet. With enough Bores, the BordFP method is not immune to this either.

In above key context, the method would not be applied by the whole electorate but only by parliament. The number of parties would be limited, and each party would only mention one candidate. In the current Dutch parliament there are 13 parties, see Bloomberg with a graphical display of the political spectrum and my analysis on an application of BordaFP. Here the problem doesn’t really arise.

In general people might feel that parties and their candidates differ. If not, then this would require attention. For applications of Borda or BordaFP to smaller committees, it would be sensible to be aware of this. Committees might devise rules about when candidates are too much alike, bunch their votes as if they were one (and rerank), and only call for a decision vote between the clones when they would actually be chosen.

The dark horse

Smith (point 2) considers candidates A, B, C and various nonentities. Kenneth Arrow used the more polite term “irrelevant alternatives”. Let me settle for Dark Horse D. Let me also distinguish truthful voting and strategic voting. In a truthful vote there is no difference between the true preference and the ranking submitted to the ballot box. In a strategic vote there is the strategy provided by the truth and the tactic vote submitted to the box. (Potentially one might design a voting system in which a voter submits those two rank orders simultaneously, but then we must relabel between truth and those two submissions.)

A member of parliament (MP) faces a dilemma. If the MP prefers A > B > C > D then giving the ranks 4, 3, 2, 1 will give 3 points to B, which might cause that B is chosen instead of A. This MP has the incentive to shift points to the Dark Horse, as in 4, 1, 2, 3, hoping that nobody else will vote for this dark horse anyway. If all MPs think in this manner, then the Dark Horse will be elected with an impressive score.

Smith provides an anecdote how such an event happened in the selection of a job application, where there was disagreement about an excellent macro-economist and an excellent micro-economist, whereupon a mediocre candidate got the job.

This is the prisoners’ dilemma. (1) If everyone votes truthfully then they all benefit from the true selection. (2) If everyone votes strategically then they all suffer the worst outcome. (3) Each has an incentive to deflect from the true vote.

The BordaFP method is sturdier than Borda but is not immune to this situation.

A prime answer to Smith is that in parliament the rankings for the selection of the prime minister might be public, so that voters and the press can question party tactics. A party that gives so much points to a Dark Horse might be criticised for not appreciating a better candidate.

Looking for balance

For now, I find Smith’s discussion a bit unbalanced. He emphasizes the disadvantages of Borda, but these have the answers above, for the proper context, while the disadvantages of range voting don’t get as much attention. Range voting stimulates the strategy of giving zero points to alternative candidates, whence it reduces to plurality with all its drawbacks. A candidate with 51% of the vote in plurality might not be better, since more extremist, than a candidate with a higher Borda score who is more moderate. The main point remains that the key issue is that countries with district voting like the USA, UK and France better switch to PR.

By way of conclusion

It remains true that Borda has the risk of a Dark Horse, and that the search for better algorithms is open. How can we elicit information from voters about their true preferences ? In the ballot box we might numb their brains so that they vote like bees (perhaps also with the dance) ?

An idea that I already mentioned at another place: MPs might submit two inputs, one with the strategy (supposed to be true) and one with the intended tactic. (One would design a test whether these better be rankings or ranges.) The intermediate result would be based upon the tactics. A random selection of the true preferences then is used to revise the tactics to improve the results for those MPs who have the luck to be selected. This prospect encourages MPs to be truthful about the strategy.

Another possibility for such double submissions: One might first determine the outcome according to the submitted strategies (supposedly true) and then use a random selection to use the allowed tactics, and only uses these if they indeed cause an improvement in the eyes of the MP. This sanctions a moderate degree of unavoidable strategic voting, but reduces the chaos when all do it without information about others.

Such calculations are simple for a partial outcome for a single MP. The problem lies in the aggregation of all MPs. Perhaps money helps in solving this too. Voters in the electorate aren’t allowed to sell their vote directly, with the obvious horror stories, also involving the distribution of income. But in parliament there is coalition bargaining which involves money, i.e. budget allocations. Potentially this helps in designing better algorithms. Perhaps the Bayesian Regret comes into play here, but I haven’t checked this. In Holland there is professor Frans Stokman who studies coalition bargaining with his “Decide” model.

Thus the search for better voting schemes hasn’t ended. Yet the main step for the USA, UK and France would be to accept the choice of a prime minister by parliament selected by PR.

My earlier weblog text on Brexit and voting theory was republished by the Royal Economic Society (RES) Newsletter. One reason for the editor to take the piece (and give it a fine edit) was that Kenneth Arrow (1921-2017) has recently passed away, and that the piece highlights Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem in its relevance for the Brexit referendum question. The April Newsletter also contains an obituary of Arrow by Larry Summers, originally published in the Wall St. Journal.

It feels rather awkward to refer to an obituary, yet, as these events happen to coincide, it might serve a purpose.

Summers of course mentions Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem too. His statement indicates that he apparently doesn’t understand it. It might be that Summers does understand it actually, and that only his statement for the obituary was less thoughtful. For now, let us take the quote at face value.

“Drawing upon mathematical logic, it shows that there is no possible voting scheme that can consistently and sensibly reflect the preferences of a set of individuals with diverse views. Any scheme that could ever be invented will be at risk of perverse outcomes, where, for example, the choice between options A and B is affected by the presence or absence of option C; or where a vote switch by one person toward option A makes it less likely to prevail. Mathematical and abstruse it was. But it also explained why committees have so much trouble coming to consistent conclusions and why, with an increasingly polarized electorate, democracy can become increasingly dysfunctional.”

It is false that voting schemes (i.e. decision mechanisms) cannot consistently and sensibly reflect the preferences of a set of individuals with diverse views. It is only true when you confuse voting outcomes and decisions on those outcomes.

To understand the situation, let us take a closer look.

The distinction between voting and deciding

(This section has been adapted a bit from this paper, p3.)

Consider three chess players A, B and C. They are pairwise confronted in a tournament with the result A > B > C > A, meaning that A beats B, B beats C and C beats A. These results happen to be intransitive. The objective of the tournament may only have been to allow the players to play against each other. There need not be a notion to find the “best overall player”.

Even if the result had been A > B > C and also A > C so that the outcome happens to be transitive, then it need not be an issue that A would be the “best overall player”. The fact that A beats the two others need not be associated with a notion that this would be “best”. The question does not have to arise simply because it is not considered to be a relevant question, neither to the players nor the organisers of the tournament. (Indeed, A would be the best under the Condorcet rule but not necessarily under a Borda rule.)

In voting we start out with a similar situation like with chess. The voting scores are like the game scores. If A gets more votes than B then this doesn’t necessarily mean much for the relation to C or the overall situation.

This situation will be called a “voting field”.

There can be a drastic change in objectives. Namely, if the tournament wants to identify an “overall winner”. Then this becomes the issue of “direct single seat elections” (to distinguish the situation from the election of for example a multiple seat parliament or the indirect selection of the prime minister via such a parliament).

The notion of an overall winner amounts to using a “social decision function” (SDF). The SDF selects the winner from a list of candidates. It is the definition of the SDF that it does so.

For decisions we require transitivity. Above voting field doesn’t have to be transitive but for decisions we require this. The SDF always implies a ranking. For example, if A = SDF[A, B, C] then the second might be B = SDF[B, C] and then the third would be C. The ranking arises by stepwise dropping the best of the remainder. The ranking means a transitive order of the candidates.

Hence, we distinguish between the voting field and deciding. In everyday parlance we tend to associate voting with deciding. Voting thus tends to mean: using both a voting field and a decision. Hence there is a distinction. Sometimes “voting” can be used in the sense of a “voting field” where the “field” is dropped. “Voting” thus is a somewhat ambiguous term, with some ambiguity about what it is ambiguous about. If one keeps track of the context the meaning however will be clear.

Kenneth Arrow’s confusion

Kenneth Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem comes about by confusing voting fields and deciding.

When we have an intransitive voting result A > B > C > A, then Arrow requires this intransivity to be transitive, because he wants to see a decision. He however assumes something that is inconsistent, whence the impossibility.

Larry Summers isn’t aware that Arrow had this confusion, and copies it.

See my note in the RES Newsletter to see what this confusion means for the Brexit referendum.

The metaphor of a gavel

In some meetings, it is the convention that the chairman bangs the gravel when a decision is made. For example, in a pairwise vote between A and B, A gets more votes but there is no bang of the gavel since it is not a decision but only a mere count. Similarly for the pairwise vote between B and C, when B gets more votes. Similarly for the pairwise vote between C and A, when C gets more votes. Then it is observed that the voting field has A > B > C > A. Now the chairman can decide that the cycle indicates a deadlock, and then bangs the gavel for the decision that there is deadlock. The subsequent step is to search for the rule book and select a tie-breaking rule.

Court gavel (By Jonathunder – Own work, GFDL, wikimedia commons)

The crucial role of rules

The crucial question is how one handles deadlocks (indifferences). Theorists of axiomatics for example don’t like randomisation. Imagine Euclid with an axiom on something that is a point or line at random. Yet, to resolve voting deadlocks, people might flip a coin. Would you call it “inconsistent” when a coin shows different outcomes Head or Tail ?

It is also true that a vote switch by one person towards option A might make it less likely to prevail (in the collective outcome). It all depends upon your axioms.

A supposed axiom that isn’t an axiom

Arrow posed some axioms that caused an inconsistency. Thus these axioms cannot be simultaneously true for description of real world events. Democracy is something that we want to work for the real world. Thus democracy must eliminate at least one of Arrow’s axioms. If something is to be dropped, then one should not call it an axiom. The key axiom to drop is the one on pairwise decision making (a.k.a. independence of irrelevant alternatives). One can have pairwise voting results, but these need to be integrated to arrive at a decision. For a pairwise vote it is incorrect to say that a third option would be irrelevant, for it can be quite relevant for the final decision. Option A might get more votes than option B, but when we include option C, then there might be a cycle, A > B > C > A, which amounts to a deadlock or indifference in terms of decision making. In that case the focus shifts to the mechanisms to resolve deadlocks.

Summers on dysfunctional democracy

If democracy is getting dysfunctional, then this is e.g. because of district voting instead of proportional representation (see this paper), and the use of referenda with misleading questions (and the educational system, and the media, and so on).

Dale Jorgenson, once president of the AEA, once referred to Arrow’s theorem as if it implied the need for a dictatorship. This causes me to wonder whether misunderstandings about the theorem would support autocratic thoughts. Larry Summers had an exchange with Elizabeth Warren on the positions of insiders and outsiders. From her autobiography:

“[Summers] teed it up this way: I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People — powerful people — listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don’t criticize other insiders. I had been warned.”

A situation in which insiders don’t listen to outsiders, and don’t criticise each other, reminds of an oligarchy and not an open society and democracy. Perhaps Summers only describes it factually but he also seems to support it. Perhaps his misunderstanding of Arrow’s theorem had misguided him into thinking that he was only taking the scientific point of view, that democracy was dysfunctional by definition to start with.

The latter is pure speculation. If Summers still thinks in terms of insiders and outsiders we might never discover the truth on this.

Arrow, Summers, Warren (Wikipedia Commons, Stanford News Service)

 

The Theresa May government has adopted Brexit as its policy aim and has received support from the Commons. Yet, economic theory assumes rational agents, and even governments might be open for rational reconsideration, even at the last moment.

Scientifically unwarranted referendum question

Based upon voting theory, the Brexit referendum question can be rejected as scientifically unwarranted. My suggestion is that the UK government annuls the outcome based upon this insight from science, and upon this insight alone. Let me invite (economic) scientists to study the argument and voting theory itself, so that the scientific community can confirm this analysis. This study best be done all over Europe, so that also the EU Commission might adopt it. Britons might be wary when their government or the EU Commission would listen to science, but then they might check the finding themselves too. A major worry is why the UK procedures didn’t produce a sound referendum choice in the first place.

Renwick et al. (2016) in an opinion in The Telegraph June 14 protested:

“A referendum result is democratically legitimate only if voters can make an informed decision. Yet the level of misinformation in the current campaign is so great that democratic legitimacy is called into question.”

Curiously, however, their letter doesn’t make the point that the referendum neglects voting theory, since the very question itself is misleading w.r.t. the complexity of the issue under decision. Quite unsettling is the Grassegger & Krogerus (2017) report about voter manipulation by Big Data, originally on Brexit and later for the election of Donald Trump. But the key point here concerns the referendum question itself.

The problem with the question

The question assumes a binary choice – Remain or Leave the EU – while voting theory warns that allowing only two options can be a misleading representation. When the true situation is more complex, then it may be political manipulation to reduce this to a binary one. As a result of the present process, we actually don’t know how people would have voted when they had been offered the true options.

Compare the question:

“Do you still beat your mother ?”

When you are allowed only a Yes or No answer, then you are blocked from answering:

“I will not answer that question because if I say No then it suggests that I agree that I have beaten her in the past.”

In the case of Brexit, the hidden complexity concerned:

  • Leave as EFTA or WTO ?
  • Leave, while the UK remains intact or while it splits up ?
  • Remain, in what manner ?

Voting theory generally suggests that representative democracy – Parliament – is better than relying on referenda, since the representatives can bargain about the complex choices involved.

Deadlocks can lurk in hiding

When there are only two options then everyone knows about the possibility of a stalemate. This means a collective indifference. There are various ways to break the deadlock: voting again, the chairperson decides, flip a coin, using the alphabet, and so on. There is a crucial distinction between voting (vote results) and deciding. When there are three options or more there can be a deadlock as well. It is lesser known that there can also be cycles. It is even lesser known that such cycles actually are a disguised form of a deadlock.

Take for example three candidates A, B and C and a particular distribution of preferences. When the vote is between A and B then A wins. We denote this as A > B. When the vote is between B and C then B wins, or B > C. When the vote is between C and A then C wins or C > A. Collectively A > B > C > A. Collectively, there is indifference. It is a key notion in voting theory that there can be distributions of preferences, such that a collective binary choice seems to result into a clear decision, while in reality there is a deadlock in hiding.

Kenneth Arrow (1921-2017) who passed away on February 21 used these cycles to create his 1951 “impossibility theorem”. Indeed, if you interprete a cycle as a decision then this causes an inconsistency or an “impossibility” w.r.t. the required transitivity of a (collective) preference ordering. However, reality is consistent and people do really make choices collectively, and thus the proper interpretation is an “indifference” or deadlock. It was and is a major confusion in voting theory that Arrow’s mathematics are correct but that his own verbal interpretation was incorrect, see my VTFD Ch. 9.2.

Representative government is better than referenda

Obviously a deadlock must be broken. Again, it may be manipulation to reduce the choice from three options A, B and C to only two. Who selects those two might take the pair that fits his or her interests. A selection in rounds like in France is no solution. There are ample horror scenarios when bad election designs cause minority winners. Decisions are made preferably via discussion in Parliament. Parliamentarian choice of the Prime Minister is better than direct election like for the US President.

Voting theory is not well understood in general. The UK referendum in 2011 on Proportional Representation (PR) presented a design that was far too complex. Best is that Parliament is chosen in proportional manner as in Holland, rather than in districts as in the UK or the USA. It suffices when people can vote for the party of their choice (with the national threshold of a seat), and that the professionals in Parliament use the more complexer voting mechanisms (like bargaining or the Borda Fixed Point method). It is also crucial to be aware that the Trias Politica model for democracy fails and that more checks and balances are required, notably with an Economic Supreme Court.

The UK Electoral Commission goofed too

The UK Electoral Commission might be abstractly aware of this issue in voting theory, but they didn’t protest, and they only checked that the Brexit referendum question could be “understood”. The latter is an ambiguous notion. People might “understand” quite a lot but they might not truly understand the hidden complexity and the pitfalls of voting theory. Even Nobel Prize winner Kenneth Arrow gave a problematic interpretation of his theorem.The Electoral Commission is to be praised for the effort to remove bias, where the chosen words “Remain” and “Leave” are neutral, and where both statements were included and not only one. (Some people don’t want to say No. Some don’t want to say Yes.) Still, the Commission gives an interpretation of the “intelligibility” of the question that doesn’t square with voting theory and that doesn’t protect the electorate from a voting disaster.

A test on this issue is asking yourself: Given the referendum outcome, do you really think that the UK population is clear in its position, whatever the issues of how to Leave or risk of a UK breakup ? If you have doubts on the latter, then you agree that something is amiss. The outcome of the referendum really doesn’t give me a clue as to what UK voters really want. Scotland wants to remain in the EU and then break up ? This is okay for the others who want to Leave ? (And how ?) The issue can be seen as a statistical enquiry into what views people have, and the referendum question is biased and cannot be used for sound statistics.

In an email to me 2016-07-11:

“The Electoral Commission’s role is to evaluate the intelligibility of referendum questions in line with the intent of Parliament; it is not to re-evaluate the premise of the question. Other than that, I don’t believe there is anything I can usefully add to our previously published statements on this matter.”

Apparently the Commission knows the “intent of Parliament”, while Parliament itself might not do so. Is the Commission only a facilitator of deception, and they don’t have the mission to put voters first ? At best the Commission holds that Whitehall and Parliament fully understood voting theory therefor deliberatedly presented the UK population with a biased choice, so that voters would be seduced to neglect complexities of how to Leave or the risks of a UK breakup. Obviously the assumption that Whitehall and Parliament fully grasp voting theory is dubious. The better response by the Commission would have been to explain the pitfalls of voting theory and the misleading character of the referendum question, rather than facilitate the voting disaster.

Any recognition that something is (very) wrong here, should also imply the annulment of the Brexit referendum outcome. Subsequently, to protect voters from such manipulation by Whitehall, one may think of a law that gives the Commission the right to veto a biased Yes / No selection, which veto might be overruled by a 2/3 majority in Parliament. Best is not to have referenda at all, unless you are really sure that a coin can only fall either way, and not land on its side.

Addendum March 31

  • The UK might repeal the letter on article 50 – see this BBC reality check. Thus science might have this time window to clarify to the general public how the referendum question doesn’t comply with voting theory.
  • The recent general elections in Holland provide another nice example for the importance of voting theory and for the meaning of Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, see here.
Literature

BBC (2017), “Article 50: May signs letter that will trigger Brexit“, March 29

Carrell, S. (2017), “Scottish parliament votes for second independence referendum“, The Guardian, March 28

Colignatus (2001, 2004, 2011, 2014), “Voting theory for democracy” (VTFD), pdf online, https://zenodo.org/record/291985

Colignatus (2010, “Single vote multiple seats elections. Didactics of district versus proportional representation, using the examples of the United Kingdom and The Netherlands”, May 19 2010, MPRA 22782, http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/22782

Colignatus (2011a), “The referendum on PR“, Mathematics Teaching 222, January 5 2011, also on my website

Colignatus (2011b), “Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem and the distinction between Voting and Deciding”, https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/34919

Colignatus (2014), “An Economic Supreme Court”, RES Newsletter issue no. 167, October 2014, pp.20-21, http://www.res.org.uk/view/art7Oct14Features.html

Colignatus (2016), “Brexit: advice for young UK (age < 50 years), and scientific outrage for neglect of voting theory“, weblog text June 29

Colignatus (2017), “The performance of four possible rules for selecting the Prime Minister after the Dutch Parliamentary elections of March 2017″, March 17, MPRA 77616

Grassegger, H. and M. Krogerus (2017), “The Data That Turned the World Upside Down”, https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/how-our-likes-helped-trump-win

Renwick, A. e.a. (2016), “Letters: Both Remain and Leave are propagating falsehoods at public expense“, The Telegraph, Opinion, June 14

From the BBC website

Wikipedia (a portal and no source) gives an overview of the Dutch general elections of March 15 2017. For the interpretation of the vote, there is this paper: “The performance of four possible rules for selecting the Prime Minister after the Dutch Parliamentary elections of March 2017“.

The abstract of the paper is:

“Economic policy depends not only on national elections but also on coalition bargaining strategies. In coalition government, minority parties bargain on policy and form a majority coalition, and select a Prime Minister from their mids. In Holland the latter is done conventionally with Plurality, so that the largest party provides the chair of the cabinet. Alternative methods are Condorcet, Borda or Borda Fixed Point. Since the role of the Prime Minister is to be above all parties, to represent the nation and to be there for all citizens, it would enhance democracy and likely be optimal if the potential Prime Minister is selected from all parties and at the start of the bargaining process. The performance of the four selection rules is evaluated using the results of the 2017 Dutch Parliamentary elections. Plurality gives VVD. VVD is almost a Condorcet winner except for a tie with 50Plus. Borda and BordaFP give CU as the prime minister. The impossibility theorem by Kenneth Arrow (Nobel memorial prize in economics 1972) finds a crucially different interpretation.” (Paper)

The paper uses the estimate of March 16, and the official allocation of seats presented on March 21 was the same. Here is a letter (in Dutch) to the Speaker of the House with these results and a summary statement.

Relevance for the world

In addition to that paper, let me mention some other points.

  • The Dutch system of proportional representation (PR) with a threshold of 1 seat is most democratic, and is much better than district representation (DR) or the use of high thresholds. (See this other paper.) The low threshold allows the flexible entry and exit of contestants. For example, in Germany, economics professor Bernd Lucke started the originally decent AfD, didn’t get their 5% threshold, and was ousted by extremist members in his party. For the upcoming elections, France and Germany best adopt the Dutch election model, but likely they will not have time to do so.
  • Within the Dutch system, there still is room for even more democracy. Coalitions can be inclusive or exclusive. Politicians tend to think that a minimal majority is most stable, but in all likelihood voters are better served by a larger majority.
  • The news media of the world tended to focus on the Dutch outcome that Geert Wilders didn’t succeed in getting most seats. Incumbent prime minister Mark Rutte got 33 seats and Wilders only 20. This was interpreted as that the threat of populism in Europe might have a turning point. However, Rutte dropped from 41 to 33 and Wilders rose from 15 to 20 seats, so the gap of 26 seats was halved in favour for Wilders. There is also the new right wing lunatic FvD with 2 seats, and the move to the right by other parties feeling the hot breath by Wilders. Overall, the picture is more mixed than the world news media seem to have reported. A bit more background w.r.t. the Dutch reputation of tolerance is in this earlier weblog text.
Some additional findings on turnout

The official results of March 21 2017 allow an additional statement on turnout. The key data are in the following table.

The Dutch House of Commons has 150 seats. With the turnout of 81.9% actually only 120 seats were fully taken. 27 Seats were lost to no-shows, 2 seats were lost to the dispersion of small parties and 1 seat was lost on blank or invalid votes. One might argue that 30 seats should remain unused, so that the parties that were elected in the House would find it tougher to create a coalition of 76 seats or 50%+1. Alternatively, when the 30 seats are still allocated to the elected parties, then one might raise the majority criterion to 94 seats. Instead, however, the elected parties take the 30 seats anyway and still apply the 76 seats majority rule. See this paper for a discussion w.r.t. an earlier election.

A Dutch – Turkish clash

The vote took place while there was a clash between Holland and Turkey – see the scene on Haberturk TV reported on by Euronews. Much has been said about this elsewhere, but here we continue testing the quality of Google Translate: “They protested the Netherlands by squeezing oranges”.

The Turks should however beware that the House of Orange claims Russia, and you wouldn’t want an orange bear on your doorsteps.

Euronews relaying Haberturk TV. “Hollanda’yı portakal sıkarak protesto ettiler…”

Some Dutch had been prepared for this

In the months before, visionary artist Inez Lenders had already created the artistic reply to maltreatment of oranges. In the match on creativity, the score is 1 – 1.

Art and Photography by Inez Lenders, Nijmegen 2017

The Dutch Official News with a false suggestion

The site Joop.nl calculated that the elections generated 5 MP’s with Turkish roots and 8 MP’s with Moroccan roots, and 0 with roots in Suriname. We may include one Turkish-Kurdish MP, so a total of 14 or 9.3% of relatively new immigrants. There are 4 German names, 2 French and 1 Jewish. Thus a total of 21 MP’s or 14% immigrant names.

Notwithstanding such a composition in the new House of Commons, president Tayyip Erdogan fulminated about descendents of nazi’s, though he is right that the Dutch record in World War II is not so good.

When Angela Merkel and other Europeans supported Dutch premier Mark Rutte, then Erdogan presented a statement for which it is important to provide the right translation. Reuters seems to be okay:

“Erdogan warns Europeans ‘will not walk safely’ if attitude persists” (March 22 2017)

This is a fairly decent warning. The age of European imperialism till 1945 is over. In the world population the European share is dwindling. If the world wants to maintain the idea of safe international travel then we need rules and regulations and consistent implementation.

  • Reuters gives a fair representation that Erdogan warns about the effect of arrogance.
  • Dutch national television turned this into a report that Erdogan threatened Europeans. On this NOS website, the official heading and weblink contain the phrase “Erdogan warns” but the picture on that page has the phrase “Erdogan threatens” (Dutch “bedreigt”) (wayback machine).

I have informed NPO Ombudsman Margo Smit about the difference between warning and threatening, but they haven’t changed it yet.

Official Dutch television NOS falsely states that president Erdogan issues a threat that no European in any part of the world can safely walk on the street. In truth he only warns.

Geert Wilders used a tweet with a photoshopped picture of Alexander Pechtold. The picture displays Pechtold as demonstrating for the introduction of Sharia in Holland. The political message is that Pechtold would be a fellow-traveller and part of the 5th column for political islam, intending to destroy freedom and democracy. Normally Wilders merely says this but a picture tells more than a thousand words.

This falsely portraying of a political opponent is a new low in the Low Countries.

The photoshopped picture would exist since 2009 but there are general elections for the Dutch House of Commons on March 15 which may be the reason why Wilders uses it now. Wilders might have limited campaign funds and the abuse of this picture is politically cunning, since hords of people, including me, are discussing it now. Attention is half of the job, and Wilders knows how to get attention. And when there is a terrorist attack, then he can claim that he has been warning all along.

Yet, the downside of this is, that there are feeble minds on the radical right, like Anders Breivik, who worship Wilders, and who might take this portrayal as an invitation to target Pechtold. The UK saw the assassination of Jo Cox in 2016. Holland already saw a smear campaign against Pim Fortuyn in 2002 who then got assassinated by an activist on the left. Yet a gunman in 2011 who killed six people was a sympathiser of Wilders. Journalist Peter Breedveld has been reporting consistently that the political climate in Holland is getting heated, repressive and threatening of violence. Pechtold is alarmed. He warned that Wilders is deliberately rousing up his followers. One sympathiser of Wilders already threatened Pechtold to kill him, and Pechtold informed reporters that he had to testify in court to get the man convicted. A close political friend of Pechtold, Els Borst, has been murdered by a lunatic in 2014, apparently without political motivation, but it still has an impact.

2017-02-05-wilders-photoshop-pechtold

Wilders and Pechtold have a history of feeding on each other

Geert Wilders and Alexander Pechtold have a history of feeding on each other. They are each other’s best enemies. While Wilders finds great profit in demonising Pechtold as the fellow-traveller of political islam, Pechtold finds great profit in portraying Wilders as indecent and “over the top”. Their political clash was the motor for their rise to public attention in 2006-2010. In the elections of 2010, Pechtold jumped from 3 to 10 seats, and Wilders from 9 to 24 seats.

The following graph shows the number of seats of Wilders (PVV, red) and Pechtold (D66, blue) in the Dutch House of Commons, with a total of 150 seats. (Source: Wikipedia, here adapted.)

  • Wilders started in 2004 as a one-man separation of the Dutch conservative party VVD. The official line of VVD was that Turkey might eventually join the European Union, but Wilders disagreed, and wished to have the freedom to say so. The letters VVD stand for the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, but party leader Gerrit Zalm denied Wilders his freedom of expression. In 2006 Wilders got 9 seats, in 2010 he jumped to 24, and in 2012 got 15. (Incidently: Gerrit Zalm had also participated in the smear campaign against Pim Fortuyn, labeling him as a “dangerous man”. Zalm also was the director of the CPB who in 1990 censored my work at CPB and who dismissed me there with falsehoods, the very issue that this weblog is about.)
  • In 2006, D66 had been reduced from 24 seats to 3, and Pechtold began as the new leader. There was talk about ending the party, yet Pechtold managed to get the party back to 10 seats. His strategy was to oppose Wilders.
  • As said, in the elections of 2010, Pechtold jumped from 3 to 10 seats, and Wilders from 9 to 24 seats.
  • In 2010-2012 there was the 1st Rutte Cabinet, a minority government with support by Wilders. This cabinet failed and collapsed, and at the subsequent elections in 2012 Wilders got 15 seats.

seats-d66-pvv

There is a major problem with D66

The major problem with D66 is that its party elite and its voters cannot think straight. The name D66 is an abbreviation of “Democrats 1966”, and the idea of founder Hans van Mierlo (1931-2010) was to improve democracy. Van Mierlo was from the Catholic south of Holland, and he was inspired by JFK in the USA. (See my weblog text on the Dutch Taliban.) Thus he suggested that Holland copied democratic conventions from the USA, like district voting, direct elected president and mayors, and referenda. Unfortunately, Van Mierlo had a degree in law and worked as a journalist, and he never really studied democracy. The membership of D66 are mostly lawyers too. They are mostly concerned about the “rule of law”, and less about what the law is about. By now, it should be obvious that Van Mierlo’s ideas about democracy have always been perverse, and actually reduce democracy. Yet, D66 doesn’t openly say so, and they still claim that they and their proposals would improve democracy. Thus D66 is a fossilised lie about democracy.

  • Direct elections with districts causes that in the Bush, Gore and Nader elections, Bush got elected (and we got the lie on Iraq), and that with the Clinton & Trump election, that Trump got elected, while in terms of percentages Gore would have beaten Bush, and Clinton would have beaten Trump.
  • For referenda, see this discussion about Brexit.

See my book Voting theory for democracy and this article about multiple seats elections.

Thus, when D66 collapsed to 3 seats, I hoped that D66 would be abolished, and that there would be room for a new political initiative, to combine sound ideas about democracy with sound ideas about economics and sound ideas about social compassion. Yet, there was Pechtold. He has a degree in art history and a working background as auctioneer, and developed further as a career politician. D66 apparently allows it, and eventually is grateful to him for “saving the party”, as if that would be so useful.

From disaster into greater catastrophy

D66 has been applying its great logical capacities, that they already showed on democracy, also on the issue of Wilders and immigration. Supposedly Pechtold attacked Wilders, but he actually made him bigger. D66 and Pechtold cannot see this fact and this logic, since Pechtold “saved D66” by that jump from 3 to 10 seats. Clearly the attack by Pechtold on Wilders was a great success, namely see the growth of D66 ! Thus they keep themselves deliberately blind about that jump of Wilders from 9 to 24 seats.

The best answer to Wilders would be a party that combines sound ideas about democracy with sound ideas about economics and sound ideas about social compassion. Yet, Pechtold and D66 block this, because of their perverse ideas about democracy and their perverse claim that they have success in attacking Wilders.

Well, it is Holland. Boycott this country till it develops a respect for science so that it lifts the censorship of science since 1990 by the directorate of the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB).

The road from science and scientific discovery into political discussion is often via the channel of a particular party. Politicians of any party are less likely to discuss an idea when there is no party advocating it anyway.

In the USA, members of the Senate and House are elected via districts, which is District Representation. This likely caused the division between two main parties, Democrats and Republicans. The situation likely causes that there are a lot of Think Tanks that want to reach out across the division, to inform voters directly on their various own approaches. For Think Tanks it is important to find at least one representative who is willing to support their case. Bipartisan support is nice but not always necessary, as one can always wait for the next turn in the political cycle.

In Holland, there is Proportional Representation (PR). With 150 seats, it takes only 1 / 150 = 0.67% of the nation-wide vote to get a new party into Parliament. When an issue is important enough to start a Think Tank on it, then likely at least 0.67% of the voters would care about it nation-wide, and then it might be better to start its own party rather than a Think Tank. Political parties in Holland have their own “scientific bureau“, that can inform the rest of the world about their analyses.

This paper of mine compares DR and PR, with the example of the UK, and concludes that the Dutch system is most democratic. See also the short discussion of this in Mathematics Teaching 222 in the context of the UK referendum on PR in 2011.

Baudet starts a think tank rather than a party

Thierry Baudet (1983) started in 2015 a Think Tank “Forum voor Democratie” (FvD) (forum for democracy).

Unfortunately the FvD English page currently still gives a Dutch text on their mission. Let me translate. Their stated mission is to fight the deterioration of democracy and improve its quality e.g. by means of referenda and direct elections of mayors. They also want to move power from the EU back to Holland. They want a strict system of “green cards” for immigrants. They explain their perceived link of democracy to the latter by that “uncontrolled immigration threathens social peace” (my translation). (Like in Brexit, immigration pops up at unlogical spots, as if people stop thinking when the subject arises.)

It is remarkable that Baudet thinks that he cannot get 0.67% of the vote for such a noble cause as the defence of democracy. In Holland, the political party D66 also wants to improve democracy, but they are pro-EU and not anti-EU, and thus he cannot join up. However, as a Think Tank, Baudet would be forced to collaborate a lot with D66, because of the shared view on democracy.

Perhaps it might be easier to start a niche Think Tank rather than a political party though: for, a party requires capable representatives. It may also be a matter of temperament, as Baudet states that he has no affinity with politics itself and wants to remain “independent”. It is okay for other people to follow him but he will not follow others.

Baudet and his FvD helped initiating the 2016 Dutch referendum on the EU Treaty with the Ukraine, see my discussion here and here. Baudet is also prominent in the peuro.nl petition, discussed in the former weblog text. There I promised to look a bit closer at Baudet’s views, which I will do here.

A bit on Baudet’s background

Today’s society cannot do without education. It is always useful to look at what people got their diploma in. This is not intended for an ad hominem argument but helps to clarify their field of competence and way of thinking. The theme of the “Two Cultures” by C.P. Snow indicates that we must be alert on bridging gaps. (See e.g. here.) When people age and grow more experienced, they will tend to diversify from their diploma, but it is seldom that a person from the humanities acquires a taste for science and mathematics as well.

Baudet’s cv doesn’t state whether he did gymnasium A or B. Generally students with gymnasium B tend to specify this though. Also given his later studies in history and law there is a great likelihood that Baudet did A. We should not expect insight in science and mathematics.

He got a bachelor in history in 2006. At Vox Europ 2012 “The EU is an empire, and empires mean war“, the website claims that he would be a historian too, but generally this label would be reserved for masters, and Vox Europ better corrects the claim.

Observe that the general label “historian” is vague too. It is generally better when people study a particular field before they look into the history of that field. It is awkward to look at an issue in the past when you don’t know about the very field of study itself. Grand themes might be an exception since it is impossible to study everything, but check out this discussion on David Armitage.

Baudet’s 2012 thesis,The significance of borders. Why representative government and the rule of law requires nation states“, is a thesis in law, supervised by law professor Paul Cliteur and philosopher Roger Scruton. Thus it is not a thesis in history, though the thesis refers to historical events.

PM 1. The other members of the thesis commission are in law too, except for Alfred van Staden who is a political scientist and professor in international relations. Would he vouch for these aspects in this thesis ? PM 2. The meaning of a thesis is that it is one way of showing that you are qualified to do scientific reseach in that particular field. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you fully proved a particular argument. PM 3. An objective of a thesis is that the new doctor learns modesty about what can actually be proven. PM 4. Cliteur states on his website that he looks at issues of free speech, see also his lecture. I informed him about the censorship of science since 1990 by the directorate of CPB, and he doesn’t show an interest. Apparently Cliteur doesn’t see that it is a no-brainer to say that religious fundamentalism and terrorists who abuse religion present a problem to free speech. Those groups enjoy that he pays attention to them because they thrive on attention and it makes them more important than they are. In the mean time, Cliteur doesn’t defend the freedom of scientific thought right on his doorsteps, while it would be important for a free society that such defence is provided.

I am still looking for a review of Baudet’s thesis by an independent reader.

Potentially the mentioned short Vox Europ article has the same theme as the thesis. The scheme of that short article is that imperialism causes wars, that nationalism is opposite to imperialism, and (thus) that nationalism would support peace. Also Baudet classifies the EU as imperialist. Whether these definitions and statements are supported by scientists working in this field remains to be seen. I am more inclined to interprete developments in terms of political economy, and I haven’t read a key (convincing) statement by Baudet yet why his approach from law should generate key conclusions.

For example, Robert Mundell’s theory of the optimal currency area starts from economics and then provides some historical data that confirm the point. It is open for falsification from history. Baudet seems to turn this around, and starts with historical cases like Napoleon or the USSR and transfers insights to the present EU. This complicates the issue very much, since it suggests that we all must be historians of Napoleon and the USSR before we might discuss the EU. Instead, I prefer a background in political economy, and look at the EU and its future, while I am open for falsifications by historians who suggest parallels in their area of study.

For example, Deirdre McCloskey in her work as economic historian started out from economic theory and the philosophies of ethics and liberty before she discovered the key role of Holland around 1650 in the transformation from the Middle Ages towards the modern world economy. I think that McCloskey is a fine economist and historian, and her discovery of the key role of virtue ethics in this historical process is very convincing – i.e. the change of the social view of the merchant as a robber towards that of admiration and high social status, with the whole social infrastructure of bourgeois society supporting that change of perception. A good historian is always aware that one should not read modern ideas into the past. However, scientific laws are the same over time, and economic processes work the same too.

Incidently, Hubert Smeets, a journalist who has been reporting about Russia and the former USSR over many years, suggested in NRC-Handelsblad last weeks, that Baudet, Kelder & Wellens (from the peuro.nl inititative) would have compared the EU to the former USSR. This is a strong accusation, since the USSR was a totalitarian state. Wellens asked the NRC Ombudsman for a correction. The Ombudsman Sjoerd de Jong gave a fallacious reply. This is my deconstruction (in Dutch) of this affair. Conclusion: Smeets made a false accusation. Baudet’s comparison concerns imperialism which is a different issue, and what Baudet wrote by himself doesn’t have to be supported by Kelder & Wellens. The Dutch Ombudsmen do not work well, see my letter of 2013 to the international organisation of Ombudsmen.

Comparison with Hans van Mierlo and D66 who are pro-EU

In 1966, master of law and journalist Hans van Mierlo (1931-2010) founded the political party D66 (“Democrats ’66”). The “crown jewels” of D66 are: (1) a change from PR to DR, (2) direct elections of mayors and prime minister, and (3) referenda. Thus:

  • Baudet cannot join D66 or their scientific bureau (named after Van Mierlo who didn’t do science) since they are pro-EU and he is anti-EU. But he would be forced to collaborate with D66 a lot because of the shared views on the “crown jewels” (except perhaps DR ?).
  • Scientific analysis of democracy shows that these D66 “crown jewels” actually are less democratic. See my book “Voting theory for democracy“.
  • As far as I know, Hans van Mierlo never studied democracy and its electoral systems. Van Mierlo only was in love with the USA of JFK, and in Holland in the 1960s these ideas sounded new.
  • As far as I know, nobody else in D66 studies democracy. See how they disinform the UK.
  • As far as I know, Baudet never studied democracy and its electoral systems either. I am not aware of a clarification by him why D66 never succeeded w.r.t. its crown jewels. Apparently, Baudet only buys uncritically into the propaganda by D66 as if referenda and direct elections would be more democratic. Curiously, Baudet’s 2012 thesis,The significance of borders. Why representative government and the rule of law requires nation states“, discusses representative democracy and not “democracy” by plebiscite.
  • The Brexit referendum is rather disastrous from the scientific view on democracy, but it requires some study – see here – to cut through the dogma that a referendum is pure democracy by definition.
Legalistic / Popular Scientific
Pro EU and euro Van Mierlo, D66: crown jewels
Anti EU and euro Baudet, FvD: referenda, direct elections, vague on DR vs PR
Pragmatic on EU and euro Me, SvHG: anti-crown jewels

When Van Mierlo deceased in 2010, I honoured him with the pamphlet “Laat D66 zichzelf opheffen” (Let D66 abolish itself). About the dead nothing but good, and the pamphlet was intended as an antidote for his sectarian followers in D66 who might turn him into a saint and martyr of democracy. Observe that I signed this pamphlet under my personal and not scientific name, since it is a personal political opinion that a political party better abolishes itself.

Pamphlet 2010: Let D66 abolish itself

Pamphlet 2010: Let D66 abolish itself

PM. There is also the Dutch LibDem Party (LDP), founded in 2006 by Sammy van Tuyll. They are social liberal like D66, like my suggestion from 1993 of a Social Liberal Forum (SLF). Van Tuyll has a background in medicine, economics and law, and should be able to understand my economic analysis. It is not clear to me why he doesn’t study and discuss it. Van Tuyll and I met in 2007 and I explained about the censorship of science, and it didn’t ring a bell. I can only suppose that when Van Tuyll ever is elected into government then he will continue with the censorship of science by the Dutch government.

Meeting Baudet in 2010

I met Thierry Baudet at a book presentation in 2010, when he was co-editor with Michiel Visser of a collection of essays on conservatism. My comment at the book presentation was that a good starting point would be the natural conservatism in classical liberalism as formulated by J.S. Mill and J.M. Keynes. Of course my background is in economics. The book title suggests the conundrum that conservatism actually is progressive, but the content of the book did not clearly resolve this conundrum. Overall I thought that the book was useful, but did not feel that I should buy the second volume.

I gave Baudet a copy of the book by Hans Hulst & Auke Hulst in collaboration with me (1998) Werkloosheid en armoede, de oplossing die werkt” (W&A) (Unemployment and poverty, the solution that works). In response, Baudet gave me his business card, whence I sent him a note on the next day, April 13 2010, to confirm contact. The card and this link show that Baudet was already active in improving democracy.

Baudet's business card of 2010, referring to Dutch Parliament with 150 representatives

Baudet’s business card of 2010, referring to Dutch Parliament with 150 representatives

My presumption was that Baudet would read W&A, and that there would be a discussion proceeding from there. In some interviews Baudet is portrayed with stacks of books in the background so there is the suggestion that he might read books. However, while I read the book that he and Visser edited, I did not get a reply on W&A and neither on my suggestion to have a further discussion. One possibility is that he was too busy with his 2012 thesis (though W&A is relevant for that topic too). But after completion of the thesis, there still is no sign of interest.

There is my warning from January 2012 to various young Dutch intellectuals who might come across as “Young Turks“, including Baudet, that they should not forget about the need for a solid scientific approach to change of society. I knew that Baudet was a PhD student but not that he would present his thesis in June that year. Perhaps Baudet thought this warning superfluous since he was working on that thesis at that time. Perhaps it is okay to put on blinders for a thesis when finishing it. The very purpose of a thesis however is to teach you the scientific attitude that one should not neglect criticism.

In 2012 I highlighted the issue that now surfaces in the peuro.nl petition again, namely the link between the EU and euro crises to the censorship of science by the directorate of the CPB.

If Baudet and his FvD are so much interested in improving democracy, why are they not interested in my analysis of the failure of Trias Politica, and the need for an extension with a constitutional Economic Supreme Court ? Why doesn’t Baudet write a review of “De ontketende Kiezer” (2003) ? Why this island mentality and burking and elbowing out of views of others ?

Baudet doesn’t inform Kelder & Wellens at peuro.nl

Baudet in 2015 collaborated with master of law and journalist Jort Kelder and management accountant Arno Wellens on the peuro.nl petition that wants an enquiry by Parliament about the creation and future of the euro. See my discussion of peuro.nl in the former weblog entry.

Kelder & Wellens confirm to me that Baudet did not inform them about W&A and this warning of mine of 2012 to the “Young Turks”. If they want Parliament to provide “full information”, then I would hope that they themselves acknowledge that they had a glitch in their own information amongst themselves. They disinformed the 40,000+ people who signed their petition.

Because of Baudet’s neglect since 2010 of key information about economics and censorship of science, there now is this peuro.nl initiative that focuses only on the euro, while the relevant enquiry should be about unemployment, role CPB … and euro. The euro is only a symptom, and an addition to what went wrong already before.

KWB

Jort Kelder, Arno Wellens and Thierry Baudet, screenshot peuro.nl 2015-12-14

Council of Recommendation

The format of a Think Tank for Baudet’s FvD allows academics to join up in a council of recommendation, too, which some might find problematic if it were a political party.

Member of the FvD council of recommendation are professors in constitutional law Jos Teunissen and Twan Tak. They should understand my approach that there should be no taxation on minimum earnings. See the short text “Don’t tax sweat“.  Teunissen has this useful text “Vrijheid, gelijkheid en belastingen” (2010) on couples, but it is better to start with individuals, and then see DRGTPE p131-132 on couples. Constitutional lawyers should also understand the failure of the Trias Politica model of democracy and the need for an Economic Supreme Court (per nation).

Seeing the names of Teunissen and Tak causes the hope that they will be able to explain these things to the other members of the council, and that all agree that FvD can be abolished as it has been based upon a wrong analysis, neglect by Baudet and disinformation since 2010.

Here we find Baudet’s thesis advisors Paul Cliteur and Roger Scruton again. Obviously the thesis differs from the mission of FvD and it is a bit remarkable that the supervisors travel along, though the direction of travelling might also have been the other way around (from Euroskeptism towards thesis).

To my surprise I also see: Deirdre McCloskey ! After some search, though, we see that Baudet explains in his cv that he taught “between 2010 and 2011” at Arjo Klamer’s school “Academia Vitae” (though it filed for bankruptcy in February 2010), when Jos de Beus (1952-2013) got ill. McCloskey may have taught at this school too. Arjo Klamer was close to De Beus and gave an impressive presentation at the memorial meeting – see my comments on this. It is important to know that Jos de Beus did not understand Kenneth Arrow’s impossibility theorem for collective decision making. It is important to know that there is a line in economic theory from Jan Tinbergen to his PhD student Hans van den Doel to me, with a floundering branch to political theorist Jos de Beus, who collaborated with Van den Doel. Jos de Beus and I met when I presented Van den Doel with the Samuel van Houten Penning in 1994. We had occasional contact but to no effect.

As an economist, Arjo Klamer could help out by studying my work, but he doesn’t. Klamer however is also in the council of recommendation of FvD. For some reason, economists Klamer and McCloskey prefer Baudet’s non-economic approach in theory of law above my development in economic theory from Jan Tinbergen and Hans van den Doel. If only they studied my analysis and stated why they disagree, but now the world must wonder why they don’t look at it at all. And why would they not understand that they cannot see the full analysis yet, because of the censorship ? Ergo, that this censorship must be lifted ?

A member of the FvD council of recommendation is philosopher Ad Verbrugge. He is founding chairman of “Beter Onderwijs Nederland” (BON) (for “Better Education”). At the website of BON, some mathematicians are slandering about my work on mathematics education. Verbrugge doesn’t do anything about this. There is this letter of 2009 (my website has moved to thomascool.eu). I have rephrased some questions again this Summer for fellow math teacher Karin den Heijer, now board member of BON, see page 11 here.

The link to mathematics education is important. See my letter to the president of KNAW and directorate of CPB 2016, that explains that maltreatment of my work on mathematics education hinders other people to also see the value of my work in economics.

Member of this council of recommendation is Kees de Lange, emeritus professor in physics and former chair of an association on pensions NPB. De Lange might have looked at my suggestions on mathematics education, see my suggestion on what physicists might do. I am not impressed by De Lange’s understanding of economics. I am not aware of someone in the Dutch world of pensions who warned about the 2007+ crisis. In 2009 I contacted De Lange as chairman of NBP and informed him about the censorship of science since 1990 by the directorate of CPB. His reply was sympathetic to my feelings, as if that were a relevant issue, and that NBP did not look into economic analyses, and that my approach might only be discussed when shared by more economists (but they didn’t look at analyses anyway). I came away from this with the impression that De Lange was lost, both as a scientist and chairman of NBP. Later in 2010 De Lange helped found a political party 50Plus, he was elected in the Dutch Senate as member of a two-man fraction of OSF 2011-2015, but then continued independently.

PM. At this spot it is useful to mention that Baudet, Wellens and De Lange also perform in video channel “Cafe Weltschmerz“, created by (bachelor in business and marketing) journalist Willem Middelkoop (LinkedIn), who after the 2007+ crisis got rich by telling people to get into gold rather than have a parliamentarian enquiry into unemployment and censorship since 1990 by the directorate of CPB. One of Middelkoop’s books was published by Amsterdam University Press and by standard arrangement adopted by the University of Chicago Press, but it should have been accepted at neither place since there is no link to science. See my discussion of the gold bugs. One supposes that Middelkoop likes it when Baudet, Wellens and De Lange continue to create uncertainty amongst viewers, so that the market for gold as a “safe haven” remains strong. It is a pity, though, that this circus also draws in young people looking for answers, like psychiatrist Esther van Fenema (wiki) and mathematician Anna Grebenchtchikova (LinkedIn) and lawyer Hester Bais. They, with their higher education that should guard them, might be falling in the journalistic trap to look at symptoms rather than causes.

Member of the council of recommendation is Tom Zwart, professor of international and European law, since 2007 director of the Dutch School of Human Rights Research. Perhaps freedom of expression is also a human right of a scientist ? Or is the option to do science no human right ?

Member of the council of recommendation are other economists Edin Mujagic, Bruno de Haas and Daniel Lacalle. Let me invite them to study my work, starting with DRGTPE (before the crisis) and CSBH (after the crisis). Mujagic hasn’t responded yet, though my analysis dates from the fall of the Berlin Wall, that also affected his past. Lacalle is a hedgefund manager and could get very rich if he would start supporting my analysis (supporting the boycott of Holland, explaining to all that it is needed, and speculating on it).

Last but not least there is Theodore Dalrymple, who might be very happy to finally understand why the Dutch welfare state isn’t working as it is supposed to.

Thierry Baudet and Paul Scheffer

At “Cafe Weltschmerz” there is also this (tedious) interview of Paul Scheffer (1954, like me, Angela Merkel and Franςois Hollande) by Baudet on the Dutch referendum on the treaty of the EU with the Ukraine. Scheffer states that he would vote Yes for the treaty. Baudet participated in setting up the referendum, with the objective that people would vote No. It is fine that they can have this civilised talk, though it was so tedious that I quit watching after 10 minutes (though the referendum has already taken place).

Baudet was for one year a post-doc in 2013 with Paul Scheffer who has a chair in European studies in Tilburg. Originally, Scheffer first wrote a popular book on migration and the multicultural society, and then turned this into a thesis for Tilburg. The Leiden professor of social history Leo Lucassen stepped down from the promotion committee in protest that not enough had been done to make it a real thesis.

Scheffer did highschool HBS A, and graduated in political science in 1986. In his student years he joined the Dutch communist party, and later switched to the social democratic PvdA. He was at the Wiardi Beckman Stichting (WBS), the “scientific bureau” of PvdA in 1986-1992.

I was a member of PvdA in 1974-1991. When I was at CPB in 1982-1991 I developed my analysis on unemployment, with the conceptual breakthrough when the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 caused me to look at some fundamentals. My analysis was censored by the directorate. I sent a copy of my 1990 paper to Parliament, so that all parties were informed, and I was free to contact PvdA of which I was a member. I contacted WBS, and I assumed that fellow social democratic scientists would be interested in an analysis on unemployment. To my great surprise and dismay, they were not. See the letter reproduced in “De ontketende kiezer” (2003) p128. See my discussion “Soms loopt het zo” in “Trias Politica & Centraal Planbureau” (1994). My contact was with fellow econometrician Paul de Beer. I met Scheffer at a PvdA convention at that time so he was in the know. I met Scheffer again at the memorial service of Jos de Beus. I later discovered that Paul de Beer was an adherent of the idea of a basic income. See my discussion about the sectarian behaviour around basic income.

Director of WBS in 1989-2006 was Paul Kalma. I had had some contacts with earlier director Joop van den Berg (1981-1989), now fellow at the Dutch Montesquieu institute. The idea that there are drawbacks to the Trias Politica structure hasn’t arrived there yet.

When Holland succeeds in having this parliamentarian enquiry on unemployment and the role of the CPB … and the euro … then these events at WBS would be important to look into as well. As said at the beginning, the road from science and scientific discovery into political discussion is often via the channel of a particular party. Politicians of any party are less likely to discuss an idea when there is no party advocating it anyway. Thus it is very relevant to know why social democratic researchers at WBS were and still are not interested in a new approach to unemployment. I will be interested in hearing what has been happening as well. Obviously, Parliament will be hesitant to ask questions, since WBS is protected by the aura of science and by that parties will not easily look into dealings of other parties. But the notion of “scientific bureau” better be taken seriously, and scientists should be familiar with the idea of answering questions. Perhaps Thierry Baudet can already ask Paul Scheffer what his recollections are, and why Scheffer didn’t and still doesn’t do anything about the censorship when he heard about it.

The three Pauls (De Beer, Kalma, Scheffer), in 1991 at WBS (wikimedia commons and website De Beer)

The three Pauls: De Beer, Kalma, Scheffer, who were in 1990-1991 at WBS (wikimedia commons and website De Beer)

I am quite neutral on the questions whether or not there is a Brexit and / or the UK breaks up. It is all up to the people in the UK what they wish to do.

My view is only that what we see isn’t democracy but political abuse. The data of the June 23 outcome are generally known, and summarised in the Appendix below. These data still leave unclear what UK voters really think. It is utterly false when politicians and their lawyers claim that the outcome represents the “views by the voters”.

This weblog entry on the Brexit referendum outcome has two aspects:

  • First there is an advice for young UK on safeguarding their future.
  • Secondly, there is the scientific outrage that voting theory has been neglected. Let me suggest to my fellow scientists to protest en masse to the political world that this Brexit referendum was & is political abuse, with deliberate neglect of scientific results on voting theory. Civilisation should not let such developments be determined by such political savagery.

Let us start by observing that the Brexit referendum question neglected the possible break-up of the UK. This isn’t hindsight but people warned for this early on, e.g. William Hague in December 23 2015 just when the referendum question was published. One might argue that people thus were warned, and if they still voted for Leave then they must have included the risk of a break-up. Thus we would live in the best-possible-world (Candide), and it is up to Scotland and Northern Ireland to decide now. However, science has shown that one cannot really interprete referenda in such manner. For example, foreign secretary of Sweden Margot Wallstrom warned on June 12 that the UK Leave might mean the end of the EU. Perhaps she intended to stimulate the turnout of Remain, but, if she was heard at all, she likely encouraged the turnout of Leave who wanted to destroy the EU too, and helped them forget about the break-up of the UK. Thus, it is too rosy to hold that people in the ballot box are fully informed and can deal well with misleading referendum questions.

For young UK (age < 50 years)

An advice for young UK who face Brexit is to study the basic theory of elections and then organise a new decision, done properly.

Four texts to study are:

  • the former weblog text on Brexit
  • my online book Voting Theory for Democracy
  • a paper that compares district representation (DR) as in the UK with proportional representation (PR) as in Holland. A), with a summary that appeared in Mathematics Teaching 222 in the context of the 2011 UK referendum on “Alternative Vote”.
  • a warning (in Dutch) to be careful with the mathematics of voting schemes.

Let us consider, for the sake of argumentation, a potential new referendum that might combine the options of Remain / Leave with UK / EU, so that voters can express better whether or not they want to leave the EU at the possible cost of a break-up of the UK. The votes on remaining or leaving the UK must be aggregated for the four areas separately, with perhaps the creation of England as a political entity too.

2016-06-29-Brexit-true-optionsWould this scheme work ? The scheme doesn’t quite deal with conditionals, like (England’s ?) “Leave the EU provided that others don’t leave the UK” or (Scotland’s ?) “Remain in the UK provided that the UK remains in the EU”. (1) Opinion polls “help” people to get an idea what others will vote, but such polls can be quite misleading. (2) A scheme is to let voters rank their preferences. For example, a youngster might rank A > C > B > D and an elderly person might rank B > D > A > C, but this ranking doesn’t quite resolve conditionals, e.g. that might cause strategic voting. And what about other issues, like on immigration ?

This hypothetical case fits the general scientific finding that referenda are predominantly no good way for collective decision making. It is remarkable that this isn’t general knowledge or even part of common sense.

Best seems that people vote for parties and that parties have negotiations in Parliament. However, this also depends upon whether Parliament has been chosen by DR or PR.

  • The political tensions in the UK rose likely because the UK has DR instead of PR. The political system in the UK excludes minorities and reduces political competition, whence non-represented minorities grow ever more extreme.
  • The Dutch system with PR includes minorities and enhances competition for votes. PR forces parties to compromise, and bearing responsibility reduces extremes.
  • Referenda are normally PR and used to correct errors of DR, but that doesn’t make referenda true corrections.

Therefor, the best solution would be to have a decision by Parliament selected in PR manner, or, paradoxically, given that this Brexit referendum has been allowed, have a nullifying referendum. One would put four issues on ballot:

  • “The Brexit referendum question was too simple, and the outcome is annulled.”
  • “Adopt for Parliament a system of Proportional Representation (PR) like in Holland, with a Prime Minister and cabinet appointed by Parliament.”
  • “Adopt a constitutional Economic Supreme Court (ESC).” The ESC provides necessary checks on the quality of information for policy making. For this, see DRGTPE, and this memo in the RES Newsletter.
  • “If there is an ESC, then also have annual elections.” When the ESC is in place, then one can have annual elections to enhance voting power on preferences, with less risk of political chaos.

These latter two conditions for a modern democracy are still lacking in Holland. Dutch readers are referred to “Democratie & Staathuishoudkunde” (2012).

The political abuse

The New York Times reminded us on June 21 2016 that David Cameron used the referendum to resolve a political fight in his own party.

“In 2013, besieged by the increasingly assertive anti-European Union wing of his own Conservative Party, Mr. Cameron made a promise intended to keep a short-term peace among the Tories before the 2015 general election: If re-elected, he would hold an in-or-out referendum on continued British membership in the bloc. But what seemed then like a relatively low-risk ploy to deal with a short-term political problem has metastasized into an issue that could badly damage Britain’s economy, influence the country’s direction for generations — and determine Mr. Cameron’s political fate.”

This use is not necessarily an abuse, since, for example, 52% of the vote legitimise the idea, and these were not party members only. Instead, the abuse is the neglect of voting theory: the misrepresentation of a multidimensional issue by a binary choice. It is like asking “Do you still beat your wife ?” and allowing only a Yes or No, so that when the answer is No then the subsequent conclusion is: “Ah, so you admit that you did beat her before !”

Surprisingly, both David Cameron and Nigel Farage got away with the misrepresentation in the question in this plebiscite. (1) There was not enough discussion on this irresponsible simplification of the issues. At least the possibility of the break-up should have been included, see the early warning by William Hague. (2) Whatever the question up for vote, a referendum can be hijacked for another populist cause, as happened in this case with immigration. Angry voters send a vote-of-no-confidence to the government whatever the consequences.

For scientists

The case for scientific outrage is obvious. It is remarkable that we haven’t heard much from UK scientists on this. Stephen Hawking warned about Brexit but didn’t say that the referendum question is silly and dangerous.

There is this open letter of June 14 by a long list of scientists who protest:

“A referendum result is democratically legitimate only if voters can make an informed decision. Yet the level of misinformation in the current campaign is so great that democratic legitimacy is called into question.”

Curiously, however, this letter doesn’t make the point that the referendum neglects voting theory, since the very question is misleading w.r.t. the complexity of the issue under decision. Would these scientists be willing to admit this ex post ?

There is a critical article in the New Scientist of June 1 for example, but the issue of misrepresentation isn’t quite mentioned. The reporters adopt the frame that the question is sound and the voters are irrational, while the truth is rather that the referendum question is a misrepresentation and that voters are upset (albeit unconsciously) by being boxed into a corner, and by being given responsibility but no means of control (the recipe for stress).

“THE EU referendum could be the most irrational yet. Uncertainty over consequences, and contradictory economic and political information, mean that voters will be swung even more than usual by feelings and biases that have nothing to do with the issues at stake.” (Michael Bond, Jacob AronHal Hodson)

It is well-accepted by students of voting theory that referenda can by abused by politicians for their own agenda. Thus the scientific outrage should be felt by many more scientists.

Insert: The Queen: “Why did nobody notice it?”- in 2008 at the financial crisis

After the financial crisis in 2008, the UK Queen is reported to have asked: “Why did nobody notice it?” (Telegraph 2008, Guardian 2012). There is the plain answer that some people warned but were not listened to, and this is the ancient issue of Cassandra or perhaps The Boy Who Cried “Wolf”. See e.g. this discussion. The same question can be asked now w.r.t. the referendum: why did not more people warn that the referendum and / or its question wasn’t sound.

Potentially, organising a new referendum would better show how the people in the UK think about a break-up. There is one catch: it may be impossible to restore the status quo ex ante. Now that Scotland has discovered that it might be dragged along by England into undesirable waters, perhaps Scotland still wishes a new referendum on independence, even when the June 23 referendum is annulled and when a new referendum confirms that the UK would remain in the EU. This is something that someone in the Policy Simulation Room should have seen coming.

Many observers already mentioned that if there would be general elections before a government dares to invoke article 50, then these elections would turn into a repeat referendum too. In that case DR doesn’t quite square with the PR of a referendum, and thus one would rather first have PR and perhaps secondly also split parties in Remain and Leave subparties.

Insert: How the UK Electoral Commission advised on the question

A kind reader informed me that the UK Electoral Commission advised on the referendum question. Looking into this is another mer à boire.

  • The Commission has the task to check that even a misleading question is “intelligible”.
  • There is a useful discussion about the difference between “remain” and “be”, and whether yes / no creates a bias for people who hate to say no. My impression is that the Electoral Commission deserves a compliment w.r.t. the clarity about the question, so that everyone can see that it was a misleading question.
  • However, the Commission entirely overlooks the possibility of including a “None Of The Above” (NOTA), while this inclusion might have tickled people into wondering about the misleading question itself.
  • There is no mention that the UK might break up after a Leave outcome. Is it really so that no-one in the UK was aware of this and that the Electoral Commission could neglect this ?
  • There were general warnings, like in the section on “Contextual understanding of the European Union” points 3.23-3.27 on page 16:

“3.25 Whilst overall awareness of the UK’s membership of the EU was found to be relatively high, many reported that more contextual information would be required regarding the voting outcomes. Particular queries included what a vote to remain a member would mean in terms of membership status: continuation of current terms of membership or something different? A small number of participants thought that a majority vote to stay would result in the UK becoming a member of the Eurozone.  
3.26 There were similar queries about what a vote to leave would mean in terms of membership status: completely leaving the EU or some other form of membership?
3.27 Those who were undecided about how to vote were particularly likely to report a lack of contextual information enabling them to make an informed vote. They reported a lack of clarity regarding what each voting outcome would mean in practice. This is considered in more detail later in this chapter.”

I didn’t find the required details in this chapter. My advice to the Electoral Commission is to refuse to participate in the creation of misleading questions. It is okay to clarify questions, but one should also be aware of voting theory that referenda can be silly and dangerous. At the minimum discuss the inclusion of NOTA.  The reason of the referendum is to recover the views of the electorate, and what happens with the view is not only “context” but key information for developing these views.

Insert: Partial agreement with Martin Wolf in the FT

Martin Wolf stated in his “What a Prime Minister Boris Johnson should do next” (FT June 28 2016), that I only saw after basically completing this text:

“Might it be possible to abort the entire process? Legally, yes. As Brexiters rightly say, the UK is a parliamentary, not a plebiscitary, democracy. The step that must be taken, if the UK is to leave the EU, is for it to issue a declaration under Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, to trigger the process. In law, a referendum is solely advisory. Only parliament can do this, because only it makes valid law.”

It is a subtle point that many will not have been aware of. The Dutch advisory referendum on the Ukraine had always been communicated as “advisory referendum”, and in the future such clarity would be advisable.

Now, both David Cameron and Jean-Claude Juncker assume that the UK will automatically invoke article 50, and the debate is only about delay (supposedly to the advantage of the UK) or speed (for the EU wishing to have it over with). There are rising tensions. Juncker’s attitude would have been different when Cameron had treated the referendum outcome only as an advice. Today, David Cameron is not present at the informal meeting of the HOSGs, and EU Council website has a statement by the 28 – 1 = 27:

“In their joint statement following the meeting, the 27 leaders announced: “We, the Heads of State or Government of 27 Member States, as well as the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, deeply regret the outcome of the referendum in the UK but we respect the will expressed by a majority of the British people. Until the UK leaves the EU, EU law continues to apply to and within the UK, both when it comes to rights and obligations.””

Nigel Farage was jeered and booed at with Juncker’s unkind question “Why are you here ?” when he presented himself in the EU Parliament. It is unkind not to allow Farage his moment of victory and for exporting his message to a wider EU area, and to imply that he was only there for the attendance fee. One should respect that it remains a political view whether one wants more integration or a return to a trade area. With this unkind and non-sportive treatment, one may better understand how Europe got into wars so often in the past. But also Farage did not treat the referendum outcome as an advice only.

Still, I agree with Wolf that the UK still has the option to backtrack. The real question is what would be the convincing argument. The argument must be made convincingly, otherwise tensions in the EU will rise, and businesses will reduce the risk of trading with the UK. For me, the convincing reason lies in the observation that the referendum question is an abuse and neglect of voting theory.  For me, it doesn’t matter whether the UK leaves or breaks up, if only the voters have been offered the true options.

Wolf is more worried about the economy, and subsequently considers some options, including re-negotiating on immigration, and starting with:

“After selection of a new leader by the Conservative party, and perhaps even a general election, Prime Minister Johnson might, to paraphrase Emperor Hirohito’s remarks at the end of the second world war, declare that, given the “unexpected” economic damage and the risk of a break up of the UK, the situation “had developed not necessarily to the UK’s advantage”. He might forget the whole thing or, alternatively, call another referendum, merely to make sure the people remained as determined.”

The argument on the Brexit is rather thin, given that the Brexit had been presented as an issue of sovereignty and the monster of the superstate. It belongs to the possibilities that Johnson doesn’t really care much whether the UK is in or out of the EU, and that the Brexit campaign was only a last resort to get Cameron and Osborne out of the way. It is also possible that Johnson might become Prime Minister now and is appalled by the chaos that he has created, and thus becomes willing to change his position. However, it is less likely that the EU will agree with re-negotiating on immigration to try prevent the UK from invoking article 50. Politics might be blackmail but the UK cannot claim a special position w.r.t. the problems in Syria or Africa.

Thus I regard this line of reasoning as not so convincing. Little stops us from combining the principles on voting with the practice of economics. However, why would we complicate a clear issue of scientific clarity on principles of voting with a messy assessment on economics ? For the experts, as Wolf indicates, the economic assessment is not messy, but we lack an Economic Supreme Court, and thus non-economists are lost in the game of guessing who the experts really are, and experience shows that this process actually is quite messy.

David Cameron might have selected his time window till October for mere party politics, but it would provide time indeed to let these arguments percolate. I would not wait for Boris Johnson but rather look to young UK and the world of science.

Insert: Gideon Rachman’s non-belief in a Brexit

Gideon Rachman doesn’t quite believe the Brexit, given some precedents (FT June 27 2016), that I also only saw after basically completing this text.

“In 1992 the Danes voted to reject the Maastricht treaty. The Irish voted to reject both the Nice treaty in 2001 and the Lisbon treaty in 2008. And what happened in each case? The EU rolled ever onwards. The Danes and the Irish were granted some concessions by their EU partners. They staged a second referendum. And the second time around they voted to accept the treaty.”

“Boris Johnson (…) hinted at his real thinking back in February, when he said: “There is only one way to get the change we need — and that is to vote to go; because all EU history shows that they only really listen to a population when it says No.”

“And what kind of new concession should be offered? That is easy. What Mr Johnson would need to win a second referendum is an emergency brake on free movement of people, allowing the UK to limit the number of EU nationals moving to Britain if it has surged beyond a certain level.”

With the EU refugee crisis (an emergency for Syria and a structural problem for Africa), it is not likely that the UK will get such exception, for the other 27 members will not be able to explain this to their constituencies. There doesn’t have to be a concession from the EU. It suffices for the UK to come to terms with voting theory, apologise to the EU for the confusion, and redo the decision making process to find out what it really wants.

A cocktail of uncertainties and possible sources for confusion

The Brexit referendum has the advantage of illuminating various uncertainties and possible sources for confusion.

  • My correspondent in The Hague argues that the Brexit outcome injects new energy into society, namely the idea of “getting a life”, and being freed from the suffocating bias by the collective hive. I am reminded of 1914, when people were energised to go to war. Sebastian Haffner‘s book of 1964 still needs an English translation: Die sieben Todsünden des deutschen Reiches im Ersten Weltkrieg.
  • One might argue that Scotland voted to remain in the UK in 2014, and thus now has to suffer the cost. The EU might welcome Scotland but might still have greater fear for break-ups like with Catalunya. Overall, my impression is that the nation states of Vienna 1815 still have an important role to play in the immediate future. Eventually a perspective of a “Europe of the Regions” (Heineken map) makes more sense. One could make a plan for the next 25 years for gradual change with both integration and distribution.
  • The 2011 UK referendum on “Alternative Vote” was crooked because the proposed system was too complex, likely by wrong advice from mathematicians. There is the curious Dutch D66, liberal democrats who neglect science and prefer DR.
  • The demographic breakdown shows that younger people turned out less and were more likely to vote for Remain, while the elderly turned out more and for Leave. Issues are: (1) When people don’t turn out, we don’t know their vote. (2) Are non-voters really indifferent to the outcome or merely confused ? (3) Don’t young people know that elections are important for their future ? (4) Was it relevant that younger people are used to a digital world while the referendum is old technology that the elderly are used to ? (5) When they have regrets, should they sit on the blisters ? (6) Will they be able to understand that this referendum was an outrage and neglect of science, and would they be able to explain this to others ?
  • An interesting point is that this Brexit outcome challenges the “one man one vote” principle. In Public Health we oppose “lives saved” to “life years saved”. It matters whether one saves a baby or a 95-year old. See my essay on the Value of Life. In economics we have intergenerational accounting. Potentially one might argue that young people are more affected by a decision like a Brexit than the elderly. The elderly might argue that they know better what is good for their grandchildren. A 95-year old might also argue that the world has a lot of babies but few 95-year olds, and that he or she represents a huge investment in human capital.
  • Remarkably, the City of London had a great interest in remaining in the EU, but was caught in the problem that others might (obviously) think that they put their interests before those of the UK. Somehow Finance lost from the Tabloids. A mediating role might have been played by Education, but Education apparently didn’t explain about the political abuse.
Dutch EU Presidency disaster, with Dutch PM Mark Rutte

The Brexit outcome means that the Dutch EU Presidency 2016 is a disaster, under the leadership of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Indeed, even Dutch PR has its problems. The Dutch general elections 2012 might have allowed a coalition under the leadership of Diederik Samsom, with parties PvdA & SP & CDA & D66 & CU & GL & PvdD = 38 + 15 + 13 + 12 + 5 + 4 + 2 = 89 seats in a house with 150 seats, but Samsom preferred a quick deal with Rutte (VVD, 41 seats). Samsom forgot that VVD and PvdA had made rather conflicting campaign promises, so that a coalition was strange, and both are much lower in the polls now (VVD 24, down from 41, PvdA 8, down from 38). In 2017 there are Dutch elections. VVD and PvdA had been hoping that the Dutch economy would be doing well by then, but the Brexit makes this less likely again. However, my advice is that all (decent) parties are represented in the executive of the government too, since being in government helps realism. The selection of the Prime Minister can be done by the Borda Fixed Point method.

Potentially the EU regarded the UK referendum as an internal affair of the sovereign UK. European heads of state or government (HOSG) have been advising the UK voters, but always at some “respectful distance”, and not in town hall meetings as Barack Obama toured the USA. It is part of European folklore to have a European project but while maintaining the outward rituals of sovereignty. This emphasizes the distance rather than the togetherness like in the European Song Festival. The Dutch Presidency should have been more alert on this. People in the UK might argue that there are ample people from other EU nations in the UK, so that there are ample opportunities for discussion, and that the purpose of the referendum is to let the British make up their minds themselves. But why not have town hall meetings with EU HOSGs at various locations in Nigel Farage’s backyard ?

Another comment (lost the reference) was that it was Margaret Thatcher who pushed for the neoliberal agenda, as opposed to the Continent, with the Christian or Social Democratic agendas. This caused the austerity programs and the financial crisis of 2007+ and the call for more austerity. Thus the UK exported the policies to Brussels, about which the Brexiteers complain that those came from Brussels. To this, we might add that Tony Blair proceeded along Thatcher’s path, and assisted in the false pretentions for the invasion into Iraq that eventually caused ISIL and the Syrian refugees to Europe. How blind can you be about your own crookedness ? Also, Mark Rutte has hero worship for Thatcher, and thus was the last person to explain this boomerang to the UK. See what Rutte neglects: my paper on the Cause and Cure of the Crisis.

(PM. Perhaps, however, Rutte has other objectives. Now that the House of Hanover leaves the EU, perhaps the House of Orange has better cards to get adopted as the Imperial House for the EU empire, later to be united with Russia. My correspondent in Moscow informs me that president Putin is already looking at pictures of young Dutch princess Amalia. As Putin intends to rule for a thousand years, the age difference doesn’t bother him. But the Moscow correspondent  also states: “Then he swears violently, for he realises that he must also find a diplomatic solution for the MH17 problem.”)

A problem in science

There is a related issue that must be mentioned usefully. For the above, science has a positive role. However, we should not paint a picture that is too rosy. Science can also contribute to political confusion. A problem in science is that here is a common and fundamental misunderstanding w.r.t. the Impossibility Theorem of 1951 by Kenneth Arrow, a mathematician who got the Nobel Prize in 1972 for this theorem and other work. The impossibility theorem might seem complex but is rather simple, for: assume some properties and give a counterexample. The impossibility arises by a simple mechanism, namely by assuming that collective decisions can be built up from voting on pairs of issues. Obviously the world is more complex and one cannot neglect the context. However, mathematicians are very fond of the misconceptions that Arrow created, and political scientists are very fond of acting like they understand the mathematics. Thus there is a serious problem of malpractice in science itself. Cases of this malpractice in Holland are here 1, here 2, here 3. A problematic situation exists in the USA w.r.t. Donald Saari, last year the chairman of the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (CBMS), the union of all mathematical associations. See also the relation of CBMS to the US Common Core in mathematics education.

In 1990, one of my papers at the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB) showed that Arrow confused voting and deciding. The mathematics of his theorem is okay but his interpretation is wrong. One can use pairwise voting results but one should not regard these as decisions. The final decision can only be made when all pairwise results are in and related to each other. A cycle in voting scores translates into collective indifference. When there is a tie, then there must be tie-breaking rules. Thus, democracy is not impossible, but a bit more complex than Arrow suggested. Unfortunately, this paper of mine of 1990 got hit by censorship of science, as also my other papers, including the new approach to resolving unemployment and stagflation. The paper on Arrow’s impossibility theorem has been transformed (partially) into the book Voting Theory for Democracy, but the results on unemployment and stagflation are still importantly much under censorship that should be lifted.

Conclusion

Young UK and scientists all over the world are advised to protest against the political abuse of this Brexit referendum, and it would also help when they start boycotting Holland till the censorship of science by the directorate of the Dutch CPB is resolved.

Appendix. The Brexit referendum outcome

The following data can be found at YouGov (exit poll on ca. 5000 people) and there is a nice graphic at wikipedia (a portal and no source). John Burn-Murdoch at the FT presents a graph that turnout rises with age, from a low 65% for age 30 to a high 80% at age 50 (not copied here).

wikipedia brexit

YouGov Brexit