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Many people think that political science on electoral systems and referenda must be a science since otherwise it would not be called a science. Unfortunately, the label “political science” got coined around 1903 with the creation of the American Political Science Association (APSA), and this label rather reflects an aspiration and no achievement yet. In the UK there is the Political Studies Association (PSA), founded in 1950, baptised more modestly since there still is much scholarship in the humanities. It turns out that many statements by “political science / studies on electoral systems and referenda” aren’t scientific, and for their relevance for empirical reality they can only be compared to astrology, alchemy or homeopathy. A scientist looking at a UK General Election can only think “Garbage in, garbage out” (GIGO).

The UK has been fundamentally disinformed about its electoral system with district representation and the use of referenda like the Brexit Referendum of 2016. The UK is locked in tradition and fuzzy thinking in the humanities. The situation may be explained by the historical path that the UK has taken, but this history hasn’t included a proper application of science to the notion of democracy.

Compare the current chaos w.r.t. Brexit to the chaos with the financial crisis of 2008. On the latter, the UK Queen asked famously:

“Why did nobody notice it?”

There is a longer list of economists who issued warnings in time, with Hyman Minsky at the top and me somewhere too. The next question rather is why such warnings weren’t taken seriously in the policy making process. My diagnosis since 1990 is that there is a failure of the separation of powers, the Trias Politica, with still too much room for politicians to manipulate the information. The remedy is to create an Economic Supreme Court (ESC) that will guard the quality of information for policy. The House of Commons would still determine policy but it would get less room to disinform the public. The current UK Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is a far cry from what is actually needed.

With this analogy established, consider Brexit again. Might the Queen not repeat the question ? Now however there doesn’t seem to be a list of early warnings that were overlooked. Now we have a “political science” that has gotten lost in abstraction. Here, the remedy is to ask proper scientists from physics to biology to psychometrics to econometrics to look at democracy and to help “political science / studies on electoral systems” become a proper science too. My suggestion is to team up empirical scientists from the Royal Society with members of the PSA and the British Academy, and to encourage a buddy-system to start delving into this. The place to start is my paper “One woman, one vote. Though not in the USA, UK and France” at MPRA 2018, and a presentation 1270381 at Zenodo.org on the distance between votes and seats.

Many people think that the Brexit Referendum of 2016 allowed voters to express their decision, with 52% Leave and 48% Remain. However, not all voters expressed their decision but many were only guessing. A YouGov poll at the time of the GIGO 2017 showed that 17% of voters still listed Remain between different options of Leave. Voters were forced to make a strategic choice about what they feared most what might happen. See my deconstruction of this mess in the October 2017 Newsletter of the Royal Economic Society (RES).

Now there are calls for a second referendum. This call wants to resolve the current chaos by creating more chaos, and potentially a “stab in the back” myth that the 2016 supposed decision isn’t listened to. The lesson from the current chaos should rather be that referenda are generally dumb and dangerous, even in the form of the neverendum. The real problem lies in the UK system of district representation that structurally fails to reflect the views and interests of voters. The deeper problem is that the House of Commons and the electorate are disinformed by an academic field that still is comparable to astrology, alchemy or homeopathy. There is a grand scale of disinformation by famous UK scholars like Iain McLean, John Curtice, younger Alan Renwick, and (other) members of PSA.

My suggestion is that the UK switches to equal proportional representation (EPR), say adopt the Dutch system of open lists (in which you may always vote for a regional candidate though people don’t tend to do so), has proper elections, and then let the new House of Commons discuss the relation with the EU again. It is not unlikely that the EU would allow the UK the time for such a fundamental reconsideration on both its democracy and Brexit. UK political parties may need to split up to offer voters the relevant spectrum of views, though one must allow for election alliances (especially the former Dutch method of list combinations). To some readers this suggestion may remind of earlier discussions about district or proportional representation (DR vs EPR). However, there now is the key new insight about the disinformation by the “political science / studies on electoral systems”, that causes the need to re-evaluate what has been claimed in the past by the academic ivory towers, and also by the disinforming UK Electoral Reform Society (ERS). It remains to be seen whether the UK would want to switch from DR to EPR, but the first step would be to provide the public with proper information.

PS. An eye-opener can be that “political science on electoral systems” relies upon common language instead of developed definitions. Physics also borrowed common words like “force” and “mass”, yet it provided precise definitions, and gravity in Holland has the same meaning as gravity in the UK. The “political science on electoral systems” uses the same word “election” but an “election” in Holland with EPR is entirely different from an “election” in the UK with DR. In reality there is a difference between a contest (DR) or a bundling of votes to support a representative (EPR). We find that the UK is locked into confusion by its vocabulary. An analogy is the following. Consider the medieval trial by combat or the “judgement of God”, that persisted into the phenomenon of dueling to settle conflicts. A duel was once seriously seen as befitting of the words “judgement” and “trial”. Eventually civilisation gave the application of law with procedures in court. Using the same words “judgement” and “trial” for both a duel and a court decision confuses what is really involved, though the outward appearance may look the same, that only one party passes the gate. The UK suffers the same kind of confusion about the “General Election for the House of Commons” when this actually is no proper election of interest representatives but concerns contests for getting district winners. The system of DR is proto-democratic and no proper democracy that uses EPR.

Picture: Wikimedia Queen in the UK, Duel in France, Judges in The Hague.

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In May I joined NKWP, the Dutch Poltiical Science Association. I informed the board that “political science on electoral systems” is a pseudo-science, comparable to astrology, alchemy or homeopathy. The board informed me yesterday that they will do nothing on this. Thus I better put a stop to my membership. I should be no part of an association that claims to be for science but that doesn’t react to information about pseudo-science under their wings.

This is my farewell letter to the board of NKWP.

Let us look beyond Brexit and determine the implications w.r.t. democracy itself. We can conclude that the UK has an intellectual community that is quite blind on the very notion of democracy. When the educated run astray then there is only an anchor in the democratic notions of the whole population, and this opens the doors to what is called “populism”.

I started looking into Brexit after the surprise referendum outcome in 2016. This memo sums up my findings over the last two years. The following identifies where the educated community in the UK is in need of re-educating themselves.

Earlier in 1990-1994 I already concluded that Montesquieu’s model of the separation of powers of the Trias Politica fails in a key aspect since its conception in 1748. Democracies need the fourth power of an Economic Supreme Court, see (2014). It is necessary to mention this earlier conclusion that predates Brexit, but let us now continue with findings following Brexit.

To start with: What does the UK electorate really want w.r.t. Brexit or Bremain ? Both the Referendum of 2016 and the General Election of 2017 do not provide adequate information. One would think that it is rather damning for a claimed democracy when its procedures do not result into adequate clarity on such a fundamental issue.

The 2016 Referendum Question concerned the legal issue of Leave or Remain but was disinformative about the ways of Leaving or Remaining. The political parties that are elected into the House of Commons are split on both direction and ways as well. The overall situation can only be described as chaotic. One might try to characterise this more positively as that a population with divided views generated a House of Commons with divided views, which would be democracy itself, but this neglects that there is no information about what those divided views actually are. The true process is “garbage in, garbage out” and this doesn’t fit the definition of democracy.

The very Brexit or Bremain Referendum Question fails the criteria for a decent statistical enquiry. I am surprised that the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) did not protest. The question of Leave or Remain is a binary legal issue but the true issue are the policy options. It took some time to analyse this, but with the help of Anthony Wells of YouGov.com I managed to dissect this, see (2017abc). Some 17 per cent of voters ranked Remain between different versions of Leave, which implies a grand game of guessing what to vote for, and which means that the Referendum failed on its purpose of expression of preferences. The UK Electoral Commission missed this but it does not care about this and is happy to take the legal position. They claim to provide proper information to the general public, but what they regard as “information” is regarded by statistical science as disinformation (but the RSS is silent on this). One is reminded of Byzantium instead of claimed modernity.

The main question is why the UK had the referendum in the first place. In Holland since 1917 there is system of equal proportional representation (EPR) for the House of Commons so that referenda are not required. The UK has a system of district representation (DR) that lacks such proportionality, and that invites the confusion that referenda might be used to find out what the electorate really thinks. The latter is a confusion indeed, since it neglects the important role of bargaining, see (2017c).

This diagnosis set me on the course of investigating why the USA, UK and France have DR and not EPR. My original thought was that a party that won an election would have no reason to change a system that caused its election. This would explain why the USA, UK and France were stuck with DR and did not switch to EPR. Last year I discovered that the true cause is different. My finding for the UK is that there is an amazing blindness in the UK intellectual community. The report in (2018a) causes a chill down the spine. It appears that “political science on electoral systems” is no science yet, but still solidly within the Humanities, and alike astrology, alchemy and homeopathy. The eye-opener is that these academics use the same word “election” for both DR and EPR while they actually have entirely different meanings. In reality only EPR has proper elections fitting of proper democracy. The DR system is a proto-democracy that relies on contests. Political “science” is blind to what this means not only for proper scientific analysis but also for communication with the general public. Voters are disinformed on a grand scale, both in the textbooks in government classes and in public discussion e.g. at “election” nights.

Compare physics that also borrowed words from colloquial English, like “force” and “mass”. Yet in physics these words have recieved precise meaning. In physics, gravity in Holland has the same meaning as gravity in the UK. Political “science” uses colloquial terms like “election” and “democracy” but those meanings are not fixed. An “election” in Holland with EPR is entirely different from an “election” in the UK with DR. Political “science” thus uses terms that confuse both the academics and the public. When historians describe how the West developed into democracy, they occlude the fact that the USA, UK and France are still in a proto-democratic phase.

A first complication is: There appears to be a special role for the UK Electoral Reform Society (ERS) founded in 1884 and originally known as the Proportional Representation Society. Here we find an independent and disinterested group that criticises DR and that claims to further the UK on the historical path towards EPR. However, it appears that ERS wants a transferable vote, while their claim that transferability generates proportionality is simply false. Such distortion contributed to the debacle of the 2011 Referendum on the “alternative vote”, which is a counterproductive construct to start with. When one presents the ERS with this criticism then the reply appears to be disingenuous. Instead of a clear adoption of EPR, either in the Dutch version or like the UK elections for the EU Parliament, with their wealth of experience by actual application, one can only conclude that the ERS is addicted to this notion of a transferable vote, and they want this model at any cost. Psychology might explain how such zealotism may arise but it remains far removed from proper information for the general public.

A second complication is: There appears to exist a confusion w.r.t. the interpretation of Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem on democracy. In this, there is a major role for mathematicians who mainly look at models and who neglect empirical science. This leads too far for this memo, and an overview is given in (2018e).

A third complication is: There is the interference by a grand coalition of statistics and political science (with some ambiguity whether quotation marks should be used) in creating a black hole on democracy and its measurement, see (2018bcd). Political science never managed to find a good measure for the difference between vote shares and seat shares. My proposal is to use the “sine-diagonal inequality / disproportionality” (SDID) measure, that does for democracy what the Richter scale does for earthquakes. Political science has shown less understanding of statistics, or perhaps failed in finding such a measure because statistical science did not develop this theory or did not understand what the political scientists were looking for. This hole has been plugged now, see (2018bcd). Nevertheless, this diagnosis calls for a reorganisation of university courses in statistics and political science.

The enclosed graph highlights the “perfect storm” of blindness of the intellectual community that lurks behind Brexit. The figure is documented in (2018d). The main idea is that statistics and other sciences like physics, biology, psychometrics and econometrics could help “political science on electoral systems” to become a proper science. Then science can provide adequate information to the general public.

A conclusion is: The UK electoral system has “winner take all” district representation (DR) that does not provide for equal proportional representation (EPR) of what voters want. Again the word “representation” means something else for proto-democratic DR versus democratic EPR. My suggestion is that the UK switches to EPR, say adopt the Dutch system of open lists, has new elections, and let the new House discuss Brexit or Bregret again. Bregret is defined by that the House adopted Brexit before and thus might reconsider. It is not unlikely that the EU would allow the UK the time for such a fundamental reconsideration on both electoral system and Brexit.

It remains to be seen whether the UK electorate would want to stick to the current system of DR or rather switch to EPR. The first step is to provide the UK electorate with adequate information. For this, the UK intellectual community must get its act together on what this information would be. A suggestion is to check the analysis that I have provided here.

 

References

Colignatus (2014), “An economic supreme court”, RES Newsletter issue 167, October, pp. 20-21
Colignatus (2017a), “Voting theory and the Brexit referendum question”, RES Newsletter, Issue 177, April, pp. 14-16
Colignatus (2017b), “Great Britain’s June 2017 preferences on Brexit options”, RES Newsletter, Issue 177, October, http://www.res.org.uk/view/art2Oct17Features.html
Colignatus (2017c), “Dealing with Denial: Cause and Cure of Brexit”, https://boycottholland.wordpress.com/2017/12/01/dealing-with-denial-cause-and-cure-of-brexit/
Colignatus (2018a), “One woman, one vote. Though not in the USA, UK and France”, https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/84482/
Colignatus (2018b), “Comparing votes and seats with cosine, sine and sign, with attention for the slope and enhanced sensitivity to inequality / disproportionality”, https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/84469/
Colignatus, (2018c), “An overview of the elementary statistics of correlation, R-Squared, cosine, sine, Xur, Yur, and regression through the origin, with application to votes and seats for parliament ”, https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1227328
Colignatus, (2018d), “An overview of the elementary statistics of correlation, R-Squared, cosine, sine, Xur, Yur, and regression through the origin, with application to votes and seats for parliament (sheets)”, Presentation at the annual meeting of Dutch and Flemish political science, Leiden June 7-8, https://zenodo.org/record/1270381
Colignatus, (2018e), “The solution to Arrow’s difficulty in social choice (sheets)”, Second presentation at the annual meeting of Dutch and Flemish political science, Leiden June 7-8, https://zenodo.org/record/1269392

The dictum is to have one subject per letter. This paradise is no longer possible when time passes and letters and subjects accumulate. Let me take stock of some findings on democracy.

Economic theory needs a stronger defence against unwise application of mathematics. Mathematicians are trained for abstract thought and not for empirical science. Their contribution can wreak havoc, for example in education with real life pupils and students, in finance by neglecting real world risks that contribute to a world crisis, or in voting theory where they don’t understand democracy.

Nowadays, though, I am also wary of students from the Humanities who rely upon legal views (their version of mathematics) instead of empirical understanding.

For the following, distinguish single seat elections (president, prime minister) and multiple seats elections (parliament). There is also a key distinction between Equal Proportional Representation (EPR) with proper elections and District Representation (DR) that has contests rather than proper elections.

Key findings

(1) Montesquieu’s Trias Politica of the separation of powers is failing, and we need the separation of a fourth power, an Economic Supreme Court, based upon science, with a position in the constitution at the same level as the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary. The current setup allows too much room for politicians to manipulate the information for policy making. This need for separation can also be proven logically in a model using stylised facts, see the book DRGTPE. A short discussion on the 2007+ European crisis is here.

(2) Kenneth Arrow in his Impossibility Theorem has a correct deduction (there is an impossibility) but a wrong interpretation. He confuses voting and deciding. For this debunking of Arrow’s Theorem, see Chapter 9.2 of Voting Theory for Democracy (p239-251). Sheets of a presentation in June 2018 are here.

(3) A voting method that many might find interesting is the Borda Fixed Point method. See the counterfactual example of selecting a Prime Minister for Holland.

(4) Political science on electoral systems is no science yet but still locked in the Humanities, and comparable to astrology, alchemy and homeopathy. People in the USA, UK and France still have taxation without representation.

(4a) The key paper is One woman, one vote. Though not in the USA, UK and France.

(4b) A supportive paper develops the SDID distance measure for votes and seats.

(4c) This paper reviews the role of statistics for the latter measure. Sheets of a presentation in June 2018 are here.

(4d) An earlier comparison of Holland and the UK in 2010 (update 2015) contains a major stepping stone, but is not as critical as (4a). This analysis resulted in a short paper for Mathematics Teaching 222 (May 2011) at the time of the UK referendum on Alternative Vote.

Minor results because these lead to dead ends

(5) There are some supplementary findings, that I do not regard as major, but as roads that you might need to walk in order to discover that they do not lead far.

(5a) There are Two conditions for the application of Lorenz curve and Gini coefficient to voting and allocated seats. The Lorenz curve is a neat way to graphically show the disproportionality and inequality of votes and seats. The Gini is its associated measure. However, above measure SDID is to be preferred, since it is symmetric and doesn’t require sorting, has a relation to the R-squared and the Weber-Fechner law.

(5b) We can compare votes and seats but also use a policy distance. A crucial question is who determines the distance between policies ? When we have a distance, how do we process it ? I am not convinced by the method, but a discussion is here.

(5c) The Aitchison geometry might present a challenge to SDID. This paper provides an evaluation and finds this geometry less relevant for votes and seats. Votes and seats satisfy only two of seven criteria for application of the Aitchison distance.

(5d) This paper tries to understand the approach by Nicolaus Tideman and compares it with the distinction between voting and deciding.

(5e) Mathematician Markus Schulze was asked to review VTFD but did not check his draft review with me, which caused needless confusion, see here and here. PM. Schulze now has this 2017 paper, but doesn’t refer to Borda Fixed Point, perhaps thinking that he understands it, but he apparently is not open to the diagnosis that his “review” is no proper review.

Conclusion

For the above, it is pleasant that a distinction can be made between key results and findings about dead ends. I listed my debunking of Arrow’s Theorem as a key result, but it also identifies this theorem as a dead end. Thus, it is also a matter of perspective. When you are at the dead end, and turn around, the whole road is open again.

PM. Earlier weblog entries on democracy are here.

For our understanding of history we like to distinguish between structural developments and contingencies.

Examples of structure would be the rise of the world population and Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. Obviously, various authors have various suggestions for what they consider to be structure, but the lack of consensus generally doesn’t matter as long as the discussion continues, and as long as people are aware that there are different points of view. It is rather tricky to identify structure for the here and now because it might require the perspective of some centuries to arrive at proper evaluation.

There are also major contingent events that shaped developments. The collapse of civilisation in 1177 BC would be a perfect storm. Caesar might not have crossed the Rubicon. His Alea iacta indicates that he took a calculated risk and the outcome might have been different. If the weather had been better then perhaps the Armada had conquered England and saved the world for Catholicism.

Thus we distinguish structure and relevant and irrelevant contingency.

Brexit came with such surprise that we are still discussing how it could have happened. It very much looks like a perfect storm. The 2016 referendum result has many curious aspects. The referendum question itself doesn’t fit the requirements of a scientifically warranted statistical questionnaire – and the British Electoral Commission doesn’t mind. Even in 2017 17% of UK voters put Remain between different options for Leave, and those of them who voted Leave in 2016 might not have voted so if their preferred option might not materialise (see here). Hannes Grassegger & Mikael Krogerus point to media manipulation. Referenda are instruments of populism, and the better model of democracy is representative democracy. Chris Patten rightly remarks that the UK House of Commons had more options than Theresa May suggests:

“The Brexit referendum last June was itself a disaster. A parliamentary democracy should never turn to such populist devices. Even so, May could have reacted to the 52 per cent vote to quit Europe by saying that she would hand the negotiations to a group of ministers who believed in this outcome and then put the result of the talks in due course to parliament and the people. Instead, she turned the whole of her government into a Brexit machine, even though she had always wished to remain in the EU. Her government’s motto is now “Brexit or bust.” Sadly, we will probably get both.”

Structural cause of Brexit

My take of the structural cause of Brexit is clarified by the following table. We distinguish Euro and Non-Euro countries versus the political structures of district representation (DR) and equal or proportional representation (EPR).

District representation (DR) Equal or proportional representation (EPR)
Euro France Holland (natural quota)
Germany (threshold 5%)
Non-Euro UK (Brexit) Sweden (threshold 4%)
Norway (non-EU, threshold 4%)

Update 2018-02-27: On the distinction between DR and EPR, there are: (1) this short overview of elementary statistics with an application to votes and seats, (2) a deconstruction of the disarray in the “political science on electoral systems” (1W1V), and (3) details on the suggestion for an inequality or disproportionality measure (SDID).

In the special Brexit edition of BJPIR, Helen Thompson discusses inevitability and contingency, and concludes that the position of the UK as a non-Euro country in a predominantly Eurozone EU became politically untenable.

  • For the voters in the UK, migration was a major issue. The world financial crisis of 2007+ and the contractionary policies of the Eurozone turned the UK into a “job provider of last resort”.
  • For the political elite, the spectre of the Euro doomed large. Given the theory of the optimal currency area, the Eurozone must further integrate or break up. The UK didn’t want to join the Euro and thus found itself at the fringe of the EU, in an increasing number of issues. With the increasing loss of power and influence on developments, more and more politicians saw less and less reason to participate.

Thompson regards the economic angle as a sufficient structural cause. My take is that it is only necessary, and that another necessary element is the form of parliamentarian representation. In my recent paper One woman, one vote. Though not in the USA, UK and France, with the focus on this parlementarian dimension, I forward the diagnosis that the UK political system is the main cause. Brexit is not the proof of a successful UK political system but proof of its failure.

  • The UK has district representation (DR). UKIP got 12.5% of the votes but only 1 seat in a house of 650 seats. David Cameron saw that crucial seats of his Conservatives were being challenged by UKIP. Such a threat may be amplified under DR. This explains Cameron’s political ploy to call a referendum.
  • If the UK had had equal or proportional representation (EPR), the UKIP protest vote could have been contained, and the UK would have had more scope to follow the example of Sweden (rather than Norway). Obviously, the elephant in the room of the optimal currency area for the Euro would not be resolved by this, but there would have been more time to find solutions. For example, the UK would have had a stronger position to criticise the wage moderation policies in Germany and Holland.
The structural cause of disinformation about representation

The 2007+ financial crisis highlighted irresponsible herd behaviour in economic science. Brexit highlights irresponsible herd behaviour in political science. Said paper One woman, one vote. Though not in the USA, UK and France (1W1V) shows that political science on electoral systems (on that topic specifically) is still pre-science, comparable to homeopathy, astrology and alchemy. Thus the UK finds itself in the dismal spot of being disinformed about democracy for decades.

The paper runs through the nooks and crannies of confusion and bias. At various points I was surprised by the subtleties of the particular madness. The paper is rather long but this has a clear explanation. When an argument has 100 aspects, and people understand 99% correctly and 1% wrongly, but everyone another 1%, in continuous fashion, then you really want the full picture if you want that all understand it.

But let me alert you to some points.

(1) The paper focuses on Carey & Hix (2011) on an “electoral sweet spot” of 3-8 seats per district. Particular to C&H is that they confuse “most frequent of good” with “the best“. The district magnitude of 3-8 seats appears most frequent in cases that satisfy their criteria for being good, and they turn this into the best. Since such DR would be best, say goodbye to EPR. But it is a confusion.

(2) They use fuzzy words like vote and election. But the words mean different things in DR or EPR. In DR votes are obliterated that EPR translates into seats. Using the same words for different systems, C&H suggest treatment on a par while there are strict logical differences. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights only fits with EPR. Science would use strict distinctions, like “vote in DR” and “vote in EPR”. Political science is still too close to colloquial language, and thus prone to confusion. Obviously I agree that it is difficult to define democracy, and that there are various systems, each with a historical explanation. But science requires clear terms. (See this Varieties of Democracy project, and check that they still have to do a lot too.)

(3) There is a statistical relationship between a measure of disproportionality (EGID) and a measure of the concentrated number of parties (CNP). C&H interprete the first as “interest-representation” and the latter as “accountability”. An interpretation is something else than a model. Using the statistical regularity, they claim to have found a trade-off relation between interest-representation and accountability. Instead, the scientific approach would be to try explain the statistical regularity for what it is. The suggested interpretation is shaky at best. One cannot use a statistical regularity as an argument on content and political principle (like One woman, one vote).

(4) They present a mantra, and repeat it, that there would be a trade-off between interest-representation and accountability. The best point [confusion] would be achieved at a district magnitude of 3-8 seats per district. However, they do not present a proper model and measure for accountability. My paper presents such a model, and shows that the mantra is false. Not DR but EPR is most accountable. EPR is obviously most interest-representative, so that there is no trade-off. Thus the C&H paper fails in the scientific method of modeling and measuring. It only has the method of repeating tradition and a mantra, with some magic of using interpretations. (Section 3.6 of 1W1V should start opening eyes of political scientists on electoral systems.)

(5) The C&H paper is the top of a line of research in “political science on electoral systems”. This paper fails and thus the whole line fails. Section 4.5 of 1W1V shows confusion and bias in general in political science on electoral systems, and the C&H paper is no exception to this.

The cure of Brexit

The cure of Brexit might well be that it just happens, and that we must learn to live with it. The EU lives with Norway while NATO has its Arctic training there.

Seen from the angle of the cause via the political structure, it may also be suggested that both France and the UK switch from DR to EPR, and that the newly elected UK House of Commons re-evaluates Brexit or Bregret. This switch may well cause the break-up of the parties of the Conservatives and Labour into Remain or Leave parties, but such would be the consequence of democracy and thus be fine by itself. We would no longer have Theresa May who was for Remain leading the Leavers and Jeremy Corbyn who was for Leave leading the Remainers. (For an indication, see here.) The other EU member states tend to stick to the Brexit deadline of March 29 2019, but when they observe the cause for Brexit and a new objective in the UK to deal with this (fateful) cause by switching to EPR, then this deadline might be shifted to allow the UK to make up its mind in a proper way.

Obviously, a UK switch to EPR is advisable in its own right, see said paper. It would also allow the new UK House of Commons to still adopt Brexit. The advantage of such an approach and decision would be that it would have the democratic legitimacy that is lacking now.

The relevant contingency of the Sovereignty Bill

Thompson’s article surprised me by her discussion of the 2010 UK Sovereignty Bill (that calls itself an Act). She calls it a “referendum lock”, and indeed it is. The Bill / Act states:

“2 Treaties. No Minister of the Crown shall sign, ratify or implement any treaty or law, whether by virtue of the prerogative powers of the Crown or under any statutory authority, which — (a) is inconsistent with this Act; or (b) increases the functions of the European Union affecting the United Kingdom without requiring it to be approved in a referendum of the electorate in the United Kingdom.”

The approach is comparable to the one in Ireland, in which EU treaties are subject to referenda too. In Holland, only changes in the constitution are subject to new elections and affirmation by the newly elected parliament, while treaties are exempt from this – and this is how the EU constitution of 2005 got rejected in a referendum but the Lisbon treaty got accepted in Dutch parliament. Currently a state commission is investigating the Dutch parliamentary system.

Thompson explains that the UK referendum lock had the perverse effect that EU leaders started to avoid the instrument of a treaty and started to use other ways to enact policies. For EU-minded Ireland, the instrument of a referendum was acceptable but for EU-skeptic UK the instrument was a poison pill. Why put much effort in negotiating a treaty if it could be rejected by the UK circus (partly created by its system of DR) ?

Thompson explains that while the referendum lock had been intended to enhance the UK position as a non-euro country w.r.t. eurozone UK, in effect it weakened Cameron’s position. The world noticed this and this weak position was fuel for the Brexiteers.

The relevant contingency of Thatcher’s policies

Brexit is mostly caused in the UK itself. Thompson doesn’t call attention to these relevant contingencies:

  • Margaret Thatcher started as pro-EU and even partook in the abolition of unanimity and the switch to qualified majority rule. My view is that it would have been wiser to stick to unanimity and be smarter in handling different speeds.
  • Secondly, Thatcher supported the neoliberal approach in economics that contributed to austerity and the deterioration of British industry that British voters blame the EU for. There was an obvious need for redress of earlier vulgar-Keynesian errors but there is no need to overdo it. My advice to the UK is to adopt EPR and see what can be learned from Holland and Sweden.
  • Thompson refers to her own 1996 book on the UK and ERM but doesn’t mention Bernard Connolly, his text The rotten heart of Europe and his dismissal from the EU Commission in 1995. At that time John Major had become prime minister and he did not defend Connolly’s position at the EU Commission. A country that is so easy on civil rights and free speech deserves the state that the UK is in. Surely the EU courts allowed the dismissal but this only means that one should look for better employment safeguards for critical views. Who wants to combine independent scientific advice and policy making, arrives at the notion of an  Economic Supreme Court, see below.
The relevant contingency of migration

I am reminded of the year 1988 at the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB) when we looked at the Cecchini report. One criticism was that the report was too optimistic about productivity growth and less realistic on the costs of displaced workers. An observation by myself, though not further developed, was that, with more job mobility, people might prefer a single language barrier to a double one. People from the UK might move easier to Northern European countries that speak English well. People from the rest of Europe who have learned some English might prefer to go to the UK, to avoid having to deal with two other languages. I don’t know much about migration and I haven’t checked whether the UK has a higher share of it or not, and whether this language effect really matters. Given the role in the discussion it obviously would be a relevant contingency. Perhaps the UK and Ireland might claim a special position because of the language effect, and this might encourage other countries to switch to English too. But I haven’t looked into this.

The other elephant in the room

The other elephant in the room is my own analysis in political economy. It provides an amendment to Thompson’s analysis.

  • DRGTPE provides for a resolution of the Great Stagflation that we are in.
  • CSBH provides a supplement for the 2007+ crisis situation.
  • The paper Money as gold versus money as water (MGMW) provides an amendment to the theory of the optimal currency area: when each nation has its own Economic Supreme Court then countries might achieve the kind of co-ordination that is required. This is still a hypothesis but the EU has the option of integration, break up, or try such rational hypotheses. (The Van Rompuy roadmap might speed up integration too much with risk of a break-up.)

The main idea in DRGTPE was available in 1990 with the collection of background papers in 1992 (published by Guido den Broeder of Magnana Mu). Thus the EU might have had a different approach to EMU. The later edition of DRGTPE contains a warning about financial risk that materialised in 2007+. CSBH and MGMW provide a solution approach for the current problems.

If the EU would adopt such policies then there would be much less migration, since people would tend to prefer to remain at home (which is why I regard migration as a secondary issue and less in need for studying).

If the EU and UK would adopt such policies then there might still be Brexit or Bregret. Thus UK politicians might still prefer what they are now trying to find out what they prefer.

Conclusion

My impression is that the above gives a clear structural explanation for the UK decision for Brexit and an indication what contingent events were relevant. Knowing what caused helps to identify a cure. It is remarkable how large the role of denial in all of this is. Perhaps this story about the polar bear provides a way to deal with this huge denial (as polar elephants a.k.a. mammoths are already extinct).

If you don’t have proportional representation (PR) then some voters get representatives they did not vote for. Thus it isn’t very democratic not to have PR.

The last weblog criticised the UK Electoral Reform Society (ERS) for erroneously claiming that Single Transferable Vote (STV) was PR.

ERS namely adopts districts, which causes STV to lose the limited PR properties that it has.

A persons affiliated with ERS answered to this criticism:

“We are well aware of the tension between the desire for (overall) proportionality and the desire for guaranteed local representation.  This tension is apparent among British electors when opinion polls have asked relevant questions about the outcomes of voting systems.  British electors want both overall proportionality (of parties) AND the local representation provided by exclusively single-member districts.  That is just not possible, so we aim for a compromise between local representation and overall proportionality through appropriately-sized multi-member districts. (…).” (Personal communication)

This is an unsatisfactory answer since there simply is no such “compromise”. When one must choose between a square and a circle then the answer is not some other graphic with some measure of deviation. If there is no PR then there is no PR, and then ERS should not claim that they have PR. To express their “compromise”, ERS speaks about “STV-PR” but this is like speaking about square-circles, and comes with the grating sound from nails across a blackboard.

If n is the number of voters, s the number of seats, then q = n / s is the threshold or quota, of voters per member. A candidate can be elected when he or she meets the quota. When the district size is 2q, then the district representative must get 50%+1 of the vote to attain the quota. At best s / 2 seats can be filled in this manner, since s / 2 * 2q = n again. All unfilled seats can be allocated using overall PR. This shows that districts are not a key design feature, while PR is. (These formulas can be adjusted for turnout, when district size is defined in terms of the electorate and not actual voters. See here.)

By focusing on districts, ERS loses track of the key design feature, and it lets its logic be occluded by a less relevant issue.

Wikipedia follows ERS

Apparently the editors at wikipedia follow ERS rather uncritically. The wikipedia statement in red is what ERS claims falsely and what is adopted by wikipedia too. The statement in green is true. Since the statement in green is true, the statement in red can only be true by chance.

Proportional representation (PR) characterizes electoral systems by which divisions in an electorate are reflected proportionately in the elected body. If n% of the electorate support a particular political party, then roughly n% of seats will be won by that party. The essence of such systems is that all votes contribute to the result: not just a plurality, or a bare majority, of them. Proportional representation requires the use of multiple-member voting districts (also called super-districts); it is not possible using single-member districts alone.[1][2][3] In fact, the most proportional representation is achieved when just one super-district is used.

The two most widely used families of PR electoral systems are party list PR and single transferable vote (STV).[4][5] Mixed member proportional representation (MMP), also known as the Additional Member System, is a hybrid Mixed Electoral System that uses party list PR as its proportional component. MMP has the potential to be proportional or semi-proportional depending on a number of factors such as the ratio of first past the post (FPTP) seats to PR seats, the existence or nonexistence of compensatory seats to make up for overhang seats, and election thresholds.[6][7][8][9]   (Source: Wikipedia on PR)

ERS thus is confusing the world including wikipedia. My advice for the editors of wikipedia (and the ERS) is:

  • Maintain conceptual integrity.
  • Restrict PR to the notion that p% of the votes translates into p% of the seats.
  • For PR the first preferences are relevant and not what is done with the subsequent preferences. Thus do not label STV as a PR-system but as “potentially PR”, or as STV-PPR.
  • For PR it suffices when the electorate selects parties. A single candidate is a party with a single candidate.
  • The professionals in parliament can use more complex systems like STV. The use of STV (there) must be compared to other systems, like Borda Fixed Point.
  • Get rid of the hangup on district representation.

Unfortunately, the person affiliated with ERS writes to me, with an unrelenting hangup about districts, and neglecting that PR should hold nation-wide:

“Neither the ERS nor I would be prepared to label STV-PT as “potentially PR” or anything similar.  I have seen some academics describe STV-PR as “a semi-proportional” system.  That is just nonsense.  For the same district magnitude, STV-PR and party-list PR both deliver the same degree of proportionality.  The fact that some electorates are prepared to accept electoral districts that cover the whole country for party-PR but don’t like the idea of “large” electoral districts for STV-PR is completely irrelevant.  It is the district magnitude that is the determining factor, not the voting system.”  (Personal communication)

Scotland is an example

Scotland has four electoral systems, and I copy from Wikipedia:

Does this mean that Scotland comprehends democracy or that they don’t ?

The Party List System as used for the EU Parliament generates proportional representation (PR), and this would be the criterion for representative democracy.

(Obviously, for the election of a local council, the norm for PR are the local votes, and not nationwide PR. Once the issue here is reduced to apportionment, then STV is one of the options and a choice depends upon one’s criteria.)

Let us look at the Scottish implementation Additional Member System (AMS) a.k.a. Supplementary Member System a.k.a. Mixed Member System (MMS). I would prefer the latter term, since there is nothing “additional” about an elected MP. Sometimes the term “Mixed Member Proportional” (MMP) is used but this is only warranted when there really is overall PR.

The current Scottish system

Scotland has 73 constituencies, in which the candidate is selected by FPTP. There are 8 regions with 7 seats per region, to a total of 56 regional seats. These “additional seats” are used to make the outcome more proportional. Brief explanations of the current Scottish system are by the Parliament itself and The Scotsman. The Scottish Parliament elections of May 5 2016 have these full data. The turnout was 55.6%.

Scotland like the UK has a hangup on the distinction between the local candidate and the party. It is claimed: “In the second vote the voter votes for a party rather than a candidate.” Indeed, when the first vote has a FPTP selection, then voters may be forced to vote strategically for a candidate of reduced preference, in trying to prevent that a worst candidate is selected. Thus the explanation about local representation may be a misrepresentation about what might really motivate voters.

When we compare the votes for the constituencies (districts) and the regions, then we don’t see much of a difference, except for the Greens and Others. (This are totals though, and there might be differences over districts.)

District

Region

Party

Votes

Votes

Con

501,844

524,222

Green

13,172

150,426

Lab

514,261

435,919

LD

178,238

119,284

SNP

1,059,898

953,587

Others

11,741

102,314

Total

2,279,154

2,285,752

We take the summed region vote as determining what the proportions for the parties should be. The additional 56 seats and their restriction to regions are not enough for correction of the error in the local vote. The SNP got 7% more seats than warranted under PR.

District

Region

 All
Party

Seats

Seats

Seats

%Seats

%Votes

%S-%V

Con

7

24

31

24.0

22.9

1.1

Green

0

6

6

4.7

6.6

-1.9

Lab

3

21

24

18.6

19.1

-0.5

LD

4

1

5

3.9

5.2

-1.3

SNP

59

4

63

48.8

41.7

7.1

Others

0

0

0

0.0

4.5

-4.5

Total

73

56

129

100.0

100.0

An alternative for Scotland

Let us consider a rough alternative for Scotland:

  • A local winner must get at least 50% of the vote of a district (constituency).
  • All 129 seats are allocated in proportion to the summed region vote.

The data file allows us to determine which candidates are elected now. This generates a quite different result. In the local vote, only 29 candidates manage to get at least 50% of their district (constituency). 95 candidates are selected via the Party List, which puts the ERS argument for locality into perspective. In this rough alternative, there are 5 seats that cannot be allocated due to rounding errors. But having 4% empty seats is not unfair given that 4.5% of the votes are wasted on the small parties.

District

Region

 All
Party

Seats

Seats

Seats

%Seats

%Votes

%S-%V

Con

1

29

30

23.3

22.9

0.3

Green

0

8

8

6.2

6.6

-0.4

Lab

0

25

25

19.4

19.1

0.3

LD

2

5

7

5.4

5.2

0.2

SNP

26

28

54

41.9

41.7

0.1

Others  0  0  0

0.0

4.5

-4.5

Total

29

95

124

96.1

100.0

A general observation

The quota is q = 2,285,752 / 129 = 17720. Above criterion of 50% of the local vote might be too lax. With 73 districts, the number or electors per district might be too small. If the number of districts is 129 / 2 ≈ 65, then the average district has size 2q, and the criterion of at least 50% of the votes would fit the overall condition of winning a seat via satisfying q.

A google showed this page by Andrew Ducker who also wondered about PR in Scotland. He mentions: (1) The region votes must be summed for nationwide PR indeed. (2) A 50%:50% distinction between local and national seats would be helpful indeed. In reply to this: why still allow FPTP when it may cause that a minority winner would become the “representative” ? It is better to require at least q and/or at least 50% of the district.

The UK Electoral Reform Society (ERS)

The UK ERS falsely claims that STV applied to districts would be PR while it is not. The ERS also criticises the Scottish system, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

In 2011, the current Scottish system was already in place, and the ERS advised a change. See the Guardian or the BCC:

One of the authors of the report, Prof John Curtice of Strathclyde University, said: “The widespread expectation that the Scottish Parliament would be a multi-party parliament, in which no party would ever have an overall majority, has been dashed. “In truth, although the electoral system bequeathed to the Scottish Parliament by Labour was far more proportional than first-past-the-post, it was never one that was best fitted to the realisation of that original expectation. “It still favours larger parties over smaller ones, who, indeed, are actually being discouraged from standing in the constituency contests.” (BBC 2011-11-15)

A similar critique is given w.r.t. the 2016 outcome. Some changes like an “open party” list (i.e. the ability to vote for individual party candidates on the list) and the allocation of Sainte-Laguë may indeed be mentioned.

But this is small beer compared to the major critique on the Scottish system, that it still allows for the hangup on district representation.

While the ERS should warn voters and legislators about this hangup, the ERS suffers from this hangup itself too, and propounds STV for districts, which destroys PR.

The person affiliated with ERS writes to me:

I am not in favour of electing MPs (or other representatives) in two different ways. In Scotland we have experience of the Scottish Parliament where MSPs are elected by the Additional Member System (AMS = a regionalised version of MMP). Some of the worst problems of electing MSPs in two different ways (Constituency and Region) have abated over the years, but the tension remains and surfaces from time to time. It would have been much better if all the MSPs had been elected by STV-PR, but AMS was a political compromise as one the major parties (Labour) would just not accept STV-PR at any price. (Personal communication)

Again, this person at ERS suggests that STV would be PR, even calling it STV-PR, while the very application of STV to districts destroys the PR.

Missing Scottish voters

ERS Scotland director Willie Sullivan wrote a book about the structurally low turnout for Scottish elections: “The Missing Scotland: Why over a million Scots choose not to vote and what it means for our democracy” (publisher).

In an article, Sullivan summarises:

“If the working people wanted democracy, why do so many now not vote? Surely these are the people that should be most eager to flex their democratic muscle? In research for my book, Missing Scotland, I tried to find out why more than a million Scots choose not to vote. What I found is worrying. Most important of all, people don’t think voting will make anything better. They have tried voting, and they have tried not voting, and there is no difference. They think politicians are all the same, don’t understand their lives and they make promises they never keep. This is not a question of not caring. The people I spoke to care a lot about their families and communities. They are worried about losing their homes or their jobs. They even like the idea of democracy, they just don’t think we have it. Not voting is often a deliberate act.”

I haven’t read this book, but only find it relevant enough to mention its existence. My guess is that Sullivan hasn’t mentioned two elements:

  1. When the Scottish electoral system was changed, they didn’t adopt the PR system like in Holland, but kept their hangup on districts, and ERS itself was an agent in this. Potentially Sullivan might feel ashamed that he doesn’t quite comprehend what democracy is.
  2. Scotland isn’t aware of the failure of the Trias Politica model and the need for an Economic Supreme Court.

Conclusion

My finding is that major political distortions in the UK, France, USA and India arise because of lack of PR.  A lobby for STV for districts doesn’t resolve this, and it is falsely claimed to be PR. Thus I would tend to advice electoral reform in this order of priority:

  • first PR, like the system in Holland or the EU Parliament (Open Party List)
  • if this is up and running, secondly allow for an element of locality for half of the seats (s / 2, district size 2q, and the district representative is elected with at least 50% of the district vote, potentially corrected for turnout)
  • if this is up and running, improve the system by allowing voters freedom on how they vote
  • compare STV and Borda Fixed Point and other methods for the selection of the local representative.

The UK Electoral Reform Society hinders clarity on electoral reform since they show a hangup on districts. They better focus on establishing Proportional Representation (PR), while regarding the issue of districts as of secondary importance.

Given overall PR, one might even let voters determine on the ballot how to deal with the district representation, for the s / 2 seats available for district representation.

  1. Some voters might vote for a party, and be done with that. Seats are allocated to the party in proportion to the total number of votes. (Closed Party List) Some voters might wish to select a party but also a particular person in that party, so that the party order takes over if the person would not be elected. (Open Party List) These approaches can be combined (as in Holland) when the Closed List voters vote for the party leader.
  2. Some voters might indicate where their vote would go, if their party of choice isn’t elected. (Remember that a single candidate is a party with a single candidate.)
  3. Other voters might wish to vote for particular candidates across parties, and then might want to indicate how votes would have to be transferred if the candidate doesn’t get elected. (Otherwise it is apportioned automatically.) There is still the comparison between STV and e.g. (repeated) application of the Borda Fixed Point method. STV runs the risk of eliminating a compromis candidate, who receives few votes in the initial stage, but who can collect support because of secondary preferences. This might not be relevant for the party proportion but be quite relevant for voters and the candidates themselves. This would not be an issue of PR but of Quality Representation (QR).

PS. Dan Hodges (Telegraph June 1 2015) has a very entertaining article “No, Britain does not want proportional representation“. The weak spot in his argument is that the 2011 referendum on AV was misrepresented as a referendum on PR while it actually was a referendum on AV. The strong point is that ERS cannot be convincing if its arguments are confused. There still is a case for sound arguments and good education.

PPS. The subtle relation between proportional representation (PR) and district representation (DR) shows also in the existence of a Senate or House of Lords, in which districts / States might be represented by 2 senators per State like in the USA. For a Senate the DR might be acceptable since the Senate has the role of guardian for the nation itself. The House would be sensitive to the preferences of the electorate, and in that case PR would be logical.

Five years ago I discussed the “Dutch Taliban“. I can now include Dutch “pluralist economics” to this narrative.

There is this particular course “Economics from a pluralist perspective” in English though created by two Dutch professors Irene van Staveren (ISS) and Rob van Tulder (RSM) and a PhD student. I have no access to this course so I cannot check whether they refer to my analysis in DRGTPE and CSBH or not. I presume that I would have been informed if they had. The following is conditional on the probable assumption of neglect.

I will refer to some books that I haven’t read, and explain why I will not read them. One book by Van Staveren that I haven’t read deals with economists who aren’t read. I understand that she doesn’t include me as an economist who isn’t read.

I already wrote about “Economics as a zoo” in 2005, and pointed to the terms of orthodoxy and heterodoxy as inadequate. Much is plain old history of economic thought. Apparently the new term is “pluralism”. Also, I was one of the economists who warned before the 2007+ crisis, yet Dutch economists neglect my work and neglect my protest against censorship, and apparently I am in some other dimension than their “pluralism”.

I regard myself as a neoclassical economist, in the term as coined by Paul Samuelson. I am eclectic and open to ideas but for practical work there must be a model, using theory and tested by statistics. My work is not mainstream yet because my work has been hit by censorship. My work rejects neoliberal economics (Robert Lucas), but anyone can check that neoliberal economics is emperically untenable. Readers should not confuse neoclassical economics with neoliberal economics.

My impression is that “pluralist” economists might so much fear mainstream economics and also so much desire to be accepted, that they opt for versions of “pluralism” that are not really dangerous to mainstream economics. Which means that their “pluralism” is useless. But they can applaud each other greatly in their mutual admiration bubble.

Pluralist economics, before or after the crisis ?

The two professors cause the tantalising question whether pluralism starts before or after the 2007+ crisis.

The online course refers to Irene van Staveren’s matricola textbook Economics After the Crisis. An Introduction to Economics from a Pluralist and Global Perspective.  ($61.53) (Dutch: Managementboek).

The online course manual states clearly that this textbook is not necessary for the course itself. This is fine, since the book is rather expensive, and one would wish for open access books nowadays. (See here for a cheap solution for open access publishing.) They state that the book will be helpful if you want to read from paper. The professors apparently thus think that the economic crisis hasn’t been a natural experiment that explains which approach was empirically most relevant, but only provides a case for more pluralism, perhaps to allow for more natural experiments by economists who don’t know what to think because they have so many theories to choose from.

Pluralism as Orwellian newspeak

Dutch pluralist economics is Orwellian newspeak for anything fashionable, as long as it neglects the censorship of science since 1990 by the directorate of the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB). Dutch pluralist economics has these fundamental tenets:

  • Economics is an empirical science, and the censorship at CPB doesn’t exist so it cannot be observed. Any fact on this can be neglected. (If I worked there and there aren’t CPB publications to my name, then this must have another explanation than censorship.)
  • Scientists will protest against censorship, and since scientists don’t protest then apparently there is no censorship. Hail to free society and the wisdom of Dutch government and Dutch economists. Except criticism for pluralism, of course.
  • Errors by the directorate of the CPB might be made, but not on censorship and dismissals with untruths. If the Dutch legal system allows such censorship and untruths because judges assume that the Dutch government wouldn’t do such things, then this only proves that there is no censorship.
  • The censorship has no consequences for policy making either, since something that doesn’t exist clearly can have no consequences.
  • It is only possible to know what the censorship is about once it has been lifted, but since it doesn’t exist it must be about nothing.
  • The economic crisis of 2007+ confirms my analysis of 1990, yet for Dutch economists there is the special task to completely neglect his work and his protest against censorship, since Thomas and his work do not exist, as proven in the above.
  • Well, Thomas might exist as a lunatic, see his protest against this censorship by the directorate of CPB. Completely irresponsible about such a respected institute (even though the directorate goofed on the crisis and its treatment and the policy of wage moderation).

What might seem tolerant or pluralist appears to be another form of fundamentalism. Professors Irene van Staveren (ISS) and Rob van Tulder (RSM) show engaging smiles that however hide mental niqabs or beards. (There is no need to overdo the metaphor with Photoshop.)

Van Staveren is anabaptist and her answer to neighbourly love is that she selects which neighbour to love. Van Tulder has a book for students about the essential skills for studying. Indeed, in our knowledge society, studying is actually a job too, and I am in favour of a student wage. Van Tulder’s book has the advice: “Dare to build upon research from others” – and apparently he has found other others than me who he really dares to build upon for his version of pluralism.

 

Smiles that hide fundamentalism. (Source: RSM and wikimedia)

Amartya Sen, voting theory and the Brexit referendum question

Irene van Staveren states that she derives much inspiration from the work of Amartya Sen. Sen however is a very mainstream economist and is seriously misguided on some key issues, so that one wonders what Van Staveren finds so inspiring. Sen is famous and fashionable, true, but fame and fashion are not scientific criteria.

  • One of my papers that got hit by the censorship deconstructs Kenneth Arrow’s impossibility theorem. (CPB internal memo 90-III-37, but better start now with my book Voting Theory for Democracy (VTFD).) Sen in his Collective Choice and Social Welfare gives a useful standard presentation of Arrow’s theorem. One can check that Sen doesn’t understand it. (Dutch readers can look here.) With Arrow, Sen actually helps to destroy democracy.
  • One can check that Sen’s own theorem on the supposed impossibility of a Paretian liberal is misguided as well, see VTFD.
  • Sen’s book Development as freedom is a collection of platitudes and open doors, comparable to “don’t give money but a fishing rod”.
  • Sen contributed to the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report, but this neglects the work by Tinbergen and Hueting on the economics of ecological survival (see my draft book).
  • Sen’s argument that democracies have less famines than non-democracies is questionable, see India itself. It is a better argument that the Trias Politica model of democracy fails, also in the case of hunger, whence each democracy requires an Economic Supreme Court.

While Sen has a training as an economist and mathematician, all this suggests that he is more inclided to abstract thought as a mathematician and less as an empiricist. It is not clear to me what Van Staveren’s background w.r.t. mathematics is.

It are such uncritical professors like Irene van Staveren who cause that Sen has gotten such authority in some circles. This is not without consequences. Sen’s misconception on voting theory shows also in his article with Eric Maskin in the NY Review of Books on electoral reform in the USA. The key advice that voting theorists can give to democracies is to switch to proportional representation (PR) in the House of Commons of parliament, and the selection of the executive power (ministers including PM) by such a PR House of Commons. Instead, Maskin and Sen stick to direct election of the US President, which however is subject to many voting paradoxes as has been illuminated by Arrow’s theorem. They adopt the best way to destroy democracy, namely by using methods that are unconvincing for the general population. There are various techniques of voting, but these better be used by parliament itself, once parliament has been chosen by PR. (Compare Holland with the UK.) Thus, Maskin and Sen, in their lack of understanding of voting theory, keep the US caught in suboptimality and cynicism. If there are no good alternatives, then Trump perhaps really was the democratically best choice. Similarly for the UK and India indeed. And Van Staveren cheers on, finding inspiration in Sen, and neglecting the censorship of science by the directorate of the CPB w.r.t. my work that contains the scientifically correct analysis.

Another example is Brexit. Undoubtedly many UK policy advisors have been trained either directly or via their teachers on Sen’s Collective Choice and Social Welfare as well. See my article in the RES Newsletter, April 2017, and reproduced on the LSE Brexit blog.

Environmental sustainability

A bit more can be said about sustainability, apart from Sen. Rob van Tulder has a major teaching engagement on management of sustainability in businesses. If prices aren’t right, then companies might make amends themselves. It seems that he neglects Tinbergen and Hueting’s on environmental sustainability. It would be much more effective to argue that environmental costs are included in the prices, since companies should not do what only the government can do properly.

“Professor van Tulder is co-founder of RSM’s Department of Business-Society Management, a world-leading department on the issues surrounding sustainability. The department offers a highly successful master’s specialising in sustainability.”

Also, Irene van Staveren and Jan Peil have edited this Handbook of Economics and Ethics. (2009), £168.30 in a period where open access already was a known concept.

  • Hans Opschoor there explains the topic of sustainability. I don’t have the text and would be interested to see what he states about Hueting’s work, since there are remarkable confusions about it. Opschoor coined the term “milieugebruiksruimte” (environmental carrying capacity) in 1989, but this is only an application of Hueting’s notion of environmental functions of 1974, after which Opschoor got citations that should have gone to Hueting. In this short text of 2016 Opschoor only refers to Hueting”s 1974 thesis but not to his later notion of environmentally sustainable national income (eSNI).
  • My own analysis on Arrow’s impossibility theorem might be included too, since Arrow claims moral desirability for the demolition of democracy, while I use deontic logic to show that this is unwarranted, see VTFD chapter 9.2 on page 239. (And perhaps read “Deontology” by Mark D. White.)  Yet, why would my analysis be included in this book behind a paywall, as VTFD is already online ? Hopefully some of the authors refer properly.
  • There is a chapter on Sen by Sabina Alkire, and hopefully she was aware of the above.
  • There is a chapter on poverty by Andy Sumner and on minimum wages by Ellen Mutari, and I can only hope that they have been aware of the following below.

Unemployment and poverty

In 1998 I gave Van Tulder a copy of this Dutch book on unemployment and poverty. He would read it and get back to me. This didn’t happen. Perhaps Van Tulder did not like the book ? We can only guess. This is a nice review in Dutch at DISK (lay people) and this is a misguided and misleading review by a Dutch economist, Joan Muysken, which case I already discussed on CofFEE or latte. If Van Tulder had misgivings in 1998 he could have discussed those with me. My impression is that Van Staveren can be annoyed towards Van Tulder that his silence on this may have caused her the lost years of 1998-2017 of looking for a good analysis, and the rest of the world the actual crisis of 2007+.

The book is a text for the general public, and fellow economists can find the same analysis in DRGTPE. However, journalists Hans Hulst and Auke Hulst report also on some events w.r.t. CPB which isn’t in DRGTPE.

Van Staveren’s co-editor Jan Peil, from above book on economics and ethics, also collaborated on a Dutch book on poverty and social exclusion. Translation: “Almost a million people in Holland have to deal with poverty.” This is a review at DISK in Dutch of 2007. DISK has been abolished now. Above book W&A had been reviewed also by DISK, but the review might no longer be at their site. My impression is that various channels of information have not been used.

Economists who (almost) aren’t read anymore

Van Staveren also wrote a book (EUR 22.50) for the general public, in Dutch, about economists “who (almost) aren’t read anymore”. (The brackets are logically strange.) There exists already a Dutch translation of Heilbroner’s masterpiece, but Van Staveren wants to link up to the 2007+ crisis.

The book’s cover has a problematic claim. Let me use Google Translate for the fun of it, and it actually does a remarkable good job. The first sentence is that neoclassical economics seemed to be the only relevant theory.

“After the Cold War, the only relevant theory seemed to understand the economy and influence the neoclassical. Economists who thought otherwise were dismissed as naive, or worse, as stupid. The financial crisis has painfully shown that this limited look is unjustified and can even cause a lot of damage. Irene van Staveren therefore advocates a pluralistic approach to the economy.” (Google Translate of: “Na de Koude Oorlog leek de enige relevante theorie om de economie te begrijpen en te beïnvloeden de neoklassieke. Economen die anders dachten, werden afgedaan als naïef, of nog erger, als dom. De financiële crisis heeft op pijnlijke wijze laten zien dat deze beperkte blik onterecht is en zelfs veel schade kan toebrengen. Irene van Staveren pleit daarom voor een pluralistische benadering van de economie”)

It is incorrect to say that other thoughts were generally dismissed. Perhaps there were instances, but not over the board. Good economists have kept an interest in the history of economic theory. But not everything can be used at the relevant job at hand. When there has been bad policy, a main factor has been the failure of the Trias Politica model of democracy, with too much room for politicians to manipulate information. See my advice for an Economic Supreme Court.

The unread ones are supposedly: Karl Marx, Hyman Minsky, Keynes, Frank Knight, Barbara Bergmann, Thorstein Veblen, Amartya Sen, Gunnar Myrdal, Adam Smith and Joan Robinson.

Why doesn’t Van Staveren mention my work as largely unread ? For an answer, she only allows the categories that I would be naive or stupid. This doesn’t strike me as logically and empirically sound. Her book must be the product of a severely deluded bubble.

I wonder whether I should show Van Tulder’s “Dare to build upon research from others” to give some indications about these authors. I can spend only a line on each, and this might strike the reader as dismissive and disrepectful, while the fellow economist might have worked hard most of his or her life to contribute to economic science. I wouldn’t want that my own work would be dismissed disrespectfully either. Yet, Van Staveren’s selection strikes me as rather curious:

  • Of these fellow economists, I had never heard of Barbara Bergmann before. Apparently she looked at gender in economics, and this hasn’t been my topic of interest. I suppose however that she is well read by economists who deem gender an important aspect. (E.g. on risk taking.)
  • Karl Marx is only interesting for history, in the same way as one would read Julius Caesar.
  • Perhaps Gunnar Myrdal isn’t much read nowadays, but that requires a longer explanation, including the lifting of the censorship at CPB.
  • Hyman Minsky of course is the celebrated case, but the description about his lack of influence is more complicated than mere dismissal. He really was a professor of economics, and I am not. I wonder whether there weren’t more standard neoclassical authors who said much of the same, so that Minsky’s main advantage is that he now is the best known “neglected” one. The main point is not neglect, but the failure of the Trias Politica model of democracy.
  • Keynes would not be read ? Well, one might say that many neoliberals didn’t read much of Keynes before 2007, but Ben Bernanke was chairman of the US Fed in 2006-2014, and we can be assured that Bernanke read Keynes, and that he responded admirably to the crisis, for otherwise the world had imploded. Let me also mention the biography by Skidelsky, that generated a renewed interest in Keynes, starting in 1983.
  • Frank Knight gave wrong definitions of uncertainty and risk, see DRGTPE. What was relevant however got reworked by Keynes. The 2007+ crisis caused a renewed interest in the Chicago Plan, indeed. See the comment on Minsky.
  • Thorstein Veblen wasn’t read ? I cannot believe this.
  • Amartya Sen has been amply read, see above discussion. Van Staveren wants to portray him as unread only to promote her bubble.
  • Adam Smith unread ? I cannot believe this. Contrary to Marx, he is still quite relevant, see Heilbroner.
  • Joan Robinson ? Apparently her contribution on “imperfect competition” has been included in neoclassical economics. In heterodoxy, her writings have some popularity, but it is not clear to me why she should be read more widely. Her work never seemed to matter for my own work and I haven’t really read her. Perhaps she is relevant for other fields of economics, but I would not know.

Above indication isn’t intended to mark these authors in a particular manner. The only intention is to argue that Van Staveren’s selection is rather curious. Most likely the title of her book is plain wrong. The present title might be much of a marketing ploy. A neutral title might have been: Views from the history of economics on the economic crisis.

It matters a great deal how the issue is presented (framed):

  • My analysis is that economics already contained ample information, so that the crisis has been caused by failure of the Trias Politica by abuse by policy makers. For example, policy makers could and can cherry pick an economist to defend a particular policy. My advice is an Economic Supreme Court, so that such cherry picking is no longer possible, for the ESC will weigh arguments on content.
  • Irene van Staveren puts the blame of the crisis on the economics profession itself, also at the academia, instead of the policy makers. She wants the whole of the economics profession to function as an Economic Supreme Court. This is a category mistake, since the academia do not have the task to support policy making but to generate new insights and criticism.

Misleading the public

In her bubble, Van Staveren neglects my work, doesn’t mind about the censorship, and misleads the public.

A lay person’s review shows that Van Staveren partly did a good job in reaching out to the public.

“A few jumping points from the book: Not only did many scientists see the 2007 financial crisis, the same people predict that the weather will go wrong. According to them, nothing has changed, such as the strict separation of savings banks and business banks and insurance. Taxpayers have to pay billions to save banks that were too big to fail, the banks are still too big to fail and still sell incomprehensible and uncontrollable products, so soon we have to dock again. If we all agree to vote On politicians who send themselves through the bank lobby because we just do not understand well, we have to pay for our intellectual laziness.” (Google translate from: “Een paar springende punten uit het boek: niet alleen zagen veel wetenschappers de financiële crisis van 2007 aankomen, dezelfde mensen voorspellen dat het weer mis zal gaan. Er is volgens hen niks wezenlijks veranderd, zoals het strikt scheiden van spaarbanken en zakenbanken en verzekeringen. Belastingbetalers hebben miljarden moeten betalen om banken die too big to fail waren te redden, de banken zijn nog steeds too big to fail en verkopen nog steeds onbegrijpelijke en oncontroleerbare producten, dus binnenkort moeten we weer dokken. Als we met z’n allen blijven stemmen op politici die zich door de bankenlobby laten sturen, omdat we het gewoon niet goed begrijpen, zullen we dus voor onze intellectuele luiheid moeten boeten.”)

However, this message could also have been given without this particular book.

This lay person shows a confusion between neoclassical economics and neoliberal economics. Perhaps Van Staveren has this too ? Also, this lay reviewer states to have gotten an interest in Amartya Sen because of Van Staveren’s praise. Ouch.

More points tomorrow

There are some more points, see the next blog entry.