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The 2018 US midterm election contests for the US House of Representatives have the result that more than a third of US voters have taxation without representation.

The paper is here.

The summary chart below should speak for itself.

 

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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).

The French general elections for the Legislative were held on June 11 and 18 2017. The results provided by the French government are presented more accessible in wikipedia (a portal and no source), and have been used in this 2017-France-Lorenz-Gini excel sheet to determine the Lorenz curve and Gini coefficient.

The earlier discussion on Lorenz curve and Gini was about the Dutch and UK general elections.

Both UK and France have district representation (DR) with a First Past the Post rule. In the UK this causes strategic voting, in which a voter may not vote for the candidate of first choice, but tries to block a candidate who might win but would be worst. France has elections in two rounds so that there is less need for such a strategy. The second round is between the two top candidates in the district, and thus one might try to get at least one good candidate in that position.

Proportional representation (PR) may allow a larger (but fairer) share of the seats for the more extreme parties, like the party of Geert Wilders in Holland, yet PR also allows more stability for the center. Thus PR tends to avoid the swings between extremes that might happen in systems of district representation (DR).

Two rounds mean two sets of data

The French system seems to make it more difficult to determine the Lorenz curve and Gini coefficient. There are two rounds, and thus there is the question what data to take. However, the following choice suggests itself:

  • The data of the first round provide the first preferences, and thus provide the votes.
  • The data of both rounds provide the seats.

This choice finds support in the data. The first round has a turnout of 48.7% and 0.5 million invalid or blank votes. In the second round, more people remain at home, with a turnout of 42.6%, while those who vote produce almost 2 million invalid or blank votes, who apparently disprove of the available candidates or the system itself. Thus the higher turnout and lower blanks in the first round suggest that these indeed present the first preferences (with some limited level of strategy).

The Lorenz curve and Gini

The Lorenz curve shows a rather surprising level of inequality, with a Gini of 41.6%. Compare the value of Holland with a Gini of 3.6%. If the blue line would cover the pink diagonal then there would be full proportionality.

Data on turnout

The following table gives the data on turnout for the first round. The votes for “Elected in the House” is for parties that eventually got elected in the Legislative. The votes for “Not in the House” is for a radical leftist party that got votes in the first round but got no seat in none of the rounds.

The wasted vote consists of the invalid and blank votes and the latter “Not in the House”, to a total of almost 3%. A standard majority would be 289 seats of a House of 577 seats. If one would keep account of the wasted vote, then one might leave seats empty, or use a qualified majority of 298 seats, thus 9 more than usual.

When we divide the electorate by the number of votes per seat, then the Legislative would require 1222 rather than 577 seats. A majority would require 611 seats, which is more than the actual number of seats used. If one would want to keep account of the voters who did not turn out, then 51.3% or 296 of the 577 seats would be empty, or one would use the 611 seats as a qualified majority.

An example of the inequality

The new French President Emmanuel Macron had the highest score of 24% of the vote in the first round of the Presidential elections of 2017, with runner-up Marine Le Pen with 21.3%. Macron then won the second round with 66.1% (20.7 million) against Marine Le Pen with 33.9% (10.6 million) of the vote.

For the Legislative, Macron’s party REM got 27.6% while the Front National (FN) got 12.9% in the first round. For the Legislative Le Pen managed to get only 3 million votes, compared to the potential of 10.6 million at the presidential elections. With both rounds REM got 308 seats and FN got 8 seats.

These ratios would turn, if Le Pen would manage to motivate the voters of the presidential race to also support her for the Legislative. If the other parties would have a divided vote then Le Pen would benefit from First Past The Post.

Conclusions

For the UK in 2017 we calculated a Gini of 15.6% but this was a very tentative number since we had no estimate about the amount of strategic voting involved. For France we have an indication of the first preferences, namely from the first round.

France appears to have a surprisingly high Gini of 41.6%, which can be compared to the system of proportional representation (PR) in Holland that generates 3.6%.

This political inequality doesn’t bode well for the feelings amongst the French electorate about whether they are represented. The low turnout seems to reflect dissatisfaction rather than satisfaction. Such dissatisfaction might also translate into a protest vote over 4 years, especially when Macron doesn’t deliver.

Many observers in Europe seem to be happy with the election of Macron and his party REM, but the outcome is quite disproportional. If this disproportionality can happen for one party then it might also happen for another party – that one doesn’t like as much.

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.

There is a bizarre incomprehension of democracy.

I was inclined to say in the English speaking world – UK, USA, India – but there is also France, with the upcoming elections for the French National Assembly 2017. Also France has a system of District Representation (DR) rather than Proportional Representation (PR). Examples of PR are Holland, Germany and to some extent the European Parliament.

Democratic theory favours PR above DR. It is a historical mistake that countries have DR.

The UK Electoral Reform Society (wikipedia) protests about the UK general elections 2017.

Electoral Reform Society, website June 2017

Indeed, there is this difference (wikipedia) between the UK system of DR with the better system of PR. While the popular vote gives a majority to Lab + SNP + LibDem, the majority in seats goes to Con + DUP.

Seats Votes
Con

317

48.8%

13,632,914

42.3%

DUP

10

1.5%

292,316

0.9%

Lab

262

40.3%

12,874,985

40.0%

SNP

35

5.4%

977,569

3.0%

LibDem

12

1.8%

2,371,772

7.4%

Other

14

2.2%

2,047,362

6.4%

Total

650

100.0%

32,196,918

100.0%

There is also the political dynamics of proportionality. Once a proportional system is in place then new parties will have a larger chance to get elected, and then they also have more scope to grow and to challenge the existing parties. We may observe that the UK 2017 outcome may be more proportional than in the past, but this still neglects the dynamics and the build-up of frustration amongst minorities that aren’t represented well.

The UK already has experience with the system of PR, namely for the European elections. While UKIP didn’t do so well within the UK system, Nigel Farage gained the limelight via the elections for the European Parliament.

The UK Electoral Reform Society fails too

Part of the bizarre situation is that the UK Electoral Reform Society (ERS) fails too. They favour the system of “Single Transferable Vote” (STV) and they call this a system of PR while it isn’t PR. It is rather bizarre that they do not comprehend this. The UK had a so-called “referendum on PR” in 2011, but this was actually on the system of “Instant Run-Off” (a.k.a. “Alternative Vote”).

Apparently, the UK has a hangup on DR. They think that districts allow voters to connect directly with the local politicians, and that this reduces the influence of the party bosses. This is a dubious argument. If a representative and party member is out of line with the party then the party might still sack him or her nevertheless. In PR it is easier to start a new political party and be elected (when the issue likely isn’t just local).

Thus the statements by the ERS about district representation derive from historical bias and not from clear theory and practical experience with PR.

Let me give an example how STV favoured by ERS is not PR at all, even though they claim that it would be PR.

Example that STV is not PR

Consider two districts with 30000 voters each. Each district has 2 seats, so that the Droop Quota is 30000 / (2 + 1) + 1 = 10001. Parties contending for these seats are Con, Lab, en LDP. In District 1, the Con are popular, and they present there a list with two candidates. In District 2 the Lab are popular, and they present there a list with two candidates. We consider a rather symmetrical situation as in the following table, also with the STV results.

In STV, voters vote only once, but they can assign a rank order of the candidates.

In District 1, 7503 Con1 voters give Con1 as their first choice and Con2 as their second choice. Also 7501 Con2 voters give Con2 as their first choice and Con1 as their second choice.

  1. In the first round, no candidate meets the quota. LDP1 has the minimal number of votes, 7494, and is eliminated.
  2. In the second round, Con2 has the minimal number of votes, 7501, and is eliminated.
  3. In the third round, the Con2 votes are allocated to Con1, and Con1 meets the quota and is elected.
  4. In the fourth round, Lab3 is the remaining candidate and thus is elected, though the 7502 votes are below the quota.

The situation in District 2 is analogous.

District 1 Votes District 2  Votes
Con1

7503

Elected Con3

7502

Elected

Con2

7501

Lab1

7503

Elected

Lab3

7502

Elected Lab2

7501

LDP1

7494

LDP2

7494

30000

30000

Let us now join the two districts, and look how STV works for the national vote.

There are 60000 voters and 4 seats, so the Droop Quota is 60000 / (4 + 1) + 1 = 12001.

The Con voters put the Con candidates of their district in the first places, and then the Con candidates of the other district. For example, the 7501 Con2 voters have the rank order {Con2, Con1, Con3}.

Because of the symmetrical structure of this example, there are some ties. Rather than using a coin, we use the alphabetical order.

  1. In the first round, no candidate meets the quota, and LDP1 is eliminated.
  2. In the second round, the LDP1 votes go to LDP2, and it is elected.
  3. In the third round, alphabetically Con2 has the minimal number of votes, and is eliminated.
  4. In the fourth round, Con2’s votes go to Con1, and it is elected.
  5. In the fifth round, alphabetically Lab2 has the minimal number of votes, and is eliminated.
  6. In the sixth round, Lab2 votes go to Lab1, and it is elected.
  7. In the seventh round, alphabetically Con3 has the minimal number of votes, 10506, and is eliminated.
  8. In the eighth round, Lab3 remains, and is elected, though with only 10506 votes.

Thus now LDP2, Con1, Lab1 and Lab3 are elected.

Upshot:

  • As the UK Electoral Reform Society (ERS) states that STV would generate proportional results, both {Con1, Con3, Lab1, Lab3} and {Con1, Lab1, Lab3, LDP2} would be proportional results, which however are quite different results, which destroys the meaning of proportionality.
  • With a hangup on DR, there will be little scope for fair representation of the minority LDP.
  • PR would require party representation with {37.5%, 37.5%, 25%} of the seats. Admittedly, this is difficult to achieve with 4 seats, but if the situation persists then one might change the number of seats. This uses the PR criterion rather than the STV criterion.

In these considerations, the notion of PR dominates DR.

Confusing information from Holland

Holland is a small country with some 10 million voters. One might think that its proportional system might not easily scale up to a large unit like the EU. If the EU Parliament would be fully proportional, then Germany might have too large a weight. However, there are also divisions along party lines, and proportionality still would be a fair choice.

Holland had general elections on March 15 2017, and political parties are still negotiating about a coalition government. This is bad advertisement for the system.

There is a confusion in Holland about desiring the minimal majority coalition, that bargains for an agreement that would apply for the next 4 years. It would be more rational to look for a larger majority, and rather set for a flexible agenda, so that issues can be dealt with in varying manner. See this paper of mine. It may also be better to have elections every year, so that Parliament becomes more sensitive to the popular vote. (If you would replace only 25% of the seats, then the electoral quota becomes 4 times larger, and this might be too high again.)

Most bizarre is that the Dutch party D66 wants to change the Dutch PR system into more use of districts … see here. Thus the good news about democracy in Holland is killed again by the campaigners on the D66 hobby horse.

Conclusion

We observe that the UK ERS protests against the failure of the UK electoral system, but we can also conclude that ERS doesn’t comprehend democracy.

We find similar confusions all over the world. The best advice is to change your national electoral system to the PR system like in Holland (or to some extent the EU parliament), yet many campaigners ride their hobby horses of wildly confusing varieties, and calling it “democracy” while it actually isn’t.

PM. A paper of mine on comparing PR and DR is here.

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.

Philippe Legrain (1973) is a British economist who worked as an advisor for former communist and later EU commission president José Manuel Durão Barroso in 2011-2014. Legrain has now written a book on a European Spring, something that Manny tried hard to achieve, as readers of this weblog know, as I tried to advise Manny too.

The real news from Brussels is that Manny’s successor Jean-Claude Juncker doesn’t want a Spring but a Hot Summer. A showdown with Putin should unite the peoples of the EU, and also force Greece to choose sides, JCJ thinks.  Philippe Legrain’s book is old hat. I am still waiting for approval by JCJ to spill some of the beans of our luncheons, dinner parties and fire-side chats. The big secret in Europe is that Angela, François, Jean-Claude and me were all born in 1954, and that we share an obligation to make it all work, though I am for peace-with-strength and they are hopelessly confused.

This Sunday, Philippe Legrain allowed Dutch television to interview him on his Spring eulogy. Legrain is unaware that Dutch TV journalists are hypocrites by profession, and that he is sucked dry like in those vampire movies.

The interview is in English with Dutch undertitles, and you can check how interviewer Marcia Luyten (1971) takes Legrain for a walk in the woods, guts him, and leaves his body somewhere in a ditch.

About a key moment in the economic crisis:

“There was a panic across the Eurozone, and people thought that governments could not pay their debts. And actually it was a panic that ultimately the ECB was able to solve. In the case of the Netherlands it wasn’t even a panic. This was just a mistake made by this government, under pressure from Brussels, and Berlin.” (Philippe Legrain, minute 35).

It is absurd to portray Holland as a victim of Brussels. It is the other way around. Europe is a victim of Holland:

  • It were rather speculators who saw an opportunity to make a killing. It wasn’t a panic but a real threat, caused by wrong legal rules.
  • The solution provided by the ECB still is an improvisation, and we still need a new treaty, see my piece on the two Mario’s.
  • It were Dutch hawks who joined with Germany and imposed austerity on the rest of Europe, also using Brussels as a front for the Dutch electorate.

Other major errors in the interview are:

  • Legrain apparently never really studied Holland. For him it is a small country that falls under his radar. For hm, Holland is not a perpetrator but a victim. For him, these are nice people, and not hypocrites. Apparently he regards Holland as a free, tolerant, open-minded country, that just happens to have made some policy errors, without kids delving into the trash as now happens in Greece. He can’t make himself see Marcia Luyten as co-responsible for making kids in Greece do so. But she is a hypocrite and co-responsible. She never properly informed the Dutch viewers.
  • Legrain just answers the questions that Marcia asks. He doesn’t expose Holland as a major perpetrator. He does not expose Marcia as belonging to the hypocrites who helped cause the problems. He joins Marcia in her “frame” that it are politicians who do not want to lose face, while a major part of the story is that it are journalists who have been misreporting and misrepresenting.
  • Legrain doesn’t expose Jeroen Dijsselbloem as a major stumbling block: an agricultural economist who got into politics too quickly and who apparently isn’t able to deal with these issues properly. (Dijsselbloem already failed on the policy w.r.t. the education on mathematics.) (See Dijsselbloem on Dutch exports.)
Marcia Luyten reads the English book title "European Spring", by Philippe Legrain

Marcia Luyten reads the English book title “European Spring”, by Philippe Legrain (minutes 22-40)

Thus, Philippe, the next time that you visit Holland, first consider my books DRGTPE and CSBH, and let us discuss those, before you face Dutch journalism.

Incidently, we appear to agree with a lot. For example, that the surplus on the Dutch or German exports account was invested abroad, and basically was squandered when investments failed, is a key feature in my analysis since 1990. See also Johannes Witteveen, a former executive director of the IMF.  But the hypocrites on Dutch television will not allow viewers to hear this from home grown economists. They will welcome people like you, Philippe, who criticize Germany and France, instead of the local Dutch incrowd hawks and perpetrators, and their messenger prime minister Mark Rutte, who has a degree in history and who does not know much about economics but still is zealot about Margaret Thatcher, and who got the Rathenau prize on freedom while he censors economic science in Holland.

But, you also state that you have a proposal how a currency union would work with decentralised decision making. I wonder how you could achieve that. My suggestion has been that each nation adopts an Economic Supreme Court. I wonder whether your ideas are the same. Apparently those are behind a pay wall. This will not work.  Even a crisis should not force people to buy into books that might be scientifically unwarranted.

PM. This hypocritical Buitenhof TV broadcast also contains a discussion with Nikos Koulousios, six minutes before Philippe Legrain. This is somewhat amusing, but not really so.

  • The suggestion is that when Greece and Germany collaborate on jokes, and the Germans admit that they don’t have a sense of humour, then we see a proper collaboration in Europe: and all is fine, and people should feel satisfied that the notion of a unified Europe might work. I am afraid that this only confirms national stereotypes and isn’t real humour.
  • Koulousios calls it typical that a letter signed by economists like Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty did appear in the Greek paper efsyn.gr but not in other papers, except in the Financial Times in which it appeared originally. He seems to suggest some kind of conspiracy, in which the Greek readership is manipulated and not given the right information. However, it may just be that the FT expects royalties. Check why I don’t blog at the FT. Thus the proper diagnosis is that journalists can be quite hypocritical, not only in Holland but even in Greece.

There is one real conclusion from all this. I will discuss it with JCJ the next time I see him. Rather than joining Putin in a hot Summer war on the Ukraine, the EU should pay Russian journalists more money for accurate reporting about the state of the world.