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Before the UK Brexit referendum of June 23 2016 I warned that referenda can be silly and dangerous, see here in April 2016. I clarified that the Brexit referendum question was flawed in design. I did not look deeper into this, since, like so many others, I had been put on the wrong foot by the 2016 poll average that suggested a continuation of the status quo. After the surprise outcome, I advised the youngsters in the UK to focus attention on this design flaw, as this is the clearest issue and proper reason to argue that the outcome should be annulled, see here in June 2016. When Kenneth Arrow passed away in early 2017, this was an occasion to have a summary text published in the RES Newsletter, which was republished on the LSE Brexit blog. Now, with the 2017 UK general election, I have been looking a bit deeper at these UK election issues.

One result has been the use of the Lorenz curve and Gini coefficient to show the disproportionality in the UK between votes and seats. Almost all EU members have Proportional Representation (PR) with clear exceptions of the UK and France that have District Representation (DR). Apparently, this is a main reason for the influence of populism in the latter two countries. DR allows that politicians are elected with a minority of the vote, which causes a gap with the majority. Politicians like David Cameron can use a referendum to introduce an element of proportionality. Yet referendum questions are quickly flawed.

A main confusion

Another surprise for me was the existence of the Re-Leavers who make up some 23% of the electorate, and who are very likely also a major section in the House of Commons that supported the invoking of article 50.

Apparently many British voters are awfully respectful of democracy, and while they voted for Remain, they accept the referendum outcome, and let their voting behaviour now be guided by Leave. In other words: they no longer operate as voters who are supposed to express their first preference, but they operate as politicians who develop policy using such preferences.

Voters are better not confused about the following angles:

  • It is one thing to accept the Brexit referendum outcome as a fact. Please accept facts.
  • It is another thing to discuss the consequences of that fact.
  • There is always the distinction between your first preference and dealing with new developments.
  • Your first preference can change, but rather only because of arguments, and not just because of a majority view.

For me, it is easy to say this, in a country that is used to PR. In the UK case of DR it may well be that strategic voting requires voters to run with with herd. Nevertheless, the Re-Leavers cause quite a confusion in the voting record. Also for the general elections of 2017 we now can observe that we don’t know what people really want.

The YouGov data of June 12th – 13th 2017

Anthony Wells provided and discussed these data that show the impact of the Re-Leavers. Let me quote the main part, and for this quotation I also moved their copyright sign up.

These early June data are most relevant for judging the June 8 2017 UK general election. Apparently 26% of all adults in Great Britain (UK excl. Northern Ireland), but also 53% of the voters who voted Remain in 2016, reason as follows:

I did not support Britain leaving the EU, but now the British people have voted to leave the government has a duty to carry out their wishes and leave.

I consider this an illogical and rather undemocratic statement.

  • Logic would require the annulment of the referendum outcome, and not to take it seriously.
  • In representative government, it is Parliament that determines policy, not the people by some referendum.

Most of the EU has PR and thus the notion of representative government. The 2016 Remain voters want to remain in the EU, but, 53% apparently also reject the EU notion of representative government, and instead they appeal to the populism of referenda.

More on the design flaw of the Brexit referendum question

A few days ago, I rephrased one aspect as follows: With R for Remain, S for Soft (EEA), for some Tariffs, and N for No Deal (WTO), there are 6 possible strict preferences for a deal, from R > S > T (Theresa May before the referendum) to T > S > R (Theresa May after the referendum). If S and T are collected in L (Leave) then there arises the claimed binary choice between R and L. Voters who are in the categories S > R > T or T > R > would face a hard question. If they expect that R might win, but also that their own preferred option might not win, should they still go out and vote ? They might decide not to turn out, or develop assumptions about what actually might become, given what what they think about future developments. Similarly for the versions of R. See the voting theory about single peaked preferences (and these are not single peaked but double peaked). Overall it is a fallacy that there is a binary choice. Lawyers can argue that one either invokes article 50 or doesn’t invoke it, yet the referendum isn’t such a legal case, for it is an issue of policy preferences.

In fact, above YouGov poll provides us a bit more information on this issue. Look at this section on their page 15:

Look at the column of the total (with 1651 people in the weighted sample). 35% are clearly for Remain, in their first rank. 47% are clearly against Remain, in their last rank. Thus the middle 8 + 9 ≈ 18% (rounding error) is rather confused, for they put Remain between one of the Leave options. How would they have to vote at a referendum that only allows R or L ? We find similar percentages for the subgroups on the right hand side.

Conclusion

The discussion in the UK would be served by greater awareness of these distinctions:

  • The difference between voting for your first preference (setting the target) and trying to second-guess politicians (as if you are in the driver seat).
  • A valid question and an invalid or flawed one, like the Brexit referendum question.
  • The crucial differences between Proportional Representation (PR) and District Representation (DR), linked to the distinction between representative democracy (mostly PR) and populism (mostly DR).
  • There is also something not discussed in the above, but that is the difference between the failing Trias Politica and improved democracy with an Economic Supreme Court.

(Updated July 11  2017) (September 18 2017: Changed “Hard, H” in “No deal, N”)

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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.

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.

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

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

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

His statement about strategic voting – or manipulation:

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

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

Definitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(See also the distinction in levels of measurement.)

Beware of the distinction between cardinal and ordinal preferences

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerry Mackie’s “Democracy Defended

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

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

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

The key context is switching to parliaments with PR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warren Smith’s parable of the bees

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

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

Smith on Bayesian regret

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

Smith is too enthousiastic about Arrow’s support

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

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

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

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

 

Frisian Fokke 2013

War of the clones

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

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

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

The dark horse

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking for balance

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

By way of conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The distinction between voting and deciding

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

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

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

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

This situation will be called a “voting field”.

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

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

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

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

Kenneth Arrow’s confusion

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

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

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

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

The metaphor of a gavel

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

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

The crucial role of rules

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

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

A supposed axiom that isn’t an axiom

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

Summers on dysfunctional democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Scientifically unwarranted referendum question

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

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

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

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

The problem with the question

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

Compare the question:

“Do you still beat your mother ?”

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

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

In the case of Brexit, the hidden complexity concerned:

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

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

Deadlocks can lurk in hiding

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

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

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

Representative government is better than referenda

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

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

The UK Electoral Commission goofed too

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

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

In an email to me 2016-07-11:

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

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

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

Addendum March 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the BBC website

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

The abstract of the paper is:

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

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

Relevance for the world

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

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

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

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

A Dutch – Turkish clash

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

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

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

Some Dutch had been prepared for this

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

Art and Photography by Inez Lenders, Nijmegen 2017

The Dutch Official News with a false suggestion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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