Murali’s Democratic Impossibility Theorem

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Murali

Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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11 Responses

  1. Avatar david says:

    The Downian paradox of voting (i.e., the argument that it is not economically rational to vote to change policy, because the probability of being the marginal voter is small) is a nontrivial concept; while ‘expressive’ theories are one argument, small degrees of altruism or lottery-type risk preferences and so on can all generate high turnout equilibria. The literature is massive and expressive voting doesn’t seem at all obvious.

    The information-concentration argument regrettably applies to a variety of other social-choice mechanisms besides voting, including market pricing (given costly portfolio assessment, it is rational for everyone to ‘bet the market’ if market prices are efficient, but if everyone bets the market then market prices are likely to cease to be efficient). The leap to the conclusion of technocracy or competitive seasteading seems… implausible, given basic Hayekian knowledge problems on one hand and the basic need to monopolize the use of force in the other.Report

  2. Avatar Murali says:

    small degrees of altruism or lottery-type risk preferences and so on can all generate high turnout equilibria. The literature is massive and expressive voting doesn’t seem at all obvious

    Hmm. If you dont mind could you direct me to a few papers. The way I understand it the probability that I will cast a deciding vote is so small even in small countries with close elections to be of the order of 10^-130.

    Its not even clear how altruism will get me to vote. Altruism can get me to do things at personal cost but which is of benefit to others. Voting when I have little to no chance of casting a deciding vote is still going to be as problematic whether I caare about the public good or personal good.

    The only alternative to expressive voting is if people saw themselves as Kantians and cared about not making an exception for themselves. i.e. people saw that if everyone said that they would not vote because of the cost/benefit ratio, no one would. (its not even clear if it is therefore unacceptable) However, thn the reason for not voting would bbe undermined. This is a fairly abstract reason. It is not clear if this has any effect on most people’s decision structure.

    (given costly portfolio assessment, it is rational for everyone to ‘bet the market’ if market prices are efficient, but if everyone bets the market then market prices are likely to cease to be efficient

    Errm… Why?Report

  3. In order to defend democracy along Condorcet lines, we must therefore presume that there is some social epistemic reason we cannot throw in a smaller net. i.e. there is some reason why we cannot epistemically privilege some voters over others.

    Perhaps we should just pull a random sample of the population and let them vote.  Done right, it should be 95-98% accurate.

     

    The only alternative to expressive voting is if people saw themselves as Kantians

    Well, there’s always the possibility that people are just irrational.  (Or is that just a synonym for being Kantian?)Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to James Hanley says:

      Well, there’s always the possibility that people are just irrational.  (Or is that just a synonym for being Kantian?)

      The Kantian understanding of morality is that morality is about acting on universalisable principles.

      If, the maxim “I will not vote because my vote has a miniscule chance of being decisive” is not universalisable because it is self defeating (under universalisation) in some way, then it is not moral. It would take a full paper to adequately deal whether any similar maxim is universalisable or not. All I am saying is that the only possibility when it comes to rationally choosing to vote to change policy is if we had a Kantian understanding of morality. And even then it would not be definitive. It may be that the maxim is universalisable.

      I doubt many people are Kantians (although they should be) in the sense I described above.Report

  4. Murali,

    Your argument seems to rely on their being “right” and “wrong” choices.  I would argue that doesn’t hold very often.  If we’re voting on whether AGW is happening or not, that might be the case, but if we’re voting on alternative policies it’s not the case.  In fact if our choice is between two candidates where Mr. X doesn’t believe in global warming and would do nothing about it, and Mr. Q does believe it’s happening and would do something about it, it’s still not with certainty the “right” decision to vote for Q, because it’s possible that the something he would do would be worse than doing nothing.  So only in cases where we have specified in very explicit detail the outcomes of voting one way or the other can we possibly say that there is a “right” decision. And very few elections operate on that basis.

    In fact most elections operate on the basis of competing values, where there is objective determination of which value is “right.”  I’m a staunch free trader and I firmly believe protectionists are wrong…but I also recognize that although they’re misguided in understanding the benefits of free trade, they are also operating off a competing value basis–caring more about the stability of jobs for the working class than about cheap consumer goods.  On what basis can I claim my value is the “right” one to choose (other than the fact that I’m just that much wiser than anyone else)?

    There’s a reason Condorcet’s theorem is called the “jury theorem.”  When juries are deliberating over guilt or innocence, there is a wrong and right answer.  (Well, we can imagine cases where it’s not that cut-and-dried, but I’ll leave that esoterica alone for now.)  What applies to juries is not always applicable to the selection of public policy, and rarely applicable to the selection of political candidates.

    Not that any of what I’ve just said really helps the case for democracy.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to James Hanley says:

      Your argument seems to rely on their being “right” and “wrong” choices.  I would argue that doesn’t hold very often.

      In those cases, the second part of my dilemma kicks in. If there is no clear right and wrong, we shouldnt be believing in our political positions so strongly. i.e. if there is no clear right and wrong, everyone should be similarly agnostic about what to do about global warming.

      I don’t require that the correct answer be obvious or readily available (although conceptually speaking there should be such an answer even though it may in be almost impossible to find out what it is) All I require is that there is one doxastic attitutde which is uniquely the best doxastic attitude to take given a belief. If we should believe that doing nothing is better with a credence of 0.55 given the evidence we have, then that is how much credence we should afford. (I understand that I break ith orthodox bayesians on this. But I think they’re just wrong on this one question. And no, I dont necessarily hold orthodox bayesians in general to be my epistemic peers)Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Murali says:

        Fallibilism, Mr. Murali.  Charles Sanders Peirce [d. 1914] might be the only genuinely great American philosopher.  He also invented “pragmatism,” but when a lesser light, the pop-philosopher William James hijacked it, CS Peirce was obliged to rename his “pragmaticism.”

        Just as later pop theorists Dewey and Popper hijacked fallibilism.   Peirce [pronounced “purse”] also pioneered semiotics and I read a few years ago about some Vietnamese dudes turning his work as a logician into a computer circuit.

        I don’t pretend to understand even a fraction of this great mind, but I fancy that I can tell a great thinker from his epigones.  Everytime I read you, I think your road leads in his direction, if you set your horizon a bit farther out.

        Best regards, Mr. M.  Keep it up.

         Report

  5. Avatar James K says:

    While you have a sound theoretical case Murali, but that is not sufficient to impeach democracy in practice.  The real question is: can we design a rule to restrict the franchise that can survive the flaws of real political institutions?  I can’t see a way to make the answer yes.Report

  6. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I’m probably betraying my profound ignorance here, but despite the logistics used in your post, does not Western civilization’s existence and success refute it?

    Much of your reasoning seems to depend on voters getting things right or wrong, as if every decision had such a clearly divisible set of outcomes.  Therefore it almost seems like testing your reasoning is dependent upon having very rigid, idealogical criteria.  (e.g.: You might assume that a tax rate of 17% is “right,” and any higher or lower is “wrong,” rather than assuming that 17% is just one choice of many that will have both positive an negative outcomes.)Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      You might assume that a tax rate of 17% is “right,” and any higher or lower is “wrong,” rather than assuming that 17% is just one choice of many that will have both positive an negative outcomes.)

      Thanks Tod, see my reply to Prof Hanley above. If alternatives have lots of reasonable arguments going for them, then clearly, the evidence we have is not remotely dispositive. We should be suspending judgement. If we have suspended judgement about all this stuff why the hell are we voting?Report

  7. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    After you start taking more than half of the fruits of my labor, as an American I start getting way pissed off.  I am the 99%.  Or the 53%, whathaveyou.

    Any taxation scheme over 33%, and you better start justifying it to me in a fishing hurry.  Over 50%, and you better not just collect the trash, you should take it down to the can whenever the wife tells me I gotta do it.

    Those are back-of-the-envelope calculations, mind you.  But I want value, dammit, not just a bill for somebody studying gay penguins.  I’ll study ’em—you take out the damn trash.Report

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