An optimization process for democratic organizations

post by selylindi · 2018-07-05T15:34:21.156Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · LW · GW · 14 comments

This is a link post for https://adelaybeingreborn.wordpress.com/ophelimo/

14 comments

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comment by Jameson Quinn (jameson-quinn) · 2018-07-07T18:51:47.195Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is an unfixably bad idea, in two ways: it's a nonstarter politically, and it would be bad if it did get implemented.

I largely agree with the section on what's wrong with the current situation.

But this goes off the rails when it asserts, in passing, that score voting is immune to the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem. Read the Satterthwaite proof of this theorem, and you'll see how general it is. Cardinal voting escapes Arrow's theorem, but does NOT escape G-S.

In particular, any proportional method is subject to free riding strategy. And since this system is designed to be proportional across time as well as seats, free riding strategy would be absolutely pervasive, and I suspect it would take the form of deliberately voting for the craziest possible option. If I'm right then, like Borda, this system could actually be worse than random-ballot-single-winner; impressively bad.

I think it's great that you're thinking about structural reform and voting reform, and you're on the right track in many regards. I just hope you can let go of this particular idea. I'm sorry to be so negative, but I think it's warranted here.

comment by selylindi · 2018-10-19T04:43:51.819Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
score voting is immune to the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem

I was basing this off the description in Wikipedia; please correct that entry if you think I was in error. As of this time it still explicitly states, "While the scope of this theorem is limited to ordinal voting, Gibbard's theorem is more general, in that it deals with processes of collective decision that may not be ordinal: for example, voting systems where voters assign grades to candidates."

any proportional method is subject to free riding strategy. And since this system is designed to be proportional across time as well as seats, free riding strategy would be absolutely pervasive, and I suspect it would take the form of deliberately voting for the craziest possible option.

What does that mean? If being the "craziest possible option" means it gets selected as the most preferred option regardless and has sharply bad outcomes that you secretly knew would happen, then having voted for it, you're strictly worse off in future voting power than if you had voted against it. Alternatively, if it means that very few other voters vote for that option, then that option definitionally isn't going to win, and so there is strictly nothing to gain in future voting power from having voted for it. So on the contrary, honest voting, as a strategy, dominates either interpretation of your suggested variant of a free rider strategy.

it's a nonstarter politically

This is rich irony coming from Jameson Quinn himself. :D In any case, your comment here is certainly appreciated due to your expertise, even though I currently believe the comment was factually in error on both substantive points.

comment by Jameson Quinn (jameson-quinn) · 2018-11-09T14:48:40.965Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

On Gibbard-Satterthwaite, you are wrong. Please read the original papers; Wikipedia is not definitive here. There is a sense in which the sentence you quote from Wikipedia is not quite wrong, but that sense is so limited that the conclusion you draw from it is not supported.

In terms of the "craziest possible option" strategy: people may deliberately vote for something they believe will not win in order to "build up" voting power for later. When they decided to actually spend this built-up power, they would not vote for something crazy. Insofar as this strategy artificially increases their overall voting power over that of other voters, it undermines the fairness of the system. And in the worst case, it could backfire by actually electing a crazy option. In case of backfire, this would obviously not be a rational strategy ex post, but I believe the collective risk of such failed rationality is unacceptably high.

As for the "rich irony" of me calling something a nonstarter politically: just this week, approval voting passed in Fargo; and STAR voting came within a few percent of passing in Lane County, OR. Last summer, thousands of people voted on the Hugo Awards which had been nominated through E Pluribus Hugo. In British Columbia, voters are currently deciding between four election methods, three of which are proportional and two to three of which have never been used. I personally played a meaningful role in each of these efforts, and a pivotal role in some cases. All of these are clearly far beyond "nonstarter politically". So yes, I'm not afraid to tilt at windmills sometimes, but sometimes the windmills actually are giants, and sometimes the giants lose. I believe I've earned some right to express an opinion about when that might be, and when it might not.

comment by Raemon · 2018-07-06T22:27:55.340Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My first critique (only having skimmed this so far), is that this doesn't seem to address what I consider the most important element for replacement voting systems, which is an actual plan of action that leads to them getting adopted. I have a knee-jerk response to elaborate voting systems that are theoretically an improvement but which seem to be designed around an assumption of mass adoption in a major country.

I think a system like this will need to get adopted in either:

  • A small town
  • An online community
  • A corporation
  • A nonprofit

Or some other place where it's plausible to get the momentum necessary to try it out. And I think the practicalities of this should probably shape some of the considerations of the system itself. (I also think you'd optimize a system somewhat differently for a corporation, an online community, a nonprofit or a small town, and I'd like to see more voting systems are that are actually targeted towards a more specific use case)

comment by selylindi · 2018-07-06T23:44:34.877Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fully agreed - the intention is to start with small-scale clubs and parts of private organizations that are open to experimenting.

comment by Dagon · 2018-07-06T21:42:46.514Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Seems extremely complex, and mixes up topics where good factual predictions are valuable (in which case I'd recommend some sort of conditional futures market) and topics where values dominate (in which case I'd prefer NOT to even vote on it, just let each person choose).

My intuition is that it's more exploitable by the well-funded/connected than our current system, but it's hard to tell. Certainly every additional question on a poll is an opportunity for the most-concentrated-interests to overwhelm the rest of us with bullshit.

Fortunately, there are _TONS_ of smallish organizations and groups. It's trivial to try this out in whatever social groups you currently belong to where many members would prefer this improvement.

comment by selylindi · 2018-07-06T23:49:58.613Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Regarding exploitability by well-funded and well-connected entities - I'm not sure how to tell without an empirical test. My understanding is that research into funding of electoral campaigns doesn't show the funding as having any effect on vote totals. If that is accurate, then I'd expect it's still true under alternate voting methods.

comment by ryan_b · 2018-07-06T15:05:28.133Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I like this because it is so detailed as to almost be actionable; my first suggestion would be to try and target a much lower governance level (like local government or organizational governance) so it could be tested.

Rather than a series of specific ideas I would like to point to something that seems to underlie the parts which stuck out to me, which I suspect of being an assumption you made: the expectations of the public. This has two components - how the public views things, and what they will need to do.

I think the viewpoint component is best encapsulated by this critique of the current system you listed:

9. Two-party dominance rewards negative campaigning, where each candidate focuses on stoking fear and hatred of the other candidate rather than making a rational case for their own ideas, since fear and hatred are more powerful motivators.

The weight here rests on "rational case for their own ideas." The trouble is, I think there are actually zero groups of people on the face of the earth who would make their decisions based on a rational case. You would think that this community would be an excellent candidate, but one of our oldest norms is that politics is the mindkiller and there is limited interest in dispensing with it. Even where a rational case is made for an idea in an explicitly rational field, to fellow experts in that field, the decision is not made on fully rational grounds; scientists joke that progress is made one funeral at a time. The other component consists of responding to polls and voting, which includes things like dividing the vote to arbitrary precision, and this assumes that the end user can and/or is willing to handle high levels of complexity.

Now we shouldn't let perfect be the enemy of good; if adding more parties accomplished nothing but to switch out fear-and-hatred campaigning for hope-and-inspiration campaigning I would still consider it an improvement because I expect the externalities of hope-and-inspiration to be better. All I think would be required is to be explicit about the assumptions about the public, and once that is done conclusions about specific policy points will fall out naturally. The specific suggestion that I have is to incorporate an assumption that people will engage with the system differently both because of preference and because of ability.

comment by Aiyen · 2018-07-05T20:10:51.558Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Very interesting idea! The first critique that comes to mind is that the increased voting power given to those whose bills are not passed risks giving undue power to stupid or inhumane voters. Normally, if someone has a bad idea, hopefully it will not pass, and that is that. Under Ophelimo, however, adherents of bad ideas would gather more and more votes to spend over time, until their folly was made law, at least for a time. It's also morally questionable-deweighting someone's judgments because they have been voting for and receiving (hopefully) good things may satisfy certain conceptions of fairness (they've gotten their way; now it's someone else's turn), but it makes less sense in governance, where the goal should be to produce beneficial policies, rather than to be "fair" if fairness yields harmful decisions.

The increased weight given to more successful predictors seems wise. While this might make the policy a harder sell (it may seem less democratic), it also ensures that the system can focus on learning from those best able to make good decisions. It's interesting that you're combining this (a meritocratic element) with the vote re-balancing (an egalitarian element). One could imagine this leaning to a system of carefully looking to the best forecasters while valuing the desires of all citizens; this might be an excellent outcome.

An obvious concern is people giving dishonest forecasts in an effort to more effectively sway policy. While this is somewhat disincentivized by the penalties to one's forecaster rating if the bill is passed, and the uncertainty about what bills may pass provides some disincentive to do this even with disfavored bills (as you address in the article), I suspect more incentive is needed for honesty. Dishonest forecasting, especially predicting poor results to try to kill a bill, remains tempting, especially for voters with one or two pet issues. If someone risks losing credibility to affect other issues, but successfully shot down a bill on their favorite hot button issue, they very well may consider the result worth it.

Finally, there is the question of what happens when the entire electorate can affect policy directly. In contemporary representative democracy, the only power of the voters is to select a politician, typically from a group that has been fairly heavily screened by various status requirements. While giving direct power to the people might help avoid much of the associated corruption and wasteful signalling, it risks giving increased weight to people without the requisite knowledge and intelligence to make good policy.

comment by selylindi · 2018-07-05T21:08:35.308Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW
increased voting power given to those whose bills are not passed risks giving undue power to stupid or inhumane voters.

True. Equalizing the influence of all parties (over the long term at least) doesn't just risk giving such people power; it outright does give them power. At the time of the design, I justified it on the grounds that (1) it forces either compromise or power-sharing, (2) I haven't found a good way to technocratically distinguish humane-but-dumb voters from inhumane-but-smart ones, or rightly-reviled inhumane minorities from wrongly-reviled humane minorities, and (3) the worry that if a group's interests are excluded, then they have no stake in the system, and so they have reason to fight against the system in a costly way. Do any alternatives come to your mind?

Dishonest forecasting, especially predicting poor results to try to kill a bill, remains tempting, especially for voters with one or two pet issues.

Indeed. I spent a great deal of time and effort investigating this for possible solutions. Haven't found any yet, though. It's the only attack vector that I know for sure would work.

While giving direct power to the people might help avoid much of the associated corruption and wasteful signalling, it risks giving increased weight to people without the requisite knowledge and intelligence to make good policy.

I may have been unduly influenced by my anarchist youth: I'm more worried about the negative effects of concentrating power than about the negative effects of distributing it. Is there any objective way to compare those effects, however, that isn't quite similar to how Ophelimo tries to maximize public satisfaction with their own goals?

comment by Aiyen · 2018-07-14T01:34:28.204Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"True. Equalizing the influence of all parties (over the long term at least) doesn't just risk giving such people power; it outright does give them power. At the time of the design, I justified it on the grounds that (1) it forces either compromise or power-sharing, (2) I haven't found a good way to technocratically distinguish humane-but-dumb voters from inhumane-but-smart ones, or rightly-reviled inhumane minorities from wrongly-reviled humane minorities, and (3) the worry that if a group's interests are excluded, then they have no stake in the system, and so they have reason to fight against the system in a costly way. Do any alternatives come to your mind?"

1. True, but is the compromise beneficial? Normally one wants to compromise either to gain useful input from good decision makers, or else to avoid conflict. The people one would be compromising with here would (assuming wisdom of crowds) be poor decision makers, and conventional democracy seems quite peaceful. 2. Why are you interested in distinguishing humane-but-dumb voters from inhumane-but-smart ones? Neither one is likely to give you good policy. Wrongly-reviled humane minorities deserve power, certainly, but rebalancing votes to give it to them (when you can't reliably distinguish them) is injecting noise into the system and hoping it helps. 3. True, but this has always been a trade-off in governance-how much do you compromise with someone to keep the peace vs. promote your own values at the risk of conflict? Again, conventional democracy seems quite good at maintaining peace; while one might propose a system that seeks to produce better policy, it seems odd to propose a system that offers worse policy in exchange for averting conflict when we don't have much conflict.

"I may have been unduly influenced by my anarchist youth: I'm more worried about the negative effects of concentrating power than about the negative effects of distributing it. Is there any objective way to compare those effects, however, that isn't quite similar to how Ophelimo tries to maximize public satisfaction with their own goals?"

Asking the public how satisfied they are is hopefully a fairly effective way of measuring policy success. Perhaps not in situations where much of the public has irrational values (what would Christian fundamentalists report about gay marriage?), but asking people how happy they are about their own lives should work as well as anything we can do. This strikes me as one of the strongest points of Ophelimo, but it's worth noting that satisfaction surveys are compatible with any form of government, not just this proposal.

Hopefully this doesn't come across as too negative; it's a fascinating idea!

comment by Sable · 2018-07-05T20:05:18.220Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A very interesting idea. My thoughts:

1) You mention, as a failure of US democracy, that "At the national level, we also have the Senate which is not democratic in the first place, and the electoral college, which is winner-take-all in most states and warped in favor of low-population states. (22)"

I would argue that this is a feature, not a bug. The US was, to my knowledge, designed to be a union of individual governments bound together by a federal government. Because each state can have its own distinct laws, people can sort themselves across states to a place with laws they like. This fosters competition between states to have the best laws.

The Senate was never meant to be democratically representing the people; it was meant to be democratically representing the states. If I remember correctly, Senators were elected by the state government originally, not the people.

2) The rest of your points on the failure of US democracy are well-made.

3) How does this democracy serve those too poor to afford the app? Those without internet? Those with mental illnesses that get a vote but are unfit to understand what that vote means?

4) Who runs the app? The federal government? Is the work contacted out to a company? Either option is dangerous.

5) The system you describe is very dependent on user history which must be stored in databases somewhere. In the event of a terrorist attack on those databases (assume the data is lost), how does the democracy continue?

6) At what age does someone get to vote?

7) If a bill was written to redistribute Bill Gates' money to everyone else (via taxation or any other effective means), what would stop it from getting passed? I'd imagine it would be popular enough.

8) Could a company "campaign" to pass a bill limiting/regulating their competition? If the situation was sufficiently complicated, would anyone notice? In a broader sense, how would this democracy interact with capitalism/socialism?

comment by selylindi · 2018-07-05T20:50:01.863Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for your thoughts. Your questions are quite valid but I'm inclined to punt on them, as you'll see:

For #3, it depends on the group. If a government were to use it, they could provide access via terminals in public libraries, schools, and other government facilities. If a private group were to use it, they'd probably just exclude the poor.

For #4, 6, 7, 8: It's intended for use in any democratic organization for the equivalent of ordinary legislation and bylaws, but not intended to replace their constitutions or founding documents. If there are some laws/bylaws that the group doesn't have authority to make or change (like on citizenship/membership), they would need a separate method of striking those down.

For #5, if the data is lost, they start afresh. They'd lose any prediction scores they'd gained, but if voters can repeat their good predictions, the problem is mitigated, and if they can't repeat their good predictions, they don't deserve their old scores.

I justify "punting" because the app is intended to be customized by many clubs and organizations. It doesn't feel like that's merely handwaving the hard parts, but perhaps it is.

comment by selylindi · 2018-07-05T15:35:30.472Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I’m seeking critique of this design. It combines SSC- and LessWrong-influenced thinking about optimization processes and utilitarianism with a long personal history of dabbling in groups that want to reform electoral processes. In my unquestionably rose-tinted judgment (it’s my baby!), I think Ophelimo has much in it that could be desired by everyone from the far right to the far left.

If there’s an error, I want to correct it. (Or to give up on it quickly, if there’s no way to correct it). If there’s an important criticism or technical limitation to address, that's important, too.

Very-short version: it’s futarchy but based on public satisfaction rather than money, using storable score votes for perfect proportionality.