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Examples of Acausal Trade with an Alien Universe? 2021-04-01T18:10:13.541Z
Selling Attention for Money 2021-03-24T06:24:37.981Z
Even Inflationary Currencies Should Have Fixed Total Supply 2021-03-10T05:41:08.883Z
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Democratic Currency 2021-01-19T05:32:07.612Z
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MikkW's Shortform 2020-08-10T20:39:29.510Z
Calibrate words, not just probabilities 2020-07-18T05:56:11.120Z


Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-20T01:36:08.814Z · LW · GW

Gotcha. My main explanation is just that the American political framework is old, having been around since the start of the modern democracy movement, and voting theory wasn't a thing people thought about back then; that, plus the particular historical reasons many countries adopted proportional representation didn't play out to the same degree in the US.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-19T16:04:50.445Z · LW · GW

It occurs to me that this is basically Babble & Prune adapted to be a writing method. I like Babble & Prune.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-19T04:15:17.518Z · LW · GW

Do not both the resources needed to run a government and the resources a government can receive in taxes grow linearly with the size of a country? Or do you have different size dynamics in mind?

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-18T07:48:36.715Z · LW · GW

This post was written in 5 blocks, and I wrote 4 (= 2^2) branches for each block, for 5*2 = 10 bits of curation, or 14.5 words per bit of curation.

As it happens, I always used the final branch for each block, so it was more effects of revision and consolidation than selection effects that contribute to the end result of this excercise.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-18T07:43:35.060Z · LW · GW

This Generative Ink post talks about curating GPT-3, creating a much better output than it normally would give, turning it from quite often terrible to usually pround and good. I'm testing out doing the same with this post, choosing one of many branches every few dozens of words.

For a 4x reduction in speed, I'm getting very nice returns on coherence and brevity. I can actually pretend like I'm not a terrible writer! Selection is a powerful force, but more importantly, continuing a thought in multiple ways forces you to actually make sure you're saying things in a way that makes sense.

Editing my writing can be slow and tedious, but this excercise gives me a way to naturally write in a compact, higher-quality way, which is why I hope I do this many times in the future, and recommend you try doing this yourself.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-17T07:44:58.012Z · LW · GW

A personal anecdote which illustrates the difference between living in a place that uses choose-one voting (i.e. FPTP) to elect its representatives, and one that uses a form of proportional representation:

I was born as a citizen of both the United States and the Kingdom of Denmark, with one parent born in the US, and one born in Denmark. Since I was born in the States with Danish blood, my Danish citizenship was provisional until age 22, with a particular process being required to maintain my citizenship after that age to demonstrate sufficient connection to the country. This process is currently in its final stages.

I have had to (still am) deal with both the American Department of State and the Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration in this process, and there's a world of difference between my experience with the two governments. While the Danish Ministry always responds relatively promptly, with a helpful attitude, the American DoS has been slow and frustrating to work with.

I contacted the American Dept. of State in order to acquire a copy of certain documents that the Danish government needed to verify that I indeed qualify to maintain my citizenship. This request was first sent in October 2019, or 23 months (nearly 2 years!) ago, and I still have been unable to acquire a copy of this needed documentation, with no timeframe provided for when it might be available. The primary reason for this delay is precautionary measures taken in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 preventing anybody from entering the building where the records are kept.

But the Federal government didn't even start to take precautions against Covid until March 2020, four months after I first sent the request! While such a delay isn't surprising when dealing with the American government, there really is no excuse for such a long delay to start with. And even once the virus hit, I'm still left scratching my head.

Yeah, we want to take precautions to keep it from spreading. Yeah, it makes sense that in the first many weeks, hasty measures were taken that wouldn't always make perfect sense. But you don't close down a building containing vital records for a year and a half! Let a selected group of employees enter, and have them follow some set of protocols that ensures people are safe. The building is literally called the Office of Vital Records! You don't close a building that's capital-v Vital for such a long time just to contain the spread of Covid.

Meanwhile, everything that I needed from the Danish government, I received a reasonable and helpful response within a very quick timeframe. I don't think I ever waited more than 10 days to receive help, and usually it was a good bit quicker than that, with my requests being responded to within the day after I sent any request.

So why is there such a big difference? Imagine that the slow, unhelpful government processes showed up overnight in Denmark, which uses proportional representation. It wouldn't take long for some citizens to get frustrated, and for them to rally their friends to their cause. So far that's not so different from what could happen in the US. But while the two major US parties would be so focused on a narrow set of polarized topics, with neither having any incentive to address this growing discontent among the populace (and both being able to get away with ignoring it, since the other party ignores it too), in Denmark, even if the two biggest parties ignored this discontent, the smaller parties would be able to use this discontent to win big in the next election, by promising to do something about the problem, winning them large votes away from the parties that ignore it.

This dynamic is what causes Danish government, not just in this aspect, but in almost every aspect I have seen during my time living there, to be so much more competent and pleasant to interact with than the American government: smaller parties in Denmark always make the larger parties work hard to maintain their lead, while in America, the two parties can compete on a few high-profile banner issues, and sit on their laurels and ignore everything else.

Another framing, is as a two-dimensional political spectrum. While the two-dimensional spectrum I've seen most often pairs "Right vs. Left" with "Authortarian vs. Liberal", I think a more important grid would pair "Right vs. Left" with "Competent and Aligned" vs. "Incompetent and Unaligned". For a political party, being competent and aligned takes time, energy, and money away from being able to campaign to win elections, so in the absence of sufficient pressure from voters to have aligned parties, the parties will drift towards being very incompetent and very unaligned.

Because Competence is generally orthogonal to Right vs. Left, in a two-party system the main forces from voters will be on the Right-Left axis, allowing the parties to drift towards incompetence more or less unchecked (if you doubt this, pick up an American newspaper from the past 5 years). However, in a multi-party system (I believe this also applies to Instant-runoff, despite my disdain for IRV), since there are multiple parties on both the left and the right, voters can reward competence without having to abandon their political tribe, pushing strongly against the drift towards incompetence, and instead ensuring a highly competent outcome.

(One last note: yes, I have considered whether the anecdote I give is a result of the culture or the more diverse ethnic makeup of the US compared to Denmark, and I am unconvinced by that hypothesis. Those effects, while real, are nearly trivial compared to the effects from the voting system. I have written too much here already, so I will not comment further on why this is the case)

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-14T23:43:30.371Z · LW · GW

The following is a mantra I have decided to install, and will likely be the basis of my yearly theme for 2022:

Say no to everything, decuple down on what is most important

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-14T07:07:07.143Z · LW · GW

Correct, yeah

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-12T06:44:27.576Z · LW · GW

I was considering methods that are well-suited for electing groups of 3 or 5 candidates (for example, choosing regional representatives in a larger body, or appointing a small city coucil). I know of Single Transferrable Vote, which uses a ranked ballot; but I know ranked ballots in single-winner elections are inferior to score-based ballots, due to Arrow's Theorem. This made me consider cardinal (i.e. score-based) multi-winner elections.

Wikipedia names "proportional approval voting" and "sequential proportional approval voting" as such methods, but both come up short- the first (PAV) is not computationally tractable for large enough races (it defines a score, and says to consider every single possible combination of candidates to find which one maximizes this score), while the second (SPAV) will always appoint the approval winner, even when a more proportional result can be acheived by appointing a different candidate instead.

I devised the following algorithm that runs in O(n), but will often produce a more broadly acceptable result than SPAV:

An algorithm for choosing a good winner in a multi-member form of approval voting

  1. Start with an empty stack of candidates
  2. Tally the approvals of each candidate, and push the most-approved candidate to the stack
  3. Reweight the votes, such that if a voter supports n candidates currently in the stack, their vote is worth 1 / (n + 1) of their original weight
  4. Push the most-approved candidate to the stack
  5. Pop the earliest added candidate off of the stack (they are no longer in it)
  6. Reweight and push a candidate onto the stack
  7. Reweight and push again
  8. Repeat 5 - 7 until the number of candidates on the stack equals the total number of seats
  9. Calculate the satisfaction score of this stack as the sum of [1 + 1/2 + ... 1/n where n is the number of candidates in the stack that the voter supports] over all voters. Record this stack as well as its satisfaction score.
  10. Pop and push, then record the satisfaction score of the new stack
  11. Repeat step 10 until the number of stacks considered is equal to the number of candidates
  12. Return whichever of the considered stacks has the highest satisfaction score as the output of the election
Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-12T05:39:01.621Z · LW · GW

Recently here I have been mentioning the idea of using California as a nucleation point for encouraging electoral reform in the USA. Beyond state-level change, a potentially easier target than amending the US constitution is to change the ways that one or both of the major parties chooses its candidates, particularly in the presidential race. This can help address some of the scarier problems we've been seeing in national-level politics, without requiring all the effort and activation energy needed for constitutional change; but it will likely be harder than and downstream of state-level change.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-12T05:25:27.803Z · LW · GW

I think that used to also be the case in Denmark, that a vote for candidate within the party was also a vote for the party, but that was changed for the reasons I mentioned above to the current system where one can vote for a different party than the chosen candidate's party.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-11T22:06:17.116Z · LW · GW

One aspect that drives my curiousity in this matter, is to see how this information can be used to implement a better system in my home state, California (I know I mentioned I want to leave California and the States, but even if I do leave, laying the groundwork for a better system here will be a good thing for California itself, America as a whole, and even the entire course of the history of humanity, and I care deeply about that).

One difference that stands out to me is that Finland's Parliament is much larger (at 200 members) than any of California's representative bodies - The State Senate has only 40 members, the State Assembly is larger at 80 members, and our delegation to the US House is 52 members large. While the state-level bodies could be made bigger (and maybe even the State Senate could be abolished? It's not clear to me that it has any real purpose), the delegation to the US House is fixed, at least on the scale of effort I'm focusing on; and getting real change to happen will require the support of the people, and the fewer things that have to be changed, the more easy that will be to get, so I'd rather not try to change the size of the state legislatures unless it's really needed.

Adopting a system similar to Finland, while holding the size of the bodies constant, will require either much smaller regions than in Finland, which would introduce substantial distortions, or will require a big reduction in the number of electoral districts, which I worry will not be popular in California (while I personally suspect regional representation is overrated, particularly in the context of proportional representation, people are used to electing regional representatives, and reducing regional representation is a criticism / concern I have heard mentioned seriously by people who don't support proportional representation).

That causes me to suspect that while Finland's system works well over there, it would be better to focus on systems that work well with districts with 3 or 5 members, with 15% - 20% of the seats used as leveling seats (to level out the inevitable distortions introduced with such small districts), in the context of electoral reform in California.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-11T21:46:14.325Z · LW · GW

One common point of feedback I received from my recent posts is that perhaps I'm a little too grounded in theoretical aspects, and not focused enough on what's actually going on. As part of my plan to address this, I am digging in deeper into what the actual systems are; another path that will be worth taking to address this is to look deeper into the reality of the situations in the countries I am looking at, and try to illustrate why their systems are leading to better or worse outcomes (without denying cultural factors, of course; but 1) I have a better grasp on how to change constitutions than how to change cultures - in California, the former is actually quite straightforward as long as there's public support, and 2) I suspect that culture is largely downstream of constitutions, with constitutions shaping incentives, and the incentives then shaping people's beliefs and values; more aligned constitutions will ultimately lead to more aligned culture). 

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-11T21:37:26.663Z · LW · GW

How Parliamentary Elections Work in Finland

(These are my notes after skimming the Finnish Election Law)

For purposes of electing the Finnish Parliament, the country is divided up into 13 regions. Åland elects one representative, and the rest elect multiple (between 6 and 35) representatives. All representatives are elected through regions; there are no supra-regional representatives.

Candidates are generally grouped together into parties, joint lists, or electoral alliances. The distinction is not relevant to my notes here; in each, multiple candidates are named, without further distinction. Voters identify one candidate who they support; this vote will then be counted as a vote for the candidate's list, in addition to influencing the ranking of the candidate within their list. (That is, a list's vote count is the sum of the votes received by each candidate on the list)

I originally found the method of using the votes to determine the precise representatives a little bit confusing, so I will describe it in two different ways here: first, an intuitive way that I believe is equivalent to the prescribed manner, then I will detail the manner as it is actually described in the law.

The Intuitive Explanation

The number of representatives a list receives within a region will be proportional to the number of votes that list receives; so if Party A wins twice as many votes as Party B, Party A will receive twice the number of representatives. Within each list, the n candidates which received the most votes in the list will be appointed, where n is the number of representatives from that list.

The Prescribed Manner

Candidates will be ranked within their list according to the number of votes they receive. They will then receive a score, which is (Total List Votes / Rank within list); So the 3rd place candidate in a list that received 60,000 votes will get a score of 60,000 / 3 = 20,000.

All candidates in the region will then be listed in a single roll, with spot #1 belonging to the candidate with the highest score, and continuing accordingly. The first n candidates will be appointed as representatives, where n is the number of representatives given to that region.

It is left as an exercise to the reader that the two descriptions I gave match.


I will contrast this to Denmark, which is also a Nordic country, has a roughly similar system, and similarly ranks highly on various rankings of countries, including the World Happiness Report. While I haven't read the Danish election law yet, I am roughly familiar with that system, and have strong ties to the country, and lived there for a year and a half.

One noticeable difference is that there are only regional representatives in Finland, with no representatives that balance things out on a national level. I don't think this poses a big problem, maybe resulting in a distortion resulting in a couple percent one way or the other. I actually find myself confused as to why leveling seats are needed in Denmark (which also uses regional party lists), which I may resolve by actually reading through the Danish election law.

Another difference (in theory, not in practice) is that Denmark affords parties the choice to be closed-list, meaning that a party could choose the ranking of candidates instead of letting voters decide. In practice, I don't think any parties actually do that, so it's not a real difference (though, this can be contrasted with Israel, which uses closed lists exclusively. I cannot currently demonstrate this, but I suspect this explains part - not all - of Israel's current political troubles).

I believe in Denmark, voters may indicate a different party to support than the candidate they name. There are gaps in my knowledge as to exactly how this is operationalized, but the idea is to allow voters to support their preferred candidate, even when they think weird things are going on in that candidate's party at large.

A final difference is that there is a threshold of 2.5% of the vote required in Denmark for a party to receive seats (I'm not sure if this is on both the regional and national levels, or only the national level; but I think I've heard that it's specific to the national level, in which case it's not actually that different to the Finnish system), whereas in Finland, there is no such threshold.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on Gradient descent is not just more efficient genetic algorithms · 2021-09-08T19:20:01.835Z · LW · GW

I suspect the thesis is true and can be valuable to appreciate, but I'm left feeling that this doesn't explore the thesis nearly as much as I want. You give one example where there might be a divergence, but I would be more satisfied if you provided more examples where they diverge. I also found myself wanting to read more thoughts on cases where the difference can impact things in a way that I would care about. Where would descent be more useful, and when would there be benefits from using evolution? I think there are examples of both, but this post doesn't touch on those.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-08T03:59:55.749Z · LW · GW

Many countries that use a form of proportional representation where the national proportion of representation is ensured to be proportional to the national level of support (as opposed to doing so on a regional level) have a cutoff where parties that don't reach a certain level of support (usually 2.5 - 10% of the vote) don't receive representation in the governing body, at least not through non-regional means.

This helps filter out extremist parties and single-issue parties, and instead encourages parties that are able to build a broad base of support. (Though, it is maybe a little weird to have a hard cutoff. I remember my brother once warning me against any mechanism that involves a hard cutoff, since it leads to weird incentives near the border.)

This reminds me of the reason why I like approval voting and quadratic voting / funding so much: they encourage building broad coalitions, and penalize those who focus too narrowly on one niche or alienate too many people.

I feel like maybe linear proportional represtation has too much room for parties that define themselves in opposition to a ideologies that exist for perfectly good and valid reasons (though this is also a symptom of most PR countries choosing their head of government via methods roughly isomorphic to FPTP).

I'm curious what results we would see if representation in the governing body were instead proportional to something like n*sqrt(n) or n^2 instead of directly linearly proportional to n. Would we see more consensus-building? Would we see fewer, but more widely-appreciated parties? Certainly such a system could get rid of the hard cutoff required for representation; a party that doesn't build a somewhat wide base will automatically have a hard time receiving any representation under such a system.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on steven0461's Shortform Feed · 2021-09-08T02:28:45.161Z · LW · GW

Huh. I am curious to hear explanations if anyone has one.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-08T01:44:44.707Z · LW · GW

I dreamt up the following single-winner voting system in the car while driving to Eugene, Oregon on vacation. I make no representation that it is any good, nor that it's better than anything currently known or in use, nor that's it's worth your time to read this.

Commentary and rationale will be explained at the bottom of this post

The system is a 2-round system. The first round uses an approval ballot, and the second round asks voters to choose between two candidates.

([•] indicates a constant that can be changed during implementation)

Round One:

  1. Tally all approvals for each candidate
  2. If there are two or more candidates with at least a 50% [•] approval rating, remove all candidates with less than [50%] approval. Otherwise, return the highest-approved candidate as the winner of the election
  3. If there are only two candidates remaining, proceed to Round Two with the two remaining candidates. If there are more than four candidates, remove all but the four [• ; shouldn't be higher than 6 or 7] highest rated candidates.
  4. Consider all pairs of candidates that includes at least one of the top two candidates. For each pair, a candidate's Opposing-Approval is that candidate's approval rating among the 10% [•] that least approve of the other candidate. (That is to say, if the other candidate has less than [90%] approval, it is the first candidate's approval among those who oppose the other candidate. The quantity approaches the candidate's overall approval as the approval of the other candidate approaches 100%)
  5. Each's pair's Score is the sum of the two candidates' Opposing-Approval. A higher score means that voters who don't approve of candidate A tend to approve of candidate B, and vice-versa. If the supporters of A and B tend to overlap, the pair's score will be low.
  6. Send the pair (among those considered in step 4) with the highest score to Round Two

Round Two

  1. Ask voters which candidate they prefer. The more preferred candidate is the winner. Voters may, of course, express no preference, but that will not affect the outcome.

Commentary and Rationale

I've been considering the hypothesis that the polarizing nature of plurality vote (FPTP) may actually be a feature, not a bug. While I suspect this hypothesis is likely (at least mostly) wrong, and that the center-seeking / consensus-building nature of Approval voting is one of its most valuable features, the described system was created to combine the consensus-seeking nature of AV with the contest between two opposing viewpoints provided by FPTP.

Below a certain approval rating, the system behaves like AV as a failsafe against the failure mode present in FPTP where a very unpopular candidate can win as long as their opponent is just as bad (IIRC, Instant Runoff doesn't completely address this). Likewise, the winning candidate will always be one of the most approved, even if they're not the highest-approved candidate.

But above a certain level of approval, the system intentionally introduces a degree of polarization, seeking out a pair of candidates with some disagreement between their bases, and choosing one or the other. This increases the "temperature" of the system, allowing potentially controversial but high-value strategies to be tried, encouraging candidates to not just play things safe. This could potentially lead to a bolder style of leadership than pure approval voting (though note that it is a misconception that AV will produce milquetoast, boring, spineless appointees; AV searches for a candidate who is exciting and compelling to all voters, not just to a particular fraction of voters). While some countries may be content with a middle-of-the-road style of leadership like AV provides, perhaps some countries may desire the dynamic quality this system intends to share with FPTP.

Again, I make no representation that this system is actually any good.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-07T05:26:54.422Z · LW · GW
  1. I'm updating my daily shortform / post goal to better optimize for quality of content created. I do value quantity and speed, and also have a capacity for daily habits that I don't have a capacity for other kinds of tasks, but I'm unhappy with the level of quality of my recent output.

My new goal is to either post a shortform, or make substantial progress towards a top-level post (which may be downgraded to a shortform at my discretion), with the caveat that it must be published after 4 days of active work on it (shortforms may be interspersed, but no floating from one post to another; there is only one track, and once I start work on a post, it is topic-locked until it is published). Active work is not neccesarily writing; doing directed research & taking notes on information I will use can also count.

  1. I made a last-minute decision to go on vacation, so my daily writing will be on hiatus until and including this Friday, starting yesterday.
Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-05T06:26:18.018Z · LW · GW

I want to preregister the following predictions before I dig into the data:

Of democratic (non-subsidiary) nations (as judged by having a EIU Democracy Index rating of at least "flawed democracy"; Hong Kong and similar are excluded due to not being sovereign), I expect for both the World Happiness Report and the Index of Economic Freedom, the median among nations that have at least one house of the national legislature elected via a form of proportional representation directly by the people, will be higher than the median for nations that do not, with 85% confidence

I further expect the median among PR democracies will be higher than the 75th percentile best rating for non-PR democracies with 60% confidence.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-05T06:14:28.730Z · LW · GW

I see, thanks for the correction. Australia is #11 in the 2020 report (the same as I was referring to above), so if anything, that further illustrates what I am saying.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-04T19:15:57.556Z · LW · GW

But it won't make everything better - some things will be surprisingly worse.

Based on the 1 1/2 years I spent living in Denmark, that doesn't really ring true to me. The few bad things that do stand out, stand out precisely because so much else seemed so much better in Denmark than in the US (Specifically, I live in California, but my main problems feel more like national problems than state-level problems). There are a lot of differences, of course, that I could approximately go either way on.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-04T19:09:49.146Z · LW · GW

Seems to me that you put too much emphasis on how the country works in theory. I believe you could have two countries with the same constitution and yet a quite different life experience. Because of different history, different neighbors, etc.

My recent posts have been focusing a lot on the theoretical side of things. I do plan on exploring less theoretical aspects in later posts, but since I'm trying to write a post every day, each post will inevitably be very zoomed in on a particular facet, and right now, I am focused on constutional factors. Part of this is because I'm trying to simultaneously explore the thesis that constitional factors play a very big role in the nature of countries; but I very much agree (and always have) that there are factors outside of a constitution that affect the nature of a country; but that does not mean that constitutions don't play an enormous role in the character of a nation.

You are probably right; the priors on a country being literally #1 are low

In English, "not the greatest" is often used in a non-literal way to mean "not very good" or even "quite bad", and this was the usage I was using here. Obviously America is unlikely to be #1, and the fact that it isn't is close to trivial (though for some people, that might be a revelation); but the claim I am making is that it isn't even a very good place to live.

It is also hard to say whether "X is increasing" means "there will be lot of X in the future" or "there will be a backlash against X soon, so we currently live in the era of maximum X".

I do hope the latter is the case here. But the backlash can be slow to come, and it very well could come too late to matter.

I think it might be worth exploring the differences between individual states in USA. If you find some that you like, it will be easier to move there. (New Hampshire, maybe?)

Federalism is (mostly unfortunately) becoming quite weak in the US, which means that many problems that crop up anywhere, crop up everywhere in the US. And the theoretical constitutional bits are important, and as far as I can tell, all 50 states still get that bit wrong, but at least each state has latitude to do things right unilaterally if they so choose.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on [deleted post] 2021-09-04T05:29:01.976Z

This basically means "individual candiates are incentivized to get campaign donations from lobbyists". I don't think it's a valuable feature of a democratic system.

I'll note that in Denmark, parties can choose between closed lists (i.e. the party decides who fills the seats) or open lists (as I described above), but all parties use open lists. I always assumed that this was the case because denizens see value in having open lists; in particular I don't see any incentives that would encourage parties to use open lists if they don't provide a better result for the denizens.

Do you have an explanation for why open lists are used if you don't think it's a valuable feature of the system?

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-04T00:28:16.854Z · LW · GW

The World Happiness Report rates each nation by the happines of its denizens, and provides a ranking of the happiest to least happy countries. While freedom and happiness are not the same thing, it stands to reason that they are correlated to some degree.

It is worth observing that of the top 10 most happy countries according to the report, all 10 have at least one house of their legislatures elected in a proportional manner by the people (which stands in contrast to e.g. USA, the UK, or Australia).

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on Open & Welcome Thread September 2021 · 2021-09-03T20:38:22.918Z · LW · GW

Are we going to be doing Petrov Day this year? I don't see anything currently about it here.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on [deleted post] 2021-09-03T20:35:50.774Z

There is no such things as "the national list" in Germany

This was a typo, it was supposed to be "the national level". Thanks for catching it.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on [deleted post] 2021-09-03T16:46:15.313Z

Ballot initiatives are also a thing in California, and while they introduce an interesting and often beneficial aspect to our way of doing things, most laws are still made by the legislature, which makes the way the legislature is appointed very important. I'd have to do more research before I can comment on Switzerland.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on capybaralet's Shortform · 2021-09-02T20:42:42.665Z · LW · GW

I agree that AI alignment posts don't need to aim for accessibility to the same degree as the typical LW post (this was what I was mainly referring to when I edited in "with some exceptions"), but you did name-check LW in your top-level post, and I don't think it's besides the point for the typical LW post.

I think your suggestions are good and reasonable suggestions.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on A lost 80s/90s metaphor: playing the demo · 2021-09-02T15:53:55.316Z · LW · GW

You're younger than my parents! shakes cane Get off mah lawn!

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on capybaralet's Shortform · 2021-09-02T15:49:55.849Z · LW · GW

Pedagogic posts are more accessible, and a large portion of the point of publishing on LW is to present technical ideas to a wide audience. While the audience here is intelligent, they also come from a wide variety of domains, so accessibility is key to successfully writing a good LW post (with some exceptions).

Do you have a proposition for how to increase skimability without sacrificing accessibility?

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-09-02T15:43:38.084Z · LW · GW

There has been a negative response to my most recent post ("I Want to Live in The Truly Free World, not in America"), and I have received some feedback about some weaknesses I can address in the future. (I'm aiming to write one post or shortform per day, with a preference for top-level posts, so you should expect to see more posts from me in the future that don't always succeed at being high-quality, though I will always strive to get things as right as feasible).

One potential weakness, that no one has mentioned yet, but which I suspect may have played a role in the response I received: In this post, and in other communications from me online, I have been implicitly assuming that it's obvious to a modern audience (whether Red Tribe, Blue Tribe, or non-American) that current-day USA is a shithole country. (To be clear, I feel the US has a lot of potential, and amazing things are currently coming out of the country, and it is a leader in some fields that I care about. My description here is not meant to deny that, but to highlight the ongoing decay and problems that are present)

Maybe what I think is obvious isn't obvious to people. I think people generally agree with the same statements I would agree with regarding the problems facing the US, modulo specifically partisan issues.

Maybe I'm wrong, and people are generally more optimistic about where the US is headed than I am? I don't think that's the case, but maybe. Maybe people do see what I'm seeing, and which I think is obvious, but they don't view it as sufficiently obvious to warrant the way that I point it? Common knowledge effects matter, and the appropriate way to discuss something that everybody knows that everybody else knows, isn't the appropriate way to discuss something everybody knows, but doesn't know everybody else knows it.

I'm curious to hear people's thoughts. Do people think I'm wrong when I think that America: 1) is headed in a direction that is very likely to end poorly 2) has inbuilt flaws that have always caused problems, but are causing particularly notable problems right now (I'm referring mostly to matters of institutional decision-making, not to race relations, though that also is clearly not a non-issue), and 3) is not the greatest place to live in, even ignoring future developments that may potentially make it much worse.

Do people disagree with this? Do people generally agree with these, but think it's not sufficiently obvious / sufficiently common knowledge to warrant the way I communicate about it? Do people think it is both obvious and common knowledge, but feel uncomfortable when they see people call it out?

Comment by mikkel-wilson on [deleted post] 2021-09-01T21:51:34.079Z

As Wikipedia's article on Folketinget (the Danish Parliament outlines, 77% (135 out of 175) of the seats elected by Denmark proper (i.e. excluding the 2 seats each elected by Greenland and the Faroe Islands) are elected regionally (there are 10 districts for an average of 13.5 seats per district), while the remaining 40 are appointed to make the results level out to be proportional to the national level of support for each party.

Party lists are used for both the regional and national levels, but since voters may identify a single member of the list that they feel should be given priority on the list, this means that individual candidates are incentivized to curry support among the electorate in order to be elected, since candidates who are not supported by the voters are unlikely to be appointed, even if they are high-ranking members of a popular party (I'm not sure if this last bit is also the case in Germany, but it definitely isn't in Israel, which uses closed lists that can't be influenced directly by the people).

Because Germany doesn't use a proportional method for the regional seats, there are often large discrepencies between the regional proportions and the federal proportions, which means a much larger number of politicians are elected on the national level as opposed to regionally, which makes them less directly accountable to the people, and (I think; I'm not sure yet if the math works out the way I think it does) the distortions introduced in the regional level are not perfectly corrected on the national level.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on [deleted post] 2021-09-01T21:25:08.672Z

These four are not a complete list. I should compile a list of countries that follow the constitutional principles I am pointing to here (which, as alexgieg points out, is not neccessarily the same as "The Truly Free World"; I hope to better define The Truly Free World in follow-ups to this post), but I can list Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland as also fitting this description off the top of my head. I would not be inclined to list Australia, which uses IRV, though why I have that intuition, and whether that intuition is correct, is a subject for a later conversation.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on [deleted post] 2021-09-01T21:02:45.778Z

Not so much confounding, as conflating. But I agree conflating them without explicating why I believe they are correlated makes this post weaker, and it could be beneficial in the future to more explicitly make the case for my implicit position that more democratic and closely representative countries are also more free.

I agree that value can be had in playing Taboo with the words you list, though I do also feel that taking advantage of the existing connotations these words have is beneficial in using people's existing intuition about freedom and democracy to pump intuitions for why the systems I value are important and better than the system that currently exists in the US.

Thanks for the feedback!

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on We need a new philosophy of progress · 2021-08-28T22:14:01.088Z · LW · GW

Not really? I mean, it says that there will always be someone who can benefit from dishonestly representing their beliefs, which is unfortunate, but it is a looser restriction, and in practice, the distortions that this introduces into approval voting or score voting are minimal, and they achieve much better results than plurality voting or IRV obtain.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on We need a new philosophy of progress · 2021-08-26T17:55:34.150Z · LW · GW

It is known that Arrow's theorem is an artifact of using ordinal (ranked) systems rather than cardinal systems.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-08-20T22:07:11.116Z · LW · GW

I was surprised to learn yesterday from Tesla's AI Day event that the cars use Monte Carlo Tree Search (MCTS) to determine pathing, a strategy-searching algorithm originally developed to play games like Chess or Go. While MCTS is part of Alpha Go, the premier Go-playing AI (which famously uses machine learning to evaluate states of the game), MCTS itself has more in common with Deep Blue than with modern ML systems.

If MCTS is valuable in something as simple as pathing for a self-driving car, this makes me wonder what else it is good for, and makes me suspect we can likely find something similar inside of human brains.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on Matthew Barnett's Shortform · 2021-08-16T19:14:42.770Z · LW · GW

On the one hand, CICO is obviously true, and any explanation of obesity that doesn't contain CICO somewhere is missing an important dynamic.

But the reason why I think CICO is getting grilled so much lately, is that it's far from the most important piece of the puzzle, and people often cite CICO as if it were the main factor. Biological and psychological explanations for why CI > CO at healthy BMIs (thereby leading BMI to increase until it becomes unhealthy) are more important than simply observing that weight will increase when CI > CO. Note that this can be formulated without any reference to CICO, although I used a formulation here that did use CICO.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-08-03T16:29:27.059Z · LW · GW

In almost all voting systems, there's some amount of incentive to vote strategically, by misrepresenting one's true desires to obtain a more favourable result (which provides a worse result when everybody votes strategically; there's a prisoner's dilemma-type situation here). However, an important lens for analyzing systems, is whether a system rewards strategic votes, or punishes non-strategic votes.

In FPTP, the system widely used in the US, a person who chooses not to vote strategically will thereby greatly increase the probability of a candidate they strongly disagree with winning, which makes non-strategic voting become unpalatable.

However, in some other systems, such as approval or score voting, while a non-strategic vote may not result in a person's favorite candidate being elected, it will still give an advantage to a candidate that they find genuinely likeable, rather than to someone they despise. This means that the incentive to vote strategically is much weaker, and people are more likely to honestly represent their desires, which leads to better outcomes when everybody does so.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-08-03T16:14:10.808Z · LW · GW

That is certainly an issue, one that I had thought about before. For one, even if everybody votes in a strategic / dishonest way, the end result will still be better than the current system, and will give voice to a wider variety of perspectives; for another, it seems to me that the culture we have in the US of voting strategically is an effect of the voting system we use, where one must vote strategically to prevent the worst outcome from happening.

If the voting system that is used does not so heavily punish strategic voting, then the culture of strategic voting will slowly fade away; of course, the nature of the presidential election will always loom large as long as it stays the same, and push in the direction of strategic voting.

As far as MMP in Germany, it looks like the system wasn't put in place until the 20th century, with the Weimar Republic adopting 100% direct proportional elections after WWI, then with West Germany adopting MMP after the Second World War, to minimize some of the problems that led to the collapse of the Weimar Republic.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on Mo Zhu's Shortform · 2021-08-03T07:42:37.872Z · LW · GW

Alphabets are easy to learn, requiring perhaps two hours of studying to learn and apply the basics, plus a period of semi-passive absorption to more fluently master. Any language that uses an alphabet, especially one which uses the Latin Alphabet (which is widely known, even among people who don't primarily communicate using it) will have minimal extra work to go between written and spoken forms of the language, especially if the language is designed with the goal of a global language in mind.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on Mo Zhu's Shortform · 2021-08-03T07:38:00.758Z · LW · GW

One problem that I have with 中文 is that there's too many kanji that have to be learned. While this doesn't make it impossible for it spread beyond East Asia, it does slow it down substantially. A system that uses a smaller inventory of radicals, and generates all characters by combining them according to the meaning of each radical (as opposed to the phonetic wordplay that currently underlies the combination of radicals, which does not translate well into cultures not influenced by Chinese pronunciation) will be able to spread much faster than any current form of 中文.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on Mo Zhu's Shortform · 2021-08-03T07:21:48.347Z · LW · GW

The statement "Chinese is more suitable as a global written language" (i.e. 中文) is one I agree with, but "Chinese is more suitable as a global language" without specifying written is one that I'm inclined to disagree with, since spoken languages are still just as important as written languages, and I do not endorse Mandarin as a universal spoken language.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-08-03T07:16:54.463Z · LW · GW

People overestimate how hard it would be to get California (for example) to change how it conducts elections for both state and federal positions. While changing the constitution of the US requires more than one supermajority in different arenas, changing the constitution of California requires simply a majority vote in a ballot proposition, which is much easier, and is done on a very regular basis. This is one (not the only) way that electoral change can be achieved in California, which can be a good starting point for moving the US as a whole to a better electoral system.

One particular criticism of the effort to change our electoral system that I have heard, is that since it will radically alter the source of power for our politicians, they will be opposed to it, and therefore will not allow it to happen. However, using a ballot proposition, the opinions of state legislators becomes irrelevant, and the question will come down to nothing other than the desires of the population at large, who are widely observed to be frustrated with the system that currently exists, on both sides of the aisle.

It is left to the states to decide how they elect their representatives in Congress and their Presidential Electors, so not only can California change how it selects its own government, but it can also decide how a substantial number of presidential electors and congressmen are elected.

My best current guess about which electoral system, for both federal and state positions, will be most beneficial for California to adopt through this path follows.

There are two main categories of elected positions: those for whom many are elected at once (importantly, the upper and lower houses of the state legislature, and the delegation to the federal House of Representatives), and those where only a single person takes office at a time (The state governor, and the federal Senators), and these two categories should be dealt with in different ways. I will be ignoring the delegation to the electoral college for now, since the topic of how to meaningfully impact the presidential election unilaterally for the better is a complicated subject.

For the state legislature and the delegation to the House of Representatives, Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMP), as used in Scandinavia and Germany should be used. In this system, the seats are split into two groups - one group that is elected regionally, perhaps using the first-past-the-post system we currently use, or perhaps using a much better voting system, potentially with multiple representatives representing each district. The other half of the representatives will then be elected by asking voters which party they support, and appointing representatives to the least-well represented parties until the overall delegation (that is, counting both groups of seats) proportionally represents the parties as they are desired by the voters.

MMP empirically produces much better results, as I have observed in my time living in Denmark, and there are also good theoretical grounds to expect it will produce better results than our current system. Even if only the Californian delegation to Congress uses MMP, I expect this will substantially increase the quality of federal politics in the US, even before other states follow California's lead.

As far as electing Senators and the state governor, which are elected one-at-a-time (there is obviously only one governor, and while there are two Senators for each state, they are elected in different years), I recommend using Score Voting (which is theoretically isometric to Approval Voting, which I also endorse, but in practice Score Voting should allow for slightly better results). In this system, voters are presented with a list of candidates, and rate each candidate on a 1-5 scale. The votes for each candidate are then all added up (with non-votes treated as a 3), and the candidate with the highest score wins.

Score Voting and Approval Voting both produce much better results than Instant Runoff Voting (a widely-known alternative voting method), which produces results that are barely any better than the current system, and is also much more chaotic (in not precisely, but roughly the mathematical sense) than either the current system or Score / Approval Voting. This inferiority is counter-intuitive to some, who view the ranking system used in IRV to be allow for more detail to be communicated than Approval Voting. However, for starters, Score Voting allows for a similar bandwidth to IRV (on paper at least), and while Approval Voting is in some sense lower-bandwidth, it focuses on the information that is most important (is this candidate acceptable), rather than the fairly irrelevant question of the precise preference ordering of each candidate (which obscures the point at which candidates stop being good and start being bad, which can vary from election to election and from voter to voter)


Future topics I could post about:

  • Why MMP and Score / Approval Voting are better, both in comparison to FPTP (the current system widely in use in the US) and IRV (used in e.g. Australia)
  • The story of how IRV came about in Australia
  • The story of how MMP came to be used in Scandinavia & Germany, and also in New Zealand (I expect these are mostly two different stories; I don't currently know the story for either)
  • Does there exist any unilateral action CA could take by changing its delegation to the Electoral College to substantially improve the state of presidential elections in the US? I'm not thinking of something along the lines of Napovointerco, which doesn't change that the president is elected by FPTP, which is the worst system that passes the bare minimum requirements to be considered democratic.
Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on Brief thoughts on inefficient writing systems · 2021-07-31T06:27:19.890Z · LW · GW

Personally, I want a written language that not only is logographic, but breaks concepts down into their component parts, the way an alphabet breaks syllables into their component sounds. Think:

Latin Alphabet : Japanese syllabary :: Logobet : Chinese Logograms

The problem with phonemic orthographies is that they correspond to only one language, while logographies can correspond to any language; this provides a benefit in China, where the population speaks many mutually unintelligible languages, but everybody can read & understand the same written language. This is why logographies are superior to phonetic systems.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-07-28T01:51:14.841Z · LW · GW

Update on my tinkering with using high doses of chocolate as a psychoactive drug:

(Nb: at times I say "caffeine" in this post, in contrast to chocolate, even though chocolate contains caffeine; by this I mean coffee, energy drinks, caffeinated soda, and caffeine pills collectively, all of which were up until recently frequently used by me; recently I haven't been using any sources of caffeine other than chocolate, and even then try to avoid using it on a daily basis)

I still find that consuming high doses of chocolate (usually 3-6 table spoons of dark cocoa powder, or a corresponding dose of dark chocolate chips / chunks) has a stimulating effect that I find more pleasant than caffeine, and makes me effective at certain things in a way that caffeine doesn't.

I am pretty sure that I was too confident in my hypothesis about why specifically chocolate has this effect. One obvious thing that I overlooked in my previous posts, is that chocolate contains caffeine, and this likely explains a large amount of its stimulant effects. It is definitely true that Theobromine has a very similar structure to caffeine, but it's unclear to me that it has any substantial stimulant effect. Gilch linked me to a study that he stated suggests it doesn't, but after reading the abstract, I found that it only justifies a weak update against thinking the Theobromine specifically has stimulant effects.

I'm confident that there are chemicals in chocolate other than caffeine that are responsible for me finding benefit in consuming it, but I have no idea what those chemicals are.

Originally I was going to do an experiment, randomly assigning days to either consume a large dose of chocolate or not, but after the first couple days, I decided against doing so, so I don't have any personal experimentation to back up my observations, but just observationally, there's a very big difference in my attitude and energy on days when I do or don't consume chocolate.

When I talked to Herschel about his experience using chocolate, he noted that building up tolerance is a problem with any use of chemicals to affect the mind, which is obviously correct, so I ended deciding that I won't use chocolate every day, and will instead use it on days when I have a specific reason to use it, and will make sure that there will be days when I won't use it, even if I find myself always wanting to use it. My thought here, is that if my brain is forced to operate at some basic level on a regular basis without the chemical, then when I do use the chemical, I will be able to achieve my usual operation plus a little more, which will ensure that I can always derive some benefit from it. I think this approach should make sense for many chemicals where building up tolerance is a possibility of concern.

Gilch said he didn't notice any effect when he tried it. I don't know how much he used, but since I specified an amount in response to one of his questions, I presume he probably used an amount similar to what I would use. I don't know if he used it in addition to caffeine, or as a replacement. If it was a replacement, that would explain why he didn't notice any additional stimulation over and above his usual stimulation, but it would still lead to wonder about why he didn't notice any other effects. One possibility is that the effects are a little bit subtle - not too subtle, since its effects tend to be pretty obvious (in contrast to usual caffeine) for me when I'm on chocolate, but subtle enough that a different person than me might not be as attuned to it, for whatever reason (part of why I say this, is that I find chocolate helps me be more sociable, and this is one of the most obvious effects it has in contrast to caffeine for me, and I care a lot about my ability to be sociable, so it's hard to slip my notice, but if someone cares less about how they interact with other people, they may overlook this effect; there are other effects, too, but those do tend to be somewhat subtle, though still noticeable)

As far as delivery, I have innovated slightly on my original method. I now often use dark chocolate chips / chunks in addition to drinking the chocolate, I find that pouring a handful, just enough to fit in my mouth, will have a non-trivial effect. Since I found drinking the chocolate straight would irritate my stomach and cause my stool to have a weird consistency, I have started using milk. My recipe is now to take a tall glass, fill it 1/3rd with water, add some (but not necessarily all) of the desired dose of cocoa powder into the glass, microwave it for 20 seconds, stir the liquid, add a little more water and the rest of the cocoa powder, microwave it for 20 more seconds, stir it until there are no chunks, then fill up the rest of the glass with milk. There are probably changes that can be made to the recipe, but I find this at least gets a consistently good outcome. With the milk, it makes my stomach not get irritated, and my stool is less different, though still slightly different, from how it would otherwise be.

On the subject of it making me sociable, I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the days that my friends receive texts from me, I have had chocolate on those days. I also seem to write more on days when I have had chocolate. I find chocolate helps me feel that I know what I need to say, and I rarely find myself second-guessing my words when I'm on chocolate, whereas I often have a hard time finding words in the first place without chocolate, and feel less confident about what I say without it. I've written a lot on this post alone, and have also messaged a friend today, and have also written a long-ish analysis on a somewhat controversial topic on another website today. Based on the context I say that in, I'm sure you can guess whether I've had chocolate today.

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on The Walking Dead · 2021-07-22T16:38:55.372Z · LW · GW

I'm not really sure where you're getting "the walking dead" from?

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on Handicapping competitive games · 2021-07-22T16:31:25.430Z · LW · GW

Or, less likely to get the players to completely ignore the game, get them a little bit drunk

(This was a response to a (now deleted?) comment saying simply "on acid")

Comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) on Handicapping competitive games · 2021-07-22T16:30:45.717Z · LW · GW

It seems reasonable that in association football, removing players from one team, to create an unbalanced 8 vs 9 scenario is a decent way to handicap a sufficiently stronger team