Thursday, January 20, 2005

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Human preferences are often not totally ordered, and this makes the results of democratic decision-making ambiguous. The classic case of this is voting with
three or more candidates.

Let's go back to Nader vs Gore vs Bush in 2000. I'm going to make up numbers, rather than use real numbers. Suppose that there were 4 groups of voters:

A. 47% Love Gore/Hate Bush
B. 49% Love Bush/Hate Gore
C. 2% Love Gore/Hate Nader
D. 2% Love Nader/Hate Bush

With those statistics, a majority of voters prefer Gore over Bush, and a (different) majority prefer Bush over Nader and yet another majority prefer Nader over Gore. Rock beats scissors beats paper. So what is the true will of the majority in such a case?

This article is not about voting methods, it is about policy choices. Click permalink for the rest of the article Suppose that the Republicans wanted to eliminate Social Security, but they didn't dare propose this because Social Security is a massively popular program. So how could they get to their preferred goal without risking the voters' wrath?

They would have to create a rock/paper/scissors cycle of preferences. For example, there might be three possible positions on Social Security:

1. No Social Security at all (if people want to save a portion of their
paychecks for their retirement, they are free to do so).

2. Pay as you go Social Security. Take a little out of the pay check from each worker, and use it to pay for guaranteed retirement benefits.

3. Mandatory private accounts. Each worker makes a mandatory monthly contribution toward his/her own retirement account.

4. Voluntary private accounts (which is actually the same as 1.)

It is very easy to convince people that 2 is preferrable to 1, and Bush is trying to convince people that 3 is preferrable to 2. But if you have mandatory accounts, aren't voluntary accounts (number 4) even better? But 4 is really back to square 1, which is where the Republicans want to be.

I think that there is a similar rock/paper/scissors cycle involved in public education. Nobody would support directly eliminating education, but I think you can reach the goal of eliminating public education if you do it in steps: the first step is to introduce vouchers...


Blogger Kyle McCullough said...

From a philosophical standpoint, I find this intriguing and appalling. In a sense it says that no choice is really any better than any other. From a practical standpoint, I have no doubt that is exactly what the Republicans are doing. (If you want to know what Republicans are really up to, google Grover Norquist; he's refreshingly open about his evilness.) And that I find truly appalling.

8:09 PM  

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