Sunday, January 31, 2010

Books: Liberalism Against Populism

Here's an interesting book I've been reading off and on for the better part of a year. The basic argument of Liberalism Against Populism is that social choice can vary wildly depending on the method of voting used. Por ejemplo:

"Even under proportional representation, slightly different methods of summarizing can produce markedly different results. The French parliamentary election of 1951 provides a persuasive illustration of this fact.

In preparation for that election, the parties of the center, the so-called Third Force, which had jointly controlled the National Assembly from the election of 1946, slightly changed the electoral procedures in a way that greatly enhanced their opportunities to remain in control. It seems likely that the ordinary citizen did not observe much difference in the procedure...Without this manipulation, both Gaullists and Communists would have had more seats, and that fact very likely would have changed the Cabinets between 1951 and 1955 from mostly Third Force coalitions to either right-leaning or left-leaning ones...

In 1951 two changes were made. In some districts, parties were permitted to form alliances and seats were assigned b the highest-average formula applied to either parties or alliances...

In Paris and its suburbs, Communists and Gaullists controlled probably two-thirds of the votes. The procedure of a majority alliance could not help the Third Force parties, and they did not permit it in the 75 seats there. Instead, they changed the formula of counting votes from the highest-average method to the largest-remainder method...The right and center parties gained 9 of 75 seats or about 12 percent of the Parisian seats."

This is both a somewhat disturbing and somewhat obvious, drawback to electoral democracy. One could even conceivably legitimize a measure that the majority of the public opposes by putting it up for a vote and having it pass. This, for example, explains why incumbents in Cuban elections often win by margins of 90 percent or more. It also explains, to take another example, why Republicans made such huge gains in the 1994 congressional elections even though the majority of the public opposed the things written in "Contract with America."

William Riker lays down three properties that an electoral system should have: monotonicity, undifferentiatedness, and neutrality. Monotonicity means that "if one or more voters change preference in a direction favorable to x, then the resulting change, if any, in the fate of x should be an improvement for x." Undifferentiatedness is "the technical condition underlying equality." It is "the condition that any permutation of a set of individual judgements leads to the same social choice. This means that the votes cannot be differentiated either in weight or in the roles played by the voters because if judgments are rearranged among voters in any way the same outcome is produced. Neutrality is that idea that "if neither alternative has an advantage, reversed preferences will lead to a reversed result." For example, a two-thirds majority requirement for some measure to pass violates this rule, since a vote of 51-49 yields the same result as 49-51.

According to Riker, "Simple majority decision on binary alternatives is consistent with the democratic purposes of voting (by reason of strong monotonicity); it is fair to all voters (by reason of undifferentiatedness); and it is fair to all candidates (by reason of neutrality)...unfortunately, there is no fair way to ensure that there will be exactly two alternatives. Usually the political world offers many options, which, for simple majority decision, must be reduced to two."

And that's all I got for now.

No comments:

Post a Comment