mindstalk: (Enki)
There's a book out there, David Graeber's Debt: the First 5000 Years, which I've heard about but not read, talking about the origin of money. This is one summary/review, including:

Graeber notes that the mainstream view of money as emerging from barter spot trades goes back to Adam Smith (Graeber 2011: 24). The modern neoclassical economics profession is obsessed with barter because they regard money as a neutral veil and their “real” analysis of economies is essentially that of a barter system

I'm currently reading The Big Problem of Small Change, a book Amy was reading sometime after we met. It includes (page 93 hardcover, Medieval Ideas About Money; Qualifications) the following translation of a bit from the Roman Digest (of law), 18.1.1, written by the Roman jurist Paulus before AD 235 (when he died.)

All buying and selling has its origin in exchange or barter. For in times past money was not so, nor was one thing called 'merchandise' and the other 'price'; rather did every man barter what was useless to him for that which was useful, according to the exigencies of his current needs; for it often happens that what one man has in plenty another lacks. But since it did not always and easily happen that when you had something which I wanted, I, for my part, had something that you were willing to accept, a material was selected which, being given a stable value (aestimatio) by the state, avoided the problems of barter by providing an equality of quantity (aequalitas quantitatis). That material, struck with a public design (forma), offers use (usus) and ownership (dominium) not so much by its substance (ex substantia) as by its quantity (ex quantitate), so that no longer are the things exchanged both called wares but one of them is termed the price (pretium).

(Source in Google Books, I think. I doubt we have any idea whether he was making this up, expressing common knowledge of the time, or referring to sources now lost to us.) [2019 edit: an earlier expression was Aristotle, in Politics I-9.)

The author calls this obscure; seems pretty clear to me. Nothing says it's an accurate story, of course. But it is 1500 years earlier than Adam Smith, though still several centuries after the invention of coinage.

A few pages later is another translation, this of the words of Pope Innocent IV, who lived in the 1200s.

We believe, however, that the king, by his right, and by the fact that money receives authority and general acceptance from his effigy or mark, can make money of somewhat less, but not much less value than the metal or matter from which it is made. Therefore, in the first case, when he wants to diminish a money already made, we do not believe he can do so without the consent of the people, but with its consent we believe that he can, just as anyone is allowed to renounce his right. And because the business of the king is considered to be the business of all, for this reason the consent of the majority of the notables of the kingdom suffices.

Bolding mine.
The authors add:

The passage comes from viewing seigniorage as a tax. At the time, kings were expected to live from the revenues of their own lands, and taxes could only be levied with the consent of the people. The treatise on money by the Germany scholar Gabriel Biel repeats this doctrine and adds arguments that debasement is a relatively efficient and fair form of taxation, falling on all classes alike.

I'm guessing most of us don't at a gut level think of "no taxation without representation" or "consent of the people" in association with medieval kings, thus this blog post. At one level that's from not correlating the contents of our minds properly, as "The Call of Cthulhu" put it, at least for those of us who know what the basic function of Parliament or the Estates-General was, i.e. to be persuaded by the king into approving taxes. But I think it's one thing to know of a couple instances of that (or more, after I read about Spain's Cortes-General), and another to read a 1200s Pope say so, so casually.

Of course the bit about 'notables' means we're not talking super democratic here. But still.

Also, this article on the Estates-General said things I condensed as

elective component: elected by monks, by rich people in towns, in 1302.
1468 towns elect an ecclesiastic, noble, and burgess. 1484 invites all
estates to elect; universal and direct suffrage for all orders, but
countrymen couldn't get to town, so elected electors to represent them.
Early lots of control over taxes, ceded during Charles VII out of
"weariness" in Hundred Year's War. Refused to grant a regency in 1484.
1484 had deliberation in common; 1560 had orders deliberate separately.
Advisory on legislation; petition; could grant right to modify
fundamental laws of the regime.

And finally, just because it's too cool not to share at every opportunity, one version of the oath of allegiance of Aragon's nobility:

"We, who are as good as you, swear to you, who are no better than us, to
accept you as our king and sovereign, provided you observe all our
liberties and laws, but if not, not."

I have to say, while I hate to buy into "democratic Europe, Asian despotism", I haven't heard of anything similar in Asia, particularly in China, Japan, and India. At least on a robust scale; early India had some republics, and Buddha was probably born in one than as a prince, but my reading of medieval India did not include kings having to wrangle taxes out of their subjects. Then again, India's history is kind of lacking in detail. China and Japan seem more pointed examples.
mindstalk: (Enki)
Yesterday I discovered a a new voting system which is growing on me as I think about it.

With basic score voting, you rate each candidate on some scale -- 1-10, or 0-1 (which is called approval voting), say. Add the ratings up, and the winner is whoever has the highest total. Or average, in some variants. If voters vote honestly then it's pretty expressive; however, there are strong incentives to not do so. I'll use a standard G D R example, where D and R are the most likely winners, and D is in between G and R.

A G voter rates G top, of course. But, knowing that the winner will likely be D or R, she has reason to also rate D top, to maximize her influence on the real contest. If she hold backs, she's just handicapping herself.

Meanwhile a D or R voter is already voting for a likely winner, and they have no incentive to bother rating anyone else. So you end up with a mix of bullet voting from the top two parties, and simple approval ballots from the others. The strategy is simple: "give a max rating to your favorite candidate, and also to your preferred front-runner if not the same as your favorite." It avoid spoiler effects, but is pretty centrist.

And if G becomes competitive, it's possible everyone just approves their own party, and we're back to the instability of plurality voting.

So, score runoff. Despite the name, there's no separate runoff election, just another round of counting. You use the same ballots, but pick the top two winners based on score total. Then the winner of those two is decided by relative preference. So if G and D end up in runoff and I gave a 10 to each, my ballot is a wash. But if I gave (10,9,0), then my ballot is a G vote in the runoff, while if I gave (1,10,0) my ballot is a D vote. The exact numbers don't matter, just whether one is higher than another.

Going back to the examples: if the G voter rates G and D max, then if they get lucky and have a G,D runoff, their ballot won't count. So there's reason to rate D at least a bit less -- (10,9,0) say. This way they'll still count as a G vote in the runoff. As the equal.vote people say, you give up a bit of influence in the first around in return for getting influence in the second round.

(Dark strategy: suppose the voter thinks G is more likely to beat R than D in a runoff. Could she vote (10,0,9), hoping to force a G-R runoff? Yes she could. But our premise is that D and R are the likely winners, so mostly likely she would end up casting an R vote in the runoff. Bad plan.)

As for a left-wing D voter, she doesn't have much to lose by giving G a bit of a rating: she's giving her max score to a front-runner already, a bit of score to a third party won't hurt. This lets her influence a G-R runoff properly, while even if lots of D voters accidentally combine to give G a higher total than D, as long as it's a G-D runoff they're still fine: their ballots will still be D votes in the runoff, fixing their 'mistake'.

How about an R voter? She really does have reason to think R>G is more likely than R>D in a runoff, as in the former case some D voters will crossover to R, whereas in the latter there's a solid G+D coalition againt R. So maybe she should vote (9,0,10). It's a gamble, though: if G ends up beating R anyway, then she's helped her worst outcome. So I think this might actually be unlikely. Conversely, a more cautious voter has no reason not to vote (0,1,10) -- it's not hurting R chances at ending up in the runoff at all, while ensuring (as insurance) a say in the event of G-D runoff.

So, while I see no incentive to be exactly honest, there is an incentive to at least moderate one's ratings and use some of the middle numbers. You give only a top rating to your real favorite (or favorites, if genuinely indifferent) so as to win runoffs, a high rating to a preferred front-runner if different, or a low rating to "insurance" choices. And while I can't rule out really perverted voting as being strategic, so far it seems bad or risky for the voter, which is a lot better than outright compelled as with plurality or IRV.

I *think* it's better to have a wide scale; if the scale is just 0-1-2, then the moderate choice seems to be giving up or granting more influence than a voter might be comfortable with, vs. numbers above.

One note on practicality. Score voting is easy, you just add up scores and pass on the totals. The 'runoff' round takes more information, but not a lot: yuseou the relative ratings to fill in a pairwise comparison matrix, a la Condorcet. So (10,9,0) would mean incrementing G>D, D>R, and D>R; (9,0,10) would mean incrementing G>D, R>D, and R>G. A district's ballots can be aggregated as the candidate totals plus a matrix, both of which can be added to the totals and matrices from other districts. Far simpler than IRV, which needs centralized counting of all the ballots to do the instant runoffs.

So is this better than Condorcet? I don't know. The ballots are theoretically more expressive. It's not guaranteed to elect a Condorcet winner, because such winners aren't guaranteed to make it into the runoff. But with ratings, arguably we have reason to identify situations when that's a good result; ranked ballots can't do that. It doesn't have to pick a Condorcet cycle tie-breaking method, which makes it much simpler to describe in full. It seems maybe harder to game, but that's said based on little analysis. Right now I'd be happy to try either.

Of course, I'd rather have a PR legislature than lots of single-winner elections.


Why IRV sucks:

31 G > D > R
18 D > G > R
11 D > R > G
40 R > D > G

D is eliminated in the first round, and R wins 51-49, despite D being the Condorcet winner. If G hadn't run, D would win 60-40, which is a result G voters would prefer, so their own candidate running hurt their cause. That's classic vote splitting/spoiler effect, exactly what advocates claim can't happen.
mindstalk: (Default)
Discussion of urban taxes, which introduces me to the idea of frontage taxes. My new love, along with land tax. http://urbankchoze.blogspot.com/2016/07/city-taxes-as-urban-growth-policies.html?m=1

GE drops annual employee ratings

Massachusetts bans employers asking for salary history

Evolution of urban animals is rapid

evolution of Europeans and white skin

Some friends got really excited by this: library furniture maker http://www.wcheller.com/index.html

convention bumps may be due to changing willingness to talk to pollsters, rather than actual changing opinion. Though I wonder if this year is an exception. http://www.vox.com/2016/8/1/12341802/polling-clinton-trump-winning

Advocacy of backing into perpendicular parking spaces http://www.vox.com/2016/8/1/11926596/safer-back-into-parking-spaces

Feynman wrong about Faraday cages?

(PDF) 21 page article on Greek voting, acclamation vs. counting: https://melissaschwartzberg.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/schwartzberg_shoutsmurmurs.pdf
mindstalk: (Default)
I was at an anarchism reading discussion last night, and afterwards talking with a fellow social democrat about election reform. He didn't see why I said proportional representation solves gerrymandering, and I didn't have a fluent explanation at the time. Thus this post.

Of course, if you do PR from a single district, or pre-existing districts like US states, then there's nothing to gerrymander, so we assume multiple districts are drawn, for locality or to limit ballot size, with some number n of delegates being elected from each.

If n=1, almost half of the votes in a district can be wasted. (Or more, with more than two candidates and plurality voting, but let's assume optimal competition instead.)

With n=2, almost 1/3 of the votes can be waste: two candidates with a bit over 1/3 each, and the rest for someone else.

With n=3, almost 1/4. The pattern should be obvious. Bigger (or rather, higher n) districts mean there's less room for throwing votes away.

But I think it's more useful to look at minimal votes need to capture a legislature. With single-member, n=1, like the House, you in theory need bit over 25% of the votes to control the body. (Or less, with plurality...) With half the seats, with half the votes in each of those districts, and no votes anywhere else. Yes, that's absurdly fine tuned, but it's *possible*.

For n=2, you need a bit over 2/3 of the vote in half the districts, for 1/3 of the total vote.

N=3, 3/4 in half, for 3/8. Or half (to get two seats) in 3/4 of the districts, for 3/8 -- comes out the same.

N=10, need 10/11 in half the districts for 5/11 of the total vote, or some other arrangement that I'm fairly sure will come out the same.

Once you have any number of districts greater than 1 (or maybe 2) there's some potential for getting a majority of seats with a minority of votes, but the threshold needed approaches 1/2 as the number of seats in a district rises.

And, of course, bigger districts means fewer districts, which I think reduces the flexibility of gerrymandering.

(Even in a single district, there may be potential to get a majority without a majority of votes if lots of small parties don't make the cut to get any seats, especially if there's an artificially higher threshold. This is the equivalent of more than two parties running for a plurality seat, and not so much 'potential' as "happens all the time".)


2016-Mar-28, Monday 19:49
mindstalk: (Default)
[Edit: the low numbers seem to be be bunk; I was trusting the report of Google [washington caucus] and such, but e.g. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-p-mcdonald/iowa-caucus-turnout-what-it-means_b_9141408.html and http://iowademocrats.org/statement-from-idp-chair-on-tonights-historically-close-caucus-results/ report much higher Iowa numbers. http://www.dailyjournal.net/view/story/05a3e761e16d4aa2beaa47c294f76071/WA--Washington-Caucuses-Democrats talks about 250,000 turnout, and 26,000 "delegates".]

Alaska caucus: 539 votes. That's not a margin, that's how many people were at the Democratic caucus. (The GOP had about 20,000 people, still small but a lot bigger.)

WA caucus was 26,000 people for the Democrats. The MA primary had nearly 1.2 million voters on the Democratic side, and MA has somewhat fewer people than WA.

HI is similar to the other caucus numbers (AK Democrats seems exceptional.)

Iowa caucus was over 150K for the GOP. About 1400 people for the Democrats.
mindstalk: (Default)
Here something that has nothing to do with the presidential primary: when I voted (actually, when I looked at the sample ballot ahead of time), there were also people running for state and ward committee positions. (And not for Congress; apparently that's a *different* primary.) What are those? Turn out they're *party* positions, and reddit led to some fascinating primers on the subject:


Even if you don't live in MA, it might be an interesting look at how party politics works. Like, it sounds really easy to join up and start working your way up from the ground floor. Also, not much of a progressive caucus -- because the party is old and hostile, or because progressives haven't been showing up? And the MA Democratic party has a lot of diversity baked in, like equal state seats for men and women, and seats reserved for gays, racial minorities, linguistic minorities, etc.

If I wasn't busy job hunting and possibly relocating, I'd be tempted to go look up my local committee right now. Maybe in a few months. I've said before "it's not like I'm committed to being a Democrat, they just run the people I can vote for", which is true, but it seems likely they'll be running all the people I can vote for for the foreseeable future, might as well get involved.

(I wonder if anyone has ever been centrist enough to be involved in both parties at the same time.)
mindstalk: (Enki)
Following my posts on England and the Byzantines.

Copying from the first post: "I'll put in codes at the end of lines. P for Peace, in my opinion; p for challenges to the rule. I don't count foreign wars, or extra-familial foreign invasion. I for the succession passing as Intended, i for not. The latter probably implies a peace failure before or after. ? for ambiguity -- are plots caught by the secret police worth counting as a threat to the peace? If the crown passes to the rightful heir because the heir took it by force I count that as 'i', since no one intends to be killed or deposed."

Hongwu, founder. Chosen son died of illness. -I
Jianwen, grandson. Fought uncles, was overthrown by one. pi
Yongle, uncle. PI.
Hongxi, eldest son. Died very quickly. PI
Xuande, son. PI
Zhengtong, son. captured by Mongols, so brother took over, but he refused to abdicate on return, Zhengtong eventually over threw him. pI?
Jingtai, brother regent-usurper. p-?
Chenghua, son of Zhengtong. Concubine aborted or killed most of his children. P?I
Hongzhi, surviving son. "the sole perpetually monogamous emperor in Chinese history". PI
Zhengde, son. Died childless. PI
Jiajing, grandson of Chenghua. So cruel his concubines plotted to kill him. P?I
Longqing, son. short reign. PI
Wanli, son. Political fight over succession that undermined governance. PI
Taichang, son. died after a month. PI
Tianqi, son. Illiterate carpenter. Uprisings, sonless. pI
Chongzhen, brother. Rebellions, Manchu invasion. pi

I have to say this does seem a lot more stable than the other two. Given the number of sons from concubines, surprisingly little interfamilial fighting. Caveat: Chinese pages probably get less Anglophone attention than English ones, so it's possible there's a bunch of rebellions not mentioned in the short biographies, turning some P into p.

I didn't make many notes of these because it wasn't the point here, but cruelty and incompetence got mentioned a lot, as did emperors going on strike and refusing to do their work, or at least show up personally for meetings.

It's possible Chinese heavy civil service and other institutions add a lot to monarchic stability.
mindstalk: (Mami)
Some articles on democracy (pluralist and feminist) among Syrian Kurds: NYTimes, FT, scribd copy of FT.

If we kept DST all year, or got rid of it.

A Madoka fanfic I'm reading. It's like Starship Troopers or Old Man's War crossed with Madoka crossed with transhumanism and Culture ship Minds. Kyubey said we'd go to the stars, and we did. Many fans think magical girls are potentially immortal, and here they are. I've been enjoying it a lot. Could have used some more editing passes, but generally fun to read, often funny, I'm engaged with the show characters and the original one. Downside: it's longer than Lord of the Rings and still ongoing, last update Oct 6.  I've read 34 chapters out of 44 and am thinking I should pace myself, maybe go read Ancillary Mercy while I still sort of remember what happened in Ancillary Sword.

Funny panel from the Fate/zero manga.

Japan is actually doing quite well per capita: low unemployment, very high employment to working-age-population ratio, inflation is back.  Abenomics, and Keynesianism, works.  GDP is shriking... because the population is, especially the working-age population.

James notes that Heinlein's first story is closer to Dickens' last novel than it is to us.  This will be more interesting when his *last* book is closer to Dickens than to us, but still.

Polio is judged to be even closer to eradication.

Portugal's Left Bloc, a party run by women.

Secret gardens and numinous fantasy

SF written in 1666 by Margaret Cavendish

mindstalk: (Default)
So a while back I went through the kings of England from William the Conqueror on down, to see how well the principle of hereditary succession worked to keep things stable and predictable. Answer: not very well at all, until Parliament took over and drained the Crown of real power. As with the "emperors" of Japan, no one bothers stealing a ceremonial office. I will grant though they managed to keep it in the extended family: all the kings are descended from William, and after a couple generations they're all from Alfred the Great, too.

I'd wondered how other other places would stack up. Happily for me, for the Eastern Roman Empire someone has already done most of the work. Definitely not in the family here: a quick eyeball shows most dynasties lasting either a few years or about 80 years, almost on the dot. The Macedonian is an exception, listed at 200 years... though that's kind of an artifact of decision making. 50 years in we get Romanos I: "After becoming the emperor's father-in-law, he successively assumed higher offices until he crowned himself senior emperor." OTOH, he was overthrown and succeeded by the sons of his predecessor, so I guess he's more hiccup in the succession. We get another such hiccup with Nikephoros II and nephew.

Even within dynasties, succession is often to a brother, nephew, son-in-law(!), or adopted son(!). The first two are traditional enough, the latter less so. Succession is often not peaceful, either.

One big difference from the 'real' Roman Empire: a fair number (relatively speaking) of women in power. Empresses-regnant Pulcheria, Irene, Zoe, and Theodora; also a fair number of regencies by mothers, or in one case, a sister.
Female regents mentioned: Sophia for her insane husband, Martina for her son, Irene for her son (whom she then usurped), Theodora (different) for her son, Zoe (different) for her son, Eudokia for her son, Maria for her son.

The Komnenids seem second longest, at 104 years... ooh no, third; the final dynasty, the Palaiologans, went 192 years, and their founder had blood or marriage connections to the two prior dynasties. But this is still including civil wars, usurpations in the family, and accessions of maternal relatives.

To be fair, I've read that hereditary succession was never an official principle of either Roman empire, it was just a default, whereas having the right magical blood was important to the English.
mindstalk: (atheist)
Two Vox links:


"The breakdown of American constitutional democracy is a contrarian view. But it's nothing more than the view that rather than everyone being wrong about the state of American politics, maybe everyone is right. Maybe Bush and Obama are dangerously exceeding norms of executive authority. Maybe legislative compromise really has broken down in an alarming way. And maybe the reason these complaints persist across different administrations and congresses led by members of different parties is that American politics is breaking down."

with several examples of "constitutional hardball".

and http://www.vox.com/2015/3/3/8120965/american-government-problems

tl;dr: gridlocked Congress (fueled by increasingly polarized and ideological parties), growing presidential power to fill the gap, backed by an increasingly partisan judiciary. Hey, we're lucky our system survived this long, most presidential ones don't.
mindstalk: (riboku)
Following up on the prior post on this topic, I thought of looking at the almost-presidents, the general election opponents. Generally won't look at primaries but I'll make an except for Hillary, since she came pretty close and is likely to run again. Related question: do rich background candidates tend to beat poor background ones?

I also realized that Truman, LBJ, and Ford all initially became president via the Vice Presidency, and Ford never won an election. Should I be looking at VPs? Meh, too much work.

Read more... )

Conclusion: that saying about how anyone can become President? It seems to have been true that the Presidency drew from a socioeconomically diverse set of white male Christians; we have multiple elections featuring dueling obscurities, at least as late as 1984 Reagan vs. Mondale, or 1996 Clinton vs. Dole. Even the 2008 Obama vs. McCain may have lacked a candidate from a specifically rich background (compared to the Bush, Kerry, or Rodham families.)

Rich candidates basically start taking over in 1988 and 1992, with Bush I, then 2000 and 2004, with Bush II, Gore, and Kerry, then Hillary in 2008 and Romney in 2012. And it's not clear that Gore and Kerry were all that rich; Kerry's parents weren't, though he benefited from family money. Hillary's not clear either. The real background money is with the Bushes and Romney.

The last up-from-struggling candidates were Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, 1996.
mindstalk: (lizqueen)
First, a blog post comparing Canadian and US democracy. I think he makes good points; while I hate plurality voting, given it, I think US primaries are a saving grace, while non-US political parties are closed in a way that makes sense at first ("private voluntary grouping, right of association...") but is creepy in practice ("...that gateway all access to political power.") We don't let right of free association trump anti-discrimination laws, and there's a lot more potential employers than viable parties...

Also makes me wonder if the alleged low role of money in foreign elections, due to campaign limitations and public funding, is offset by not *needing* money to influence policies when you're all buddy-buddy with the elected politicians already.


So, lots of our recent presidents have been rich when they ran for President; I think Obama was a multi-millionaire based on... his book sales? But how about being born rich? Somewhere out there might be a webpage of presidential family wealth, but I just plowed through Wikipedia biographies.

Read more... )

Of the 3 rich presidents, 2 were the last two Bushes. Hard to say if that's a worrying trend or just a fluke of that family. Well, I guess it's a worrying trend; hard to say if it's an *inevitable* trend.
mindstalk: (Enki)
A comment on the previous post has me rethinking or wanting to clarify some things.

I was comparing the input space to the output space; this wasn't meant as a direct measure of the work done, though that was probably unclear. Ranking 25 candidates *does* have an space of 25! possibilities, vs. a smaller output set. Making 9 votes *does* cover a space of 512 possible votes, with 512 possible election outcomes. But it's also true that voting STV is nothing like a linear search of 25! possibilities, and for the work we'd better look at the computations involved.

Closed party list: your decision is a linear O(N) search through the number of parties, finding the maximum. The physical act of voting is probably trivial. I was going to say that proportionality can increase freely for the voter, but that's not true: lowering the threshold to get in means you can have smaller and thus more viable parties. 12% means no more than 8 parties can get in, 6.25% means 16, 3% means 32, 1% means 100 parties could get in. (In reality some will be big and taking up much of the vote, but still.) Whatever the threshold, though, learning of a new party is constant time: you compare them to your current favorite. Proxy voting would be exactly the same, with fewer warm bodies in seats.

Open party list: similar, except now N is the number of candidates. If proportionality is high, there may be lots of candidates, and physically voting might mean a log(N) search to find yours -- or linear, if the ballots are randomly unordered. A huge district with 100 members could have very fine-grained proportionality but also mean each party running up to 100 candidates -- big ballot. Still, pretty simple to do and understand.

STV: ranking N candidates is a sorting problem, O(N log(N)) in the ideal case, though possibly O(N^2) in practical naive sorting. Learning of a new candidate means comparing them to on average half the other candidates if you're simple, or to log(N) of them if you're clever. The physical act of voting... well, depends on the machine probably; Cambridge has you filling out a wide array of scantron bubbles, and I've needed a second ballot in both elections due to messing up the first one. I'm sure there are better ways.

Re-weighted score voting (RSV): O(N), you go down the list of candidates and rate each one. A new candidate simply means rating that one. Much simpler, cognitively and physically.

Referendums: lj:notthebuddha pointed out a twist. Naively, voting on N proposed laws is simply O(N), like score voting: go down the list voting up or down. 9 laws would mean 512 possibilities, but only 9 decision points. New law, new decision point. But it's possible for proposals to interact, so that in a worst case you are having to consider all the different possibilities, with exponential explosion: 10 laws meaning 1024 possibilities!

In practice, they don't interact that much; even more important, you don't get to vote on that many items at once, and pruning is enforced by time and temporal ordering. The Swiss vote on 3-4 referendums at a time. In a high-frequency legislature, you vote on one law at a time. US state ballots I don't know; voting every 2-4 years may allow them to pile up, vs. the Swiss every 3 months.

On the flip side, as I said before, here any increase in work is matched by an increase in power over the outcomes, whereas it's unclear that the higher workload of STV compared to proportional score voting has any benefit whatsoever, and the benefit of either of those compared to open party list depends on how much your grouping of the candidates cuts across the parties they've grouped themselves into. (That is, open party list means your vote for a successful candidate can spillover into another party member, based on the party list; STV/RSV lets you spillover to an unrelated candidate of your choice. And Cambridge elections are ostensibly non-partisan.)


Also on the information theory front: picking among from say 8 candidates or parties means expressing 3 bits of choice, every 2 to 6 years based on standard practice these days. 32 candidates, 5 bits. An American would be very lucky to have 8 choices, say if both main parties were running 4 candidates in their primaries. (Though California now has a top-two "open primary" system which can mean lots of choices up front... I think this is a terrible system, but another time for that.) Commonly we have like 1 bit: incumbent or some obscure challenger, so it's basically "keep or toss?" Bit rate from 3/2 years (8 candidates, House) to 1/6 year (incumbency, Senate).

By contrast, 9 referendums a year means 9 bits of voter input a year. The Swiss actually seem to be average between 12 and 16. Plus, any law or treaty could be subjected to referendum, and anything could be an initiative, so so there's some harder to measure aura of voter input as I imagine the legislature tries to avoid anything obviously unpopular, while Congress could do lots of unpopular (or not do lots of popular) things as long as those weren't more important than key issues of crime and the economy.
mindstalk: (Enki)
Slapdash post, from a comment I made elsewhere:

Eh, there's tradeoffs. I actually live under STV for Cambridge (MA USA) city election; having to rank 9-25 candidates can be a real cognitive pain, I find. (There's 9 seats, so you have to rank at least that many to have a full voice, and we had 25 candidates last election.) And 9 seats from a district means a threshold of at least 11% for a faction to get a distinct voice; if a group is spread evenly as 8% around the country, too bad.

Conversely, closed party list might as well be proxy voting for the party leaders, save for the dim possibility of revolt, and open part list gives you some control over specific candidates but you're still voting for a party group, not make-your-own-list in STV. Much simpler to vote for though, pick a candidate or party, bam you're done.

And thing is, STV extracts a lot more information from you but doesn't do much with it, since all that ranking precision just controls how your vote trickles through the count, without making things that much more representative in the end. To invoke math, ranking 25 candidates means 25! (factorial) or 1e25 possibilities, but the final result is simply choosing 9 out of 25, which is a much smaller number (2 million, or 2e6). Conversely, party list converts a simple vote directly into a party percentage.

And frequent referendums a la Swiss democracy would give me much more direct influence on the laws that pass, for still far less work than ranking 25 candidates, most of whom won't win... Voting in 9 referenda has me picking out of 2^9 options, and there are 2^9 possible outcomes of 9 laws passing or failing. Again, the work involved is directly proportionate to the result achieved.
mindstalk: (atheist)
I knew that Machiavelli had also written The Discourses on Livy which tries to be a manual on running republics, as well as an argument for their superiority to principalities, which by itself raises a question about The Prince. But before that, Wikipedia says:

"Concerning the differences and similarities in Machiavelli's advice to ruthless and tyrannical princes in The Prince and his more republican exhortations in Discourses on Livy, many have concluded that The Prince, although written as advice for a monarchical prince, contains arguments for the superiority of republican regimes, similar to those found in the Discourses. In the 18th century the work was even called a satire, for example by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.[8][9] More recently, commentators such as Leo Strauss and Harvey Mansfield have agreed that the Prince can be read as having a deliberate comical irony.[10]

Other interpretations include for example that of Antonio Gramsci, who argued that Machiavelli's audience for this work was not even the ruling class but the common people because the rulers already knew these methods through their education."

So, not a user manual for princes, but a warning manual for citizens, about how princes would manipulate them?

As for the Discourses, we have:

"Machiavelli presents it as a series of lessons on how a republic should be started and structured. It is a larger work than the Prince, and while it more openly explains the advantages of republics, it also contains many similar themes. Commentators disagree about how much the two works agree with each other, frequently referring to leaders of democracies as "princes". It includes early versions of the concept of checks and balances, and asserts the superiority of a republic over a principality. It became one of the central texts of republicanism, and has often been argued to be a superior work to the Prince.

"Doubtless these means [of attaining power] are cruel and destructive of all civilized life, and neither Christian, nor even human, and should be avoided by every one. In fact, the life of a private citizen would be preferable to that of a king at the expense of the ruin of so many human beings." Bk I, Ch XXVI
"Now, in a well-ordered republic, it should never be necessary to resort to extra-constitutional measures. ..." Bk I, Ch XXXIV
"... the governments of the people are better than those of princes." Book I, Chapter LVIII
"... if we compare the faults of a people with those of princes, as well as their respective good qualities, we shall find the people vastly superior in all that is good and glorious". Book I, Chapter LVIII"

Further down: "J.G.A. Pocock (1975) saw him as a major source of the republicanism that spread throughout England and North America in the 17th and 18th centuries and Leo Strauss (1958), whose view of Machiavelli is quite different in many ways, agreed about Machiavelli's influence on republicanism"

"In his Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States, John Adams praised Machiavelli, with Algernon Sidney and Montesquieu, as a philosophic defender of mixed government. For Adams, Machiavelli restored empirical reason to politics, while his analysis of factions was commendable"
mindstalk: (science)
Someone claims to have made a breakthrough with the Voynich manuscript: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-26198471 also http://stephenbax.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Voynich-a-provisional-partial-decoding-BAX.pdf
The reports introduced me to an idea for it that I hadn't noticed before: that it's a book in an novel script in an extinct language. That would sound romantic on its own, but compared to "massive hoax" or "medieval RPG manual" it feels almost banal. In his paper Bax notes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rongorongo the undeciphered script of Easter Island, and the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glagolitic_alphabet which isn't undeciphered but had a rocky early period and could easily have died out leaving us some book in a weird script and extinct Slavic dialect.

I also wondered "what if we had an Iliad-class epic in Linear A?"

There's also undeciphered texts, like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rohonc_Codex

Rohonc is most like Voynich, including in being suspected of being a hoax.

In reading around, I stumbled upon https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yugtun_script which is a Yupik syllabary created in five years by Uyaquk, who like Sequoyah of Cherokee fame, started out as an illiterate. (Five years? Between this and Vai, Sequoyah starts to seem slow.) Unlike the Cherokee script, it didn't take off, and having a Bible translation in "what the hell is this" seems a plausible outcome.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundaland mentions some new work claiming people were on the SE Asian continental shelf aka Sundaland 50,000 years ago, with much older populations, and SE Asian culture starting there before sea level rise kicked them off; the Polynesian culture says Y chromosome + mitochondiral DNA shows 'Taiwanese' migrants move into existing Melanesian populations. Given that people were in Australia 40-60,000 years ago, people north of there seems like a no-brainer...


Disney princesses as Game of Thrones characters. http://www.buzzfeed.com/ariellecalderon/disney-princesses-as-game-of-thrones-characters
Related fanart:


Finns are pushing an initiative for gay marraige. I got excited, until I learned that all it does is push a bill into the legislature, where it can die in committee just like any other bill; it's not an initiative for a referendum, as in Switzerland or US states. Lame!


Venezuela is exploding.

Two notes

2014-Feb-14, Friday 01:01
mindstalk: (Default)
I was randomly reminded of my list of Five Tools that make humans what we are, materially speaking, vs. other animals:
knives: artificial and replaceable teeth and claws
spears: knife on a stick, for ranged or missile fighting. cheating!
clothing: for adapting to a wide range of environments
bags: to carry stuff
fire: to scare other animals, shape the environment, and cook

I first thought about that list after learning that my advisor's son couldn't wear a backpack through his high school; they had to run from class to class clutching things in their arms, with stopovers at their lockers. That seemed pretty dehumanizing to me, even more so after that list; only clothing was left...

Arguably, also housing as a difference; other animals make nests or burrows, but I don't know how often "shelter from the elements" is part of the function there. Probably at least sometimes.


I previously mentioned the Swiss voting to restrict immigration; elsewhere, someone said they thought that was a killer argument against direct democracy, though they didn't explain their reasoning, if any. Yesterday, I learned of something from the other end: in Spain, the government is on track to re-ban abortion -- despite 70-80% opposition in popular polls. There's big protests too, tens of thousands of people -- but let us face it, protests have no reliable power whatsoever. It's just a bunch of people shouting; what matter is elections.

I don't know if the ruling conservatives don't believe in polls (that seems to be a recurrent thing) or really believe in banning abortion despite electoral risk or figure that a lot of the people pissed at them will still vote for them anyway due to higher priority issues.
mindstalk: (Default)
Wow, the Swiss really do vote 3-4 times a year. Last one was Nov 28, and they just had another one, on three initiatives. http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news/Swiss_agree_to_curb_immigration_and_rethink_EU_deal_.html?cid=37877780 discusses one and links to the other two. 50.3% majority to reinstate quotas on EU immigration, rather than a free travel and labor market. 70% rejecting a conservative measure to remove abortion from the list of basic health insurance services; 62% in favor of more money for the train system, http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news/Swiss_railways_could_benefit_from_fresh_cash_boost.html?cid=37579820 (older article)

Somewhat randomly, the abortion article includes an interactive graphic with abortion policies around the world. http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news/Abortions_to_remain_covered_by_health_insurance.html?cid=37889424
Clever examining of the HTML finds the source link: https://mapsengine.google.com/map/embed?mid=zPsccFWjDz38.klFLKBjCbzdk

Huh, 2 of the 3 initiatives passed. That's unusually high, I think. I also note part of the Swiss method at work in the railway case:

"The cabinet has characterised the upcoming vote on the fund as “historic”. It is a counter-proposal to an initiative that was successfully spearheaded by the Transport and Environment Association and other organisations and would have modified the constitution.

Those backing the initiative were sufficiently satisfied with the government counter-proposal to withdraw their initiative last summer. It has also convinced the cantons and the country’s two largest automobile associations – the Automobile Club of Switzerland and the Touring Club Switzerland... Because the federal constitution has to be adapted if the proposal is accepted at the ballot box, a majority of voters as well as a majority of cantons must vote in favour."

100,000 voters can propose an initiative; government can propose a counter. I knew that, but this is me seeing it in action. Didn't know the original proposal could be withdrawn. And it's still an initiative, despite coming from the government. Seems like this could have been a law, but Swiss voters can't initiate federal law.


Okay, someone at Swissinfo likes Google maps. I found this older article on the new marijuana law, and it has another world map
I thought maybe they were finding them, but the text in this one credits Swissinfo. OTOH, the abortion one doesn't, and it looks different, that might be found.
mindstalk: (Enki)
Allegedly, hereditary monarchy provides a clear succession of legitimate authority. In practice, we know that's often problematic: the Roman Emperors were a mess, and Egypt had 30 dynasties in 3000 years. OTOH, some dynasties like the Ming or Plantagenet last for 300 years or so. But what chaos does that conceal? I decided to go through the monarchs of England from William the Conqueror on, and *hoo boy*. Until the rise of Parliamentary supremacy, major rebellions are more common than not, and violent interruptions to the succession are pretty common too. They *do* keep it "in the family" -- every one has been a descendant of William the Conqueror, and most have been descendants of Alfred the Great, too. But peaceful contested succession? Hah.

I'll put in codes at the end of lines. P for Peace, in my opinion; p for challenges to the rule. I don't count foreign wars, or extra-familial foreign invasion. I for the succession passing as Intended, i for not. The latter probably implies a peace failure before or after. ? for ambiguity -- are plots caught by the secret police worth counting as a threat to the peace? If the crown passes to the rightful heir because the heir took it by force I count that as 'i', since no one intends to be killed or deposed.

Noble title meaning refresher: earls were the Anglo-Saxon royal vassals in charge of earldoms or reeves; counts are the Norman royal companion-vassal close equivalent; barons are all the nobles who are vassals to the king (all counts are also barons); dukes start out as royal relatives because the English didn't follow the Ottoman practice of pruning the family tree.

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So, with the Glorious Revolution, we get 12 peaceful successions, and peaceful reigns apart from Jacobites. Before that the longest sequence was 5, from Henry II to Edward II, and that's counting Richard taking over from his father after bitter fighting. If we also count Edward III, despite his father being deposed, we get up to 7 successions, Henry II to Richard II. Only 3 of those 8 reigns can be counted as peaceful. If we don't count Henry-to-Lionheart or Edward III, the longest chain of intended successions is 4, in 622 years. You don't get two internally peaceful (by my estimate) reigns in a row until Elizabeth and James. That's 22 kings and almost 500 years after the Conqueror.

Depending on what baronial rebellions are like, maybe things weren't so bad for the common people. I've seen multiple sources say the Wars of the Roses may not have been so bad: cities didn't refortify, and the nobles knew they were fighting over the people so avoided sieging them, having pitched set-piece battles instead. Lots of the nobility got killed off, which might have helped later stability, as did Henry VII cracking down on private armies of the magnates.

Even if you discount some of the smaller rebellions, I think the "democratic" (more like oligarchic, even today) period of Parliamentary supremacy is clearly far more peaceful and orderly than the hereditary succession of strong monarchy.

I note that I'm not counting Irish wars and eventual independence, despite being part of the greater kingdom; I'll view it as an overseas colony, no matter what the crown claimed.

So, this is just England after William; maybe Anglo-Saxon England, or France, will be cleaner? I doubt it...
mindstalk: (atheist)
Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens, Josiah Ober, 2008.

Classical Athens is famous for being a democracy, or 'democracy' given the status of slaves, women, and metics (resident non-citizens.) It's also been infamous throughout history for its grand mistakes, like trying Socrates, purging its generals, a disastrous attack on Syracuse, various atrocities, with these used to discredit democracy and 'mob rule' as if alternative forms of government never ever made mistakes.

Ober's book, 5th or so in a series of sort, argues that in fact Athens was supremely successful (militarily and economically) in a highly competitive environment for 200 years, a nigh superpower (my word) among city-states (polis in the singular, poleis plural), adapting to and recovering from multiple setbacks (conquest, loss of empire, imposition of oligarchy, plague killing 1/3 of the people, invading Syracuse) until finally squished by the Macedonian juggernaut that conquered Persia, Egypt, and everything up to the Indus. (And then by the Roman juggernaut that conquered that and everything else around. Point is, Athens didn't fail in particular, it was overwhelmed.)

And, he argues, it was so successful because of its democracy, not despite it. The costs were high: the putative cost of not having a central and expert command-and-control system, instead running things by groups of amateurs, and the explicit cost of running the democracy, as citizens were paid in the thousands for attending the Assembly, serving on juries, or acting as magistrates, along with the costs of public buildings and running a prototype welfare state. To be so pre-eminent despite such costs the benefits must have been even higher, particularly the benefits of marshaling public resources for the public good, generating and gathering knowledge for learning and innovation, legitimacy and incentives to align people to act in the public interest, and maintaining security and social stability.

(Addendum: one thing I forgot I think is worth adding: Athens ran a navy. Not just a militia of all the citizens showing up to be armed, but a standing navy with all the complexity that implies. The best navy around, imperial quality. As a strong democracy...)

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