Tuesday, June 29, 2004

In Umbra Omne Tulit Punctum

On Small-Scale Democratic Decision Making

Ten people stand in a room. Someone makes a proposal, and it is voted upon. Six say "aye", four "nay", and the "ayes" have it. The political egalitarianism of Liberal Democratic societies results in democratic choice being regarded as the only fair way to make decisions in groups of equal-stake individuals. The idea of voting to resolve disagreement has inherent legitimacy, and that the best idea will be the most popular idea is beyond question.

It's tragic.

In the above example, four people lost. The resultant decision they both feel compelled to abide by, and simultaneously have no "ownership" of, leaving a grave dissatisfaction that they cannot resolve or satisfy. The winners have been separated from the losers, and perverse incentives have been created.

The ideal coalition in a voting environment is a block of (N/2)+1 votes, where N is the size of the voting body. Each time you add a voter to your coalition, you add another person who, when they disagree with the party's previous consensus, has to be appeased. If there is "pork" of a sort, some sort of finite quantity resource that has to be allocated to the voter or the constituency that he represents, it has be divvied up between more people, and thus you get less. Even worse, if the new addition is comparatively undemanding as compared to you, your coalition members may decide to eject you and replace you with this individual. Thus after a block is created, everyone else has virtually no traction. The ruling party has no reason to court additional votes.

Now on a small scale, where all of the voting members represent only themselves, the losers have virtually no reason to work within the system. They can splinter, make their own decisions, and the only loss to them is their stake in the larger group, which may be of precious little use to them if they can exercise no control over it. Small associations fragment often, due to this centrifugal forces.

Perhaps there is an alternative. Qualified consensus is a recipe for paralysis in a representative environment. The system has to be codified, and the resultant marginal voting member has too high an incentive to hold the deliberating body hostage. On a small scale, is this the case? Given the ability of all the voters to act as independent agents (being unbound by any constituency to pander to) the voters may create compromise solutions ad hoc. The penalty for trying to disrupt a forming consensus, hoping for a payoff is less; there is no plausible excuse in the form of a demanding public.

The benefit to this system is that, in crafting a proposal, one cannot play demographic politics. Given that one needs N-small to pass a proposal, it must appeal to virtually all of the voters. Even those left out have a stronger position; they only need convince one or two more to break ranks to thwart the initiative, a much easier task given that block discipline breaks down when the advantages are spread among such a high proportion of the voting body.

In short, despite our love affair with majoritarian democratic processes, they are rather-much inappropriate for small assemblies that are not representative bodies.


At 6:28 PM, [REDACTED] said...

Well said, and an interesting point. What is missing is a better solution, and I'm all ears. Perhaps require a much higher % of approval, so that a compromise which satisfies the overwhelming majority is required, say 80%?



At 6:31 PM, [REDACTED] said...

PS- How do you translate the Latin? In shadow he wins everything?


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