Thursday, June 18, 2009

Choosing "By the Bean"

An election tie is broken in Arizona.....

Had a great discussion in class the other day (my man, and frequenter commenter, Martin can attest to this) on the possibility, and perhaps even value, of random selection in politics.

The Greeks did it. Aristophanes mentions it in "The Birds," in fact. Plutarch mentions it also. Ditto Thucydides. Choosing "by the bean" was common.

The bad thing about choice by lot is that the elected official might not do what voters want. And the good thing, of course, is that the elected official might not take public money to do what some voters want.

(nod to RL)


Unknown said...

If the random choice is to break a tie I don't think the worry of official going off and doing crazy things is valid. Since they would have to have convinced half the electorate that they're trustworthy.

And also most politicians are put in thier place by looking forward to the next election. When they wont be elected again then you can get trouble.

Mungowitz said...

Your second claim is the interesting one.

Is the problem that officials WON'T do what voters want?

Or that they WILL?

Choice by lot means we take turns, and that each of us then returns to the community we "served." Our behavior in office is constrained by the knowledge that we will be in office only a short time, and that we then have to answer for our choices when we return to private life.

Many academic departments rotate the chairmanship, for this reason precisely.

It is not obvious to me that "serve the majority, by sacrificing the minority's interests" is the best way to run a government.

If we choose by lot, then the minority has a decent chance of being represented, over time, in proportion to their percentage of the population. Lani Guiner would be happy, wouldn't she?

Unknown said...

So I think the problem is that the elected official wont do what the public wants.

I think the underlying assumption in your example of the chairmanship is that the incumbent is non-anonymous when they return to the community and hence can be punished ("answer for our choices") by the group. But in an large election setting this does not hold.

So assuming that a politician gets benifit from holding office the way to punish them is not to reelect them (since while they are the representative they are public).

--game theory--
This is basically a folk theorem argument. Any feasible payoff can be obtained by some penal code for punishing off-equilibrium path outcomes. But you need to observe the player in repeated stage games to punish them.

What I'm saying sounds like "From Fairs to Banks" by Arujo and Minetti on money and fairs in medival times
-- end game theory--

So for the politician case if the politician wants to stay in office then he has to do what the public wants otherwise they punish him by kicking him out. But if he does not want to (or can't) stay in office then its a one-shot game and he'll do what he wants; which may or may not be what the public wants. This is my take on the insanity of Dick Chaney's VP career.

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