Sunday, January 11, 2015

Is Robin Hanson's Path To Efficient Voting Pragmatic Or Brilliant Or Both?

Robin Hanson's blog entry...Trade Quarks, Not making me kinda crazy.  I really want to say that he's trying to promote the creation of a new type of currency. why don't I?  Ok, I will.  Robin Hanson is trying to promote the creation of a new type of currency.  There.  I said it.  If it's wrong...then he's more than welcome to categorically deny and disclaim it.  But if he does so, then, honestly...I'll be tempted to question whether he's protesting too much.  heh.

What kind of currency does Hanson want to create?  A civic currency.  Yup.

With his civic currency, a "quark" would be the equivalent of a dollar.  Or it would be the equivalent of a quarter.  Or a dime.

Before a public vote was scheduled...everybody would receive four quarks rather than a vote.  People could sell their quarks or give them away or buy more of them from other people.  Anybody who didn't cast/spend their quark could save them in their civic bank accounts.  How much interest would quarks earn?  Would banks loan out quarks?  How many people would keep most of their quarks under their mattresses?

People would be able to earn quarks in various ways...such as serving on jury duty.  Each day you'd get paid $40 dollars and *40 quarks.

You could also earn quarks by joining the military.  In addition to regular pay, a lowly private would also earn *100 quarks per day.  Hazard duty pay would at least quadruple that amount of quarks.  If somebody earned a bronze star...they'd also receive additional quarks.  Same thing with a purple heart and a silver star.  Earning the medal of honor would be the quark equivalent of winning the lottery.  It's got to be worth at least *10,000,000 quarks.  If somebody can earn $1,000,000 dollars by guessing the right lottery number...then somebody should be able to earn *10,000,000 quarks by performing an exceptional act of heroism.  

Maybe winning a Nobel Prize would also be the quark equivalent of winning the lottery?  What about winning a gold medal at the Olympics?  That's got to earn you less quarks than a Nobel Prize or a medal of honor...right?

Would serving in the Peace Corps earn you any quarks?  Probably.  But more or less quarks than serving in the military?

Perhaps all volunteers would receive quarks.  Volunteering at a homeless shelter would earn you quarks.  Donating blood would be worth a few quarks.  Same thing with recycling and carpooling.   Maybe even helping a nice little old lady across the street would earn you a quark or two.

In this Trident commercial the Asian guy is disappointed because he never gets paid in gum.  If Hanson gets his way, then the Asian guy would be disappointed because he never gets paid in quarks.

Besides being able to spend quarks at the voting booth...people could also use them to pay public fines.  Parking ticket?  Just pay with your quarks.  Speeding ticket?  Just pay with your quarks.  Jaywalking ticket?  Just pay with your quarks.

What if you want to get out of jury duty?  No problem!  Just pay with your quarks.

The commodification of civic duty is a brilliant idea.  And Robin Hanson gets all the credit.

It shouldn't be a surprise though.  It's only a small logical leap away from this...
Markets are a way to create a consensus about the value of an ownable item, i.e., the "price".  Futures markets are a way to create an immediate consensus about future consensus. For example, a market in corn creates a price in corn, so that most buyers pay about that price. A futures market in corn creates a futures price, which is an immediate estimate of what the actual price of corn will be in, say, nine months. Traders have clear incentives to make honest contributions to the consensus; you "put your money where your mouth is". A trader who believes the future price will be higher than the market indicates buys, and in so doing raises the consensus price. Those who are right make money from those who are wrong. - Robin Hanson Idea Futures: Encouraging an Honest Consensus
Using quarks to quantify the value of various types of civic acts would encourage an honest consensus.

If amusement parks, arcades, car washes, themed restaurants and casinos can all have their own form of currency (ie tokens)...then why can't the civic sector?   Right now on ebay you can buy a ton of tokens.  You can also buy military coins.  There's really no good reason that you shouldn't be able to buy and sell quarks on ebay as well.

Perhaps some people will object that commodifying civic duty would somehow cheapen it.  Does earning the medal of honor somehow cheapen the act of heroism?  How's a medal fundamentally different than a quark?  Does the cash award of around $1,000,000 dollars somehow cheapen a Nobel Prize worthy achievement?  Would it be better if an Olympic gold medal was actually chocolate covered in gold colored foil?

To go a step further...
The problem is that if one is acting to secure what is most noble for oneself, considering that most choiceworthy, one cannot truly be said to be sacrificing one's good, as one understands it.  It will not do to say that one makes a true sacrifice but somehow still comes out ahead.  Exchanging a lesser good for a greater good is not a sacrifice but a gain.  Nor will it do to say the hero cares only about the good of others and really gives up his happiness for them, and that nobility comes to him incidentally as a kind of consolation prize.  Nobility is, Aristotle stresses, the very goal that the heroic soul keeps its sights fixed upon. - Lorraine Smith Pangle
Let's be honest with ourselves and others about the fact that all civic acts are for gain/profit...
Sacrifice will always be distinguished from the pure gift (if there is any). The sacrifice proposes an offering but only in the form of a destruction against which it exchanges, hopes for, or counts on a benefit, namely, a surplus-value or at least an amortization, a protection, and a security. - Jacques Derrida   
Institutionalizing/standardizing civic compensation/rewards won't demean or diminish civic will encourage it.  Just like providing plants with water and light promotes their growth.

I wonder what Razo would have to say about Hanson's idea?  And I wonder what Hanson would have to say about razotarianism?  There's some very delicious overlap in their ideas.  With both proposals...people who were more civically minded would have more influence over the size and scope of government.  So I really hope that both Razo and Hanson will take the time to review each other's proposals.

If anybody is interested in learning more about the merits of vote trading then please see this blog entry... What Would Tyler Cowen Do For A Klondike Bar?

Bueller's Basement

Errrr...what are you still doing here?  This blog entry ended a long time ago.  *awkward*

Well...since you're here...

I might as well try and explain what happened to this blog entry.  It was essentially the victim of too much sleepiness.  I really wanted to write about Hanson's idea but I was really too tired.  After struggling for a while to organize my vast amount of thoughts on his proposal...I decided to just write about the logical conclusion.  It was so much easier than what I set out to do.

The blog title reflects my original goal...and I didn't change it because the situation reminded me of this poem...

Why I Am Not A Painter
Frank O'Hara 
I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,
for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says. 
But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES. 

This blog entry turned out much better than it would have if I had accomplished what I had set out to do.


  1. I think you are mixing up two very different proposals. If we want full integration with cash, we'd just sell people votes according the the quadratic rule, as proposed in the Quadratic Voting proposal. My proposal to instead give people quarks is designed to prevent full conversion. So people would get quarks and collect and trade them for other quarks, but NOT sell or buy them for cash.

    1. As I explained in great detail here...there's absolutely no solid economic foundation for quadratic voting compared to regular vote trading. But, quadratic voting, in the sense that it facilitates the communication/integration of some preference intensity information is certainly far better than regular voting. And perhaps your system is somewhere between regular voting and quadratic voting. But if people find your system more palatable than quadratic voting...and even palatable enough to implement...then your system is brilliant and pragmatic...because it would help get the ball rolling in the right direction.

      With this in mind, your real proposal and your pseudo-proposal (civic currency as outlined in this entry) are different in terms of the distance that the ball would travel but not in terms of the direction. Same direction, different distance.

      This direction is towards inputting more preference information into the allocation equation.

      The point of this entry was to help draw attention to your proposal and perhaps solicit discussion regarding distances and directions.