Friday, April 29, 2016

Does Greg Stevens Have An Issue With Trading?

Comment on: Democracy 2.0: technology can improve how we elect leaders by Greg Stevens


The thing is, "importance" can only be accurately measured by personal sacrifice.   In other words... preference intensity is a function of willingness to pay (WTP).   So from my perspective... the only way to "fix" voting is to replace it with spending.

Ideally it would be a "blind" and one shot deal.  Let's take prohibition for example and keep it simple with only two participants... you and I.  You're for prohibition and I'm against.  After we both finish spending our money on our preferred options... the results would be revealed...

Your WTP: $120
My WTP: $20

You won!   Prohibition would be enforced.  Since I lost I would get my $20 dollars back.  Plus, I would get your $120 dollars as well!  And it's not a shabby consolation prize.... given that I would have been willing to accept a minimum of $21 dollars.

Let's throw Jeffery into the mix on my side...

Your WTP: $120
My WTP: $20
His WTP: $10

You would still win but now the consolation prize would be proportionally distributed between Jeffrey and myself.   I would get 2/3rds ($80) and Jeffrey would get 1/3rd ($40).

You would essentially be paying Jeffrey and myself to not drink alcohol for an entire year.   You would get our abstinence and we would get your money.    The outcome would be mutually beneficial.  If it wasn't, then next year we'd adjust our WTPs accordingly.

So replacing voting with spending would facilitate trading.   It would really be no different than you paying Jeffrey and I to pull your weeds or paint your house.  Which means that if you have an issue with this proposal... you have an issue with trading.   Personally, I'm pretty sure we're better off with more, rather than less, trading.  This is because trading is a form of communication.   So is voting.... but trading is an infinitely more accurate form of communication.   More accurate communication allows society members to more quickly adjust/adapt to rapidly changing circumstances/conditions.


Follow up comment...


Let's keep it simple stupid again and imagine a two good economy.  The private sector produces food and the public sector produces defense.   In the private sector you decide that you want more food... so you spend your money accordingly.   But then you vote for more defense.   Except, more defense means less food.    

In this scenario.... does it matter how much, or how little, money you have?  Nope.   What matters is that voting makes it extremely likely that you're going to inadvertently shoot yourself in the foot.   If we reasonably assume that you truly wanted more food... then by voting for more defense you inadvertently subverted your own will.  

Of course, in a two good scenario you really wouldn't spend more money on food and then turn around and vote for more defense.  This is because it would be a no-brainer that more defense would mean less food.   Everybody would clearly see the trade-off between defense and food.  Everybody would clearly see that allocating more land to defense would mean allocating less land to farming.  Everybody would clearly understand that more "Einsteins" solving defense related problems would mean less "Einsteins" solving food related problems.    Everybody would clearly see defense and food competing for limited resources.  This clarity would guarantee that nobody would inadvertently subvert their own will.

Our economy produces a lot more than two goods.   But adding more goods to both sides (sectors) of the equation really doesn't eliminate the fact that there are always trade-offs.   It just guarantees that voters will not be able to clearly see these trade-offs... which guarantees that voters will regularly and inadvertently subvert their own will.

No country is ever going to truly thrive when all of its citizens regularly shoot their own feet.

So if you're rich and I'm poor... it's not about you having more political sway than I would have.  It's about ensuring that neither of us inadvertently overrides our own spending decisions.


Follow up comment...


PropA = replace voting with spending (yes/no issues)
PropB = give people the option to directly allocate their taxes (more/less issues)

Deciding whether prohibition should be enforced is a yes/no issue. So we would use PropA to decide it. If proponents spend more than opponents... then PropB would be used to decide how much money should be spent on prohibition.

With both proposals, the more money you have.... the more potential influence you'll have. The influence is only "potential" because, even if you have a billion dollars, it doesn't guarantee that you'll care one way or another about prohibition.

In your simple scenario... the two billionaires agreed on (and equally valued) every issue and the eight poor people agreed on every issue. Was this the case with prohibition? Or with marijuana? Or with gay marriage? Or even with the tax rate?

Here's kinda how I see your concern...

Gates: Hey Epi, I'll pay you $100,000 to quit drinking alcohol for a year!
Me: Wow! Why? Wait, never mind... it's a deal!
You: Woah woah woah. I forbid this trade!
Gates and me: Why?
You: Because Gates is so rich and you're so poor!
Me: So... he shouldn't be allowed to give me some of his money?

Let's compare it to the current system...

Majority: Hey Epi, we aren't going to even pay you one penny to quit drinking alcohol for a year!
Me: So you're going to screw me without even buying me a cheap dinner first?
Majority: Yup
Me: That sucks
You: Not really. It's only fair that the majority gets what it wants without having to pay for it. It's only fair that they screw you without compensating you at all. Our country thrives because of, rather than despite, tyranny of the majority.

Let's say that Gates offered to buy my old sneakers for $100,000 dollars. Would you forbid this trade from taking place because Gates is so much richer than I am? Let's say that Gates offers me $10 million dollars to sleep with him. Would you also forbid this trade for the same reason? Because... you don't want me to be exploited?

So the next time you're about to buy a computer, or buy a coffee from Starbucks, or buy anything on Amazon.... you would want me to forbid you from doing so? Because you, and the country, would be better off if you could only trade with people who have the same amount of money as you?

The challenge is to come up with a coherent story. My attempt at a coherent story is that trade facilitates accurate communication.... and accurate communication allows societies to rapidly adapt to constantly changing conditions/circumstances.

We both agree that progress depends on difference. Well... we both agree that this is true as far as evolution is concerned. But I perceive that this is also true as far as societies are concerned. Difference is expressed through trade. Blocking trade blocks difference.... which blocks progress.

If you and I had the option to choose where our taxes go... would we put the same exact public goods in our "shopping carts"? No, of course not. This is simply because we are different people. And I'm pretty sure that this difference is the source of all progress.


Follow up comment...


Right now alcohol is legal.  It's legal for people to make, sell and buy alcohol.   But let's say that mothers against drunk driving somehow managed to convince lots of people that alcohol should be illegal.

With the current system... it would be put to a vote.  People would go to voting booths and cast a vote either for, or against, prohibition.   The votes would be counted and whichever side received the most votes would win.   If the mothers against drunk driving won... then alcohol would be illegal.  Everybody who wanted to drink alcohol would be screwed.  They would be forced to do something that they didn't want to do... and they would receive absolutely NO compensation for their inconvenience.

With PropA.... people wouldn't go to voting booths.... they would go to spending booths.  They would spend their WTP on alcohol being legal or legal for one year.    Do you drink alcohol?  I do.  But I don't drink it very often... maybe once a month.  How much benefit do I derive from alcohol in one year?   It's hard to say.  Maybe $100 dollars?   So this would be my WTP.  This is how much I would spend for alcohol to remain legal.  How much would you honestly spend?

Let's say that the people who supported prohibition spent more money than the people who opposed prohibition.   What would happen?   I'd definitely get my $100 dollars back.  Plus, I would also receive my compensation.  My compensation would be proportioned according to the amount that I spent.   If my $100 dollars was 0.00001% of the total spent against prohibition... then my compensation would be 0.00001% of the total spent for prohibition.     If the other side spent $500 million... then my compensation would be $500 dollars.

So alcohol would be illegal... and I would still be thrown in jail and/or fined if I got caught selling, or buying or making it.  BUT, at least with this system I would be COMPENSATED for the inconvenience of having to sacrifice alcohol for one year.  I would receive $500 dollars for something that is only worth $100 dollars to me.   With the current system... there's absolutely no compensation.

Right now I would be fined/jailed if I got caught with marijuana and/or prostitutes.  Why?  Because the majority feels it's their duty to impose their morals on me.   But it doesn't even cost them a dime to do so.   With PropA... it would be an entirely different story.   Maybe, when confronted with the opportunity costs of their morals, they would decide that they had more valuable things to spend their own money on.   If not, then at least they would put their money where their morals are.   All this money would end up in the pockets of people who had different morals.

As I've tried to explain... the underlying goal here is clarity.   Prostitution is currently illegal... so I guess that the majority opposes it.   But I don't know HOW MUCH they oppose it.   Just like I don't know HOW MUCH my side supports the legality of prostitution.   PropA would facilitate a nationwide trade.  This trade would clarify the issue.  Each side would know just how important the issue was to the other side.   Our differences would be made crystal clear.    This essential information would allow everybody to make infinitely more informed decisions.

When everybody's valuations are far more accessible... then everybody's decisions will be far more valuable.

Right now my valuation of your blog entries is NOT accessible.  I sure did enjoy your blog entry on evolution.   It was great!   Just telling you this though isn't the same thing as giving you my money to communicate my valuation of your blog entry.   I haven't given you any money for that blog entry.    Does this make me a free-rider?   Not in this case!  In this case I haven't given you any money for that blog entry because your blog doesn't facilitate micropayments.   So this is an example of the forced-free-rider problem.

If your blog facilitated micropayments... then valuing your entries was as easy as "liking" them.  As a result, all your readers' valuations would be far more accessible.  This means that you, and everybody else, would be able to make far more valuable decisions.

Same concept if you and others could valuate the comments on your blog entries.

This concept is the idea of not underestimating the fact that nobody is a mind-reader.


Follow up comment...


I’m glad that you were willing to spend more time thinking about it!

I haven’t run across this specific idea before… but I don’t want to take credit for it because it’s entirely possible that someone else has already developed it.

Perhaps the credit for the general idea should be given to Ronald Coase. Here are some excerpts from his paper… “The Problem of Social Cost”…

“If we are to discuss the problem in terms of causation, both parties cause the damage. If we are to attain on optimum allocation of resources, it is therefore desirable that both parties should take the harmful effect (the nuisance) into account in deciding on their course of action. It is one of the beauties of a smoothly operating pricing system that, as has already been explained, the fall in the value of production due to the harmful effect would be a cost for both parties.”

“It is all a question of weighing up the gains that would accrue from eliminating these harmful effects against the gains that accrue from allowing them to continue.”

“The problem which we face in dealing with actions which have harmful effects is not simply one of restraining those responsible for them. What has to be decided is whether the gain from preventing the harm is greater than the loss which would be suffered elsewhere as a result of stopping the action which produces the harm.”

“Economists who study problems of the firm habitually use an opportunity cost approach and compare the receipts obtained from a given combination of factors with alternative business arrangements. It would seem desirable to use a similar approach when dealing with questions of economic policy and to compare the total product yielded by alternative social arrangements. In this article, the analysis has been confined, as is usual in this part of economics, to comparisons of the value of production, as measured by the market. But it is, of course, desirable that the choice between different social arrangements for the solution of economic problems should be carried out in broader terms than this and that the total effect of these arrangements in all spheres of life should be taken into account.”

Vote selling/buying is a related concept. A different variety of this concept has recently been proposed and discussed… “quadratic voting”.

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