Saturday, April 30, 2011


In the unlikely event that someone reading this hasn't already read it at Noam’s blog, I was also asked to publicize them, so here goes. Publicizing them here may, at least, help to boost their rank in Google searches, which is especially worthwhile for WINE.

Giuseppe Persiano asked me to post a reminder that the submission deadline is coming up (May 9th) for SAGT 2011, the 4th international Symposium on Algorithmic Game Theory (meeting in Amalfi, Italy, Oct. 17-19). Edith Elkind asked me to advertise WINE 2011, the 7th Workshop on Internet and Network Economics (submission date July 31st; meeting in Singapore, Dec. 11-14).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

AV referendum: it's the results, stupid!

Winston Churchill said "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." But, that observation has had little impact on the debate about which voting system to support in the forthcoming referendum. That is to say, there is much discussion about which voting system better represents the will of the people, or would give us strong versus weak governments, or would make our MPs work harder. But those us who support AV should address the possibility that the present voting system may, despite the objections, actually produce good outcomes. Where "good outcomes" does not mean strong governments or representative governments, rather it means social welfare.

At the risk of coming on like David Cameron, my general impression is that the current system has let us down. Right now, being a citizen of the UK makes me feel like a shareholder of a company that is underperforming, and I'm watching its price steadily go down. My sense is that we're getting things wrong where other countries are getting them right. This is not the place to review examples in detail— in contrast to David Cameron I'll simply test out this claim by taking a look at the obvious evidence: our performance in quality-of life rankings. The results do not reflect well on the status quo!

2007: down 2 places to 17th; 2010: down 5 places to 25th; 2009: quality of life poor relative to other EU countries 2009: child poverty: European league table: The UK came 24th, well below countries of similar affluence (despite 10 years of a Govt that supposedly tried to improve it!) 2008: Zut! France leapfrogs UK in economic table

What we are seeing here is not just poor performance, but poor and worsening performance. So you can't just blame the weather! The obvious culprit is bad public policy. AV offers a genuine change to the system by which the electorate gets to influence public policy. The time has come to vote for Churchill, not Cameron.

(Added 6.5.11: OK I admit it, the reason why Britain is declining is that we just have a lower average IQ than most other places.)

(Added 6.6.11: UK slipping down the global rankings, Centre for Policy Studies warns.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Alternative Vote referendum

To see why you should vote in favour of the move to Alternative Voting on the 5th of May, look no further than the contorted arguments of its opponents. Here is David Cameron on the topic:
Too often debates about AV are less like political arguments, and more like scientific discussions, where people get lost in a language of proportionality and preferences, probabilities and possibilities.

Of course, some of these things are important. But for me, politics shouldn't be some mind-bending exercise. It's about what you feel in your gut – about the values you hold dear and the beliefs you instinctively have. And I just feel it, in my gut, that AV is wrong.

To think that we (the academic community) once had him eating out of our hands, studying for a degree on Philosophy, Politics and Economics. And what a colossal failure of education that the above is DC's take on social choice theory. Not that Oxford PPE is very strong on social choice theory; I took a look the course information page; it's a nicely-designed web site, but I think you'd be lucky to graduate with a knowledge of Condorcet's theorem. And I would like to know if anything could possibly more central to PPE.

(Added 23.4.11: This article in the Guardian contains what is for me the first sighting of the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem in a national newspaper. This blog post by Tim Gowers proves that by voting yes, I am in good company!)