Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Canal smarts

Dalibor Rohac, at The Umlaut, thinks that the Venetians solved a problem that bedevils modern democracies, including the United States. That is the ability of well focused special interests to extract benefits from the general public whose ability to resist is practically non-existent due to the diffuse benefits of so doing. By making election to office almost unbelievably complicated, and thus very unlikely for anyone in particular;
Firstly, the elections of the Doge relied on an iteration of supermajority decisions. The consecutive votes required majorities ranging from 77.8 percent in the initial nomination by the committee of 9 to 61 percent in final election by the Quarantuno. Since Buchanan and Tullock, political economists tend to like supermajorities, because they make it more difficult to impose costs on minorities and curb winner-takes-all behavior.
Secondly, the element of randomness introduced into the election, as well as the complexity of the procedures, reduced the scope for strategic behavior and functioned as a truth-revealing mechanism. With the exception of the Quarantuno, there was no predictable link between the choices of consecutive committees and the outcome—the election of a particular candidate as a Doge. In other words, the electors acted as if behind a veil of ignorance and had little incentives to either misrepresent their preferences or to act in a narrow material interest.
Thirdly, at the final stage of the election process, approval voting was used. Political scientists have shown that, under plausible assumptions, approval voting encourages sincere voting, reflective of people’s true preferences. If one is allowed to cast votes for multiple candidates, there is little reason not to vote for one’s favorite candidate, even if one thinks that she has only a small chance of being elected. It is striking to see the Venetians stumble upon approval voting centuries ago before its desirable properties were documented by scholars—and indeed well before economists or political scientists started to think systematically about the implications of different decision-making rules.
Might as well as concentrate on becoming the best gondolier one can be, if there's not much chance of becoming FDR.

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