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Although it is now passed, for more than two months California State Senate Republicans blocked the passage of a new state budget, and not for the first time, either. California, like a few other states requires a 2/3rds vote to approve budgets. The supermajority requirement is similar to the supermajority approval requirements I have advocated before for government appointments. I want to give my assessment of why California has this perennial problem, and what it means for the plan I have advocated. Read the rest of this entry »


I’m not a huge fan of Ron Paul the legislator. Sure he favors smaller government, but he also opposes abortion rights, opposes immigration, opposes managed free-trade (which seems like the only way to advance free trade), and supports a return to the gold standard. If I could choose the next president though, I would choose Ron Paul in a heartbeat.

My support comes down to a few issues. Ron Paul is basically the only candidate I trust to protect federalism and civil liberties and not to further expand executive power. Ron Paul would have less say over the issues I disagree with him on as president than he does as a legislator. As a president, Ron Paul would have a lasting positive impact by nominating good judges and limiting the expansion of executive and federal power.


I just found out that Brian Tamanaha, the author of On the Rule of Law: History, Politics, Theory, blogs over at Balkinization. On the Rule of Law is a great introduction to the concept of the rule of law. The book is short (141 pages), but it does a great job explaining the different conceptions of the rule of law and how they developed. I recommend the book to anyone who anyone who is not quite clear on what the rule of law is or why people use it in different ways.

Here is Brian responding to the claim that the morality of atheists should be suspect.


In Democracies, good public policy is largely a public good which is indirectly provided (or not provided) by voters. Because it is a public good, voters do not have strong incentives to be informed or vote intelligently. Good public policy is underprovided because the electorate has biases and because without research and discussion, even great policies may at first appear bad, so it is difficult for many good policies to gain support.

In terms of human computing power, it is not really necessary to have large elections to elect good representatives and officials. A small, but well informed, fraction of the current electorate could conceivably elect good representatives and officials. The reason we do have large electorates is that a small electorate will not necessarily be representative. Having large electorates is a way to ensure that elected bodies represent the interests and perspectives of everyone in the country.

I want to propose a system of professional voting. The system would aim to ensure that voters are informed and thoughtful as well as aim to ensure that everyone’s interests are represented. Essentially, Professional Voting would pay a portion of the electorate to be informed, model what the results of the elections would be if the whole electorate was informed and voted and then use that result as the result of the election. Read the rest of this entry »


I’m going to write a series of posts briefly summarizing the ideas from my intermediate micro textbook, partly for my own benefit and partly to allow others to get a quick introduction to the subject. Read the rest of this entry »


I haven’t been posting all summer due to a heavy load of math classes, but that’s over with (whew!), so I’m back.

Jeff sends me yet another intriguing link. The developer of the computer game Eve Online is employing a phd economist in order to better understand the game’s virtual economy and anticipate the consequences of gameplay tweaks. One big advantage to a simulated economy is that complete information is available on every transaction that occurs. “We watch price bubbles happen in Eve.” Cool.


I have posted a few times on why pork exists, but it turns out my theory was wrong. I recently found this paper (link to non-gated), which shows empirically that politicians do not seek pork because pork directly gets votes. The paper supports the theory that politicians sponsor pork because it gets them financial support (presumably from pork recipients, such as contractors):

I found that money, not pork, is the main resource that sustains politicians’ efforts to maintain their personal-vote support base among voters. Deputies thus do not deliver pork because it provides a direct electoral payoff, they do so in order to gain the financial support of powerful economic interests. The money that comes from pork-barreling then helps them win votes.

Retrospectively, this theory is much more convincing than my theory. While it is difficult for voters to get information about pork spending, it is trivial for specific companies to know about pork directed at them. This theory is also more consistent with altruistic voters.

With this logic, Proportional Representation (PR) may not eliminate pork, as I suggested before, because politicians always have incentives to seek money to help their election. PR might still reduce pork spending for two reasons. First, as I have discussed before, money should have a smaller impact in PR electoral systems than winner-take-all systems. Second, in PR electoral systems, parties compete mostly with other incumbent parties, not outsiders, so the electoral advantage to individual incumbent parties should be a good deal smaller than in winner-take-all systems.


Hugo Chavez is asking for numerous constitutional changes to “put an end to central bank autonomy, reduce the length of the standard working day, strengthen state expropriation powers and create new types of property managed by co-operatives.”

Whatever Venezuelans think of Hugo Chavez, they must recognize that he is asking for too much power. Someday, a president they don’t like will be elected, and that president will wield the same power that Chavez is now asking for. Surely it is not difficult to imagine a president that wields the power of expropriation or the power to print money indiscriminately for his own personal good, rather than for the good of the people. Venezuelans must place their trust in processes, and not in specific leaders.


A Caltech grad student has created a service that cross references Wikipedia edits with whois information to reveal the owners of the domains where edits came from (article link).

I foresee this becoming directly integrated into Wikipedia. I also think it might become like an alarm; for example, when someone from a McDonald’s owned domain edits a page related to McDonald’s the edit might be flagged for review.

I expect this service to reduce the amount of self-serving editing that goes on. This service will make it more costly to modify pages to your self interest, because 1) self interested edits done from obvious domains will immediately stand out, and o they will probably be undone, and 2) getting caught may generate bad publicity. Cost increase should decrease the number of self-interested edits, and therefore reduce some of Wikipedia’s biases and increase Wikipedia’s trustworthiness. 


A little while ago, I discussed my views on the causes of pork (patronage) spending. Essentially, my view is that patronage spending exists because it provides an electoral advantage to incumbents by creating entry costs for electoral challengers. At the end of my post, I mentioned that I thought that proportionally representative electoral systems (such as Direct Representation) greatly curb patronage spending, but that I wasn’t sure why I thought that. I now have a better idea about why I think that:

Proportionally representative electoral systems curb patronage spending because patronage does not provide an electoral advantage to incumbents in such electoral systems.

First, in proportional representation, representatives always face competition both from other incumbent representatives who appeal to similar but different voter groups as well as from new entrants, because low vote thresholds mean the entry costs to new representatives are low. The absence of rules discouraging patronage spending does not insulate incumbents from either of these sources of competition because the competitors are not at a disadvantage in providing pork, so there are no incentives to oppose such rules, and strong incentives to adopt popular positions, such as advocating rules discouraging patronage spending, remain.

Second, representatives usually draw votes from geographically diffuse constituencies. This has two effects. First, this makes patronage spending relatively inefficient as a way to get votes because the benefits from pork spent in a particular geographic area will go partly to the supporters of the patronage legislation sponsor and partly to the supporters of other representatives. Second, because multiple parties may represent people in the same geographic area, voters have difficulty knowing who is responsible for pork in their area.

I have been looking for empirical evidence for or against this theory. So far, I have found only this paper that makes some similar theoretical arguments and provides a little empirical support.

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