Monday, February 27, 2012

I'm Not Elitist, Just Better Than You

For ease of exposition, my discussions of voting methods often make a very common assumption, that every member has exactly one ballot and that all first place votes, for example, have the same voting power for every member. The One Member, One Vote (OMOV) principle does not hold in the Ethosphere, however. Instead, a member's influence in an election is proportional to its reputation within the teamspace. This may initially seem unfair, undemocratic, or even elitist. Here's where I argue it is none of those things. In fact, this merit-based system of vote apportionment is more fair, more democratic, and less elitist than many existing electoral systems in place today, and certainly those used within the U.S.

The U.S. constitution, which generally does not dictate voting methods for representatives, senators, or any other office, does in fact spell out a rather strange method to be used to elect the country's president and vice-president. The electoral college has not scaled well as the country has grown, and today it is legitimately maligned as being, well, unfair, undemocratic, and elitist. Why did the founders, who were otherwise so prescient and wise, spell out this terrible electoral procedure for what is arguably the most important office in the new country? The answer to this question, like so many similar ones about why the constitution was written the way it was, can be found in a series of props published by a highly reputable, pseudonymous author whose alias was @publius.

In The Federalist #68, @publius explains why the framers thought a few, reputable individuals would be better suited to electing the president than the entire electorate via direct vote.

A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation.

In fact, the founders' important distinction between a republic and a democracy was based, at least in part, on the desire to ensure that important views and decisions of the general population are refined and enlarged... passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.

-- The Federalist #10

But this idea of choosing electors and representatives whose decision-making power far exceeds an ordinary citizen, even a well-informed and highly-involved one, hasn't worked out all that well in many cases. In the last presidential election, who was the elector from your district? What were her qualifications? Did you help choose her, or was that done by the party machinery? Are you the least bit confident that her "patriotism and love of justice" were sufficient to warrant the trust you placed in her?

The founders were right in that the balance between ethical, expert representation and direct participation is an important one, and a difficult one to get right. Too far in the latter direction and you end up with "confusion of the multitude," as @publius called it. Too far in the former direction and you get tyranny.

In the Ethosphere this balance is struck using member reputation. Members who have proven to the team they are capable of participating constructively have greater reps, and therefore their votes count more than others'. Everyone participates, but stability and fidelity of the teamspace as a whole is more certain, as it is guided by those who are knowledgeable and who may best discern the true interest of the teamspace. Yes, some members' votes count more than others, just as in the electoral college and other representational elections of the U.S. The difference is, the apportionment of voting power in the Ethosphere happens continuously and organically as a result of day-to-day interactions. A member's rep has nothing to do with its user's success or fame in the real world, or in any other context (teamspace) for that matter. Voting power is not influenced by one's race, family name, bank balance, religion, or party affiliation -- only by the pseudonymous member's reputation within that teamspace.

I believe Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison understood the wisdom of merit-based reputation and anonymous attribution when, writing as @publius for a few months starting in the Winter of 1787, they convinced the people of New York to ratify the U.S. Constitution. And I believe the deeper question they sought to examine in those articles is still being pondered.

It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.

-- The Federalist #1

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