Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘elections

Voting at 16

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After recent calls for a lowering of the voting age to 16 in the U.S., I just found the same idiocy in Germany. Consider [1] (in German) and some quotes:*

*The source is not quite current, but telling. (My original source is not archived and would be subject to short-term link rot.) Some changes to formatting and typography have been made. I make reservations for the details of the translation, in light of odd formulations in the original. I follow the original (and the standard German practice) in using conjunctive/subjunctive formulations for indirect speech.

Die Juristin Silke Ruth Laskowski von der Uni Kassel wies auf das Engagement vieler junger Menschen in der Klimabewegung hin. “Die notwendige Ernsthaftigkeit und Vernunft, die erforderlich ist, um an einer Wahl teilzunehmen, ist offenbar heute schon auch in einem jüngeren Alter zu finden.”

The jurist Silke Ruth Laskowski of the Kassel University pointed to the involvement of many young people* in the climate movement. “The necessary seriousness and reason necessary to participate in an election** is obviously, today, to be found even in younger years.”

*Here and elsewhere, I use the idiomatically more likely “people”, over the literal “humans”, for “Menschen”.

**Contextually, in the sense of voting. The ambiguity with “running for office” is present in the original.

Firstly, the participation in climate hysteria* speaks strongly against enough reason being present. Secondly, the value of seriousness** is disputable. Thirdly, there is no proof that the current generation would, in some sense, be better than the past generations in this regard. (I rather suspect that they are worse…) Fourthly, seriousness and/or reason are not enough (as, if in doubt, proved by the participation in climate hysteria), we also need an understanding of how this-and-that works, an ability to see causes and consequences, to think in terms of side-effects, etc.—and the younger generations will, on average, trail by dint of being younger and having had less time to build their minds. As a special case, maybe overlapping with seriousness, we have physical maturity, as even the brain is not completely developed in someone of that age. As another special case, voting is to a significant part based on ideological positions, and the ideological positions of those in this age group tend to be exceedingly naive and highly changeable: very few have good opinions for good reasons, very many have poor opinions for poor reasons,*** and the best to be hoped for in any quantity is those who have good opinions for poor reasons…

*While there is nothing wrong with e.g. being aware of environmental issues and striving for a more “sustainable” world, what goes on with e.g. Greta Thunberg, “Fridays for the future”, and (sadly) even most of the adult movements is hysteria—nothing more, nothing less. If in doubt, the focus on specifically the climate, as opposed to the environment in general, goes a long way to prove a position naive. (I would go as far as suggesting, as a rule of thumb, to ignore everyone who speaks in terms of “climate” instead of “environment”.) The likes of Greta Thunberg are an argument against lowering the voting age.

**Indeed, the term, even in German, is sufficiently odd and irrelevant that the exact intentions are unclear.

***Something made worse through Leftist indoctrination in school, which affects the younger generations the more, and which can takes years to shake even in those who do manage to shake it.

Der Berliner Rechtswissenschaftler Christoph Möllers plädierte dafür, mehr “in Betroffenheiten zu denken”. Entscheidungen, die der Bundestag heute treffe, seien insbesondere für jüngere Menschen relevant. Das spreche dafür, das Wahlalter zu senken. Robert Vehrkamp von der Bertelsmann Stiftung argumentierte, die Möglichkeit zur Partizipation erzeuge politisches Interesse. Ein Wahlalter 16 biete die enorme Chance, Interesse für die Demokratie und für ihr Funktionieren zu erzeugen.

The Berlin legal scientist [scholar?] Christoph Möllers pleaded in favor of thinking more in [terms of?] affectednesses.* Decisions that the Bundestag [German parliament] make today would be particularly relevant for young people. This would speak in favor of lowering the voting age. Robert Vehrkamp of the Bertelsmann foundation argued that the possibility of participation would create political interest. A voting age [of] 16 would offer the enormous chance of creating interest in democracy and its functioning.

*The German formulation is similarly unusual and awkward, but would contextually imply that whoever is affected by a decision should be included in the decision making. (Quotation marks removed for reasons of word order.)

Looking first at Christoph Möllers:

That current decisions might* be more relevant for the young is nothing new, as a greater portion of their lives might be affected by these decisions. As it is nothing new, it is not cause to reevaluate the situation.** Moreover, there is an implicit “us vs. them” thinking in Möllers’s reasoning, as the argument is only strong if we assume that different voter groups do and should vote predominantly based on personal interests (as opposed to e.g. what is ethically right, makes economic sense for society, what is, in some sense, fair, and similar), e.g. in that “the young must have the right to vote to protect themselves from exploitation by senior citizens”. It would, then, be much more valuable to combat this type of voting and the “us vs. them” thinking found (mostly) on the Left. Three further weaknesses of this argument are that the young will grow older and soon land in a group with other interests and priorities, that chances are that their parents already do a sufficient job in defending their rights and interests, and that there are other means of exerting political influence than voting—e.g. to present an intelligent argument to others.

*An important word as (a) the immediate relevance of many or most decision might be larger for others (e.g. a pensions reform), (b) the decision of today might have changed again by the time that it does/would have become immediately relevant.

**But it might be something to consider, should the situation be reevaluated for other reasons. A case could maybe be made that the bigger government and more meddling politicians of today has changed the situation, but, if so, the correct solution is to make government smaller and to prevent politicians from meddling.

As with the earlier discussion, it can also be doubted whether the young (a) know what politics further their best interests, even when they actually know these interests, (b) do know these interests, have their priorities straight, etc. For instance, an idea like “We must abandon nuclear power so we don’t end up in a nuclear wasteland!!!” might be appealing to many of the young, but the result of that will almost certainly be a worse future, both in general and when looking specifically at the environment, not a better one.

Robert Vehrkamp has a pointless claim: Firstly, the effect that he proposes is speculation. Secondly, political interest and participation is not an automatic good. On the contrary, most of the political active bring a net harm to the world. What we truly need is for those who are not sufficiently intelligent and well-informed to abstain from running for office, engaging in political activism, and voting—and he seems keen on achieving the opposite. Thirdly, any decision must be based on a pro-and-contra, and any advantage (should it actually exist) from lowering the voting age must be measured against the disadvantages that appear.

As is clear from other parts of the linked-to page, the pressure in Germany, as in the U.S., is coming from the Left—entirely unsurprisingly, as the Left (a) has a current advantage in the younger generations, (b) relies more strongly on voters who are poorly informed, outright misinformed or indoctrinated, and/or weak critical thinkers. (There is also room for speculation that pushing for a lower voting age can be beneficial to building that misleading image of “we on the Left care for you”, or similar, which well matches activities with other demographic groups.)

To be clear: From all that I have seen, such reforms aim at making the voters more susceptible to influence from the politicians, so that the politicians can do what they want with fewer constraints. Correspondingly, such a lowering of the voting age is a threat to democracy (or what little still remains of it) and to society. (Also note similar issues with a politicians’ attitude of “it does not matter whether you pick the right party, the main thing is that you vote at all (but please vote for us)” and other nonsense. Cf. a text on agnostic scepticism.)

Even absent this intent, the result would be a lowering of the ability of the voters to make reasonable decisions, which, again, is a threat to democracy and society.

What we need is, if anything, a complete reversal: the typical 16 (or 18!) y.o. simply does not have the maturity, depth and breadth of knowledge, understanding of the world and politics, whatnot, to give a qualified vote. The only thing to be said in defense of a low age is that too many of the considerably older are also unqualified to vote, yet still have the right to do so. Going back to 21* would be a better move—and a much better move would be, as I have repeatedly mentioned in the past, to make the right to vote contingent on some more individual judgement. (For instance, passing some test of critical thinking, having some combination of age and IQ, or similar.)

*This used to be the cut-off in at least some countries. Looking at any given country, the “back” part might or might not apply.

To take another approach: There is nothing magical about either of 16 and 18, and a lowering to 16 today could well result in demands for 14 tomorrow. Given that we have the need for some type of border,* and given that this border is age-based,** we have to ask what age forms the best border. The arguments in favor of specifically 16 are very weak, would often apply equally to e.g. 14 or 15, and going to 16 would not inherently make the world a better place than remaining at 18, “only” dropping to 17, or, even, increasing the age.***

*If not, we would see small children voting in the manner dictated by others (parents, teachers, whatnot) or even others outright voting for them, as they are too small and uncoordinated to physically perform the act of voting.

**Which is the current situation, but not, cf. above, my personal ideal.

***This to be contrasted with older debates like whether the “common man” should have the right to vote, or just the upper classes, and whether women should have an equal vote to men. These involve a difference in principle that is much more fundamental. (Notwithstanding that both have likely led to a lowering of the quality of voters.)

In particular, a limit at 16 is today harder to justify from a rational point of view than in the past. For instance, a school-kid at 16 today is likely* to be worse or considerably worse educated than his age peers of e.g. 1991 (when I was 16) or 1968 (when my father was). This both in absolute terms and relative the rest of the population.** He is also likely to have less practical experiences in other areas of life and is likely to have been infantilized*** to a higher degree. There might or might not be a “pro” argument based on physical maturity, but physical maturity does not imply mental maturity and I doubt that the apparent effect of earlier physical maturity has been very large going from e.g. 1991 to today (but it might be, if we compare 18(!)91 with today).

*Looking at averages and with reservations for the developments in the country at hand. Here I assume a reasonably well developed Western country.

**Note that the proportions of adults with respectively high-school, college, and whatnot degrees have grown rapidly over the years. For instance, my mother was at 9 years of school when she was 16, while her mother/my grandmother never got past the 6 years that were mandatory in the 1930s, and her case to vote, given that my grandmother was allowed to vote and looking just at formal education, was stronger than today. Looking at her children, me and my sister, we were also at 9 years of school, but Mother had moved on to 12 years of (regular) school, 1 or 2 of the Salvation Army’s officer school, and then 4 or 5 of university—or between 17 and 19 in all. The case that we should have been allowed to vote given that Mother was, was weak indeed.

***It could be argued that giving the right to vote would help with reducing infantilization, but (a) the overall effect is likely to be small, as the overall time and effect for any given person would be small, (b) it starts at the wrong end, with giving power over others instead of building responsibility for oneself, (c) the effects of prior infantilization would still affect the vote negatively, making this a poor starting point.

Excursion on voting inflation:
An interesting thought is that increases to the voting population diminish the value of each individual vote in a manner similar to how printing more money reduces the value of existing money, with the implications that there is partial disenfranchisement of existing voters in favor of the new and that more existing voters might refrain from voting, because the expected pay-off* is lower. A better approach to, e.g., “create interest in democracy and its functioning” would be to move more influence to politicians and voters on the regional/county/city/whatnot level, where each individual vote counts for more. (Today, it hardly pays to vote on the national/federal level, as the chance of a vote counting is miniscule, and it hardly pays to vote on the local level, as the local government has too little power relative the national/federal.)

*Where “pay-off” must be taken to some approximation, as voting pay-offs tend to be all-or-nothing: either, very rarely, my vote determines the (sub-)election or, much more often, my vote has no effect. More other voters, all other things equal, pushes the likelihood of “nothing” up and reduces the likelihood of “all” even further than it already is.


Written by michaeleriksson

December 25, 2022 at 9:49 pm

Oddities from the U.S. election

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With the chaos and highly conflicting reports on this and that, I will not go into detail on the U.S. elections even now. However:

  1. What I have seen from specifically the infamous Maricopa County both in 2022 and 2020 is beyond the pale.

    In a best-case scenario, we have such a combination of incompetence and negligence that the election results cannot be trusted and that the lesser evil would be to simply strike them as too unreliable—just like “election” results from a county would not be accepted that had been decided by the flip of a coin. (What legal options exist here, I do not know, but the question will likely be academic for reasons of politics.)

    More likely, there has been a systematic pro-Democrat cheating, which has outright falsified election results.

  2. I have seen repeated claims (but, unfortunately, no official source) that the Republicans had a clear “popular vote” majority in the House. (E.g. [1], which gives 52.3 R, 46.2 D with reference to the “Cook Political Report”.)

    This does not seem to be reflected in the seats won, as the Republican victory is not yet completely certain and will be at most by a thin margin. While such flukes can happen,* they are unusual, unlikely, and cause for suspicion.

    *By a sufficiently uneven distribution of voters.

  3. Combine this with another claim and there is very major reason for suspicion:

    That the Democrats won almost all “toss up” seats.

    I have not seen final numbers on this and “toss up” is open to interpretation,* but say for the sake of argument, that we have an election with 15 50–50 seats and one party wins at least 14 out of 15. The chance of this happening is given by the binomial formula as 0.5^15 + 15 x 0.5^14 x 0.5 = 16 x 0.5^15 or 1/2048.

    *If and when I see better numbers, I might revisit the issue.

    This is unlikely to match the actual relevant numbers, but it does give a general idea of how such scenarios should raise suspicion.

    (Note similar issues in the past, e.g. that Trump took most bell-weather states in 2020, yet somehow lost the election. Could be coincidence, but is yet another reason for suspicion.)

  4. Then there is the much smaller “swing” during these mid-terms than what appears typical,* despite the utter disaster of Biden, inflation, economic crisis, energy crisis, CRT, gender-indoctrination, etc., etc.

    *I saw numbers in advance of the election, but have not revisited them since then and have to be a little vague.

    This does not make sense, unless we assume voters out of touch with reality—or extensive cheating. (Mind you, I am very open to the “out of touch with reality” explanation. There is precedence…)

To this might or might not be added a failure of the Republicans to over-perform relative polls. I am hesitant here, because it is not clear how strong this trend has truly been in the past, polls this year have been very contradictory, and there is always a chance that polling institutes have adapted their approaches to reduce the difference between poll and election. Moreover, a “popular vote” win (cf. above) would lessen the issue relative the disappointing seat numbers.

As to the Senate relative the House, I point to The disadvantage of defending more seats (U.S. elections).

Written by michaeleriksson

November 14, 2022 at 9:40 am

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The disadvantage of defending more seats (U.S. elections)

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Between the recent somewhat mathematical texts and the U.S. elections, I am reminded of a text that I intended to write after the 2020 U.S. elections, but which ended up in the backlog: The possibility that even a more popular party loses seats through merely having more seats to defend.

Consider the recent/2022 U.S. Senate elections. As things stand right now, Fox* gives the Democrats 48 and the Republicans 49 seats, with another 3 still to be decided. A close call? From one perspective, yes; from another, no: Fox also indicates the Democrats as +12 and the Republicans as +20, relative the base line.** A near rout? Again, this depends on perspective: because more of the seats had a Republican incumbent, and it is only expected that the Republicans would win a greater proportion of seats than if the entire Senate, where the distribution is 50–50, was re-elected in one go.

*I draw on [1], but this is a snapshot that will change and/or disappear. The exact numbers and whatnots are not that interesting, however.

**The U.S. Senate is elected in “classes” of roughly 1/3 of the seats each, on a rotating schedule. While the pre-election balance was 50–50, the pre-election balance minus the seats up for election was 36–29 in favor of the Democrats.

So, we compare the number of seats won now relative the last election for those same seats, six years ago.* Surely, that must work! Interestingly, no.

*With reservations for the possibility of some seat being elected out of order for one reason or another.

The hitch is that there is always an element of chance involved, e.g. in that a narrowly contested seat can be won or lost through some event shortly before the election or in that some natural-but-random-in-nature change takes place which changes voter preferences in a manner deviating from the overall political climate (maybe, the incumbent has proved a disappointment; maybe, the counter candidate is unusually impressive; maybe this and maybe that).* This leads to at least two complications: Firstly, chances are that the party with more seats to defend had a bit more luck than the other party, last time around. Unless this luck repeats, this alone could lead to the loss of some few seats. Secondly, the party with more to defend will be more vulnerable to luck this time around, which could lead to the loss of some other seats. Even if there had been a true “red wave”, it could not be ruled out that the old 50–50 would have turned into e.g. 51–49 through sheer bad luck. Absent such a wave, 51–49, losing only one seat, would be a good (if politically inconvenient) outcome, while a 49–51 or 48–52, actually winning seats, would be the more impressive.

*Note that these events need not be individually random. That an idiot elected to office disappoints is not a random event, but mere cause and effect. However, all other things equal, the chance that such events occur is random, and the chance that a seat is lost because of such events is larger when there are 21 seats to defend than when there are only 14.

To take an extreme example, assume that the one party had all the seats of the class and has a 90 percent chance of winning any given seat. Then, with 35 seats on the table, this party could hope to win 31 or 32 seats while giving up 3 or 4 seats to the opposition—and randomness could move this number up or down another few seats, making e.g. a 30–5 unremarkable.*/** The other party has no seats to lose and will, therefore, not lose any seats. The result? A shift of seats even in the face of extreme dominance.

*The expectation values are calculated as 0.9 x 35 = 31.5 resp. 0.1 x 35 = 3.5, which forms the natural outcome. (With the complication that seats are won whole or not at all.) However, randomness implies that other outcomes are possible, if with descending probability, as they deviate more and more from the expectation.

**Note how different a one-seat change is to the two parties: going from 31 to 32 seems like a marginal change, unless it happens to alter the overall majority, while going from 3 to 4 is very considerable.

Looking at the actual election again, Republican seats-up-for-election outnumbered Democrat dittos by 21 to 14. Assuming that the incumbent party has an average 70* percent chance of winning a given seat again, we would expect (in the sense of an expectation value) the Republicans to win 0.7 x 21 + 0.3 x 14 = 18.9 seats and the Democrats 0.7 x 14 + 0.3 x 21 = 16.1. Rounding, this is 19 to 16, with a shift of two seats from Republicans to Democrats. Assume a current greater popularity of the Republicans, giving them a 75 percent chance and the Democrats just 65 and we have 0.75 x 21 + 0.35 x 14 = 20.65 resp. 0.65 x 14 + 0.25 x 21 = 14.35. Rounding, this would give the original 21 to 14, but only very barely, and with a great risk that randomness would still cause a lost seat. Or assume equally popular parties with an even greater chance of defending: 0.8 x 21 + 0.2 x 14 = 19.6 and 0.8 x 14 + 0.2 x 21 = 15.4, with one or two seats moved. Go all the way to a 90-percent re-election chance: 0.9 x 21 + 0.1 x 14 = 20.3 and 0.9 x 14 + 0.1 x 21 = 14.7, and there is still likely a seat lost.**

*Here and elsewhere: I have made no attempt to investigate what the actual probabilities are. This mostly because the main point of this text is about a general phenomenon, not specifically the recent U.S. elections. (And a phenomenon not limited to elections either. See excursion.) However, as demonstrated, there is a very wide range of probabilities and constellations where it is problematic to defend so many more seats than one’s opponent, and chances are that the actual probabilities are not so outlandishly different that the difference truly matters.

**The exact break-even is naturally at a probability of 100 percent. We can note that when the probabilities are the same for both parties, the “Republican” expressions above amount to p x 21 + (1 – p) x 14 = 14 + 7p for some p. For this to equal 21, p must equal 1. If we allow for rounding and pick p so that we have 20.5 seats, p = 6.5/7 or just shy of 0.93 (i.e. a 93 percent probability of defending a seat). The corresponding “Democrat” expressions reduce to 14 + 7(1 –
p), which here would result in 14.5 and an inconsistent rounding (21 + 15 > 35); however, even a very small increase of p, e.g. to 0.93, remedies this. An interesting observation is that it is impossible for these values to land outside the interval 14–21, if both parties have the same probabilities. (But note that these value are just expectation values, and that the actual values achieved might very well be higher or lower.)

Of course, in real life, the chance of re-election can vary wildly from seat to seat, from “foregone conclusion of victory” to “foregone conclusion of loss” with halts at stations like “flip a coin”. But let us say that the Republicans have 7 sure victories, 7 75-percenters, and 7 flip a coins, while the Democrats have 4,* 5, and 5 of the same. Now the Republicans are expected to win 7 + 7 x 0.75 + 7 x 0.5 + 5 x 0.5 + 5 x 0.25 = 19.5 seats and the Democrats 4 + 5 x 0.75 + 5 x 0.5 + 7 x 0.5 + 7 x 0.25 = 15.5 seats–and, again, we see a shift of one or two seats to the Democrats.

*The Democrat seats are not divisible by 3, making a 5, 5, 5 impossible. I choose to cut a “sure victory” seat in order to load the bases against the Democrats and, by implication, my point (see excursion). However, even cutting a “toss up” seat instead would only shift the result by 0.5 seats (in favor of the Democrats).

In conclusion, chances are that even a 51–49 (i.e. the Democrats take all 3 remaining seats) would be a pretty good Republican outcome, when viewed from a statistical perspective and from a pre-election point of view, while 48–52 (i.e. the Republicans take all 3 remaining seats) would be extraordinary.*

*The latter would, in a calculation like the above, be slightly better than an 80 percent chance of a Republican defense to a 60 percent chance of a Democrat defense—an immense imbalance. (0.8 x 21 + 0.4 x 14 = 22.4, 22.4 + 29 = 51.4; 0.6 x 14 + 0.2 x 21 = 12.6, 12.6 + 36 = 48.6; this still rounds to 49–51, but only by a slight margin. Replacing 0.8 with 0.83, while keeping the 0.6, would slightly overshoot the mark.)

Excursion on non-election cases:
Similar points to the above can be made in a variety of areas, e.g. about good and bad cards in some card games and about repeating a great season in sports. Say, for instance, that a tennis player has just finished a grand-slam winning season. Say, further, that he enters the new season uninjured and highly motivated, and that there has been no major change to the competition. Would we expect him to repeat the grand slam the next year? No. Assume that he has a 75* percent chance of winning any individual major (the grand slam consists of four majors). His chance of winning all four is then 0.75^4 or less than one-in-three. To reach even a 50 percent chance, he needs a probability of 0.5^(1/4) or a tad beyond 0.84. To reach a 90 percent chance, he needs 0.9^(1/4) or better than 0.97. It might be that he actually is that ridiculously good, which would explain the previous grand slam, but more likely he is at a lower level and was brought the extra distance by luck, say, a 0.75 player who happened to luck out with his one-in-three chance—and his shot at a repetition is then just that one-in-three.

*A historically extremely good number, and a number that must account not just for playing strength but also for e.g. injury risk and the risk of being prevented from participation on spurious grounds. Moreover, it has to account for different surfaces, the havoc that this can wreak on averages, and the risk of seeing a grand slam blocked by some supreme surface specialist (like what happened to Federer with Nadal several times). Etc.

Excursion on loading the bases:
If an idea only holds under optimal assumptions, chances are that it does not hold. Correspondingly, I prefer to load the bases against the idea that I like. The example in an above footnote is a little too trivial, but the overall play with probabilities above provides a better example. If I, for instance, had assumed a 50 percent chance of a successful defense, similar math would have played out, but I would have had no guarantees at higher percentages, and it might have been that the idea would have fallen flat on its face at the first practical test. Looking at politicians, they seem to constantly (explicitly or implicitly) make assumptions in favor of their ideas, and the ideas tend to fall flat when put into practice. (This might or might not be treated more in depth in a separate text later on.)

Written by michaeleriksson

November 11, 2022 at 10:41 pm

What they could do back then that we cannot do today

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I might or might not have something to say about the U.S. elections (beyond “disappointing”) when the results are finalized. However, the recurring counting delays bring another topic to mind, namely what once could be done but now might be near impossible, what once could be done in a certain time but now takes a lot longer, what once could be done at a certain cost but is now considerably more expensive, or whatever might apply to the individual case. Vote counting? Might once have been done by midnight. Now, it takes days.* Consider building houses and railways, running schools and colleges, giving someone an education, keeping law and order, providing a conscionable level of healthcare, … The moon landings are an interesting case: That they could be done in 1969 and parts of the 1970s, as the result of a truly massive project, is not that remarkable; that there was a long stretch of time when no-one made the attempt is not that remarkable; but that the current attempts are going so slowly, despite better technology, despite what was learnt during the Apollo project,** and despite the ongoing (non-moon) space projects, well, that is remarkable.

*Yes, this might be Democrats using artificial delays to cheat, but, if so, what about all the other things?

**Much of the details and the individual experiences might be lost by now, but much is still preserved, and more could likely be reconstructed with less effort than it takes to re-invent the wheel.

I am not, for now, going to engage in detailed speculation on the causes, as this text is more intended as “food for thought”, but I note that (a) some of the causes might be common, some varying from field to field, (b) among the common causes we might find excessive bureaucracy and/or regulations, lower competence levels and/or a lower willingness to work hard,* an over-reliance on technology, and a shift in purpose of various entities**.

*My outsiders impression from German construction work, e.g., is that it is often a matter of stretching the work to last as long as possible. For instance, next to the nearest grocery store from my apartment, there is an oldish three- or four-story building of unexceptional width and depth. It has been undergoing a complete renovation for, maybe, three years by now—and the end seems nowhere in sight. I daresay that the original builders, if transported in time, could have torn the building down entirely and rebuilt it from the ground up—and still have been done faster and at a lower cost. Even making allowances for COVID lockdowns, this is ridiculous. (And, no, this is not one man with a hammer—but a team of professional workers with, literally, tons of equipment.)

**I mention both “running schools and colleges” and “giving someone an education” above for a reason, namely that schools and colleges do not necessarily have education as their purpose today. Similar problems seem to be very common.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 9, 2022 at 10:30 pm

Oddly equal elections and game theory (and some other thoughts)

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With the U.S. election day upon us, I am pondering the oddity that elections tend to be close or closish, no matter the parties/candidates and positions. (And, no, e.g. 55–45 is not that much. That it appears to be a landslide shows the scope of the issue. If numbers had been random, for instance, it might equally have been 95–5.) A portion of that is certainly that most voters are stupid, uninformed, and/or tend to believe what they are told (possibly, with a reservations for who does the telling); and, certainly, other voter centric causes might be relevant. However, right now, my thoughts are on game theory, that the parties might deliberately position themselves in an attempt to gain a majority, and thereby are forced to take positions more or less close to what the median voters want to see—and this would neatly split the field in a manner similar to what is observed in actual politics.

Consider first an extremely simplified example with two parties (resp. candidates), a single issue with a simple numerical indicator where the parties can make a “bid”,* with voters who pick the party whose bid is the closest to their respective preference, where the parties have perfect knowledge of voter preferences, where winning is all that matters, where both parties play perfectly rationally, and where there are no hidden side-effects. Further, strictly for the sake of easier-to-understand examples, assume that the numerical indicator is strictly integral, implying e.g. that “5” is a valid bid, but “5.5” is not, and that the median** used below is also integral.

*E.g. in that one party might bid a something-or-other of “10” and another of “20” in some unit, but not “more money for schools; less for tanks”.

**The median of 6 and 7 is 6.5, which is not a valid bid and would cause problems.

Let us say that the bid “5” catches the median voter. If the one party picks “5”, and the other something else, say, “9”, then “5” will almost always win and never do worse than a tie: Per definition, at least half of all voters will be at the median value or smaller and at least half will be at this value or larger.* Already here, the median is guaranteed to have at least 50 percent of the vote, regardless of whether the competing bid is higher or lower. However, in reality it is even better: assume a real-valued set** of values with a median of m and an x > m*** with half (or more) of all members >= x. By the definition of m, we also have (at least) half of all members <= m. If the “or more” holds, at least one member must necessarily simultaneously be both > m and <= m (and >= x, < x), which is impossible. If it does not hold, there is a small loophole, in that exactly half of the members can be >= x and > m, while exactly half are < x and <= m. This, however, presupposes that m is not equal to any member (as with e.g. the set 1, 9, with the non-member median 5, where e.g. x=7 achieves a tie). If m is a member, in the aforementioned constellation, it is not the median, per definition. (What about voters between 5 and 9, using the original numbers? They do not matter, as 9 is not the above x. With the rules specified, voters below 7 go with 5 and voters above 7 go with 9, while voters at 7 are tied. But let us give even the voters at 7 to 9. We now have the following observations: (a) The number of votes for < 7 is >= the number of votes <= 5. (b) Per the above, excepting that one small loophole, even the number of votes <= 5 (m) is strictly larger than the number of votes >= 7 (x). (c) A fortiori, the number of votes awarded to 5 is strictly larger than the number of votes awarded to 9. If the loophole hits, we have still have no worse than a tie.) Correspondingly, the best strategy for both parties is to pick the median value, resulting in a tie.**** As both parties have perfect knowledge and play perfectly rationally, this is what they will do.

*If this seems paradoxical, consider the set 1, 2, 2, 3, with median 2, and where there are three entries (1, 2, 2) <= 2 and three entries (2, 3, 3) >= 2.

**Re-writing this paragraph, past 4 AM German time, to make it understandable, I imagine that a set must have unique members. If so, here and elsewhere, please make a corresponding mental adjustment to allow repetitions, as with 1, 2, 2, 3 in the previous footnote. As to the text as a whole, I (a) suspect that I am making matters worse, (b) would, had it not been for the readers, prefer to make it more mathematical, including more formal notation and replacing the median with some type of equivalence class of “medianoids” where all numbers between the largest number smaller than a non-member median and the smallest number larger than it are considered equivalent. (For member medians, the median would be the sole “medianoids”.)

***m < x is handled analogously.

****What happens now is not specified above, but we can e.g. imagine that voters distribute themselves randomly between the positions “first party”, “second party”, and “bugger this voting nonsense—I’ll stay at home”. In this case, the difference between the vote counts of the two parties will be close to 50–50 (of those who actually vote) and statistical fluctuations will determine the winner and the margin of victory.

Unless the number of voters is very small,* we will now expect an at least approximate draw (cf. the above footnote), or the type of close to 50–50 numbers that we see in real life—in fact, likely, numbers far closer to 50–50 than in real life.

*With a single voter, one party will win 100–0, while e.g. a twenty voter group might occasionally land at 75–25 through coincidence. In contrast, for a group of twenty thousand voters a 75–25 would be a sign of some systematic difference, contrary to above assumptions.

A somewhat similar image will appear if we loosen constraints. For instance, if remove the “perfect knowledge” restriction, the parties must guess what the optimal bid is. With a one-off election in an unknown territory, this is a fool’s game, but both parties have a 50–50 chance of winning or drawing (even be the eventual distribution of voters far from 50–50). If they guess somewhat similarly, they will likely have numbers close to 50–50, and chances are that they will do so, given the chance.* If in doubt, going for the same bid will give that tie or almost-tie. In the real world, the game of voting will repeat every few years or, in different areas and for different positions, more often, and great effort is spent on probing the population, implying that a reasonably good guess for the perfect bid might be available.

*This will depend a little on the modalities, but take a setting similar to a prolonged campaign where bids can be adjusted over time. On day one, the parties bid 10 and 20, respectively. Regardless of who is closer to the truth, the first party is now giving up the range 15–19 (15 is equally far from 10 and 20 and they draw there), and will re-bid “19” to take that range, while the second gives up the range 11–15, and will re-bid “11”. After a few rounds of jumping back and forth, they will land at 14 resp. 16, and might end it there, both bid 15, try to bid in some other constellation, whatnot, but ultimately in a pattern that results in a small or no difference, as to not gift a range to the opponent. (There might be some deviations if one or both take the strategy of the other into account, but not normally any that change the principle.)

Or say that we have more than one issue to bid on: The voters will use some implicit* aggregate function for judging the sum of all issues, and we still have a win/draw strategy if we can pick a combination of bids that matches the median.** More importantly, in any somewhat reasonable scenario, over- or under-bidding the opponent in the right direction will lead to the right result, just like in the above footnote, which will bring both parties to manoeuvre into approximate 50–50 scenarios—if in doubt, if nothing else helps, by just matching the exact bid of the opponent. (As above, if we still had perfect knowledge for both parties, the rational strategy for both is to use the same set of bids, except that there might be some room for different sets of bids with the same number of voters. There could conceivably be constellations where a better bid can be found, but the effect will be extremely temporary before the opponent retaliates or matches that bid for a tie.***)

*Not necessarily a mathematical, rational, consistent, or whatnot function, but likely with what amounts to one function per voter.

**There is some risk that we can not; maybe even, in reverse, that there might be more than one combination of “median bids” conceivable. I have not done the math.

***I have not done the math here either.

What if winning is not all that matters?* What if, e.g., one party has an upper limit of “15” for whatever bids it can make in good conscience or wants to go as low as possible while in office? Well, this makes things tricky, especially if we only have one issue to bid on. However, even here a similar type of over-/under-bidding might tend to close the distance.** From another angle, politicians are not known to be truthful, and a dishonest bid of, say, “19” might still follow in the above example, with the idea that the actual policy, once in power, will be no more than 15, regardless of what bids were given. From yet another, many view it as better to gain or remain in power, even with sub-optimal politics, because the alternative might be (or be believed to be) worse, with the result that “19” is bid anyway, because a policy of 19 might be worse than one of 15—but better than one of 20, which was the opponents first bid.

*How often this applies in real life, for what candidates, and for what parties is a very, very interesting question.

**For instance, take the last example with an added upper limit of “15” for the first party: The bids “10” and “20” might now be followed by “15” and “11”, then “10” and “14”, “13” and “11”, “10” and “12”, and a new halt with close values. (The exact sequence will depend on priorities, but this illustrates the principle.)

Remove the perfectly rational play, and things might again grow more interesting, but going just a little higher or lower than the opponent is not rocket science, both parties will (all other things equal, on average/when looking at expectation values) make mistakes of a similar number and magnitude, and chances are that things even out.

The last brings us to an advantage of having many unrelated issues: a party that misjudges one or two issues severely, or many a little bit, might well see these misjudgments neutralized on average, because they are put on the scales against mistakes of the other party and, from another point of view, against own excellence on other scales. Have, say, twenty issues that at least some voters are interested in, and a distribution close to 10–10 in issues “won” and “lost” with the voters is statistically likely, and might lead to numbers close to 50–50 in terms of voter percentages. This even as we remove constraints and make the scenarios more realistic.

The topic could be pursued in much greater depth, but I will settle for some additional remarks (mostly the result of free association while I was writing the above):

  1. In some situations it might pay to game the opponent. Assume e.g. that one party cares less about winning the election and more about what policy is implemented post-election. Then there might be room to go artificially low or high, and depend on the opponent to stay close. Take, again, starting bids of “10” and “20”. The first party wants as small a value as possible, and might now choose to not change its bid, leading to “10” and “11” in the next round, or might choose to lower the bid, e.g. with a next round of “5” and “11”, a third round of “0” and “6”, etc. until a further lowering is either not credible or not sensible. This might well lose the election, but the policy of even “11” (let alone “6” or lower) might be sufficiently much better than the final own bid of “14” from the original example as to outweigh this. (And, yes, I suspect that similar things happen in real politics.)
  2. Contrary to what would be expected from the above, the distance on many issues can seem quite large, even to the level of polar opposition. (Abortion in the U.S. springs to mind.) This does, in part, speak against the idea, but might partially be an effect of the sheer number of issues available, where it might be less a matter of winning individual issues and more of winning in aggregate (cf. the statistical argument above). Other aspects include that various issues might not be unrelated, which can skew impressions, and that the difference on some issues might seem greater than it is, because the opinions are not at extreme ends of a free spectrum, but of one constrained by opinion corridors, Overton windows, or whatnot. In some cases, these can be narrow indeed. (I note e.g. that even the allegedly non-Leftist main parties in Sweden are onboard with various Gender-Feminist nonsense as core beliefs, excepting only SD—which is, unsurprisingly, borderline untouchable to the others.*) It might also be that the many individual voters would miss differences in opinion if they are too small (or that the parties believe that voters would miss differences), which might lead to surprising result from the point of view of a more discerning observer.**

    *Here we see another potential distorter: if a non-pariah party comes too close to a pariah party on some even semi-controversial issue, there is a risk of guilt by association, of being (fairly or unfairly) grouped with the pariah, etc., which can give strong incentives to limit the range of real or metaphorical bids. Indeed, looking specifically at migration in many countries, this is exactly what has happened.

    **To return to our “10” and “20” initial bid: if the parties (a) assume that a voter might miss a difference of 1, 2, or maybe more, (b) want to ensure that they never, ever cross lines (unlike the first version of the example), we might end up with a bid series of “11” and “19”, “12” and “18”, “12” and “17”, “11” and “17”, or similar.

    As to the reasons that the gaps are not shrunk for purposes of vote fishing, I suspect a mixture of irrationality in strategy, the sheer extremeness of many Leftist opinions, which might make a “follow the leader” game intolerable to both sides, and a propaganda strategy, especially on the Left, to not allow the possibility that the opponent has any good points, that anything the opponent believes is automatically wrong, etc. (I have written about such behaviors on the Left in the past.) This might also play in to widen the gap, because condemning someone as “evil” for bidding “10” is harder when the own bid is “15” than when it is “50”. It might also be that politicians are highly principled, but, well, let us be realistic here.

  3. Credibility might often be an issue, and might play in with the previous item: if two parties are too close to each other, let alone skips over another in terms of who is “highest” and “lowest” on some issue, this can lead to credibility problems. (Unless these are comparable parties and allies in a multiparty system.) However, looking at sufficiently long-term perspectives, this changes to some degree. It can, for instance, be argued that the U.S. Republicans and Democrats have changed places on some issues, like working-class life and attitude to Big Business. There are also cases where the distance between two parties has been kept approximately constant, while both parties have drifted in the same direction, maybe because the one party is trying to get closer and the other tries to keep the distance. (Likely self-defeating, as this might also shift opinion corridors without altering voter shares—or maybe even causes massive voter dissatisfaction.) Potential examples of this include climate issues in a great many countries and Gender-Feminism in at least Sweden. Another potential example is the drift towards Big Government, but this might have other explanations, maybe in the “slippery slope” or “boiling frog” families.
  4. If there are not enough issues, or not enough issues with enough room to profile oneself relative others, creating issues is an option. Here I would point to many suspect Leftist issues and sub-issues. Consider e.g. the historical record of environmental doomsday prophecies that have not panned out, or the unreasonable and, in its effects, anti-environmental hatred of nuclear power pushed by many “Green” parties; or the claims around “Systemic Racism” and “Patriarchy” that only seem to be there due to naive or deliberate misinterpretation of facts, statistics, and causalities. Biden’s recent hate propaganda of “the others are fascist (and don’t look too closely at what I do)” is likely another example. (However, determining what is malice and what incompetence can be hard.)
  5. The extremely one-sided election results seen in e,g. some Communist dictatorships with more-or-less nominal voting, where the Party and Comrade X are re-elected by 99–1, are an extremely strong sign of direct or indirect cheating in my eyes and partly based on the above. This is unlikely to be a great surprise to the reader, but much might be explained simply by persistent and one-sided propaganda, news reporting, whatnot, absent the general drift towards 50–50 results. A result like 99–1 simply goes beyond what is plausible based on just natural opinions in all but the most extreme cases. More likely, it is supported by means like voter intimidation and non-secret ballots, outright manipulation of results, that dissenters do not bother to even go to vote, and similar. (The exact means might vary strongly from country to country.)
  6. The general reasoning applied to a two-party system above can also be applied to a multiparty system, but with the “advantage” that the parties of a certain block need not be good at everything individually (it might be enough that one of them has a strong grip on a particular “market”), and the complication that they must not get too much in the way of each other. (In particular, it can be that even a good bid from the two-party system is no longer a good bid, because it is cut off on both sides. There is, in particular, no guarantee that a median bid will win. Further, matching someone else’s bid will tie that someone, but not everyone else, and the sharing of votes can harm both relative the other parties.)

    However, an interesting further driver of 50–50 situations is that (in particular) smaller parties might be tempted to switch blocks or go more independent if the old block grows too strong. For instance, a 10-percent party might be better off helping a 41-percent party to power than a 49-percent party, because it might get a greater say in exchange. For instance, in Sweden, a position as “vågmästare”* has been historically attractive, as it carries a lot of influence but little responsibility. Similarly, a small party within one block might well conclude that it can grow larger by changing its politics, be it as an independent or in another block.**

    *Roughly, “master of the [weighing] scales/balance/whatnot”, the one who can put a little extra weight on the one side to push the one scale down at the cost of the other. This refers to a party which is not member of a fix block, or in government, but can play two large blocks against each other and get favors from both in exchange for votes in the “right” direction on important issues.

    **This, I suspect, backfires more often than not, but hope springs eternal.

  7. The “advantage” of having multiple issues available can be severely limited by an apparent drive to have every party member agree on everything (especially, on the Left). Too often, there is an attitude that “either you agree with me on everything or you are evil [not one of us, whatnot]”. This can not only hamper individuals but also cause a long-term lock-in or a drift towards ever more extreme attitudes as the individuals try to out do each other in orthodoxy.
  8. An optimal use of multiple issues can be hindered by a need to compromise internally, with external partners, and with voters. Here we can also see cases of bartering. Say, e.g., that someone has two issues to bid on and wants to bid “25” on the one and “49” on the other. It might, however, be that going beyond “40” on the second measure will scare away or antagonize someone important, or that “49” is acceptable if the bid on the first issue is lowered to “15”.
  9. Multiple stages of voting, like in the U.S. (with primaries and regular elections) can lead to distortions in tactics. For instance, it might be that a bid of “15” would have been ideal in the regular election, but that a wish to win a primary forced an earlier bid of “5”. Going from “5” to “15” might or might not be acceptable in a next step, but often there will be a lock-in effect or a need to compromise with, say, an “8” as the closest to “15” that will be tolerated by those once swayed by the “5”.
  10. A more realistic model family than the one used above would consider effects on allies. Assume e.g. that we have several individual candidates from the same party running for different offices at the same or close to the same time. To have them run on too different platforms might be very harmful, especially with credibility among voters, consistency of message, and ensuring that the right message has been received. This can then severely limit what bids are available. For instance, it might be that a bid of “100” on some issue would strongly help a local candidate in one state, but also that his party fellows in other states have bid “20” on the same issue. He might now have to moderate himself to, say, “25” or “30” for a much smaller help.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 9, 2022 at 4:40 am

The last chance for the U.S.

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The U.S. is at a critical point, having possibly its last chance to preserve anything resembling the “Land of the Free”.

The almost two years of Biden have been an unmitigated disaster, and it is vital, important beyond description, that another two years like this do not follow.

Two more years of far Left politics, of inflation and economic destruction, of attempts to quash the mechanisms of democracy, of disregard for civil rights, of government-driven censorship, of abuse of the DOJ for political persecution, of a justice system that puts violent criminals back on the street, of you-name-it is not something that the U.S. can afford.

In a bigger picture, it is not something that the world can afford, and as long as the U.S. is ruled by the far Left, the world is in danger.

To everyone entitled to vote during Tuesday’s election, please do the right thing and oppose the Democrats. If not because you are in favor of Republicans, then because the U.S. cannot afford another two years of this shit. Every Democrat governor, congressman, and whatnot who is replaced, and every Republican ditto who is preserved, makes the chance of survival that much larger. Even moving just the Senate or just the House to Republican control can give the U.S. some protection from Biden and the far Left. Even just one governor more can give the same protection to a new state, and reverse existing policies. Even just one unexpected “down-ballot” victory can make a difference. Etc.

And remember: This might literally be the your last chance—in two years, for the big one, if the Democrats win now, the U.S. might no longer have elections that count.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 7, 2022 at 10:16 pm

The scary remaining popularity of the Left

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As a follow-up to The scary remaining popularity of Biden and the Democrats: The remaining popularity of the Left, in general and worldwide, is scary. True, the worldwide Left is not ruled by Biden and the non-existent risk of having specifically Biden elected leader of, say, Germany is not a deterrent to German voters; however, the Left has a disastrous historical record, lacks actual arguments, and, if there was any doubt, the COVID-era* has shown how important it is to get away from the Left. Moreover, even worldwide, the effects of Biden’s regime on the U.S. should be both obvious and a severe warning to others. Ditto e.g. the Venezuelan economic suicide.

*Yes, many non-Leftist governments failed too, including in the U.K., but they did so while adopting traditionally Leftist attitudes of “the government knows best”, “the rights of the individual do not exist in face of the collective”, etc. This while Leftist governments were typically worse—compare e.g. Trump–Biden, DeSantis–Cuomo, Merkel–Scholz (and even Merkel’s coalition government was more RINO and Social-Democrat than Conservative).

Nevertheless, Denmark appears to have just seen a Leftist election victory (with a frustratingly narrow margin), while Brazil has just settled for Lula da Silva, who is not just a Leftist but a convicted* criminal—and whose previous reigns were plagued by corruption and mismanagement.

*Convictions vacated for formal reasons and with some political controversy. (I am not sufficiently informed to say whether this was legally justified, but it certainly was unfortunate and it does not alter the near-certainty of his wrongdoings. Vacating his convictions might have made him eligible in the strictly legal sense, but not in a sense that makes actually voting for him a sound act.)

To this, we must add a number of other Leftist victories at both national and regional elections. Germany, where I (still) live, saw the unholy CDU–SPD alliance replaced by a SPD-dominated national government last year, and, this year, e.g. the re-election of a Leftist President*, a Leftist victory in the state/Bundesland elections for Niedersachsen and Saarland, a downgrade** from a CDU–FDP–Green coalition to a CDU–Green one in Schleswig-Holstein, and a similar downgrade from a CDU–FDP coalition to a CDU–Green one in Nordrhein-Westfalen (where I live).

*A considerably more ceremonial position than in the U.S.

**CDU is nominally Conservative and Christian, in reality often “German RINO”. FDP is somewhat Libertarian or (classical) Liberal (but see excursion). The German Greens are pre-dominantly Leftist and have often proved themselves out-of-touch with reality—the type of party that has no place in government, regardless of ideology and priorities.

It is true that Sweden, unusually, moved to a non-Leftist government, but such positive examples are far fewer than they should be—and it remains to be seen whether this lasts.

Excursion on Germany and the last election:
(Throughout with reservations for detail errors, as I had to redo this section in a state of great irritation. Also see the next excursion.)

Going by German Wikipedia, the 2021 election saw a total of 736 elected MPs, of which CDU/CSU (197), FDP (92), and AfD (83) together held 372, or a small outright majority. Even the former two* would have had 289 together. In contrast, a Leftist SPD (206)/Greens (118)/Linke** (39) would have managed just 363, while the former two* had 324. (736 – 372 – 363 = 1. This single MP belongs to a local “Danish minority” party and is of no relevance to the preceding.) What happens? FDP takes an offer to form a coalition with SPD and the Greens! This (umpteenth) unholy coalition does have an own majority, but it is dominated by the two Leftist parties, which FDP is now supporting in a manner that more than nullifies any possible advantage from being in government—especially as a much more natural Right–Center constellation was available. More, it gives me fears that FDP is simply drifting Leftwards and now sees its home with the wrong camp, much like Centerpartiet in Sweden (cf. [1]).

*Neither AfD nor the old SED is very popular with the others, and a partial explanation here is that CDU and/or FDP refused a coalition with AfD, although the alternative was far worse. Weirdly, AfD is widely and very unfairly considered more extreme and/or more dangerous than the old SED, which is another example of how the Left does not get its just deserts. (It is also noteworthy that German politicians have an irrational abhorrence of minority governments and prefer a strong unholy alliance, to the detriment of the voters and with no respect for democracy, over a weak single party government/a coalition of natural allies.)

**The far Left former SED.

Excursion on Wikipedia:
Wikipedia is a fucking horror of misprioritizing and misrepresenting data. For instance, pages on elections tend to bury the actual election results, while prominently figuring data like the situation before the election and pre-election polling. I just spent five minutes writing a short analysis on the last German election, only to, at the last minute, discover that the input data, copied from Wikipedia, did not match my memory—and that what looked like the 2021 results had, in fact, been the pre-election data for 2021. Pages on sports, championships, etc., similarly tend to put the results at the end and endless information about rules, locations, schedules, competitors, whatnot in priority positions.

Excursion on the Israeli elections:
In separate news from this morning, Netanyahu might be on his way to an election victory, but (a) the results are not finalized, (b) I am not certain whether this is good news. (Israeli politics are complicated and I am not that informed outside the conflicts with the Arabs and/or Palestinians. In particular, I have not formed an opinion on whether Netanyahu’s reputation in the West is based on reality or on Leftist defamation.)

Written by michaeleriksson

November 2, 2022 at 12:50 pm

The illusion of choice

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Something that struck me about the “Sorting Hat”, when I first read the “Harry Potter” books, was how it seemed to be misunderstood—a feared decision maker for and to the children, who could only hope that they would, more-or-less by chance, land with their friends, siblings, like-minded spirits, whatnot.

To me, something very different was going on, namely that the Hat was bringing the right choice out of the child, possibly after offering some options or pointing to some overlooked factors: The child made the decision; the hat merely helped.*

*My last reading is too far back for me to give details, but note e.g. the dialogue between Harry and the Hat and how everyone with a strong preference, pre-sorting, seemed to land where he originally wanted to land.

Unfortunately, it is often the opposite in real life, where we seem to be offered a choice, but the choice is mostly an illusion, and/or where those who seem to be there to help us make the choice instead presume to impose their own choice. I have, for instance, heard repeated tales of guidance counselors who have set upon students with a fix and unwavering opinion that (repeatedly) “You must go to college!” or (at least once) “You should learn a craft!”, with any resistance from the student being viewed as recalcitrance, and with no attempt to find out what the student actually wanted to do/was suitable for.* A truly grievous, utterly absurd, Orwellian, and Kafkaesque example is the German Social-Democrat’s (failed) attempt to implement forced COVID-vaccinations, the “forced” of which Karl Lauterbach tried to deny on the basis that no physical violence, “only” severe fines, were intended as coercion—either the people would “voluntarily” choose to be vaccinated here and now, or they would do so, again “voluntarily”, once they ran out of money.

*Unfortunately, I can only provide hearsay and one-sided accounts here, but guidance counselors might be the closest to the Sorting Hat that most of us encounter in real life, which makes the example very relevant.

Consider politics: Here there are many potential problems, including that there is often a limit on the choices available;* that the established parties deliberately try to suppress newcomers with other ideas;** that parties in government can use public resources (ultimately, tax-payers’ money) to push their own propaganda;*** that even parties not in government, if they are large enough, receive public money for their political propaganda; that parties can collude and barter to push policies with little voter supporter; and that the will of the voters can be made entirely redundant by unholy alliances, as when Merkel’s CDU repeatedly (!) formed coalitions with its nominal archenemy, the SPD. In the last case, the only effect of a vote was to influence whether CDU or SPD would be the senior partner.**** In light of this, how much choice does the voter really have and how much of a democracy is e.g. Germany, Sweden, and the U.S.? It is not quite as bad as “People can have the Model T in any color—so long as it’s black.” ([1]), but a “[…] black, brown, deep blue, or, on the outside, dark gray.” would come close to the truth.

*For instance, in that some opinions are common to virtually all the parties. (In Sweden even the nominally Right-wing parties, SD excepted, subscribe to various scientifically debunked gender-nonsense.) For instance, in that a vote for a certain party or candidate amounts to a vote for a package of opinions, where the voter might be happy with the party’s/candidate’s take on taxes and crime but not on immigration, but where the implied mandate will also include immigration. For instance, with party-based voting, that various party members come as a package, with little chance for the voter to speak for or against them individually. Looking at the U.K., if someone votes for party X to have Y as Prime Minister, he might also be stuck with Z as Chancellor, no matter how much he disapproves of Z. (Also note a discussion of the PM-without-a-mandate issue below.)

**Note e.g. the treatment of SD in Sweden and AfD in Germany.

***Note e.g. how public opinion on COVID was not so much determined by the actual science as by what the respective government declared to be the “truth”—even when the actual science was unsettled or contradicting this “truth”. The government line was then pushed using tax-payers’ money and government influence on media, while those who objected had to use their own, much smaller, resources. (And note how most governments seemed to stick to the original line even as scientific results accumulated against this line.)

****But this ultimately backfired for CDU, as SPD grew larger in the last election and chose not to continue the coalitions, making them a one-sided gift to the Left.

Then we have the issue that the elected politicians do not necessarily have the power that the voter is given to believe. Complications include powerful bureaucracies and civil servants, higher-ranking levels of government (note the influence of the EU on its members), international treaties signed by earlier governments, and whatnot. A particularly sad case is the constant obstruction of Donald Trump’s presidency by various and sundry: he had more-or-less* the right ideas, he was elected to implement them, he was willing to implement them—and half the time he ran into a roadblock, the rest of the time mere speed bumps.

*I have yet to find a politician with whom I agree on all issues, but he was closer than most. Certainly, more so than any other POTUS since Reagan.

Yet another complication is that politicians, once elected, have little accountability towards the voters until the next election. This allows them to make great promises before the election and to break them after the election—and it allows them to make important decisions on new issues with no true voter feedback and in a manner that the voters might not have agreed with, had the issue been on the table during the election. (COVID is, again, a great example.) Or consider the recent political chaos in the U.K.: Boris Johnson had once received the mandate of the people through a general election. He brought himself into an impossible situation and was forced out, without input from the people.* Liz Truss was elected to replace him by the Tory members, without a mandate from the people as a whole. She, too, brought herself into an impossible situation and was forced out, without input from the people. Then Rishi Sunak was more-or-less appointed,** without a mandate from the people and even lacking a mandate from the party members. Now, with an eye on these developments, how much true choice did a voter in 2019 (the previous general election) have? Would a Tory voter have considered Johnson’s COVID policies an acceptable result of his vote? Would he have been on-board with both Truss and Sunak? Chances are that many feel outright defrauded and disenfranchised—and those who do not probably should.

*Note that I neither deny that some means of changing leadership between elections must be present, nor rule out that the people would have agreed, had it been asked.

**I have not looked into the details, but I am under the impression that he was the only candidate that (a) wanted to run for the job, (b) reached some low minimum bar of support among the Tory MPs to make him eligible to do so. In other words, he does not have a true mandate even from the Tory MPs, let alone the overall party members, let alone the people. As an added complication, both Sunak and Truss were elected to lead the party and became leaders of the U.K. almost ex officio.

The election of Liz Truss shows another common problem, namely an artificial limitation on options, which forces the nominal decision maker(s) to pick among choices that someone else has cherry picked: The conceivable candidates had been narrowed down to two (Truss and Rishi Sunak), the members had to pick between exactly these two, and there is a chance that neither was truly the preferred candidate among the members. An older text deals with a similar problem of pre-filtered candidates for the U.S. 20-dollar bill, where the only candidates made available were those whose portrait would send a Leftist, usually Feminist, message. A more significant example is the 1980 Swedish nuclear power referendum, where the voters were, for all practical purposes, given the choice between “abolish nuclear power fast” and “abolish nuclear power slowly”. An option of “keep nuclear power” was conspicuously absent.* Also note the traditional sales technique of posing a choice between almost-equivalent options, e.g. whether to buy a certain car with or without a certain upgrade, as opposed to buying or not buying the car. (The latter, and much more important, decision being treated as foregone by the salesman, in the hope that the customer will fail to object and, thereby, lock himself in.)

*However, 42 years later there still is nuclear power in Sweden, if not as much as there would be in a saner world. This points to another problem, namely that someone creates the impression of influence by asking for advice but negates that influence by ignoring the advice. (Referenda are merely advisory in Sweden. Whether the advice was deliberately ignored, whether it fell victim to changing circumstances, and whether the misleading nature of such a limited-in-choice referendum was realized, I leave unstated. The general issue holds regardless.)

To stay with the topic of sales, consider the German Kundenberater:* He is a salesman,** nothing more and nothing less, and he typically has no true interest in helping the customer to make the best possible choice*** for the customer. No, he wants to lead the customer to the purchase which is the best for the Kundenberater, himself, e.g. through a larger provision (if working for provisions) or more impressive numbers that make him correspondingly more popular with his employer (if on a fix salary). A choice made through the strong influence of a Kundenberater is not typically a true, free, and informed choice already for this reason. However, to make matters worse, these Kundenberater are hired less for their product and market knowledge and more for their pleasant manners, their ability to be (at least somewhat convincingly) fake-friendly, their grooming and the style/quality of their clothing, and what else might apply. In a twist, I suspect that the quality of the actual advise correlates negatively with that of the clothing, e.g. in that the coverall-wearer from the hardware store is more knowledgable and/or more interested in giving good advice than the suit-wearer from the car dealership.

*By analogy with Berater in roles like guidance counselor, cf. above, the translation “customer counselor” begs to be used. Without this influence, I might have gone with e.g. “customer adviser”.

**And most or all of this applies to e.g. U.S. salesmen too. The German word, however, demonstrates the difference between claim and reality so much better.

***Which might be buying a cheap low-end product, buying from the competition, or not buying at all.

Go to college in the current U.S. and chances are that you will be stuck with various un-, pseudo-, or anti-scientific Leftist propaganda which rightfully would have no place in higher education. This regardless of what choices you make with regard to college or, once you are there, courses and lecturers: even the STEM fields are slowing becoming infested, the softer sciences are long gone, and some type of Leftist-cause course is increasingly a graduation requirement. Nominally, you have intellectual freedom, but in reality?

The ever-recurring area of COVID would be great source of examples, except that the illusion of choice is usually absent.* Still, examples exist. Consider the mandatory vaccinations in the U.S. military. Firstly, there is a great chance that the “mandatory” is actually illegal or unconstitutional, which implies that someone who enlisted in, say, 2019 might have made his choice in the justified belief that no-one would force him to take a vaccine (or, at least, a vaccine with so poor a risk–benefit ratio and so many uncertainties) in 2021. If so, his choice in 2019 has been ruined, as he was tricked-after-the-fact (see below for this ad-hoc term) into it. Looking at today, considering the state of science and the intrusiveness on personal choice of the vaccine, he should have the option to at least leave the service with an honorable discharge and no ill consequences—but instead he is faced with the risk of either negative consequences while he serves out his contract or simply being booted from service.** There is a religious exemption program, which nominally would give those with religious objections a choice—but applications for religious exemptions seem to be denied in a blanket or near-blanket manner, removing this apparent choice. (And also the choice to voice louder objections against the vaccination at an early stage, as he might have “chosen” not to do so in the belief that it would not be necessary. Ditto the option to ask for greater scrutiny of the exemption program from day one, which he “chose” not to exercise.)

*The topic of this text is not “we have no real choice” but “we seem to have a choice but actually do not”. With COVID (and a great many other things, e.g. taxes), governments have often made clear that “no, you do not have a choice—you do what we tell you to or else”. This, too, can be a very bad thing, but it is simply not today’s topic.

**Note that how one leaves service can affect e.g. post-service benefits and later employability.

As to trickery: Many apparent choices are not true choices, because we are actually tricked into making them. These fall into at least two categories: Firstly, cases where we are deliberately mislead about central facts and whatnots, e.g. through misrepresentations of what we will get for our money should we buy a certain product or service, important restrictions that are only mentioned after payment is made (if at all), information that should be given up front but is only given after a major investment of time has already taken place (implying that a different choice would lead to a loss of the invested time), etc. Secondly, cases where trickery-after-the-fact takes place, e.g. in that a business chooses to act in bad faith and to the disadvantage of the customer at a later date. (It might be that this was intended all along, it might also be that something changed, e.g. that one CEO with one set of values replaced another CEO with another set of values.) An absolutely horrifying case is that of Göteborgsvarvet, a Swedish half-marathon with tens of thousands of participants every year. When it was cancelled in 2020, the arrangers decided to just keep the entry fees—with a big “Fuck you!” to the poor runners, who got nothing for their money. Even knowing of a cancellation risk, a 2021 edition was planned, new entry fees were collected, the race was cancelled, and the arrangers kept the new entry fees—with an even bigger “Fuck you!” to the poor runners.*

*Here there is an element of “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”, but this cannot excuse the inexcusable.

Excursion on sorting and self-fulfilling prophecies:
The type of sorting performed by the Hat has a risk of self-fulfilling prophecies, e.g. in that the various houses took on or exaggerated a certain character through the sorting. This is a lesson to beware in real life. For instance, the repeated claim that only an X would ever join group Y might make those who are X slightly more likely and those who are not-X considerably less likely to join Y—resulting in a Y that is thoroughly dominated by Xs, while it might not have been so without the claim. (I have often suspected that some Leftist groups deliberate use exactly this phenomenon against some of their opponents, notably those critical of highly permissive immigration policies.) For instance, many of the more sensible youngsters might deliberately avoid college, despite having a greater claim to being “college material” than many who do go, because they want to avoid a certain type of politicized and anti-intellectual environment hostile to their ideas. For instance, those who still went to college might deliberately avoid certain fields or forego an academic career for similar reasons.

Excursion on free will:
For the purposes of the above, I assume that we have free will and that there are no other complications that imply that we never truly have a choice, no matter what. Also see Eriksson’s Free-Will Wager.

Excursion on other issues:
This text is not intended to be a complete listing of all possible reasons for an illusion of choice. As I continually find myself seeing some new angle during writing, I am deliberately cutting myself a little short between the added footnote on asking-for-advice-and-then-ignoring-it and the not added* idea that advice can be deliberately misinterpreted, especially when the advice is filtered through the answers to a vague survey.

*Except to the degree that I need to explain the cut. This is one of the conundrums of communications, like how to truly not dignify a claim with an answer. (Saying that “I will not dignify that with an answer” is self-contradictory. Saying nothing, on the other hand, could be misinterpreted.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 27, 2022 at 1:31 pm

The upcoming U.S. elections and election theft

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I have strong fears that there will be massive Democrat election theft in November. Not mainly because of what proof of fraud has been given for 2020,* or because the Democrats seem set to lose without cheating. No, because Hillary Clinton is raising hell about alleged upcoming Republican (!) election theft.

*Open questions include whether the fraud changed the overall outcomes, who in the DNC or elsewhere did or did not know/instigate, how organized and how individual it was, how national and how local, etc., but not whether extensive fraud took place—it did.

As I have seen again and again and again and again, the Left accuses its opponents of exactly what the Left itself is doing or about to do. (See e.g. Heuristics to understand Leftist claims.) If Hillary Clinton says that Republicans will steal an election, that is a very strong sign that it is actually the Democrats who are about to at least make the attempt.

Now, I do not know what will happen on election day, but I will make one thing clear in advance: If the pattern from 2020 repeats, that the Republicans have a clear* lead in the late evening and that this turns into a loss during the night or the following days, then I will, with the sum of all prior evidence, see that as proof of a stolen election—and as proof that the 2020 election was also stolen.

*An important word. That a one-percent lead here and a two-percent lead there reverses is not necessarily incriminating. However, if either clear individual leads disappear or if a clear lead over the sum of the House or Senate elections disappear, that is another matter. Ditto the gubernatorial elections.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 27, 2022 at 8:00 am

The scary remaining popularity of Biden and the Democrats

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I have long been fascinated by how close elections tend to be and what this might tell us about the attitudes of the voters, the effectiveness of sheer propaganda, how rare proper information and critical thought is, etc.

The upcoming U.S. midterms, however, should give us nightmares: Biden has in less than two years done more damage than almost any other POTUS in history—despite many of them having far longer to work. Moreover, both he (likely literally demented) and VP Harris (likely just lacking in brains) seem to be among the most incompetent specimens ever elected to the respective office. The Democrats have gone almost wholesale into far Left politics. The COVID countermeasures have proven to do more harm than good (yet the Democrats stand by them). Inflation is out of control. Crime is out of control. An energy crisis is either present or imminent (depending on definitions). Civil rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion, are threatened like they have not been in my lifetime (maybe, ever—the situation is not that far from the old Eastern Europe). Etc.*

*Note that, with the possible exception of civil rights, these are not items relating to political positions (unless these positions are outright insane). Inflation, e.g., should be seen as bad by members of either party. In contrast, a listing from a Republican perspective could be extended with “Illegal immigration is out of control.” and similar.

Oh, and the Democrats seem to have more nutcases than ever, with the likes of AOC leading the charge.

Still, the polls are often surprisingly tight. For instance, FiveThirtyEight currently* gives October-19th approval ratings for Biden of 44-to-54, 40-to-55, and 39-to-55 (percentage approve to percentage disapprove). That the man squeezes past 30 percent approval is a disgrace; and in a sane country with well-informed and intelligent voters, he would not break 20. Yet, here he is with the least favorable poll giving him “just” a -16 and still a whole 39 (!!!) percent approval. These might be numbers that I would have expected among Democrats, but they actually apply to the sum of the (polled) voters—including Republicans and independents!**

*Note that this is a site which changes regularly. Future readers are likely to find different data, even different elections.

**Which implies that his support among Democrats is still massive. A back-of-the-envelope calculation that assumes 50 percent each of D and R, no independents, and no Republicans approving, gives Biden between 78 and 88 percent approval among Democrats in these polls. Absurd, just absurd.

Generic ballot, where the catastrophe that is Biden is less important? Democrats 43 (!); Republicans 47. All this, and there are still 43 percent who prefer the Democrats? All this, and the Republican advantage is still only 4 percentage points? Ridiculous!

Looking at all individual actual elections would be too cumbersome, and picking individual elections potentially misleading,* but to look at just the four that follow immediately after the aforementioned generic ballot:

*For reasons that include the strength of the individual candidates, the local demographics, local politics not reflected on the federal level, and similar.

Senate, Washington—Democrats ahead.

Senate, Pennsylvania—Democrats ahead.

Senate, Ohio—Republicans in the lead by a mere 3 percentage points.

Senate, California—Democrats close to a 2/3 (!) majority.

These numbers do not reflect the nationwide situation, but they are still scary. That the Republicans are not set to win almost everywhere is absurd. California is a near given exception, but by almost twice the votes?!? Do voters in California not look around and see what their state has become? Do they not compare California with other states or the past? Have they no clue about political cause and consequence?

Very, very scary.

Excursion on polls vs. reality:
As we have seen in the last U.S. elections, polling can be off by a surprising distance, compared to what the science of statistics promises.* However, there is little chance that this distance is large enough to give us sane numbers. It might or might not be enough to, e.g., turn Pennsylvania to a Republican/Mehmet Oz victory, but it is unlikely to be enough to give the Republicans the landslide that Oz would have won in a sane world.

*Likely due to systematic biases, e.g. in that someone Republican might be less likely to state this in today’s climate.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 23, 2022 at 4:17 pm

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