Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Arrow: Criticism and Defence

A while ago I promised a reply to John Lawrence's Criticisms of Arrow. Here it is, point-by-point. (Hope you don't mind me copying them John - if you do leave a comment and I'll edit your bit out)

1) Arrow doesn’t allow ties. Example: For alternatives a, b and c, the only acceptable social choice for Arrow is one of the following: abc, acb, bac, bca, cab, cba. A tie would be of the form {abc, bca} where the parentheses indicate that the two social rankings abc and bca are tied.

I don’t think Arrow disallows ties. See below, but ‘indifference’ counts as a decision. Of course, trying to choose between policies x and y, knowing society is indifferent between them doesn’t much help. Perhaps we can resolve indifference by tossing a coin, as many have suggested for tied elections. Technically that doesn’t fit Arrow’s general project, as it only breaks deadlock, it doesn’t produce a social ranking – but then, I think he’s wrong to require such anyway.

2) Arrow assumes that a tie is the same as an indifference. Let’s assume 2 alternatives: x and y. Also that half of the individuals in society prefer x to y – xPiy for half – and half the individuals prefer y to x – yPix. Pi represents the preference ordering of the ith individual. Arrow would say that society is indifferent between the 2 alternatives – xIy. However, society is not indifferent between the 2 alternatives. Society is evenly divided between the 2 alternatives. Half prefer x to y and, let us assume, very passionately. Half prefer y to x and, let us assume, equally as passionately. Society would be indifferent if every individual was indifferent between the 2 alternatives.

Arrow doesn’t just ‘assume’ this. There’s an argument p.50 ff. intended to establish that if x and y tie, yet we take one to be preferred, we get inconsistent results. (The argument was too technical to follow easily, let alone recall or reproduce here, but believe me there is one)

Of course, this doesn’t quite answer the challenge, as the criticism isn’t that either x or y should be preferred – it’s that there’s a fourth possibility: xPy, yPx, xIy and xTy where the T relation stands for ‘ties with’.

I think there is something to this, but note there’s now a problem. Jonathan says “Society would be indifferent if every individual was indifferent between the 2 alternatives” but it isn’t clear if this is merely sufficient or also necessary. What if 99% were indifferent and the 1% evenly split each way? Surely that’s also social indifference rather than a tie. What if the 1% mostly support x? Is the social choice now xPy or xIy? The problem is that introducing this extra possibility means we’re now longer dealing with a binary x or y choice, because tying is (unlike indifference) a third option.

3) According to Arrow the only information an individual may specify is pairwise binary comparisons. Any other information is irrelevant. However, there is no reason why an individual shouldn’t specify as much information as possible. For instance, if x, y and z are the alternatives, Arrow would say that the only relevant information is in comparing x to y, x to z and y to z. It is easy to imagine a grid with values from 1 to 100, for example. An individual could place x, y and z on this grid in any position. This would convey more information than binary comparisons Why shouldn’t each individual have unlimited freedom of expression?

If you can’t compare interpersonal utility, the problem is this ‘extra information’ is meaningless. I may rank a, b and c as 1, 50 and 100 and you may rank them 1, 99, 100, but this doesn’t mean anything. We can’t conclude I prefer b more than you do, so why allow voters to express something that has no meaning?

4) There is no such thing as an irrelevant alternative. The number of alternatives determines the underlying grid. If that grid changes due to the death of one of the candidates, for instance, the individual’s preferences, if he is required to specify them within a grid determined by the number of candidates, may change. Preferences may become indifferences and vice versa.

This is to some extent a fundamental disagreement, too close to premises to resolve, and one where John essentially sides with Borda against Condorcet and Arrow. It doesn’t seem obviously wrong to say all that matters in choice between x and y is the relative ranking of x and y, however. Why compare them to non-option z, particularly in light of the above point that it doesn’t even allow some kind of interpersonal comparison?

The death of a candidate is actually a slightly different case. Arrow himself confuses independence of irrelevant alternatives with contraction consistency, which is related but can be distinguished. Still, suppose you rank aPbIcPd then c dies. It seems natural to suppose the remaining preferences simply carry over – aPbPd – unless some good reason is given why they might change (non-strategically).

5) Since there is no such thing as an irrelevant alternative, one of Arrow’s “rational and ethical” criteria is invalidated. Therefore, his entire analysis is invalidated.

This is rather hasty if 4) hasn’t been sufficiently proven…

6) We don’t know how an individual would vote if one candidate died, for example. If the number of candidates changes, the individuals must be repolled or else some probabilistic assumptions would have to be made about how they would have voted. You can’t just assume that because an individual voted aPbIc, if a dropped out, the individual would still be indifferent between b and c. For example, let us assume that there are 3 candidates, a, b, c and Hitler. A voter might vote aIbIcPHitler with the rationale that any candidate would be preferred to Hitler. Then, if Hitler dropped out, true preferences among a, b and c might emerge.

This rather repeats 4). If there are true preferences between a, b and c, why hsouldn’t they emerge before Hitler’s death? Thus if the individual would want to vote aPbPc without Hitler in the frame, they should want to vote aPbPcPHitler with Hitler, preserving “the rationale that any candidate would be preferred to Hitler”.

7) An individual shouldn’t be prevented or constrained from using his vote in a strategic way. In any rational voting system there is what Arrow calls the “Positive Association of Social and Individual Values.” Therefore, an individual will express preferences based on the candidate set in order to prevent a particular individual from being elected or to help guarantee that another individual will be elected if he feels that strongly about some particular candidate. The individual shouldn’t be required, as Arrow does, to vote consistently when the candidate set changes. For example, let’s assume that the candidate set consists of candidates a, b, c and Jesus. It would be an entirely rational vote to specify (Jesus)PaIbIc. Compared to Jesus, the individual is indifferent among a, b and c. Now let us suppose that Jesus drops out of the race. Then it would be entirely rational for the individual to vote aPbPc. In other words, the voter voted strategically to get Jesus elected and should be allowed to do so. If Jesus is not in the race, the individual’s true preferences among a, b and c emerge. Arrow’s condition, “Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives” is not rational after all.

Again, this criticises 4), but explicitly claiming the individual should be allowed to vote strategically. I’m not sure about that. Sometimes I think strategic voting is defensible, so long as all have the same opportunities to use their votes, it’s up to people how they do so. Certainly no argument for strategic voting is given here, however, so nothing to convince anyone who already believes it’s wrong.

8) “Adopting an informational perspective, then, [Arrow’s theorem] just state[s] that procedures for three or more candidates require more information than just the relative rankings of pairs.” Saari, DG, (1995), Basic Geometry of Voting, Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

I don’t see the point being made here.

9) Rankings have been considered to be cardinal or ordinal where ordinal represents a simple ranking and cardinal allows more information. Cardinal rankings supposedly allow “preference intensity” to be represented. It’s not about preference intensity; it’s about freedom of expression. Let’s add a third type of ranking: digital. An ordinal comparison for 3 candidates can be specified by 3 bits since there are 6 possibilities. If we allow more bits, then more information and relevant information can be gleaned from each individual. Allowing each individual to specify his or her preferences using the same number of bits eliminates the “interpersonal comparisons of utility,” another of Arrow’s bugaboos. There is no preference given to one individual over another because of supposed greater need. Therefore, allowing more than just ordinal information is just as impersonal as allowing only ordinal information.

This claims to be like 3) but without making interpersonal comparisons, however I don’t see what is supposedly expressed. How about another box on the ballot allowing voters to express their favourite flavour of ice cream? Surely that’s also more expression and therefore better (though I don’t see how it should influence the decision in question).

10) Arrow constrains freedom of expression.

See 3) and 9). I don’t think Arrow constrains ‘free expression’ in any troubling sense – he wouldn’t repeal the First amendment, for example – all he restricts is what influences social choice.

11) Arrow confuses ties and indifference in the binary case in which there are 2 alternatives and n voters. See my paper, "Neutrality and the Possibility of Social Choice" He says majority rule when there are only 2 alternatives is the only case where social choice actually works. But according to his analysis, if done correctly, social choice isn’t even possible with 2 alternatives. The key point is that when the number of voters who prefer x to y, N(x,y), equals the number of voters who prefer y to x, N(y,x), you have a tie between the solutions xPy and yPx which I indicate {xPy, yPx}. This is not the same as xIy, x is indifferent to y.

This is basically point 2) repeated. (Again, I suggest tossing a coin to resolve ties).

12) Arrow violates the Principle of Neutrality in his analysis of binary majority rule. The Principle of Neutrality states that each alternative (in this case x and y) must be treated in the same way. No alternative may be given preferential treatment.

How does Arrow violate Neutrality then? Neither x nor y is given preferential treatment (unless ties favour status quo, which is slightly non-neutral). But see 16).

13) In the binary case, Arrow assumes that a tie in the domain of individual votes implies a social indifference. The domain consists of all possible combinations of votes by the individual voters. The range consists of all the possible choices by society as a whole i.e. social choices.

I’m not sure what point is being made here, but since it concerns ties again I suggest it’s much the same as 2) and 11).

14) Arrow states (p. 12, 13 of “Social Choice and Individual Values”): “A strong ordering…is a ranking in which no ties are possible.” WRONG! If n/2 voters prefer y to x and n/2 voters prefer x to y (n being even), this clearly is a tie! This section clearly shows Arrow’s confusion between the concept of a tie and the concept of indifference. He thinks that both xRy and yRx imply a tie. Wrong again. They imply an indifference.

A strong ordering is one where no ties are possible. That’s definitional. If voters are evenly split, you get a tie, but that’s because the result isn’t a strong ordering! As for the tie/indifference distinction, see 2) and 11) – this increasingly seems John’s main, perhaps only, complaint.

15) Arrow’s R notation. On p. 12 of “Social Choice and Individual Values,” Arrow states: “Preference and indifference are relations between alternatives. Instead of working with two relations, it will be slightly more convenient to use a single relation, ‘preferred or indifferent.’ The statement ‘x is preferred or indifferent to y’ will be symbolized by xRy.” Emphasis added. Slightly more convenient? Ridiculous. What voter votes in such a way that they are “preferred or indifferent” between x and y. What would be the meaning? Maybe I prefer x to y or maybe I’m indifferent? I don’t know which? The net result is that the voter is constrained to make choices of this nature when he damn well knows he prefers x to y or he damn well knows he is indifferent between x and y. Heuristically, the R notation is nonsense. If I’m going to list my preferences, I can do so unambiguously using P and I. For example, aPbIcPd would indicate that I prefer a to b, c and d; I’m indifferent between b and c; and I prefer a, b and c to d. See "Arrow's Consideration of Ties and Indifference"

It is nowhere implied that voters don’t know whether xPy or xIy. The R notation is simply a representational device, equivalent to ‘equal to or great than’. It’s true all Rs can be cached out in terms of P and/or I, but perhaps sometimes we don’t know which so to write ‘xPy or xIy’ is more troublesome than simply ‘xRy’. Conversely, nothing is lost by using R notation. We can express xPy by ‘xRy and not yRx’ and xIy by ‘xRy and yRx’ (the ties/indifference problem not withstanding). The R relation allows us to represent everything we want – great than, equal to, and equal-or-great – using a single formula. In that respect, it’s more flexible and economical. Granted it doesn’t seem particularly necessary, but it’s far from absurd, and doesn’t have the implications John tries to draw.

16) Definition 9 (p. 46) The case of two alternatives. “By the method of majority decision is meant the social welfare function in which xRy holds if and only if the number of individuals such that xRiy is at least as great as the number of individuals such that yRix.” This is totally ridiculous. First of all it violates one of Arrow’s five “rational and ethical principles” which all social welfare functions must comply with: the principle of neutrality. When the number of individuals such that xRiy equals the number of individuals such that yRix, why is the solution xRy? Why not yRx which is equally as valid? In fact it is a tie between xRy and yRx, or according to Arrow’s own terminology, when xRy and yRx, then xIy not xRy! But wait, there is more. If half the individuals prefer x to y and half prefer y to x, we have a tie between x and y: {xPy, yPx}. If all the individuals are indifferent between x and y, we have a societal indifference: xIy. These are not the same thing! If more prefer x to y than prefer y to x, we have xPy and vice versa. If some individuals are indifferent between x and y, but more prefer x to y than prefer y to x, we have xPy and vice versa. This pretty well covers all the cases. Arrow is determined to ignore the significance of a tie and to turn a societal indifference into a tie. See "Arrow's Consideration of Ties and Indifference"

This seems to explain what was meant by 12), by repeating and elaborating the claim majority rule is non-neutral. It is, however, mistaken. Jonathan asks why xRy and not yRx. It is also yRx. As states in the previous section, xRy and yRx can hold together and imply xIy. Thus Jonathan either has no point, or it’s merely the ties/indifference thing again (see 2), 11), etc).

17) Arrow defines an indifference as a tie.

Yup, see comments on 2), 11) and 16).

It seems John’s only serious criticism is to treating ties and indifference as equivalent. It’s true, this does worry me as well. I wondered why, for May too, a split 4/993/3 between xPy, xIy and yPx results in a social choice xPy. It hardly seems intuitive but, as I said above, to introduce indifference as if it was a third option takes us away from the binary choices being dealt with.

There does seem to be a difference between everyone’s indifference and an even split between x and y – though in both cases I might suggest tossing a coin for decision-making, albeit for slightly different reasons (in the first simply to make a decision, as an individual might do in ‘Buridan’s ass’ like cases; in the second to be fair to everyone, i.e. give them an equal chance of getting what they want).

I don’t know what else to say about this issue. There’s certainly room for many whole papers on the topic. I think, however, it’s all these criticisms boil down to. (Plus some unsubstantiated assertions of rights to ‘free expression’ and ‘strategic voting’) – So it’s far from clear to me that Arrow is refuted, and the presentation of ‘17 criticisms’ significantly overstates the objection to make the case look stronger than it is.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Fire Alarms and Stop Outs

We were rather rudely awakened by a fire drill at 2:45am this morning.

Not that this bothered my flatmate Pavel, of course, since he didn't get home until 9am...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Portsmouth 1-2 Liverpool (FA Cup)

Nice to see Liverpool on the BBC again. Well done Lawro and Hansen!

Granted Pompey away wasn’t the toughest draw possible, but it was bound to be tricky too. With that in mind, I was pleased how we handled the first half, looking fairly comfortably in control for much of it, but without creating many real chances. It looked rather like a tie against lower league opposition – as if we were confident we’d win and consequently lacking any urgency.

The breakthrough came from a very well-taken Gerrard penalty. Probably since Murphy’s departure we’ve lacked a regular penalty taker who inspires confidence, with both Stevie and Cisse sometimes good sometimes shocking. I’d quite like to see Kewell or Fowler given a chance, but with neither on the pitch, it was Gerrard who staked his claim.

I thought the award – handball against St? for handball as Primus cleared – was harsh. Mind you, Pompey fans can’t complain too much – in the first half at least three of their players made bad tackles, any of which could have been red-carded, not to mention Vignal elbowing Stevie in the ear…

Riise doubled the lead soon after with a trademark left-foot thunderbolt on the break. Sadly the second half wasn’t to be more of the same. Pompey switched to a 3-5-2 which gave Liverpool far more problems, and even Cisse’s pace never looked like troubling them at the back. The arrival of Crouch – given a hostile reception as a former Saint – did at least improve our hold-up play, but I’d have loved to have seen Sinama Pongolle again after his effect against Luton. Most disappointing was probably to concede another goal very similar to that against Man Utd, which led to a tight finish to the game, but thankfully this time we held out. Job done.

Friday, January 27, 2006

In Robbie We Trust

Today was mostly taken up by tutorials, and a very enjoyable dinner party courtesy of my friend Maria. The real shock news of the day, however, was the return of Robbie Fowler to Liverpool - every story on the front page Liverpool website is about this, and about 30 pages of the BBC 606 messageboard too.

I'm a bit worried to be honest. He clearly passed his best - indeed, probably about 5 years ago (when we first sold him) - and bar a couple of recent goals has hardly shone for Man City. Still, he'll always hold a place in the heart of Liverpool supporters, because he'll always be a red, and his 171 goals (so far) for us include the fastest ever Premiership hat-trick.

Whether the re-union will turn out to be a good move or not only time will tell. I don't know if Robbie will figure that prominently, but he is a more natural goal-scorer than any of our other strikers (possibly bar Mellor - shipped on loan to Wigan earlier this week), so he might even teach them something on the training ground. Still there aren't many legendary strikers available on a free transfer and not cup-tied in Europe. Whatever my doubts, I've had a big grin on my face since I heard the news, and I defy any other red not to be pleased.

Our Fowler, thou art is scoring,
Robbie be thy name, Thy time has come,
Thy transfer has been done,
On a free as it is January,
Give us this day our favourite red,
Alonso will give you the best passes,
As Carra stops those who pass against us,
Deliver us the title and not in to relegation, for nine is your number,
Cisse can have fourty, forever and ever, our man.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Presentations and Karl

Today I made my second presentation in the snappily-titled Oxford University Political Theory Graduate Students' Research Workshop. I won't post the whole paper here, because it's too long, but you can see the ideas here.

Also I went to see my friend Karl play another gig at the Phoenix picture house. Although he only played a short set, and without Cisse's vocals, he did play a cover of Ugly Kid Joe's '(I Hate) Everything About You' which I hadn't heard before, and one of his friends did a fine Radiohead impression.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Britishness Again: Pubs, Drunks and Burns

The usual Political Theory reading group met in a pub - at first the Wheatsheaf, but very soon due to noise the Turl - tonight to discuss Gordon Brown's speech on Britishness. (See my earlier rant). Unfortunately we were rather impeded by a drunk who insisted on joining us and disrupting conversation... Also I missed a last minute but apparently very popular Burns Night party in college. But Burns isn't British anyway, he's Scottish!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Dragonforce \m/

Went to see Dragonforce tonight. Really was the best gig I've been to in ages; read about it here. One of my students was in the queue behind me. Almost awkward there...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Ox Bloggers

A possible Ox Bloggers meeting being mooted here.

Update here.

Man USA 1-0 Liverpool

As the old saying goes, we was robbed.

I’m just back from watching the game at my friend Rob’s, and still disappointed to lose to a 90th minute goal. I just knew when the commentators started going on about how Liverpool don’t concede many like that and so on that we were going to, and at the cruellest of times… Don’t get me wrong, if Pongolle had scored two minutes earlier, I’d have been delighted – but also man enough to admit it would’ve been harsh in a game hard fought but low on chances and that neither side really deserved to win.

Unfortunately too many Liverpool attacks – almost all of them in fact – broke down with Cisse. Perhaps he was slightly unlucky to have a shot cleared off the line by Rio around the hour mark, but even then he got a rebound and ballooned it over from five yards with an open goal. I really think Baros might well have offered more to our team. Sure, he’s wasteful when actually through on goal, but all about work-rate and ball chasing.

Predictably we had the better of midfield, and for long periods more possession, but we weren’t able to dominate as completely as I’d hoped – largely because of Giggs having a good game in central midfield. A lot of the time, United seemed content to play on the counter attack, but in fairness they probably had more good chances than we did.

Our best chance – other than Cisse’s miss – was probably when Pongolle broke just before the end. I think Rooney was lucky to only get yellow – maybe it shouldn’t have been red, but it certainly could have been. Ok, Rooney wasn’t last man, but it was a two-footed tackle from behind, that took player and not ball, when Pongolle was in a good position… Knowing Rooney, I’m prepared to believe it was a rush of blood rather than calculated, but still.

And then to add insult to injury, down the other end at United score at the death. Having already saved United by clearly of the line, Rio certainly didn’t do his popularity amongst the scousers any good – and the way he, Rooney and Neville celebrated wasn’t particularly nice to see either.

Still, this only leaves us 4 points behind United with two games in hand. We may have lost the battle, but we can still win the war…

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Gordon Brown on Britishness

When I say I’m studying politics, a lot of people assume I’ll be up on current affairs. In fact, my time is often spent on largely abstract argument, and/or historical ideas (I’m teaching Plato’s Republic this term, for example). Still, I did here about Gordon Brown’s speech on ‘Britishness’ (delivered 14/01/06 to the Fabian Society, and available on their website).

I only read it in full because one of our professors, Joseph Raz, decided to dedicate a seminar to it, as an example of contemporary rhetoric concerning a (supposed) political ideal. I’m glad I did, as I found both the speech and the seminar quite provocative.

Brown’s general claim was that we need to rediscover and reinvigorate a spirit of British patriotism and identity, both to stop the BNP seizing the nationalist ground, and because (he claims) we can only act well on the European and world stage with a firm confidence in who we are and what we stand for. However, it seems he has a rather strange notion of Britishness.

Much has been made already of him trying to force a French or American model on us. For example, in one of the most talked about passages, he asks “what is the British equivalent of the US 4th of July, or even the French 14th of July for that matter?” The simple answer is that we don’t commemorate any great revolution because we didn’t have anything equivalent to the American or French revolutions. Of course, our history is full of significant dates – Magna Carta (1215), the Civil War (1642-8), Glorious Revolution (1689), (First) Great Reform Act (1832) and more, which I’ll come to in a minute – but none of these were so significant in establishing our modern state.

Perhaps Gordon Brown is forgetting we do have national saints days – St George, David, Andrew and Patrick respectively. Of course, there’s no patron saint of Britain or the United Kingdom, but that’s because of our state’s unusual position as a union. I’m not sure any of these days really do much to foster the kind of patriotism Brown desires – St Patrick’s has been co-opted as a drinking festival, and St George’s day is usually marked at best by a Boy Scout march. I have no reason to expect an arbitrarily determined new ‘British Patriotism day’ to be any more successful.

As for history, Brown claims to argue, but really asserts, that there is “a golden thread which runs through British history – that runs from that long ago day in Runnymede in 1215; on to the Bill of Rights in 1689 where Britain became the first country to successfully assert the power of Parliament over the King; to not just one, but four great Reform Acts in less than a hundred years… the idea of government accountable to the people”. This teleological view of history developing towards some purpose, as if along a predestined path, has proved popular from the Greeks and medieval theologians to Hegel and Marx who both saw history developing through ‘epochs’ (stages) towards greater rationality and freedom. Few serious historians these days hold to some such view of a grand design or theme, and when I read the passage to a historian friend he was practically distraught at such ideas being expounded by someone who could soon be running the country.

In any case, it seems Brown has only a fairly loose grasp on our nation’s history. Perhaps he wants to cherry pick the best bits, but our history is not full of glory. Somehow we’re a nation that can celebrate even failures, such as the retreat at Dunkirk or the Charge of the Light Brigade. Atrocities committed in ancient wars can perhaps be forgiven, with the Geneva Convention and such far from anyone’s mind. Maybe the dangers of WWI and II even excuse some war crimes. But what of, for example, the massacre of unarmed civilians during the Boer War? Surely that too is part of British history? Or, nearer to home, suppression of Welsh and Scottish national minorities? To say nothing of the mess we created in Ireland…

Referring to the London bombings of last July, Brown says “we have to face uncomfortable facts that there were British citizens, British born, apparently integrated into our communities, who were prepared to maim and kill fellow British citizens, irrespective of their religion” but this isn’t new. Catholics and Protestants were burning each other throughout most of the 1550s – and I doubt the last part of Brown’s statement is intended to endorse killing fellow citizens when it is on religious grounds. Then we have the Civil War less than a hundred years later, and right up to date decades of paramilitary activity in Ireland (though, admittedly, most of those on the Republican side aren’t British citizens, the point is the bombings London witnessed were hardly alien).

Leaving aside questions about Brown’s British narrative, he thinks it shows the value of liberty to be a distinctively British idea: “Even before America made it its own, I think Britain can lay claim to the idea of liberty”. The idea that it matters ‘who got there first’ seems, frankly, ludicrous. Suppose the Americans had ‘discovered’ liberty, would it follow we should abandon it, or consider it unBritish? For the sake of completeness, however, I should point out Brown’s history again seems to be lacking. The ancient Athenians invented democracy around 2,500 years ago, and both Plato and Aristotle identified this with freedom: “Isn’t the [democratic] city full of freedom and freedom of speech? And doesn’t everyone in it have license to do what he wants?” (Plato’s Republic 557b), “A basic principle of the democratic constitution is liberty” (Aristotle’s Politics Book VI 1317a40).

Anyway, whatever the reason – and Brown backs up his unconvincing history with some even less convincing statistics plucked from unnamed social opinion surveys (and one YouGov poll) – he claims that Britishness is not a matter of “exclusive identities rooted in 19th century conceptions of blood, race and territory”, rather “shared values – not colour, nor unchanging and unchangeable institutions – define what it means to be British in the modern world”. It seems that Britishness has little, if anything, to do with being born of British parents, on British soil, or formal procedures of naturalisation; rather it’s a matter of sharing “A distinctive set of values” later identified as liberty, tolerance, fairness and responsibility.

I hope I wouldn’t be alone in doubting that these values are far more universal than ‘distinctive’. Unless Brown’s suggesting our long historical association with liberty (for example) has given it a totally different meaning for the British than, say, French or Americans, then I’d hope they share these ideals too. To define a particular identity on universal values seems totally misguided, Brown might as well have said being British is a matter of having two arms and two legs. This definition seems to exclude British passport holders who don’t respect such values – meaning perhaps the London bombers weren’t British after all – while at the same time extending honorary Britishness to anyone in the world who believes in basic liberal, humanist values.

Maybe this is what Brown means by “inclusive Britishness”, but to me the expression sounds like an oxymoron. There are many people in our country who are not and never will be British. Through university, I know many foreign students from countries as diverse as USA, Mexico, Poland, Germany, Belarus, Australia, South Africa and more. Some have indeed spent a long time in Britain and are informally naturalised, others are only here for a year or two in passing – but should I treat any of them differently from fellow Brits?

The fact is, Britishness is not inclusive, because – at least by any normal definition – it is exclusive to the British. However, we all belong to many different overlapping and nested communities. For example, I am a native of Colchester, Essex, England, Britain/the UK, Europe, the ‘Western’ world, and planet Earth. Brown even picks up on a similar point, referring to how “when we were young, we wrote out our addresses: our town, our county, our country, our continent, the world”. Why focus on any one of these particular sub-divisions? That is, why should I care about my Britishness rather than a narrower identity (being English, or from Essex) or a wider one like being European? It seems if we want to be inclusive, we should perhaps focus more on common humanity and less on any local or patriotic ideas.

None of this would be so bad if Brown’s speech was simply empty rhetoric, pandering to a popular audience theme, but as ever I think there’s more to it than that. In the later stages, he turns to policy implications. Firstly, I think both from the general style and substance, and focus on his own important role (e.g. “I am meeting all faith groups to discuss community service. And shortly I will meet business organisations”), this is a speech intended to portray Brown as our next PM-in-waiting. His comments on Bank independence, devolution and such are certainly self-justifying and congratulatory remarks on what “we” (Labour) have achieved.

When he spells out a future agenda “From the quality of citizenship lessons in our schools; to building on the introduction of citizenship ceremonies; to defining not just the rights of citizenship, but the responsibilities too; to finding the best ways of reconciling the rights to liberty for every individual with the needs for security for all” it sounds almost totalitarian. Of course, it’s a matter of exactly how these ideas are fleshed out, but the line between citizenship lessons and childhood indoctrination with nationalist values is a fine one, and Brown is vague on what our responsibilities are, or how they trade off against liberty.

Of course, I’m not suggesting Brown is an evil dictator, but certain elements of his speech are hardly reassuring, even aside from its general nationalistic tone. “The Olympics is but one example of a national project which is uniting the country”, he says, and building Autobahns was such for Germany in the 1930s. Brown also reminds us that “in war time a sense of common patriotic purpose inspired people to do what is necessary” – perhaps suggesting we too should be prepared to make sacrifices, for while he suggests that patriotism can also inspire and motivate in peacetime, one cannot help but remember the wars in Iraq and on terror. Further, while Brown “suggested during the General Election there was a case for a further restriction of executive power”, he doesn’t mention the fact it’s the present Labour government planning ID cards and imprisonment without trial by jury.

As if, perhaps, to reassure us he isn’t planning on totally centralising power, Brown advocates local government. In doing so, he recognises “people’s local sense of belonging is now focused on the immediate neighbourhood”, ignoring his earlier rejection of 19th century focus on territory, and the fact this localism is counter to a wider British identity. He suggests that government should promote integration, even through “mandatory English training” with no reference to what people want. He makes lofty claims about “common good” without spelling out what this means – in a heterogeneous society, very little I believe.

If Brown’s speech stirs up critical reflection and informed debate, then I will welcome it for bringing important issues to the fore, and strengthening the political culture of our society. As it is, however, he barely stops short of telling us what to think (“I believe in your discussion today you will conclude…”), and I am worried by much of what he says. The hallmark of a free democracy is the ability to question and challenge authority. The reaction to Brown’s speech will tell us more about modern Britain than all his fancy rhetoric.

Championship Coming Home?

No, even if we beat the Mancs tomorrow, I'm not deluded enough to think Chelski will throw away the Premiership title. What I meant is my home team club, Colchester United, after knocking Sheffield United out the Cup the other week, are now sitting at the top of the League One table. Five years ago, I'd never have believed they'd be above Barnsley, Notts Forest, Bradford and MK Dons so soon. Keep it up over the rest of the season, and they could be competing in the Championship next year.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Morality and Ethics

After a brief discussion on possible differences between morality and ethics:

Kieran - I think anyone who distinguishes morality and ethics should be shot.
Rob (returning from a smoke) - I think there's a difference.
Kieran - Then you should be shot.
Rob - That would be not only unethical, but immoral too.

Monday, January 16, 2006


The Root of All Evil? Professor Richard Dawkins presents the second of two programmes discussing why he believes religion to be the most dangerous concept in the world. He explains how faith schools can give children a fundamentally flawed education, and demonstrates how ethics can be traced to man's evolutionary past. He also talks to an American pastor who stages hard-hitting “Hell House” morality plays.

(From Guardian TV guide)

I only caught the end of this programme last week, but this time made sure I saw the whole thing. It was both hard-hitting and, at times, incredibly funny. Dawkins bashing out his typical atheistic scientific viewpoint, and interviewing religious believers who were never going to agree with him. Of course, it was totally one-sided, with numerous assertions that religious ideas were simply 'false' or 'disproven', not to mention his employing his own morally-loaded propoaganda-speak, when he spoke about how religious morality 'poisoned' children...

That said, he raises some serious points. A lot of the Old Testament stuff, and even some of the New, was pretty scary. (Though I think the real problem are religious conservatives who try to impose these views on others, the trouble is morality is essentially other-regarding, and can't be entirely private, as most religious faith can). He also raised good points about how children are brought up - practically brain-washed or indoctrinated - in certains religious cultures. I really think all religious people - and probably atheists too - should have a 'crisis of faith' at some point in their early adulthood, so they can reach genuine convictions of their own.

On the other hand, it's not clear whether Dawkins thinks religious education is bad because it deprives children of a choice what to believe, or because it leads them to believe the wrong thing. He obviously has a lot of faith in science, though I don't think anything has yet disproven religion. (Though it might have shown certain Bible stories have to be taken metaphorically. I think Dawkins was unduly dismissive of this 'cherry-picking' approach to the Bible, failing to realise that any understanding of such a rich text is necessarily an interpretation - probably even more so when it's in translation)

The real difficulty is I just don't see how children can really be given an 'agnostic' upbringing. It's the familiar problem of multi-culturalism, that to experience some ways of life fully, one needs to be brought up in them, and thus one can never have a rational, mature choice about them. Ultimately, I guess the question comes down to who does less harm if wrong. If Dawkins is wrong, then his recommendations could result in many more people sinning and going to hell. IF the Christians are wrong then, provided they don't impose their views on others, I don't see that anyone is really harmed. However, it seems, particularly in a post-9/11 world, that liberalism and religion are no longer easy bedfellows.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

First Week

Hilary Term 2006 officially begins today, though obviously I won't be in any classes/lectures/seminars until Monday. Let the chaos begin...

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Liverpool 1-0 Spurs

After putting together an impressive winning run against ‘weaker’ teams, Liverpool face the rest of the top five this month, in what’s surely their most challenging run of matches. It’ll be good if they can come through with a respectable points tally, and then pick up where they left off against the mid-table teams. Perhaps not long ago, I wouldn’t have considered Spurs serious rivals, but 3rd against 4th, only one point apart, this was an important match – particularly with Man Utd losing earlier in the day, giving Liverpool a chance to close in on 2nd too, it was a real six-pointer in the race for a Champions League.

The match itself seemed rather unremarkable. By all accounts, neither Gerrard nor Alonso were at their best, and with Garcia absent (injured I think) it seemed we were lacking a creative spark.

Thankfully I’d been raving about Harry Kewell’s improved performances for the last few weeks – not because they’ve been back to his best, but for the tantalising glimpses that he could be heading there. He was picked out as a danger man by Spurs right back Stalteri before the game, and so it transpired with what was ultimately a match-winning performance. Not only did Kewell score the only goal, but constantly tormented Spurs, and ironically brought Stalteri a red card for a professional foul as he broke clear in the final minutes.

Kewell aside, the return to form of our defence was welcome. The definitely look a lot more confident with Reina in goal, which shows his organisational skills are as important as the saves he makes. With new signing Agger not yet fully match fit, it was the usual suspects at the back – and after a shocker against Luton, I was pleased to see Hyypia named Man Of The Match on the LFC official website – though practically all I heard of him on the radio was when he inadvertently blocked Riise’s goalbound shot. There was a shaky period at the start of the second half, and Keane missed another good chance at the very end, but otherwise the defence looked firm again, after conceding five goals in two games.

All in all, we didn’t play particularly well, but picked up an important three points over two close rivals. Plus it was Kewell’s first goal at Anfield since November 2003! Let’s just hope we can take this form on to Man Utd and Arsenal…

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday 13th

I knew I shouldn't have bothered to get out of bed today... I did so, before 7am, because I was supposed to be in college invigilating a test.

Well, for a start, college was in chaos because a massive power cut yesterday had taken out everything - lights, heating, kitchen, PCs... Although 'essential services' were being supplied power, by cables running over the ground, large parts of 2nd and 3rd Quads had been dug up to find the problem, and much work (including administering all the undergraduate tests - 'collections') was having to be done by hand.

Ironically, the one girl I was supposed to be invigilating was a 'special needs' case, and got not only extra time but a laptop, in one of the few rooms equipped with power. However, after making all these special provisions, our Classics tutor seemed to have cancelled the test at short notice and without telling college staff. Nice.

I sat around an hour before being told I could go (but at least assured I would be paid for that hour. Not that it was much consolation, having arranged my day around this - and couldn't accept an afternoon shift I was offered because I was meeting my supervisor).

The lack of power made working in college impossible, but since I had my meeting in the afternoon, I had to hang around town. Thankfully I got some work done in the Social Science Library, but it wasn't a productive day.

Oh, and I got A Perfect Circle's aMotion DVD + remix CD from Play.com, except I didn't - no DVD inside. Got to email them and return that then...

Roll on the 14th. Please.

Comments and Social Choice

I should get email notification of comments I thought (it used to happen...), but must look into that again after realising I missed two. John Lawrence comments on my introduction to lottery-voting, feedback on which is always very welcome (it being my PhD topic)

He plugs his own site, which looks interesting. I haven't had much time to nose around yet, but think I'll be back for a proper look later. I'm not thereby agreeing with or endorsing his views however - some of his criticisms of Arrow seemed (as far as I understand him and Arrow) mistaken. Disagreeing with someone isn't reason to ignore what they might have to say that's of interest though, and he runs his own blog too.

This post is largely a 'reminder to self', but if anyone else is interested they may want to look too. I'd welcome any comments.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Political Centre

My friend Rob has written several comments on the current Lib Dem leadership change, and the latest - here - discusses the predicament of centre parties in a FPTP electoral system tending to binary opposition. I won't summarise his whole line because anyone interested should read his thoughts. I'll reproduce my spur of the moment comment below though:

"Centrist parties do not do well in that kind of environment"

Well, it should be the parties in the centre - appealing to the median voter - that do best. You're right this means there's little room for a party between the left and the right, but only because those parties are forced to a central position anyway. And I'm not sure Lib Dems aren't too the left of Labour on many issues anyway.

"in the absence of issues which are able to genuinely split the electorate along more than one axis - religious or national affiliations, usually"

I don't know if you're trying to suggest there aren't any such issues, but I think politics is much more multi-dimensional than often appreciated, which is why attempts to map events/analysis onto a single 'left'-'right' spectrum are necessarily (over) simplifications.

Law and order or civil liberties are commonly thought to cut across economic policy. In the past the main divide in Britain was a 'little England'/Empire one, but today it could well be urban/rural or maybe even monarchist/republican - not to mention the possible rise of issues like the environment. The Iraq war was another prominent issue not conforming to left/right analysis, and where the Lib Dems differentiated themselves from the other two.

"This is because they always risk being outflanked on both fronts, unlike their right- or left-wing counterparts"

There are clearly parties to the right of the Tories - e.g. UKIP and BNP - and there's so much room to the left of New Labour that, as I've suggested, Lib Dems may be to their left - so it's not like the others can avoid competition for their 'core support' in pursuing the median voter.

"The Lib Dems are looking to exploit an opportunity which doesn't exist"

Probably many in the party really would like to form a government, but I think they all know it's not going to happen any time soon at least. Their aim, presumably, is merely to exert influence. You might as well criticise Wigan - or anyone other than Chelsea, to be honest - for bothering to play in the Premiership when they can't win.

And I think as voters we should welcome the Lib Dems because they provide more choice. Two main parties, fighting for the same voters, don't seem like a choice to me. With other parties in the picture, the main two parties know they can't just assassinate each other, but have to build policies that will draw a wider range of support from many other standpoints.

Further, a wider choice of parties allows us to express views on particular issues in a much more finegrained way. Lumping the electorate into 'Tory' or 'Labour' as if those were homogeneous labels is as bad as dividing us into men and women.

You're right, a lot of this is due to the election system, and I think we should change it.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Luton 3-5 Liverpool (FA Cup)

What a match! Probably the best I’ve seen since May… Was surprised by how strong a line-up Benitez used: bar Carson in goal, pretty much our strongest. I’d have expected to see some fringe players like Pongolle, Traore, Warnock, etc (though Benitez’ rotation policy means we don’t have so recognised ‘fringe’ players any more – the reserves are primarily full of youngsters). Once Gerrard curled the ball into the top corner in the 16th minute, I thought we’d wrap things up by half-time and make changes.

Luton though had other ideas. A deserved equaliser, and another good goal, and they went into half-time in the lead. We hadn’t been our best, but they were giving us a real game. I was surprised at their quality.

Liverpool were definitely more aggressive in the second half. I thought Kewell and Gerrard had fluffed it when clean through, but we were given what may have been a pretty ‘soft’ penalty after Gerrard tumbled. Kewell’s pass wasn’t the best, and maybe too far in front of him, but with the goal gaping I don’t think he’d have fallen without contact, so I was happy enough. One question is why if it was a penalty the defender wasn’t sent off…

I wasn’t sure who was to take it though – Cisse I believed was our first choice penalty taker when on the pitch – so despite Gerrard having scored from the spot versus Bolton Cisse stepped up. I said to my flatmate he didn’t look confident, and it was an awful penalty – about midway between the centre of the goal and post, at a comfortable height. The Liverpool website suggests their ‘keeper was off his line, but no surprise to see him save a terrible effort.

Soon down the other end more controversy, as Luton got a penalty of their own. Hyypia was robbed of possession allowing a striker through on goal. Carson rushed to the edge of the area and seemed to bring him down. It was a heart in mouth moment, but thankfully only a yellow card, albeit with a penalty too. That had looked a fairer decision, but from subsequent replays it wasn’t so obvious. Firstly any contact may have been outside the box, and secondly it looked like Carson initially missed, before the player stood on him and fell over. If anything, it could’ve been the striker booked. Still, the penalty converted, Liverpool were 3-1 down and things not looking good.

Rafa made a bold substitution, bring on Pongolle – though without Morientes, he was pretty much our only option – and replacing Sissoko (who hadn’t been any good, and wasn’t much use at 3-1 down anyway). Pongolle, or FSP, is generally either ineffective, as at Bolton, or a match-turner (most notably, against Olympiacos in last season’s CL group). Today it proved an inspired move, as within five minutes he ran onto Gerrard’s pass to pull a goal back.

With Gerrard restored to centre-midfield alongside Alonso, and FSP joining Crouch and Cisse in a three-pronged attack, we looked much more dangerous. I think Luton were starting to tire, having used so much energy in the first half, and the game became much more open, swinging Liverpool’s way. Alonso scored an equaliser from 40 yards, with a dipping shot, and then FSP (of all people) rose to head us in front again. Within about 12 minutes, a complete turn around and the scores at 4-3 to Liverpool.

To their credit, Luton heads didn’t drop. The game continued to be competitive, although from this point you always fancied Liverpool to win. A Luton corner near the death caused some nerves but – with the game in the 92nd minute – their goalie came up, allowing Alonso to score a 60-yard goal on the break (well, from our half really…) and that wrapped things up, 5-3.

It’s good to know that we haven’t lost the ability to come back into games after our long run of clean sheets – two equalisers against Bolton, and fighting back from 3-1 today. FSP was particularly impressive – it’s easy to see why several clubs (Nice, Auxerre, Man City, Real Betis and Nancy amongst those mentioned by rumours) have apparently expressed an interest in his services this month, but I’d definitely keep him. On today’s display, he should be well above Cisse in the pecking order.

The fact we were out-played for much of the first-half by Luton is worrying, as is the vulnerability of our defence. I couldn’t really put it down to Carson. He didn’t make any glaring errors, but he never seems to keep clean sheets, so maybe he just doesn’t inspire as much confidence in his defenders. The need for a new centre back is more obvious than ever though.

Still, while it was a shame we couldn’t rest some key players, it was a cracking game. One of those ties that’s just difficult enough to be awkward, though everyone knows you should win. Hopefully we’ll draw easier opposition Monday, so we can give some youngsters a run out in the first team. For now, well done lads.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Examiners Report

I've just found the examiners report for our MPhil is available here. Probably Oxford-only, but I suppose it will only interest those of our cohort anyway. It doesn't say anything all that interesting, though it does point out that political theory seems to get a wider range of marks. No speculation on why that is, but it strikes me as mildly counter-intuitive. Generally 'arty' things tend to a greater bunching of marks, whereas I'd have thought political science might be more like maths/natural science in having a wider range of right and wrong responses.

Lottery Voting: An Introduction

I spent most of yesterday (well, most of yesterday afternoon, which was all the work I did...) writing the following piece, for the Warwick Political Theory Graduate Conference next month, so here it is (for next time someone asks what my PhD is on):

Since twenty minutes isn’t much time to get into detailed argument, and such specifics are generally hard to follow without an idea of the overall argument, I intend to provide what’s largely just a sketch of my wider PhD thesis. This is helpful also because, although it’s based on my M.Phil thesis, I’m only now expanding the project, so questions on any area will help me see what needs to be addressed further.

The aim of my thesis is to argue for a new, non-majoritarian form of democracy – something I call ‘lottery-voting’. The name in fact comes from Akhil Amar, who wrote two articles[1] advocating such a process. As radical as it seems, it’s by no means an original idea. It’s also discussed – though not necessarily endorsed – by Bruce Ackerman, Robert Paul Wolff, David Estlund and Paul Jones[2]. The novelty shall come, I hope, in my argument for it.

Since I won’t assume familiarity with the idea, I’ll begin by spelling it out. The proposal is that elections are held as at present, but instead of votes being counted up and the side with most votes winning, one vote is drawn at random to determine the result. This is sometimes known as ‘random dictator’, for an arbitrarily chosen person is taken to decide the outcome, regardless of everyone else’s votes.

This means each person’s vote has an equal chance of affecting (in fact, deciding) the outcome – because every vote has an equal probability of being drawn. Overall, the result will be that side A in the contest has a probability of winning the vote equal to the proportion of people who vote for A. Thus, if one side wins 60% of the votes, then they have a 60% chance of winning – because there is a 60% chance of one of these votes being randomly drawn. If the other side took the other 40% of the votes, however, they still have a 40% chance of winning. Therefore proportionality is preserved up until this stage, though once one vote is drawn the ‘winner takes all’ – i.e. the decision goes wholly that way, there is no further compromise when it comes to the actual policy implemented.

Of course, the fairness of this procedure will need defending at length, and that’s what my thesis sets out to do. Whereas Amar only puts forward the idea as a ‘thought experiment’, and then considers its consequences, I intend to argue to such a proposal, from fundamental accounts of equality and the fairness of lotteries, and then assess its workability.

One might wonder, for example, whether it’s fair that one side has a 60% chance and the other only 40% – it means some people will have a far greater expectation of getting their way. This is why Wolff rejects the proposal – “legislation by lot would offer some chance to the minority, unlike rule by the majority, but it would not offer to each citizen an equal chance that his preference be enacted”[3] because a side with more supporters will have a greater chance of winning. However, I argue this follows from treating each person equally – what groups get is proportional. If we want some form of collective decision-making, then assuming a lack of unanimity, there will inevitably be winners and losers. The question is a distributive one – who is to be satisfied and who not.

Although lottery-voting mean that some people benefit in effect from the good luck of others, I think this is a consequence we can and should accept – it’s something we often see, for example, in markets. Further, I believe more people count for more, what lottery-voting does is restrict their influence to what’s proportional to their numbers. In this respect, it’s certainly better than majority-rule, where the 60% are guaranteed to get all their way. The alternative would be to give every option an equal chance, so even where voters were split 60/40 between two alternatives what we should do effectively is toss a coin between them. However, this assumes that options are defined in advance, and if that’s so then it completely ignores people’s votes. It might be defended as a form of fair division, but certainly not as democratic.

It will be clear that I think of democracy as a distributional issue, in which case there is a connection between majority-rule and utilitarianism, since both could be said to produce the ‘greatest happiness of the greatest number’. This is brought out by Nagel, who says “The moral equality of utilitarianism is a kind of majority rule: each person’s interests count once, but some may be outweighed by others… the basic idea is majoritarian because each individual is accorded the same (variable) weight and the outcome is determined by the largest total”[4]. In fact, however, this also highlights how majority-rule is imperfect as a mechanism for delivering utilitarian-optimal outcomes. When it comes to decision-making, we have to treat each equally – ‘one person, one vote’ – but utilitarianism should be sensitive to intensity of preference – the few should be able to override the many if the quantity of their happiness is greater. It’s only by denying any possibility of comparison that we could arrive at the crude equality assumed in ordinary majority-rule procedures, yet it seems quite obvious that we can make some comparisons – two people who risk a sore throat should not be able to out-vote one who risks losing his legs, as their claims are intuitively unequal.

Majority-rule can be defended as an account of fairness if we assume no one knows where they will end up – that is, as something that would be agreed to in some hypothetical contract situation. In this situation, however, ‘fairness’ seems highly indeterminate. Since no one knows where they’re likely to be, they could seemingly adopt any rule – the majority decides, the minority decides, the side with the most redheads wins, always preserve the status quo, the oldest person decides… All of these seem fair because they don’t have any a priori bias in favour of particular people. What recommends majority-rule is a combination of fairness and the intuitively attractive idea that it’s usually better to satisfy more people than fewer. From this perspective, it seems everyone would accept majority-rule, reasoning they have more chance of being in the majority than any other group.

The hypothetical contract situation assumed here, however, is one in which contractors assume they have an equal chance of occupying any position in society, and thus a greater chance of being in the majority. This is the assumption John Harsanyi uses to argue for utilitarianism, on the grounds that everyone maximises their expected utility by agreeing for society to maximise average utility[5]. Not everyone accepts these assumptions, however. For instance, Rawls’ famous Original Position denies parties knowledge of probabilities, thus contractors wouldn’t be able to assume that they were any more likely of being in the majority group than any other group. In this case, there’s nothing they can do to maximise their own chance of being satisfied. One central motivation of my project, therefore, is the belief that a consistent Rawlsian should reject majority-rule for the same reason as he rejects utilitarianism.

But Rawls in fact has a different argument for majority-rule, which seems to rely on an epistemic case for democracy: the assumption that a majority are more likely to be right. He claims, “the political process is a case of imperfect procedural justice”[6], that is, a case in which a group of people are reasoning about an issue to which there is, in principle, an objectively right answer, as in a jury trial. If this is so, and we assume each individual is more likely to reach the right answer, then Condorcet’s Jury Theorem tells us that a majority is much more likely to be reliable.

I’m sceptical about the epistemic case, however. Firstly, Condorcet’s Jury Theorem makes a number of questionable assumptions, such as a binary choice, that individuals are more likely right than wrong, and independence of judgements. Secondly, I am a value pluralist, and do not believe in uniquely right answers.

Part of the reason I see democracy as a struggle over the distribution of good is that I think there is good-for-x and good-for-y, but I’m wary of something like an impartial or ‘common’ good above that. Utilitarians accept the aggregation of good across individuals, as if the greater good x gains somehow compensates y for a loss. Fundamental to Rawls, however, is the ‘separateness of persons’, thus he says, “Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override… It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many”[7]. Person y does not forfeit her claim just because w and x together stand to gain more, for that would be to ignore their separateness and “to adopt for society as a whole the principle of rational choice for one man”[8].

While majority-rule may indeed be fair if people’s political positions and coalitions aren’t fixed in advance – that is, if voters are effectively randomly assigned to options. In actual fact, however, this is rarely the case. To people with known and fixed identities, the problem of permanent minorities arises. The hypothetical fact they could have been in the majority, had they been someone else, is unlikely to appease them. What we need is a procedure that no one could reasonably reject, and I think lottery-voting offers this. Every vote is intuitively equal, and each group stands a proportional chance of having its way. Admittedly this still means some are more likely to be satisfied than others, but that is in accordance to the numbers they can win to support their side. Thus lottery-voting fosters democratic values such as deliberation and persuasion. Because every vote is equal, there will no longer be such thing as ‘safe seats’. Rather all votes matter, and any party can increase its chances of winning by persuading more voters. Thus there are incentives for minorities to try to reach 30% rather than 20%, say, and conversely no party can rest safe even with 70% support – it’d be better to win 80%.

Of course, it is a consequence that fewer people will sometimes have their claims satisfied rather than more, but I do not think this itself is an objection – it is simply respecting those people equally that means they get a proportional weight too. I have denied that this is in any sense ‘impersonally worse’ – it is worse for those who do not get their way, of course, but better for the minority concerned. Further it seems fair that over the long run of the political process, a consistent 30% of the voters could expect their way on about 30% of the legislation. Compromise thus comes over the whole, rather than each part.

The whole thesis, of course, has – or rather, will have – much more on procedural versus outcome-based understandings of democracy, arguments against majority-rule, fairness of lotteries, rationality and social choice and practical implementation, but this presents the main ideas and motivations.

[1]A. R. Amar (1984) ‘Choosing Representatives by Lottery Voting’ The Yale Law Journal 93 1283-1308 and (1995) ‘Lottery Voting: A Thought Experiment’ University of Chicago Legal Forum 193-204
[2] B. Ackerman (1980) Social Justice in the Liberal State (New Haven: Yale UP) p.288; R. P. Wolff (1976) In Defense of Anarchism (New York: Harper & Row) p.45; D. Estlund (1997) ‘Beyond Fairness and Deliberation: The Epistemic Dimension of Democratic Authority’ in J. Bohman and W. Rehg (eds.) (1997) Deliberative Democracy: Essays on reason and politics (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT) p.193; P. Jones (1983) ‘Political Equality and Majority Rule’ in D. Miller and L. Siedentop (eds.) (1983) The Nature of Political Theory (Oxford: Clarendon) p.??.
[3] R. P. Wolff (1976) In Defense of Anarchism (New York: Harper & Row) p.45.
[4] T. Nagel (1977) ‘Equality’ in M. Clayton and A. Williams (eds.) (2000) The Ideal of Equality (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan) p.65.
[5] Harsanyi (1953) ‘Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-Taking’ The Journal of Political Economy 61:5 434-5
[6] Rawls (1999) A Theory of Justice. Revised Edition p.201.
[7] Rawls (1999) A Theory of Justice. Revised Edition p.3.
[8] Rawls (1999) A Theory of Justice. Revised Edition p.24.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

From Russia with Oil

I haven't followed the recent Russian/Ukraine oil story too closely, but this story in the Telegraph the other day inspired my flatmate Pavel (who's from Belarus) to write the paper a letter condemning Russia as totalitarian.

If I was feeling more inspired, I'd assess Russia according to standards of totalitarianism, and bring in people like Arendt and Popper. As it is, I don't really know enough about the Russian situation to comment intelligently. Suffice to say the simple fact that's it's expansionist (granting that) doesn't imply it's totalitarian, and even while studying Stalinist Russia for A-level history we found some evidence that Russia wasn't wholly totalitarian.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Come Back

I have received complaints about lack of updates(!) I've been back in Oxford a few days now, and have a bit of a backlog to catch up on. Fingers crossed normal service will be resumed shortly...

In the meantime, two vaguely amusing quotes from Scott Adams:

"I realize that people all over the world have bigger problems, but frankly I can’t feel their pain. For some reason I only feel my own. I’m lucky that way."

"On one hand, being Jewish means that entire countries put all of their effort into killing you. On the other hand, you don’t have to celebrate Christmas."

Happy Sarah?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Bolton 2-2 Liverpool

So, the winning run ends. Bolton, especially away, is a tough match, and guaranteed to be a physical encounter. The postponement of one of their Christmas fixtures unsurprisingly gave them an edge in that respect, in what was our fourth match in eight days since returning from Japan. I wasn’t surprised at all to see Hamann and Momo add some steel to our midfield.

A draw was probably a fair result. It’s easy to moan about ‘what ifs’ in a game like that. Had the referee decided everything one way, either team could’ve lost heavily. For example, they could’ve had a penalty for a rare Carragher lunge, and Momo could’ve been sent off. On the other hand, we could’ve had another penalty, and both their goals could’ve been ruled out (e.g. for a foul on Crouch in the build-up to the second)

At the end of the day, it’s not a disrespectful result, and I’m glad we showed character to battle back twice. Something we’ve not really had to do in a long time (since Birmingham) Some players, notably Gerrard and Alonso, look particularly jaded though, so hopefully a few can be rested for the Luton FA Cup match next weekend.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

2005 Review

Taken from here.

1. What did you do in 2005 that you've never done before?

Write a thesis - I'd never done that as an undergraduate, so my masters one was my first go (see q.8). And several other academic things too actually, like attending my first conference and doing my first undergraduate teaching last term, but I won't bore you with all the work stuff. More personal and interesting, I attended a friend's wedding - as in, one of my old school friends, Genny, not some older relative who I was going to with my parents etc. Oh, and I finally attended my first inter-college 'exchange dinner' - and ended up going to Exeter, New and Wolfson colleges last term (see q.17).

2. Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don't really do New Years' resolutions. Not because I don't need to, but because I wouldn't keep them anyway, and don't see much special about the New Year when it comes to self-improvement. I'm constantly telling myself to, for example, eat healthier and do more exercise, and usually failing… Hopefully it'll be one more year without taking up smoking, and thereby save me ever having to quit - does that count?

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No. Only marriage so far...

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Thankfully not, though I'm afraid my grans seem older and frailer every vacation.

5. What countries did you visit?

I went to Wales for the wedding (in Aberystwyth). That's it. I don't really travel much.

6. What would you like to have in 2006 that you lacked in 2005?

A girlfriend.

7. What date from 2005 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

As I said, I don't really do dates, so it generally takes something like 9/11 for me to remember... I'll certainly remember Genny's wedding, but would already struggle with the date (20-something June…). I suppose I might remember what I was doing on my birthday, but as that was only a couple of days ago it doesn't count for much.

Probably best of all actually was the 25th of May, seeing Liverpool win the Champions League. I'm not old enough to remember the last time (1984), so even when we were 3-0 down at half-time I resisted the temptation to leave (like some other people), telling myself it could be another 20 years before we reached the final again. And as soon as we scored for 3-1 early in the second half I believed we could come back…

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting a distinction in my masters. I think I had a bit of a point to prove, as my supervisor has favourites and I'm not one of them. When I handed in my very first rough draft of chapter one, he told me he had serious concerns about whether it would pass - and he certainly took convincing before approving my PhD application. Although in the end my thesis still wasn't as good as I'd have liked, I put in a good performance in the exams and came away with a distinction overall which was particularly satisfying. And getting funding too - that's also quite an achievement, though it's a bit of a lottery really, and all I could do was perform as well as possible in my masters and hope. (Which was certainly a nerve-wracking wait through August).

9. What was your biggest failure?

Probably not being independent enough. Now I have proper funding - a decent-sized government maintenance grant - for my studies I'm not so financially reliant on my parents, but I still let them do quite a lot for me. I do tend to cook for myself when I go home, but don't always wash up after myself, and know that food 'magically' appears in the fridge/cupboards again… I suppose this is just one of those awkward transitional phases, where I haven't really quite left the nest, and I don't have a job to pay my parents rent, so it's hard to see alternatives when I go home to visit.

What I'm most ashamed about though is the trip to Aberystwyth for the wedding - my dad volunteered to book and pay for a B&B/hotel, and drive from Essex via Oxford to get there. In my defence, I had little money or time, since it was a week after my exams and my masters funding had run out; but even though I know my parents would both do all they can to help me, I must stop taking advantage of that and stand on my own feet a bit more.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

The usual few colds - at least one a term - but nothing serious, touch wood.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Well, I didn't have a lot of money, particularly over the summer (as I said in q.9) - I only got three-quarters funding for the second year of my masters, as that ended in June, so I had to make do from a couple of odd jobs over the summer until October and a new grant cheque (which, at the time, wasn't even guaranteed to come at all). Most of my money went on small things (see q.14), and I'd be hard-pressed to pick a best book or CD of the year, or even remember half the ones I did buy this year. Therefore though it's not particularly exciting, I'll pick what was probably my biggest purchase of the year - a new bike. After going a whole year on a 12 year old rusty mountain bike, which was probably easier to push up hill than ride, I'd promised myself a new one if I got my grant - so 1st October it felt pretty good, having been frugal all summer, to walk into the shop and splash out £150 again. Hopefully it'll last me as long as the old one, and I've been extra-careful about locking it now.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

Tough one, I'll say Liverpool FC again - if you can call winning the Champions League 'behaviour' - I certainly celebrated it!

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

I don't think there was anyone that bad either. Well, no one I know personally anyway. I'll say wannabe famous Z-list celebrities and reality TV stars. I don't really pay attention to these nobodies, but their willingness to do anything to get on TV or in the newspapers is depressing.

14. Where did most of your money go?

The usual boring things - rent, food and most of the disposable income on books, CDs and the occasional night out down the pub.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Nothing really. Perhaps the Champions League final.

16. What song will always remind you of 2005?

I don't generally associate any of my music too much with particular people, places, times or events, because even while I might have been listening to something at one particular time that won't be the only time. Therefore it's often big commercial hits, especially during the summer, that remind me of what I was doing. I suppose hits of 2005 (for me) include Hard-Fi 'Hard to Beat' and Gorillaz 'Feel Good Inc'.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

- happier or sadder?
Probably slightly happier. I think uni life has definitely been better from the third year on, but last term (autumn 2005, the first of my PhD) is a strong candidate for best yet. It's amazing how much more freedom one has as a research student, compared to constant weekly classes, deadlines and essays. I was able to do a lot more socially, without the fear that other commitments would interfere with my work. Admittedly, this sense of freedom is probably short-lived, as I didn't actually write any of my thesis, but still it was a good term.

- richer or poorer?
Definitely richer. Even though my dad stopped the monthly allowance he had still been paying me up until the summer, PhD funding is about 50% more than what I had for my masters, so as long as I avoid extravagances I can actually afford to save a bit again. (Which is just as well, given it'll take me forever to earn 'real money', and even start worrying about paying off a mortgage or pension plan).

- thinner or fatter?
Maybe a bit fatter, but after putting on weight at some point early in university life, I think I've maintained a fairly steady weight around 13 stone. I said I needed to eat healthier and do more exercise though... I think the fat just clogs up my arteries rather than adding to my belly, for now - and it'll probably pile on too, as I get a bit older.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Relaxing, or doing any things that weren't work. I really wish I could find myself time for at least one day off a week, but term-time it just won't happen. Then again, I suppose it could if I worked solidly from 9-6 five or six days a week, I just prefer long lunches, coffee breaks when I feel like it, etc, and consequently find myself working all weekend too. Plus while I could procrastinate for England, I've never been very good at doing nothing either. Half the time I plan to take off, I find myself thinking I should be reading to make use of the time…

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Worrying. I'm also a born worrier. I've already gone a bit grey around the temples… And I don't even have that much to worry about (no family, job, mortgage, etc) at the moment - though the wait for funding confirmation in the summer was pretty stressful, there were two or three weeks were I was having serious discussions about money and contingency plans with my parents. (They both wanted me to do the PhD without funding, I'd have postponed/dropped-out).

20. How did you spend the holidays?

As in the Christmas holidays just gone, or all of them in 2005? It doesn't make a lot of difference, as I didn't get much in the way of real holiday time until the masters was over.

The Christmas 'break' 2004-start 05 was spent writing assessed coursework essays, and Easter finishing off my thesis (submitted late April). The summer, as I said, I was left rather 'in limbo' academically - waiting on both my results and funding decisions before knowing what I'd be doing in October. I was supposed to be studying (optimistically), but to make ends meet I ended up doing various jobs, including two weeks of market research and six weeks part time in the university offices as an office junior/data entry 'monkey' type role dealing with UCAS forms and incoming students. Thankfully I did also fit in a wedding, a couple of novels, some time at home, a bit of relaxation and *some* study, though not going away anywhere (unless you count the weekend in Aberystwyth or two weeks at home).

As for the holidays just gone (Christmas/New Year 2005), far more relaxing that the preceding term. I was going to a conference in London over the 16th and 17th of December so used that opportunity to go home on the train (since Oxford to Colchester has to go via London, I was half-way home). I saw my parents, grans and a couple of aunts I hadn't seen since summer, watched more TV than usual, read a couple of books I'd taken with me in preparation for next term, and a novel. Nothing special. Came back to Oxford on the 29th (despite snow), and celebrated the New Year (and my 24th birthday) quietly with a few friends over my place.

21. Did you fall in love in 2005?


22. How many one-night stands?


23. What was your favourite TV programme?

Hard to pick one, but as a flat we've become quite fond of Family Guy and American Dad now. And Scrubs when that was on, it was 2005 wasn't it? Also we're all quite attached to Lost, but I wouldn't call that a favourite as such, we're just addicted.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

No, there aren't many people I hate.

25. What was the best book you read?

Well, I read so many - almost entirely academic I'm afraid - that it's hard to say. Actually not many I get time to read cover to cover, normally I have to delve in to a chapter, read the bit I'm after, and put the rest aside. Thinking of ones I read entirely, Richard Vernon's 'Political Morality: A Theory of Liberal Democracy' seemed an interesting reconciliation of two idea(l)s, that I think should be on a few more undergrad reading lists, and one I read over Christmas: Karl Popper's 'The Open Society and its Enemies. Vol. 1: The Spell of Plato' caused me to re-think some of Plato's political theory. Novel-wise, there aren't so many contenders, but it's probably Luke Rhinehart's 'The Dice Man' as that was a bit different from what I'd normally read (academically or for pleasure) and did get me thinking as well as entertaining.

26. What was your favourite film of this year?

I watch films on television or DVD, but I don't think I've even been to the cinema this year, so it won't be a new one. I think I'll have to pass. I can't name a favourite of 2005, and my favourite of all time (that I've seen in the year) is a bit hard.

27. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2005?

Predominantly black. And band t-shirts will never go out of fashion...

28. Whom do you miss?

I'm pretty used to not seeing various friends scattered all over the country by now. If I had to pick one person, I guess it'd be my former undergrad flatmate Mike, who's gone off to Taiwan for a couple of years to learn Chinese. We're still in touch by email, but it's odd not being able to meet up in person every couple of months.

29. Who was the best new person you met?

This shouldn't be too hard, with a new intake of students to both my college and department each October, but although I consequently met quite a few people none really stand out.

30. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2005.

Believe in yourself and have confidence.