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Re: supermajority options

Branden Robinson wrote:
On Fri, Nov 22, 2002 at 12:39:27PM -0600, Manoj Srivastava wrote:

	Interesting. However, that paper makes a number of assumptions

  May (1952) shows that majority rule is the only positively
  responsive voting rule that satisfies anonymity (all voters are
  treated equally) and neutrality (all alternatives are treated
  equally).  If we use a system other than majority rule, then we
  lose either anonymity or neutrality.

	Eh? this obviously does not apply.

It isn't even the central thesis of the paper, so I'm not sure what
you're really establishing here.

Our voting system does not have anonymity, except in Project Leader
elections (well, in theory anyway[1]), which are already conducted under
a simple majority requirement and wouldn't be impacted by a proposal to
eliminate supermajority requirements from the Constitution.

So, the remaining question is, do we lose "neutrality"?

Obviously -- The paper defines "neutrality" as "all options are treated
the same".  If we are asserting a supermajority requirement on certain
actions, like constitutional amendments, then we are not treating all
options the same, and therefore lose neutrality.

The remaining question:  Do we want "neutrality"?

"Neutrality" isn't always a desirable condition.

Additionally, the core of the argument is about bargaining powers,

No, it isn't.  The core of the argument is that supermajorities prevent
consensus from being expressed through minorities' defense of their

	Our thinking about majority rule has been considerably sharpened
	by formal social choice theory.  As already noted, May (1952)
	shows that majority rule is the only positively responsive
	decision rule satisfying anonymity and neutrality.  In a similar
	vein, Rae (1969) and Taylor (1969) show that majority rule is
	the decision rule that minimizes the probability that an agent
	votes for something that is not enacted or votes against
	something that is.  Straffin (1977) shows that majority rule is
	the decision rule that maximizes responsiveness to individual
	preferences.  Social choice theory has demonstrated that
	majority rule is prone to cycles (Condorcet 1788/1955; Arrow
	1952; Plott 1967; McKelvey 1976, 1979; Schofield 1978).  The
	conditions under which this applies to super-majoritarian
	decision rules has been explored by Nakamura (1979), Greenberg
	(1979) and Schofield et al.  (1988). Miller (1980) and McKelvey
	(1986) show there are strict limits to majority rule cycling
	under normal institutional settings, and Miller (1983) argues
	that the instability produced by cycling may actually beneficial
	to systemic stability by assuring that there are no permanent
	losers.  Laing and Slotznick (1987) show that under
	super-majoritarian rules, it may be strategically rational for
	blocking minorities to defend extreme status quo positions, even
	though they would like to see them replaced.

Note especially the last sentence.  Is insincerity really a feature we
want in our voting system?

Defend against what?  Replaced by what?  If the proposed alternative to
an extreme status-quo is an extreme in the opposite direction, and my
real position is that the status quo is in the right direction but too
extreme, I'd defend the status quo over the proposed alternative.

A point directly rebutted by the paper.

"With super-majority voting, the status quo is privileged­if there is no
alternative for which a super-majority votes, the status quo is
maintained.  Following Rae's (1975) argument, given that the status quo
is more desirable to some voters than to others, some voters are
effectively privileged.  It is certainly the case that super-majority
rules can privilege (protect, if you prefer) some voters.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to privilege every group over every
other group. If super-majority rules create a privileged group, there
must be a corresponding under-privileged group."

This argument seems circular.  The "priviledged group" is the group that
supports the status quo over a proposed alternative.  This "priviledged
group" has no other definition, and can't be identified except by voting

That the group of voters who prefer the status quo have their voting
power enhanced by a supermajority system is obvious.  In fact, I'd say
it's a *design goal* of supermajority systems.  Similarly, that the
groups of voters who desire change have more work to do, more support to
gain in a supermajority system is also , in my opinion, a design goal of

Claiming that this is a problem requires more proof than simply stating
that there is are privileged and underprivileged groups, as if this is
an apriori bad thing.  Especially when the privileged and
underprivileged groups change silently with each proposed change.

"Using some simple examples, we can illustrate some of the problems that
super-majoritarian rules can produce.  Such rules can lead to the
complete exclusion of minorities, to immobilism where the status quo is
impossible to challenge, to situations where ideologically concentrated
minorities are advantaged over more dispersed majorities, and even to
situations where points at the very extremes are strategically defended
by blocking coalitions."

These are examples?  These are some purported problems, but no examples
of where they actually occur.  Or is that elsewhere in the paper.

These are also extreme problems.  How often do they really show up?

"Majority rule offers most protection to minorities because it makes it
easiest for a minority to form a coalition that can overturn an
unacceptable outcome.  Super-majority rules can certainly protect (or
rather privilege) some minorities, but only at the expense of others.
It is not logically possible for every minority to be privileged over
every other minority."

Given the definition of the priviledged minority (those in opposition to
the current proposed change) is so fluid and changeable, I find this
conclusion to be overly strong based on the argument and evidence put


The status Quo, in the case of the DFSG+SC, defines what our
philosophies are, and they tread a fine line between extreme
positions on either side.

Exactly the sort of goal the paper argues is achieved through simple

"Laing and Slotznick (1987) show that under super-majoritarian rules, it
may be strategically rational for blocking minorities to defend extreme
status quo positions, even though they would like to see them replaced."

I discussed my feelings on this sentence above.

"[Super-majoritiarian] rules can lead...to situations where points at
the very extremes are strategically defended by blocking coalitions."

"Can lead...to" is very open-ended, wishy-washy words.  Likewise
majority-rules can lead to situations where there is no stability, and
adapted positions flip-flop back and forth between extremes.  Witness,
for instance, the recent US Congressional elections, and the declared
"conservative mandate" from a very narrow majority for the majority party.

Is it your assertion that Debian's salvation and preservation of
identity lies with an especially esteemed minority group?  Have we
already been overrun by a group of developers, a group now comprising
the majority, who are all too willing to sacrifice our identity to
so-called pragmatic concerns?

The "esteemed minority group" of import here are the folks who wrote,
argued about, and agreed to the identity embodied in the documents in
question.  The only existing "minority group" that would be so
priviledged are the people that still support the principles embodied in
those documents.  That priviledged minority group is probably a majority.

	The paper has failed to consvince me.

It doesn't appear to me that you've even read it very carefully,
unfortunately.  You reiterate the very points it refutes.

And I find your cited refutations weakly documented and not convincing.

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