design of democracy (5)
notes on the size of v

The standard market paradigm we have for elections is that candidates are the sellers (supply) and the voters are the buyers (demand). Our ideal is that candidates-as-sellers try to get the voters-as-buyers to choose them based on "sellable qualities" -that is: their ideas (electoral platforms and promises), reputation and track record as leaders. What the voters are buying is a promise of good government or good leadership. In essence, the candidates signal the quality of their product -through their campaign communications. (In this post, again, I will use "buy" or "sell" votes in a value neutral sense. It can refer to the selling of and buy-in to ideas or it may actual financial transactions between the parties.)

This is well and good but it assumes that voters-as-buyers have direct information about the sellers. The market paradigm encounters problems in elections that involve a large electorate (v). The size of v creates problems of information asymmetry, particularly in modern societies. Where the candidates and campaigns are armed to the teeth with polling data and sample tested communication strategies, the voter must rely on second hand information (often not even from third party reports) about the candidate. When the voting population reaches into the hundred thousands and into the millions - all information is second hand - filtered -by media, by image managers. (With an electorate size of 50M -the candidate will have to appear to 2 crowds of more than 250K each for everyday of the 90 day campaign period just to make sure every voter sees them in the flesh. Clearly that is unrealistic.)

My contention is that the inherent information asymmetry is so one sided so that we essentially have a market failure. More so, the information asymmetry actually reverses the relationship to: candidates-as-buyers and voters-as-suppliers. (caveat: I am not an economist.)

In contests involving large electorates, the game belongs to the candidate who can assemble the majority (or plurality). The candidate is, in effect, buying votes in bulk volumes, while the voter produces a single widget - their vote. The campaigns basically say "sell your widget to me - I will give you the best value for your widget." From the voter's perspective - the widget maker -the promised payment is better government (or actual financial payoff) if you "sell" to the right bulk buyer

Because the market is so large -there is a need for middle-men -whose job is to aggregate the produce - to assemble the needed volumes of widgets for the buyers who will only buy in bulk. Hence the power of the media, and the campaign professionals and the message shapers and the spinmeisters. They, in essence, aggregate the singular widgets into a majority (or plurality) vote. The vast majority of the widget makers will never meet the bulk buyer in person (they may see them in real life a large rally) but their selection will be based on the pitch given by the various layers of aggregators (the middle men). The malignant side of this condition (the need for aggregators) is vote cheating by volume (i.e. -dagdag bawas).

(The one act given to the widget maker - making a choice between buyers -is further clouded by our synchronized electoral system that makes them choose a president, a vp, 12 senators, a congressman, a provincial governor, several councillors, a mayor, several city or town councillors, etc. )

A large v marginalizes the effect of each individual vote, inverts the economic relationship and gives power to the middle men. It also necessitates a more complex electoral machine: The large v requires multiple layers of counting - multiple layers of safeguards - scaling in complexity the larger the size of the electorate gets.

Next: Effects of a small v

Image credit: "Middle Men" by Clifford Bailey.


Willy Prilles said...

So far, so good. Like cvj in that particularly thread from Manolo's blog, I am waiting how you will tie this up. Some potential problems have been discussed there and I hope you will take note of these.

Urbano dela Cruz said...


thanks. yes, I am considering those "potential" problems.

koikaze said...

Hi Urbano,

"Hence the power of the media, and the campaign professionals and the message shapers and the spinmeisters."

You've set the foundation and described the problem. What could I possibly add?


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