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
I know, I know. I owe you the next post on "design of democracy" -it's in the works. But, my day job has gotten really hectic. Plus, since I am an INTP (very strong on the N, strong on the T and the P), I've got so many threads started for this blog.
Here's another one: I want to have a dialogue with someone who is an expert on property/land taxation in the Philippines. I want to explore how our tax system shapes our cities.
If you are one, or you know of someone who would be a good resource, please email me: urbanodelacruz at gmail.
(BTW, it's a bit bizaare to have my blog posts discussed in MLQ's blog instead of here but at least I know i have some readers. And thanks MLQ for the mentions!)
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LTNE. No comments since last time so either 1) i'm making sense or 2) no one gets it or 3) no one's reading. I'll err on the latter and push on to see where this design exercise leads me.
I left the last post with this key equation:
The numerator (v) is the number of voters. The denominator (r) is the amount of resources a candidate has invested into getting (re)elected. The quotient (c) is the acquisition cost per voter. (OK, for the math purists, we can call them dividend and divisor.)
Jay W. Forrester, used to say that people know intuitively where the leverage points are in a system -and that a lot of attention is put on pushing that leverage point, but often in the wrong direction.
Our electoral system is no exception. We know that overaccumulations of r is detrimental to our system. Our ideal is that candidates stand and are judged on the basis of their ideas or proposal. The reality is, they get elected based on name recall and on meticulously crafted media images.
We have thrown regulation after rule after law to try to corral r -trying to limit it by imposing ceilings on campaign expenses, or trying to balance it by providing government subsidies. We try to wrestle the positive feedback gain so that it doesn't become an advantage. In design terms, we have spent the better part of our energy trying to collar this factor using external controls.
Acting on r -the denominator - is pushing in the wrong direction. What we have not considered is the numerator. We have not considered the size of v nor have we considered managing v to moderate r.
Think about it: our democracy (as all democracies) were designed for much smaller populations. (Athenian democracy ran at the city level.) It did not foresee elections with millions of voters -nor did it comprehend the power of mass media.
If anything, we have let v get away without any controls whatsover. We delineate v not based on population size -but on geography. It doesn't matter whether one district has triple the number of voters of another district -they still both get one representative. The geographic boundaries are totally arbitrary. The district outlines are artificial -and have no grounding on population flows.
We ignore the effects of the size of v in our system to our detriment.
Compare the relative effect of spending P1M vs. P13M* on a campaign with a universe of 50M votes. The cost of acquisition per voter (c) for the candidate spending P1M is 50 -while it is only 4 for the candidate spending P13M. A cost difference of 46M.
But what if v=2,500? The difference in c between a candidate who spent P62,500 vs. a candidate who spent P8M is 0.0397 (corrected thanks to Willy Priles) - that is to say, almost negligible!
Our work should be on the numerator -and the size of the denominator will almost be insignificant. That is to say, work on the size of the voting population and the amount of resources one candidate will have (how much name recall they have or how big their political/social network is) will probably not matter.
NEXT: The advantages of a system built on a low v.
*i'm using peso values as stand-ins