Thursday, August 31, 2006

Dynamically Transferrable Proxies

There has been a lot of theoretical work on voting, starting with Kenneth Arrow's proof that it's impossible for any consistent vote counting procedure to satisfy a short list of desirable criteria he provided. Over the years since then, people have proposed a variety of counting procedures that make different trade-offs among them. The LFS uses a variant of the preferential voting system to allow members to rank candidates because nominees must get more votes than NOTA to win. This approach means we don't have run-off votes if there isn't a single winner in the first round of voting.

Voting isn't a great way to solve problems, but it may be the best we have in situations in which people want to work together and choices must be made about how to proceed. This is often the case when people want to cooperate (volunteer groups, owner's associations, or standards organizations). There are some actions that work best when performed in concert, so people often agree to follow a group's decisions. (With some limits on what the group's purview is, or the right to withdraw if the decisions are unacceptable.)

Wikipedia has several articles on different vote counting procedures: Borda count, Condorcet (and variants) and several others. Each system makes a different trade-off, some ensuring that the winner is hated by the fewest electors, other that the winner is preferred by more electors over each opponent, preferred more strongly by the most voters, and so on.

The other aspect of electoral systems is that for many purposes, we prefer to elect representatives who will spend more time discussing issues in detail and make a proposal for all to consider or decide among the alternatives themselves. Most voters, most of the time aren't willing to pay much attention. (Economists have shown why it is irrational for voters to become informed if the electorate is large, and why narrow interests control the issues that pertain to them.) In organizations at all scales most of the time, most people have better things to do with their time and attention.

There are as many ways to select representative panels as to count votes. Representatives in the US Congress are chosen by a majority in a single district. Senators are chosen in the same way, even though there are two of them. The problem that PR addresses is that if 51% of the people in each district vote Orange, and 49% vote Purple, then no Purple Legislators are elected. PR counts votes over larger districts, and selects winners in proportion to the votes cast. In elections for corporate Boards of Directors, any voter can usually cast all their votes for a single candidate, ensuring that someone who owns 20% of the shares can select a Director (one of five seats) even if everyone else votes for the same slate of 5. (If it were congressional seats, each representative for the larger group would win with 80% of the vote.) Many European countries' parliaments are selected using Proportional Representation (PR), so the representatives are chosen in proportion to the sum of the electors' votes. (Notice that PR also defuses the pressures for gerrymandering.)

The choice of vote counting mechanism and how multiple representatives are chosen has a large effect on the make-up of the elected body. The American approach naturally limits the power of third parties. Since the only people who get elected have more than 50% of the votes, parties that can't at least occasionally surpass that mark won't ever hold office. That naturally leads to a two party system. If any party has significantly less than half the electorate as its base, then it can increase its chances of being elected by joining with another group. If a faction isn't within the margin of power of its party, the party can ignore their demands without hurting their chance of being elected, so the faction can increase its influence by threatening to join a different party that will pay more attention to their voter's wishes. Sometimes, a faction can't credibly threaten to bolt the party (because of historical interactions with the other party, for instance) and so their influence will wane.

In PR systems, there is often a floor: parties with less than 5% of the vote (for example) don't get a seat. Any faction larger than that can get a seat, and be part of the decision-making body. As long as the voting rules in the representative body allow their voice to be effective, that's enough to keep the factions alive, and ensure that they continue to distinguish their positions from their rivals.

All of this has an effect on how interest groups organize and persist. Most of the time, single-issue groups can't get elected to general legislatures. Most voters have too many distinct interests to allow one interest to represent them. Even with the lower floor in PR systems, groups representing e.g. labor have to take a position on most of the major issues, and hope to attract voters who match their position on more issues than their rivals. In the American system, single-issue groups find they have to be allied with one major party or the other (think of the NRA, the NAACP, either side of the abortion question, labor, etc.).

Since I'm a libertarian, I'm always a minority and my vote is of no interest to the major parties. For a long time, the Libertarian Party had a stated goal of being the margin of victory between the major party candidates in as many local elections as possible. The theory was that at that point, the weaker party would have a reason to try to co-opt some platform planks in order to gain converts. Every time they do that, that party would be moving closer to libertarian positions, which is useful given that libertarians aren't going to be elected in numbers anytime soon.

Years ago, I had an idea for a different way of organizing representative bodies that would fundamentally change the dynamic. It ought to energize all the minor factions, and could make it possible for representative bodies to reach decisions that matched the voters' views much more often by ensuring that elected representatives don't have to be a compromise between positions on a large number of issues. There is, of course, an argument to be made that satisfying more voters more often will lead to the government constantly robbing different minorities in order to pay off constantly changing majorities. I think the right response to that is to try the mechanism out in voluntary organizations rather than governmental bodies.

I call my proposal "dynamically transferable proxies". The idea is that representatives aren't elected, they merely carry proxies from voters who currently back them. A representative's vote in the forum is the sum of the individuals they currently represent. Voters can choose new representatives as often as they want. A proxy-holder can transitively assign all the proxies they currently hold to any other representative. Voters and assigners can revoke their assignments anytime they like as well.

In order to have productive negotiations about what alternatives to consider, those currently representing the largest constituencies should have a place (virtual, if necessary) to talk. I think it makes sense to choose a number (20, 100, 435) and enable that number of the largest proxy-holders to convene. If they agree on an agenda, and set particular times to discuss specific issues, the voters can dynamically switch their proxies to people or groups that best represent them on that topic. If gun control is on the agenda, then the NRA will have some number of proxies from their dedicated members, and Handgun Control, Inc. will have proxies from their constituents. More importantly, everyone else, somewhere in the middle, will assign their proxy to someone who can articulate a reasonable compromise, or someone who can plausibly claim to be willing to listen to arguments. Major parties can attempt to form coalitions, but voters can defect, one issue at a time.

In this context, some people would aim to be representatives, but many more would find a niche as proxy-holders who would notify constituents when an upcoming agenda item affects them, and commit to assign the proxy to someone who would represent their views effectively. (That's the right role for the NRA and the right-to-life/choice groups. They don't need to be present on the floor 99% of the time, but when contentious issues are being discussed, it would be better to separate representatives of extremists from representatives of moderates.)

I think this approach could have a moderating effect on politics. But I don't think there's any point in trying to promote it as a replacement for currently existing governments. OTOH, connectivity has increased enough that it might make sense for some groups. Some of the criteria for a good fit include: highly-connected constituency, broad range of issues to make decisions about, and a need to make collective decisions. I think it would work as well for a voluntary group as for a political subdivision.

I have been an officer of a couple of volunteer organizations, but the range of issues hasn't been wide enough for this kind of process to be worthwhile. I've occasionally fantasized that this would be the right way to run a large colony once we start exploring space or a starship. What organizations would it make sense for? Does 2nd Life have a representative governing body?

Thanks to Dan Reeves (currently at Yahoo) for encouraging me to write this idea up.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Insider Trading

Stephen Roman responds to a post from Professor Bainbridge, which was a response to Wolfers and Zitzewitz' question about Manipulation in their 5 Open Questions About Prediction Markets paper. That paper didn't bring up insider trading; the manipulation section focused on attempts to change outcomes by changing prices. Bainbridge's approach is to ask how bad insider trading could be since firms don't seem to have prohibited it on their own.

Roman tries to address the question of whether there is ever a reason for a prediction market exchange to ban insider trading. His answer is that it's never in the interest of the exchange or any of the participants to refuse admission to anyone. This argument leaves out an important part of the argument, though. The reason people keep asking the question is that they thought they learned from stock markets that it was important to prevent it. If stock markets are right to ban insiders from trading, what's the difference, and what does that imply for prediction markets?

The reason insiders are banned from trading on stock markets isn't because of their effect on prices or information, it's because having something to gain from the company's losses might give them reason to act against the company's interests. (In the insurance field, this is called "moral hazard".) The reason the major stock markets publicize and help enforce the ban is because the companies are their customers, and the exchanges and the companies share an interest in making the market appear to be free of that influence.

Another rationale for the ban is to prevent insiders from profiting from early access to information, but I think that is a secondary concern. If the moral hazard created by allowing people to trade against their employer's interests weren't present, it would be much harder to figure out where to draw the line to say who has unfair early access to information.

In the absence of such rules from the exchange, it would still make sense for companies to make and enforce explicit rules prohibiting employees from taking positions against the interests of companies when they have privileged access to information. This might clearly apply to some specific prediction market contracts, but companies would probably find it more effective to make a general rule than to try to maintain an explicit list of forbidden contracts or topics.

In the end, I agree with Stephen that prediction markets shouldn't ban insider trading. But it's not because all insider trading is benign, it's because insider trading is a net benefit in these markets, and the conflicts of interest can be handled closer to where they occur. And the answer to Bainbridge's question is that companies haven't done anything voluntarily because the stock exchanges already prohibit it. I think you have to look somewhere other than publicly traded companies to find examples of voluntary enforcement.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

2006 Prometheus Awards

The Libertarian Futurist Society announced this years' winners of the Prometheus Awards on Friday at the 64th World Science Fiction Convention.

Ken MacLeod won this year's Prometheus award for Best Novel for Learning the World.

Alan Moore and David Lloyd won the Award for Best Classic Fiction (the Hall of Fame award) for their graphic novel "V for Vendetta". David Lloyd accepted the award.

Joss Whedon's film, Serenity, won a Special Prometheus Award. The award's dedication read "To 'Serenity', writer-director Joss Whedon's fun-loving and pro-freedom movie that portrays resistance fighters struggling against oppressive collectivism (based on the unfortunately short-lived TV series Firefly)." Morena Baccarin, who plays Inara in the series, accepted the award.

Wally Conger had the details on who accepted the awards; Anders Monsen linked to Wally's post.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

John Varley: Red Lightning

John Varley's Red Lightning is a pretty lightweight example of the genre of revolution on the martian colony. Actually, the revolution is almost an afterthought, and the rest is a simple juvenile adventure. Our hero is Ray Garcia-Strickland, a teenager growing up on Mars, the son of two of the pioneers, and close confidant of Jubal Broussard, the eccentric inventor who came up with the device that makes space travel affordable. The first half of the story is an adventure through tsunami-torn Florida after an unidentified, near-light-speed object tears through the Gulf of Mexico. In the second half, Mars is repeatedly invaded and subdued by unidentified mercenaries who are hoping to capture Jubal and gain control of his inventions. In the end, Ray, Jubal, and friends stand off the mercenaries, and declare independence for Mars based on their control of Jubal's inventions, which no one else has been able to replicate.

I found the story to be weak, contrived, and derivative. The technology is magic, and the fact that it's all-powerful (provides cheap, plentiful energy, and it can make Vingean bobbles, too!) and requires Jubal's personal touch to manufacture renders it an unbeatable tool. The bad guys are one-dimensional: faceless, incompetent in low-gee combat, ruthless torturers, and ordered around by unseen forces.

Red Lightning has already been nominated for next year's Prometheus award. Varley's a good writer: his The Golden Globe won a Prometheus award, and the story "The Persistence of Vision" won Hugo and Nebula Awards. The story has enough anti-authoritarian elements to qualify as (weakly) libertarian: the government does a lousy job managing after the tsunami (Varley swears in an afterword that that part was conceived before the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the Katrina devastation), and the mercenaries are either backed or tolerated by governments on Earth. The story is a fun read; there's just no depth to it. The two halves of the book are unrelated stories; the trip to Florida gives us a chance to see the devastation, but we see mere snippets of heroism and villainy; the same is true of Mars under occupation. The declaration of Martian independence at the end is managed without the awareness or help of the residents of Mars, even though they have plenty of grievance after their occupation by the anonymous mercenaries.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Elizabeth Moon: Engaging the Enemy

Elizabeth Moon's Engaging the Enemy has been recommended for the Prometheus award, as a follow-up to her previous Marque and Reprisal. I think Marque had a little more to recommend it as libertarian, but both are fine space adventure yarns.

The heroine is Kylara Vatta, a young woman, and offspring of an established interstellar trading clan. Ky dropped out of space academy after a scandal, and was just trying to get started on a career as a merchant when most of her clan was killed in a coordinated series of raids by parties unknown. In the previous book, Ky received a letter of Marque from one planetary government, authorizing her to attack and capture pirate ships. This stretched the bounds of what she'd been brought up to believe was honorable behavior, but these were extraordinary circumstances. Happening upon an outcast from the Vatta clan who appears to be operating as a pirate, Ky captured his ship and killed the pirate. Now, in Engaging the Enemy, she has an armed ship to use to try to chase down those responsible for her family's deaths, and start rebuilding the trading empire.

The rebuilding is mostly assigned to her cousin, but organizing the independent privateers into a fighting force that can take on the apparently organized pirates and free the shipping lanes for peaceful commerce is left to Ky. She's young enough that once she's gathered a group of independent captains together, someone else asserts seniority and takes command. But we can tell from the beginning that Ky will make a better commander, and she wisely decides to work on her cooperation skills while waiting to see if her battlefield experience and tactical smarts are evident to the others. It doesn't take long for her qualifications to appear.

The subplots and side-stories provide background about the family and build up some characters who may turn out to have important roles later, but the heart of this book is Ky's political maneuvering and the actual space battles. There's a touch of right to self-defense, but it's layered with revenge motive, so it's hard to call that a libertarian thread. The battles and intrigue are well-written, but there's not much of deep substance here. It's a solid novel, with interesting characters and fast-paced action. There's no deeper meaning or overarching significance to events, so if you're satisfied with simple interstellar adventure stories, you'll find this is a good read.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

George R. R. Martin: A Storm of Swords

George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords is the third book in his series A Song of Ice and Fire. I've been enjoying this series for the character development, the span of events, and the complexity of the action. This installment is almost 1200 pages long, but that wasn't a detriment. Martin is telling a story that fills the pages and continues to hold my interest.

The series covers seven interlocking medieval kingdoms that have recently lost the one that brought relative peace by conquering and uniting them all. Every house is jockeying for power, to hold the realm together, to hold onto a kingdom, or to hold a stable enough seat to start over. Each house's character is driven by the position they hold and the relationships they've relied on. The power brokers in each house are usually the ones who embody the family character, leaving lesser characters to have widely varying motives and approaches.

In the previous books, we have met quite a few characters, but events seem to turn around the house of Stark, the widow of Lord Eddard Stark and their seven children, (now ranging in age from Rickon, who is 4, to Rob, who is old enough to rule). This time around, the Starks are the focus of the Storm in the title. Several Starks fall, but even after they seem to have died or gotten lost, they continue to play a role.

Early in the book, Martin's round-robin telling of events from a different point of view in each chapter had me mentally reviewing the status of each of the Starks (and their major opponents) each time I put the book down. Even though it felt like there were nearly a dozen characters I wanted to track, I didn't have any trouble remembering where each one was, and what was about to happen to them. These characters struggle, make mistakes, sometimes succeed and often fail. There are a few characters who are purely ignoble, and others who are treated as rats by others but who we see, behind the scenes, striving to do what's right for their kingdoms or their fellows.

The biggest bloodbath in the book comes as a complete surprise, even though Martin ensured that we and the characters had enough indications that something was coming that I should have guessed, and they should have been prepared.

If you don't mind long convoluted plots when they're well told, I strongly recommend the series. There's a bit of fantasy (magic and dragons), but Martin keeps it under control. There's little that's libertarian here, but there's plenty to admire and despise about people's characters. They don't always get their just desserts quickly, but usually they do eventually. I've found the series to be an engrossing read.

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Zocalo Release 2006.4a available

A new release of the Zocalo Prediction Market Toolkit is available. The main change in this release is a rehaul of the way that database transactions are managed. Transactions are now begun when starting to process an HTTP request and committed when the request finishes. This fixes a bug reported to me by a user, which I entered in the SourceForge bug list. The release adds a configuration parameter (in zocalo.conf) to control the amount of traders' initial stakes in response to a request from a user. Also in response to a suggestion, I converted all the shell scripts from csh to the Bourne shell (sh) since sh is available on more platforms. And there's now a common top-level directory at the base of the tar and zip files in the distribution so the extracted files are grouped better.

The transaction management change fixes a bug I have seen occasionally for a while, but that only showed up consistently in the last month in a way that allowed me to track it down. I think there are now no outstanding bugs, though there are still many missing features. If there's a feature that you'd really like added soon, let me know, and I'll add it to my list. Many requests are simple enough that I can get to them immediately. There are also features that will take a while to build, and I have to prioritize those somehow; your suggestions will increase the likelihood of my getting to them sooner.

I uploaded 2006.4 on Saturday, announced it on sourceforge and mentioned it to one other user who had asked when it would be ready. Before I had a chance to blog the announcement, I received a note about a minor problem. I had changed the installation process to use the default HTTP port (80) for the server, but realized while doing a test installation that that port isn't accessible for user-level installs on many platforms, so changed back to the old port number. In changing back, I fumble-fingered the fix in producing 2006.4, so the current release is 2006.4a. I recommend switching to is as soon as you reasonably can.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

San Francisco Mime Troupe: Godfellas

Yesterday we went to see the current show by the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Normally, I keep quiet about my appreciation of the Mime Troupe; they're fundamentally marxists as far as I can tell. But, as Janet says, they're further from the mainstream than I am, so they can be relied on to skewer whoever is in power, and they have a great sense of humor. And the old trope seems true to me: the left is much better at producing entertainment than the right. I should point out that this is a musical comedy, performed outdoors on a their portable stage. The Mime Troupe does political theater. "Mime" is used in its ancient sense of parody.

But all that aside, their current show, Godfellas is wonderfully libertarian. The heroine's constant inspiration is Thomas Paine, who is quoted liberally, and even appears on stage a couple of times. The theme of the show is religious control of society and people's thoughts. The show's protagonist is a teacher who runs an after-school program which is taken over by religious extremists (in a move that would only make sense to people who don't understand ownership or who believe that bureaucracies are always all-powerful). She decides to fight back and starts a movement that ends up going head-to-head with the religious syndicates that are pushing for a constitutional amendment to institute a national day of mandatory prayer.

The rhetoric is clear, pro-reason, and probably offensive to any even mildly religious audience. The Palo Alto crowd (primarily left-wing) seemed to love it.

The Mime Troupe has another month left on their summer run. They'll be performing the show in San Francisco, Berkeley, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, and several other locations throughout central and northern California through October 1st. If the show sounds like it might be appropriate in your area they're trying to put together an East Coast tour next year. Contact the Mime Troupe for details.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Claim Definition in Prediction Markets

Claim definition in Prediction Markets is hard to get right, but good claim descriptions make judging easier. An intrinsic part of the challenge is that the best claims are close calls until near the ending date. That means you want to choose a deadline and terms on which people disagree about the likely outcomes at the outset. You also want claims that will resolve themselves, and be easy to judge at the end; it's a benefit to everyone if the answer is clear when the claim closes. This is much easier to achieve with practice in any particular area--routine claims formats can be polished over time. So the easiest claims to write are for highly repetitive events like sporting events and elections. I expect the same will become true of predicting project completions and corporate quarterly performance targets, but currently those issues are being described, argued about and judged in private, so there's no shared repository of experience to draw on.

The fact that pay-outs are limited to the amount spent to purchase claims is integral to the institution of prediction markets. If market operators ever pay off both sides of a claim, that is likely to encourage investors to protest many more close calls. Refunding all investments would have a much less deleterious effect than paying off all parties. In disputed calls in which evidence may not be available immediately after an event occurs, it's an advantage to the market to be able to roll back betting that occurred after the event was retroactively determined to have occurred. (TradeSports has a clause in their rules (Contract Rules 1.8) that allows them to unwind trades occurring after one hour before the first press report of outcome. The rule applies to claims when this is explicitly stated beforehand. In the NK Missile case, not having received confirmation, there's no time to roll back to. If they had decided that the terms had been satisfied, they would have been able to roll back the post-launch betting.)

As long as claims are designed so the market operator doesn't take a position on the claim, the operator won't have any conflict of interest in deciding the claim. There are other good reasons for choosing an outside judge. The market operator may be pressured to change a judgment or to pay both sides in a disputed claim; if they are also the judge, this pressure is stronger. If the judgment is from an external party, it will at least be seen as independent. If all judgments are issued with the authority of the exchange, losing bettors will blame the exchange itself. I think identifying the judges and showing their track records is a service to the investors. There may not be many businesses willing to trust judging to outside parties, however. I fear they will feel the heat on close calls, and there will necessarily be close calls.

It's important to distinguish sources from judges. The judge makes the decision for the exchange about the outcome. In my view, claims should include a reference to preferred sources. For some subjects it's reasonable to rely on newspapers, for others peer-reviewed journals are more appropriate. Often a government agency has the responsibility to and a history of reporting on a particular class of outcome. If no source is specified, there will be disputes (at least when money is at stake) based on obscure media reports. It's better to make it clear what level of assurance is required. It's unfortunate, but sources sometimes go against their historical practices, so it's usually valuable to say how the outcome will be judged in the absence of an official statement. When sources are named, it's crucial to the exchange's reliability that they not be changed without prior announcement. (I don't fault TEN (TradeSports) for continuing to rely on the DoD in the recent contretemps over the North Korean missiles. They said the DoD would be their source, and some traders were relying on that statement. It would have been improper for TEN to act without a public statement from the DoD or a direct statement to TEN; a statement to a subscriber isn't something TEN should rely on for a judgment.)

Chris Masse has suggested that the intent and the wording of a claim should always coincide. But this isn't possible in practice, as is well known to anyone who has managed or participated in the process from start to finish. Claims that seem clear when written (remember that it's a goal to make the outcome hard to determine at the outset) often turn out to be unclear later. Over time, the meanings of terms mutate, and their application to specific questions is modified as events transpire.

Since we strive for close calls, the timing is also often sensitive. Some events aren't publicized immediately, so claims should specify whether the date of the event or the date of publication controls the outcome. (Often in FX, both are specified for science claims.)

We often look for externally judged claims; if there's a prize being awarded, that often makes a good claim. But the claims need to be careful to specify whether the underlying achievement controls or the awarding of the prize determines the outcome. What happens if the judging doesn't occur (the judging organization goes out of business or stops overseeing that type of event) or if the judge awards a consolation prize? (See the recent SENS challenge at Technology Review.) Sometimes the disappearance of the judge or the dropping of a contest is material; often the participants won't agree on how "the spirit of the claim" applies to these edge cases.

In general, the judge should pay attention first to the text of the claim, and second (in cases where this is accessible) to the discussion of the claim before the wording is finalized. On FX there is often plenty of context on what a claim means that doesn't make it into the claim. The conversation between sponsor, judge, and community can be very informative including what wording was intentionally not included in the claim. It's unfortunate that most of the high-profile markets have a closed conversation (if any) on claim wording, and then produce short claims with no discussion of edge cases.

If there's no visible discussion of the intent of the claim, the only thing investors have to go on is the plain text. Asking them to guess how the judge or exchange will interpret the intent is much less certain than assuring them that the wording will control. Everyone has a good argument for why their interpretation of the intent is the one that makes sense. There's no reason to let this be the basis for complaints and arguments.

TEN hasn't addressed this issue, but it seems clear to me that they consider their positive claims on current events to be the controlling language. The negative position is a shorthand description that the event didn't take place. When they cite a source and require confirmation, then an absence of confirmation clearly requires a "no" outcome. NewsFutures ensures that the two sides of a claim are duals; neither has precedence over the other in the way the interface presents them, but this gives them a reason to make the wording consistent. The arguments that TEN needed to confirm that the missiles weren't fired or didn't land in international waters don't seem reasonable to me. I'm reasonably sure some of the proponents haven't found this distinction between TEN's positive and negative claims. Maybe they'll add "or no confirmation is obtained" to their standard list of negative cases.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Moral intuitions

I followed a pointer provided by Tyler Cowen, and read an interesting paper ("When morality opposes justice: Conservatives have moral intuitions that liberals may not recognize") by Haidt and Graham on the moral intuitions of Liberals and Conservatives. The writers are apparently liberal academics, and they explicitly address their predominately liberal colleagues in an explanation of how liberals and conservatives differ in their views on morality. There is no mention of libertarians, but I think I can tease out a comparison that includes us. If someone knows of a similar approach that has been prepared or presented more carefully, I'd appreciate a pointer. I also welcome discussion of whether what I say seems roughly true to other libertarians.

The main claim in this paper is that there are consistent standard bases for moral reasoning used by liberals and by conservatives, and they're not the same. Haidt & Graham point to a long literature on the subject, mostly written by liberals, so it emphasises the liberal ethos, but there are other papers that explain how the conservatives fit in. The basic idea is that liberals take equality or reciprocity ("justice/rights/fairness") and compassion ("harm/welfare/care") as the only significant concerns. Conservatives, according to the argument, have three additional foundations, which he calls ingroup, hierarchy, and purity. Ingroup treats the group you are a member of as a moral end in itself; hierarchy says that deference to authority (usually hierarchical) is a moral fundamental, and purity treats our attitudes of disgust (toward people who behave differently, bodily fluids, or evidence of decay) as a moral indicator. They talk about evidence showing these attitudes are common and correlated with political attitudes.

Here are examples of the type of questions used to distinguish each concern in an on-line survey:

  • Whether or not someone was harmed [harm foundation]
  • Whether or not someone acted unfairly [reciprocity]
  • Whether or not someone betrayed his or her group [ingroup]
  • Whether or not the people involved were of the same rank [hierarchy]
  • Whether or not someone did something disgusting [purity].

The paper presents an evolutionary scenario to show how the 5 foundations could have evolved, and explains that people who adhere to all five foundations (fundamentalists) are more common than those who follow just the two liberal tenets. The explanation they profer is that the larger list arose over an evolutionary time scale while modern liberalism is a result of more recent forces that they didn't identify. The three conservative-only bases make sense in the evolutionary environment. The liberal foundations have been presented before as part of Maslow's hierarchy of needs or Kohlberg's stages .

I think libertarians believe strongly in justice and fairness, but the emphasis is quite different from liberals: for libertarians, the point is equal treatment, while for liberals, it more often equates to equality of outcome. I wouldn't have included "reciprocity" in that constellation. And libertarians view compassion as a personal virtue or preference, rather than something for which you fault others. Compassion is much less a driver of fundamental moral insights for libertarians as long as justice and rights are respected.

The causes Haidt and Graham suggest for the shrinking list of moral concerns of modern liberals also makes sense for libertarians:

the growth of free markets, social mobility, science, material wealth, and ethnic and religious diversity. Mobility and diversity make a morality based on shared valuation of traditions and institutions quite difficult.

I'm not sure what to add to their story to explain the difference between libertarians and liberals.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Prediction Markets talk at SDForum on August 9

I'll be giving a talk on Prediction Markets next Wednesday at the SDForum. I'll be focusing on prediction markets in general, and will only talk about Zocalo a little. I did post the annoucement on CommerceNet's events site, but this is the first time it has been blogged. Seems like a good way to initiate my Prediction Market blogging at Now that my stint at CommerceNet is over, I'll be blogging about Prediction Markets here until and unless I find a different institutional home for it. I think I averaged about 1 post on Prediction Markets a week there; I hope to add that rate to the posting I've been doing at PanCrit all along.

The talk is at 7pm on August 9th, at Cubberly community center, on Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. It's sponsored by the Emerging Tech Sig of the SDForum.

I'll be happy to repeat this talk (or tailor it appropriately) for other audiences. If you know of other venues where it would make sense, please let me know.


Here are the slides: PPT, PDF.