# Any existential risk angles to the US presidential election?

-9 20 September 2012 09:44AM

Don't let your minds be killed, but I was wondering if there were any existential risk angles to the coming American election (if there isn't, then I'll simply retreat to raw, enjoyable and empty tribalism).

I can see three (quite tenuous) angles:

1. Obama seems more likely to attempt to get some sort of global warming agreement. While not directly related to Xrisks per se, this would lead to better global coordination and agreement, which improves the outlook for a lot of other Xrisks. However, pretty unlikely to succeed.
2. I have a mental image that Republicans would be more likely to invest in space exploration. This is a lot due to Newt Gingrich, I have to admit, and to the closeness between civilian and military space projects, the last of which are more likely to get boosts in Republican governments.
3. If we are holding out for increased population rationality as being a helping factor for some Xrisks, then the fact the the Republicans have gone so strongly anti-science is certainly a bad sign. But on the other hand, its not clear whether them winning or losing the election is more likely to improve the general environment for science among their supporters.

But these all seem weak factors. So, less wronger, let me know: are the things I should care about in the election, or can I just lie back and enjoy it as a piece of interesting theatre?

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Comment author: 20 September 2012 12:59:04PM 8 points [-]

As a non-USian, my main interest in the election is watching the numbers go up and down on Nate Silver's blog.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 01:43:32PM *  6 points [-]

May I suggest Intrade as a pasttime?

Comment author: 20 September 2012 03:44:35PM 2 points [-]

I was under the impression from reading stuff Gwern wrote that Intrade was a bit expensive unless you were using it a lot. Also, even assuming I made money on it, wouldn't I be liable for tax? I intend to give owning shares via a self-select ISA a go.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 04:11:54PM 3 points [-]

If Intrade were an efficient market that made use of all of the information in the world, that would be true. People make enough bad bets often enough that it's not too hard to find predictions that are obviously priced wrong.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 08:40:55PM 3 points [-]
1. Global coordination and agreement improves the outlook for some existential risks; damages the outlook for others.

2. Putting aside for a moment the question of whether Obama or Romney is more awful in general: Obama has actually been relatively good at space policy. Gingrich probably would have been able to do better, but if the current crop of Republican congressmen was in charge, SpaceX et. al. would have been shut out long ago in favor of more pork for solid rocket booster companies.

3. "Lie back and enjoy it" really isn't on the table, but "don't worry about the things you can't change" might be decent applicable advice.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 08:53:46PM 10 points [-]

Stuart, there are now apparently monthly politics discussion threads. In future you could tuck something like this in one of those.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 06:02:08AM 0 points [-]

Possibly. I wasn't really that interested in the politics, just wondering whether there was an Xrisk angle I hadn't noticed.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 06:10:18AM *  9 points [-]

The threads are intended for such nonstandard discussions of politics, not color wars.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 10:27:19AM 1 point [-]

Ok. I'll bear that in mind in future.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 07:39:19PM *  16 points [-]

Which administration is less likely to increase Peter Thiel's taxes?

I'm fairly certain he is spending it better than the USG. Considering what kind of charity he spends it on, it doesn't seem like he gives to charity to get tax brakes or buy status for bragging at cocktail parties. I'm fairly sure a richer Peter Thiel translates into a better less existential risk exposed world.

Edited: People don't seem to be following my Peter Thiel link, it goes to the Top Donors for the Singularity Institute:

Thiel Foundation $1,100,000 Comment author: 27 September 2012 06:50:02AM 2 points [-] Do the rest of the people paying comparable taxes to Peter Thiel also spend their money in such a 'responsible' manner? Comment author: 24 September 2012 11:49:10PM 2 points [-] I'd actually be surprised if Thiel's marginal tax rate strongly influences the amount he contributes to SIAI. For one, I don't think the reason he donated$1,100,000 rather than twice that amount was that it was the most he could afford.

I'd be even more surprised (even given the above) if the resulting change has more effect on humanity's future than the other effects of differences in tax policy.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 09:15:21PM *  1 point [-]

I think you would also have to consider the effect on Thiel's income. It's possible (for instance) that Obama would increase his tax rate but also increase his income enough to cover this.

Since I think both Obama and Romney are proposing policies which are bad for the economy, and since I'm not really an expert in economic policy, I don't actually have a strong opinion on which how the election would affect Thiel's income. But it definitely must be considered.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 07:23:00PM *  2 points [-]

consider the effect on Thiel's income

In that case I suppose we should let Thiel tell us who to vote for.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 09:01:14PM 2 points [-]

Not necessarily, even if the effect on Thiel's income is my only consideration.

For one thing, Thiel might recommend candidate A over B because he calculates expected income under A > expected income under B, but I might consider Thiel's expected income calculations incorrect and believe EI(B) > EI(A), in which case I would vote for B.
For another, Thiel might recommend A over B because he values other things more than EI... for example, maybe B is a Mormon and Thiel really hates Mormons. In which case Thiel's endorsement of A would not be strong evidence that I should vote for A.
Etc.

In fact, even by novalis' reasoning, we don't care about Thiel's income, we care about the size of Thiel's donations to SIAI. If Thiel credibly precommits to donating N to SIAI if candidate A wins, and 2N if B wins, then in this case I should vote for B, even if everyone agrees that A will maximize Thiel's income.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 08:32:09PM 0 points [-]

Well, that's only if we think the marginal effects of policy changes on SAIA donors' income would be greater than any other difference between the candidates in terms of effects on the world. I think this is pretty unlikely.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 07:54:03PM *  -1 points [-]

Good point. This seems to be a pro-Romney argument.

But the existential risk argument seems tenuous - does Thiel contribute to SIAI, for instance? If not, who does contribute?

Comment author: 20 September 2012 08:43:01PM *  11 points [-]

does Thiel contribute to SIAI, for instance?

To such an extent that yesterday someone felt compelled to point out that he only contributes "maybe half or less" of SIAI's budget.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 06:00:54AM 0 points [-]

Thanks for letting me know!

Comment author: 20 September 2012 08:22:28PM 5 points [-]

does Thiel contribute to SIAI, for instance?

He is an SIAI advisor, and I believe the largest donor.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 08:55:17PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: 20 September 2012 11:27:51AM *  16 points [-]

I'm surprised you've left out nukes. Nukes are basically the only existential risk angle that presidents have direct control over and where the personality of the POTUS would effect the outcome.

1) Which one is more likely to engage in a nuclear preemptive strike?

2) Which one is less likely to forgive a 'finger slip'? (Ex, a fuse breaks in Russia/China/whoever and they alpha-strike the US; which person is more likely to retaliate and end the world vs not retaliate and suffer US extinction without punishing them back?)

3) Which one has less fear of human extinction? Religiosity and belief in anthropogenic changes to the state of the world seem to be relevant factors.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 02:16:58PM 16 points [-]

4) Which one is more likely to launch a preemptive strike against a facility that's building a bio-weapon which if unleashed could destroy mankind?

Comment author: 20 September 2012 07:56:05PM *  4 points [-]

That seems to be a wash. Romney has the rhetoric, Obama the history of drone strikes on various targets.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 09:16:44PM 5 points [-]

Note that what we want isn't just a President who would be likely to forgive a "finger slip", but a President who is believed by other nuclear powers to be unlikely to forgive one. I'm not sure it's possible to deliberately select that combination.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 10:05:40PM 1 point [-]

I'm reasonably confident that the percentage of people I consider unlikely to forgive a finger slip who have that combination is higher than the percentage of people I consider likely to forgive a finger slip.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 12:41:47PM 0 points [-]

Those all seem to push in the Obama direction, then...

Comment author: 20 September 2012 01:22:57PM *  3 points [-]

Well, those were the salient ones. If you would like some romney-direction examples, there's the amount of resources used to prevent nuclear proliferation, and of course deterrence, the opposite of Xachariah's #2.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 08:13:53PM *  5 points [-]

Robin Hanson recently wrote a relevant article on our sister site Overcoming Bias. I must insist that anyone who wants to comment it to read the whole thing and be familiar with the material he cites and links to, but for those who are just seeking a low cost conclusions from a vetted rationalists like him, the last paragraph summary:

So, as a professor of economics who has studied politics, my advice is to not vote if you know an average amount or less, to copy a better informed close associate if you are willing to appear submissive, and otherwise to just reelect incumbents when your life goes better than you expected. And if you care a lot more about the outcome than most do, help create presidential decision markets, so other info-seekers will have a better place to turn.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 07:22:14PM *  5 points [-]

Why do you think space exploration matters? Self-sustaining space colonization is decades away, and wouldn't help against UFAI. OTOH, it might help in the case of global war, if there are some colonies that all sides are nice enough not to attack.

I can't think of any risks that space colonization helps against that deep underground colonies wouldn't, though space colonization has the huge advantage of being much more popular.

(Also, asteroid mining is a WMD and might increase x-risk for that reason. On the other hand, cheaper more abundant minerals might be geopolitically stabilizing — or destabilizing, for all I know.)

Comment author: 20 September 2012 08:55:36PM 4 points [-]

Why do you think space exploration matters?

Probably mostly indirectly, as a catalyst for science, engineering, and industry in general, with concomitant beneficial effects on education and living standards, thus potentially allowing more attention and resources to be allocated to x-risk mitigation in the long term.

On the other hand, technological advances bring risks of their own, so it's not obvious what the net benefit is. My intuition tends to favor advancement, but I'm open to persuasion if there are good (particularly inside-view) arguments against it.

Comment author: 14 November 2012 03:32:49AM 1 point [-]

Other existential risks that are impacted by space colonization include asteroids and sudden diseases. One other thing to keep in mind is that if the Great Filter is some specific advanced technology that we haven't yet constructed, then it is likely that space colonization will allow some avoidance of that. This follows since any such technology will likely not be able to spread much beyond the planet where it occurs (otherwise we would have started to see signs of its spread in the star systems that are the graves of civilizations). Thus for example, the Filter probably is not something like a slow false vacuum collapse made by a specific technology. In that regard, space colonization helps protect against a lot of unknown unknowns.

if there are some colonies that all sides are nice enough not to attack.

The tech level to attack a Mars colony is as high as the tech level to send colonies. And no colony would be a substantial military threat. Deliberately constructing weapons to specifically attack a colony well before hostilities break out seems not just not nice but well beyond sociopathic. The level of outright vindictiveness seems even beyond that of any classical dictator.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 04:35:46PM *  9 points [-]

I kind of consider democracy a major source of existential risk especially looking at the opportunity costs, neither candidates are promising to get rid of it.

Edit: This isn't spur of the moment contrarianism, at one point I intended to write a series of articles on democracy for the site. The public draft for the first part of that series is here.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 05:18:58PM -1 points [-]

Have you ever read any of the Vorkosigan saga by Lois Bujold?

Just curious whether you think that the government of Barrayar is an improvement current Western governments.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 10:40:03PM 3 points [-]

This is an ambiguous question. At the time the novels are set, Barrayar has a popular, clever, benevolent, and capable emperor. A longer historical view would include a number of tyrants and devastating civil wars.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 11:46:04PM -1 points [-]

So a great case study for the theory and practice of monarchy?

Comment author: 21 September 2012 12:23:29AM 4 points [-]

I think fictional evidence isn't terribly convincing. Note also that monarchy in the current era is constantly at risk of turning into either democracy or tyranny. "Ancient blood" hasn't been a reliable source of legitimacy since 1789. As a result, monarchs need either elections or raw force to keep their grip. And tyranny is unstable and tends to result in great wasted effort in preventing coups and insurrections.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 07:13:57PM 1 point [-]

I think fictional evidence isn't terribly convincing.

Indeed. Try Hans-Herman Hoppe's Democracy: The God that Failed or Graham's The Case Against Democracy. Neither is all that convincing that monarchy is much better than democracy, but they make a decent case that it is at least marginally better. Note that Hoppe's book obviously started as a collection of articles, it is seriously repetitive. Both books are short and fairly easy reads.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 09:31:46PM 0 points [-]

No I haven't, is it a good read?

Comment author: 20 September 2012 10:38:20PM 1 point [-]

They're widely considered outstanding science fiction. Four of the Vorkosigan novels have won Hugo awards.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 10:49:12PM *  0 points [-]

Comment author: 20 September 2012 08:26:19PM 5 points [-]

The risk of global war is the predominant one to consider. I put that at a slight edge for Romney, since I think Obama will be seen as weaker abroad, and perceived weakness is a major risk.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 04:24:01PM *  10 points [-]

So, less wronger, let me know: are the things I should care about in the election, or can I just lie back and enjoy it as a piece of interesting theatre?

Voting is kind of like buying lottery tickets in this regard, a waste of perfectly good hope. It really is a silly ritual which I'm dismayed some rationalists still take seriously.

My advice is finding higher quality entertainment.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 09:01:29PM *  7 points [-]

Do you dispute the claims in this Gelman paper about the probability of votes in various states being decisive in Presidential elections? Or the much higher probabilities of decisive individual impact in state and local races, and popular referenda/initiatives?

Lotteries are for personal consumption, and have negative expected value. Voting can be done as an act of altruism (in addition to other reasons), buying a small chance of very large impact, for which it can easily have a positive expected value. It would cost hundreds of dollars in political contributions at least to pay for the delivery of another vote to replace yours, so there is a large wedge between your opportunity cost of time and your productivity voting.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 09:33:09PM 6 points [-]

Voting can be done as an act of altruism (in addition to other reasons), buying a small chance of very large impact, for which it can easily have a positive expected value.

I agree with this argument, but note that it only applies if you actually believe that the differences between the policies that Obama and Romney are likely to implement do amount to a very large overall utility differential (and that you can know beforehand in which direction it goes). I suspect that Konkvistador does not share this premise.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 09:37:35PM 2 points [-]

Large enough to be millions of times what you would buy with a $50 charitable donation. That's not a terribly high bar for differences between candidates. And certainly one's vote is more influential in primary elections than general elections, and in swing states, and in lower turnout regions, etc. Policy differences can also be clearer in other races and cases, e.g. voting on single initiatives in California. Comment author: 21 September 2012 01:20:03AM -2 points [-] The paper assumes votes are accurately recorded, counted, and reported. Which is known to be false; error rates in vote counts are at least 0.1%, and likely closer to 1%. A perfectly honest close election is an election decided not by actual votes cast, but the random distribution of counting errors. And any election so close is going to be subjected to recounts that simply redistribute the counting errors. Now, it is theoretically possible your vote might actually tip things in the final recount, right? Despite the fact that who actually won in a close election is unknown and unknowable, your vote is more likely to be accurately counted than not, so it might tip over the decision, right? Except that's assuming perfect honesty in recording, counting, and reporting, which is ridiculous. What will determine who wins in a close election is whether the margin created by random counting errors is small enough that the people in the best position to commit fraud can tip it the way they prefer. And, of course, we then ask -- did you actually have a good, reliable of idea how your candidate was going to do in office, and then on top of that how his choices were actually going to translate into effects? Really? So, back in November 2008, what did you predict the September 2012 unemployment rate would be, if Obama won? What did you predict the US budget deficit would be? Did you predict that the average number of deaths of US personnel in Afghanistan per month under Obama would be five times higher than it was under Bush? Did you predict the overthrow of the Libyan government by US air power? Let's be serious; Obama didn't have a very good idea of how his policies would translate into actual effects back on Election Day 2008. Your vote for a position less powerful than President is more influential, sure, but its actual effect is reduced because the position is less powerful. There might be some point in voting on propositions and initiatives if your state has them, and maybe on very local elections if you've bothered to become informed on them and live in a small enough community. Comment author: 28 September 2012 06:36:03AM * 2 points [-] I have no idea why this post is down voted, since it points out something very important, voting results are an imperfect measurement of who the electorate actually tried to vote for. Comment author: 21 September 2012 02:46:45AM * 3 points [-] Assuming honesty in recording is actually not problematic. As Eugine_Nier says, there will still be a set of voting outcomes that lead to Candidate A being elected, and a set of voting outcomes that lead to Candidate B being elected, and fraud only slightly changes the shape of the boundary between these sets. It gets better. Turns out that the "area" of that boundary is minimized in a fair majority election. The probability of a vote being pivotal is only increased when the boundary is distorted by fraud (although, obviously, your vote will no longer be pivotal in exactly the same situations). If the error rate in vote counts is 1%, that means you're 99% as likely to make the vote you intend to make. So if you had a 1 in 10 million chance to make a pivotal vote, that chance now becomes... roughly 1 in 10.1 million. This part doesn't really make a lot of difference, although you're right that it should be taken into account. Comment author: 28 September 2012 06:34:20AM 0 points [-] Assuming honesty in recording is actually not problematic. I don't think you appreciate just how hard counting votes is. Comment author: 28 September 2012 12:15:30PM * 0 points [-] What does that have to do with anything? Okay, fine, make the error rate 10%. Then your chance of making a pivotal vote just became 1 in 11 million instead of 1 in 10 million. That's a gross overestimate and it still hasn't made a huge difference. Edit: My point is that although dishonesty changes when exactly your vote is pivotal, it increases the probability that it will be. Comment author: 21 September 2012 02:24:28AM 0 points [-] Except that's assuming perfect honesty in recording, counting, and reporting, which is ridiculous. What will determine who wins in a close election is whether the margin created by random counting errors is small enough that the people in the best position to commit fraud can tip it the way they prefer. Your vote might still be the vote that tips the total past the threshold where the opposing counters can commit fraud. Comment author: 21 September 2012 02:22:49AM 1 point [-] See this post. The point being that in order for rationalists to win we need to stop using the kind of straw rationality you seem to be advocating. For example, while it's true that an individual vote only has a small effect, consider the effect of say encouraging rationalists not to vote notice that this has an effect on more that one vote. Comment author: 21 September 2012 06:09:12AM * 0 points [-] For example, while it's true that an individual vote only has a small effect, consider the effect of say encouraging rationalists not to vote notice that this has an effect on more that one vote. I always find it amusing how quickly people jump to knock off effects in these debates. If my actions and arguments have such effects surely those of other potential voters do as well. Doesn't this mean things add back to normality any my influence really is just the nano-slice it seems to be? Comment author: 21 September 2012 06:27:09AM -3 points [-] If my actions and arguments have such effects surely those of other potential voters do as well. Most voters don't campain, post on LW, etc. Comment author: 20 September 2012 11:39:23PM * 0 points [-] Voting as One-boxing If Omega thinks you are the kind of person who one-boxes, you will find$1,000,000 in the one box. At this point, you could take two boxes and pick up a small additional reward, but if you are really the kind of person who one-boxes, you won’t do that. If you went for the minor utility pickup at the end, you would be a two-boxer and the million dollars wouldn’t’ have been there in the first place.

If parties think you are the kind of person who votes, they will care about your policy preferences. At this point, you could stay home and pick up a small additional reward, but if you are really the kind of person who votes, you won’t do that. If you went for the minor utility pickup at the end, you would be a non-voter and the parties wouldn’t care about your policy preferences in the first place.

I think that if you really buy into the one box arguments presented elsewhere on this site, you should be voting. (conditional on the assumption that you have significant policy preferences; if you don’t care either way, then there is nothing analogous to the million dollars)

Comment author: 21 September 2012 03:34:47PM 5 points [-]

I think that if you really buy into the one box arguments presented elsewhere on this site, you should be voting.

This meme just will not seem to die.

No, not all the assumptions made in the thought experiments designed to show TDT cooperating and CDT defecting (and TDT benefiting from the difference) are present in the specific case of a human deciding whether to vote in a national election. The other agents are not behaving remotely like TDT or UDT agents and a TDT agent would defect and benefit from doing so. And then the next election would come around and they would do the same thing.

TDT doesn't mean act like a care bear!

(conditional on the assumption that you have significant policy preferences; if you don’t care either way, then there is nothing analogous to the million dollars)

(Expanding on this out of interest, and assuming a case where there are enough TDTish agents in your population for it to actually be sane to consider cooperating.)

The assumption required is not quite whether you have strong preferences but what the preferences of all the TDTish agents are (or are estimated to be). If there is a group of agents implementing decision theories like TDT who are all willing to cooperate if that's what it takes to make the other people in that group cooperate and it happens that half of them are Greens and half are Blues then they do cooperate by staying home!

Comment author: 21 September 2012 03:11:58PM *  0 points [-]

I think that if you really buy into the one box arguments presented elsewhere on this site, you should be voting. (conditional on the assumption that you have significant policy preferences; if you don’t care either way, then there is nothing analogous to the million dollars)

Not at all, if Omega is offering me 1$for one-boxing I see no need to play its game since I can get more utility doing other things. Voting probably doesn't get any particular voter more than a few dollars of expected utility in government action. The delusions associated with voting probably give them far more but again like with the lottery I find that a waste since they can be gained in other ways (some of which do the world some good). Comment author: 21 September 2012 03:38:00PM 0 points [-] Not at all, if Omega is offering me 1$ for one-boxing I see no need to play its game since I can get more utility doing other things.

To be fair on Billy_Q this particular exception seems to be accounted for in the parenthetical you included in the quote, at least in the way that he would translate "significant policy preferences" into dollar values.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 05:54:06PM -3 points [-]

When I vote, I get the moral right to complain about other peoples' votes, and therefore to complain about the actions of the government these votes elect.

That right is worth the 20 min I need to spend to go vote, even without any consideration of the consequences of voting collectively.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:03:12PM 8 points [-]

In my country, we have the right to complain about anything we want, regardless of voting.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:04:54PM 6 points [-]

In my country, you're eyed with suspicion if you don't complain.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:16:05PM -2 points [-]

I'm talking about the moral right, not the legal right. If you don't believe in the concept of moral rights, that's okay, but it was what I was referring to.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:02:40PM *  6 points [-]

When I vote, I get the moral right to complain about other peoples' votes, and therefore to complain about the actions of the government these votes elect.

That right is worth the 20 min I need to spend to go vote, even without any consideration of the consequences of voting collectively.

How remarkable, a 20 minute ritual can confer on me new moral rights, I feel like being a Catholic all over again! But let us now discuss how many angels can dance on that particular pin.

Do people who aren't allowed to vote allowed to complain? Like children, teenagers and convicts? Also illegal immigrants and foreigners who live legally in the country but don't have citizenship?

Do I still get to complain about judicial decisions that aren't influenced by votes? Do I get to complain about old laws? Do I have the moral right to complain if I'm wronged, say my human rights violated?

If the personal is the political as some claim, have I lost all right to moral judgement because I'm a non-voter? Us non-voters if you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?

Also I should remind you that unfortunately (since I want to get rid of all politics), deciding not to vote is a political act as well. By not voting I show I do not think this whole democracy thing is a legitimate regime, I will obey its laws for I am small and the state is big. I am the regime's subject of this there is no doubt, but I have no wish, and there is of yet no law, to force me to play in the mummer's farce of citizenship.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:19:59PM *  -1 points [-]

How remarkable, a 20 minute ritual can confer on me new moral rights,

You find such a thing strange? When I buy a coffee, the ritual of giving the coffee-shop owner a coin of specific worth confers on me the moral right to drink the coffee I just bought.

Do people who aren't allowed to vote allowed to complain?

Yes.

Do I still get to complain about judicial decisions that aren't influenced by votes?

Yes.

Do I get to complain about laws?

Only if you choose to vote against the laws you complain about, when given said chance.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 07:07:35PM 0 points [-]

You find such a thing strange? When I buy a coffee, the ritual of giving the coffee-shop owner a coin of specific worth confers on me the moral right to drink the coffee I just bought.

I don't recall buying a cup of democracy. I don't recall agreeing to this system of government at all, and darn it I can't seem to find a party that wants to abolish it either.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:31:15PM *  0 points [-]

Since we just agreed rights are mostly incoherent, can you please restate the argument for voting without reference to them?

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:33:53PM -2 points [-]

You're confusing me with Athrelon.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:35:11PM 0 points [-]

Ah my apologies.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:38:16PM -1 points [-]

Downvoted for unnecessary levels of disdain.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 07:05:20PM 0 points [-]

I don't think so, I was responding to an argument free asserting that basically called my behaviour immoral.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 08:58:26PM 2 points [-]

The argument asserts that my behavior is immoral as well, and yet somehow I managed to restrain myself from caustic, unhelpful language.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:11:42PM -2 points [-]

Rituals that confer new moral rights? That's Catholic!

Comment author: 20 September 2012 09:19:36PM -2 points [-]

By not voting I show I do not think this whole democracy thing is a legitimate regime

No, you only show that you can't be bothered to spend 20 minutes to vote. Otherwise you would vote and spoil the ballot.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 09:25:28PM *  0 points [-]

I kind of consider that the same as non-voting, but yeah I've done that too when I accompanied others on their way to voting.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:22:07PM 0 points [-]

I am genuinely interested to know what your preferred alternative to politics is. Don't get me wrong, I have a couple of preferred alternatives myself. I want to see how closely our alternatives match.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:28:01PM *  3 points [-]

Futarchy for starters. Neocameralism proposed by Mencius Moldbug might work better but is risky. City state oligarchies. Anarchy-Capitalism if you can get it. A Republic with limited franchise if you can keep it. A properly set up monarchy. Even democratic technocracy, where democratic element would have about as much role in governance as the Monarchy part does in the Constitutional Monarchy of the United Kingdom. Arguably we are nearly there anyway.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:32:53PM *  2 points [-]

Futarchy for starters

Which surprisingly does not mean "the rule by women with male genitalia".

Comment author: 20 September 2012 10:12:38PM -2 points [-]

Nor rule by fútbol.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:06:48PM *  4 points [-]

When I vote, I have registered approval of one faction of politicians and have arguably lost my right to complain about the policies they go ahead and enact. (If they lose, I should not complain either, and I should humbly submit to the outcome of the democratic process.)

Good thing the idea of "rights" is mostly incoherent anyway.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:15:15PM -1 points [-]

You probably have indeed lost the right to complain about that particular faction of politicians you voted for, if they acted according to how you can reasonably have predicted them to act. (e.g. in my own homeland I don't think anyone who voted for the Neonazi party has the right to complain about them when they predictably started murdering immigrants)

Comment author: 21 September 2012 02:37:33PM 3 points [-]

I think people have a right to find out that they were wrong, and say so.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:23:47PM 3 points [-]

You should factor in that uncertainty before voting! Consequentialism, dude.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 09:04:23PM 0 points [-]

If a psychopath says "tell me which of your kids you want me to shoot, or I shoot them all anyway", you don't become an accessory to murder by answering him, because everybody recognizes that you were under duress and just trying to reduce the damage.

If you are faced with a choice of "tell us which jerk gets to order everyone around, or we'll pick someone anyway without your input", then attempting to pick the lesser evil also does not make you culpable of anything, for similar reasons.

(If it was possible to send a "protest" message by not voting, things might be more complicated, but in practice any such protest signal would be undiscernable from apathy and cynicism noise)

Comment author: 21 September 2012 02:36:03PM 0 points [-]

When I vote, I get the moral right to complain about other peoples' votes, and therefore to complain about the actions of the government these votes elect.

I see complaining as a basic human right. Saying that people who don't vote shouldn't complain is an effort to eliminate a major source of feedback about how a society is going.

Saying that people who don't vote shouldn't complain (or possibly shouldn't be listened to by voters) seems to me like a claim that was trumped up to get people to vote. Voting makes relatively little difference. How about "people who don't vote in primaries shouldn't complain"? People who don't research their votes shouldn't complain? People who don't take an active part in politics by researching and then trying to influence other people shouldn't complain?

Comment author: 20 September 2012 05:24:16PM -3 points [-]

Forgive me if I'm posting in ignorance of some well-worn argument that is common knowledge on this board, but I think your cynicism is misplaced.

Surely you should be considering voting as a massive prisoner's dilemma: when you decide whether or not to vote you aren't just deciding for yourself, you're also deciding for anyone who thinks similarly to you. I'm not saying that your individual vote is going to make any noticeable difference, but the votes of every jaded rationalist in America on the other hand...

Of course, that doesn't constitute a conclusive argument, but consider what voting actually costs you. At worst, it's an hour of your time, and since you're probably spending half an hour on a forum on the internet telling people (amongst other things) how you're not going to vote, you can't reasonably say that sacrificing that hour of you life is too big a utility loss.

If I had my way, voting would be compulsory in every democracy on the planet. I'm not saying that democracy is the best way of doing things, but if some countries ARE democracies then we should at least try to do mitigate the negative effects of the system. The problem with non-compulsory voting is it means that only the people who care strongly enough about the elections to get off the internet and drive to a polling booth are the ones who have their voices heard. This means that you lose a lot of moderate, sane, rational voters but keep all of the rabid nutjobs. Argentina have the best system - voting is compulsory once you're over 18, but you can refuse to vote if you formally express this intention to the authorities at least 48 hours before the election. That way, nobody is forced to vote if they don't want to, but it takes the same amount of effort to abstain as it does to vote, so you don't lose moderates to laziness.

Of course, I live in one of the ten countries in the world where compulsory voting is enforced (Australia), so I'm aware that I could be suffering familiarity bias. I came up with the above argument in favour of compulsory voting independently, though, and I've never actually heard anyone else say that compulsory voting was important (or even a good thing). If anyone has an argument against voting, I'd be interested to hear it.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 05:34:32PM *  4 points [-]

The problem with democracy is rational ignorance and the problem of collective action - the famous example is the sugar subsidy in the United States. Using toy numbers, one might suggest that the average American pays $1 more per year for sugar because of those policies. By simple multiplication, that means the policy is worth ~$300M to the sugar industry.

Why do situations like this persist?

1) I'd spend more organizing the group to end these policies than I'd ever save on sugar (the problem of collective action)

2) Even taking the time to learn about the problem is a waste for the average individual (rational ignorance).

Forcing people to vote doesn't solve these problems, it just forces people to make a decision when they would admit they don't have enough information to make the decision that truly reflects their preferences.

Never voting is probably the wrong answer because being predictably irrelevant to a decision is not the way to influence the decision in one's favor. But decision-making when decision-makers lack the resources to effectively consider the issues is not a very tractable problem. Consider the example of the local politicians who change their names (a) to famous names, or (b) to appear earlier on the list of names on the ballot.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 10:15:06PM 2 points [-]

Forcing people to vote doesn't solve these problems, it just forces people to make a decision when they would admit they don't have enough information to make the decision that truly reflects their preferences.

Placing constitutional limitations on the power of government might be a better solution. "No subsidies for anyone" seems more stable than arguing over each specific subsidy.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 10:33:05PM 5 points [-]

"No subsidies for anyone" seems more stable than arguing over each specific subsidy.

It's more stable, but hard to define, let alone implement. All government spending benefits somebody -- and usually there are un-obvious beneficiaries. For example, road construction helps the construction business and also those who use the roads and those who own property near the road. So you can't really put "no subsidies" in the Constitution in a way that's judicially or politically enforceable, at least if you want to maintain any of the sort of government services that society assumes will be there.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 05:42:12PM 4 points [-]

The problem with non-compulsory voting is it means that only the people who care strongly enough about the elections to get off the internet and drive to a polling booth are the ones who have their voices heard. This means that you lose a lot of moderate, sane, rational voters but keep all of the rabid nutjobs.

OTOH, you lose a lot of ignorant, clueless, or just lazy voters who have no basis for forming an opinion, and the ones who have the voices heard are the ones who cared enough to study the issues, even if their study was one-sided.

Push the problem a step back, and my thought here is compulsory political study rather than compulsory voting.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:12:06PM 0 points [-]

See my comment re: the Tea Party to Drethelin below - I think extremism is a far stronger motivator to vote than intelligence. Note that Konkvistador doesn't appear to be voting, and for him to be on this board in the first place is a strong endorsement of his intelligence. I definitely agree about compulsory political study though. Also compulsory epistemology, ethics and statistics, etc.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 05:29:31PM *  4 points [-]

Surely you should be considering voting as a massive prisoner's dilemma: when you decide whether or not to vote you aren't just deciding for yourself, you're also deciding for anyone who thinks similarly to you. I'm not saying that your individual vote is going to make any noticeable difference, but the votes of every jaded rationalist in America on the other hand...

Remember you are likely to overestimate how much other people's decision process is similar to yours. I must have missed the software update when we implemented TDT on voter brains.

Of course, that doesn't constitute a conclusive argument, but consider what voting actually costs you. At worst, it's an hour of your time, and since you're probably spending half an hour on a forum on the internet telling people (amongst other things) how you're not going to vote, you can't reasonably say that sacrificing that hour of you life is too big a utility loss.

I try not to be hypocrite as much as possible. If I say voting is a bad idea, I hope most people who know me will agree this is a good indication that I don't vote either. Also unlike with voting, I actually think I could perhaps change peoples minds, I view it as sanity training. More sane people is a good thing since they have positive externalities.

If I had my way, voting would be compulsory in every democracy on the planet.

I'm not saying that democracy is the best way of doing things, but if some countries ARE democracies then we should at least try to do mitigate the negative effects of the system.

Democracies in say Western Europe actually only work as well as they do because of the competent civil service and respect people have for experts, which de facto radically limits how much politicians can do, especially since the process needed for them to fire any of these people is usually not worth the effort if it is possible at all. How would your relationship with your boss change if he couldn't fire you?

Argentina have the best system - voting is compulsory once you're over 18, but you can refuse to vote if you formally express this intention to the authorities at least 48 hours before the election. That way, nobody is forced to vote if they don't want to, but it takes the same amount of effort to abstain as it does to vote, so you don't lose moderates to laziness.

That sounds ok.

If anyone has an argument against voting, I'd be interested to hear it.

• It is a ritual that contributes to belief. Why do you think Islam has obligatory praying several times a day?
• It is a waste of time. A small but obvious one. Like buying lottery tickets is a small but obvious waste of money.
• Large voter participation legitimize government action that in fact has very little to do with the political process.
• Voting is associated with democracy, democracy is a bad idea ask Aristotle.
• I don't need to argue with friends and family because I wouldn't vote for their candidate.
Comment author: 20 September 2012 05:41:47PM 1 point [-]

My individual vote is unlikely to make a difference. But it's pretty easy to define relatively small voting blocs (i.e. farmers in Kansas) that would alter the results of elections if their voting behavior radically changed. If I really do have preferences in the achievable sections of policyspace, there are things I should do, right? Even if my mechanical hardware imposes limits on how ideal my decisionmaking is.

Of course, none of that applies if one does not have preferences in the achievable sections of policyspace.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 05:49:01PM 8 points [-]

This is why I was super fascinated by the idea of a bunch of libertarians moving to New Hampshire to become a powerful voting block and institute libertarian policies, but it seems to have died out.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:07:41PM 10 points [-]

See the Free State Project.

FWIW, so far about 1,000 of the Free Staters have moved to New Hampshire, and 12 of the Free Staters have been elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:59:38PM 2 points [-]

If I really do have preferences in the achievable sections of policyspace, there are things I should do, right?

Of course you should! But you should be rational about it. Try to do things that give you more than a nanoslice of power.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 07:06:26PM 0 points [-]

There are a lot of people. If we divide even vaguely evenly, all I get is a nanoslice.

That's a vast improvement over most of recorded history, when official policy was to avoid giving out any power to the majority of the populace.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 07:19:39PM *  3 points [-]

There are a lot of people. If we divide even vaguely evenly, all I get is a nanoslice.

I don't recall mentioning pursuing that goal. I don't think it is a good in itself. For starters I bet you agree children don't need that nanoslice of power. But ok I'll accept this temporarily for the sake of argument.

The thing is if you do this and are a orthodox LessWrong consquentalist you get some strange results.

Should one oppose those greedy activists grabbing more nanoslices of power for themselves? Or those internet addicts who keep creating new political propaganda? Or the NYT editor board which decides thousands of votes with the stroke of a pen? Or that NGO employed advisor who has so much power over which policy ends up adopted in Democratic Backwaterstan?

Comment author: 21 September 2012 12:08:39AM 0 points [-]

Putting words in my mouth isn't nice. :)

This is not an argument about how political power should be divided. It's an argument about whether voting can ever be a good idea.

Try to do things that give you more than a nanoslice of power.

I'm trying to see how you get from this to "Voting is never rational in our current system."

Comment author: 28 September 2012 06:39:08AM 2 points [-]

I'm trying to see how you get from this to "Voting is never rational in our current system."

Because voting is so very low on the list of low investment activities that give you more power.

Comment author: 28 September 2012 03:29:00PM *  0 points [-]

Non-exclusive ways to become influential in how society is organized.

• Get rich
• Become a "pillar of the community" (Active member in some quasi-charity)
• Special Interest Litigation
• Become a political activist

These acts can be mutually supporting. But some of them are more available than others to particular people. And the last choice I listed is heavily committed to trying to influence voting behaviors. Groups like the Sierra Club or the National Rifle Association are very powerful - and that power would vanish or massively decrease if all their members committed to not voting.

Voting suffers from substantial tragedy-of-the-commons issues. That doesn't mean it is pointless.

Konkvistador, you are on record as being skeptical of the idea of consent of the governed because you think the concept is too ambiguous to implement. I readily acknowledge that arguments for voting rely on consent of the governed / government responsive to the people being coherent/implementable concepts.

I just wonder whether this discussion is more than disguised disagreement about the underlying concepts. In short, if counterfactual-Konkvistador accepted the idea of consent of the governed, would counter-K still be as hostile as you to the idea of voting?

If not, I respectfully suggest we discuss our actual disagreement rather than talking past each other on this proxy issue.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 05:10:21PM -2 points [-]

There's no Omega, so why not take the nanoslice of power that's readily available, in addition to whatever you can get by trying for more? It appears to me that doing both maximizes the expected payoff in all probable contexts.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 05:30:12PM *  0 points [-]

Opportunity costs, in short. If you're giving up more resource-equivalent time on that nanoslice of power than you expect it to return in dividends, it's not worth your effort -- and depending on how you do the counting, a lot of prominent examples return so little that it doesn't take much time outlay for this to be the case.

In the specific case of voting, though, there are signaling effects to consider that might overwhelm its conventional dividends. Jurisdictions like Australia where voting is mandatory also change the incentive landscape.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 04:11:14AM 0 points [-]

My individual vote is unlikely to make a difference. But it's pretty easy to define relatively small voting blocs (i.e. farmers in Kansas) that would alter the results of elections if their voting behavior radically changed.

Perhaps a given Kansas voter is obstructing a policy or candidate you favor, and you would be pleased if he changed his vote. Wouldn't you be fully half as pleased if he merely abstained from voting? My intuition is that it is far more than twice as difficult to change a vote than to discourage a vote.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 05:55:58PM -1 points [-]

I must have missed the software update when we implemented TDT on voter brains.

I think you're having it the other way around -- TDT is partially based on the idea that "when you decide, you aren't deciding just for yourself", it's not the idea which requires TDT...

In this case, you're not voting just for yourself, you're voting for all the people who'd vote the same party as you for roughly the same reasons. And if you don't vote, you're not voting for all the people who likewise don't bother to vote for roughly the same reasons as you...

Comment author: 20 September 2012 07:05:18PM 3 points [-]

Yes, you can say that you are voting for a block or deciding to vote for a block, even if those people haven't heard of TDT, as long as TDT doesn't change your decision. But if you use TDT to actually make the decision to vote, you are now very different from the people who have not heard of it and you are not controlling their decision.

For example, say that economists don't vote, but have political consensus ;-)
A lone economist cannot use TDT to vote the block, because the others haven't heard of it and aren't going to vote.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 01:45:17AM 1 point [-]

But if you use TDT to actually make the decision to vote, you are now very different from the people who have not heard of it and you are not controlling their decision.

Fortunately thanks to evolution most people (at least the ones who haven't reasoned themselves out of it) have an intuitive understanding of TDT even if they haven't heard the term.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 03:28:58AM 1 point [-]

Yes, it is reasonable to analyze normal people's voting in terms of TDT, at least to some extent. If you were going to vote anyways, you can use TDT to justify it.

But if you explicitly use TDT to decide to vote or to decide to put more effort into choosing your vote, you are not normal and your vote becomes less correlated with the large block of normal people. I was very serious about the economist example. Many economists don't vote for CDT reasons. If an economist uses TDT to reject that line of argument, that doesn't cause other economists to vote. Similarly, most people can't use TDT to decide to invest in more informed vote.

If you were swayed against voting only by arguments found in the same place you found TDT, it is reasonable to let them cancel out and consider your vote entangled with the votes of people who have heard of neither.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 08:01:57PM *  -2 points [-]

you are now very different from the people who have not heard of it and you are not controlling their decision.

That's a false binary view of the issue (that you either control something or not control it). Even the word "controlling" is highly misleading. I'm talking about moral responsibility. We are morally responsible for the decision we make, which is indicative of our values and our level of intelligence. We're morally responsible for this decision no matter how many times it's made (for similar reasons) throughout the population.

A thief is therefore in a sense partially morally responsible for all thefts.
A murderer is therefore in a sense partially morally responsible for all murders.
And a non-voter is therefore in a sense partially morally responsible for all non-votings.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 12:59:49PM 1 point [-]

I'm inclined to think that everyone affects the Overton window, but some people affect it more than others. People who commit new crimes expand the range of what's thinkable more than people who commit the usual crimes.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 09:26:20PM -1 points [-]

except none of these things generalize. You're only morally responsible for people in the same situation as yourself. Shooting someone who is about to kill you is not morally equivalent to shooting someone for fun, and someone who shoots in self defense is not morally responsible for all shootings, just for all shootings in self defense.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 09:51:56PM -2 points [-]

You're only morally responsible for people in the same situation as yourself. Shooting someone who is about to kill you is not morally equivalent to shooting someone for fun

Agreed. That's why I indicated "made for similar reasons".

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:47:14PM 1 point [-]

This assumes non-voters who use the same decision process as me are common. Also assumes that for those who do use the same decision process our interests and opinions about politics are aligned.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 02:59:16AM *  -3 points [-]

Oh hey, I drafted a reply to this comment and then accidentally ctrl+w'd the tab before I hit the button. Whoops! Damn, it was a long one too and not I have to retype it...

I try not to be hypocrite as much as possible. If I say voting is a bad idea, I hope most people who know me will agree this is a good indication that I don't vote either. Also unlike with voting, I actually think I could perhaps change peoples minds, I view it as sanity training. More sane people is a good thing since they have positive externalities.

I wasn't trying to convince you to keep arguing against voting but vote in secret, I was presenting an argument that voting was actually a good idea and that you should advocate it. I also wasn't trying to antagonise you or anything like that, just trying to inject a little humour into the debate. Which is not to say that I think I DID antagonise you, but until someone invents a keyboard that can convey the emotional content of a sentence I'm going to err on the side of caution.

I'm not saying that democracy is the best way of doing things, but if some countries ARE democracies then we should at least try to do mitigate the negative effects of the system.

Democracies in say Western Europe actually only work as well as they do because of the competent civil service and respect people have for experts, which de facto radically limits how much politicians can do, especially since the process needed for them to fire any of these people is usually not worth the effort if it is possible at all. How would your relationship with your boss change if he couldn't fire you?

I'm not sure if this was a rebuttal? I mean, no matter why democracies in Western Europe are working well, surely this doesn't change the fact that we should mitigate the negative qualities of a democracy? I actually thought I'd be on firm ground with you here, since you're advocating a change away from democracy and I'm arguing that while we still have democracy we should try to make sure it doesn't cause too much havoc. AFAIK most Western European democracies don't have compulsory voting, if that's what you were getting at. Forgive me if I am missing the point here.

It is a ritual that contributes to belief. Why do you think Islam has obligatory praying several times a day?

I would agree with this point if I thought the effect was significant, but I think that having to vote once a year reduces this effect to complete negligibility.

It is a waste of time. A small but obvious one. Like buying lottery tickets is a small but obvious waste of money.

Sure, but that only matters if you weren't going to waste the time anyway. I mean, if you were going to lose that money down the back of the couch anyway you might as well blow it on lottery tickets. I'm not saying it's a good idea to waste resources, definitely not, but even the most organised, motivated person has one hour free a year in which they could vote without sacrificing some other important activity. If you genuinely do not have an hour free then you're the sort of person I want voting, and I respectfully request that you delegate an hour's worth of work to me so that you can go vote. EDIT: And of course I don't actually agree that it's a complete waste of time - I think it produces marginal benefit or I'd be agreeing with you.

Large voter participation legitimize government action that in fact has very little to do with the political process.

I'm not sure which government action you're talking about here, but government action doesn't need legitimising, it's legitimised in almost everyone's eyes. Conversely, not voting in a system where it isn't compulsory to vote doesn't delegitimise the government. If anything, you should want voting to be compulsory so you can flout the rules to draw attention to the fact that democracy is a bad way of doing things. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but non-compulsory voting isn't actually a step away from democracy, it's just a step into a different type of democracy. Swapping to non-compulsory voting doesn't make it any more likely that a country will abandon democracy altogether.

I don't need to argue with friends and family because I wouldn't vote for their candidate.

I think this was probably a bit facetious, since it's relatively small-scale compared to your other arguments, but on the chance it wasn't... Arguing with your friends and family about political allegiances is actually a big point in favour of compulsory voting if you ask me - it forces people to think about politics. If my brother has always voted to support Americans Against Contraception (or whatever), then of his friends who vote, most of them probably share his political views. But if everyone has to vote, he'll start meeting people who vote the other way. The more arguments he starts with sane people, the more likely they are to convert him.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 05:29:13PM 2 points [-]

The problem is that essentially nobody thinks similar to you. In particular, there are only a few hundred LWers, who are geographically scattered, not politically unified, and who don't all even think similarly enough to agree that one should vote for the reasons you've given.

Compulsory voting has a downside, insofar as it requires poorly motivated voters, who will also know less, to vote.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:17:21PM 1 point [-]

I agree that that is a downside of compulsory voting, but at the moment my strong suspicion is that it's offset by the dilution of the crazies - see my reply to Drethelin above re: the Tea Party.

Note also that LWers are not necessarily the demographic that I associate most strongly with, and in fact that I don't associate with any rigidly defined demographic at all. There are definitely people out there who think like me, though, and if we vote as a bloc then we have more power than just me alone. This is why people underestimate their own voting power, and this is why people who care at all about not being lead by lunatics should vote.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 05:32:50PM 3 points [-]

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57347634/poll-nearly-8-in-10-americans-believe-in-angels/

The vast majority of humans are wrong about many, MANY fundamental things. The fewer of them controlling outcomes the better. Compulsory voting only makes sense if you think the number of smart informed people who don't vote out of laziness outnumbers the number of idiots who don't vote out of laziness.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 05:53:48PM *  3 points [-]

I'm not saying that your individual vote is going to make any noticeable difference, but the votes of every jaded rationalist in America on the other hand...

By voting, you will not make (or probably even encourage) every jaded rationalist in America to vote, so from a decision theoretical standpoint that observation is irrelevant. The instrumental value of voting is zero. There may be other values (signaling, pleasure, moral), but there is no instrumental value. You will not influence the election, so the expected value of any policy changes arising from just your vote is zero. Once you think of it strictly in terms of decision theory, the relevant variables should present themselves.

For those of us who don't care that much about signaling interest in government and don't think there's any particular moral duty to vote (I think there is frequently a moral duty to abstain), wasting an hour on an internet forum is a much better use of our time.

If I had my way, voting would be compulsory in every democracy on the planet.

I know it's normal in some countries, but I think this is an AWFUL policy. Why? Consider it in economic terms of negative and positive externalities. Say I'm a good voter who knows a thing or two about policy. When I vote, it very (very very very) marginally affects policy outcomes. When a bunch of good voters vote, policy outcomes become better.

Now turn it around. When a bad voter votes, it very (very very very) marginally affects policy outcomes. When a bunch of bad voters vote, policy outcomes become worse.

This is wonderfully analogous to pollution. By leaving a fan on all day, you only very marginally contribute to global warming. So, even if you're interested in stopping global warming for selfish reasons, there's nothing you can personally do to hinder it, so why bother? But there's no personal incentive for anybody to bother, so global warming happens. Meanwhile, global warming affects more people than just you, and bad voting does the same. When you indulge your idiotic ideas of good policy, it doesn't have any effect on the election, so it doesn't have any effect on you. But since everybody's doing it, policy gets dumb.

So the question becomes, when comparing voluntary and mandatory voting, which types of voters are more likely to abstain in a voluntary system?

I don't see the need to hunt for the stats right now, but if you don't believe me, I'll happily scan some relevant sections from Scott Althaus' Collective Preferences in Democratic Politics and Carpini and Keeter's What Americans Know About Politics and Why It Matter. The basic story is this: In America, people who are educated are way more likely to vote than those who aren't, and uneducated people have demonstrably and outrageously boneheaded beliefs about policy. Forcing them to vote is like mandating bad policy.

(Hence what I said earlier about a moral duty to abstain. Like there might be a moral duty to reduce your carbon consumption, even though it will have no effect on the environment, there might be a moral duty to abstain from voting if you're an ignoramus.)

Comment author: 20 September 2012 06:27:13PM *  0 points [-]

By voting, you will not make (or probably even encourage) every jaded rationalist in America to vote, so from a decision theoretical standpoint that observation is irrelevant.

That's not quite what I meant. If people think similarly to you, then they will most likely make similar decisions as you. Now that I've suggested this to you, you think similarly to all the people out there who realised this themselves or had someone point it out to them. So when you decide whether or not to vote, you should do so in the knowledge that there are a bunch of people out there who will probably end up making the same decision as you purely because they think similarly to you. You're not just deciding for yourself, you're deciding for everyone who thinks like you.

EDIT: Also, I disagree with you about the negative effects of compulsory voting. There are definitely some, but I think the negative effects of NON-compulsory voting are potentially worse. See my comment to Drethelin below.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 03:58:18AM 1 point [-]

One doesn't have to oppose democracy to advise folks not to vote. Jason Brennan makes a lot of pro-democracy, pro-civic engagement arguments along these lines. Here's the abstract to his paper "Polluting the polls"

Just because one has the right to vote does not mean just any vote is right. Citizens should not vote badly.  This duty to avoid voting badly is grounded in a general duty not to engage in collectively harmful activities when the personal cost of restraint is low.  Good governance is a public good. Bad governance is a public bad.  We should not be contributing to public bads when the benefit to ourselves is low.  Many democratic theorists agree that we shouldn’t vote badly, but that’s because they think we should vote well.  This demands too much of citizens.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 07:09:40PM 0 points [-]

I don't vote for hope or because I expect my actions to cause a change in outcome. I vote primarily because it feels good, but also because I have a policy of cooperating rather than defecting when it doesn't cost too much.

In other words, I vote for the same reasons my internal model of Douglas Hofstadter would vote if it could.

Comment author: 29 September 2012 10:30:23AM 0 points [-]
Comment author: 29 September 2012 06:33:10AM -1 points [-]

I just realized that one doesn't even need to invoke game theory for voting to make sense. If there are N voters in an election, the probability of you being the deciding vote is approximately $\frac{1}{\sqrt{N}}$, but the number of people affected by the result is approximately N (probably more since a lot of people don't vote). Thus, the expected number of people you'll affect is $\sqrt{N}$.

Comment author: 29 September 2012 07:20:55AM *  3 points [-]

This seems like grasping at straws.

Consider how many people you affect when you go to the store to buy breakfast. You practically effect nearly everyone else on the planet by a very small value. I'd argue voting is not more than two or so orders of magnitude above that.

But let us for the sake of argument say it is larger than that, your basic problem is that every other voter affects $\sqrt{N}$ people by the same value as well. No matter how you turn this you only get a nanoslice of power in steering where the country moves. There are clearly better things to do with your life than spending time thinking about which candidate to vote for or paying the price in gas for the 30 minute drive to the voting booth.

This is assuming to the first approximation politicians only care about the proportions of votes various candidates and parties get and not the number of people voting. Note that for some kinds of referendums this isn't true. But for most elections it seems to hold to the first approximation. Moving beyond that approximation, I bet that higher voter turn out makes the result of the elections seem more legitimate to the populace emboldening the government for decisive action.

If one desires small government the state having little legitimacy sounds like a good idea.

Comment author: 29 September 2012 08:21:13PM 0 points [-]

Consider how many people you affect when you go to the store to buy breakfast. You practically effect nearly everyone else on the planet by a very small value.

You're effectively choosing the administration under which $\sqrt{N}$ people will live until the next election. This is a much larger effect than the marginal change to the economy from you buying breakfast.

I bet that higher voter turn out makes the result of the elections seem more legitimate to the populace emboldening the government for decisive action.

To through your other argument around back at you. What's the marginal effect of one person refusing to vote. Probably less than for one person voting since most people who don't vote do so out of laziness with no deeper philosophical motive behind it. Let's put it this way: a candidate with a majority (or even a plurality in some systems) becomes the office holder, whereas less than 50% turnout doesn't cause a revolution; and even if it did, it would probably not be the revolution you want.

Let's put it this way, the two reasons you've given for not voting are:

1) You're unlikely to affect the outcome anyway.

2) If enough people don't vote the government will have less legitimacy and this can have positive effects.

Since the logic of these two reasons contradict, would you mind telling me which is your true rejection?

If one desires small government the state having little legitimacy sounds like a good idea.

We still want the state to have enough legitimacy to secure property rights and enforce contracts.

Comment author: 30 September 2012 04:30:59PM 3 points [-]

Let's put it this way, the two reasons you've given for not voting are:

1) You're unlikely to affect the outcome anyway.

2) If enough people don't vote the government will have less legitimacy and this can have positive effects.

Since the logic of these two reasons contradict, would you mind telling me which is your true rejection?

I'm another non-voter, largely (or medium-largely) for the reasons Konkvistador gives. But it's not the legitimacy of government that I wish to weaken. Places where government, even bad government, is not taken seriously are not nice places to live. If there's an institution or a cultural value that I wish to see weakened it's the people's romance.

In general I see nothing inconsistent about a democracy where most people voluntarily abstain from voting. A norm of not voting would require low amounts of sectarian conflict and large amounts of social trust, which don't exist in very many democracies. But as goals go I think low levels of sectarianism and high levels of social trust are superior to (and at cross-purposes with) high levels of voting.

Comment author: 30 September 2012 08:37:32AM *  1 point [-]

We still want the state to have enough legitimacy to secure property rights and enforce contracts.

You are right. I concede it probably isn't instrumentally useful for the goal of a small, strong and stable government capable of enforcing contracts and protecting rights. While the de-legitimized state might have a hard time growing even more and in its incompetence new de facto freedoms would slip out of its fingers, but the freedom is the freedom of anarchy not the liberty of minarchy. The argument I gave degenerates into a basic argument for anarchy and revolution in the hopes for change. Something that has historically almost never worked out well.

Since the logic of these two reasons contradict, would you mind telling me which is your true rejection

Good catch. I don't think people not voting has a large effect, just that people not voting also sends a signal to the system and it doesn't seem obvious that it is much smaller one than the one you send by voting for a party or candidate.

1) You're unlikely to affect the outcome anyway.

2) The tiny expected influence you have on the outcome doesn't go away when you don't vote, because abstaining from voting is also a political act.

I would perhaps add 3) that this political act may have instrumental utility for certain kinds of goals.

But applying 1) and 2) I get a bit of a problem. My value of information argument against spending time on thinking about party politics should then also clearly apply to thinking about voting or non-voting as well, advice I'm obviously not following. My revealed preferences point that some part of me thinks that not voting is very desirable. This can't be argued on consequentalist grounds for the reason you point out. Thinking about it I seem to consider non-voting valuable enough to think and talk about for symbolic reasons, seeing it as a sort of Schelling fence of personal political detachment from one's society. If you live in a society where your values or map of the world radically diverge from the rest of society, such a thing is perhaps good for personal well being, seeing oneself as a subject rather than a citizen helps you deal with the constant pain of things going horribly wrong.

Looking from the outside I'm using non-voting arguments to try and promote alienation from the society and hopefully drift towards my mind space. My inside feeling to the contrary is weaker evidence. Readers should then try to correct for this.

Taking another step up the ladder, perhaps my self-proclaimed divergent values are only a rationalization for my lack of tribal feeling linked to the state. Such a predisposition is hardly unique in the mindspace near LW/OB.

Why put so much distance between myself and the outside world? Because despite my legendary optimism, I find my society unacceptable. It is dreary, insipid, ugly, boring, wrong, and wicked. Trying to reform it is largely futile; as the Smiths tell us, "The world won't listen." Instead, I pursue the strategy that actually works: Making my small corner of the world beautiful in my eyes. If you ever meet my children or see my office, you'll know what I mean.

I'm hardly autarchic. I import almost everything I consume from the outside world. Indeed, I frequently leave the security of my Bubble to walk the earth. But I do so as a tourist. Like a truffle pig, I hunt for the best that "my" society has to offer. I partake. Then I go back to my Bubble and tell myself, "America's a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there."

My politics and values are quite different from Bryan Caplan's, yet the conclusions seem remarkably similar. Maybe both of us already had our bottom line written out first.

Comment author: 30 September 2012 04:36:12PM 0 points [-]

If you live in a society where your values or map of the world radically diverge from the rest of society,

Have you considered moving to a better society?

such a thing is perhaps good for personal well being, seeing oneself as a subject rather than a citizen helps you deal with the constant pain of things going horribly wrong.

Isn't it better to try to fix things than wallow in your learned helplessness?

My politics and values are quite different from Bryan Caplan's

How so? Near as I can tell, except for the whole emo/alienation thing you have going your values seem very similar.

Comment author: 29 September 2012 08:10:59AM 2 points [-]

Thus, the expected number of people you'll affect is .

Not voting (especially if you tell others you didn't vote) also affects people. You are going to need to subtract this to get the net effects.

Comment author: 29 September 2012 07:52:03PM 0 points [-]

Not voting (especially if you tell others you didn't vote) also affects people.

This affect seems like it would be limited to one's immediate acquaintances, also it seems like it would have a smaller affect on them than which administration they live under.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 11:11:14AM 5 points [-]

these all seem weak factors.

Indeed, and moreover they cancel each other out.

the fact the the Republicans have gone so strongly anti-science is certainly a bad sign.

Only in their rhetoric, which is at most weakly correlated with their actual policy decisions.

are the things I should care about in the election, or can I just lie back and enjoy it as a piece of interesting theatre?

Pure theater. Enjoy the show. Think of it as the Status Olympics, which occur every four years along with the summer games.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 04:09:48PM 6 points [-]

Indeed, and moreover they cancel each other out.

They don't exactly cancel out. I think that brains tend to use "these things cancel out" as an excuse to do less thinking.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 02:56:10PM *  0 points [-]

Only in their rhetoric, which is at most weakly correlated with their actual policy decisions.

Yes, but in this case, the rhetoric matters. I believe this was Stuart's point. If we want to raise the "sanity waterline", then, all else being equal, saner political dialog is a good thing. Right?

Comment author: 20 September 2012 03:28:33PM -1 points [-]

saner political dialog

oxymoron.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 10:26:58PM 3 points [-]

No, sane political dialog is an oxymoron. Saner political dialog isn't, just as "bigger shrimp" isn't.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 02:08:37PM 0 points [-]

Romney would likely be more pro-business than Obama in part by favoring lower corporate taxes, less burdensome regulations, and prioritizing high skilled vs. low skilled immigrants. So compared to Obama, under Romney the U.S. would probably have more economic growth (but also more economic inequality). As economic growth is vital for scientific advancement, Romney would probably create a better environment for scientific progress than Obama would.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 11:16:18AM *  2 points [-]

Yes, but scientific¹ progress would make both FAI and uFAI more likely.

1. Actually you mean “technological” -- figuring out whether neutrinos are Majorana particles isn't going to be very relevant to existential risk in the short and middle term, but your arguments still apply (even more, because private enterprises are usually more interested in applied research than in pure research).
Comment author: 20 September 2012 04:09:46PM *  3 points [-]

I don't think the evidence of presidential influence on growth rates is enough to support the contention (in either direction). Yes, famously, the economy grows better under democratic presidents - but that's a very small sample, with no clear causality. But certainly enough to reject the idea that a Romney presidency would be necessarily better for the economy.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 07:14:00PM 1 point [-]

I'm not going by past trends. Demographics combined with entitlements are going to create a massive problem for the U.S. My perception is that Romney would handle this by reducing the rate of growth of entitlements and doing everything possible to increase economic growth whereas Obama wants to handle the problem by increasing taxes on the rich.

Comment author: 22 September 2012 12:22:27AM *  -1 points [-]

You're mixing up levels.

EDIT: To be clearer - You're comparing a high-level goal/plan of candidate A ("make economy good") to a low-level plan of candidate B ("get money from people"). Example: "Candidate X wants to safeguard our freedom and prosperity, but candidate Y wants to send Americans to fight and die overseas." The reason this leads to a false impression is because we readily attribute low-level plans to high-level plans/goals ("if he wants freedom and prosperity, that means he'll do good things") but don't attribute high-level plans/goals to low-level plans ("If he's going to send Americans to fight and die overseas, how can you say he wants freedom and prosperity?").

The rhetorical effect of comparing plans on different levels may be diminished by remembering that neither candidate is an evil mutant - they both have high-level plans that are pretty much "make good things happen, stop bad things from happening."

Comment author: 20 September 2012 09:22:13PM 0 points [-]

Why would more less-skilled immigrants be bad for business? Wouldn't that mean both more consumers and cheaper labor?

Comment author: 20 September 2012 09:45:59PM 1 point [-]

I'm not claiming that low skilled immigrants harm business just that higher skilled ones are better for economic growth than lower skilled immigrants are.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 11:37:19PM -1 points [-]

If they're available in equal numbers, sure. But that seems unlikely to be the case.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 02:19:21PM 0 points [-]

Just for my clarity: do you mean to assert that other factors won't significantly affect the environment for scientific progress compared to the effect of economic growth? Or are you just not thinking about them here?

Comment author: 20 September 2012 02:28:33PM 3 points [-]

I think that economic growth is by far the most important factor, but it's not the only factor.

Comment author: 21 September 2012 03:40:31PM 1 point [-]

Any existential risk angles to the US presidential election?

Let me see... I think Obama has only served one term, which means he is qualified to try again so he is probably one of the candidates. </knowledge of current US politics>

Comment author: 21 September 2012 07:26:41PM 1 point [-]

Confirmed.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 01:21:46PM -3 points [-]
• Democrats are more likely raise taxes on tech startups, which reduces the incentives to create new (possibly dangerous) AI.

• Republicans are more likely to approve of immigration restrictions, which also slows development.

• Either side might support a "Manhattan project" that dumps a trillion dollars into a scientific goal, increasing the risk of UFAI.

• Iran could go either way. Republicans were more war-mongering and more Zionist last decade, but Democrats are catching up.

• Democrats are more likely to take the risk of a global pandemic seriously.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 07:47:04PM *  4 points [-]

Democrats are more likely to take the risk of a global pandemic serious

If its a foreign plague I actually expect Republicans be better at quarantine.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 09:20:00PM *  3 points [-]

Stagnation -> reduced existential risk is not a well-established fact. Our ability to cope with technologies that would be more delayed in stagnation can go down as well as up, stagnation will not affect all technologies equally and can skew the distribution worse, and there are other risks in the meantime. Not to mention that one ought to be very cautious about framing progress as a problem when there is so much chance of a false-positive, as opposed to framing things as an investigative/research question.

might support a "Manhattan project" that dumps a trillion dollars into a scientific goal, increasing the risk of UFAI.

Why think that this increases the risk of UFAI, relative to the expected distribution of development in industry, academia, or nonprofits absent such a project?

Comment author: 20 September 2012 02:10:27PM *  0 points [-]

Republicans are more likely to approve of immigration restrictions

Not on high skilled immigrants.

Democrats are more likely to take the risk of a global pandemic seriously

But they demonize the pharmaceutical industry which provides our best defense against pandemics.

Comment author: 28 September 2012 06:41:37AM *  2 points [-]

Again I'm not sure why this is down voted. This was a political discussion after all and Republicans really haven't mentioned any restrictions on high skilled immigration at all.

Is it really so impolite to point out that fruit pickers and start up founders mostly come from different pools?

Comment author: 20 September 2012 04:23:27PM 0 points [-]

Our best defense against pandemics would be to raise oil prices. Fighting travel that allows illnesses to spread rapidly.

Comment author: 20 September 2012 02:25:21PM -1 points [-]

On the assumption that the most likely UFAI is intended to maximize investment returns, which candidate would make it more probable?