Sunday, March 27, 2016

Would it be undemocratic for a convention to take the nomination from Trump? No more so than letting him have it

As promised, here is a brief rant on the concepts of "democracy," "the will of the people," and other such fairy tales.  With more than two candidates, there's no such thing as an outcome that is democratic because democracy doesn't exist.  If the Republican convention took the nomination from Trump, would it be undemocratic?  Yes.  So is everything else.  Don't worry about it.  Worry about the riots that would ensue.

Try this one for a rule:  If a majority prefers A to B, it would be undemocratic for B to win.

Got it?  Be careful.  I'm not saying A should win, just that B shouldn't.  I'm not saying anything about how anyone votes.  I am talking about outcomes.  If the outcome is B's victory when a majority prefers A to B, something is fucked up.  Got it?

OK, let's examine a simple electorate.  Not one of simpletons, just a simple one.  Three voters, three choices: A, B and C.  Here are their preference rankings, from first to last.

Voter 1:  A, then B, then C
Voter 2:  B, then C, then A
Voter 3:  C, then A, then B

OK, now let's look at preferences.  Not votes.  Preferences.  We aren't talking about votes at all yet.

Voters 1 and 3 prefer A to B.  Voters 1 and 2 prefer B to C.  And here's where it gets really fucked up.  Voters 2 and 3 prefer C to A!

Let that sink in.  A majority prefers A to B, B to C, and C to A.

Let that spin your head around for a bit.  If A wins, it's undemocratic because a majority prefers C to A.  If C wins, it's undemocratic because a majority prefer B to C, and if B wins, it's undemocratic because a majority prefer A to B!  Democracy?  Ain't no such thing, kiddies!

What the hell just happened?  Democracy, as a concept, blew up because it is mathematically impossible with more than two choices.  Kenneth Arrow won a Nobel for elaborating on this in Social Choice and Individual Values, but the mathematical problem has been known for far longer.  A famous mathematician named Lewis Carroll even worked on it.  Yes, the child molesting author of a creepy story about a little girl.  Same guy.

How does this apply?  We have three main Republican candidates left.  Trump, Cruz and Kasich.  See where I'm going with this?  If the Republican electorate has preferences that look anything like my little example here, then any outcome is equally undemocratic.  Regardless of how anyone votes, we could have an electorate that prefers Trump to Cruz, Cruz to Kasich, and Kasich to Trump.

The will of the people doesn't exist, so a contested convention cannot subvert the will of the people because you cannot subvert that which doesn't exist.  If a contested convention takes the nomination away from Trump, that is no more undemocratic than anything else because democracy is a mathematical impossibility.  Thanks, Ken Arrow, for ruining everyone's fun.

That doesn't mean perception of democracy is irrelevant.  The point is that if a contested convention takes the nomination from Trump, a lot of people will think that democracy has been subverted.  We saw what happened in 1968.  Trouble ensues.  And the fear of appearing to subvert the not-really-existing "will of the people" will probably keep the convention from taking the nomination from Trump.  Otherwise, trouble.

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