Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Kenneth Arrow and that Breitbart shitgibbon: On being a true provocateur

Kenneth Arrow just died.  You may not have heard of him, but he was one of the most important scholars of the 20th Century, and the author of my favorite piece of scholarship:  Social Choice and Individual Values.  He was a true provocateur.  He won a Nobel Prize for it, and fuck you if you challenge the legitimacy of the Nobel for Economics just because it wasn't an original Nobel.

Also, Milo YiaHaHaHaHa now joins Cliven Bundy as persona non grata among his former friends because apparently he is a card-carrying member of NAMBLA.  If you don't know, don't Google it.  Milo is and always has been nothing more than a troll, and since he has never been an even remotely entertaining troll, I have never understood why anyone elevated him to the stature that brought him to my attention, or anyone else's.  He calls himself a provocateur.

The late Kenneth Arrow was a true provocateur.  If you read this blog often enough, you will find me writing things like the following:  there is no such thing as democracy, or the will of the people.  I get that from Kenneth Arrow and his provocations.  He won a Nobel for it.  He is most famous for what is known as the "impossibility theorem."  Essentially, he said that there are five conditions that a rule should meet for a decision-making system to be democratic, in lay-terms:

1)  Non-dictatorship.  There should be no single person whose preferences determine the outcome regardless of what anyone else wants.

2)  Independence of irrelevant alternatives.  If a group prefers A to B, introducing C shouldn't make them suddenly like B more.

3)  Monotonicity.  If one member of the group decides to move an option up in his rankings, that shouldn't move that option down in the group's rankings.

4)  Non-imposition.  There can't be a result that is simply forbidden, and unachievable by any set of preferences, no matter what each group member's preferences are.

5)  Universality.  The system must produce a complete and deterministic ranking that is consistent each time.

Arrow wrote it in heavier, math jargon, but hopefully you get the point.  In one of the most brilliant pieces of social science ever written, Arrow showed that no mathematical decision rule can possibly satisfy all five conditions.  If democracy depends on meeting all five conditions, then democracy is a mathematical impossibility.

The exception is if there are two and only two parties.  Add third parties, or more complex choices, and everything breaks down.

You can see why this bothers people.

People have been whining about the impossibility theorem for decades.  But they can't find a hole in the proof.  Yes, it's a proof.  An actual, mathematical proof.

Arrow was a provocateur.  He won a Nobel for it.  That Breitbart troll and his ilk?  I'll quote Mike Cooley from "Cottonseed."

Just loud-mouthed punks to me, I've scraped meaner off my shoe.

Ken Arrow wouldn't even bother to notice him.  Why have we?

Fuck it.  Here's Cooley.

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