Storable Votes with a Pay as you win mechanism: a contribution for institutional design

I joined the EA Forum in 2022, with a post describing my interests and agenda. I also declared in my first comment that in my view, among the main existential risk bottlenecks for this Dangerous Century, a critical one is institutional stagnation. E.O Wilson famously said: “The real problem of humanity is the following: we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology”.

Regarding the Paleolithic emotions, and godlike technology I have nothing to contribute, but regarding the medieval institutions I think I can make some modest contributions.

Here are two of them, very likely my most important scientific contributions so far: the first is an already published journal article, the second, a new pre-print (please, feel free to make suggestions for improvement).

Storable Votes with a Pay as You Win mechanism

This article (“Storable Votes with a Pay as You Win mechanism” [Journal of Economic Interaction and Coordination, pre-print here for access after the expiry of ShareLink]) presents a dynamic voting mechanism on multiple alternatives (Storable Votes-Pay as You Win [SV-PAYW]).

At the beginning, all agents are given an equal number of (infinitely divisible) storable votes. The agents say how many votes they are willing “to pay” for each of the possible alternatives and the most voted alternative wins the election. Then, the votes that have been committed to the winning alternative are deducted from each player’s account, and are equally redistributed among all participants, and a new voting period begins.

The system reduces the incentives for strategic voting: agents do not stop signaling their interest in alternatives with little probability of victory (if it does not win, you do not pay votes), and it solves the problem of minority disenfranchisement: the more elections a subject loses, the more power future electoral power she accumulated. The article uses exact computational methods (GAMBIT is used for backward induction). The simulations indicate that the PAYW part improves a fixed number of votes version of the Storable Votes

SV-PAYW shall be considered as a natural alternative to Quadratic Voting for its use in distributed governance systems (vg. to implement the democratic reforms proposed in “Radical Markets”). In my view is equally simple, and the avoidance of strategic behavior is likely to be more complete. Additionally, the sock puppet problem does not exist in SV-PAYW, because the system is linear and “dividing” votes to more electors does not affect electoral power.

The ideal political workflow

In addition to this technical article, I have written this other, much shorter one, about the integration of “preferences” and “knowledge” in governance systems. In my view this paper formalizes the main intuition in Robin Hanson Futarchy system:

The ideal political workflow

This philosophical article was the inspiration to work in voting systems. The main idea was that a political system is not legitimate because of the consent of the governed, but because of the welfare of the governed. A political system for me was a mechanism that collected information about preferences and facts and turned them into decisions. I already commented that idea in non-technical fashion in the EA Forum in the post “No Room for Political Philosophy”.

Holistic visions of democracy expect people to make meaningful opinions on public issues and considers that decision receiving more than half of popular support are legitimate. But the number of decisions is enormous, popular policies are often infeasible and the portfolio of policies that people would take on an issue-by-issue basis would be probably grossly incompatible (sequential voting is not known to have good properties).

On the other hand, if we were able to provide the voter with the set of possible states of nature, they could simply pick the best “state of the world” and at least in formal terms the exercise would be consistent.

My first idea was that voting in the space of possible states of the world would be simply finding some maximum given the utility functions revealed by the participants. But it is obvious that players voting in a large space would try to assess the two points with a maximum probability of being voted by the others, and pick the preferred between those two. This lead me into looking for multi-alternative voting systems, and to the road that lead to SV-PAYW.