Quote for the day

I came upon this quote when I was working on my previous post about choosing in groups. It comes from Buchanan and Tullock’s 1959 work, The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations in Constitutional Democracy.

Any theory of collective choice must attempt to explain or to describe the means through which conflicting interests are reconciled. In a genuine sense, economic theory is also a theory of collective choice, and, as such, provides us with an explanation of how separate individual interests are reconciled through the mechanism of trade or exchange. Indeed, when individual interests are assumed to be identical, the main body of economic theory vanishes. If all men were equal in interest and in endowment, natural or artificial, there would be no organized economic activity to explain. Each man would be a Crusoe. Economic theory thus explains why men co-operate through trade: They do so because they are different.

Everyone has different interests and an idea of how to best accomplish a tasks. A healthy organization/society/state has to learn how to reconcile those interests.

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Choosing in groups and the NCAA basketball selection committee

I recently listened to this podcast with Mike Munger about choosing in groups. I found it even more interesting after the NCAA basketball tournament selections. I would really love to be a fly on the wall during the committee’s selection process. This exchange in the podcast really makes you wonder what influence the selection committee chair has on the overall process,

Russ: So, this example–and this arises typically with three or more choices–I’m sure some listener is going, ‘What are you talking about?’ One way to see it is, it matters, the order in which you vote. So, if you vote A against B and then the winner of that goes against C, you might get a very different outcome if you voted A against C and then the winner goes against B. And there’s some nice examples in the book of how that can happen. What that means is, when you said there are different rules that lead to different outcomes–what do you mean, ‘different rules?’ Sure, voting is going to be different than the strongest person gets to decide, say. Or the tallest person, or the richest person. These are just standard majority voting procedures that really have very unattractive aspects when there’s more than 2 things to choose from. Munger: I often–if I talk to, go to a retirement home or something, I’ll just say, let’s try this voting rule. And people say, ‘All right. That makes sense.’ Assuming that it’s neutral. But it’s not. So this is not yet trial by strength or a 5-mile race. These are different, apparently equally-plausible voting rules. The differences should be innocuous. But they are actually determinate. So, if the choice of rules is determinate, the choice of preferences can’t be. Which is why I say democracy is indeterminate. We want to go from what the people want to what the government does. But what the people want is not determinate, because it depends on the rules. Russ: Which allows, say, a Chair of a meeting who decides what the order of the vote is–which seems totally innocuous–to actually control what the outcome is. If the Chair knows enough. Munger: Or, the alternative that some people will say when I make that argument, that seems bad–if the Chair can use what looks like democracy to pick the outcome, that’s not really democracy. But they still–‘Wait, but people can vote strategically’–Wait. What you’re saying is that the voters can lie about what they want and thwart the will of the Chair–that can’t possibly be what you mean by democracy. Voters lie in order to prevent being manipulated by a dictator. That just sounds like dictatorship to me.

It makes you wonder what is going on behind those closed doors as they are making selections. Here’s an article from one selection member and here’s the principles and procedures for establishing the bracket. I’m sure the process is designed to be fair and reach some kind of consensus within the group. However, I still think it would be an interesting study of choosing in groups.

For Whom the Bell Tolls


I recently finished Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 book, For Whom the Bell Tolls. I really enjoyed the book. It is about an American dynamiter named Robert Jordan who has become involved in the Spanish Civil War. This novel follows his mission of destroying a bridge with a group of guerrila fighters who are sympathetic to the republican forces. Here is a link to a more detailed synopsis.

I thought I would share a couple of quotes I enjoyed.

From page 335 on leadership and being a leader even when you are frightened,

The orders on this are very clear. Too very clear. But you must not worry nor must you be frightened. For if you allow yourself the luxery of normal fear that fear will infect those who must work with you.

A calm, collected leader in times of fear can be a rallying point to help accomplish a difficult task.

From page 386 on controlling your emotions,

Wait until the fight before you get angry. There’s lots of time for it in a fight. It will be some use to you in a fight.

There’s no need in spending time and energy getting worked up on what ifs. Use that emotion and energy when you are in the situation, not dreaming up what could happen.

This final quote (emphasis is mine) from 236 sums up why Robert Jordan, an American, was fighting in the Spanish Civil War. I also think it also shows how powerful ideas and beliefs are. Many individuals are willing to sacrifice and even die for their ideas and beliefs, and I believe Hemingway captured this thought well in this quote.

In all that, in the fear that dries your mouth and your throat, in the smashed paster dust and the sudden panic of a wall falling, collapsing in the flash and roar of a shellburst, clearing the gun, dragging those away who had been serving it, lying face downward and covered with rubble, your head behind the shield working on a stoppage, getting the broken case out, straightening the belt again, you now lying straight behind the shield, the gun searching the roadside again; you did the right thing there was to do and knew that you were right. You learned the dry-mouthed, fear-purged, purging ecstasy of battle and you fought that summer and that fall for all the poor in the world, against all tyranny, for all the things that you believed and for the new world you had been educated into. You learned that fall, he thought, how to endure and how to ignore suffering in the long time of cold and wetness, of mud and of digging and fortifying. And the feeling of the summer and the fall was buried deep under tiredness, sleepiness, and nervousness and discomfort. But it was still there and all that you went through only served to validate it. It was in those days, he thought, that you had a deep and sound and selfless pride