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.


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