Voting Systems: The Lifeblood of Democracy (Part 2)

Voting Systems: The Lifeblood of Democracy (Part 2)

Last post, I went over the broad categories of voting systems and discussed how to judge them. Now we can get to the really interesting part: using that knowledge to critique our current voting systems and evaluate better ones we can use in the future.

Modern democracies today mostly use one of three major types of electoral systems:

  1. Plurality,
  2. Proportional Representation with Single Transferable Vote
  3. Proportional Representation with Party List voting


Plurality Voting: The Worst

With Plurality voting, aka First-Past-The-Post voting (FPTP), people vote on a single candidate and the candidate with the most votes wins. This system is familiar to probably everyone, and especially anyone in the countries that use it like the ones founded by England and their colonialism (US, UK, Canada, Australia, India) as well as France and a smattering of other (mostly African) nations.

While plurality might seem simple and fair, it has a lot of problems and complications in practice.

Continue reading “Voting Systems: The Lifeblood of Democracy (Part 2)”

Voting Systems: The Lifeblood of Democracy (Part 1)

Voting Systems: The Lifeblood of Democracy (Part 1)

The idea of democracy goes hand in hand with voting. The ability to vote and choosing a good method of voting is critically important in a democracy. The strength of a democracy is intrinsically linked to what percentage of the population have a meaningful say in the voting process and how that say is translated into collective action.


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Kenneth Arrow is a Dick

Kenneth Arrow is a Dick

Ok, so I don’t know Kenneth Arrow, and he’s probably not a dick. But his so called “Impossibility Theorem” is definitely a dick. The theorem has been misinterpreted by decades of students and political thinkers to mean that there is no possible voting system that is always fair. This has discouraged many people into thinking that trying to find a better voting system is futile.

In reality, Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem only applies to ranked-order voting system (where voters rank their choices in order of their preference). It states that there exists no ranked-order voting system that satisfies three fairness criteria:

  1. Unanimity: If every voter ranks candidate A over candidate B, then A will always be preferred over B in the total vote results.
  2. Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives: In every possible set of vote results where each voter’s preference between A and B are the same, the candidate preferred in the total vote results will be the same (even when voters preferences between A and candidates other than B change, and vice versa).
  3. No Dictator: No single voter controls the vote results.

Arrow's impossibility theorem.jpg

We’ve Been Duped

Rather than being generally applicable to all voting systems, the Impossibility Theorem is really an indictment of ranked-order voting systems, which includes both the plurality voting system used in the US, UK, and at least 40 other countries worldwide, as well as the Two-round System and Instant-runoff voting widely used in South America, Eastern Europe, and northern Africa.

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So you Wanna Understand Bitcoin… (Part 1)

So you Wanna Understand Bitcoin… (Part 1)

Bitcoin has been on a somewhat incredible-seeming upward trend recently. You can regularly see articles talking both about bitcoin “surging” and “crashing” all in the same week. This is no surprise coming from a media industry that is ever more senationalistic. But because of this, Bitcoin has been registering on the radar for more and more people who have never even heard of a digital currency before. Bitcoin may actually be the most important invention in the last 500 years. And since currencies both have government and economic implications, let me see how I can help..

Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, which is a digital currency defined by a cryptographic protocol designed to keep the currency mathematically secure. With a cryptocurrency, if you send, say, 1 bitcoin to Alice, she can verify that she received the bitcoin by using some math, and only Alice can then use that bitcoin by doing some more math. This is very different than your usual currency, where you can only verify that you have received money by asking a trusted authority, like a bank. Even if you’re using cash, you don’t really know whether or not that cash is part of the $200 million in counterfeit money currently in circulation, unless you ask a bank or the government.

And this is where the power of a cryptocurrencies lies: people can send each other money without involving a bank or a government. This is why a slogan often heard in the Bitcoin community is: “Be your own bank”.

Bitcoin isn’t the first digital currency, but it’s a first-of-its-kind currency in a lot of different ways:

  • Transactions are irreversible. Only the holder of the wallet key (similar to a long password) can access the bitcoins in that wallet.
  • Cheap transactions. You can send someone $1 million for a fee of less than $2. Transactions used to be free, but have recently become somewhat expensive for day-to-day purchases. However, if plans for the Bitcoin lightning network bear fruit, these transaction fees could drop to less than a cent.
  • The bitcoin network is decentralized. No central authority can print more bitcoins, freeze someone’s account, or seize someone’s coins. Bitcoin holders don’t need to trust anyone in order to maintain or use their bitcoins, and any changes to the Bitcoin protocol can only happen if most people in the network agree to those changes.
  • No inflation. There will eventually be a maximum of 21 million Bitcoins, and about 80% of them already exist.

Bitcoin visionaries see Bitcoin as the first currency that will be truly global. A currency that can cross borders as easily as exchanging hands. A currency where spending 1 cent is just as cheap as spending $1000 or $1 million in seconds rather than days. Many also see the currency as en escape from government manipulation and a platform that can enable a huge assortment of new financial applications.

There are 3 major things that Bitcoin is based on:

  1. Cryptography
  2. The Blockchain
  3. Consensus Rules

Bitcoin’s cryptography ensures that only you can spend your bitcoins. Bitcoin’s blockchain ensures that all the transactions are recorded so that other people can verify that you sent them some bitcoin. And, importantly, Bitcoin’s Consensus Rules can not be changed by any central authority, and instead, users can choose to or not to opt into changes.

But how does this all work? And why does this make Bitcoin worth real money?

Continue reading “So you Wanna Understand Bitcoin… (Part 1)”

Reaffirming Innocent until Proven Guilty

Reaffirming Innocent until Proven Guilty

Amid all the talk of possible impeachment of President Trump, its probably really easy to miss the fact that the supreme court did something pretty incredible recently: they upheld the idea that you are innocent until proven guilty. Doesn’t seem like this  should be much of a contentious issue.. but major legal procedures have been violating this tenant for hundreds of years and continue to do so today.

For example, in the case of Nelson v Colorado, Shannon Nelson and Louis Madden were convicted of a crime and were ordered to pay thousands of dollars in restitution and other fines. That conviction was later overturned by the Colorado appellate court, but the state refused to return a few thousand dollar of the fines they paid. The Colorado supreme court refused to order the return of that money, citing a Colorado law that required them to prove they were innocent.

The US Supreme Court overruled this and set an important precedent that could have far reaching and overwhelmingly positive consequences. This ruling applies to a bevy of legal rulings in recent decades that have continued to uphold civil forfeiture – where the state can take your property on the basis that it may have been involved in a crime without requiring due process.


Civil Forfeiture: A Legal Nightmare

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An International Federation: Part 2

An International Federation: Part 2

Mankind can be saved only if a supranational system, based on law, is created to eliminate the methods of brute force.” – Albert Einstein, 1950

In my last post, I discussed some important aspects of an international government: that such a government should derive its power from the widespread agreement of the people via super-majority votes, and must foster an international law that is understandable to everyone. In this post, I’ll talk about points of enforcement and the structure of such a government, concluding with a full and finished draft of a constitution for an International Federation.



The enforcement of international laws will naturally require a trial process to determine culpability. I propose a multi-phase trial process that requires reasonable proof from the accusers before action can be taken against someone. The first two phases are a hearing and trial that have no defense and where the defendant is not present. If no reasonable doubt is found in those phases, the last phase is moved to, which is a more traditional jury trial with a defense and prosecution. This way, no one can be even brought to trial or detained without proven evidence against them.

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An International Federation: Part 1

An International Federation: Part 1

In a recent post, I talked about how to achieve world peace by creating an international federation binding all the worlds nations to common laws. In this and the next couple posts, I’ll describe what would make a good, feasible world government.

I should reiterate that this needs to be a very limited world government. I’m not proposing a single unitary government that creates laws for everyone – that would be a worst case scenario. A strong centralized all-encompassing world government would mean there would be no place you could go to escape tyrannical laws but the sky, effectively creating the same problem for laws that a monopoly creates for a product. Because of that, the international government should only be allowed to bind and enforce laws on government officials, leaving the regulation of normal residents to national governments.

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Constitutional Borders

Constitutional Borders

Recently, Trump’s travel ban disrupted the lives of about 90,000 people traveling to or returning to the US. Most of these people were non-citizens, but many were in fact citizens. For example, a US-born NASA scientist and US citizen named Sidd Bikkannvar was recently detained at the airport by Border Patrol agents while returning from Chile, almost certainly because of his skin color since Chile wasn’t even part of the travel ban. Despite the fact that the agents had no charges to bring and no probable cause, they searched him and seized his phone and demanded his password to unlock the phone. The phone was owned by NASA and Sidd was responsible for keeping the sensitive information on it out of unauthorized hands. Eventually, Sidd relented and gave them his password, because that was the only way he could go home.


State of the Absurdity

Now, if Sidd was inside the United States, there would be no question that such action was unconstitutional search, seizure, and detainment. But it has been often argued that the US constitution only has jurisdiction within the US. Non-citizens outside the boundaries of the US usually aren’t afforded constitutional rights by the military or any other US government agency. And while we may imagine that the constitution travels with citizens abroad, in practice, those citizens have often been unable to have their rights enforced or obtain reparations when their rights have been violated by the US government abroad.

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How to Achieve World Peace: A Guide

How to Achieve World Peace: A Guide

World peace is on the bucket list of every religious leader, politician, and beauty pageant contestant. And yet, while many have worked tirelessly to promote peace, humanity has failed to come up with a convincing theory for how to achieve it. The best we’ve done is come with with ideas for how to “advance the agenda of peace”. Ideas like foreign aid, charity work through building infrastructure or teaching in other countries, the non-violent protest movement, UN mediation, and traditional diplomacy have all played their part in shaping a more peaceful world.

There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

And the world does seem to be getting more peaceful. Violence per capita of all kinds is far less than it was 20 or 50 years ago. There is also strong evidence that politically competitive large-coalition Democracies are far more stable than dictatorships and that strong factors motivate elites in a dictatorship to expand their coalition. Because of this, it may very well be inevitable that every country becomes a stable democracy of some kind.

But we still have the threat of nuclear annihilation, which is culturally accepted as the most likely way humanity may go extinct. Civil wars are still rampant (20 are ongoing as of this writing). And while we have gotten better at diplomacy, we have no framework for ensuring that major conflicts are resolved and no framework for ensuring the nations of the world are equipped to deal with conflicts peacefully. In the next few paragraphs I’ll lay out the few unsatisfying theories and ideologies that exist before explaining how the world can achieve lasting peace.

Continue reading “How to Achieve World Peace: A Guide”