[EM] Saari's Basic Argument

Alex Small asmall at physics.ucsb.edu
Wed Feb 19 12:14:31 PST 2003

I want to add something else to my argument:

For normative reasons I consider the Borda Count to be an unsatisfactory
election method.  I have certain behavioral, strategic, and political
criteria that Borda fails miserably (no method is perfect, but Borda gets
a flat F while some methods gets C's and B's, even occasional A's).  I'm
interested in election methods as reforms to make our political system
better.  To that end, mathematics can be a useful tool for understanding
different methods.

However, when a particular mode of analysis (as in analyze, not "analysis"
in the mathematician's sense of "real analysis", "complex analysis",
"functional analysis", etc.) keeps building toward the conclusion that
"Borda rocks!" I have to conclude that this mode of analysis does not shed
any light on questions that interest me.  It may shed light on questions
that interest Donald Saari, but it doesn't shed any light on questions
that interest me.  His method may be rigorous in the sense that it is
self-consistent, all statements following as rigorous conclusions drawn
from certain axioms, but it still isn't interesting.

I realize that this may sound like a closed-minded approach:  "It says
something that I disagree with, therefore it must be wrong."  Not quite. 
Although I haven't carefully read all that Saari has ever written, what I
have read of Saari's work never answers any of my questions, and never
provides any new considerations so compelling that I disregard my initial
objections to Borda.

It's kind of like Colin Powell's speech on Iraq:  I have certain questions
regarding national security and possible outcomes in Iraq.  Powell didn't
answer any of my questions, and what he did say didn't sound sufficiently
compelling to take precedence over my unanswered questions.  If he had
come up with something so compelling that my other (still unanswered)
objections were moot, I'd have changed my mind.

(Not to drag too much politics into this list, but it seemed like a valid

Of course, not everybody shares my values and concerns.  That's fine. 
Saari probably provides a lot of insights that interest other people.  The
democratic process will ultimately decide whether we use election methods
that I like, that other people like, or the status quo.


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