[EM] RE: utility

Simmons, Forest simmonfo at up.edu
Fri Sep 2 15:17:54 PDT 2005

My two cents worth on utility:
1.  Utility can be a useful concept for an individual to use in making a decision, even though it may be impossible to calculate.  For example, if candidates A, B, and C have equal priors of winning, and my preference order is A>B>C, then I might decide to approve a "ho hum" candidate  B on the basis that it seems to me that B is closer to A than to C in my own personal value system.  Neither Approval nor Dyadic Approval requires more than this "half way mark" kind of utility judgment.
2.  In the PR context, one could have as a theoretical common denominator of utility for each candidate the probability that the candidate would represent your point of view on a random issue that comes before the representative body.  Of course, not all issues are of equal importance, so you want to take into account that someone might disagree with you on all of the wedge issues, but agree with you on the one or two life or death issues.  Soon you see that even this utility is more of a gut feeling than anything else.  Furthermore, there are interactions among the candidates that could make your utility for one candidate depend on the election  of another candidate that has a positive influence on him.
3. I am skeptical of using utility additively (as in range voting), especially in capitalist countries (but also in those communist and socialist countries where the wealth is controlled undemocratically) because under all systems with non-democratic economies (including capitalism) benefits don't get spread around equitably.
To see what I mean, consider the two person game direct payoff matrix
                      (100, 0)   |   (20, 20)
                       (20, 20)  |   (0, 500)
By direct payoff, I mean that the values in the matrix are to be paid directly to the players by some third party (say fate).
In one setting (analogous to capitalism) the row player should choose the first row and the column player the second column.  Each player gets twenty of their units of utility.  It doesn't matter if the twenty utility units are comparable or not, because they are not going to be shared.  [This (20, 20) result is analogous to an approval election outcome.]
In an equitable society, it would make a difference if the utilities were comparable and additive.  If the row player sees 250 of the column player units as more valuable than 20 of his own units, then he should choose the second row, with the understanding that the 500=250+250 units are going to be shared equally. [This 250+250 result is analogous to an outcome of range voting in an equitable society.]
Thus two brothers with neighboring farms could benefit more by cooperative planning (based on weather probabilities) than they could by going it alone, especially if they were willing to share the revenues and costs.
Nafta raised the gross national product of both the USA and Mexico, but only because the rich became super rich, while the poor got poorer.  
The last four U.S. administrations have been very effective in caulking up all of the leaks that were supposed to supply the poor with trickle down.
Sincere range voting minimizes expected (total or average) Bayesian regret, but that is desireable only in an equitable society where the mathematical averaging is reflected in reality by actual sharing of the costs and benefits throughout the population.
[Our version of capitalism is "Socialize the cost (by taxing everybody), but privatize the profits," and its corollary, "subsidies for the rich corporations and their stock holders, but market discipline for the poor."  Many fundamentalist Christians while giving lip service to "No man can serve both God and Money," paradoxically support this brand of capitalism with religious fervor.]
That's why (in the real world) I prefer the sincere approval winner to the sincere range winner:  sincere Approval tends to maximize the number of voters that get a result that they can live with, without having to beg the stingy super utility winners to spread around their loot.
Fortunately, under range voting most voters will soon learn to use approval strategy, so range voting will give results as good as approval voting in non-equitable societies.  It's a shame, however, that range ballots have to be used to get approval results, when simple approval ballots would do.
The least we can do is use ballots that have simple options for the voters that don't want to specify range numbers for each candidate.
Unfortunately, both approval and range voting are vulnerable to disinformation campaigns that tend to distort the (subjective) prior probabilities.
Methods that make judicious use of pairwise comparisons can ameliorate this problem.  DMC uses both approval info and pairwise info, but in the end  gives more weight to the pairwise info, which is appropriate here in the U.S.A. where the fat cats can manipulate prior probabilities like silly putty.
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