[EM] Trees by Proxy

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Sun Mar 25 14:33:03 PDT 2007

At 11:41 PM 3/24/2007, Dave Ketchum wrote:
I accept Abd's suggestion to discard his words whenever they conflict 
with my goals.

>TO OTHERS!  I welcome attempts at contributing toward using proxies 
>to improve quality of legislatures.

And I'll note for others that while legislative proxy voting is 
interesting, aside from possibly Asset Voting to elect legislatures, 
the discussion is, shall we say, quite premature, when it gets into 
excruciating details of implementation. For me, it is enough to 
notice that proxy representation in legislatures would solve certain 
problems of government. The problem is that we don't know very well 
what problems it might introduce, and so I personally feel much more 
comfortable looking to experimentation with proxy representation both 
in NGO and in lesser assemblies. Town Meeting would be an interesting 
application; my impression is that it might conflict with state law, 
but I'm not certain about that.

I'm quite interested in any real world applications of proxy 
representation, not just in the Free Association context. But the FA 
context seems to me to be a place where DP would solve the ancient 
problem of scale, without risk, since FAs don't represent a major 
concentrated asset, if you screw up an FA, very little has been lost. 
If there are members who want to continue it in a new form, they can 
easily do so. It's the nature of the beast. More traditional 
organizations typically represent an asset that, if it breaks, causes 
serious loss. The  organization management is often the gatekeeper to 
the members, and this fact is then used to maintain the interests of 
existing management, and examples abound.

It is quite possible to structure more traditional organizations so 
that these risks are minimized, but most people don't even realize 
the risk, much less how to avoid it.

One more note: proxy voting is already used in some legislatures. In 
fact, it is a common objection to legislative practice, as if there 
were something wrong with it. In New York, apparently, legislators 
can vote on committees by proxy. I do not see anything wrong with 
this, with the provision that I would consider the legislator 
responsible for such votes as if he or she had cast them himself or 
herself. And I generally disrespect proxy voting used simply as 
absentee voting, i.e., directed voting; it is a disruption of 
deliberative process, which becomes moot.

>>>     I offer proxies as a way of populating a legislature.  While 
>>> we both got proxies from the same source, there are enough 
>>> differences in the way they are used that you get nothing but 
>>> headaches if you mix Abd's ideas with mine.

Actually, I don't think we both got proxies from the same source, 
though we are aware and have in mind one particular precedent use: 
corporate proxies. But I actually started with a representational 
system with a fixed structure and then realized that the fixed 
structure was more of a problem than a solution, so I allowed the 
voters to self-select the leaders, rather than having the voters 
associate first and then the group elects a leader. And *then* I 
realized that this was proxy voting. In other words, I started with 
something that more resembles Trees by Proxy and then eliminated the 
restrictions. All this, by the way, about twenty years ago, if my 
memory serves. Unfortunately, most of it was not written down....

>I believe reasonable delays encourage proxy givers to consider 
>carefully before changing proxy holders.

In other words, create a hazard so that voters will be more 
careful.... If a voter comes to think that a proxy selection is a 
disaster, and the proxy is going to vote to bring us into a war that 
the voter doesn't consider necessary or appropriate or even morally 
allowable, too bad. Your vote will still go toward the war, unless 
you manage to anticipate the problem long enough in advance to avert 
it. Because why? Because Ketchum wants you to be more careful!

Once again, looking at the precedents, what would you think of a 
health care proxy which you could not revoke while you are of sound 
mind? Essentially, important proxies are (1) always revocable at 
will, subject only to the rights of third parties to know whether or 
not the proxy represents you, which you can manage by direct notice 
to the third party as well as by other means, and (2) ineffective if 
the one represented makes an explicit decision. Ketchum is 
eliminating both of these protections, without explaining in 
sufficient detail why this is even remotely a good idea. He comes up with this:

>Legislatures NEED time to prepare for changes in proxy holding (and 
>thus in membership and power of members).

Sure they need time. However, the time necessary should be no more 
than a few minutes. Membership rules simply allow for latency. For 
example, a proxy might have floor rights because of having 1000 
votes, the minimum. He loses a client. So, his floor rights continue 
for a period, maybe a day or a week or whatever is appropriate for 
the context. He just has 999 votes for that time. He never casts your 
vote without your continued permission. If this is not to be the 
case, there better be a stronger reason than what Ketchum has said.

I have generally admitted that changing proxies during a vote might 
be problematic. But the critical time is not the voting process 
itself, it is when the vote is expanded by adding the proxies. And it 
is fairly simple to provide that a certain period elapses after a 
vote is taken before the expansion is done. This gives clients time 
to change their proxy if they think it that important. The point 
where changes would not be effective would be when the expansion 
analysis starts. There would be a gap there, perhaps as many as a few 
seconds. We *do* have computers nowadays....

More to the point, if there is a delay before expansion as indicated 
above, a voter can effectively cancel the proxy just for the vote in 
question, while leaving the proxy in place generally, simply by 
voting. If direct voting is allowed.

A lot of votes -- most, actually, -- are intermediate process votes. 
These would have very short delays, so only a voter who was paying 
close attention would be likely to be able to vote directly to 
reverse the action of a proxy....

>Abd claims familiarity with Robert's Rules, as do I.  I notice that 
>a body must obey laws, and any rules established for it by superior 
>bodies.  It also may establish rules that cannot be too easily 
>changed without serious thought.

I assume the same. As to rules of a "superior body," Ketchum might 
reflect on the "nuclear option" in the Senate. Are the rules of the 
Senate established by the Constitution? (No.) There are very few 
matters of Senate procedure that come from constitutional requirements.

What was the "nuclear option"? It was a threat by the then majority, 
the Republicans, that the President of the Senate (Cheney) would rule 
a filibuster out of order, even though the rules and precedent would 
have been contrary to this. Then the majority would confirm the 
ruling, and it would be done. The Senate would have proceeded to vote 
on confirmation of a judge. This was considered dangerous and 
foolish, discarding precedent like that, but I saw no suggestions 
that it was illegal. The interpreter and arbiter of Senate rules, 
ultimately, is the majority.

Note also that Robert's Rules allow an absolute majority to amend the 
bylaws, even without notice. The more usual understanding of a 
two-thirds majority applies only to majorities of quorums.... 
Robert's Rules really are thoroughly democratic, they place the 
majority above rules established in the past.

But the majority disregards those rules at its own peril!

>Still, I agree with what Abd writes elsewhere, that a holder should 
>have few enough givers that communication is practical.

The invention of Delegable Proxy allows proxies to be assigned on a 
level such that communication is easy between the proxy and client. I 
don't fix the number, though sometimes I suggest twenty when a high 
level of activity is involved. Then the concentration necessary for 
efficient deliberative process takes place through delegation. This 
is quite directly a solution to the problem of scale in democracy, 
which was hitherto considered intractable.... you can read the 
reasons why in standard works on democracy, which for some reason 
have completely overlooked proxy voting as if it had nothing to do 
with democracy at all..... but I can more easily forgive not 
realizing the implications of delegability, since it is a totally new 

(Well, hierarchical representation, with tribal councils, regional 
councils, national councils, is sort of like it.)

>>>       Borrow proxies fresh from corporate stockholder usage.  Their
>>>effectiveness starts at midnight 10 days after filing; ends 10 days after
>>>a replacement is filed or signer dies.
>The 10 days is not from corporate usage, but from what I write above 
>about need to avoid instant response.

And what is wrong with 10 minutes?

>>>       Representatives, such as Juho's 5 from a village in a town
>>>government,  have power according to how many effective voter proxies they
>>>hold, directly or indirectly:
>>>            Must hold 1% of a legislature's proxies to be able to 
>>> vote there.
>I do not object to someone holding a single proxy, yet I cannot see 
>value in a collection of such trying to be serious members of a 
>board, even to investing enough time listening to deliberations to 
>be able to vote intelligently.

I have not proposed that someone holding a single proxy have the 
right to address a board or assembly, unless permission is given. 
However, who is to decide if that single proxy has put in enough time 
too understand the issues? It's quite possible that this person has 
more knowledge and expertise, and has been following the debate more 
closely, than most active members of the assembly!

The waste of time, if there is any, is that of the single voter or 
holder of a single proxy. For this reason, I consider, the vast 
number of votes cast in assemblies representing large populations 
will be cast by active participants. I expect. It might not be true. 
The ones who will decide are the citizens, and each one can decide 
for himself or herself. I just think that most people will realize 
they can leave it all in the hands of their proxy and just watch what 
particularly concerns them.

>>>            Must hold 2% of a legislature's proxies to have full
>>>capabilities of being a legislator - offering bills, debating, etc.
>No magic in "2", but too many active members and they trip over each other.
>>>            Limit on voting power is 40% of proxies voted in any vote - no
>>>czars allowed.
>I SAID "no czars allowed", though my "40" is merely a suggestion.
>Responding to Abd's consensus - a chair's gavel is not made of 
>muscle - though the chair does properly respond when consensus among 
>the members is recognizable.

And if the process allows ongoing review of the actions of a 
superproxy, the superproxy is not really a czar, he or she is merely 
the agent of some kind of consensus, revocable at any time, unable to 
make binding decisions except by majority consent.

>>>            Sideways proxy - possible for representatives to be too weak
>>>above.  Such can pass what they hold to others for legislature
>>>participation.  This does not release anyone from the above limit, nor
>>>does it affect what anyone passes up to others via proxies.
>A village elder can pass up however many proxies are held to a town 
>trustee.  This is partly for minority power, for elders from several 
>villages could combine to give their shared town trustee more muscle.

I don't understand the reference to "sideways." The proxy is passed 
on, accumulating votes as it is passed. If elders "combine" to give 
their votes to someone up above, that is standard delegation. If one 
of them gives his or her proxy to another, a peer, this peer becomes 
"someone up above," at least a little. This is all simple delegable 
proxy, unless Ketchum means something else. DP preserves minority 
rights (in the same way as Asset Voting, but a little more flexibly).

>Proxies held give the elder powers discussed above in village government:
>      Holding enough, they can be active.
>      Holding too few, two or more can combine strengths to make one 
> of their number active in village government.  While this could be 
> called a proxy, I see no reason to apply the same restrictions as 
> are discussed above.

Why not? What are the reasons for the restrictions above that do not 
apply to "below"? Is it that village decisions aren't important?

(It could be argued that they are the most important decisions of 
all, having the most impact on the lives of those who live in the village.)

My argument is that the restriction is arbitrary and, with proper 
rules, unnecessary.

The key to understanding this is to understand that the primary role 
of the proxy is to represent. Proxy government, done in a way 
analogous to corporate and other proxies, does not remove power from 
the individuals represented. Rather it expands that power, by 
allowing it to be exercised through chosen representatives.

If a majority of people choose to be represented by some individual, 
what are you going to do? Refuse to recognize that representative? 
You'd be refusing to accept the free decision of a majority of 
people, who in the world are you to do this? The fact is that these 
people could, if they wish, easily change the rules, unless Ketchum's 
Rules somehow become untouchable by a majority.

If a majority decide, though, that proxy representation is to be 
limited and constrained to so many percent of total votes, they will 
presumably address the problems that this creates.

This limitation is often proposed by people new to the concept of 
delegable proxy.... I think it comes from a confusion between proxies 
and elected officials with terms of office. And thus it does follow 
as reasonable from the latency that Ketchum would build in with his rules.

(Not even the U.S. Constitution is so untouchable, a distributed 
majority could amend it in short order. In fact, though, the U.S. 
rules are quirky, since a plurality could accomplish it, with certain 
distributions. It becomes understandable if we think of the U.S. as 
an assembly of states, not of people. But then the 3/4 rule becomes 
an onerous burden, if it were 50 individuals, we'd never want such a 
rule. In the end, the U.S. rules were a compromise that was not 
thoroughly worked out.) 

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