Saturday, May 26, 2007

Net Approval Voting

In my previous post I had advocated instant-runoff voting and a form of net approval rating as alternatives to our current voting system, which is plurality voting. I also mentioned run-off voting (the regular kind), which is what mlq3 advocates. Though the current system has the virtue of simplicity, it often results in the selection of a winner with no absolute majority in races where there are three or more candidates. It also does not address voter dislikes, just their preferences (and only first preferences at that). For example, in 2004 a voter might have preferred Lacson to Arroyo, and under no circumstances wanted FPJ in office. As the ballot provides only one space for the voter's first preference, the voter then could either vote 'honestly' and choose Lacson, or join in an attempt to game the system and vote Arroyo (to keep FPJ out, even if GMA's just second preference). Neither case fully captures the entirety of the voter's wishes. Nuance is lost.

The ideal system should be able to capture a voter's preferences (note plural) and also his dislikes (or negative preferences, if you will).

Perhaps a Way Out

mlq3 points to an interesting post by Chasing Sass on the absence of absolute majorities in our recent presidential elections. Mr. Quezon of course has long pushed for run-off elections to avoid minority presidencies. As it is now, a candidate who wins by a plurality, while good enough for our constitution, is apparently not good enough to provide effective governance.

It's a function of support: While 40% may be enough to win in a multi-candidate race, it also means 60% of voters would have preferred somebody else. It means more than half the electorate would be disposed in varying degrees to oppose the winner. Thus, only a consummate coalition builder (like Ramos) might weather a term intact. His successor as we know wasn't as lucky. And the current occupant, who has at times been exceedingly inept and at times exceedingly adept, still has 3 years to go with an opposition screaming for her blood.

No doubt an absolute majority is still to be preferred.

As it might prove well-nigh impossible to reconstruct the pre-Marcos two-party system, we have to explore other methods of producing absolute majorities. Run-off elections come first to mind. It's the simplest but costliest solution, requiring another election (the 'run-off') to determine the winner between the top 2 candidates. An alternative would be the instant-runoff, where voters rank the candidates in order of preference, and low-scoring candidates are systematically eliminated in successive rounds of counting. A good article explaining instant-runoffs can be found in Wikipedia.

Though they might produce absolute majorities, run-offs, whether regular or instant, still fail to take voters' dislikes into account, just their preferences. Even if a candidate has an absolute majority, there might still be a significant bloc of people (though less than 50%) vehemently opposed to him. If persistent and consistent enough, such a bloc could impede the candidate's ability to govern well (or in Erap's case, to govern at all). Alternatively, the candidate might use his absolute majority to bully his agenda through, without any regard for the legitimate interests of those opposed to him. It might serve better then to select for a candidate not quite as popular but more acceptable to the erstwhile opposition.

My own preference is for something akin to the 'net approval rating' so beloved of survey firms and pollsters. Just two lines in the ballot: who you're for, and who you're against. The difference between 'for' and 'against' votes gives the candidate's net approval vote. Highest net approval vote wins. Striking a balance between most popular and least offensive, the candidate then would be the most acceptable to the electorate.

There's a good article on Wikipedia that discusses voting systems. Excellent food for thought.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Selected Quotes

From the comment threads in Mr. Quezon's blog.

This one from UP n student, in response to the usual rant about why, if GMA is innocent, does she keep doing her darnedest to avoid impeachment:

"... Foolish that person who, being taunted with '… if you’re innocent, what are you to be scared of?', volunteers to take a lie detector test or a DNA test. Foolish that person who, being taunted with '… if you’re innocent, what are you to be scared of?', volunteers to be arraigned before a court, whether or not TV cameras are whirring.

"Do you not know how many innocent people have been convicted and tossed into jail?"

Makes quite a point. In any case, as even mlq3 knows, impeachment is an inherently political exercise, one which values numbers above all. It was designed to be so, for what reason you'll have to ask the designers themselves. And who might they be? Why, the framers of the 1986 constitution, those paragons of 'nationalist' and socialist thought culled from the ranks of academia, 'national democrats', and (gasp) civil society, a lot of whom are now at the forefront of the mob clamoring for the midget's head. Yes, these people are the ones who designed impeachment to be a political process, a numbers game to see how many congresspersons a president can retain. These same people who were endorsed by and wrote the constitution under the aegis of the widow in yellow. So to all the commenters whining about the requirements for impeachment and the "tyranny of numbers" I can only say, blame Cory!

Of course now they'll say that the impeachment process itself is inherently flawed, and that it would be impossible to impeach a sitting president because patronage forever ensures the loyalty of a large majority of congresspeople. They conveniently forget that Erap had the same power of patronage before being unceremoniouly freighted off to Tanay. What they now say is that a special prosecutor is needed, and perhaps a 'neutral venue' for trying the case. I'm not a constitutional lawyer but wouldn't this require (hehe) Charter Change? Well, in that case I'm all for it.

The incorrigible cvj, on answering a post by Bencard disproving any 'havoc' inflicted on the economy by GMA, writes:

"... since you seem to think in purely economic terms, you might be interested to know that manufacturing output for March fell by 7.6 percent as measured by the National Statistics Office ..."

I won't dispute that fact, but keep in mind that the Philippines has among the highest manufacturing costs in the region, while China continues to have the lowest. It is much, much cheaper now to import goods from China than to manufacture them locally. It's not just our high labor costs, though that is definitely a significant part of it. The local market simply does not have the economies of scale that might allow our manufacturers to remain competitive. A Chinese company for example has an immediate market of 1 billion people on which to distribute its overhead and development costs, while a Philippine company has only 80 million. That's more than 12x the overhead on a per unit basis. Of course we can export, but even if it takes care of the overhead disadvantage, competition would still (eventually) force us to compete on cost. Sooner or later, even our companies would be forced to move their manufacturing operations to China.

Even if we move up the value chain, it's no refuge since China is already making giant strides in that direction (helped in no small way by American companies that had already been pressured to move operations to the Chinese mainland by retailers like WalMart). In any case, the capital requirements are too large, and the rewards are uncertain. What then is left? Niche markets and handicrafts, hardly industries that can sustain a nation of 80 million.

My point here is that the entire manufacturing sector of the national economy is a sunset sector, given that manufacturing costs in China won't be going up anytime soon (and by soon I mean the next decade or two). It is also extremely unlikely that our own labor costs would be going down in the near future, since even current wages are hardly enough to keep body and soul together. It is useless then to beat our breasts about the declining state of the manufacturing sector. Pouring money on the problem won't do much good either, as the fundamental facts remain. Regulatory solutions, or even a return to protectionism, would be futile since our 7000+ islands and very long coastline make smuggling easy as pie -- we'd just lose revenue.

The 7.6 percent decline in March manufacturing output should hardly be surprising.

I'm surprised it hasn't declined more sharply.

The most that any administration can do is slow down the decline of manufacturing. Whatever we do, manufacturing will eventually dwindle down until only a few niche players and handicrafts workshops remain. Sad, but inevitable. It would be best to just concentrate our limited resources on the sectors where we still have a competitive advantage, and which are safe from China's low-cost clutches for at least a couple more decades. I'm talking here of human resource export (yes, I think it should be an economic sector on its own) and BPO. So what if call-centers aren't as sexy (to the socialist mind) as factories? At least it will pay the rent until a knowledge economy matures and comes into its own.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Occupation, Not the War

It's very easy to get so caught up on our local politics that one forgets we live in a wider world community. A community that couldn't care less about our pointless shadow plays of little men, disingenuous analysis, and desperate spin. Events and issues of greater import absorb the world's attention, and of these, none has loomed larger the past few years than America's (mis)adventures in Iraq.

It's quite fashionable these days to call the Iraq War a mistake, even among those who used to support it. Not so Christopher Hitchens. The Slate columnist sticks to his guns (pun intended) and succinctly recapitulates the reasons the invasion had to take place. On reading them, one can't help but agree. So it seems it was never the Iraq War that was a mistake. It was only the Occupation that was botched, and for that we can rightly blame Bush and Rumsfeld.

What Big Teeth You Have

The opposition groupthinkers who frequent mlq3's blog have gotten more vicious of late. Perhaps the rabies has entered a terminal stage. Or perhaps the bone they were thrown last election (i.e., the senate) only whetted their appetites for something actually more substantial. Sadly for them, their prey has managed to remain one step ahead. If this keeps up, we might soon witness their turning on each other in a fit of intellectual cannibalism. Not too far-fetched, and one could always hope.

In any case, there are still a few gems to be found in that putrid dumpster full of dreck. Here's two, posted by jude and Bencard.

Friday, May 18, 2007

draft: Your senators

(title) The Politics of Disgust

Prior to the last election there was a running discussion on Inquirer Current between John Nery and Manuel Quezon III about the likelihood of a middle class veto.


(The relevant posts)

(other posts)

Well, the election's come and gone. Does anyone know if the boycott actually happened?

(What I think)
much less middle class participation this time round
only incorrigibles of the enteng romano type voted --> higher than usual proportion going to opposition
so: no middle class mandate for senate
middle class may not care if senate is abolished?
better prospects for charter change?

Exit poll data?
Registration data?
breakdown by demographics
historic data

Other columns to write:

Why your vote doesn't matter
The illegitimacy of the new senate
The need for a new voting system
-- something like the net approval rating in surveys?
The London election system
-- something like that for makati? for the country?
-- at least one vote per person
-- bonus votes for eductional attainment? years as taxpayer?
-- some proxy votes for corporations/investors? tied to number of employees / total investment?
-- principle: the larger the stake, the higher the weight
The utility of the state
-- the state exists for the convenience of the individual, not as an end in itself
-- ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you
-- country shopping perfectly legitimate
-- nations nothing more than brands
-- patrioism == brand loyalty --> irrational
Persona Ingrata
-- rebut jester's piece The Journal of The Jester-in-Exile: Here's to You, Jude Cross (the idiot formerly known as Judas dela Cruz)
The Fall of Pacquiao
-- of two minds
-- good that voters do not automatically choose the celebrity
-- bad that custodio is going back to the House
Blame Cory
-- ref blog comment:
-- the impeachment process is inherently political
-- it's a numbers game by design
-- who designed it?
-- the framers of the 1986 constitution!
-- so: blame cory and her cohorts
The Tyranny of Numbers
-- why is the tyranny of numbers so persistent?
-- choices at the local level
-- two decisions for the voter:
-- A. would he/she like arroyo impeached?
-- B. would he/she let (A) trump local issues?
-- *** packaging of issues (local with national)
-- *** vote as a package / issues are "linked"
-- local issues more important apparently
-- even if preference for impeachment, preference not strong enough to affect local issues
-- local issues favorable to admin by default --> advantage of incumbency
-- task for arroyo: linking to local issue?
-- dilemma for oppo: increasing preference for impeachment --> but: impeachment fatigue
-- so: current spin control just that, spin

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Inutility of the senate

Apparently, the email of which I posted last time also has the chattering classes abuzz and thinking hard about the senate. Here are views from baratillo@cubao and Sassy Lawyer. Also a column by Jarius Bondoc. Sen. Miriam Santiago, too, makes her views well known, for what they're worth.

Is this the spark that would start a serious debate on the subject? One can only hope. Personally, my views haven't changed since the salonga senate. Even if divorced from the Arroyo issue, the senate is still useless.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Buwaya Manifesto

There's a piquant little email floating around about the senate. I don't know if it was too late to affect voter turnout significantly this election. A pity, since it could have had the same effect as Bong Austero's open letter during the height of the crisis last year. Regardless, it's worthwhile reading even if you've already voted. Every little bit that chips away at the legitimacy of an institution that might soon harbor the likes of Cheese Escudero and Alan 'Compuñeta' Cayetano helps. Personally, the only institution I'd like to see them in is the one on Nueve de Febrero. Anyway, you can read the email below...

"Maganda rin naman ang naidudulot ng pagiging prangka ni Senador Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Ayon kay Santiago, marami ang tumatakbong Senador dahil sa laki ng budget na ibinibigay sa kanila kada buwan.

"Lumalabas na P35,000 suweldo nila kada buwan ay pakitang-tao lang sa milyun-milyong budget ng bawat senador. Kada buwan ay may Fixed Monthly Budget ang bawat Senador ng humigit-kumulang P2 Milyon.

"Sa opisina pa lang nila ay humigit-kumulang P500,000 and budget nila sa Maintenance and Operating Expenses (Rental, Utilities, Supplies at Domestic Travels) at P500,000 para sa Staff at Personal expenses. Kaya para makatipid ang ibang Senador, kaunti lang ang staff na kinukuha nila. Nagtataka ka pa kung bakit mayroong mga Ghost Employee?

"Bukod diyan, may P760,000 allowance pa sila kada buwan para naman sa Foreign Travel. At ang masakit pa nito, hindi na kailngan i-liquidate ang mga resibo ng mga gastusin ‘yan kundi Certification lang ang Requirement.

"Heto pa, lahat sila ay Chairman ng mg Komite sa Senado. Ang Committee Chairman ay tumatanggap din ng budget na sinlaki ng tinatanggap ng mga Senador na humigit-kumulang P1 Milyon din! Hindi sila mawawalan ng Komite dahil 24 lang ang ating mga Senador at 37 naman ang Committee sa Senado. There’s food for everybody ‘ika nga! Lumalabas na doble ang kanilang benepesiyo at kita kapag sila ay nabiyayaan ng Committee Chairmanship.

"Sa P200 milyon na Budget para sa Pork Barrel ng mga Senador bawat taon, awtomatikong may 10% na S.O.P. o kita ng Senador na P20 milyon. Ito ang porsiyento na ibinibigay ng mga kontratista sa mga Senador na nagbibigay sa kanila ng mga Infrastructure at Livelihood Project.

"Bago matapos ang termino ng isang Senador, kumita na siya ng P100 milyon sa Pork Barrel pa lang. Yung ibang Senador mas gahaman, hindi lang 10% kundi 20 - 30% ang komisyon hinihingi sa mga kontratista.

"Pansinin niyo na lang ang pagbabago ng buhay ng ilan sa ating mga Senador simula nang manungkulan sa puwesto. Kung dati ay simple lang ang kanilang pamumuhay ngayon ay nakatira na sila sa mga eksklusibong subdivision, maraming bahay sa Pilipinas at abroad at mahigit lima ang sasakyan.

"Ngayon nagtataka ka pa ba kung bakit gumagastos ng daan-daang milyong piso ang mga Senador sa kampanya para sa isang posisyon na P35,000 lang ang suweldo kada buwan? Bawing-bawi pala ang gastos kapag naupo na!


Do you think we can ever get rid of pork barrel and kickbacks? Not as long as a legislative branch is around. It's in their nature -- they go hand in hand. Happens in the US Congress. Happened in Quezon's Commonwealth. Will keep on happening so long as they have the power of the purse, which of course is the only real power they have. Short of taking away this power or doing away with the legislative branch altogether (not an entirely unpopular option), the best thing we can do is reduce the number of legislators. Do we really need two houses? Can we still afford two houses? This is the more important choice, the more crucial election, than the rather expensive, rather pointless exercise that ended earlier today. And based on cost vs performance, I'm pretty sure which chamber I'd rather retain. Loser: senate.