Friday, March 21, 2008

Voting and Notions of Fairness

In our continuing discussion of L/C (Liberal/Conservative) mindset differences, let us consider the relative importance attributed to fairness versus effectiveness. It is my belief that conservatives tend to rate effectiveness more highly than do liberals, and the reverse applies to fairness.

The current controversy over seating the Florida and Michigan delegations to the Presidential party conventions is what got me thinking about this issue. (I do not intend to stray into partisan politics that favors Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama or the Republicans or the Democrats. Please try to keep any comments clearly on the issue of fairness and effectiveness and L/C differences.)

Both political parties made an attempt this year to discourage states from "jumping the gun" and holding their primaries prior to February 5th. Exceptions were made for the traditionally-first New Hampshire primary and caucuses in Iowa and a few other states. As a result, some 26 states complied and scheduled their primaries or caucuses for February 5th, named "Super Tuesday," and most other states scheduled for after Super Tuesday.

1) Fairness of Penalty for "Jumping the Gun"

To discourage states from going before Super Tuesday, both parties imposed penalties. This provides us with the first example of notions of fairness.

The Republican C-minded penalty was loss of half the delegates. The Democratic L-minded penalty was far more strict. Any offending state would lose all their convention delegates. Any candidate campaigning in those states would lose all party funding.

At first glance, The Democratic Party penalties seem more fair. We would be appalled if a rule-breaking racer was given half credit for winning the race! Imagine if the "halfies" rule was applied to criminals - the robber who was caught would be allowed to keep half the haul!

On the other hand, Florida and Michigan are important states when it comes to winning the general election in November. Any political party that upsets the voters in those states risks losing them. In that light, the "fair" penalty seems harsh. Indeed, the Democratic Party is scrambling to give Florida and Michigan some kind of representation at their convention. Schemes for a re-vote seem to have failed (see next item).

On second thought, the less fair C-minded "halfies" penalty seems more effective and less divisive than the more fair L-minded strict penalty.

2) Fairness of a "Do-Over"

Clinton, who won both Florida and Michigan, would like the Democratic Party to recind the penalty, or, failing that, allow a "do-over" primary in June.

A revote would cost tens of millions of dollars that would have to come from the state or national Democratic Party coffers since the taxpayers of Florida and Michigan have already paid for one primary. A less-costly mail-in primary was considered in Florida but had to be dropped because five counties are under legal restrictions against changing voting rules due to previous racial discrimination. Here is another case where fairness (preventing future racial discrimination) runs into effectiveness (re-doing the primary at reasonable cost). The Michigan legislature seems to have failed in their attempts to schedule a "do-over".

So, why not simply recind the penalties and give Clinton and Obama the delegates they won in the original primary? Clinton would love that because she won Florida. Obama removed his name from the ballot in Michigan and Clinton also won there. Quite understandably, Obama, who leads in elected delegates, opposes that plan. Why not just split the delegates evenly between Clinton and Obama? Quite understandably, Clinton objects.

Once again, it appears that L-minded fairness (representation of the Democratic primary voters in Florida and Michigan) will take a back seat to the C-minded idea of not changing the rules in the middle of the game.

3) Fairness Schemes for Scheduling Primaries

Fairness advocates favor some national rule for scheduling primaries. One idea is to schedule a primary in a different geographic region each month. To make that fair, the order of regions would be random each election so no one region would go first each time.

The traditional early-primary states object to that idea. It would also be hard to get the various interest groups to agree on how the regions would be designated.

On second thought it seems this L-minded fairness idea is dead on arrival.

4) Proportional vs Winner-Take-All

In winner-take-all primaries, the candidate who gets, say, 51% of the popular vote gets 100% of the convention delegates. That seems unfair to the candidate who got 49%. L-minded fairness advocates are rightly concerned about this and favor a proportional system where convention delegates are awarded by county or proportionately by state.

Nearly all Democratic primaries and caucuses are run on a proportional system, confirming their generally L-minded attitudes. The reverse is true of most Republican primaries.

As a result, the Republicans settled on a presumptive candidate in February. This is quite effective but it seems unfair to deprive the late-primary states of any voice in the selection process.

It appears the Democrats will be going at it until June or perhaps even at their convention. The candidates will continue spending heavily and attacking each other. This seems less effective, but it does give a voice to Democratic voters in late-primary states.

On second thought, it appears L-minded fairness may lead the Democrats to "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory." (Advocates of eliminating the Electoral College process or requiring all states to award Electoral College votes proportionately might want to rethink their positions based on this example.)

6) "Superdelegates"

This is an ironic example of where the Democratic Party has taken what I consider a more C-minded approach than the Republicans! The voice of the people as expresssed in primaries and caususes counts for 80% of the delegates to the Democratic convention, while the remaining 20% are seated automatically on the basis of the offices they hold. This system was put in place in 1982 after some convention disasters to assure that people with demonstrated knowledge and experience would help select the party's Presidential nominee. (The Republicans have a similar system, but with far less power.)

It appears the superdelegates are Sen. Clinton's only hope to reverse her deficit in elected delegates. She is trying to convince them she is the more experienced and safest candidate with the best chance to win. Most superdelegates will probably follow the will of their constituencies, but it will only take a hundred or so to flip the Presidential candidate selection to Clinton.

I generally favor a system where the raw vote "voice of the people" is tempered by something like the old "smoke-filled room" expertise of political pros.

7) "Open" vs "Closed" Primaries

Many states and counties are so "Blue" or "Red' that whoever wins the primary of the dominant party is virtually assured of election. For example, most inner-city counties are Blue and many suburban counties are Red.

L-minded fairness advocates are rightly concerned that members of the minority party, and independents, have no say in the election of their representatives. Therefore, many primaries are "open" - allowing independents and members of the opposite party to change their party affiliation at the last moment or vote in whichever party primary they choose.

Most Republican-dominated states have closed primaries. Of course, anyone can register in either party and some members of the minority party do register in the majority party to get a voice in the primaries. However, the decision to switch party affilliation must be done well before the primary date.

L-minded independents and Democrats generally favor open primaries. Ironically, some conservative talk show hosts have exploited the open primary system and asked their listeners to switch parties and vote for Sen. Clinton to increase the chaos and extend the Democratic primary contest.

I generally favor closed primaries. I don't like the idea of people flipping parties at the last minute. However, if I lived in a jurisdiction where the other party was dominant, I would change my party affilliation to that party to get a voice in their primary.

I'd be interested in your opinions on these issues. Please don't be partisan. Try to stick to the philosophical issues of fairness vs effectiveness.

Ira Glickstein


joel said...

It seems to me that the current bruhaha over primary fairness is just an indicator that the primary system is broken and needs to be scrapped. The national parties applied what muscle they could to keep the state parties in line. The Dems used a huge threat in order to continue a system that was unfair to the states involved in later primaries. The Republicans used a threat that was a bit less draconian, but non-the-less designed to maintain a fundamentally unfair system. A "do-over" or any such method of giving delegates after their rebellion would make a shambles of party discipline. It's even worse for the Republicans, because Giuliani dropped out as a consequence of the "illegal" race in Florida. How can one be fair to Giuliani supporters after the fact? The wheel fell off the wagon and people are trying to repair it while the horses continue to drag the wagon through the mud. If this has anything to do with L/C thinking, it's that the L-mind says "How can we patch the situation to make it locally fair." while the C-Mind says, "The hell with the patch. Let's start from scratch and make this globally fair." How is it possible that the citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire get to have such a disproportionate say. With respect -Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

Joel, Thanks for posting on "fairness" and I appologize for not replying sooner. I was traveling to chilly upstate NY to go to a recognition event for two patents with my name on them awarded last year. (I had to pay my own way and stay with a friend, but I'll collect the breakfast for free :^)

I don't agree with you that "the primary system is broken and needs to be scrapped." Perhaps I could be convinced if you'd outline what you would replace it with, and what chance your scheme would have given the political realities.

However unfair, I think it is an improvement on the old "smoke-filled room" for choosing candidates, although that was not all bad either!

I remember an "All in the Family" program where "the meathead" was complaining to Archie Bunker about the ticket put up by his party. Archie claimed it was a well-balanced ticket:

1) Feldman for Treasurer. "Perfect, them people know how to handle money."

2) Giamatti for District Attorney. "To keep an eye on Feldman. And when you find an honest Italian, you really got something there."

3) O'Riley, "the mick, to make sure the graft is spread around evenly."

4) Nelson, the "regular American, will be good for TV appearances".

I do agree with you that L-Minds tend to push for make-shift "patches ... to make it locally fair" while C-minds (like you but not yet me) want to "start from scratch and make this globally fair."

The thing I like about the current system is that each state legislature can set its own primary date, to try to give their constituents maximum power. Individual parties in each state can decide if the primaries will be "open" to Independents and members of the other major who choose which primary to vote in at the last minute, or "closed" and available only to those who declare their party months in advance. The national parties can impose whatever penalties they want, and the state parties can thumb their nose at them. They can have lots of "superdelegates" (or fewer) and "do-overs" (or not) and seat the penalized delegates (or not) and reap the political losses (or benefits) if they rile the voters of critical states (or not).

Would you have the federal government impose order on the primary dates and rules and make them common for all states and parties? If so, what do you suggest? A national primary all on one date? Regional primaries in different months? What?

Ira Glickstein

PS: As for Guiliani, he chose to skip hard campaigning in earlier states and concentrate on Florida, even though only half the delegates were available to be awarded. His loses in early states set the stage for his loss in Florida and his withdrawal.

Deardra MacDonald said...

Hi Ira,

I would like to share with you a comment my friend, Zoran, from San Francisco emailed me on your article “Voting and Notions of Fairness”. This is what he said, "In the March 21 post, "Voting and Notions of Fairness", the author discusses the differences between the "Liberal" and "Conservative" mindsets. The article made me think of George Lakoff and the Rockridge Institute. I sat in on a Linguistics class Lakoff taught at Berkeley last year. He has done a lot to understand why Liberals and Conservatives come to very different conclusions when considering the "issues". He argues that the key is the different framing (mindsets) adopted by Liberals and Conservatives. For more, see: With respect as always, Deardra

Howard Pattee said...

Thank you Deardra for referencing Lakoff. His analyses make us think. His examples of familiar conservative framings need a liberal response.

(1) You alone are responsible for what happens to you.
(2) You shouldn't get what you haven't earned.
(3) You should be disciplined, prudent, orderly.

The problem is that these simplistic frames sound valid to the great majority of unthinking voters. Of course that why conservatives get votes. Here are my responses that I think are closer to realty.

(1) Life is full of events over which you have no control. They will result in good and bad luck. You are only responsible for how you respond to these events. Sharing your good luck and helping those with bad luck is necessary for a healthy community.

(2) You must distinguish what you have earned from advantages you have been given. For example, you have not earned being born with high intelligence, or into an educated or wealthy family, or in a developed country like the US.

(3) Discipline should occur only for your own illegal or damaging behavior that is under your control. Prudent disciplining of children requires knowledge of child psychology.

The problem for liberals is that reality is too complex to frame persuasively for the average voter.

Ira Glickstein said...

Well, I wrote the subject posting in March and now it is almost June and there seems to be a compromize on seating the delegates from Florida and Michigan at the Democratic National Convention. However, Sen. Clinton's representative reserved the right to take her protest to the Credentials Committee at the convention in Denver.

I and other commenters on this Blog have stayed away from partisan political arguments and concentrated on the L- and C-mind differences revealed by this issue.

Last year, the (L-minded) Democrats agreed that any state that "jumped the line" and scheduled their primary earlier than allowed "may" lose 100% of their delegates. (But they also had a rule that said "shall" lose 50%.) Sen. Clinton won both states with large margins. If they counted, she'd net around 75 delegate votes more than Sen. Obama.

The (C-minded) Republicans agreed "line jumper" states would lose 50% of their delegates. They stuck to the rule and no one has protested.

Well, the compromise voted on today by the Democrats changes their original rules and reduces the penalty from 100% down to 50%, more in line with the original Republican rules. In addition, for Michigan, where Sen. Obama's name was not on the ballot and Sen. Clinton got a large majority, he will get half of 59 delegates while Sen. Clinton will get half of 69. She nets only 24 delegates rather than 75.

It seems to me this illustrates a major difference in notions of fairness:

(1) C-minds: Pick a clear rule and stick with it and if it turns out to be invonvenient, change it next time, but not "in the middle of the game".

(2) L-minds: Pick a squishy rule that initially seems fair, but, if it seems unfair later in the game, modify it to try to satisfy both sides to the extent possible.

What do you all make of different approaches to rules?

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

I do not disagree with Ira’s characterization of C- and L-minds.

However, I would restate his characterization differently and more succinctly:

(1) C-minds like inflexible rules.

(2) L-minds like to resolve differences.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard: I like to be flexible. How about the following?

(1) C-minds like practical, clear, forward-looking rules that apply equally to all.

(2) L-minds like idealistic, lawyerly rules that, in the name of fairness, favor individuals on the basis of race and gender.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

I agreed with your first characterization, but certainly not your second.

Conservatives, almost by definition, look backward for their rules. In fact, it is just the liberals' forward-looking rules about race and gender that irritate conservatives.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard, I'll grant C-minds tend to look backwards for our principles and tend to adopt rules in accord with time-tested ideas.

L-minds are certainly more flexible about changing principles. For example, it was mostly L-minds that led the civil rights revolution that established the principle that people should be treated "without regard" for their race or gender. (The words "without regard" are in the original "equal opportunity" legislation.)

It took a while, but now nearly all C-minds accept the principle that people should be treated fairly, as individuals, regardless of their race or gender.

However, equal opportunity did not lead to equal results fast enough for L-minds. Ignoring the "without regard" wording, they pushed forward "affirmative action" programs that classify and count individuals by race and gender.

I was so classified without my knowledge while an IBM employee. I found out about it when I was sent out to a college to recruit newly minted engineers and was ordered to classify them by race and gender, without telling them I was doing so. I was also ordered to give preference to women and minorities whose GPAs were 2.5 or above, but not to white males unless their GPAs were 3.0 or above.

I think it is obvious that many L-minds put their version of "fairness" ahead of other qualifications in the recent Democratic primaries. Many of my L-minded friends told me it was "time for a woman" or "time for a black" to be president.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

It is certainly obvious that equal opportunity simply as an ideal or theory does not lead to equal results. How would you actually achieve in practice some degree of equal opportunity? In other words, how do you define “equal opportunity”?

Note: I agree, "affirmative action" laws fail the "without regard" requirement.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard: You are correct that "affirmative action" fails the "without regard" requirement.

The only just way to end racial and gender discrimination is to stop discriminating on the basis of race or gender! How else to achieve equal opportunity?

At IBM, I saw women and minorities promoted helter-skelter to management positions. My dad was a lower middle-class mailman but I was passed over for a management job in favor of a less-qualified engineer whose father was wealthy, but happened to be a minority. IBM college scholarships were given to children of minority employees whose grades were below my daughters who got nothing. My grandparents came to the US with nothing and had no part or benefit from past racial discrimination. My parents taught me to treat everyone equally and we were horrified when blacks were ordered to the back of the bus when we crossed the Maryland line on our visit to Washington, DC.

It is unrealistic to assume that equal opportunity will result in equal results in one generation - or ever. For example, Japanese Americans who were deprived of their homes and farms and businesses and relocated and confined during WWII have never-the-less achieved the highest economic status of any identified racial group without any need for affirmative action! Some recent immigrants and their children, have, despite cultural and language impediments, risen to high academic and professional status. Others, whose ancestors have been in the US for many generations have not done as well.

Expectations of equal results are based on the false assumption that all racial and ethnic groups have the same distribution and selection of talents, temperaments and academic intelligence. While there is great overlap in capabilities among members of different groups there are also great disparities at the upper and lower limits.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira, I agree with all of your comments, but you imply that equal opportunity will eventually improve by itself. Also, in several comments you have complained about how you were passed over for a management position by a less qualified person, and how a scholarship was not awarded to your daughter who had higher grades than the recipient. I can understand how you feel, but in both these anecdotal cases you blame this “unfairness” only on racial preference. I suggest this may be too narrow a view of what goes into such decisions.

Let me try to explain this great lack of equal opportunity from a historically more objective point of view. Before WWII, colleges and universities in the US were elitist institutions. They were accessible only to the wealthy, and a few “upper class” scholarship students. Their admission committees practiced racial, religious and gender discrimination. Most private secondary (prep) schools were for boys, and the only tuition-paying non-white students were sons of rich Arabs or presidents of foreign countries. Colleges and universities, including Harvard and Stanford, had quotas for Jews and had special slots for “legacies” (children of alumni) and jocks. Blacks were virtually unknown. At that time, these schools were considered politically conservative.

I know this from direct experience, because I am a product of these elite institutions. I attended Webb Schools [] and Stanford University before WWII on scholarships. Before that, both my father and stepmother were directors of admissions at two elitist colleges in California, Pomona and Mills, and my father was head of the association of private secondary schools in California. Wealthy alumni, not admissions directors, largely influenced admissions policies.

After WWII there were striking changes for the better. This was the immediate result of the GI Bill that provided roughly equal opportunity for veterans, and gradually cultural attitudes toward race and gender also improved with the civil rights movement and tax funding of state colleges and universities. Most campuses became more liberal.

But the sad fact is that in the US, admissions policies are still largely influenced by wealthy alumni. Tuition in prep schools and private colleges average over $40,000 per year, which is about the average income of working Americans. Consequently, education is far from being an equal opportunity activity, and education is more than ever the key to success.

All presidents of good schools recognize this great lack of equal opportunity as a crucial problem that is not healthy for society. Harvard, Stanford, and Williams have recently announced plans for improving scholarship availability, but choosing recipients “fairly” is impossible. For every admission there are ten equally qualified rejections. Above a certain level, grades become unimportant. Motivation and background trump grades. Probably because of this, rich kids do not do as well as poor kids, on average. The conservative view that wealth is a measure of fitness does not apply.

My family supports one scholarship per year at Stanford. I have no influence on the selection, but I follow these students’ career by corresponding with them. One of the last two graduates is an engineering major from Nepal who hopes to return to help education in his country. The other is a black girl born poor in Altus, Okalahoma. Last year she attended a computational neurosciences program at Oxford, and she is working on her PhD in biomedical engineering. No doubt there were white kids who had better grades, but were not given a scholarship. Before you call this unfair, I think you need to know all the information that is used in reaching each individual decision. Equal opportunity will never exist without policies that support it.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard: Thanks for your sensitive and well thought out posting. Yes, in the past there was rampant racial and gender and religious discrimination in college admissions. As you point out, I am a member of a group (Jews) who were discriminated against. Now that we are generally accepted as non-"minority", we are again being discriminated against because we are white!

Family financial status could and should be considered when determining the dollar amount of a scholarship. Worthy students from well-to-do households could receive a token amount while equally worthy students from poorer households could receive full tuition or tuition plus room and board, according to financial need.

However, the only consideration for admission and scholarships should be the student's worth as reflected in his or her high school grades, class rank, participation and leadership in school organizations, standardized tests, and other objective factors.

Race and gender have no part in such decisions. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best in his famous "I have a dream" speech. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." [Emphasis added]

Sadly, guilty feelings of some members of the elite class, and convoluted L-minded reasoning, have perverted this dream of equality into a nightmare of a new type of racial discrimination. The elite class does not suffer from this new racial discrimination because we can well afford to pay tuition and send our children to college. The victims are the academically-worthy children of the working-class who cannot afford to pay those big bills.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Again, no one disagrees with Ira’s non-discrimination condition on equal opportunity. But again, Ira does not address my original question: “How would you [a conservative] actually achieve in practice some degree of equal opportunity?” Forget affirmative action. We have agreed it is wrong, and anyway most universities no longer practice it.

I’m not sure you got the point of my historical review, so I will state it more bluntly. Until about 1945 universities were highly discriminatory institutions for the wealthy and for a few scholarship students funded by private foundations. [As an undergraduate I was a Sloan Scholar, and fortunately, I did not know Alfred P. Sloan’s reputation.] They were correctly perceived as politically conservative, mostly private, schools for a privileged class.

After the war, beginning with the GI Bill that gave all veterans some degree of equal opportunity, government funding (taxpayer’s money, that is) began flowing into public universities allowing reasonable tuitions and providing research grants that supported graduate students. Universities became politically more liberal, less discriminatory, and afforded some degree of equal opportunity.

Ironically, this change has provoked many conservatives to denounce universities as “elitist” institutions.

From Ira’s complaints, it appears that the conservative mind is especially irritated when it sees someone getting a good deal without actually “earning it,” like taxpayer’s help. On the other hand, conservatives are tone deaf when someone gets a bad deal without deserving it.

My unanswered original question is: How do conservatives expect equal opportunity to come about?

Ira Glickstein said...

I can't speak for all C-minds, but I, for one, am totally in favor of taxpayer money flowing to colleges. I favor low-tuition subsidized with taxpayer money. I favor charitable deductions for corporations and others who donate money to educational institutions. I favor taxpayer guaranteed student loans, etc.

Public money spent on worthy students will come back to the nation in the form of future taxes paid on earned income and the enterprises and inventions and creativity added to our society by worthy college grads. It is a good investment when done in a reasonable way.

All I ask is that those funds go to worthy students. I have no problem with considering financial need to determine the level of tuition forgiveness and scholarships.

I agree and thank Howard for writing "Forget affirmative action." We can NEVER achieve EQUAL opportunity by discriminating against worthy white males.

I also agree there was past discrimination and a conservative aspect to colleges prior to the GI bill - if you only consider private institutions.

The land-grand public state and city colleges had reasonable tuitions and balanced or even liberal slants. My father attended classes at City College during the depression but did not graduate due to the tough economic times. I went to the City College of NY for my Bachelors in Engineering. It was tuition free but we had to buy our own books and pay some fairly low student activity fees. The leftist student government gave those funds to leftist organizations. While I was editor of the Engineering Magazine we published a few issues but got absolutely no publicity from the weekly student newspapers funded by those fees. They gave tremendous publicity to other student magazines, including one that did not publish at all that year!

Your "unanswered question" is:

"How do conservatives expect equal opportunity to come about?"

I don't expect the results ever to be equal in terms of the number of college degrees awarded being in proportion to racial and ethnic populations. Part of that is due to the horror of slavery and past discrimination that wrecked family cohesion. (But I, and other white children of working class parents had no blame or benefit.) Part is due to genetic-based differences in talents and temperaments and academic intelligence that are not equally distributed among all groups.

I don't expect children of working and welfare class parents to ever have equal opportunity, except for the top 10% who should be identified and subsizized if they are willing to work hard in college.

I think children of middle and upper class parents who can afford to pay tuitions and room and board will continue to be over-represented in colleges, especaily some less-selective private institutions. Part of the reason people work hard and long hours, to the benefit of society, is so their children can get the better things in life, including higher education.

Ira Glickstein