The USS Quad Damage

Independents and resource pooling

I weigh in on the independents debate, but I mostly use the efforts of others and control the "balance of ideas".

Voting for a major party is not selfless, rather it is the optimal self-interested voting strategy.

ABC’s The Drum has an article which I will claim is the same article as this one by oddthinking.

The Drum’s Dominic Knight concludes by saying that Labor and Liberal members are more selfless. A strange conclusion considering he’s also arguing that independent members are ineffectual. In short, you’re far more likely to get your way if you form a coalition, even if it is a loose coalition. That is, it doesn’t really matter if your beliefs (and those of your electorate) are agreed upon by everyone in the house, only by the majority. You can force that majority to agree on an issue, then you don’t really have to care what the minority thinks.

Interestingly, this is all coming from an evolution in game theory, and that of pooling resources. Democracy (or rather majority rules democracy) has been elegantly described as “two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner”. The idea of ruling with a majority is to quickly break deadlocks, otherwise we really should be getting a consensus on most issues. The fact that we don’t shows game theory at play. It’s so ingrained, in fact, that many of us don’t understand the new independent situation.

Just like not pooling your resources, voting for an independent member is a losing strategy. If all you care about is winning and getting legislation through, instead of voting for someone who wants what you want, vote for someone who wants something close to what you want. Everyone (tacitly or otherwise) agrees to give that person their resources — votes in this case. Then, with a majority in tow, you’ll get some of what you want. Voting for an independent means you’ll likely get nothing, because people pooling resources form a majority, and only care about the majority. Voting Labor or Liberal occurs because it’s the best way of getting what you want. Let me say this again: Voting for a major party is not selfless, rather it is the optimal self-interested voting strategy.

In a recent episode of Q&A, Bob Katter was asked if he had the right to decide “for the Australian people” who should lead the country. He answered like he would — because no one has been listening to him for a long time, and now it’s his turn. However, the truth is that voting for an independent isn’t always a losing strategy. The real answer is thus: Sometimes, voting for an independent pays off when two self-interested parties are of equal strength and butt heads. This is why it’s called the “balance of power”. You don’t have a lot of weight, but you know the bull-headed opposing parties with a ton of weight aren’t going to co-operate — If they were in fact selfless, they would co-operate, and no one would be talking about independents.

Therefore, in an election campaign where we know it’s going to be really tight, and there’s no clear winner, it is optimal to vote for a minor party or an independent (in our case, it was fairly clear which side the minor party would sit on). This doesn’t happen very often, so a lot of people continued to vote Labor or Liberal. The questioner simply didn’t realise that this is the way the game evolved, and it has nothing to do with rules or what’s right or wrong.