Catalonia will become independent

Spanish police are using violence to prevent people from voting in Catalonia’s independence referendum, which Spain describes as “illegal”. Here’s some Spanish riot police about to fire into protestors:

spanish_riot_police_barcelona

From the Guardian:

More video footage of police brutality against voters in Barcelona has appeared. The video shows police hitting people in the crowd with batons while voters hold up their hands.

Without the violence, independence would probably have got the support of 45% of Catalans. But Spain’s heavy-handed response will move many into the pro-independence camp.

As Vox Day says:

Spain is losing the moral level of war in Catalonia. Badly. The Spanish can cry “the vote is illegal” all they like, but the Spanish government can no longer pretend to have democratic legitimacy in Catalonia or to be anything but an imperialist state governing an unwilling people by force. The vote is no longer even necessary at this point; world opinion is actively turning against Spain.

Remember, “the law” does not actually exist in any material sense. It is merely a collective agreement, which ceases to exist when a sufficient number of people unilaterally withdraw from it.

There are two ways to govern a people: don’t oppress them at all (the democratic approach), or oppress them properly (how most states have been governed, historically); if you try to do something in between, you’ll probably fail. Spain wants to oppress Catalonia, but is too democratic to do so properly — they can’t go for a return of Francoism, and if they did,  they would get kicked out of the EU, ruining their economy.

So Catalonia will very likely become independent.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Internet rage caused by inability to understand probability

Some people don’t get probability, and this leads to Internet rage.

Here’s Scott Alexander, on IQ:

If you really understand the idea of a statistical predictor – if you have that gear in your brain at a fundamental level – then social science isn’t scary. You can read about IQ, or heredity, or stereotypes, or gender differences, or whatever, and you can say – ah, there’s a slight tendency for one thing to correlate with another thing. Then you can go have dinner.

If you don’t get that, then the world is terrifying. Someone’s said that IQ “correlates with” life outcomes? What the heck is “correlate with”? Did they say that only high-IQ people can be successful? That you’re doomed if you don’t get the right score on a test?

And then you can either resist that with every breath you have – deny all the data, picket the labs where it’s studied, make up silly theories about “emotional intelligence” and “grit” and what have you. Or you can surrender to the darkness, at least have the comfort of knowing that you accept the grim reality as it is.

Imagine an American who somehow gets it into his head that the Communists are about to invade with overwhelming force. He might buy a bunch of guns, turn his house into a bunker, start agitating that Communist sympathizers be imprisoned to prevent them from betraying the country when the time came. Or he might hang a red flag from his house, wear a WELCOME COMMUNIST OVERLORDS tshirt, and start learning Russian. These seem like opposite responses, but they both come from the same fundamental misconception. A lot of the culture war – on both sides – seems like this.

More pithily, here’s Piotr Migdał:

gaussian_outrage

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Can the USA survive tribalism?

Andrew Sullivan wonders whether the USA can survive tribalism:

Over the past couple of decades in America, the enduring, complicated divides of ideology, geography, party, class, religion, and race have mutated into something deeper, simpler to map, and therefore much more ominous. I don’t just mean the rise of political polarization (although that’s how it often expresses itself), nor the rise of political violence (the domestic terrorism of the late 1960s and ’70s was far worse), nor even this country’s ancient black-white racial conflict (though its potency endures).

I mean a new and compounding combination of all these differences into two coherent tribes, eerily balanced in political power, fighting not just to advance their own side but to provoke, condemn, and defeat the other.

I mean two tribes whose mutual incomprehension and loathing can drown out their love of country, each of whom scans current events almost entirely to see if they advance not so much their country’s interests but their own. I mean two tribes where one contains most racial minorities and the other is disproportionately white; where one tribe lives on the coasts and in the cities and the other is scattered across a rural and exurban expanse; where one tribe holds on to traditional faith and the other is increasingly contemptuous of religion altogether; where one is viscerally nationalist and the other’s outlook is increasingly global; where each dominates a major political party; and, most dangerously, where both are growing in intensity as they move further apart.

This is a very important question. It may well be that the USA descends into chaos, a new civil war or authoritarianism. Or it may overcome its current difficulties. Whether it does so is the most important question facing America today. And because the USA is the biggest country in the West, and is important in the world generally, it is a question that matters for everyone.

(See also my Should the US West Coast Join Canada?)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How many female MPs and MSPs should there be?

I.

A House of Commons committee proposes changes to increase the number of women MPs:

The government has rejected all six proposals to give parliament more equal female representation, prepared by the Commons’ women and equalities committee, including fines for parties that do not select enough women as candidates.

The women and equalities committee chair, Maria Miller, said the response showed a lack of ambition by the government, which she said was “content to sit on its hands with an approach” which had yielded “depressingly slow progress so far”.

The proposals included:

legislation to force parties to have a minimum proportion of 45% female parliamentary candidates in general elections, with the option to consider fines if targets were not met.

II.

At the same time, Engender have put forward a series of proposals that includes gender quotas for MSPs and Scottish councillors:

Legislate for 50 percent candidate gender quotas and sanctions for non- compliance.

in the 2016 Holyrood elections, only 35 percent of members elected to the Scottish Parliament were women, every one of whom is white and non-disabled. This represents regression for Scotland, from a high of 4th place in the global rankings in 2003, to 27th place at present. At local authority level, the 2017 local council elections in Scotland returned 71 percent men.

Women are not underqualified for the demands of political office, but political parties serve as gatekeepers to elected representation. Legislated candidate quotas legally require political parties to field proportional numbers of women and men as candidates for election to parliament or local government. To be effective in practice, these must be matched by mechanisms to ensure that women not only stand as candidates, but have a strong or guaranteed chance of being elected. [my emphases]

III.

So, what proportion of MPs, MSPs and councillors should be women? How many should be disabled? How many non-white? For that matter, how many should have green eyebrows (or any other characteristic not especially protected in the legislation)?

The answer is very simple: in a democracy, for any characteristic X, the proportion of elected representatives who are X’s should be whatever the voters want it to be.

Anyone who disagrees is against democracy. We know Maria Miller is against democracy — she’s a Tory who support FPTP. And anyone who thinks people should be “guaranteed” being elected has about as much respect for democracy as Vladimir Putin.

IV.

Engender note that “parties serve as gatekeepers to elected representation”. This is true, and it’s a lot truer under FPTP than under PR. Under the best forms of PR, it is the least true.

What sort of voting system ensures that the proportion of elected representatives who are X’s is whatever the voters want it to be? STV is a good one. A better one would be for 90% of the seats to be elected by STV and the other 10% as top-ups, in much the same way that AMS works. There should be no artificial thresholds — if a party gets 1% of the votes, they should get 1% of the seats; so for example in the Scottish parliament, with 129 seats, a party would need about 1/129th of the vote to get elected. Therefore under true proportional representation, the hurdle of forming a new party and getting elected would be a lot less than at present.

(Alongside this, another reform that would allow new parties to compete on an equal footing with established parties would be for, in every election, the authorities to print a booklet and distribute it to every household; it would contain details of the election, and give each party 1 page to explain their policies).

So if some people think that not enough women are being elected, and the existing parties don’t want to do anything about that issue, people could set up their own party, (they could call it the “Women’s Equality Party”), with an all-female list of candidates, and if at least 1 in 129 of the voters wanted more women MSPs, they would get people elected. The same would work for people who are disabled or ethnic minorities.

But the biggest advantage of my proposal over Engender’s quotas is that it would work automatically for any group that feels itself to be under-represented and for which they can get voters to agree with them — such as our hypothetical people with green eyebrows.

And I suspect that’s why Engender and Miller don’t support this proposal — it’s too democratic for them. Miller supports an undemocratic voting system, FPTP, that allows the Conservative and Labour parties more influence than their vote shares would warrant.

And Engender, I suspect, would wish half of MSPs to be women even if they cannot persuade voters (most of whom are women) to vote for that outcome. Nor would Engender wish to give a helping hand to groups other than those they approve of (such as women, the disabled, and persons of colour) — for example I doubt if they would want men’s rights activists to get an MSP if they got 1/129th of the vote.

V.

One final point: if you want a body to be demographically representative of the population, elections are a bad way to achieve that outcome. The purpose of elections is to elect a body that is representative of what the voters want, not what the voters are. For example, a higher proportion of MSPs  are university-educated than the general public; this probably reflects the public’s desires, since many people might feel better represented by a more educated person.

If you want a body that is representative of what the voters are, sortition is the answer.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Explanation of workfare

Here’s a cartoon explaining the government’s policy on workfare (via Reddit):

my_workfare_lady_2

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

6-8 inches of snow?

got_snow

Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Contra Munroe on Free Speech

There’s a popular xkcd cartoon explaining free speech:

free_speech

I think Randall Munroe (who writes xkcd) is wrong here, or at least not entirely right. Munroe thinks of free speech in terms of laws: you have free speech if the government won’t punish you for saying something. But free speech isn’t about laws, it’s about social norms: you have free speech if you live in a society where people are not afraid to speak their mind. Munroe is therefore making a category error — thinking something is one category of thing when it is in fact a different category.

Scott Alexander puts it more pithily; Munroe is like a stupid libertarian strawman:

I have a friend who grew up gay in a small town in Alabama, where “faggot” was the all-purpose insult and the local church preached hellfire as the proper punishment for homosexuality. He unsurprisingly stayed in the closet throughout his childhood and ended up with various awful psychological problems.

If you’re a very stupid libertarian strawman, you might ask whether that town had any anti-gay laws on the book – and, upon hearing they didn’t, say that town was “pro-gay”. If you’re not a very stupid libertarian strawman, you hopefully realize that being pro-gay isn’t about boasting how progressive your law code looks, it’s about having a society where it’s possible to be gay. Not having laws against locking up gay people is a necessary precondition, but it’s useless on its own. You only get good results if good laws are matched by good social norms.

Likewise, the goal of being pro-free-speech isn’t to make a really liberal-sounding law code. It’s to create a society where it’s actually possible to hold dissenting opinions, where ideas really do get judged by merit rather than by who’s powerful enough to shut down whom. Having free speech laws on the books is a necessary precondition, but it’s useless in the absence of social norms that support it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment