October 08, 2003


Posted by shonk at 02:52 AM in Ramblings | TrackBack

The Policy Analysis Market is back on-line, this time supposedly "free of government involvement". The site, suspiciously, gives no real information on what will be legitimate to place bets on, probably as a hedge against media reaction (you may recall the uproar surrounding the initial launch of this DARPA brainchild*). Despite the claim of no government involvement, I imagine you might find yourself in a world of hurt if you accurately guessed a big, unforeseen disaster. Of course, I'm a cynic. And, incidentally, I have a hard time thinking this thing is likely to provide much useful information, but it is interesting to note that, in promoting this program, DARPA is essentially admitting that the state's information channels are for shit. Not that that should come as a big surprise.

People I know likened the original PAM to Assassination Politics, the brainchild of the currently-incarcerated Jim Bell (needless to say, most journalists and politicians had never heard of AP). The basic idea of AP is to establish a secure online venue to "bet" on the date of a politician's death. As in, you put in $10 on Senator X dying on October 13, 2003 and then, if he actually does die on that day, you and the other people who bet on the day split the pot. The trick behind AP is that you can buy multiple "shares" so if, for example, you plan to kill Senator X on October 13, you would buy as many shares as you could afford in order to get as big a piece of the pot as possible. The goal, of course, is to encourage hits on politicians, which Bell was (maybe is?) convinced would revolutionize politics. Of course, Bell was also convinced that Assassination Politics would be "perfectly legal". Most sane people, of course, agree with Bell, but think a working AP system (which many dispute is even possible) would revolutionize politics in the direction of totalitarianism rather than minimizing government. I'd link to some articles, but, honestly, the whole thing sickens me. Anyway, the point is, the fact that DARPA was and sort of still is trying to institute a similar (though not identical) program suggests that the doubters had a more realistic assessment of AP's likelihood of success.

In other news, I'm sure you've all noticed by now that Ah-nold will be the next governor of California. My girlfriend was incredulous ("i can't believe it!" were her exact words), but I have to admit that this registered about a 0 on my Shock-O-Meter. Let's face it, popular politics only has value as entertainment, anyway, so why should it be a surprise when an entertainer (and, given Arnold's net worth, an extremely popular one) succeeds in politics. Not that this is a new phenomenon. Look up Sonny Bono or Ronald Reagan for precedent.

I know some of you object to the first part of that last statement, but it's true. Let's face it, in any election that anyone gives a damn about, your vote ain't worth squat. The odds of your vote being the deciding one in a gubernatorial or presidential election are significantly less, even in a hotly contested election, than the odds of your dying in a car crash on the way to and from the polling booth. And, as was demonstrated in Florida three years ago, if the vote ever gets that close, the thing will ultimately be decided by courts, not voters, anyway. The point is, your vote and your interest in "the candidates" only has utility as a function of entertainment (or, I suppose, assuaging your misplaced guilt), so it should be no surprise when people vote on the basis of entertainment value rather than that mythical "civic responsibility" they beat us about the head with in high school.

This probably isn't the time to go into my critiques of democracy as an idea, but I'll just point out that, if the whole Arnold thing pisses you off, it's merely an example that the majority isn't always right. Whenever someone waxes sentimental to me about democracy, I'm reminded of a Chevy commercial from the early '90's (I can't remember for which model; the Lumina or the Cavalier, I think. Let's assume it was the Cavalier): the ad glorifies the sales volume of the Cavalier, concluding with the slogan "20 million people can't be wrong." Well, I got news for you: yes they can. The Cavalier was your classic piece-of-shit car, purchased only by idiots and xenophobes. So, yes, 20 million people can definitely be wrong. Incidentally, "Kevin Miles" says the same about Def Leppard; needless to say, he's wrong, too. If that anecdote doesn't convince you, I recommend a healthy dose of public choice economics.

Lest anyone confuse my point, I'm not saying there's no place for the democratic process, merely that it's not the panacea that it's so broadly assumed to be. What really amazes me is that such a broad range of people who make this assumption: radical communists, social democrats, moderates, conservatives, neo-conservatives (remember part of the justification for invading Iraq was to "bring democracy to Iraq", as if democracy automatically entailed freedom) and libertarian/Constitutionalist types.

* Although the new PAM is supposed to be less specific, you can see what the PAM website looked like by downloading this reconstruction. These screenshots show possible multiple-event trading, market interface and supportive entry.

Update: I've just noticed that the white supremacists have just started up their own version of Assassination Politics. Actually, it's really not. It's just a website with a bunch of "enemies" listed and some not-so-subtle recommendations to add these people to the "ash heap of history".