Collective decision making

A lot of people and groups have their pet system for group decision making. Robin Hanson has his prediction markets and futarchy, the general public has representative democracy, groups like Occupy Wall Street have direct democracy. Which of these is the best, which are okay, and which are worse than random?

There is a lot of discussion on LessWrong about individual rationality, but I agree with Robin Hanson that the Rationality Dojo metaphor is invalid, since in martial arts individuals almost always learn to fight alone and not in groups.

A much higher proportion of the important decisions made are group decisions. Decisions by all scales of government, corporations, unions, NGOs, schools and courts generally have a much bigger impact than most individuals. It might go against the individualist ideals that we have, but it’s the truth. It’s very rare for individuals to shape history, compared to how often groups of individuals do.

This  does not necessarily mean that group decision making should be prioritized. When it comes to urgent issues, it can be easier to change the individual habits of lots of people than the habits of larger organizations. While an individual can learn to change their mind in a few months of work, it can take decades to change forms of government in unstable nations, and even longer in more stable ones.

I would argue that spreading individual rationality to those in a position to change our systems of group rationality is the most important idea, and once that is in place the relatively simple work of finding, teaching and advocating the best group rationality systems can be done more effectively and with less wasted effort.

In a future post, a few collective decision making procedures will be analyzed for effectiveness for a range of situations with different numbers of agents with varying levels rationality and incentives that encourage and discourage the effectiveness of the system.

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