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Examples of Solution-Concepts

A Few Ideas to Stimulate Your Thinking


Idea 1:

Consider the following tactic as an example: when required manipulation of the main variables is pre-empted by particular constraints, e.g., ideological beliefs – then the problem must be reframed in a larger context. The larger context introduces more variables which may insert counter-balancing forces on the “uncompromisable” values. Recall the Grover Norquist pledge – by which a legislator could declare his commitment to never vote in favor of raising taxes of any kind. Suppose we have an Americans for Functional Government – with the New Patriotism Pledge – by which a legislator can commit to voting for any proposition that is best for the country even though it conflicts with his party’s position and his own personal values.

Any one unwilling to sign this pledge may be accused of putting personal and party interests above the interests of the country. If this commitment could be viewed as the new definition of patriotism …then conflicting concerns might stimulate some ideologues to a willingness to compromise.


Idea 2: 

First, we must find a way to establish agreement on what the “facts” are.

  1. Create  a Fact Showcase that offers testimony to the authenticity of the  included facts.

  2. “Authenticity”  must be determined by a non-partisan panel of experts.


Second, we must establish criteria for what “reasonable assumptions” are – based on the facts. What criteria can we use that may satisfy the  reasonableness standard? For example, 

  1. Assumptions  are always based on something, i.e., a “support platform” –  which may be comprised of either a chain of logic or empirical data  or some combination of both.  The “support platform” upon which  the assumption is based must be clearly expressed so that the bases  for the assumption are transparent. The inclusion of a “value”,  as an element of a support platform, is perfectly permissible – as  long as it is identified as a value rather than a fact.

  2. Most  thoughtful proposals for solving a complex, multidimensional problem  will necessarily rely on a cluster of facts and numerous  assumptions. Despite this, the fewer assumptions required to make  the solution viable – the condition known as parsimony  -  lends further credibility to the work-product. 

Third, proposed solutions/legislation must be graded against the Archived Portfolio of Germane Facts and Reasonableness Assumptions. A given proposal may require additions to the approved list of Facts and Reasonableness Assumptions. Clearly, the Archive will grow in populated facts and assumptions.


Idea  3: 

The House and the Senate both have procedural rules that stipulate and control the introduction of bills, committee “processing” of those bills and the introduction of the bills to the floor for debate and vote.  These various procedures can be examined for the purpose of introducing “factors” that may open and regulate the dialogue to drive more ideology-free considerations in passing legislation that serves the peoples’ interests.


Accordingly, one pathway to breaking the gridlock may be adjustment of the legislative rules and procedures implicated in the formulation and passing of legislation. 


Idea  4: 

Values-clarification questionnaire & values-based automatic (computer-generated) voting.


Within  the negotiation, bargaining and conflict-resolution literatures -  there are numerous examples of parties that have adopted adversarial  positions on specific issues – despite the fact that proper analyses demonstrate that the parties were actually in agreement.  The converse is also true; sometimes adversaries believe, incorrectly, that they have reached agreement.


The reason for these non sequiturs is often the result to two factors. First, the issue is characterized by many variables. Secondly, the multidimensional nature of the problem can lead to various confusions that elicit analytical errors and conclusions that do not jibe with the party’s values. This general phenomenon is especially characteristic of political reasoning because many political thinkers embrace conflicting values due to their serving multiple constituencies. The juxtaposition of labile values in the face of multidimensional problems often leads to confused or  contradictory lines of reasoning and, hence, to conclusions that fail to match alleged values.


One way out of this cognitive jungle is to tie-down the parties to a single, unambiguous set of values. A comprehensive values-clarification exercise designed by competent people can achieve this. Next, every piece of legislation must be decomposed into the presumed underlying values that it represents.


For example, extended unemployment benefits during tough times might reflect several value-loaded beliefs, viz., unemployed people are consciously preferring and search for employment they are not malingerers trying to capture a “free lunch” and society should provide a reasonable safety net that secures people faced with economic dislocation, catastrophic illness or accident. People embracing dissenting beliefs, viz. that the unemployed are generally lazy and irresponsible, society has no responsibility to assist the lazy-irresponsible and bad outcomes do not usually accrue to good, moral, responsible people.


It is easy to speculate that these two hypothetical values-profiles would lead inexorably to voting differently on legislation designed to extend unemployment benefits. The values-clarification exercise is not needed here. The clear distinction between the value-sets may be assumed to lead to values-consistent voting.  But imagine the fuzzy case of the politician with the former values (unemployed people are preferring and searching for employment, etc.) who lives in a congressional district made up of people who embrace the latter values-set (the unemployed are generally lazy moochers, etc.). What does this politician do? How does she vote?


Two issues deserve comment. First, one way to “compromise” one’s values is to violate a decision theory principle known as stochastic transitivity. This technique is a cognitive sleight-of-hand (which can be intentional or innocent) that works like this: Suppose I ask a subject if he prefers chocolate or vanilla ice cream and he says “chocolate.” Then,  I say, “Oh, I forgot to mention that we also have strawberry.” The subject then reports, “In that case, I prefer vanilla.” This inversion of the preference ordering is a cognitive error that is easily detectable in this simple example – but in a complex multivariable situation – the inversion of preference ordering is not easily detectable. Politicians and others often commit this error – whether intentionally or innocently. If the computer is allowed to cast the politician’s vote based on her declared values – this cognitive error cannot occur.


Second, another way to “compromise” one’s values is to pretend that the original stated values are no longer applicable. One purpose of the alues-clarification question is to pin-down the politician to one, unambiguous set of values – so that changing values with the political winds is not permitted. The computer casts the vote for each politician based on their declared values. They cannot switch sides for political convenience.  This enforced inability to compromise one’s declared values makes each politician authentic; they are tied to their values and cannot “talk out of both sides of their mouth.”