Sunday, January 22, 2006

Canadians, please vote on January 23

In his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki explores the conditions under which groups make better decisions than individuals. As groups, we depend on multiple, diverse and simultaneous streams of information if that information is to be collated in a way that results in good decisions. What this means in the federal election is that no matter who you vote for, or what basis you have for your choice, when you vote you add to the number of different data points in the pool and make the country's decision better.

It is likely that almost everyone who reads this will choose a different candidate, a different party or different issues than I will choose in making my own decision. While there is a place in an election for encouraging people who think like me to make it to the polls, there is also an overriding concern that as many people as are eligible make their voices heard. No matter how little you think you know about the issues, there is something you know that will make a unique contribution to the collective wisdom of the electorate. I do not say this because I believe in individual value (although I do). I say it because Surowiecki offers persuasive evidence that pools (and polls) can do the right thing even when the people contributing to them have very little to offer as individuals.

Another of my favourite quotations come from Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice. Schwartz says that we all have blindspots and we all have different blindspots. When we make choices together, we have the chance to check each other's blind spots. Of course, you won't always know that your blindspot has been checked - you are still blind to it. But the ultimate result in an election where enough different voices are heard is that we will have made allowances for all the blind spots in the group.

You can choose to vote tomorrow because you are well-informed or because you strongly support a particular candidate or party. You can choose to vote tomorrow because it is a responsibility and you honour your responsibility. Or you can choose to vote tomorrow because your voice will increase the wisdom of the crowd precisely because you will add to the multiplicity and diversity of the information that will be tallied tomorrow night.

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