Why politicians can’t agree on anything

In an age where so much hangs on the balance, it seems like it is up to our leaders to make the right decisions. Yet, time and time again, we’re left on the side-lines wondering why they seem to be so divided that they can’t agree on anything. We wonder why they repeatedly go back on their promises, and they always seem to be lying hypocrites, so much in fact that we’re repeatedly voting for the “Lesser evil” instead of voting for those who will do the job correctly and represent accurately the will of the people.

I’m not a politician, I’ve lost faith entirely in our system of government. The reason for this is simple, the current system of government isn’t coherent. I’m no anarchist calling for a change of government, as I understand this would be dangerous, painful, costly, and the attempt to perform such a thing would undermine all that is good and wholesome about this country. All I’m attempting to do, is explain why in a world where the right choice often seems so simple to most Americans, the politicians can’t seem to agree or reach a compromise upon middle ground.

As a college educated business professional, I’ve been exposed to very many different concepts, people, and ideas. After being bombarded with opposing views, opinions, and voices, I’ve came up with a simple hierarchy to live by. IF, what is being said is true, it will ALWAYS be true. This, while being a bit harsh, and definitive, allows me the freedom to entertain all sorts of ideas. The ideas that fit this rigorous test get selected as axioms for my opinions, while everything that fails this test would be negotiable and subject to further inspection and reflection without being accepted as gospel fact. This approach is scientific in nature. There are laws, that have been proven time and time again, that could would be scrapped if they’re ever disproved, and there are theories, that are yet to be definitively tested, but so far have been proven right, and finally there are hypothesis, that are simply our beliefs of what is true without any reasonable testing.

One of the concepts I’ve found to be the most accurate has been the idea that humans will always act accordingly either directly or indirectly to their best interests. Sometimes, this is very easy to see, sometimes it takes research and probing to see through all of the deceptions and noise. When we put so much power and expectation on a single individual, as we do with elected  representatives of the people of a certain groups, we continually do so with the blind optimism that we’ve elected them because they are BETTER than most, while often ignoring the fact that they’re still flawed individuals just like the rest of us. When they run for elected positions, you can almost hear them squirming while inventing new ways to tell you “You should elect me, because I’m like you” IF they only needed one vote, there is a statistical chance that might be true, but since they need them by the hundreds, thousands, or even millions, they are forced to segment their constituents, and present themselves in certain light, that oftentimes conflicts with their true character and opinions. This dissonance between their public persona, and their character, is often unknown to the public, hence it’s often difficult to see why a politician acts or votes a certain way, even against the values of the people who elected them.

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The majority of decisions by career politicians however can be explained using a concept called Game Theory.  According to the dictionary, it’s “the branch of mathematics concerned with the analysis of strategies for dealing with competitive situations where the outcome of a participant’s choice of action depends critically on the actions of other participants. Game theory has been applied to contexts in war, business, and biology.” Now adding politics to the list of applications, let’s explore what is a textbook case known as “The Fisherman’s dilemma” which is inspired from Garrett Hardin’s economic theory “The tragedy of the commons” which is summarized by Wikipedia as follows: “The tragedy of the commons is an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action.”

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Before we return to the politicians, here are a few assumptions that make the basis for this analysis.

  1. Elected officials are supposed to represent the core values and beliefs of those whom elected them.
  2. A person with deeply held values, will predominately elect a politician that aligns themselves with those values rather than change their opinions by rhetoric.
  3. Despite the matter being voted on, or their personal opinions on the matter, all politicians are fighting for one resource: The people’s vote.
  4. A politician that votes to compromise with opposing views, or fully betray the views of the party, will inevitably lose constituents.
  5. A politician that doesn’t compromise, will gain the constituents of those whom have lost it.
  6. Because the mathematics apply to small and large examples, I’ll use small numbers and assume scalability.
  7. An agreement is an optimal solution, both for the constituents and the politicians. (Especially over any deadlock scenarios, government shutdowns, delays in action, costs of non-agreement, expiration of population benefits, etc.)
  8. Majority vote is needed for agreement. (Some instances need a 2/3 vote, which mathematically makes agreement more difficult to reach)

Back to the politicians. Let’s pretend there is a controversial issue on the floor that will require bipartisan agreement to be resolved. Opinions are split down the middle, and there is a deadline zooming on the horizon. The politicians, can talk, collude, negotiate, etc. beforehand, agreements can be drafted, discussed, and presented, but once the time for the vote comes around for the final draft the decision will be final. It’s noteworthy to say that I’m intentionally omitting any particulars on the issue to avoid emotions eroding the logical thought process, and although many will argue that “The devil is in the details” this frame accurately fits the majority of cases with a very high degree of accuracy, and as such should be taken into consideration.

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Let’s say that there are 10 elected officials (henceforth known as politicians), with 10 constituents each, giving us a nice population of 100 People. 50 People are for, and 50 people are against, therefore 5 politicians are for, and 5 politicians are against. Here it’s notable to add that because not everyone votes, and those who are voting to elect don’t always vote directly related to special issues meaning the REAL opinions of the people are unknown. Also because of concepts like Gerrymandering “manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class” true population opinion is often entirely biased, skewed, unknown, and manipulated by media and elected officials.

IF all politicians agree, the decision passes. They all lose a small percentage of constituents, but ultimately the lost constituents will rearrange themselves in relatively similar percentages, to where ultimately none of the politicians lose much in the long term.

IF 9 politicians agree, and 1 disagrees then 9 Politicians will lose constituents (let’s pretend they only lose 1 due to the compromise for simplicity’s sake) and 1 wins the lost constituents for “staying true to his party”. 5 of those lost constituents will rearrange back into their party due to alignment with their beliefs. Leaving 4 constituents up for grabs, most of whom will levitate for the 1 politician, giving him a major advantage in the next election. In result, the population wins by virtue of agreement, the party that is entirely in favor wins, by virtue of long term constituent rearrangement, the party who is not entirely in agreement, all lose constituents, except for the 1 who stood their ground who wins by voting against their own party.

IF 8 politicians agree, and 1 on each side disagree. The agreement still passes and the population still benefits, but those 8 politicians will lose constituents. There are 8 constituents up in the air, 4 will go to each of the representatives who lost their ground giving them advantage in the next election, against their peers.

IF 7 Politicians agree, 2 disagree on one side, and 1 disagrees on the other. The agreement still passes, so the population still benefits, there are 7 constituents up in the air, 4 will levitate towards the 1 who disagreed on their own party. The 3 left will divide themselves with the other two who disagreed with their party, on basis of reasons beyond this particular issue.

It is now, significant to explain, that under a 2/3 majority vote needed to pass, this would be the last case where the agreement still passes, and the population stops benefiting at this juncture, but for consistency’s sake, we’ll play this out to a majority vote, to drive home the point.

IF 6 politicians agree, 2 disagree on each side. The agreement still passes, 6 constituents are up in the air, who will rearrange themselves across party lines, giving advantages to those who disagree in the next election accordingly.

IF 5 politicians agree, 3 disagree on one side, and 2 on the other, the agreement barely passes, and the constituents rearrange themselves accordingly again.

Here is the point where it stops being beneficial for the population, and strictly becomes a game between the politicians. All points from here, the agreement will fail, so any politician that gets talked into agreeing, will in fact be committing political suicide, because the number of constituents up in the air will be too many to compete with. This the case otherwise explained as championing a losing cause, or unpopular opinion.

Now that the math has been simplified and moved out of the way, what truly complicates the issue is that no politician knows how the others will vote on the final tally, all they know is what everyone tells their constituents publicly, which according to the math, if there is not a 100% agreement, then it is against their own interests, particularly if another politician votes against the agreement, and gains an advantage over them. This is where the infamous, backroom deals, insider information, manipulation, and backstabbing comes into play. All of which, I will definitely not address in this article.

So, they all walk in to their final tally in an all or nothing game, where the best scenario is that they all agree, the second-best scenario is where they disagree, and everyone else gets suckered into agreeing because if there is not a unanimous agreement, their best individual course of action is to disagree. IF they disagree and it passes, it’s good for them, and good for the population, IF they disagree and it fails, it’s good for them, but bad for the population. Simply because of the probability that it will be a unanimous decision is ridiculously low, the best course of action for any of them is to disagree.

Finally, in instances of a divided opinion, a politician’s best option is, and will always be to look out after their own self-interest and act dishonestly, while always trying to force the rest into acting honestly.

Hence, all the political campaigns stating in a plethora of methods the following: “I will vote as you would, therefore you should elect me” while simultaneously trying to shame opponents into voting like they would by telling the public “If my opponent doesn’t vote as I do, it is because they are not like you, and you shouldn’t vote for them” in order to influence them with fear of losing constituents.

Having all this said, I’ve concluded that the optimal course of action as a citizen, would be to continue vote, based on research of past politician voting history, instead of political advertisements, perceived candidate character, or other people’s opinions, to minimize votes based on rhetoric and deceptions, and maximize votes based on alignment between the voters preferences, and their elected officials.

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