Who Cheers The Referee?

Almost no one, that's who.  Oh folks may cheer a ruling favoring their side, but that is hardly the same.  On average referees mostly get complaints from all sides.   Who asks for their autograph, or wants to grow up to be one?

Similarly who cheers the officials who keep elections fair, or the teachers who grade fairly?  Inspiring stories are told of folks who win legal cases or music competitions, but what stories are told of fair neutral judges who make sure the right people win?  After all, competition stories are not nearly as inspiring with arbitrary or corrupt judges.  Oh judges are sometimes celebrated, but for supporting the "good" side, not for making a fair neutral evaluation.

Sure we give lip service to fairness, and we may sincerely believe that we care about it, but that mostly expresses itself as sincere outrage when our side is treated unfairly.  We usually can't be bothered to pay much attention to help settle disputes in which we have little stake.  So if you want to be celebrated and gain social support, take sides.  But if you want to instead do the most good for the world, consider pulling the rope sideways instead of joining the tug-o-war.  Consider being a neutral arbitrator, or better yet consider developing better systems of arbitration and evaluation.

There are a lot fewer prediction market projects than the topic's popularity might suggest, and part of the reason is that prediction markets are a neutral arbiter; it is a lot easier get people inspired about projects that take sides.  We may sincerely believe that the world would be better off with a fair neutral way to evaluate political claims, but mainly because we expect such evaluations to favor our side.  When it comes allocating resources, we are far more interested in pushing our side than in developing better neutral ways to evaluate claims.

While in practice economics is full of folks promoting various sides, one of the reasons I am proud to be an economist is that we have a good standard neutral analysis criteria, economic welfare, for judging policies, and we have a large literature full of techniques for applying this criteria to specific situations.  In the field of institution/mechanism design, we try to design new institutions that better meet this criteria, and test the best in the lab and field.  Prediction markets are such a mechanism. 

This is a partial answer to Eliezer's "what would I do with power" question: taking all the creatures who exist, have existed, or might exist someday, and accepting their preferences as given, I want to field institutions that better maximize economic welfare among all these creatures.  My futarchy concept is a particularly ambitious attempt to find a better institution.  Most people consider it rather too ambitious, and tell me I should focus on more practical options.  So it seems odd to hear Eliezer say he wishes I'd think more about a perfect future instead of focusing so much on compromises that seem needed. 

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  • mitchell porter

    How would you define “economic welfare”?

  • frelkins

    @mitchell

    “The level of prosperity and quality of living standards in an economy. Economic can be measured through a variety of factors such as GDP and other indicators which reflect welfare of the population (such as literacy, number of doctors, levels of pollution e.t.c.) . . .

    Economic welfare is usually measured in terms of Real Income, real GDP. An increase in Real Output and real incomes suggests people are better off and therefore there is an increase in economic welfare.

    However, economic welfare will be concerned with more than just levels of income. For example, people’s living standards are also influenced by factors such as levels of congestion and pollution. These quality of life factors are important in determining economic welfare.”

    Definition of economic welfare, Richard Pettinger.

  • mitchell porter

    @frelkins

    The reason I asked is that we are talking about a very diverse range of entities here (“all the creatures who exist, have existed, or might exist someday”), living in a vast variety of circumstances, to which even concepts like GDP may not apply. So I think we need a definition of welfare that’s based on something fundamental (like “preferences”), in order to give Robin’s proposed answer its substance.

  • http://macrothics.blogspot.com nazgulnarsil

    GDP is like drake’s equation. fairly useless.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/barrkel/ Barry Kelly

    Counter-example to cheering the referee: Pierluigi Collina, one of the most recognizable and famous soccer referees (now retired), was popular enough that he turned up in sportswear ads, and certainly had people looking for his autograph – you can see video evidence right here.

  • http://hoenir.himinbi.org Will Holcomb

    What do you think would happen if we made everyone a referee?

    I’m working on a peer-to-peer pub/sub network with the intent to distribute cryptographically signed XML documents.

    The ultimate point is to do an application that allows the distribution of verifiable opinions. Anyone can say whatever the like about anything.

    If it were to catch on, it would both have what I am hoping would be positive social pressures and create a really interesting dataset for developing recommender systems.

    In a situation where there is a near 1:1 correspondence between virtual identities and actual people combined with aggregating artificial intelligences, everyone would, in an ever so small way, have the opportunity to have their voice heard.

    I think that, ultimately, it will aid people in getting what they want which is, I think, the only change I’m willing to force on the world on a large scale.

  • Ben Jones

    Barry, Collina was the exception that proves the rule. It wasn’t his impartiality that made him famous, it was his bald head and crazy staring eyes. The man was unmistakeable.

    I would go so far as to say that this is one of the biggest, most far-reaching biases identified. Almost too easy to tie to evolutionary origins. We cheer our champions, not our mediators.

    It’s not just the lack of cheering either – the level of performance expected of referees and arbiters in general far outstrips what we expect of our athletes or competitors. A fluffed attempt on goal by a striker is met with a jeer of derision and quickly forgotten. A single bad refereeing decision can lead to a ruined career. This sort of thing makes me ashamed to live in England.

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley
  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    frelkins, no GDP is only loosely related to economic welfare.
    Mitchell, you probably need to take some classes or read some texts to understand it. The concept applies to any creatures with preferences.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/aroneus/ Aron

    Most economists probably consider the best strategy to start with how things exist now and proceed forward. Robin does this as well, but selects a bit more liberally from uncommon ideas he anticipates occurring in the near future. Eliezer starts at the end of time and works his way backward.

  • http://zbooks.blogspot.com Zubon

    I frequently hear cheers for neutrality in the judicial system. Not as often as you hear complaints or the usual team-based politics, but there is some respect for judges who rule on what the law is rather than (someone’s notion of) what it should be. You will find many cases of judges stating that laws are lousy but constitutional; Justice Stewart’s dissent in Griswold v. Connecticut and Justice Thomas’s in Lawrence v. Texas both refer to “uncommonly silly laws.” Not that such statements prevent accusations of outcome-based jurisprudence, but there are respected judges who will say that case law rules against their preferred policies. This probably contributes to the original point more than it contradicts, given how many will actually cheer when “their” judges rule against their side.

    I am not sure that we express “sincere outrage when our side is treated unfairly” so much as “sincere outrage when our side loses.” “That’s not fair” frequently seems to mean “I don’t like that.” See cheering on your team and Dennis on just division of pies.

    We at least pay lip service to wanting neutral referees. It is socially unacceptable to want the refs to be on your side, and you always accuse them of being on the other side; those who rule your way are being “fair.” The politically oriented frequently slip and refer to conservative and liberal judges, rather than “impartial and principled” (ours) and “activist and political” (theirs).

  • http://jamesdmiller.blogspot.com/ James D. Miller

    Counterexample from A Man for All Seasons:

    Roper “So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!”

    More “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”

    Roper “Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”

    More “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down (and you’re just the man to do it!), do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”

    Lots of lawyers still believe in this type of reasoning, although current leftist jurisprudence often favor judges giving minorities and the poor a plus factor in adjudication.

  • haig

    Barring of course the ability to transcend our evolutionary biases, the best alternative would be to use those biases only reframe them for good. One fix I could see regarding the referee problem would be to put the referees in a position where they can be seen as the victor in their own right. Make the act of refereeing a (side)game in itself so that stupid humans can act within their nature and ‘root for the home team’ as it were, yet still do the right thing at a meta level. Imagine stats on referees that show how many good calls or bad calls they have per game or something similar. This would allow more efficient market effects at the meta level, making the original game more efficient and to use Eliezer’s terms, have the game/market recursively fold back onto itself at a higher level. This might be how prediction markets are intended to work, haven’t looked into them much. Of course, this can be applied in many areas of our current social systems, making organizations recursively improve and taking the ‘friendly’ idea and porting it over to organizational structures.

  • http://schinckel.net Matt Schinckel

    I used to think that noone cheered the referee. Until I went (as a coach) to the National Touch (Football) League, in Australia. This is the highest level of Touch Football (which isn’t quite what you Americans might use the term for – it’s much closer to Rugby) in the world – since it’s really only the Kiwis and us who can play this sport very well. But I digress.

    There is one main field, with a large stand to one side. About one-quarter of this stand is filled with referees who are not currently refereeing a game, and watch the game that is on the main field. And they mainly cheer the referees that are doing that game.

    This to me was a totally new experience. When a referee makes an error (ie, touches the ball), then a roar comes up from that portion of the stand.

    So, in some cases, (and I took this literally) people do cheer on the referee. Maybe in real life it is also other referees that cheer on the ref too?

  • michael vassar

    Robin: It seems to me that for at least some definitions of “might exist some day” for every preference there is an equal and opposite preference for no net effect. How do you define “might exist some day” such that this is not the case?

  • http://www.weidai.com Wei Dai

    For those wondering how Robin would define “economic welfare”, he gave one answer in his paper: it’s whatever our elected representatives will define it to be. That definition will be used for the purpose of settling bets in futarchy, and therefore will be what futarchy will try to maximize as a system.

    But since dead creatures and those who might exist some day can’t vote, our elected representatives are likely to neglect their interests. I wonder if Robin’s reluctance to specify exactly how he would prefer to measure economic welfare is due to political savvy, or because he doesn’t know what he wants either. Probably a bit of both.