The Value of Intermediate Milestones

This is the third article in a series on the Simple Formula for Success. See Part 1 and Part 2.

Politics is a long slog. Ditto for many other useful endeavors, from building a business, getting an education, to getting in shape. The next step often has no intrinsic value by itself.

And thus flame wars, cat pics, and casino gambling all compete successfully for our attentions over more useful projects.

In creative politics just what is the value of convert won, a petition drive finished, or an ad campaign launched? None of these milestones by themselves change the laws and regulations of the land at all.

Let’s try breaking the Simple Formula for Success into pieces, to apply it to a multi step project which does have intrinsic value when completed. To keep the algebra manageable, we’ll make a a two step project. (This is more general than it looks if we think of the first step being our next step, and the second being all the remaining steps lumped together.)

The estimated costs simply add together:

The probability of success is the product of the probabilities of success for the two steps.

Now suppose we have completed the first step. We now know the expected value of completing the second step:

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Woo Woo and Political Cults — the Simple Formula for Success Part 2

In Part 1 I presented a very simple strategic planning formula to compare possible courses of action. (Some might say simplistic formula, and they would be correct, but I’m trying to keep the math friendly.) I then applied the formula retroactively to my own political career as an illustration.

There is a major problem with this formula: it doesn’t really apply to the individual steps needed to carry out any meaningful political action.

Just what is the value of a clipboard of petition signatures? Or even ballot access? Of a congressional campaign that gets 3% of the vote? Or getting a candidate into a televised debates? Or even for winning a legislative office?


That is, there is no intrinsic value in these accomplishments by themselves. There is no payoff in politics until you positively affect a law or a regulation. (Unless you are corrupt…) But to get to the point of actually affecting how the government actions requires hundreds of steps, many of which are costly and uncertain.

Politics is a long slog.

This makes motivation difficult. Too much rational strategic planning can make the problem worse! The return on effort on the myriad small steps needed to achieve big goals can be vanishingly small until the endgame is reached. And the math needed to even attempt to calculate the value of the early stages is apt to frighten off your followers.

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The Simple Formula for Success

2020. A new year has arrived. A year with a zero on the end, so you know it’s important. Time to make some resolutions that count.

That means strategy. Political strategy, mainly, but the ideas herein can be used elsewhere. The insight I am about to reveal is simple, yet many activists fail to heed it. Indeed, some very famous political gurus have come up with elaborate mental constructs to prevent their followers from heeding what should be an obvious insight. Many a failure and quite a few outright disasters were the result.

Ignore those gurus! Heed the formula!

To plan, to strategize, is to determine which actions to take, and which not to take. You cannot do everything! The Simple Formula for Success is a rough rule for evaluating potential actions.

In English: Take the value, if successful, of an action, multiply by the probability of success, and then subtract the cost of action. The result is the net expected value of taking that action. If the net expected value is zero, DON’T DO IT!


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The System is Rigged — So Change the System!

The U.S. election system is rigged against third parties. With Plurality Voting most third party candidates suffer the Lesser of Two Evils Dilemma. I have found a couple of loopholes. (Read the book!) But there may be an easier solution: change the system.

That’s right: easier!

Changing the Constitution is hard, so I’m not suggesting that we can easily fix Presidential elections. But states and localities have control of elections further down the ticket, and history shows that states and localities are open alternative voting systems.

Furthermore, election reform is a transpartisan issue. Here, libertarians, progressives, greens, good government types, conspiracy theorists, mainstream media, etc. can work together.

In fact, there is momentum happening right now — for the wrong reform. Maine has enacted a Ranked Choice method (specifically Instant Runoff) for future elections.

I could tell you in great depth why I think Ranked Choice is the wrong reform, but I won’t (for now). Instead, I wish to show you. Over at my older quiz2d site, I have created poll for the 2020 Presidential primaries using multiple voting systems: Plurality, Approval, Range, Ranked Choice, and Range with Runoff. Give it a try yourself. Notice the complexity of Ranked Choice: both for filling in the ballot and for viewing the results.

In the future I will post deeper arguments. For now let reality do the talking. Take the poll and encourage others to do the same.

An Easy Plan of Action

The time for lobbying is not yet. To change the system we need more people to understand the problems with Plurality and to fully understand the alternatives. My online poll is a start.

A good next phase is to encourage people to try alternatives in smaller groups: social clubs, fraternities, sororities, church groups, school clubs, corporate boards, etc.

To some degree we already use Range Voting in these situations. A voice vote is a Range vote. Loudness is a measure of passion. Not just head count.

Perhaps the simplest reform would be to replace Robert’s Complicated and Easily Gameable Rules of “Order” with Approval Voting when people want to amend a motion. One way to kill or pervert a motion is to quickly offer an amendment. Debate can run longer on the amendment than the motion itself. This happens frequently at Libertarian Party conventions.

One particularly dirty trick is to offer an amendment to make the main motion worse in hopes of killing it. We have some bad laws on the books from times when this dirty trick backfired.

Approval Voting makes it possible to debate and vote on multiple versions of a motion in parallel. Just have a vote on all the versions, allowing people to vote Yea on as many versions as they approve of. The version with the most Yeas wins. (Or Nay wins if none of the versions get a majority.)

If this is not good enough, Range Voting would be the next step. This works well in a small group, like a committee even without electronic tallying. I first experienced Range Voting when I was on the Libertarian Party’s Strategic Planning Team. It worked well. This says a lot, since the LP leadership is nearly as good at gaming parliamentary rules as the U.S. Senate.

For a bigger group, electronic counting would be the next step. If I had the time and/or the money to pay some developers, I’d write a web/phone app that clubs could use for electronic voting at conventions and other largish meetings. Better yet would be a free software project so clubs could own their databases. (A shared service concentrates power. Mmmmmmmm, power…)

When enough people have seen the benefits of better voting systems in practice, taking it up to the government level will be fairly easy.

Hacked by Russians

Longtime readers might notice that the theme has changed — and is kind of boring.

The reason? Russians hacked my web sites! I feel Hillary’s pain.

So, I wiped the WordPress directories clean and installed the latest from scratch. Hopefully, this will work.

Maybe I will get a fancier theme in the future, but for now I am working on a big new project on my Quiz2D site. Stay tuned!