Decision-making Difficulties

Larry Price
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Wednesday - October 29, 2008
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It’s almost time to make some important decisions about the political future of Hawaii. If you cannot make a decision on your own, will you do better when engaging in joint decision making? The answer is no, joint decision making will be even more difficult.

People in powerful positions know this and exploit the voting public to suit their self-interest whenever it is appropriate and legal. That means making a decision that will produce the “best” outcome for the chooser’s own preference.

There are three main types of decisions to consider during the general election: riskless choices, decisions made under uncertainty and risky choices. Riskless decisions or decisions made under certainty involve choosing between two or more readily available options. It’s like choosing between two different kinds of diamonds or choosing one of 32 different flavors of ice cream or selecting which book to read.

Imagine you are trying to make a decision on which university to attend, University X or University Y. This is a simple decision referred to as the approach-approach conflict, which means in layman terms, the chooser cannot lose because both options are attractive - all you need to do is pick the one that is best for you.


Decision-making under uncertainty is more interesting because the alternatives are uncertain or unknown. These situations are sometimes referred to as decision making under ignorance. Example: You want to have a function in a couple of months. Should you have it scheduled outdoor or indoors? If it’s sunny and warm, then having it outdoors would be better, however, what if the weather cannot be predicted two months in advance? The risk involved depends on the distinction between risk and uncertainty. The decision will hinge on whether probabilities are known exactly. If not, the decision will be made under “ignorance,” which means a decision made under extreme uncertainty where the chooser has no clue about his or her eventual choice.

If you change “chooser” to “voter,” you will understand the dilemma the public faces in the general election. The political forces on both sides of every proposition are spending a lot of money to sway your decision.

Which brings us to the last type of decision: the risky choice. In a risky choice situation, the probabilities are known. Because media bases most of their choices on an assessment of the probability that some event will take place, they are not entirely certain either, but they have a preference.

When people are good at manipulating voters they engage in a strange kind of double talk. It asserts that if x is preferred to y, then x must be preferred to any probability mixture of x and y, which in turn must be preferred to y.


But let’s stop toying with the idea of decision making in the abstract and talk the general election ballot. There’s a lot of information that will challenge the voter decision-making knowledge.

Here’s my favorite for 2008. It reads, Amendment to the State Constitution Proposed by the Twenty-Fourth Legislature. “Shall the age qualifications for the office of governor and office of lieutenant governor be reduced from thirty years of age to twenty-five years of age?” It’s bad enough you don’t need a high school diploma in Hawaii to be a governor or lieutenant governor, but wouldn’t having one without a high school diploma and being only 25 years old be a little risky? Sounds like a good argument for a Constitutional Convention.

While you are wondering what this ballot question is about, here are your voting instructions for Hawaii State Constitution Questions Only. “YES” vote means the constitutional question is approved. “NO” vote means the constitutional question is not approved. “BLANK” and “OVER VOTES” also are counted to determine whether the constitutional question is approved. To pass, the “YES” votes must be more than the “NO,” BLANK” and “OVER VOTES.”

You see, a person’s utility function for various prospects reveals something about his or her risk-taking tendencies. In the upcoming election, think it over, because there is no such thing as a sure thing in a general election, especially when the propositions were probably written to confuse the voters or stimulate their fears of uncertainty.

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