Kenneth Arrow’s paradox and why elections are flawed

Kenneth Arrow’s paradox and why elections are flawed

Synopsis- Theory of Arrow’s paradox and the impact of loss of concentration


  • The mechanics of all elections are flawed. The mathematician Kenneth Arrow laid bare the flaws in elections.
  • The internet helps the minority voice to instigate a large part of the populace. The recent U.S. presidential election is an example of this.

What is Arrow’s paradox?

The theorem is named after mathematician and Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow, who demonstrated the theorem in his doctoral thesis in 1950.

He identified that in any electoral system where three or more options exist, a curious paradox comes into play. Views of the minority voice can dictate the broader choice. His finding is now called Arrow’s Paradox.

For example-

  • A set of population has three preferences in the run-up to an election which pits binary choices against each other – A= go to war or B= Don’t go to war.
  • the voters will be distributed along three lines as follows:
      • The minority – The hawks, those who want to go to war.
      • The majority of voters but are roughly equally split.
          1. The doves, who prefer not to go to war under any circumstance.
          2. The realists, who don’t want to go to war unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  • The minority hawks have the ability to dictate the outcome by convincing the realists by prevailing on the realists that war is actually needed.
  • Arrow’s Paradox can cause an election which should have a predictable outcome to become a farce since the outcome can be gamed to allow minority factions to prevail.

How arrow paradox theory swayed US elation result?

People now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the affects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain.

  • The recent events such as Proposition 22 in US elections have proved this phenomenon.

Proposition 22

  • Uber, Lyft and other gig industries poured money into their ‘Yes on Proposition 22’ campaign, raising over $200 million and the courts to preserve their business model by keeping drivers from becoming employees eligible for benefits and job protections.
  • Misleading campaigns- 58% of more than 11 million voters choosing to keep drivers classified as independent contractor, without the additional steps needed after that to get to the truth.
  • The outcome was a defeat for labor unions that had pushed for a state law aimed directly at Uber and Lyft, mandating they provide drivers with protections like minimum wage, overtime, health insurance and reimbursement for expenses.

It is certain that there will be future attempts at influencing elections using both intense messaging which takes advantage of our shortened attention spans as well as the setting of agendas of electoral choice which Arrow first described.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Free IAS Preparation by Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to the blog followed by several Rankholders and ensure success in IAS.