Friday, November 03, 2006

First past the bloody post


Cruel Britannia knocked out diversity in American politics from the beginning
J.B. Ruhl's latest post, which I will playfully rename Democrassy, revisits Glenn Harlan Reynolds's 1995 article, Is Democracy Like Sex?. I agree with J.B. and Glenn that an entire range of biological metaphors can describe different aspects of popular politics. As the shadowy force behind The Phages of American Law, I don't share Glenn's robust faith in localism; if anything, I regard the centrifugal tendency in American politics to be a source of oppressive stasis. Nothing is as stultifying as domination by local elites, and I embrace the solution prescribed in The Federalist No. 10: increase the size of the polity in which these elites must struggle, and diversity will follow. It's just basic island biogeography.

When it comes to political diversity in the United States, what really strikes -- and frustrates -- me is the appalling lack of choice. We have two parties, Lousy and Lousier. Cycle to cycle, the title of Lousier shifts left or right as the wind blows. Surely, as Elizabeth Weeks suggests, we can do better.

Two parties. Two! Speaking in the language of complex systems analysis, I'd attribute the lack of diversity in American politics to a serious problem of path dependency. Cruel Britannia bequeathed to these United States -- and nearly everywhere else where the Union Jack once flew -- the electoral system called "first past the post." This legacy alone is enough to inspire virulent Anglophobia in any democracy-loving American. Would that the sun set on "first past the post," even faster than it has set on the empire of Dieu et mon droit. The dynamics of simple plurality voting all but guarantees the emergence -- and rapid, permanent entrenchment -- of exactly two parties. Cheerio, my good chap. Welcome to your parties, all two of them: Lousy and Lousier.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

'When it comes to political diversity in the United States, what really strikes -- and frustrates -- me is the appalling lack of choice. We have two parties, Lousy and Lousier.'

'Would that the sun set on "first past the post," even faster than it has set on the empire of Dieu et mon droit. The dynamics of simple plurality voting all but guarantees the emergence -- and rapid, permanent entrenchment -- of exactly two parties.'

*Hear! Hear!*

11/03/2006 8:35 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

Nice point. It's tragic that the SC decided to intervene to protect the 2-party duopoloy in the New PArty-twin cities case.

I know you're likely too busy to listen, but perhaps you can assing Gil Grantmore to listen to this program on potential alternatives:

http://www.radioopensource.org/experiments-in-democracy/

11/03/2006 5:51 PM  
Anonymous Ian H Spedding FCD said...

Speaking in the language of complex systems analysis, I'd attribute the lack of diversity in American politics to a serious problem of path dependency. Cruel Britannia bequeathed to these United States -- and nearly everywhere else where the Union Jack once flew -- the electoral system called "first past the post." This legacy alone is enough to inspire virulent Anglophobia in any democracy-loving American. Would that the sun set on "first past the post," even faster than it has set on the empire of Dieu et mon droit.

Oh, please! You've had 126 years to change your electoral system since you threw off the oppressive shackles of your imperial masters. Don't blame us if you still haven't got it right.

Personally, I blame the lawyers.

11/04/2006 9:41 PM  
Blogger la Rana said...

Jim,

A couple of professors in the NYU politics department have collected and analyzed enough data that one can roughly predict the number of parties that will emerge from a given electoral system and other factors.

Single district plurality voting with high immigration and high heterogeneity will always result in 2 parties. Add a presidential system to the mix and the likelihood of either of us ever seeing a long-term third-party is precisely zero.

The benefits (definitive and theoretical) resulting from a move to some sort of proportional voting are remarkable. Aside from more parties and fairer and more responsive representation, we are talking about drastic reductions in campaign expenditures, and the de-politicization of subjects which have been tragically hijacked in the last 30 years (the harshness of punishment, for example). Unfortunately, too many people have too much invested in the status quo (not to mention the incredibly small number of people regularly trumpeting this idea - from my highly unscientific survey I've identified you and me).

I'll be on the front lines to fight for electoral reform. Until then, I'll be spending the second Tuesday of November at home.

11/07/2006 3:22 PM  

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