Friday, August 25, 2006

Proportional Remonstration

When I was in college, I took a course in alternative voting systems. Americans may be surprised by this but there are actually several ways to choose candidates, and the method can fundamentally change the result. For example, proporational representation (PR) is a voting system where, for a given district, voters elect multiple candidates. This is in stark contrast with the majoritarian system used in the US and UK: one candidate per district. The latter system tends to encourage a two-party political landscape while the former encourages multiple parties.

A recent publication in AEI discusses some of the reasons behind American success and it cites it's two-party system as one of those reasons. Two parties keep taxes low while many parties encourage higher taxes.

Under a PR system, several parties will compete, while in majoritarian systems, only two parties usually contest elections. If there are several parties, middle-class voters will support programs that tax the rich and benefit them, knowing that they can change their voting habits if a government wishes to tax them more. But if there are only two major parties, middle-class voters will worry that voting for leftist parties will mean more taxes for them, and so they will be inclined to support right-wing parties.

I don't see how this logic holds. In multi-party countries, these parties create coalitions and effectively transform into a handful of contending parties. A majority still have to approve the new government. In practice, three changes in the system come to mind: the minority view is more likely to be considered, platforms are more flexible because parties can mix and match their allies and, my favorite, politicians have to spend a great deal of time forming coalitions, time they can't spend governing.

The author, James Q. Wilson, is confusing voting for parties with voting for policies. If a vote to raise taxes for the rich were held to the people, they would probably cast in favor for it. But if a party wants to do that, there is still the danger that they could raise taxes on everyone. I'll buy that competition tends to create things people want but politicians tend be expections. They are package deals of package deals. Almost anything goes and everyone knows it.


SmoothB said...

I wonder what Mr. Tiebout would say about that?

And since I normally make the argument for democracy, maybe I'll switch tacks and adopt a Delong habit of speech: why oh why would we want more fringe opinions to be represented? I kind of like that we have two parties that are more or less identical by world standards. Yes, yes, I know that we're supposed to like having people's ideas represented, but (a) since when did libertarians start thinking that? We don't vote anyway, and (b) I'm not saying we shouldn't represent the average voter, just that we sort of throw out the high and low voters. It's sort of like the Olympics -- Communists and Fascists, your scores are dropped. In a multi-party system, not only do you theoretically have to deal with those groups, but you do in fact do that. That is what you see -- less effective government and more nut jobs given slots in the legislature.

David said...

I would still maintain that the more the parties are alike, the more they get done. If we had neo-Nazis, eco-terrorists and Communists all in the legislature then everyone would have to argue with them to get anything done. Libertarians may hate politics, but we LOVE deadlock.

SmoothB said...

You don't have to argue with them. You don't have to argue with anyone, for that matter -- all those speeches on CSPAN are to empty chambers. Instead, you give them a bit of power.

And I would maintain that this is in fact what we see. In order to keep your coalition together, multi-party systems inevitably end up throwing bones to or allying with really ugly extremist groups.