Friday, November 11, 2016

What would you prefer, election reform or collapse?

I took a lot of political science classes as my electives of choice and what I really remember concluding most from that period was that democracy works best in an expanding economy -- when there's more pie for all every year, the division of the pie is less likely to promote warfare.

But for 8 years now, the US has been mainlining what would, historically, have been jet fuel in economic terms, and it has only served to bring us off the mat and get us shambling slowly towards a "recovery" that basically means servicing the machines that could take over even more of what used to be called "work."

That evidence -- that even with the historical constraints on economic growth obliterated, there is no real growth to be had -- makes it undeniable that growth is over, because the natural world is no longer a bountiful storehouse of easily accessed natural capital.

We have consumed and polluted and wasted to the point that now all our economic voodoo tricks don't reanimate the lifeless economy, they simply heat it up in that one spot but only for as long as the stimulus is applied directly. It's really hard to stimulate a corpse.

And so, instead of an expanding pie, giving each group a bit more each year, even if not as much as others -- making it possible to avoid warfare over the relative sizes of the slices -- we are now in the era of the permanently contracting pie (economy), and it's not clear that democracies survive this state very well.

One thing that is now even more clear, we must have election reform or we are likely to have an even rougher go of it, as in conflicts that will make the post-Yugoslavia Balkan states seem tranquil.

Our archaic 18th C. "vote for one only" system ("first past the post," winner take all) is as zero-sum as it gets, and even in the best of times it encourages the group conflict we must learn to avoid. If we don't adopt better voting systems (instant runoff voting for single-winner races, full representation systems for legislative bodies) rapidly, the risks of metaphorical conflict becoming actual conflict and social collapse increase dramatically. In an expanding economy, "wait till next year" is much more possible because there is a fundamental optimism that the years ahead will be better, so why fight?

But in a relentlessly contracting economy, the dominant groups can lock out the others -- instead of all sharing in the pain, the winners can get more while the losers get lots less, AND those divisions can result in permanent lockout, as the so-called "meritocracy" converts the privileged dominant groups to an aristocracy of health and access to education and resources that creates the hard caste structure recognizable in feudal societies throughout history.

Dealing with economic contraction is hard and requires compromise and good will --- but winner-take-all election systems apply belt sanders to tender places instead of soothing ointments.

Full representation election methods preserve majority rule but also do more -- they make sure that minorities have a real rather than figurative seat at the table, so that every citizen can say that they are represented (that they helped elect someone) and have someone who cares about their concerns in power.

Because of winner-take-all methods, the US is about to shift wildly in its national policies. This is purely as an artifact of using zero-sum winner-take-all election rules that take a tiny overall shift in voting and magnify it to a wildly inflated result that has the effect of giving more than half of American voters no voice whatsoever in national policy. That is a recipe for revolution.

No comments: