Thursday, July 08, 2004

Proportional Representation: Coyne, Cash & Friends

Typically, PR is a topic that left wing poli sci professors prattle on about, right after they pleasure themselves silly thinking about how they love african communist dictatorships of the seventies where all the "politics" are within a one-party state.

Sound familiar?

PR comes up in normal discourse right after some journalists again realize for the nth time that the popular vote looks nothing like the seat count. Yes, the Liberals scored 178 seats with only 41% of the popular vote in 2000. We heard. Yes, the Tories had two seats in 1993, but had over 2 million votes. Yep. Old story.

What to do about this "Problem"?

Andrew Coyne has got the goods over at his site right here. Andrew tries valiantly to shake off the usual criticisms of the system, but there is one nut that is tougher to crack than most. We'll start with the easy stuff:

My friend Colby comes perilously close to the latter, when he points, as if to clinch his case, to studies suggesting that "democracies with proportional representation consistently tend to have higher taxes, more government spending ... and higher deficits." Naturally I'm appalled at this unbridled record of extravagance -- unless, of course, that's what the people of those countries voted for.

For a while there, I thought this argument against PR wouldn't stick. But it does. With smaller, single interest parties joining coalitions, higher spending is a must. Andrew says that the people "vote for it". No, the people do not vote for "higher spending", what they are paying for is the agreement of a few members of an extreme group to join the coalition to pass a bill that the extreme party has no interest in...BUT, the people voted for them, right? No, 5% did, and now the rest of the country has to buy those votes back.

Concrete examples are abound, but the most obvious has to be in Israel, where Sharon's coalition is being held hostage by ultra-orthodox settlers and right wing extremists demanding that the dangerous and expensive settlements (because of security concerns) be encouraged to grow in the West Bank and Gaza. Not only is this minority position overriding the concerns of the majority of Israelis (polls show they want out of Gaza, at least), it is holding the government over the barrell in terms of cash. It takes tonnes of money and resources that could otherwise be used on something productive to protect the settlers. Not only that, but the settlers and their "PR" representatives distort Israel's foreign policy.

Bad press? International Scorn? Inflamed Arab Street? Who cares? Our PR representatives have scored our tiny settlements a win! You'll get our 25,000 votes next time!

Now amplify this by a million times when Canada agrees to ruling coalitions with extreme seperatists groups in western Canada and Quebec. Problem? Are we ready for the Alberta-American Annexation Party?

This is a key problem with PR, but an even greater threat from PR, is geographical representation. If there was PR, even if it is in conjunction with regional representation, there is a problem. MP's without any geographical represenation, will naturally tend to represent...who, exactly, in the house of commons?

MP's without a geographical represenation are useless, since so much of Canada's politics are regional anyways. Andrew does not address this. Rural and Urban voters vote differently. Notice Toronto's voting pattern? Its not the same as rural BC.

If PR wants to be taken seriously, this has to be addressed. Andrew missed a chance with his article.

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