From Saturday’s DC protest, courtesy of a former student of mine:
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27 September 2005
From Saturday’s DC protest, courtesy of a former student of mine:
26 September 2005
Back on August 23, I lamented the possibility that the Padres might win the National League West with a sub-.500 record, and that even if they wound up above .500 at the end of the season, they were going to have a worse record than several teams that would miss the postseason.
Well here we are with 7 games to go, and the Padres record?
This is worse than the Washington Nationals, now in fifth (last) place in the NL East, 11 games out (78-78). It is the same record as the mighty Milwaukee Brewers, who are 19 out in the Central. The wild-card leader, Houston, is currently at 85-71, clinging to a 1-game lead over the Phillies. One of those two teams will miss out, as will the Florida Marlins (80-76) and the NY Mets (78-77).
The only way this NL West situation gets interesting is if the Giants, currently 4 out with a 73-82 record, sweep the 4-game series starting tonight in San Diego.
The Padres have to go 6-1 to avoid going into the playoffs with the worst record in baseball history of any team that ever saw postseason play.
Propagation: Seeds & scions (1)
24 September 2005
From stuff.co.nz, one third of the members of the just-elected New Zealand parliament will be women. Sixteen women were elected from single-seat districts and another 24 off the party lists (final totals could differ very slightly from this latter number). NZ long had been high by world standardsâ€”even before the adoption of MMP. But the result, and especially the breakdown by tier, highlights the advantage of proportional representation lists in producing more representative legislaturesâ€”not only in partisan terms, but also in socio-demographic terms.
The story, from 19 Sept., also notes:
Meanwhile, in the USA, 15.2% of members of the House of Representatives are women (which ranks 63rd in the world). In the Senate it is 14%.
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Planted in: Politics (general)
I’ve commented before on the frequent misuse (or at least confusing multiple uses) of “liberal“, but in the comments to the post by MarekNYC on the Polish elections, there is a quite amusing (and sometimes also informative) debate on the meaning(s) of liberalism. It starts with a comment posted by DoDo, and continues well down from there.
In my preview of September’s elections, I noted that this will be the first time that Poland has had parliamentary and presidential elections in such close succession. The parliamentary elections are on September 25, but the presidential elections have lost most of their suspense due to the dropping out of one of the main contenders.
MarekNYC at EuroTrib has the details, including a thorough overview of the various parties contesting the parliamentary elections and recent polling figures for both elections. In the comments he adds a nice short overview of past elections.
(And I have to say that I am glad that I don’t have a vote in this election. Reading the party descriptions, I think I would be very hard pressed to find anyone to vote for among those who will clear the 5% threshold!)
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Planted in: Coalition governance; Euro-Mediterranean; Germany; PMP course; POLITICAL PARTIES; POLITICS/POLICY; VOTES
Thanks to one of the commenters at Chris Lawrence’s post to which I have now linked three (!) times already (sorry, Chris, you don’t get a fourth just yet), I found some very sensible comments on the grand coalition possibility in Germany, and more generally on proportional representation.
Regarding PR, Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution offers a public-choice perspective on relations between a major and a minor party in a typical coalition government:
This is closely related to the point I was trying to make earlier this morning: that those who view PR as creating a series of parties that respond only to their true believers really miss the point of how multi-party competition works in practice.
Now, on the grand coalition possibility in Germany, Tyler has the following sensible bottom line:
Indeed, a grand coalition would not be so bad at all, and the alarmists in the media and elsewhere should take a nice deep breath and engage in some rational analysis.
Propagation: Seeds & scions (1)
Isn’t this little Brewster lychee tree just gorgeous?
Of course, it will be even more gorgeous some day, I hope.
My tree has been in the ground for about a year and has put on a good deal of growth. For a lychee growing in the Western USA, that is.
This tree is located on the eastern side of the house, which both gives it morning reflected heat (well, when the sun is actually out in the morning) and protects it from the daily onslaught of cool winds from the west/southwest. Just an example of how one needs to use whatever microclimates one can find when growing fruits marginal to one’s (macro) climate.
[I later followed this up with "Democrats, socialism, PR, and Bernie Sanders."]
Among the small, but beneficial, ripples from the allegedly â€œinconclusiveâ€ result of the German election on September 18 has been some discussion of how multiparty democracy with proportional representation (as seen in Germany and most other democracies) compares to the strict two-party system (seen almost uniquely in the USA).
For example, Chris Lawrence suggests:
I disagree that Dems and Reps would melt away or be transformed beyond recognition; more on that later. First, I want to stick to this â€œtrue believersâ€ analogy, because Stephen Karlson also uses it:
Now, let us assume that Stephen meant parliamentary systems with proportional representation (as implied by his own subject line) and not parliamentary systems more generally, given that some parliamentary systems (notably Britain and Canada, which are not â€œrepublics,â€ by the way) use the plurality (first-past-the-post) electoral system just as the USA does. Let us further focus only on the dynamics of legislative party positioning, and not government formation, since for the latter process the make-up of the legislature is almost irrelevant in a presidential form of government like the USA has.
Do parties in proportional representation (PR) systems appeal solely to their true believers? And would hypothetical coalitions between Democrats or Republicans and smaller parties render our two big parties more polarized than they are today (as implied at Betsyâ€™s page)? No, and no. In fact, no one who has ever watched an election campaign in a European PR democracy or New Zealand since it adopted PR could possibly make such claims. Caricaturing the process in this way represents a fundamentalâ€”but, in America, widely heldâ€”misunderstanding of how multi-party democracy works.
In a nutshell, the point is that, with very few exceptions, parties in PR systems cannot afford to appeal solely to true believers if they seek any actual policy-making influence. Why? Because inter-election volatility (the movement of voters from one party to another) is much higher in multiparty PR systems. It is higher precisely because each voter has more choicesâ€”that is, more than one party that may be appealing to some aspect of his or her policy preferences. If parties are competing in an environment with this heightened level of competition, the ones that stick to their true believers quickly become rumps and find themselves marginalized.
In the quote above, Chris asks rhetorically, â€œif you think our parties are bad nowâ€¦â€ Yes, I do think our parties are bad now, and it is largely because one of them is pulled too much one way by the likes of Maxine Waters and the other is pulled too much the other way by the likes of Pat Robertson (to use Chrisâ€™s examples). As Chris notes, our electoral system and two-party system generate broad parties that are internal coalitions of interests. And he is also right that all partiesâ€”even the small ones in some PR systemsâ€”contain internal electoral coalitions of interests. Get the Waters and Robertson acolytes out of the internal coalition of the Democratic and Republican parties and I, for one, will like both parties a whole lot better than I do now. And I suspect most voters would, too.
In broad â€œcatch allâ€ parties with loose internal organization like ours, political forces represented by the likes of Waters or Robertson are constantly digging in and attempting to keep their respective party from drifting too far to the center in the quest for the mythical â€œmedian voter.â€ A member of congress like Waters (or Frank or Conyers, etc.) can dig in her or his heels and, because our single-seat-district electoral system gives such members safe seats, these members never have to worry about losing influence by doing so. It is close to frictionless for them to stake out extremist positions in advance of bargaining over specific pieces of legislation. There are simply no electoral costs for them from doing so, and lots of potential benefits if they can keep the policy debate within their party skewed even a little bit in their direction, while at the same time appealing to their own relatively cohesive and ideologically extreme electoral districts. (The same analogy holds within either party, though we would need to use a congress member who was close to Robertsonâ€™s views, rather than Robertson himself, because he is not a member of congress, as is Waters.)
In a PR system, let us suppose Waters (and her allies, as well as her counterparts on the opposite side of the spectrum) split off and form their own parties. For the sake of argument, I am going to assume that the US has adopted MMP, like in Germany and New Zealand, though this thought experiment would not be radically different under most other forms of PR.
Now, in our hypothetical MMP system, Watersâ€™s clout in congress (i.e. the share of seats her new party obtains) depends on her success at garnering votes from outside her own safe electoral district. She is now subject to competition with the Democratic partyâ€”which surely would survive, as would the Republican, albeit in smaller and more moderate form. The party led by Waters, Conyers, et al., is now tugged towards the center, because that is where it can gain the most in additional votes. That is where the inter-election volatility will take place, not at the fringes.
In conclusion, I do not deny that there are some parties and some party systems where PR and multipartism contribute to the kind of narrow ideological appeals that Chris and Stephen have in mind. For example, Israel, with its extremely low threshold and several tiny religiously oriented parties, or Italy from the 1950s to 1980s (but not today) with its very large and ideologically marginalized Communist Party. But these are not typical of PR systems more generally, and are not even remotely relevant comparative referents for a hypothetical PR system in the USAâ€”for all its diversity, this country lacks the kind of rigid social divisions that give rise to parties like Shas or the former Italian Communists. Combine that with the probable high threshold our PR system would have (on the order of Germany and New Zealand) and our presidential form of government, in which the parties that can realistically elect presidents are sure to remain the most important players in the system, and it is clear that PR in the USA would hardly be as radical as Chris and Stephen fear. PR would moderate, not further polarize, our partisan competition.
Over at La Profesora AbstraÃda, Michelle Dion and I have been having a discussion about the separation of powers in Mexico under President Fox.
As Michelle notes in her opening paragraph, leaders of business, labor, and the political parties whom she recently interviewed:
(Side note: President Fox’s party, the PAN, lacks a majority in either house, and the former hegemonic party, the PRI, is the largest party in each house. No party has a majority.)
Michelle further observes:
This raises the question of what it means to speak of the legislative branch in a presidential system as “independent.” For many decades in Mexico, the congress was totally subordinate to the presidency through the hegemonic PRI. Therefore, congress was not at all independent, notwithstanding the formal separation of powers. (Mexico’s constitutional structure is as close to that of the USA of any country in the world.)
Now, with no majority for the president’s party (or any other), the congress is unmistakably independent in the sense that it debates (substantively, not merely pro forma), demands concessions, puts on amendments, and sometimes rejects outright bills presented by the executive. It also initiates bills not favored by the executive, which the president may sign into law or veto. Data collected by several of the presenters at a conference on the evolution of presidentialism and federalism in Mexico last March (co-organized by Jeff Weldon and me) demonstrate that congress, rather than the executive, is now the source of most major legislation. If that is not independence, then I do not know what that word means.
But Michelle seems to have another dimension of independence in mind, and it is an important one to consider when looking at policymaking, and not just lawmaking, in presidential democracies. If I understand her correctly, she is concerned with the ability of the congress to have independent sources of technical information and expertise about policy proposals. The second quote from her original post, above, refers to the relative lack of staffing for congress, and she subsequently adds:
This is absolutely true, but drawing from that fact the implication that congress is therefore not independent is to commit the following fallacy. It assumes that the standard for judging legislative independence must be resemblance to the way the US Congress is organized: large individual staffs and lots of technical policy expertise (mostly matched with constituency interests).
But why is the US Congress organized that way? Because individual members largely run their own independent electoral coalitions and have appropriated themselves staff to provide them with the independent information they need for that purpose.
Michelle goes on to note that there is staff for congressional committees in Mexico, a small research service for the congress as a whole, and independent external contracting. Thus while there is not anything like the staffing available to individual members, there are other sources of information independent of the executive branch.
Nonetheless, clearly Michelle is correct when she argues further that even these congress-wide sources of information are little match for the executive branch. Surely they still pale in comparison to the overall level of information resources available to congress as a whole in the USA.
So this leads to a very important question: What kind of information do legislators need? If they need information to conduct independent re-election campaigns, as in the US, they need independent and individual information, as well as large committee staff, and congress-wide resources that place their institution on par with the executive branch in terms of technical specialization.
But what do Mexican legislators need? They are ineligible for reelection. They thus have no need to develop independent re-election campaigns. We are only beginning to get a handle on what post-congressional careers will look like in the post-hegemonic era, but as long as the jobs most of them seek (whether other elective offices or appointive positions) continue to be controlled by party leaders (national or state), there is bound to be little incentive for these legislators to collect any information besides what is provided by those very same party leaders.
In other words, we would be looking in the wrong place if we were looking to see what technical policy information Mexican legislators collect. Of what value is technical information if they are not going to run for office based on their individual reputation for having participated in crafting and improving the technical quality of policy?
So, as Michelle notes in her comment to my comment:
Exactly. Members of congress are following party cues, and if the party is positioning itself for the next election, then the only specialized information they need is whether this or that policy is consistent with the party’s positioning, not whether it is good techincal policy.
Information on the impact of a presidential initiative on the party’s positioning for the next election comes from the party, not from anyone hired by congress or its members. In Mexico, it is still the parties that hire the legislators, and that has profound implications for the type of information that legislators (or the legislative branch as an institution) needs and appropriates for itself.
So, is the Mexican congress independent of the executive? Sure. It is a forum for bargaining between very highly disciplined national parties, each of which has its distinct partisan political interests that it seeks to advance through the lawmaking process.
Propagation: Seeds & scions (1)
23 September 2005
All this week on BBC World Service, I have been listening to a very well done series called “Looking for Democracy.” The series has now concluded, but the program is in the audio archives at their Who Runs Your World? page (click on “programmes” under “special features”).
More info, from the BBC site:
Monday: Can voters be trusted to be wise or consistent? There are elections for almost every public post in California, but the result can be pervasive apathy and occasional chaos.
Tuesday: Cambodia has now had a decade to accustom itself to a system of government introduced by an outside body.
Wednesday:After the dramatic expression of people power represented by the so-called orange revolution, Robin Lustig investgates the immense expectations on Viktor Yuschenko to deliver.
Thursday: The Bush administration points to Bahrain as a country moving in the right direction towards western democracy, but many in the majority Shi’ite population claim these changes are superficial.
Friday: Robin Lustig reports on democracy in Uganda, where president Museveni has banned political parties, claiming a western model is not appropriate for a developing country.
It was an excellent series.
Planted by MSS
Planted in: PMP course
I’m inaugurating a new category here. This category will serve as an experiment in running a virtual discussion section for topics that come up in my course this fall, Policy-Making Processes, at The Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS), UCSD.
Periodically I will post thoughts on topics that come up in class but that there is not sufficient time to consider in class. Probably most of these will be cross-posted to other categories here at Fruits and Votes. Students are invited to pursue the topics further through the comments section of these entries. So, of course, are regular (or new) readers of Fruits and Votes from outside the class. (This would not be taking place on a blog if it were not meant to be public! Besides, there is also an internal IR/PS server folderâ€”the PMP Conferenceâ€”for discussion initiated by or intended only for students.)
I must say that Roe v. Wade is not something I ever intend to blog on. So, I will just say that Scott Lemieux, over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, has written not one, not two, but three of the best discussions of the politics and precedent of the decision that I have ever read. (And, actually, there are more, too.)
(This also allows me to say what a great blog name Lawyers, Guns, and Money is; yes, I am a big Zevon fan, with perhaps “The French Inhaler” being my favorite of all.)
Planted by MSS
Planted in: Coalition governance; Euro-Mediterranean; Germany; PMP course; POLITICAL PARTIES; POLITICS/POLICY; Presidential & Parliamentary Systems; USA; VOTES
How similar is the common pattern of â€œdivided governmentâ€ in the USA (national or state level) to the past and probable near-future pattern of â€œgrand coalitionâ€ governance in Germany?
Various bloggers this week have discussed this comparison, including Stephen Karlson, Betsy, and Chris Lawrence. It warms this comparative politics scholar’s heart to see this level of debate occuring across the blogosphere!
Before going further with the discussion, letâ€™s make the definitions clear:
In each situation, the two major parties that oppose each other in elections and on many or most policy positions are, in some sense, co-responsible for governance. However, it is very important not to conflate the two sitiations.
Under divided government in the USA, the chief executive (a separately elected president or governor) does not negotiate his or her cabinet with the leaders of the other party. On the other hand, in a grand coalition, the entire cabinetâ€”including its headâ€”is a product of negotiations between the leaders of the parties. Moreover, due to the parliamentary system, that cabinet and its head can be forced to resign at any time if the parties no longer want to work together. This distinction is closely related to Betsyâ€™s point about two fundamentally opposing parties â€œrunning the executive branch togetherâ€; however, in discussing the implausibility of this situation in the United States, Betsy appears to overlook that fact that the German CDU and SPD are far more fundamentally opposed to one another than are Democrats and Republicans. This leads me to the second important distinction between the two situations.
Under divided government, legislation is not necessarily or even typically a product of inter-party agreement at the leadership level. It may be, but more often it is a product of narrower, ad hoc, majority coalitions in which both parties divide into â€œyeaâ€ and â€œnayâ€ wings. This is possible precisely because on so many issues the two American parties are not fundamentally opposed to one another (as noted also by Chris). In the USA, centrists in one party will go along with centrists in the other, and/or individual legislators in one party will go along with policies advanced by the executive and his or her party in exchange for pork-barrel favors. Fundamentally, these kinds of legislative coalitions that cross-cut party lines do not occur in parliamentary systems.
Propagation: Seeds & scions (1)
22 September 2005
Today is the first day of fall. Or is it spring? This tree seems uncertain as to which side of the equator it is on:
Amidst mostly bare branches, you can see one of the odditiesâ€”and challengesâ€”of growing deciduous fruit trees in a subtropical climate. Deciduous fruit trees need winter chill to set fruit. But if they go dormant earlyâ€”and this tree does, every yearâ€”they can be prone to open a few flower buds in a fall warm spell rather than holding them all for the following spring. We are having quite a warm spellâ€”highs in the mid-80sâ€”on account of subtropical flow from Hurricane Max (even some thunderstorms a couple of days ago). It looks like it will be really warm today, though down on the part of the finca where this tree grows, it was a fall-like 48 this morning, indicating that the tropical air has moved on out.
The tree shown above is a Mesch Mesch Amrah black apricot. Actually a plumcot (half plum, half apricot), and a naturally ocurring hybrid found in Libya. I got mine from Raintree Nursery, which no longer features the variety.
When I first got it, we lived in Carlsbad. Because it is so rare, we dug it up in the winter of 2002 and potted it for transplanting at our new finca, Ladera Frutal. It has fruited almost every year, both in Carlsbad and in its new digs. More heavily after colder winters, and better here than in Carlsbad (where winters are a good deal milder than here).
The fruit is small, fuzzy like an apricot, dark red like some plums, yellow inside with red streaks, and has a distinctive blend of plum and apricot with some berry ovetones to its flavor. It deserves to be better known.
The Mesch Mesch Amrah is not alone in blooming off-cycle. Many apples do it, such as our Strawberry Parfait, which I posted on previously. Note the cluster of blooms near the top of the photo, and several fruit at either side. This fruit represents the third crop this tree has had this year. Ah, yes, that is one of the advantages of growing in this climate!
Notice that I am growing this tree as an espalierâ€”that is, flat against a fence. The fence itself has been reinforced with hardware cloth as part of my ongoing battle with squirrels. It might actually be working, though I still have mice or other “adorable little rodents” that nibble at fruit inside my corralito.
21 September 2005
Planted by MSS
Planted in: Coalition governance; Germany; Plurality; POLITICAL PARTIES; PR; Presidential & Parliamentary Systems; VOTES
There has been a lot of hand-wringing about the prospect of a grand coalition after Germany’s “inconclusive” election. There has even been some borderline alarmism from some of the “risk” analysts and words like “political chaos” from the business pages.
OK, can everyone just calm down a bit? A grand coalition is not such a bad thing. It reflects the probable consensus in Germany that something needs to be done, but nothing too drastic. It may be just what the country needs, and could even be what it wants.
I myself have expressed the view that a grand coalition is nobody’s first choice (and polls seem to back it up)–expect perhaps the extremes. However, there is one question on which I have not seen any polling (but then again, I do not read German, so I would be dependent on English-speaking sources having picked it up): What if a grand coalition is everyone’s second choice?
Some have made the comparison with Westminster-type systems, including rather implicitly, Chris Lawrence, who has a nifty headline from last night that reads, “There but for the grace of Duverger.” This is, of course, a reference to the famous Duverger’s law that says the first-past-the-post (plurality) electoral system leads to a two-party system, in contrast to proportional representation such as in Germany, which implies a multiparty system.
(Chris actually compares Germany to the USA, but the comparison is less relevant than to other parliamentary systems; presidentialism is an additional factor besides those Chris lists that explain why the USA is the world’s purest example of a two-party system, while Canada and the UK have multiparty systems despite FPTP.)
Suppose Germany had FPTP. The conventional wisdom is that such an electoral system would have delivered a more decisive result, allowing one or the other major party to win the majority of seats necessary to form a government on its own and push economic policy reforms through.
But decisiveness, in the German context, would come at a cost: consensus-building would be the first casualty. Given Germany’s recent reunification, it is beyond belief that there would not be a post-communist “spoiler” party under FPTP. It would win some seatsâ€”probably more than it did under the actual MMP system before this year, because in a 598-seat parliament with only single-seat districts, there would be more seats elected from its strongholds in the East. (The post-Communist left never before had crossed the 5% PR threshold when applied nationally in 1994, 1998, and 2002.) The existence of such a party in all probability would have still meant the breakaway of some elements of the SPD to join up with the left in digust with their own party pushing liberalizing reforms.
In other words, as far as the left-right divide is concerned, not a lot would be different about the party system, except for two significant things:
(1) One of these two large parties probably would have won a majority of seats; but that majority would have been based on around 40-45% of the vote; and
(2) The party most consistently in favor of the market reforms would not be in parliament. The FDP has seldom been able to win single-seat districts and has not won one since early in the history of postwar Germany. (Greens would be out of parliament, too.)
A majority party government might be more decisive, but there would be no societal consensus for the reforms it would push. The government would probably be CDU, as I doubt a divided SPD would have won an election under FPTP.
If there is no societal consensus, is it not better to have an “indecisive” government that reflects the indecisiveness of society at large? That’s democracy.
As for the hand-wringing and alarmism, it is misplaced. In fact, the whole notion of this political situation as “indecisive” is beside the point. If the result is SPD+CDU (and CSU) sharing power in a grand coalition, that is a government more favorable to Schroeder’s reforms than the incumbent SPD+Green coalition. At the same time, it would reflect the apparent consensus within Germany that the reforms advocated by the right–particularly by Merkel’s disastrous shadow finance minister, Professor Kirchhof–not be allowed to go too fast.
A grand coalition would probably last two or three years, and then there would be a new election. There could even be a new election much soonerâ€”within a few monthsâ€”though that’s not likely, in my view. Schroeder might see it as beneficial, given his late surge and momentum in the campaign, to hold out and try to force an early election. However, there would a real risk of a backlash against the party if it were seen as opportunistically forcing a second vote.
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