In Praise of Indirect Democracy


Dan Scotto

Dan Scotto lives and works in New Jersey. He has a master's degree in history, with a focus on the history of disease and the history of technology.

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27 Responses

  1. Avatar Kim says:

    Apathy is just as effective in America as it is in Britain, and that’s why Pittsburgh has a leftist wonk as mayor.

    5% rigging and the Brits still voted Leave (and by a serious margin too). Seriously, what the fuck kind of “indirect democracy” shoots 5% under OR over? We call that gerrymandering around here, that’s what we call it.Report

  2. Avatar Will H. says:

    What you describe is retrospective voting, which (though very much what the Founding Fathers considered) is known to be the least sophisticated of the four notable voting patterns commonly held.

    Not unconsequently, this is also why low voter turnout is a benefit rather than a detriment in the American system.
    Somewhere around 25% of all voters are reasonably informed on the issues, and according to whatever metric they adhere to, are unlikely to be swayed.
    Any greater voter turnout than that is an indication that more uninformed voters are voting, for one reason or another (and usually not a very good one, IMHO).

    I believe a more interesting question is how part-time legislators tend to draw heavily from persons of certain professions rather than others; i.e., a part-time legislative body is effectively a lock-out for a great number, and perhaps an even larger number than it serves.Report

  3. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    I see ballot measures (referendum & initiatives) as a way to inform elected officials of the desires of the governed, especially when elected officials seem to be experiencing collective deafness on the topic at hand (either because they personally don’t want to do X, or because they have a powerful block of donors who don’t want X to happen)..Report

  4. Regarding the Electoral College, a couple of points. The argument is for voting for president in discrete blocks. OK, I’ll buy that, at least for purposes of discussion. But why should the blocks be so wildly varying in size, having as few as three EC votes to as many as 55. I know this came about as a historical matter, but if we are talking about designing a rational electoral system I don’t see this as something we could come up with from scratch. Next, given that these are the voting blocks we have, we should at least design the system to give individual voters a reasonably equal say. As it is, a vote from Wyoming is worth three and four times as much as one from California. (If you are nodding in approval at this state of affairs, substitute Vermont and Texas, respectively.) Removing the two EC votes for the Senators would be a quick fix to make the system a lot more equitable.Report

  5. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I support a national popular vote for president, though there are some prodecural issues that give me pause. Specifically because the EC can expedite recount issues as well as provide a last-ditch stop in the event that the people get it spectacularly wrong. Some of those issues can be addressed, though.

    My main problem with it has to do with presidential races being reduced to so few places, which exalts the interests of those states above others. Hershberger mentions malapportionment, but as a former resident of a tiny state, I think they would actually benefit from a national popular vote. Pretty much everyone would, except the 10 or so swing states where candidates spend all of their time. (Even sometimes-competitive Montana would benefit, but almost all of the small states are entirely non-competitive and can be safely ignored by everybody.)

    And beyond all that, the Electoral College is mostly a fluke of history anyway. Agree with it or not, the rationale for the senate malapportionment still exist. The rationale for the electoral college doesn’t, and was an attempt to work around problems that no longer exist.Report

  6. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I generally agree with you on referendums. I think they might have been well-intentioned once upon a time but are now is easily abused including by the same corporate and powerful interests that they were meant to curb. All that happens in the state legislature needs to work out fifteen contradictory mandates.Report

  7. Avatar Kolohe says:

    If Parliment gets too funky and the people get too down, the UK could always use the ultimate in indirect democracy with Queen Liz Deux riding in on her dragons.Report

  8. Avatar j r says:

    An overreliance on direct democracy creates a situation where 52 percent of a pool of voters can vote for an incredibly tumultuous outcome without necessarily having grappled with the consequences. The decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union may or may not be wise, but having it made in a one-time public referendum that was merely a political tactic employed by too-clever-by-half leadership is surely less than ideal.

    I’m not sure that this is fair. This was a non-binding referendum that was called by the Prime Minister and the ruling party in response to long-simmering complaints about the EU. Ultimately, any decision to leave the UK will have to be approved by the Parliament and the government will be firmly in charge of the process for deciding whatever comes next.

    I do not disagree with the larger point about direct democracy or about the desirability of this sort of referendum, but it’s not like the UK has suddenly thrown off all of its institutions of representative and deliberative democracy.Report

  9. Avatar Damon says:

    ” If the government does not produce good outcomes–or the hope that good outcomes are coming–they will lose elections, and the other party will get a shot at ruling.1 ”

    Yeah… Not when you have a system designed to reinforce the status quo. Reelection is very high and the public considers all politicians crooks, except theirs. The gov’t hasn’t been producing good outcomes, say on immigration, for years. Frankly, immigration has been a bigger topic this year than in the last several pres election’s i’ve watched. And no, some debate where everyone generally agrees on a “compromise” isn’t a discussion, it’s an indication that politicians don’t want to make waves, regardless of the opinion of the public. For those arguing that that’s democracy in action, see the above re-election rate.

    And the US has gotten itself into a nice spiral. The public has realized that it can gift itself with unsustainable free stuff from other people and not be taxed. The house of cards keeps being built higher and no ones going to do a damn thing to stop it. Any politician who did might not get elected. Horrors.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

      The public has realized that it can gift itself with unsustainable free stuff from other people and not be taxed.

      I keep seeing this, yet no one ever shows their work.

      Where is the welfare state growing larger and larger, and the tax burden on those other people (AKA the rich) happening?Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Puerto Rico. Venezuela. Detroit and Flint, Michigan. Orange County, California back in the 90s. NYC’s back in the 70s.

        Edit – oh how could I forget about Greece?Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

          Wait, what?
          People in Orange County California were voting themselves free stuff?
          Detroit is suffering from people voting themselves free stuff?

          And why does your NYC source end in the 1970s, nearly 40 years ago?
          What has happened in the meantime?Report

          • Avatar Kolohe says:

            It got taken over by the Patrick Bateman’s of the world. Who are deeply resented, but nonetheless, pay the bills for everyone else.Report

  10. Avatar Damon says:

    Well…the welfare state is growing:

    AFC ring a bell?
    There’s increases in the welfare state in all forms: federal, state, local. Universal pre k ring a bell?

    Re taxes and burden, I didn’t say the tax burden was increasing, I said folks found a way to not pay for it. You know borrowing.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

      I do agree that debt spending is vastly popular. I just disagree that the “free stuff” is welfare spending, as it is popularly understood.

      Here’s what rings a bell with me:
      The prescription drug benefit was a massive boodle of free stuff to a favored political constituency; the F-35 fighter is a colossal trillion dollar freebie to well connected government contractors; and who can forget that we almost literally, carpet bombed Iraq and Afghanistan with pallet loads of shrink wrapped 100 dollar bills.

      None of these things, however, are ever, ever, lumped in the same category as Obamaphones and TANF.

      As far as these unspecified “increases in the welfare state at the federal, state, and local levels”- I need to see some cites because I’m not seeing it.

      Which is why I have such a strong aversion to the “people looting the Treasury” argument. If there is looting going on, the people at the lower end of the pyramid aren’t driving it.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        The F-35 *is* welfare. It’s just welfare that Bernie Sanders and John Cornyn and everyone in between (including “waste buster” Jeff Flake) can all support.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          So what isn’t “welfare”?

          It seems like “welfare” has just become a meaningless mushy word people throw at stuff they don’t like.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe says:

            Public goods that provide a clear public purpose and are not obviously and ridiculously overpriced for what you are getting.

            Or those where the main public benefit is seeing the snot kicked out of a 19 year half deaf woman with brain damage from getting a tumor removed.Report

            • Avatar Kolohe says:

              We could also cut the welfare payments for those that only obliterate a retreating army, because their boss couldn’t be bothered to do anything when it was an advancing army.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                You know what would be a decent public good? A mass transit system in the nation’s capital that didn’t catch on fire several times a year.

                But alas, they’ve treated it as welfare for a couple decades now.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                @greginak @chip-daniels

                Yep, All that crap mentioned in this subthread is welfare as far as I’m considered.

                Yall recall during the reagan years that the naval ships where stationed in states all around the country for the very reason as to get every congresscritter skin in the game and not want to do any base closing? That’s how pork get’s done.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

            The definition of “welfare” normally means “money that flows towards dark people“.

            Present company excluded.Report