What Would a Parliamentary System Look Like in the US?


Roland Dodds

Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren't teetotalers). He is a regular inactive at Harry's Place and Ordinary Times.

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132 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    So it looks like the GOP thinks Trump will drop out sometime this month and they can find a replacement that can beat HRC:


    Warning: Autoplay video in link.Report

    • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

      I have to believe he will stumble forward as he has for months now. Is there historical precedent for a major candidate dropping out at this stage of the race?

      What a crazy political year…Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine says:

      This would not surprise me at all… I’ve said here previously that I suspected that Trump was looking to be bought out. That the RNC couldn’t or wouldn’t do that struck me as malpractice. Quite likely he started to overvalue his bargaining position making such negotiations extremely tedious. But, I’m wondering what he could possibly have wanted that was more costly than, well, this.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        Maybe but these are my questions:

        1. How is the GOP going to placate the Trump die-hards?

        2. What will their message be? How will they undo all the damage that Trump has done so quickly?

        3. Do the GOP really think they can win? The Democrats are very united and I don’t think this is going to ununite them but it might allow a few BernieBros to vote for Stein in peace. My bet is that the GOP wants to write off the Presidency and mitigate some damage in Congress. Who is willing to be a fall guy for this position?Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

          If the GOP drops Trump they are not going to win the election and I think they know that. It’s just to prevent him from completely destroying the party.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            Agreed, I am puzzling over why Trump would play along. I suppose to avoid losing to Hillary?
            “This game is rigged so I’m quitting. *microphone drop*”
            Hmm actually I can see that.Report

            • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

              “This game is rigged so I’m quitting. *microphone drop*”

              That sounds about right for a few reasons:

              1) It makes Trump look like he’s in control and we all know he loves that. He never calls anybody. They call him.
              2) It spares the party supporting him.
              3) It damages our democracy by shaking a large, angry, and fairly well-armed voting bloc’s faith in the integrity of our elections.

              Picture perfect. It sounds like a trade both Trump and the Republicans would be fine with.Report

        • Avatar Marchmaine says:

          1. Trump dropping out is a potential disaster; Trump being bought out would have been a negotiated exit to keep the die-hards on-board.
          2. Again, Drop-out/Buy-out are different issues to message. Trump on-board with a cabinet post or VP slot or ceremonial grand Pubah sash is “workable.”
          3. Depends on the exit and whom they select to run instead. 95% chance it is a dumpster fire that catches the french-fry oil on fire as it hurtles towards the gas-station. But, sure, a negotiated exit and re-boot would be something rather than nothing.

          In a weird way, NeverTrump treated Trump as an ideological problem and removed the political/business solution from the table.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Seems like wishful thinking. If Trump drops out, it would make the GOP just look even more disorganized. Trump’s supporters aren’t going to be happy with anybody that could replace Trump, especially if they were primary candidates. That means many Trump supporters would just stay home.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        Yeah, I’m trying to picture the Jim Hofts of the world accepting a Ted Cruz or Mike Pence as a substitute for The Donald.

        After you have been mainlining Heisenberg Blue, drinking stale light beer just doesn’t give you the same rush.Report

      • Avatar Autolukos says:

        It’s pure wishcasting as far as I can tell. Trump is in for the long haul; given who he his, he might even try again in 2020 if he loses.Report

        • Avatar Aaron David says:

          Yeah, I am in agreement with this but I rather doubt that he would try again in 2020 if he doesn’t win. He doesn’t seem the type to keep going after a loss.Report

          • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

            By 2020, he’ll be claiming he never actually ran for President. People just wrote him in and carried him through the primaries and general election that way. He’ll be reminding us that he didn’t want to be President anyway, no matter how much we begged him.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      I read the article as saying that they’re planning for that as a possibility, rather than that they think it’s more likely to happen than not.Report

    • Avatar Joe M. says:

      It would be wise if they could. I used to think that Trump was just air cover so the eventual R nominee could throw all the red meat they wanted during the primary and not have to own it in the general. This may be another way to get there. It would be hard to get the overall level of hate for the new guy as exists for Trump and Clinton in the space of three months.

      Also, there is Pence and the 25th Ammendment Option.Report

    • A Trump drop out wouldn’t necessarily mean he’s out of the race. In some states (maybe most states?) isn’t he already on the ballot and not removable? Or can he still be removed from the ballot? I’m not sure how that works. But assuming he can’t, he’ll still be a person someone can vote for.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter says:

      Oh I wish. At this point it’d probably have to be his VP, but that would work.

      Problem is I don’t believe it short of him faking (or having) a heart attack.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        Pence is at least doing his CYA strategy and doing a 180 of whatever Trump is doing.

        But I am a partisan Democrat so….Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    An American parliamentary system would probably still keep federalism because of the size of the United States and how the British organized their colonies before 1776. We would also probably have FPTP voting because of how old the United States is. The United Kingdom and Canada have not ditched FPTP so I can’t imagine the United States doing it either. We will still be a two party Republic but third parties might old some seats. An Evangelical Party might be able to win in certain areas of the country and a Far Left in districts dominated by college towns.

    My main guess is that the United States might have more of a European style welfare state because a liberal PM would always have the support of a liberal Congress and not have to deal with as many veto points. The Senate would be reluctant to not approve anything passed by the House because they would not want to go the way of the House of Lords.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      This is a good point. People act like “parliamentary system” and “multi-party system” are the same thing, when that association only developed once parliamentary systems started adopting proportional representation.

      Your second paragraph gets at what the key feature of a parliamentary system is – that someone always gets to be in charge.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Parliamentary systems do tend to be easier on small parties even if they use a FTPT electoral system though. Canada and the United Kingdom has had several small parties since the 19th century that did manage to play part in the political system in a way that third parities could never do in the United States.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        District size counts also. If the US sized its districts the same as the UK, the House would have ~3250 members (if like New Zealand, ~8500). Colorado, where I live, would have 60. Given those numbers, an environmental party could probably win seats, even without proportional representation. California would have almost 400, and could probably elect representatives who didn’t speak any English.Report

  3. Avatar North says:

    I really have a hard time taking the graphic seriously because it sure looks like it’s weighing things heavily in favor of the left side of the spectrum. Hillary and Bernie have a metric ton of seats and for a lefty like Bernie to be pulling in that kind of numbers? I dunno, it doesn’t taste right.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine says:

      My first impression as well. I think they are working with 2016 polling data and just slapping the seats on the people… so in many ways, not a serious assessment of American political tribes – just a reflection of the weird 2016 primary season.

      I think if we had a conservative Proportional system, we’d see a “better” divide of political parties – ideally letting off some steam that the 2 party system doesn’t tolerate very well. Plus, having every issue claimed by one side or the other just isn’t healthy because even if you want to prioritize A rather than B the 2 party system has ossified A&B as a joint package.

      FPTP wouldn’t, IMO, be the way to go… proportional with high thresholds would be a starting point. I’m sure Will has a full length post on the comparative proportional systems and the pros- cons- ready to go.Report

      • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

        Agreed. I think the “conservative party” is under represented in this seat breakdown and the social-democrat party is way over represented.Report

        • Avatar J_A says:

          The Conservative Party’s allocation of votes seems about right to me. At the end it’s only the Money! leg of the Republican Party, the Kasich and Jeb! voters. The two largest vote getters, Trump and Cruz, campaigned almost solely on the Moats!, Guns!, and God! axis. Even Marco campaigned (or started his campaign) more on being a hawk than on being the sane conservative in the room.

          The Money! Faction has an influence in the GOP’s Leadership totally unrelated to the number of votes they bring to the poll. It’s just that USA campaigns are costly and you need the Money! guys to get people elected. When the Koch brothers offer to spend $ 1bn in the 2016 electoral cycle, as long as you agree to support their platform, a platform with zero God! or Guns! and very little Moats!, you get more Money! Congresspeople than you would just by bringing Money! voters to the polls.

          We are assuming [a can opener] campaign reform here, similar to what you have in other Parliamentary regimes.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            I’m with J_A I think that the seats trimmed off the Social Democrats should probably be added to the Christian Coalition if you really wanted a more representative parliament. They’re in decline at the moment but it was only a few years ago they were hugely powerful and it was because they could turn out the votes. I think the conservative faction is about right in size. Just the Money! and libertarians.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

      It seems like it’s the result you’d get if everybody who answered polls voted, but not the result you get from the people who actually vote.Report

      • Avatar J_A says:

        I have much more trouble with the allocation between Conservatives, Liberals, and Social Democrats

        1. A Conservative party that has shed its God!, Guns!, and Moats! wings would be very attractive to a non-negligible portion of the Democratic coalition, people of the center-right, like me, that feel that Hillary is already too far left, and were mildly put-off by what she offered in her convention speech. It would depend a lot on the position of the new Conservatives with respect to the welfare safety net, but if they could be like the UK Tories, it could be a very successful party.

        2. It might be a naming problem, but I find Hillary very much a middle of the road Social Democratic candidate. Even during the Clintom 42 presidency I found her to be to the left of her husband, who would better represent a purely Liberal Party. At the same time, I thing Bernie is more a far left – Greens or Podemos- candidate than a conventional Social Democrat,

        3. Hence I think there would be in real life some reallocation of votes. The right wing of the Democratic Party (fiscally conservative and socially liberal) would drift towards the Conservatives, and the remanent, more left wingish, Hillary Democrats, could pull in some Populist vote (at least from the non-racist Populists) as well as a non insignificant fraction of Bernie voters.

        The net result would be probably larger Conservative and Liberal parties, smaller Populist (not by much) and Social Democrats (significantly) parties, and little to no change to the Christian Coalition.Report

  4. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    The info graphic was very interesting but I genuinely don’t know where the line is between Social Democratic and Liberal. And I don’t mean that as a dig. Anyone care to explain?Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Well I’d assume “Liberal” in this case would encompass everyone from the nakedly corporatist center, all the neo-liberals to maybe a bare majority of the market liberals.
      “Social Democratic” then would include the other more heavily interventionist of the market liberals (the heavy safety net/heavy regulation set), the social democrats and of course the anti-market leftist fringe.
      Minority groups, your Latin Americans, gays, African Americans etc.. would probably divvy between the two parties depending on other considerations since both parties would be similar on social policies though the “Liberal” Party would probably have a religious liberty platform that the “social democrats” would by and large disdain.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy says:

    What’s a parliamentry system? #imdumbReport

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Its the most common form of democratic government. The basic feature is that there is a strong link between the executive branch and the legislative branch because the head of government, usually called the Prime Minister, is elected by the Legislature from it’s members rather than the electorate. Cabinet ministers are also members of the Legislature usually. The Executive is technically responsible to the Legislature and can be dismissed by them by a Vote of No Confidence, which will trigger a new general election.Report

      • You brought this up to me in the other thread and I was a little snippy about it. But now that I’ve had a day to think it over, I think you’re right, Lee.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Thanks, @leeesq .

        It also seems like the legislature is not directly elected but that seats are given based on the proportion of votes won in a general election in which voters choose parties but not candidates. Do I have that right?

        E.g., If a parliament has 100 seats and the voters cast 35% of ballots for the Blue Party and 27% for the Green Party and 18% for the Purple Party and 20% for the Red Party, than the Blues get 35 seats, the Greens 27, the Purples 18, and the Reds 20. The individual parties appoint folks to fill those seats. Those 100 people then choose a PM and since none have a majority (and I assume it is rare for any group to ever have a majority), there is necessary coalition-building and the like?

        If I have that right and a “No Confidence” vote is eventually arrived at, thereby triggering a new general election, those sitting folks — theoretically at least — all stand to lose their seats (either because a party itself loses seats or because they are replaced)?

        And if there isn’t ever a NC vote, are there still regular general elections?Report

        • Avatar Brent F says:

          What you are talking about is a feature of some parliaments but not others. The definining feature of a parliament is that the executive is responsible to the legislature and needs the support of the legislature to remain in power.

          How parliamentarians are selected to serve is variable and can be done in many different ways. What you are describing is a parliament with a national proporitionat respresentative electoral system, which is a sub-variety. UK and Canada don’t have that, instead elect MPs essentially the same way America elects members of the house of representatives.

          Whether a NC vote triggers an election is also something that depends on the particular system, as in many things, states will have their own rules.Report

        • Avatar J_A says:

          Mostly, no, you don’t get it right.

          Parliaments have a fixed maximum duration. A NC vote dissolves the parliament and triggers the election of a new one. If there is no NC, then the parliament lasts its full tenure and a regularly scheduled election is called.

          Most parliamentary democracies have geographically determined electoral circumscriptions. This allows regional candidates or parties the opportunity to be elected if there is a regional issue (think Scotland, the North League in Italy, or the Basque and Catalonians in Spain) the circumscription might be one representative (UK) or several. All circumscriptions might have the same number of representatives, or a different number to reflect, for instance, the differences in regional population (Spain).

          Within the circumscription the representatives are allocated more or less as you describe, but there might be restrictions (minimum percentage of votes, in the region or nationally, for instance). You also might have additional representatives corresponding to parties that reached a certain percentage of votes nationally, but didn’t get enough votes in any specific circumscription to get a properly elected representative.

          You can add on top mechanisms like Automatic Alternative voting, in which if a candidate fails to reach a threshold, his votes are allocated to the person/party that voter selected as second preference (The Labour leadership election Jeremy Corbyn won incorporated that mechanism, though he cleared the minimum without needing any second preference votes). There are also systems on how to deal with factions (how to allocate eight seats among three parties, for instance)

          It can make a nerd happy for daysReport

  6. Avatar J_A says:

    I think The Economist’s hypothetical better represents the current reality of the US population political preferences than the current duopoly does.

    Right now, most people do not chose to join one of the two parties, they are thrown towards one of them because they are scared of/wary of/thrown out of the other party. The result is that a lot of voters’ preferences are not really represented in Washington. And there is no need to represent those voters, because those voters have nowhere else to go.

    As an example, let’s take abortion, that litmus test that allegedly makes it impossible for a SoCon to vote for the Dems. There was an opportunity during the 1109th and 110th Congresses, the years 2005-8 when the GOP controlled Congress, the White House and more or less the Supreme Court, to pass extensive legislation curtailing abortion to within a hairsbreadth of existence. And, of course, no such legislation was passed or even presented. Because, actually, if the GOP ever got to restrict/make abortion illegal, then the SoCons would be able to start voting Democratic, because they agree with the Dems in many economic issues.

    I’m picking this particular example because you have four years where your party, the party that screams that abortion is the worst genocide in history had the opportunity to do something about it, and chose not, but most other political/social/ethnic groups are in similar boats. They vote for the party that is against the party that they feel is against them, not the party that is FOR THEM.

    In addition, a multiparty parliamentary system would strengthen federalism (whether this is good or bad is a different discussion – my personal take is that federalism is bad for the USA and should be let to die a quiet death), because there is a big correlation between geography and the five parties of The Economist – though more than one party would be strong in a single geographical unit. For instance, The Liberal Party and the Christian Coalition Party would basically wipe out the Deep South, whites voting overwhelmingly for the latter, and blacks for the former. Would this be an opportunity to bridge the black-white divide in that region, by having them vote together in regional issues? Perhaps. We can hope so.

    tl/dr. Yes, parliamentary, multi party government would be good for the USAReport

  7. Avatar Damon says:

    That graphic is completely wrong. It’s the same failure as thinking that there are two parties in our current system. There are two ostensible parties, but the differences between them, for all their sound and fury, are pretty small.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      That argument has never been strong, but it’s particularly weak this year.Report

      • Avatar Joe Sal says:

        meh, perspective. When you walk into the ring of authoritarianism and see Trump over on one side and Hillary 40 feet away on the other side it looks like there is some distance there.

        Now if you walk a mile away, those two people look really close.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        Oh? The Dems, via HRC want to enforce their will on society (for our own good) in the areas of health care, higher CAFE standards, higher taxes, etc.. The Repubs want to do the same (four our own good) in the areas of abortion, marriage, drugs, etc. What do you see common between those positions?

        “For our own good”. Only the method/target changes. The willingness to use gov’t to force a subset of society to conform to THEIR view of how people should live their lives.Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

          That both parties believe in the federal government to do things. Something that’s a vast majority view outside of college dorm rooms and Internet comment sections.Report

          • Avatar Damon says:

            So if “the majority believes it’s ok and right to do X”, that’s a valid reason/legitimate reason? Why didn’t that work for slavery or the Germans in WW2? Maybe it’s ok if it’s not enslaving people or killing them then?Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

              Yes, people have certain rights. You don’t have a right to a low tax rate or dump pollution in the air. Sorry. You aren’t on an island.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                And it seems you believe that “if the majority believes in something” that justifies making everyone else comply. I’ve seen my rights slowly erode, so those “certain rights” are what society deigns to give me. After all, it’s just “a scrap of paper”.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Your rights are whatever other people will die for.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                You obviously don’t understand the concept of rights. Other people are not relevant.Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko says:

              Well, yes, because this is what democracy is.

              Up to certain limits, because the Constitution takes certain policy choices off the table, to paraphrase the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Because that’s what constitutional democracy is.

              We aren’t talking about abolishing the Constitution’s highest-law-of-the-land guarantees of individual liberties. We’re talking about what it would look like if we amended Articles I and II and some of the corresponding Amendments to create a British-style parliament in place of the existing Congress and President.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                Well, yes, because this is what democracy is.

                Exactly. Tyranny of the majority.

                “We aren’t talking about abolishing the Constitution’s highest-law-of-the-land guarantees of individual liberties.” Nah, we’re just talking about the slow “reinterpretation” of those rights out of existence. You know, like when cops needed a warrant to search someone’s property, but the Border Patrol can stop me 100 miles from the border and search my car.. Like when keeping your month shut wasn’t “consent” because the person didn’t “speak up to exercise his rights”.

                Them’s some sold grounded in stone rights alright.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                This is part of the reason I claim subjective rule of law as a individual construct. Only the individual assigns value to individual rights or liberties. Society tends to devalue those more often than not.

                It may also be the divide between a republic and a democracy.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                Also most social constructs are rule by law that changes as authority shifts between factions.Report

  8. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    Would a parliamentary system save us? Well, did it save Britain from Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson? It did not. Given that at the time we started it, the war on Iraq had 70% popular support, a parliamentary system wouldn’t have saved us from that, either.

    People are terrible (and I love them!). No political system can be made that will ensure our terribleness doesn’t come to the fore and mess everything up. That’s up to us, as persuaders and voters, to do.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      That was for a referendum. The handle an mp has on local affairs seems very different than the the handle a congress person has. And requiring that your head of government be a) a currently elected mp as well and b) not directly selected by the public seems to prevent truly horrible head-cases from gaining power. So, even though Farage qua opposition politician who does not actually hold national office (MEP doesn’t count) persuaded a lot of britons to leave, it is very unlikely that he would have ever become prime minister. And it is this agenda setting power of the PM and his cabinet which is important. Unlike congresspersons, MPs can’t just amend a bill on the floor. This will also tend to make legislation more coherent.Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay says:

        I think you are talking now about the presence of political intermediation, which we once had in the US, but has gone the way of primaries. In a sense, you are arguing the case for superdelegates, and in favor of Jonathan Rauch’s piece on political disintermediation. (I loved it but many of my fellow travellers did not appear to get it at all.)

        But intermediation acts as a low-pass filter. Tony Blair still managed to really cock things up, and get lots of Brits mad at him.Report

  9. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I used to think a parliamentary system would be a big win for libertarians. We’d team up with the Republicans to block authoritarian economic legislation from the Democrats, and we’d side with the Democrats to block authoritarian social legislation from the Republicans. The end result would be roughly libertarian. There are three problems with this:

    1. The Republicans are more authoritarian on economics than I thought.
    2. The Democrats are more authoritarian on social issues than I thought.
    3. The Libertarians would probably be outnumbered by the Populists, who would vote in favor of authoritarian legislation of both kinds.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Yeah the sad fact is there aren’t many libertarians out there (as a % of the voting electorate).Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        or that voteReport

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        It might help if they didn’t use words like authoritarian to describe anybody who disagreed with them on any issue and tried to think about why people and groups they think would benefit from their policies actively disagree them rather than assume the act in bad faith.Report

        • Avatar Marchmaine says:

          Exactly; the correct word to use in those circumstances is racist.Report

          • Avatar Damon says:

            Indeed, because believing that that people using the power of gov’t to force other people to do something they otherwise wouldn’t is the definition of racism.Report

            • Avatar Don Zeko says:

              Isn’t “using the power of the government to force other people to do something they otherwise wouldn’t” what every government everywhere does? Enforcing criminal law means forcing people not to rob and murder their neighbors.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                Yes, but I’m not speaking generally of criminal law. I’m speaking of social policy such as abortion, health care, and such. See my post farther up.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                No, I have, and I disagree and just generally find the sort of rhetoric you’re using irritating. You mention abortion and health care as areas where the Dems are forcing a certain way of life on people, but allowing people to get abortions (although potentially objectionable for other reasons) isn’t forcing anybody to do anything.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                Actually the abortion comment was regarding repubs. The health care was Dem targeted. And, I’ll certainly take issue with you if you want to argue that the ACA wasn’t forced upon the country.

                No, if you find my rhetoric irritating, you’re free to ignore my posts. There’s enough things in life that are irritating as is. No need to add to your burden, but i’m still going to be of the opinion that gov’t meddles way to much into people’s every day life.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                Ok, what I’m trying to get across (unsuccessfully) is that I don’t find “is the govt forcing people to do things” to be a terribly useful frame, since the universe of reasons why we might overrule our basic libertarian instincts is so vast. Virtually everyone thinks the govt should force some people to do some things but not others. To quote the old joke, now we’re just haggling. So the question then is “do we have a good enough reason force these people to do this thing in this way?” Obviously you and I disagree on very many such questions, but to my mind that’s the better way to talk about scope of government.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                “Virtually everyone thinks the govt should force some people to do some things but not others. ”

                Yep, that’s the fundamental problem. People think their reasons are correct and justified. I’m saying that they aren’t in about 99% time. And it’s usually those people who support this kind of thinking, that aren’t on the receiving end of that force.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                The libertarian shorthand seems to be liberty v. coercion. I find it generally unpersuasive as well. So do most people.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                Saul, ALL gov’t is coercion. By definition is has to be. The simple test is to “not obey” and see what happens. Then “resist” when that coercion is tried on you forcefully. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all gov’t action is wrong or bad. It means that people should understand what gov’t is and how it functions and that there are consequences to their votes.

                Most people find the concept unpersuasive because either they don’t agree with the concept, don’t understated it, figure it’ll get done to someone else, or they go along to get along.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                Or we understand that “everything is coercion” doesn’t do any work to clarify things.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                One mans social construct is literally another mans prison. So playing coy with coercion is a first order state of denial.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                I consider the private ownership of property as an unjust coercion of my pre-existing natural rights to graze my cattle anywhere I want.

                But of course the legal structure protecting my property claims to those cattle is also coercion, but the good kind.

                Now the enforcement of contracts when I buy and sell cattle is either the good coercion or the bad coercion, depending on how the ox is gored.

                So really, its coercion all the way down.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                I count four social constructs in how you formed your argument. Unpack how coercion works in those four social constructs and we might get somewhere interesting.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                No we wouldn’t.

                The whole purpose of claiming pre-existing natural rights is to pre-emptively block any attempt to mitigate or limit them.

                Rights exist, the way I say they exist, end of discussion. Any attempt by you to alter the definition of my rights is itself coercion.

                This is my point, that using the words coercion so promiscuously is like how leftists use “exploitation”- it becomes a way to prevent discussion, not facilitate it.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                I somewhat understand what your getting at and Stillwater took a swing at me with the ‘natural rights’ stuff awhile back. I’m not the guy your going to connect with that mechanism.

                To unpack coercion in those four social constructs you built your argument around would take a lot of effort, and if you don’t care to, I understand. But again to dismiss coercion in those can dismiss the argument you are trying to make.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                What do you mean re: dismissing coercion. Chip’s point is pretty clearly that the sort of individual property rights a natural law type might appeal to are not absolute, require coercion to meaningfully exist, and can come into conflict with other rights. In other words, they aren’t the end of discussion.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                That may be true of the natural rights angle. I’m not sure how much we are talking past each other at that point.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                Maybe it would be useful to parse the coercion in social constructs versus individual constructs and examine the differences and path dependencies?Report

              • Avatar Murali says:


                The problem is that however you divvy up social and individual constructs, even if coercion based on one gets you (extensionally) libertarian results, doing so does not seem to track what strikes us as wrong about particular instances of coercion.

                What tracks our beliefs about instances of justified or unjustified coercion is whether we think we have conclusive reasons to endorse those acts. (When spelled out like that, the statement seems tautological) What can give you roughly libertarian results is the more fundamental principle to apply coercion only when each and every member of society (or some suitably idealised version of us) take ourselves to have adequate reasons to endorse such acts.

                This better tracks what seems to be going wrong in certain central cases of illiberal coercion (think religious coercion etc), does not assume off the bat that property claims are absolute, but still, at the end of the day (arguably) gets you classical liberal results.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                I think it matters a great deal about how one divvys up constructs, and how coercion works in those realms.

                After you unpack the coercion occuring it may be useful in seperating the modern liberalism and branches of neo-liberalism from what you and I would consider classical liberalism.

                Correct me if I am wrong, but it seemed classical liberalism gave more consideration to individual constructs. Illiberalism will matter in what context we are discussing.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                What do you mean individual construct? By social constructs, we normally tend to mean things which are the product of inter-subjective agreement. E.g. language is a social construct because the link between symbol and meaning has to be mutually agreed upon in order for communication to take place. The market value of a good is a social construct because it depends firstly on the agreement between buyer and seller and secondly on all the other actual and potential exchanges everyone else in society is willing to make. Any implementation of individual rights in a social context is also going to be a social construct in that in order for any system of rights to be implemented, people must mutually agree (for whatever reason) to respect those rights. It is bound up in various feelings of reciprocity and fairness that we have that we are willing to respect others rights only provided that they respect ours. Any humanly possible implementation is going to involve people keeping an eye out to what other people are doing before deciding to agree to the rules that define the rights. I would suppose that it is by now a rather banal hayekian point that these things are the product of human action but not of human design. But that could only be possible if the phenomenon itself is in a deep sense social (saying nothing about whether the social is reducible to the individual). We might after all imagine that if these constructs were some way individual, then their eventual form would reflect the conscious design of some individual. But we don’t ever see this when we examine the basic building blocks of a classical liberal order. (private property, individual rights, markets)Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                “By social constructs, we normally tend to mean things which are the product of inter-subjective agreement”

                Yes it tends to take a lot of this inter-subjective agreement to make a social construct. I often think more than two. Where these individual agreements align, the social constructs are made between those who agree.
                This is probably where your thoughts and mine match about classical liberalism.

                What happens to those who don’t agree? What happens to the tenets they keep for themselves? Here is where I depart from classical liberalism and do stand upon the notion that society is empirically the sum of its individual members.
                Those that don’t agree, don’t agree. Their will is not inherently owned by society or available to be made to agree.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Here is where I depart from classical liberalism and do stand upon the notion that society is empirically the sum of its individual members.

                You’re going to have to get a bit more complicated than that. Society cannot merely be the sum of its members, there has to be another ingredient. There are many ways to pick some N individuals in such a way that they are not members of the same society. This is important because one way of demarcating one society from another is by pointing to sets of rules that apply to all and only members of those societies*. One way of telling that the two of us are in different meat-space societies is that we owe (not necessarily in a moral sense, just in a legal or positive social rule sense) our taxes to different agencies. In fact the criterion I provide is still too crude. But some way of spelling out why everyone resident in the US belongs to the same society (even if they belong to different communities, clubs and associations) is going to end up pointing not just to geographic proximity (because people in new mexico are not part of the same society as those in mexico but are part of the same society as those in ohio even though the former is closer than the latter geographically) but also to the existence of some interpersonal rules which are in some sense non-optional for everyone in that society but not for those in others.

                This gets relevant to how we cash out what to do in cases where people disagree about what kind of rule is to non-optionally apply to them. And one solution to this problem (i.e. the libertarian, classical liberal or perhaps even more basically liberal solution) is that the rules which applies non-optionally are the rules which maximise (or more precisely maximin) the optionality of rules for each person.

                *This is still too simple as we often apply rules to outsiders who are visiting. But that’s an exception that we can put aside for now.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                “rules that apply to all and only members of those societies”
                Is this from a policy context?
                The reason I ask is that rules are a social construct, and if the overall population under these rules prefers not to follow them then they are unsustainable in the long term.

                Also if Mexico was in a war there may be some fraction of the population that would invest in defending Mexico because they would prefer Mexico remain a sovereign nation.

                If Canada went to war there may be some fraction of population of Ohio that would invest in defending Canada.

                So in the context of how to parse society I think it is important how people invest in the social constructs, and not neccessarily how lines are drawn on a map, or what antiquated rules are in place that may or may not reflect what people are in agreement about.

                The only way to accurately model who belongs to what social construct (or part of society) is to model each individuals investment in which social constructs(or lack of investment). When I say sum of all it’s individual members, I mean you have to define where these each individual is invested to get a overall picture of what society is.

                That’s how it looks from where I’m setting anyhow.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                This should have read:
                “Also if Mexico was in a war there may be some fraction of the New Mexico population that would invest in defending Mexico because they would prefer Mexico remain a sovereign nation.”Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Not necessarily from a policy context. Sometimes the basic norms are just unwritten and more spontaneous. Sometimes it might be their constitution, or maybe the constitution that is in their hearts.

                We might want (as a conceptual matter) to distinguish between facts that demarcate the existence of a society and facts make it the case that that society will be sustainable or stable for the right reasons. So, the question of what rules people accept or are committed to has more to do with stability for the right reasons and concerns of justice while the bare sociological description of a society at a given point in time need not account for whether it will exist tomorrow or five years from now.

                But I agree with you that the legitimacy of a given social order depends on how and if members of a society accept the fundamental social rules which govern their lives.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                That defines it well.
                I have more but it would probably muddy the waters. It’s always a joy discussing these things with you.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Yeah, it was fun talking with you. If you are interested in a bit of a difficult and technical read (which explores ideas along these lines) try out the Order of Public Reason by Gerald Gaus. If you can’t get a hold of the copy, email me at “a[my name]two eight four at gmail.com”. Remove square brackets and spaces and replace the relevant english words with arabic numerals. I’ve got academic access and can get hold of a copy.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                A great deal of talking past each other, I think. I appreciate that you wrote your post about social constructs, but because your use is a minority use of that term, I still sometimes feel like I have to translate your posts in order to understand your meaning (particularly when I’m at work and using my phone). Probably if we parse things further we’d find that we have a lot of very basic disagreements and that I think you’re making some spurious distinctions when you define what is individual v social, what is coercion and what isn’t. But more significantly, I don’t see what makes a social construct coercing someone inherently bad. The badness comes at a higher level of granularity.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                No worries, I think it’s good that we can admit that we have basic disagreements.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                and Stillwater took a swing at me with the ‘natural rights’

                In my defense, Joe, I’ve been assuming you’re offering a philosophical thesis about the nature of individuals’ conception of their role in society, and you’ve offered a (philosophical) distinction between individual constructs and social constructs justifying the thesis that social constructs are muy malo.

                My response in those earlier threads was that, on a philosophical level, a so-called “individual construct” seems to me just another example of a social construct (that is, that the concept of individuality you invoke to undergird the distinction is socially constructed). And I mentioned that the way to get outa this sorta problem is to go all-in on natural law. In the argument you’re making it seems to me natural law would come into play as a set of rights, or a natural conception of the individual, which exists both conceptually but also historically prior to (gotta use scare quotes here, sorry) “society”. With the conclusion being that individuals, and a robust naturalistic conception of the individual, can and do exist despite the corruptions societies impose. Which strikes me as a problem, since I’m pretty well convinced that natural law is a bunch of hooey.

                On the other hand, an empirically and pragmatically based thesis that individual outcomes, and by logical extension society’s outcomes on balance, would be greatly improved by rejecting a certain set of social constructs (while maintaining a subset of so-called “individual constructes”) is an interesting thesis, one advanced pretty regularly by Jason Kuznicki back in the day.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                Ah, ok, I didn’t know I was following so close to Jason’s foot prints. Natural is not a term that I consider needs to be in individual constructs. Man is separated from the natural condition enough it may not be useful.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                Replace ‘natural condition’ with ‘wild’ above. I forgot how much Hobbes screwed that term up by implying the natural condition of man was everyone at each others throats.Report

              • Avatar J_A says:

                Totally – There is literally no difference for Rod Dreher between his inability to discriminate against gays without any social costs whatsoever, and being inside the Angola prison. Literally none. He keeps telling us that every single day.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                Perchance some folks will decide that “they really shouldn’t coerce other people for their ideals”. Yeah, I’m a dreamer.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                If we’re going to retreat to this level of abstraction, can we at least admit that government is not the only source of coercion, and perhaps not even the primary one?Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                “Enforcing criminal law means forcing people not to rob and murder their neighbors.”

                To pick a nit, criminal law typically doesn’t force not to rob and murder, it punishes for robbing and murdering after the event.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                Sure, but then in that narrow sense the govt barely ever forces anyone to do anything; it prescribes punishments and rewards for various behaviors, which necessarily achieve a less than 100% compliance rate.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                Don Zeko:
                Isn’t “using the power of the government to force other people to do something they otherwise wouldn’t” what every government everywhere does? Enforcing criminal law means forcing people not to rob and murder their neighbors.

                Enforcement of any law can result in an agent of the state putting a gun to someone’s head. There are times where that is the best solution, but there are few instances which have that moral clarity.

                Lots of laws are passed in the effort to make people live their lives differently, but the gov is a gun, not a magic wand.Report

          • Avatar KenB says:

            [insert appropriate abbreviation for “wry laugh” here]Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq says:

            I do not like it when liberals who describe everybody who disagrees with liberal policy as a racist or a sexist either.Report

            • Avatar Damon says:

              But it’s “what they do”. Or call them “stupid”.

              Let me share some texts from a VERY LIBERAL (her words) HRC supporter:

              “It’s unfortunate that you and many other fails to recognize the brilliant choice they have.”

              “At least I have something to think with and / or don’t have said thinking tool shoved so far up my own ass that I can use it properly, unlike most americans now.”

              And my favorite used so often “I can’t believe you think like that”Report

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              It’s not even fucking that, dude.
              I can’t even vote for half of the fucking human race without being told that “there’s a special place in hell for women like me”

              I voted for Sestak. Proud of it. Don’t anyone dare tell me I don’t have enough brains to choose the person I agree with the most.

              Identity politics suck.Report

            • Avatar Marchmaine says:

              Very good, my work here is done.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      “1. The Republicans are more authoritarian on economics than I thought.
      2. The Democrats are more authoritarian on social issues than I thought.”

      Can you give some examples for each of these?Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        1. Republicans refuse to for instance abolish farm bills, continue to expand the welfare and regulatory state when they have the opportunity and power despite talking a good game (and with trump, even that last bit seems to have been thrown aside)

        2. Democrats, until recently, have been reluctant to push SSM, are often still against plural marriage, and are still overall, not that great on drug war issues.Report

        • Avatar Murali says:

          Also add democrats potentially or even likely going back on pledge to stop deportation of illegal immigrants except for those who commit violent crimesReport

  10. Avatar LTL FTC says:

    A very interesting question, no doubt, but there are a lot of details that need to be worked out that are just assumed away by making the idiosyncratic of individuals in the 2016 primaries a proxy for ideology. Seriously, where are the libertarians/Paulites?

    For example, in some systems, there is a threshold percentage for parties to take seats in a parliament. Thus, radical parties take votes away from the fringes of more mainstream parties and don’t deliver seats. What would this look like if you lopped off the Greens, Libertarians, secessionist and ethno-nationalists? Both far right and far left play nasty purity politics, and a system that makes it easy to get on the ballot could create a long tail of fringe parties.

    Then, what about more explicitly ethnic or racial parties? There are examples all around the world, from Finland (Swedes) to Israel (Arabs) and many places in between. A black party would probably have more bargaining power with the rest of the left parties than they do as Democrats, considering the lack of other options. Then again, a third way centrist coalition freeze-out of the fringes would be a catastrophe for a hard-left identity party. And what about a rural party that will happily glom on to any party in exchange for keeping the farm subsidies coming?Report

  11. Avatar Brent F says:

    Depends on what kind of a parliamentary system you have. What the Economist seems to be supposing is a German style PR system with high thresholds to keep out fringe parties. A Anglo-Commonwealth first past the post deal settles in on a 2 and 1/2 party system with two major parties who form governmets and between 1 and 3 smaller (possibly regional, possilby ideological) parties and would have a very different lay out than what the Economist supposes.

    Parliamentary system would prevent one of the major ills that affects American federal politics, the Gingrich strategy of breaking Washington doesn’t work because to be in power is to be responsible for something. Systemic corruption is probably more restrained in it that the Congress-Presidential system. On the other hand, America would have the increased regionalism and extremism issues and vulnerablitly to abuse of power from the center that Parliamentary systems have. Whether it is a net benefit is an open question.Report

  12. Avatar Dark Matter says:

    The thing about a Parliamentary system is winning one election is enough to put into place whatever plan you want, there’s no gridlock built into the system.

    Se we would have followed Europe’s lead in the 60’s and 70’s and built up these huge growth choking entitlement systems which are impossible to remove. Thus our average income would be a lot lower than it is now, and we probably would have dismantled the army a while ago.

    To be fair, we’re basically there now, it just took 40 years longer.

    So… ouch. No ‘super-power’ army means lots more regional battles. No clue what that would mean for the middle East, or the countries bordering Russia, but probably bad things.Report

    • Avatar Brent F says:

      Following your logic, Regean would have had the ability to remake the American federal government as he saw fit in the 80s, same likely with George Bush post 9/11.

      In practice, Parliamentary systems don’t overreach to the extent you are thinking. Nobody wants their big reform to die when they lose power so really big changes don’t just happen when somebody wins control of the government, they happen when the people proposing them are pretty confident they are what the electorate wants and will maintain. Parliaments tend to hew pretty strongly to the median voter and overreach is a perfect way to lose power and have all your gains reversed.

      On the superpower front, American has a dominant military because it only costs it around 4% of GDP to maintain said dominance (historically this isn’t a very large amount to spend on defense) which gives America big and obvious advantages to maintain it. The collective security it maintains is pretty safe regardless of governmental system.

      The biggest entitlement that American’s don’t have that other Western countries do is health insurance, and the current medical American system is so massively cost-inefficient in comparison that they could probably afford that pretty easily without that much strain to the tax base.Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter says:

        In practice, Parliamentary systems don’t overreach to the extent you are thinking.

        How many European Parliamentary governments spend more of their GDP than we do? I think all but Switzerland, and that’s without subtracting the GDP we spend on the military.

        Granted it’s not “one election”, more like “one new massive entitlement per election”, but also keep in mind the Dems were willing to put in place the ACA thinking it’d be popular no matter how unpopular it was… and because they knew (or believed) it’d be impossible to remove.

        From that point forward, anyone trying to get control of ACA spending, no matter how budget breaking it is, is going to be accused of literally killing little old ladies. And, to be fair, that will be correct.

        RE: Defense spending being 4% of GDP.
        In 1960 it was more like 10%, basically it’s been a linear line down with blips up for the wars.

        the current medical American system is so massively cost-inefficient in comparison that they could probably afford that pretty easily without that much strain to the tax base.

        When we’ve tried this at a state level, the result has been costs explode until the budget breaks. What we got with the ACA was insurance reform, what we needed was cost of medicine reform.Report

        • Avatar Brent F says:

          Europe spends very little on defense currently because for the most part they aren’t actually facing that big of a military threat and their security is underwritten by Pax Americana so its largely unnecesary.

          Your country’s Democrats put through ACA as they did because they had a once in a generational control of government that allowed them to enact a big agenda. Great Society in the 60s and the New Deal in the 30s occured under similar conditions. Similarly, George Bush pursued his big foreign policy adventures when he had control of government post 9/11.

          Control of government isn’t a generational opportunity in Parliament, they are ordinary and everything you can do someone else can undo and the biggest thing is to keep power as long as possible. This enforces moderation through self-interest even if a party theoretically can make massive changes if they are willing to risk being a kamikaze.

          American politics is a kind of trench warfare that forces factions to make their big gains when there is a rare breakthrough. Parliamentary politics are wars of manuever and very different rules apply.Report

  13. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Call it my conservative nature where politics are concerned, but I find this idea terrible. Partly because it seems like a knee-jerk reaction to a dilemma we’ve had exactly once in our presidential election history, partly because it assumes that when a political party is having problems the prescription is to overturn the entire system so they don’t have to figure their way out of it, and partly because I’m looking at other countries around the world and not really seeing how a parliamentary system has saved them from electing corrupt buffoons and ignoramuses.

    To me, this is like waking up after an all-night bourbon bender, and deciding that the way to make sure it never happens again is to switch to tequila.Report

    • Avatar Joe Sal says:

      I would bet the powers that be would have it captured in 60 days or less. Probably using playbooks from other nations.Report

    • To me, this is like waking up after an all-night bourbon bender, and deciding that the way to make sure it never happens again is to switch to tequila.

      I thought you considered it a bad idea.Report

  14. Avatar j r says:

    What system would get rid of the 2+ year election cycle? Whichever one can do that, I’ll support.Report

    • Avatar J_A says:

      It’s not so mch the two year election cycle, it’s the two year campaigns. That’s what the USA most needs to solve.

      Most parliamentary democracies have campaign durations limited by law to weeks or a couple on months (*). There is also a limit on campaign expenditures, most of which are publicly funded, minimizing the need for individually raising campaign funds.

      Finally, the parties’ machineries control the candidate selection process more thoroughly. Being primaried out is much less of a problem.

      (*) Remember that you only vote for the representative(s) of your parliamentary constituency. There is no national campaign ans it’s assumed weeks are enough for everyone in the district to know their candidates.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        Remember that you only vote for the representative(s) of your parliamentary constituency… ans it’s assumed weeks are enough for everyone in the district to know their candidates.

        Which is totally reasonable, given the average UK constituency has a population around 100,000. If US House districts were that size, my suburban city would get its own Representative, rather than sharing one across several other suburban cities (whose interests, to be honest, are not always perfectly aligned). A half-dozen town hall meetings/debates and everyone would have a chance to see the candidates up close and personal. It would also help — although not completely solve — the problem of geographic size. Amusingly, the fastest way to drive from the NW corner of Colorado’s 3rd district to the SE corner passes through parts of all six of the other districts, and takes on the order of eight hours.Report

        • Avatar J_A says:

          You wont find any stronger opponent of gerrymandering than myself, living among old oaks and swanky coffee shops and gastro pubs, at the tip of a crescent shaped congressional district whose other tip is the fishing Port of Houston.

          As much as I am a fan of the Port of Houston as an economic engine, its interests are not those of wine sipping arugula eating gastro pub customers who dwell under the shadow of 50 year old oaks.

          Apparently the only commonality is that arugula eating gastro pub customers and poor people forced to live next door to ports and oil and chemical plants have is we all vote DemocratReport

      • Avatar j r says:

        It’s not so mch the two year election cycle, it’s the two year campaigns.

        “Are y’all finished or y’all done?”Report

  15. Avatar b-psycho says:

    Dark Matter: we probably would have dismantled the army a while ago.

    And the problem there would be?Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter says:

      We stay out of WW2 and Hitler takes over Europe.
      We stay out of the Cold War and Stalin takes over Europe and various other countries.
      South Korea loses to North Korea and the Kims rule both.
      We skip Gulf War One and Saddam takes over various Middle East countries and dominates oil.

      Various other regional conflicts are taken to their natural conclusions, these conclusions are often ugly.Report