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Critique of PR in American Conservative magazine by Jon Basil Utley

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  • freeutahns
    The American Conservative magazine s readership is mostly libertarian and paleo-conservative or Old Right conservatives, which should not be confused with
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 5, 2005
      The American Conservative magazine's readership is mostly
      libertarian and paleo-conservative or "Old Right" conservatives,
      which should not be confused with neo-conservatives.

      I also believe Utley low-balls the percentage of the vote the "Old
      Right Party" would get in the United States. Although I would not
      necessarily equate "libertarian" and "Old Right," according to a
      poll done in 2000, at least 16 percent of Americans may be
      ideologically "libertarian," even though only two percent of
      Americans describe themselves as "libertarian".

      See http://www.theadvocates.org/library/poll-results.html

      Non-interventionism, decentralized power, and Choice Voting or open
      list PR vs. closed list PR would be good points to address to this
      magazine's readership.

      The American Conservative
      1300 Wilson Blvd. Suite 120
      Arlington, VA 22209
      703-875-3350 - fax

      Rob Latham



      June 6, 2005 Issue

      PR Problems
      Proportional representation creates dysfunctional democracies.

      by Jon Basil Utley

      Most democracies in the Third World have not brought about great
      prosperity. Many are corrupt, dysfunctional, and in disarray, unable
      to control crime or perform the most basic functions of civil

      As Washington promotes a constitution for Iraq and Arab rulers are
      pressed to reform, we would do well to analyze why some democracies
      work so much better than others.

      The rules for economic development and effective government are
      proven and well known; what's less understood is why many societies
      are unable to adopt them. The failure is often blamed on their
      cultures or on corruption, but a common affliction is their
      political structures: nearly all have proportional representation

      To understand PR, imagine if our Congress were composed of four
      parties, Democrats, Republicans, a traditionalist Old Right Party,
      and Greens, each of the last two with 5 percent of the seats. Also
      imagine that each party is run by the old men who had been around
      the longest, perhaps a Senator Byrd for one and Bob Dole for
      another. There would be little new thinking and close political
      disputes would often be decided by the swing votes—the Old Right and
      Greens. That system of government, with even more parties, afflicts
      most of Eastern Europe and Latin America. Any political party that
      can garner at least 5 percent of the vote would obtain
      representation in Congress.

      It gets worse. Each party runs nationwide, and its candidates are
      determined by lists controlled by each party's machinery—usually old-
      timers who are owed favors and remember grudges. The old men name
      themselves to the top of the list while the younger start at the
      bottom, if the bosses approve of them. If the party then wins 40
      seats in Congress, the first 40 names on the list get selected. Old
      politicians like this system: they rarely lose office. Also,
      reformers—often seen as troublemakers—can be eliminated by simply
      keeping them off, or at the bottom, of the lists. Corruption is
      endemic and protected as voters can't throw out an individual
      representative. As long as their party gets at least 5 percent of
      the vote, the old-timers at the top of the list will always have
      seats in Congress and decide who else gets on the lists. In
      parliamentary governments, the winning alliance then votes for one
      of their old leaders to become prime minister.

      In the American and English systems, each legislator represents a
      distinct geographical region. He can be voted out in the next
      election and new candidates can challenge a powerful incumbent. With
      proportional representation, those who represent the whole nation or
      large parts of it represent everybody and nobody. They can speak in
      generalities and are rarely called to account for specific votes,
      policies, or consequences.

      Venezuela is a perfect example, all too typical of Latin America.
      From the '70s to the '90s, two old men, Carlos Andres Perez and
      Rafael Caldera, each won the presidency twice as voters had no other
      choice: in rejecting one, they got the other. In their desperation
      to get rid of the corrupt, incompetent, statist, and paralyzed old
      parties, they voted for leftist ideologue Hugo Chavez, the current
      president. Vladimir Chelminski, former director of the Venezuela's
      Chamber of Commerce, described the situation in the Wall Street

      For decades, the quality of life had been deteriorating. The
      democratic process seemed to function well only for the benefit of
      politicians and their friends. The political parties that had
      alternated in power since 1958, Social Democrats and Social
      Christians, were very much the same. Both offered socialism with
      political freedom. Their policies paid lip service to the poor but
      always proved counterproductive. Private property and contracts
      meant little in their laws. Two-thirds of willing workers could not
      find employment in the formal economy …

      Israel's government offers another example of nationwide
      proportional representation. A party can get seats in the Knesset if
      it wins just 1.5 percent of the nationwide popular vote, some 55,000
      votes. The system gives crucial power to the religious parties, a
      determined minority that gains some 20 percent of the vote. As the
      swing bloc, which could go with the Labor or Likud to form a
      government, they have such great political power that they are
      exempt from military service. Many don't even have jobs or pay

      There are a few nations doing fairly well with systems of PR,
      Slovakia and Spain, for example. But they are young democracies with
      young leaders. Their parliaments haven't yet atrophied into the
      paralysis of older PR governments. They are also ethnically
      homogeneous. Note, however, that the successful East Asian
      democracies (and India) do not use proportional representation,
      although some have a mixed system with 10 to 20 percent of their
      legislatures elected with PR. Russia's Duma is 50 percent PR,
      Mexico's is 40 percent. Chile is one of the very few Latin American
      nations not to use the system.

      Ruth Richardson, former Finance Minister of New Zealand and an
      architect of that nation's free-market reform and prosperity in the
      early '90s, spoke at a conference last year in Moscow sponsored by
      Cato Institute. She argued that many nations "afflicted with
      proportional representation" had a low quality of public policy and
      great difficulty at legislating meaningful reforms. She cited much
      of Western Europe as an example. Except for England, it has been
      unable to reform its paralyzing labor laws and anti-entrepreneurial

      Peru's great economist Hernando de Soto also focused on this problem
      in his classic book The Other Path, arguing that democracy works so
      much better in Anglo-Saxon nations because they do not use PR.

      With this global civics lesson at its disposal, the United States
      still chose proportional representation for its Iraqi experiment in
      democratic transition. The system draws no electoral districts with
      distinct territorial representation such as the U.S. Congress, which
      gives a balancing power to smaller states and constituencies. Such a
      bicameral system as America has would help resolve the problem of
      protecting minorities such as the Kurds, Sunnis, and Christians in a
      Shia-majority population. The concern about terrorists preventing
      people from voting in Sunni areas would have been solved if there
      were precise geographical districts each entitled to a
      representative in the Congress. Then a low voter turnout would not
      have mattered. The people in the district would still have a

      European analyst Frank Glodek, in a letter to the Central Europe
      Review, May 2000, noted:

      Proportional representation is particularly dangerous in any nation
      that has suffered from ethnic, ideological or religious divisions,
      virtually compelling people to vote along these pre-established
      lines, regardless of whether they know it to be destructive and of
      their preference to do otherwise. Not even a five percent vote
      threshold for a party to hold seats in parliament is a barrier to
      these voting patterns and their negative impact.

      Why? When you have proportional representation, you must assume
      the `others' will vote ethnically, putting you at risk. The only way
      to protect yourself is by doing the same…

      A proportional representation system can never unite so many diverse
      nations and peoples effectively, as it is inherently and unavoidably
      biased toward extremism, instability, immoderation and
      ineffectiveness. … People forget that the United States was, from
      the outset, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.

      Dysfunctional democracies foster instability and misery in much of
      the world. They represent a threat to American interests and world
      prosperity. Although other cultural factors, such as how prime
      loyalties reside with family and tribe rather than nation, also play
      a critical role, Washington's efforts towards building prosperous,
      moderate governments in Iraq and the Arab world need to encourage
      systems which have proved successful elsewhere.

      Jon Basil Utley, a senior fellow with the Mises Institute and the
      Atlas Foundation, has written and broadcast for 17 years on the
      Voice of America about Third World economic issues.

      June 6, 2005 Issue
    • Demorep1@aol.com
      ONLY the political MORONS in the U.S.A. commenting on the dysfunctional PARLIAMENTARY regimes of mixed legislative and executive powers in Europe have problems
      Message 2 of 2 , Jun 6, 2005
        ONLY the political MORONS in the U.S.A. commenting on the dysfunctional PARLIAMENTARY regimes of mixed legislative and executive powers in Europe have problems with P.R. -- since they are too brain dead ignorant to detect that the lack of TOTAL separation of legislative and executive powers -- with separate elections for executive officers -- national Presidents, etc. causes the problems in such regimes.

        IF there is such TOTAL separation of powers, then on EVERY issue there will or will NOT be a p.r. majority in a legislative body -- for the voters to take note of at the next election (which should be annual).

        Democracy NOW via p.r - in ALL nations -- before it is too late.
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