Removing Trump Won’t Fix American Democracy

The South Portico of the White House in Washington DC, July 27, 2012
The South Portico of the White House in Washington DC, July 27, 2012 (Wikimedia Commons/Carlos Delgado)

Dylan Matthews cautions in Vox that ending the Trump presidency will not fix, or even substantially ameliorate, most of the problems plaguing the American political system.

They were mounting for years before he took office — indeed, they made him possible — and they will continue to plague us for years after he leaves.

Matthews shares some of my ideas for fixing American democracy, including abolishing the Electoral College and moving toward proportional representation. He also suggests eliminating midterm elections and introducing public financing for elections.

Don’t tell conservatives, but what we’re talking about is making the United States more like a European democracy.

Are any of these reforms likely to happen? No. But even one or two would make a big difference. Read more “Removing Trump Won’t Fix American Democracy”

In Defense of Multiparty Democracy

Scale model of the United States Capitol
Scale model of the United States Capitol (Andy Castro)

Scott Lemieux sees two problems with ending the two-party system in the United States:

  1. It would split the Democratic coalition and do nothing to remedy conservative overrepresentation in the House and especially the Senate.
  2. What do you do about presidential elections?

As somebody who believes strongly in multiparty democracy (read my case for constitutional reform), let me respond. Read more “In Defense of Multiparty Democracy”

Americans Want Voting Reform, Analysis of Trump’s Attack on Syria

An old-fashioned lever voting machine used in New York City, New York, November 4, 2008
An old-fashioned lever voting machine used in New York City, New York, November 4, 2008 (Caren Litherland)

A Voice Of the People poll has found (PDF) majority support in the United States for introducing ranked-choice voting.

Also known as instant runoff, it would allow Americans to vote for third-party candidates without wasting their votes. Maine is the first state to consider it.

Another way to break up the Democratic-Republican duopoly would be to consolidate congressional districts.

I would support either. The two-party system has polarized Americans. We see in Europe that multiparty democracies are better at managing tensions. Read more “Americans Want Voting Reform, Analysis of Trump’s Attack on Syria”

The Rent Is Too High, Partisanship Versus Democracy

Homes in San Francisco, California, April 5, 2010
Homes in San Francisco, California, April 5, 2010 (Jerome Vial)

Will Wilkinson of the libertarian Niskanen Center tells The Washington Post that expanding affordable housing in America’s major cities is the key to reducing inequality.

Wages have barely budged in decades, yet housing costs have soared due to restrictive zoning and land-use policies. Young and working Americans are now unable to save. Homeowners are getting richer.

Kevin D. Williamson, a conservative columnist who was recently hired and then fired by The Atlantic for his right-wing views (more on that here), has similarly argued in National Review that working-class Americans left behind in the Rust Belt need to move to the coasts. He partly blames them for staying put, but recognizes that policy plays a role.

Consider California, where so many of the jobs in the new economy are. Its housing crisis (you can buy a private island or a castle in Europe for the price of a San Francisco apartment) is entirely man-made, “a result of extraordinarily restrictive zoning and environmental codes and epic NIMBYism of a uniquely Californian variety.”

A Republican Party wishing to renew its prospects in California (which it once dominated) or in American cities could — and should — make affordable housing the centerpiece of its agenda for the cities.

More on why Republicans ought to compete in American cities here. Handelsblatt reports that Berlin fears San Francisco-style housing problems. Read more “The Rent Is Too High, Partisanship Versus Democracy”

Government Should Stop Recording Gender Altogether

Visitors at the de Young museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, California, October 16, 2005
Visitors at the de Young museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, California, October 16, 2005 (Thomas Hawk)

Robin Dembroff has an elegant solution to the “gender war”: stop government recording gender altogether.

“Conservatives insist that the state should record what genitals I have,” Dembroff writes. “Liberals insist the state should instead record my self-identity.” Both assume that the state should be concerned with gender at all.

In so doing, each side — whether tacitly or intentionally — endorses the use of legal gender to reinforce its own preferred gender ideology.

Read more “Government Should Stop Recording Gender Altogether”

Americans Should Seriously Consider Constitutional Reform

View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, February 17, 2015
View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, February 17, 2015 (Matt Popovich)

I completely agree with Timothy B. Lee: Americans should seriously consider constitutional reform.

This weekend’s federal government shutdown — despite Republicans controlling both houses of Congress as well as the presidency — is further proof that the system is broken.

Extreme partisanship, polarization, the politicization of the judiciary, government-by-crisis, legislators’ inability to tackle major issues like entitlement reform and Congress’ unwillingness to execute its proper spending and war-declaration powers all argue for an overhaul of the American political system.

Lee fears it will take an even bigger crisis before Americans accept the need for change.

But he is also optimistic that widening the “Overton window” on this might improve the chances of fixing the problem before a catastrophe occurs. Read more “Americans Should Seriously Consider Constitutional Reform”

Both Left- and Right-Wing Critics of Britain’s NHS Have a Point

A hospital in London, England, February 21, 2010
A hospital in London, England, February 21, 2010 (Lars Plougmann)

Crises in Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) tend to provoke the same ideological debate: the right blames “socialized medicine”, the left calls for more money.

Neither side is completely wrong.

The Financial Times argues there are too many administrators and not enough frontline medical staff in English hospitals.

Repeated government reforms have spurred fragmentation and only added more layers of bureaucracy.

But “cuts” (really: restraint in the growth of health spending) haven’t helped, especially when the population is aging and requiring more services. Read more “Both Left- and Right-Wing Critics of Britain’s NHS Have a Point”

New Social Compact: Deregulation and Universal Basic Income

Manhattan New York
View of Madison Square Park in Manhattan, New York (Unsplash/Daryan Shamkhali)

I believe that to shrink the culture gap in Western democracies — between generally well-educated “globalists” and those who feel left behind — we need a new social compact.

The twentieth century’s was built on strong trade unions, lifetime employment and health and pension benefits tied to salaried jobs. The economy, and people’s expectations, have changed in such a way that this is no longer sustainable. But we haven’t come up with a replacement yet.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Dalibor Rohac may be onto something. He calls for a “grand bargain”: serious deregulation coupled with the introduction of a universal basic income. Read more “New Social Compact: Deregulation and Universal Basic Income”

Why Millennials Are More Sympathetic to Big Government

Voters listen to a speech by Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine in Davidson, North Carolina, October 12, 2016
Voters listen to a speech by Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine in Davidson, North Carolina, October 12, 2016 (Hillary for America/Alyssa S.)

Polls show that Americans under the age of 35 are more sympathetic to big government than their elders. Democrats have a 48-point advantage among millennial voters, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey.

That is not so surprising when you realize that their generation may be the first in a long time that is worse off than their parents’.

Michael Hobbes’ feature about millennials in The Huffington Post contains some sobering statistics.

On average, he writes, Americans under the age of 35:

  • Have 300 percent more student debt than their parents;
  • Are half as likely to own homes as young people were in the 1970s; and
  • Will probably have to work until they’re 75.

The stereotype of the overqualified liberal arts graduate working as a barista is only half-correct. Many young Americans are struggling to find high-paying jobs despite having spent tens — sometimes hundreds — of thousands of dollars on their education. Less known is that one in five young adults live in poverty. Read more “Why Millennials Are More Sympathetic to Big Government”

The Trends That Gave Us Trump — And What to Do About Them

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29, 2016
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29, 2016 (Gage Skidmore)

Shocking though Donald Trump’s victory was, looking back we can see how his presidency is the culmination of trends, some of which have been decades in the making:

  • Polarization: The sorting of American voters into two ideologically homogenous parties.
  • Urban-rural split: The Electoral College and Senate give more power to the conservative countryside at the expense of liberal cities.
  • Imperial presidency: The executive has accumulated power at the expense of other branches of government, raising the stakes in presidential elections.
  • Politicization of the courts: Presidential appointments of federal and Supreme Court judges undermine the perceived impartiality of the courts, which in turn weakens the rule of law.
  • Overreliance on the military: Foreign policy is now run by generals, not diplomats. The military has its own hospitals. It plays a crucial role in disaster relief. It may not be long before the Army Corps of Engineers is asked to fix America’s broken infrastructure. Read more “The Trends That Gave Us Trump — And What to Do About Them”