Americans Should Seriously Consider Constitutional Reform

Washington DC
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

London England
London, England at night, February 14, 2012 (Warren Chrismas)

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

Madison Square Park 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”

Consolidate Congressional Districts to Make Elections Fairer

Boston Massachusetts
111 Huntington Avenue skyscraper in Boston, Massachusetts, October 22, 2010 (Thomas Hawk)

Last month, I made two arguments for a more proportional voting system in the United States:

  1. Politics should not be reduced to two options.
  2. Proportional representation discourages regional factionalism.

I recognized at the time that a full switch to proportional representation is unlikely but argued that adding runoffs could allow third parties to flourish without playing spoiler.

Another, easier way to accomplish the same goal would be to combine single-member congressional districts into multi-member districts. Read more “Consolidate Congressional Districts to Make Elections Fairer”

Two Arguments for a More Proportional Voting System

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

Democrats could win 54 percent of the votes in next year’s congressional elections and still fall short of a majority.

G. Elliott Morris reports for Decision Desk HQ that because Democrats are clustered in America’s cities and face harsh gerrymanders, they aren’t likely to win a proportionate share of the seats.

We can debate at length whether this is unfair or by design, but that discussion isn’t changing Republican minds.

Advocates of a more proportional system should try two different arguments:

  1. Politics should not be reduced to two options. There is no major party for Americans who are economically as well as socially liberal (“libertarian”). Nor was there, until recently, a party for nativists. Republicans are turning into one, but that will leave conservative internationalists on the outside.
  2. Proportional representation would discourage regional factionalism. Jason Willick argues in The American Interest that if one region of the country drifts too far from another politically, and the minority region is out of power at the federal level, that could set the stage for secession or civil war. At a time when political violence in the United States is rising, it’s not hard to understand the perils of balkanized political coalitions. Read more “Two Arguments for a More Proportional Voting System”

Immigration Lessons from Canada

A Canada Day celebration in Ottawa, July 1, 2013
A Canada Day celebration in Ottawa, July 1, 2013 (Adrian Berg)

Joseph Heath, a professor at the University of Toronto, sees five reasons why Canada has been more successful at integrating migrants than Europe and the United States:

  1. Very little illegal immigration. This helps explain the difference in attitudes with the United States but not with Western Europe, where illegal immigration is also low.
  2. A political system that encourages moderation. I think this has more to do with political culture than the system. Heath argues that first-past-the-post makes it difficult for nativists to prevail. Parties need to appeal to the center. But it doesn’t stop nativists from influencing the mainstream right, as they did in the United Kingdom. To stem defections to UKIP that could split the right-wing vote and allow Labour to sneak into first place, the Conservatives felt they had to become more insular. And clearly in a two-party system, like America’s, nativists can come out on top.
  3. Immigrants are part of larger nation-building project. Immigrants ended up strengthening Canadians’ sense of nationhood because, unlike the First Nations, Westerners and Quebecers, they embraced national symbols. Persuasive, but it’s hard to see how other countries could mimic this.
  4. Protection of majority culture clear from the start. This is rooted in Canada’s unique history but could be a lesson to others. Heath argues that the need to appease Quebecers led to equal cultural and language protections for the English and French, as a result of which the majority felt unthreatened by newcomers.
  5. Bringing people in from all over. I think this is the key. There is no “majority minority” in Canada. Heath reports that, in a typical year, no group makes up more than 15 percent of the total number of immigrants. Hence no parallel societies could emerge in Canada, like the predominantly Muslim banlieues of Paris, immigrant-heavy neighborhoods in Amsterdam and Latino districts in major cities across the United States. Their existence hinders assimilation and makes visible the threat immigrants pose to the dominant culture. Read more “Immigration Lessons from Canada”

The United Republics: A Peace Plan for America

Clare Trainor's proposal for high-speed rail connections between seven American megaregions
Clare Trainor’s proposal for high-speed rail connections between seven American megaregions

The 2016 election was a turning point in American history. Cultural, political and regional differences have become so vast that the American political system is becoming unsustainable. There are two fundamentally different visions of what this country should be and the current federal system does not allow these differences to be reconciled.

For these reasons, I am proposing a new political system that would transform the United States of America into the United Republics of America.

This new government would still allow nationwide coordination of domestic and foreign policy, but it would devolve power to newly created republics. Read more “The United Republics: A Peace Plan for America”

French System Encourages Temporary, Not Permanent, Polarization

French National Assembly Paris
The sun sets on the Bourbon Palace, seat of the French National Assembly, in Paris, June 8, 2007 (jrrosenberg)

Matt Yglesias of Vox points out on Twitter:

You see in Trump vs Le Pen once again that authoritarian nationalist movements only win with the support of the establishment right.

There are two particular reasons why this may be the case. Read more “French System Encourages Temporary, Not Permanent, Polarization”