Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Coyne on proportional representation

I was thrilled to see Andrew Coyne take his own paper to the woodshed this morning on yesterday's idiotic lead editorial on proportional representation.

What is it about proportional representation (PR) that turns otherwise sensible individuals into raving loonies? The debate on electoral reform has not even begun in Ontario -- the province's Citizens' Assembly has yet to formally report, though it is now known that it will recommend a mild version of PR for the voters' consideration in next October's referendum -- and already the Post has pronounced itself opposed. "PR is a bad idea," yesterday's lead editorial announced. And why is it a bad idea? Because this is exactly how Hitler started.

Well, that was only the most extraordinary flourish in a piece that careened from one train wreck to another of muddled thinking and cliched wisdom. Unable to decide whether PR would lead to fragmentation and division or consensus-driven conformity, the editorial opted for both. The problem with PR, it reported, is that small parties "breed like rabbits." Politics becomes a matter of "jostling and shifting" among "special interest parties" with "their own parochial agendas," such that "governing along any steady course becomes difficult."

That is, unless it leads to too much steadiness. The problem with PR, the same editorial reports, is that it leads to "government gridlock" in which "a real change of government becomes unlikely." Rather, it is dominated by "the same group of consensus politicians." (The ones with the parochial agendas?) But hold that thought, because "too much consensus is not the only peril." There's also the peril of too little consensus. "A really destructive faction can manipulate PR disastrously, as the Nazis did in Weimar Germany."
For those of you who are agnostic on voting reform, or not quite up to speed on the issue, a word of caution: Any opinion piece that cites Israel and Italy as reasons for not pursuing proportional representation is blowing smoke.

1 comment:

Crampton said...

There are indeed better arguments against proportional representation. Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini find that PR systems correlate with large increases in government spending, welfare spending, and deficits, due to the necessity of paying off minor parties to form a government.
If you think government is too small, and that the back room deals that form governments after the election are a small price to pay to get the desired increase in size of government, then I suppose you might well support PR.

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