Xavin on February 17, 2011, 06:18:04 pm
The House of Lords is like Canada's Senate - it has no legitimacy, and thus for it to overrule the Commons is normally seen as undemocratic. So it very seldom happens.

I don't know about the Canadian senate, but I'm not sure your statement about the Lords is entirely true. While their power to block, delay, and amend legislation has been gradually restricted more and more over the last century the Lords can and do still do so. In fact, I've heard it suggested that one of the reasons that successive governments have tried to reform the Lords (with varying degrees of success) is the Lords tendency to occasionally frustrate government plans.

I've not managed to track down actual stats on how often it happens, but I did find this news report: http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi/house_of_lords/newsid_8829000/8829244.stm that suggests that when the Lords do amend legislation they can make it stick about 40% of the time (although it does also suggest that they might do it more if they felt they had more democratic legitimacy).

I like it,
a Canadian moderating a political dispute between a brit and the yanks.

One big happy family. :D :D :D

Well quite.  :)

Hopefully I can do rather more for our reputation for politeness than my fellow Brit - he does rather seem to be letting the side down somewhat (admittedly mostly in other threads than this one). Bad show and all that, what?
 ;)

spudit on February 17, 2011, 06:54:30 pm
Xavin,

Your countryman in question is a cranky fellow at times and has been called on it before. Likely he means well. His base concept, as I recall, is an overwhelming desire for the long term survivial of Homo SapSap. Damned hard to disagree with humanity having a future. And harder is seeing how ecconomics or politics can encourage or discourage people from pumping out babies.  Seems like it happens everywhere, Capitalists do it, Commies, Socialists, Muslims, Mormons and Methodists do it. As long as our women folk keep squirting out screaming little bundles of joy, the future of Mankind is secure.

Some people would rather argue than discuss and if disagreed with drop to the level of crude insults in about half a second. I ignore the fellow myself, have no time for noise and negativity.

It is a waste, good people with good minds are having an extraordinary dialog despite being spread out across the planet. A shame if it devolves into name calling. 
Vote Early and Vote Often
for EFT
have you voted today?

terry_freeman on February 17, 2011, 09:13:04 pm
I suspect that one of the biggest flaws of American government is the majority-takes-all principle. I gather that other countries use proportional representation instead - if party A gets 10% of the votes, it gets 10% of the seats, more or less.

This makes a profound difference in how political decisions are made. Winner-takes-all systems tend to marginalize all but two political parties, which do their best to divide the voters into two warring camps.

Britain has many parties, and some of them usually must work together in order to form a government.

Google Hotelling Theorem ( or is it law? ) and political science for more.

Xavin on February 18, 2011, 05:31:31 am
I suspect that one of the biggest flaws of American government is the majority-takes-all principle. I gather that other countries use proportional representation instead - if party A gets 10% of the votes, it gets 10% of the seats, more or less.

This makes a profound difference in how political decisions are made. Winner-takes-all systems tend to marginalize all but two political parties, which do their best to divide the voters into two warring camps.

Britain has many parties, and some of them usually must work together in order to form a government.

Google Hotelling Theorem ( or is it law? ) and political science for more.

Actually, Britain currently also operates a "winner-takes-all" system - it's usually referred to here as "First Past the Post".
In a general election, for each of the 650 constiuencies the candidate with the most votes is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) - an overall majority of the votes (i.e >50% of those cast) is not required, just a plurality.
The two largest parties - Conservative and Labour - each generally attract about 30-40% of the vote nationally. The third party - the Liberal Democrats - typically gets ~20% of the vote nationally. The other parties split the remainder of the votes in usually tiny percentages.
This is somewhat simplified and refers mainly to the 533 English constituencies. Within Wales (40 constituencies) and Scotland (59 constiuencies) the respective nationalist parties - Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalist Party - are competitive with the 3 main parties; Northern Ireland (18 constiuencies) has its own set of parties. This complicates matters somewhat, but note that the majority of the national share of the vote for "other" parties is accounted for by these local effects.

Anyway, you will note that if the voters for the 3 main parties are roughly equally distributed then almost all MPs will be either Labour or Conservative (getting 20% as a LibDem gets you nothing if the remaining 80% of the vote is split between Con and Lab - one of them is certainly going to get more than you, and quite possibly both of them will).
In reality it's not quite that bad - the distribution of party support is somewhat uneven, so some constituencies are two-way fights between Con and LibDem, or Lab and LibDem etc.; some are even 3-way fights; others are overwhelmingly for one party. Note that even with 20%+ of the vote nationally the LibDems have typically picked up only about 50 seats (i.e <8%).

The end result, however, is that it is very unusual for a general election not to result in one of Lab or Con holding more than 325 seats - and thus being able to command an overall majority in the House of Commons, so no coalition is necessary.
The current coalition is the first to occur since World War 2.

This may all be about to change - there is a referendum in May over a proposed change to use the Alternative Vote system, whereby within each consituency the voter ranks the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate has over 50% of the first choice votes then the lowest ranked candiate is eliminated and their 2nd choice votes allocated to the remaining candiates. Rinse and repeat until someone has >50% of the votes - they get elected as an MP.

It's not true Proportional Representation, but it is likely to help the smaller parties get a few more MPs - which may make coalitions more likely.

Whether not that would be an improvement over the current system from a libertarian point of view is a complicated question, however, and I'm going to have give it some more thought before May.
« Last Edit: February 18, 2011, 05:38:59 am by Xavin »

terry_freeman on February 18, 2011, 06:14:37 am
How do you account for the minority parties getting any representation at all in the UK?

In the United States, so-called "3rd party" candidates are almost never elected, especially at the Federal level; it's all Democrats and Republicans.

Many an American voter will say "I agree with you Libertarians, but I won't waste my vote" - and will then proceed to waste their vote on a candidate who will never in a million years vote to repeal any government program, reduce funding, or cut taxes in any meaningful way. Voter behavior resembles a mass psychosis.

Recent polls show strong support for "cutting taxes" and "cutting spending" and even for "cutting services" - but when specific services are named, general support disappears. We could get strong voter support for "cutting foreign aid" - which is what, less than 1% of the federal budget?

On "defense" spending, voters split three ways - one third wish to increase, one third wish to decrease, one third would keep it the same. Yet when asked if "3 times as much as the nearest competitor" is too much, not enough, or about right, most people lean toward "too much" or "about right". Since we actually spend about six times as much as the nearest competitor, there is a serious incongruity here.

quadibloc on February 18, 2011, 08:17:54 am
How do you account for the minority parties getting any representation at all in the UK?
Actually, it's quite simple.

With first past the post voting, it is indeed true that a vote for a third party is wasted. However, in Canada and the U.K., that means the third party in your riding (or constituency: what you Americans would call a district), not the third party nationally.

So third parties with a strong regional component in their appeal do well enough - third parties with merely a political or ideological slant do as badly as in the United States.

Xavin on February 18, 2011, 08:18:39 am
How do you account for the minority parties getting any representation at all in the UK?

As I alluded to in my previous comment, the distribution of party support in the UK is not even - but I wasn't sure how much detail you'd be interested in.

edit: if you're interested in detailed stats then see the link below for 2010 election results on national, regional, and constituency level:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/election2010/results/default.stm

PC (Plaid Cymru - the Welsh nationalists) and the SNP (the Scottish nationalists) are relatively easy to explain - they only field candidates in their respective regions so their national share of the vote doesn't really indicate their true support.

The SNP got just under 0.5 million votes in the 2010 election, out of 29.7 million cast (i.e 1.7%). But they were all in Scottish constituencies - which means they were really out of just the just under 2.5 million Scottish votes (i.e 20%).
The Conservatives are wildly unpopular in Scotland (largely as a result of the Thatcher government in the 1980s) - they only got 16.7% of the vote in Scotland as a whole, which put them in 4th (Labour got 42%, LibDems 19%), despite the fact that they actually came 1st in the UK as a whole.
But it's also uneven within Scotland. Labour's strength is in the cities - the populous central lowlands around Glasgow and Edinburgh, plus Dundee and Aberdeen - and their victories there tended to be huge; but what that means is that a lot of their votes were effectively "wasted" (in the sense that, once you have more votes than the 2nd place candidate, the rest don't do you or your party any more good - you've already won the seat).
The LibDem voters are more concentrated in the rural regions - the highlands and the southern uplands - which is where you also find what support for the Conservatives remains. The SNP support is more evenly distributed.
This means that the LibDems tend to win those highlands seats in which they are highly popular and the SNP only win those seats where there is a more even fight going on (they only got 6 seats to the LibDems 11, despite getting 26,000 more votes than them in Scotland as a whole).

Similar factors work in Wales, although the Conservatives are not quite so massively unpopular there and the nationalists only pick up about 11% of the vote. Labour win the urban areas, LibDems and Conservatives fight over the rural areas, PC pick up a couple of seats where their support is particularly concentrated.

Northern Ireland is a special case - the main UK parties don't even stand, although they do each traditionally associate with one or two of the Northern Irish parties, but that's 18 seats that are automatically going to go to a minority party.{1}

In England there is also regional and local variation - once more, Labour votes tend to pile up in the big cities, Conservatives take the suburbs and rural areas. The Lib Dems pick up seats in areas where their votes get particularly concentrated - mostly in the south-west and East Anglia.

Much of UK voting seems to be tribal - people vote Labour (or conservative, or LibDem) because that's what they've always done, and it's what their parents did, and so on. There are plenty of constituencies where'd they'd elect a monkey if you pinned the right colour rosette on it, and elections tend to get decided by relatively few constituencies - the "marginals" where 2 or more parties share of the vote is reasonably close.

In the United States, so-called "3rd party" candidates are almost never elected, especially at the Federal level; it's all Democrats and Republicans.

Many an American voter will say "I agree with you Libertarians, but I won't waste my vote" - and will then proceed to waste their vote on a candidate who will never in a million years vote to repeal any government program, reduce funding, or cut taxes in any meaningful way. Voter behavior resembles a mass psychosis.

It's not that different here - a vote for a candidate or party that is seen as having no chance of winning is seen as a wasted vote. We've managed 3 parties rather than 2 because the LibDems{2} have always managed to cling on to at least some seats since the rise of Labour a hundred years ago - so they are not viewed as completely hopeless (at least not be everyone), but it's a bit of a shock to the system for many people to actually find them in government (albeit as the junior partner of a coalition).
This one is another example of mass psychosis amongst voters - lots of past labour voters abandoned their party this time around and voted LibDem (the previous Labour government had become outstandingly unpopular, especially in England), then reacted with surprise when that resulted in Labour losing a bunch of seats, the LibDems gaining some, and the Conservatives being the largest party overall. Then they were absolutely furious when the LibDems allied with the Conservatives to form a government.  Quite why they expected a different result is beyond me.
Note that the election maths worked out so that Con+LibDem=majority and Lab+LibDem didn't - so the Lab/Lib coalition that they presumably wanted would have also had to include a bunch of other small parties in a "rainbow alliance" to form a government. I was utterly unsurprised when we got the deal that involved the least possible amount of horse-trading, but apparently that was a shock to some people.

Recent polls show strong support for "cutting taxes" and "cutting spending" and even for "cutting services" - but when specific services are named, general support disappears. We could get strong voter support for "cutting foreign aid" - which is what, less than 1% of the federal budget?

On "defense" spending, voters split three ways - one third wish to increase, one third wish to decrease, one third would keep it the same. Yet when asked if "3 times as much as the nearest competitor" is too much, not enough, or about right, most people lean toward "too much" or "about right". Since we actually spend about six times as much as the nearest competitor, there is a serious incongruity here.

Again, you get the same here - people are in favour of cutting spending in the abstract, but not of any actual specific cut, and the general understanding of the amounts actually involved is decidely poor.

futher edit, to add footnotes:
{1} Minor wrinkle - Sinn Fein MPs do not take their seats, because that involves swearing a oath of allegiance to the monarch. So their seats (currently 5) don't actually count in the elctoral maths - in effect they reduce the number of seats to 645. They do still get to claim expenses though...
{2} Technically the Liberal Democrat party is fairly new, formed from the merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party in 1988, the SDP itself being a splinter from the Labour party. In practice it is essentially a continuation of the old Liberal party, which itself grew out of the 19th century Whigs{3}
{3} The Conservative party, on the other hand, formed as a splinter group of the 18th century Whigs...
« Last Edit: February 18, 2011, 12:28:25 pm by Xavin »

Xavin on February 18, 2011, 09:22:21 am
Many an American voter will say "I agree with you Libertarians, but I won't waste my vote" - and will then proceed to waste their vote on a candidate who will never in a million years vote to repeal any government program, reduce funding, or cut taxes in any meaningful way. Voter behavior resembles a mass psychosis.

I realised there was another point I wished to make on this that I forgot in my last post, and I didn't want it to get missed if i just added it in as an edit.

This is one of the things that the Alternative Vote system theoretically addresses - you can express your first preference vote for the Libertarian candidate, but your vote needn't be wasted if he doesn't win because you can give your second preference to your 2nd best (or least worst) option and so on. Thus you should get a truer picture of the real levels of support for those minority candidates.

Holt on February 18, 2011, 09:58:29 am
It is a waste, good people with good minds are having an extraordinary dialog despite being spread out across the planet. A shame if it devolves into name calling. 

Actually for the most part it is people who believe in anarchy patting themselves on the back and engaging in circular masturbation.
I've yet to see you people actually discuss any of the potential flaws of your proposed system or even acknowledge they exist.

J Thomas on February 18, 2011, 10:45:50 am
Many an American voter will say "I agree with you Libertarians, but I won't waste my vote" - and will then proceed to waste their vote on a candidate who will never in a million years vote to repeal any government program, reduce funding, or cut taxes in any meaningful way. Voter behavior resembles a mass psychosis.

This is one of the things that the Alternative Vote system theoretically addresses - you can express your first preference vote for the Libertarian candidate, but your vote needn't be wasted if he doesn't win because you can give your second preference to your 2nd best (or least worst) option and so on. Thus you should get a truer picture of the real levels of support for those minority candidates.

I have become convinced that Approval Voting is better. But I don't think the difference is worth delaying an improved vote.

Here's the argument -- let's say in the USA we have 3 parties, Democrat, Republican, and Libertarian. All Libertarians would prefer Republican over Democrat, if a Libertarian can't win.

Each year the number of Libertarian first, Republican second votes goes up. Then one year there are more Libertarian votes than Republican votes. The stupid Republicans though never thought to vote Libertarian as the second choice. They didn't vote a second choice. And so the Democrats win, something only a minority of the public -- maybe as low as as 35% -- wanted. Fail.

Libertarians who knew what was coming could fix it by voting Republican first and Libertarian second. Then they could at least get a Republican win even though in a good world their own candidate would win.

Approval voting keeps this sort of thing from happening. You vote for every candidate you're willing to vote for. The one who gets the most votes, wins. Simple, easy, workable. Nobody ever wins when somebody else gets more votes.

But is Alternative Vote really so bad? After a loss like this, everybody will know that Libertarians are now the second party. Republicans will have to face reality the next time. It can lose you one election, but it won't lose a lot of them.

spudit on February 18, 2011, 10:54:49 am
Did I hear something about flaws? Hard to tell with all the noise sometimes.

Three conceptual flaws in 3 scenarios.

Guns all over the place, what if they all go nuts at once. OK what if a pair of drunks shoot it out, hit innocent bystanders and they or their friends retaliate? What stops that. For one thing, not everyone is drunk and stupid so it is self limiting. Like a fire the peculiar conditions are hard to maintain. They run out of drunks stupid enough to shoot it out. Or the escalation is stopped cold as soon as it is recognized, the bartender has a shotgun, in the Iron Rock it looked like some M16 variant up on the wall. That'll work.

The one that scares me in a libertarian culture, rule of lawyers. Everyone starts arbitrating every damned thing, precedents are set, they become traditions, de facto laws, Pablo lets people redefine their contracts so Reggie feels a pressure to do the same, then 20 other arbiters. Like my understanding of the UK constitution, traditional ways of doing things become set in stone.

This scares me way more with real world attorneys here and now, they'd sue everyone for everything until everything became up to them. A cure worse than the disease, but I am sure it can be fixed. Perhaps The Bard's advice about lawyers?

Third, some jerk gets a monopoly on some crucial tech, cranks up the cost of air 100 fold maybe, that is so clearly self limiting I won't even bother.
Vote Early and Vote Often
for EFT
have you voted today?

sams on February 18, 2011, 11:04:43 am
Third, some jerk gets a monopoly on some crucial tech, cranks up the cost of air 100 fold maybe, that is so clearly self limiting I won't even bother.

How is it going to happen without Patents enforcement ?

Monopoly means high cost, which means high price which means many people will be induced to jump into de bandwagon.

spudit on February 18, 2011, 11:15:28 am
Just whipped out 3 quickies on my first cup of joe trying to placate that guy.

That's why I didn't bother with the last. Silly easy.

Patents are controlled there by licensing and nondisclosure agreements, I guess. Dunno.
Vote Early and Vote Often
for EFT
have you voted today?

sams on February 18, 2011, 11:33:51 am
Just whipped out 3 quickies on my first cup of joe trying to placate that guy.

That's why I didn't bother with the last. Silly easy.

Patents are controlled there by licensing and nondisclosure agreements, I guess. Dunno.


No problem, I'm not playing the smart ass either m8

Just there is no product who have no substitute, so difficult to acquire that no one can manufacture it without government forcing monopoly on it.

Sure private non-disclosure agreement might be legal in think ... problem is how it works in pratice

Brugle on February 18, 2011, 11:43:38 am
Patents are controlled there by licensing and nondisclosure agreements, I guess. Dunno.
Patents are grants of monopoly privilege enforced by governments on third parties that are not party to any agreement.  I'd guess that NDAs would be used in a free society, but they have nothing to do with patents.

 

anything