Millennials (and their younger siblings, generation Z’s) are the largest, most diverse and progressive group of potential voters in American history, comprising fully 30 percent of the voting age population.
On November 6th, they’ll have the power to alter the course of American politics – flipping Congress, changing the leadership of states and cities, making lawmakers act and look more like the people who are literally the nation’s future.
But will they vote?
In the last midterm election, in 2014, only 16 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 bothered.
In midterms over the last two decades, turnout by young people has averaged about 38 points below the turnout rate of people 60 and older. Which has given older voters a huge say over where the nation is likely to be by the time those younger people reach middle age and the older voters have passed on.
I’m not criticizing younger non-voters. They have a lot on their minds – starting jobs, careers, families. Voting isn’t likely to be high on their list of priorities.
Also, unlike their grand parents – boomers who were involved in civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, the anti-Vietnam War movement – most young people today don’t remember a time when political action changed America for the better.
They’re more likely to remember political failures and scandals – George W. Bush lying about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction; Bill Clinton lying about Monica; both parties bailing out Wall Street without so much as a single executive going to jail.
Most don’t even recall when American democracy worked well. They don’t recall the Cold War, when democracy as an ideal worth fighting for. The Berlin Wall came down before they were born.
Many young people have wondered if their votes count anyway, because so many of them live in congressional districts and states that are predictably red or blue.
Given all this, is there any reason to hope that this huge, diverse, progressive cohort of Americans will vote in the upcoming midterms?
My answer is, yes.
First, the issues up for grabs aren’t ideological abstractions for them. They’re causes in which Millennials have direct personal stakes.
Take, for example, gun violence – which some of these young people have experienced first-hand and have taken active roles trying to stop.
Or immigrant’s rights. Over 20 percent of Millennials are Latino, and a growing percent are from families that emigrated from Asia. Many have directly experienced the consequences of Trump’s policies.
A woman’s right to choose whether to have a baby, and gay’s or lesbian’s rights to choose marriage – issues Millennials are also deeply committed to – will be front and center if the Supreme Court puts them back into the hands of Congress and state legislatures.
Millennials are also concerned about student debt, access to college, and opportunities to get ahead unimpeded by racial bigotry or sexual harassment.
And they’re worried about the environment. They know climate change will hit them hardest since they’ll be on the planet longer than older voters.
They’ve also learned that their votes count. They saw Hillary lose by a relative handful of votes in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
They’ve been witnessing razor-thin special elections, such as Conor Lamb’s win by a few hundred votes in the heart of Pennsylvania Trump country, and Hiral Tipirneni’s single-digit loss in an Arizona district Trump won by 21 points in 2016.
They know the importance of taking back governorships in what are expected to be nail-bitingly close races – in states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Kansas. They’re aware of the slim but increasingly real possibility of taking back the Senate. (Who knew Ted Cruz would be so vulnerable? Who even knew the name Beto O’Rourke?)
As doubtful as they these young people are about politics, or the differences between the two parties, they also know that Trump and his Republican enablers want to take the nation backwards to an old, white, privileged, isolated America. Most of them don’t.
In my thirty-five years of teaching college students, I’ve not encountered a generation as dedicated to making the nation better as this one.
A recent Frontline report painted in dire terms the perfidious activities of Russian hackers who dared to intervene in our sacrosanct American elections. Just think. They posted ads on Facebook and used bots to spread rumors about Hillary. This could be easily fixed if Facebook wasn't so greedy that they wanted more and more eyeballs, any eyeballs, to view their crappy site. The more eyeballs looking supposedly at their ads, the more money they make. I've got news for you, Facebook. Check out your advertisers before you let them place an ad. I know. I know. This will result in a loss of money. As for bots, check out the identities of anyone spreading stuff on your site. It wouldn't be hard to do. It's just that Facebook wants more and more money. And by the way stop sending me emails saying that some friend of mine has changed her status. You just want me to open Facebook. Also stop sending me friend requests from people I never heard of.
So much for Facebook. It's a shitty site designed to make the maximum amount of money that preys on people's curiosity. As far as hacking into the Democratic National Committee and releasing Podesta's emails, this could be prevented if the DNC took security seriously or took the security of email seriously. Why in God's name are they storing all those emails on one site? Do they even need to be stored at all? I don't think so. You see you have a bunch of nincompoops running the DNC that don't know the first thing about security. If the whole damn internet has to be redesigned to put security first, say an internet 2.0, then that is what has to be done.
As far as hacking into our voter registration lists, why do these even have to be hooked into the internet? Did we not conduct elections before the internet was invented? Then go back to that system. Have a latter day Paul Revere ride his horse between polling places with the results. That was secure. Instead of yelling "The British are coming", he could yell the results "So many votes for Hillary and so many for Trump." Seriously, just disconnect the voting system from the internet if hacking is such a problem. And then redesign the internet.
A Modest Proposal for Keeping the Russians from Hacking Our Voting Machines
by John Lawrence, August 3, 2018
Disconnect them from the internet, dummy. Go back to paper ballots. Vote by mail like I do in California. Fill in the bubbles, and then an automatic scanner (not connected to the internet) can tally them. Why the need to connect voting machines to the internet in the first place? It seems pretty stupid. A simple phone call could tell the results to whomever needs to be told. There is no need for the internet to be involved whatsoever.
Yesterday "top Washington officials" vowed to do whatever is necessary to protect our elections from Russian hacking. The answer is simple. Disconnect voting machines from the internet. I'll say it again.
But the men and women charged with detecting and defending against any threats to the American political process showed no such ambivalence. They bluntly said that Russia was behind a “pervasive” campaign to weaken America’s democracy and influence the 2018 election.
They also sought to reassure voters that federal, state and local governments were taking steps to guard against what Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, described as a “24-7 365-days-a-year” effort by Russia to sow division as Americans head to the polls in the fall.
Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, echoed that assessment, saying that “Russians are looking for every opportunity, regardless of party, regardless of whether or not it applies to the election, to continue their pervasive efforts to undermine our fundamental values.”
Undermine our fundamental values? Just what are those fundamental values, Mr. Coats, that Russians are seeking to undermine? The right to call your opponent "crooked Hillary"? The right to denigrate, humiliate and demonize your opponents? The right to lie to people to get yourself elected? The right to create false scenarios and accuse your opponent of crimes and then have it repeated ad nauseum over hate talk radio, TV and the internet?
The article continues:
Mr. Wray and Mr. Coats were joined at the briefing by Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, John R. Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, and Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, the head of the National Security Agency.
Officials at the briefing did not describe specific threats to the coming elections, and they were vague about how the government was responding to what they called Russia’s interference campaign. But they said Mr. Trump had directed them in a National Security Council meeting last week to aggressively confront the threats.
“Our democracy itself is in the cross hairs,” Ms. Nielsen told reporters. “The progress we have made is real, and the nation’s elections are more resilient today because of the work we are all doing. But we must continue to ensure that our democracy is protected.”
Ms. Nielsen said the government had “seen a willingness and a capability on the part of the Russians” to hack into the American election infrastructure, including voter rolls and voting machines. In addition to helping states and local governments prevent that hacking, she said her department was working to ensure that methods were available to validate the vote if a cyberattack occurred.
Vague about how the government was responding? What's vague about disconnecting voting machines from the internet and making them unhackable? Validating the vote if a cyberattack occurred? These folks are total alarmists. By now we should all be aware that the internet is full of holes. It is not secure so why do they insist on using it? To justify bigger increases in the Homeland Security budget? Methinks they protest too much. It's like Jimmy Carter said, "The energy crisis is real." Emphasis on "real". Sure it was, but Jimmy was overwrought, and so are Ms. Nielsen and the others. Just disconnect the voting machines and problem solved.
As for the ads supposedly taken out by Russians on Facebook, I doubt if they could do any more damage than Republicans and their operatives and trolls have already done to the democracy by spreading false rumors. These folks are determined to maintain Russia's enemy status to justify large increases in their budgets and the budget of the military-industrial-intelligence-homelandsecurity complex.
Are you happy with the electoral choices provided you by the two major parties? If not, should you vote for a third party candidate?
Not so fast. Remember what happened in 2016, when Libertarian Gary Johnson got 3.2 percent of the popular vote and Green Party candidate Jill Stein got 1.06 percent. Enough votes that, had they gone to Hillary Clinton, she’d have won the Electoral College, and Donald Trump wouldn’t be in the White House.
Oh, and anyone remember what happened in 2000, when the votes that went to Ralph Nader all but sealed the fate of Al Gore, and gave us George W. Bush.
You see the problem? In a winner-take-all system like ours, votes for third party candidates siphon away votes from the major party candidate whose views are closest to that third-party candidate. So by not voting for the lesser of two evils, if that’s what you want to call them, you end up with the worse of two evils.
But here’s the good news. You’ve got at least 2 ways to avoid the lesser of two evils other than voting for a third party candidate.
First, you could build support for your favorite primary candidate inside one of the major parties – like some of you did for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primaries.
But, you might say, look what happened to Bernie! The Democratic Party establishment rigged the game against him.
I don’t want to open up this particular can of worms, but if a party establishment has a choke hold on the primaries – the answer isn’t to go with a third party and end up with the worse of two evils, but to organize and mobilize inside the party to break that choke hold, as some would say the Tea Party has done in the GOP.
Never underestimate the power of grassroots activism focused like a laser on taking over a major political party that has ossified.
Another way to avoid the lesser of two evils: Get your state to institute ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference.
The process is simple: In the first round, only voters’ first choices are counted. If a candidate gets a majority, that’s the end of it: That candidate wins. If no candidate gets a majority, the candidate who received the fewest votes is eliminated, and then the second choices of voters who preferred that candidate are counted.
If that gives a majority to one candidate, that candidate wins. If there’s still no one with a majority, the process continues, until one candidate gets a majority.
Ranked-choice voting isn’t perfect, but it enables you to vote your conscience –even for a third-party candidate – without the worry that you’re giving ground to the candidate you like least.
The idea is gaining popularity. Last year, some form of ranked-choice voting was proposed in 19 states. In 2016, citizens in Maine initiated a referendum for ranked-choice voting and won. It’s already being used in statewide special elections in North Carolina, and in 10 major cities.
You don’t have to settle for the lesser of two evils. But in order to get the candidates you want elected you need to get involved, now. In the primaries. And in changing your state to ranked-choice voting.
It’s our democracy. Whether it works, is up to us.
After an historic decision by Maine's Supreme Court, starting with primary elections in June, the state's voters will be able to rank their selections in the voting booth. (Photo: Michael R/Flickr/cc)
Election reform advocates on Wednesday praised a decision by Maine's Supreme Court, upholding the use of ranked-choice voting for the state's upcoming primary elections, saying the ruling demonstrated that the court heeded the demands of Maine voters.
"Mainers have said clearly that they want election reform and they want it now," State House Speaker Sara Gideon told the Portland Press Herald. "The court has been clear in their ruling that ranked-choice voting is the law of the land."
Terrific news from Maine:. The last-gasp legal effort to block ranked choice voting in June primaries is UNANIMOUSLY denied by the state Supreme Court. More momentum for better elections! https://t.co/fdhdmYatbFhttps://t.co/kL3XmzueVV
Unlike in traditional voting, in which the candidate with the largest share of votes wins—even if he or she is far from capturing a majority of the support—in ranked choice voting, voters rank each candidate in order of preference. If no candidate has a majority after the first count, the least-popular contender is eliminated, voters' ballots are added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots are recounted. The eliminations and recounts continue until one candidate has a majority.
Supporters of the system say it increases voter turnout and proportional representation.
Maine's June 12 multi-party primary elections, in which voters will choose candidates for governor and congressional districts, will now make history as the first state election to use ranked-choice voting.
Fifty-two percent of Maine voters supported the system in a November 2016 ballot initiative, but lawmakers passed a bill last year delaying its implementation until December 2021 and argued that the state could not use a new voting system without direction from the legislature. The state Senate also threatened to repeal ranked-choice voting altogether if it could not pass a constitutional amendment by then.
More than 77,000 Maine residents signed a petition saying any repeal of the system by the legislature should be voided.
"The Maine legislature has changed or repealed all four of the initiatives passed by Maine voters in 2016," said Kyle Bailey of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting in a statement on Tuesday. "Today's decision by the Maine Supreme Court confirms that the Maine people are sovereign and have the final say."
"I am hopeful that the Secretary of State can now carry out this June's election without further interference," said Gideon.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Worried about Russian hacking? The solution is simple. Just use paper ballots. They are unhackable. Instead what we get from the media and the government is a lot of commiseration about the supposed fact that the Russians are planning to discombobulate our next election. All of this should be a nonissue. Disconnecting from the internet would be the smartest thing any of these nincompoops in power have done in quite some time.
Then are you worried that Russia might use Facebook and Twitter to spread alt facts and alt news. As if there weren't enough Americans already doing the same. Free speech, baby. Oh, are only Americans allowed free speech. Every one else keep you mouth shut. The things is that the authorities don't want to allow free speech. Speech coming from Russia is by definition propaganda. Speech not agreeing with the official Trumpian, Republican party line is by definition propaganda.
The American people have to be smart enough and savvy enough to take everything they read or see with a grain of salt whether it's a tweet from Trump of Vladimir Putin or one of Putin's operatives. After all the Russians are allowed to have their own perspective as are the Brits as are the Germans etc etc.Not everyone agrees with the US party line. In fact fewer and fewer people around the world are agreeing with it, and they are finding ways to detach themselves from US influence.
Among many other needed measures promoted by nonprofit and nonpartisan Verified Voting, Congress should require standardized voting systems around the nation. It should insist on rock-solid security, augmented by frequent audits of hardware and software. Recounts should be performed routinely and randomly to ensure that verified-voting systems work as designed. The paper ballot generated by the machine should be the official ballot.
What Congress should emphatically not do is allow or encourage online voting. The sorry state of cybersecurity in general makes clear how foolhardy it would be to go anywhere near widespread “Internet voting” in the foreseeable future.
So if there is no online voting, how is the American voting system hackable by the Russians?
Some people are all concerned that Russia is going to hack the next election and there's nothing we can do about it. Much hand wringing and nail biting. What are we going to do? Put more sanctions on Russia? There is a simple solution: go back to paper ballots. They're unhackable. Whoever thought that the internet was the solution to all of our problems was just dead wrong. The internet has created as many problems as it's solved. It's left the electric grid hackable. It's left major corporations including banks hackable.
I think some people refuse to entertain the thought that just maybe the ways things were done 50 years ago was superior to the way they are being done today. Paper ballots worked for hundreds of years. They would still work now. Let's just decide to use them and then get on with our business. Someday when a more robust internet and computer system is available, maybe then would be the time to convert to electronic ballots. Until then the way they did it in the olden times will work just fine.
American politicians and media seem to agonize for hours over scandals and stuff while never talking about the solutions to problems or even getting around to discussing the problems themselves. The latest distraction is the sexual harassment imbroglio. They spend hours discussing it. It is only second to the "if it bleeds, it leads" news mantra. At least on Meet the Press yesterday, Peggy Noonan had the guts to come right out and say the solution to the Russian hacking scenario was "paper ballots." So why don't they just do it and get on with other business?
All these things that Americans thought were so great like the internal combustion engine, we're now finding out are killing the environment. Nobody wants to go back to the horse and buggy days, but horses and buggies were sure a lot better for the environment. All this progress that America is so famous for in many cases has only contributed to screwing up the planet. Corporations dump toxic waste creating profits by not paying for these "externalities."
We need to figure out ways to live together in peace and so that everyone has an adequate standard of living. The American values of competition and developing the next greatest gadget and widget in order to keep the economy growing is something that needs to change. We need to upgrade our values and see the world in a different way. Environmental protection and eliminating poverty are paramount.
MUST BE SEEN In Context Of GERMANY’s EXCELLENT PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION SYSTEM
by Frank Thomas
The recent German elections show that, since the arrival of over 1.2 million refugees (mostly from Syria) in 2015 and 2016, Germany is indeed changing to the right – but I certainly would not say in a radical or unhealthy way. This is because EU economies and political proportional representation systems, like Germany’s, generally combine stable elements of basic social needs and safety nets with individual/corporate capitalistic initiatives and market mechanisms. Rules are enacted and enforced to insure fair play and social harmony.
In the German elections, the CDU/CSU centrist coalition together with the SPD socialist party went from a very high 502 Parliamentary seats or 79.7% of the 630 seats, BEFORE the elections, to a lower total of 399 seats or 56.3% of 709 Parliamentary seats now. In light of the SPD’s decision not to join Merkel’s CDO/CSU centrist party group in a new coalition government, Merkel must find a way to unite, for example, with the Green left of center party and FDP right of center party to form a reasonably centrist coalition government. Although the rising AfD rather conservative nationalistic party won 12.6% of the total vote for all parties, making it the 3rd largest party followed closely by the FDP party with 10.7% of the total vote, Merkel will not be forming a coalition government with this far right party.
Forming a governing coalition will be no easy task. But Merkel will respect the clear voter message of getting disciplined control of and cutting back drastically on her open-door immigration policy. The extraordinary extent and speed at which the flood of refugees have entered Germany under Merkel’s leadership is creating considerable societal strains, e.g. severe problems of assimilation as well as fears of expanding criminality and terrorist acts, and a watering down of the German culture. Very understandable and natural concerns, in my view.
But I don’t think Germany is heading into a radical, socially-polarizing, ultra-right transition under their multi-party, proportional representation system. This is because as noted earlier, there are many structural “checks and balances” inherent in the European political multi-party, proportional representation constitutional structures. Far more than the paralyzed two-party Mess the US is trapped in where “social polarization” is evolving on a scale and depth many, many times more alarming and potentially dangerous to our democracy than most EU countries.
France's Constitution goes back to the French Revolution of 1789 when France guillotined the King and became a Republic. Article 4 states: "Liberty consists in being able to do anything that does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of every man has no bounds other than those that ensure to the other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights. These bounds may be determined only by Law." The current Constitution was adopted in 1958.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (French: Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen), passed by France's National Constituent Assembly in August 1789, is an important document of the French Revolution and in the history of human and civil rights. The Declaration was directly influenced by Thomas Jefferson, working with General Lafayette, who introduced it. Influenced also by the doctrine of "natural right", the rights of man are held to be universal: valid at all times and in every place, pertaining to human nature itself. It became the basis for a nation of free individuals protected equally by the law. It is included in the beginning of the constitutions of both the Fourth French Republic (1946) and Fifth Republic (1958) and is still current. Inspired by the Enlightenment philosophers, the Declaration was a core statement of the values of the French Revolution and had a major impact on the development of freedom and democracy in Europe and worldwide.
The French President is elected directly by a vote of the people much like the US. The French Parliament consists of two Houses: the National Assembly and the Senate. In all elections where there is a single official to be elected for a given area, including the two major national elections (the election of the President of the Republic and the election of the members of the National Assembly), two-round runoff voting is used. For elections to the European Parliament and some local elections, proportional representation voting is used. The Senate is not elected directly by the people but indirectly by elected representatives. It also includes some representatives of French citizens abroad.
Trump's Win Could Be an Artifact of the Voting System
Not many people give much thought to the dynamics of the voting system. We just accept that you vote for one guy or the other and everybody gets one vote and the person who gets the most votes winds. This system called plurality voting or first-past-the-post seems obvious, but there are a myriad of other kinds of voting systems. For instance, each voter could rank order all the candidates with the lowest candidate getting zero points and the next candidate above them in the rank order getting one point, the one above them getting two points etc. Then the one with the most points wins. This system was first proposed by the French philosopher Jean-Charles de Borda in 1770. As the result of more information per voter being collected by the voting system, a different, and presumably more accurate, outcome could occur.
In the case of the Republican primary the single vote per voter with so many candidates almost guaranteed some sort of anomaly. A total of 17 candidates started off in the primary on March 23, 2015. As each state was ticked off, Trump garnered most of the votes; however, a majority of the voters voted for one of the other candidates. The result was that Trump was reported as having "won" the state, especially if it was a winner-take-all state. As Trump won, his momentum built up and before too long, his winning the primary seemed inevitable. Even after all but Cruz and Kasich had dropped out, Cruz and Kasich were splitting the anti-Trump vote.
... the better candidates didn’t win because, obviously, so many of [the candidates] siphoned votes from stronger ones, giving Trump the lead and all-important momentum. Thus, the constant refrain from Trump supporters that the “establishment” is ignoring the “will of the people” is true only to a point. Trump is the choice of a plurality of the GOP but not of the majority — a distinction with a crucial difference.
What If There Had Been Two Candidates - Trump and anti-Trump?
If the primary field had coalesced around one or two anti-Trump candidates and Trump earlier in the game, the outcome might have been completely different. Suppose each voter in the Republican primary had not only given his first choice candidate a vote, but had also given his second choice a vote as well. It might have been discovered that there was a solid candidate other than Trump who had a vast majority of second choice votes as well as a goodly number of first choice votes. Adding together first and second choice votes might have selected someone other than Trump as the winner of the election.
If there are more than two candidates running for election in the American way of voting, often times the third candidate acts as a spoiler splitting the vote for one of the two most popular candidates with the result that the least popular ends up the winner. Ross Perot was a third party candidate in 1992 and 1996. History seems to show that he did not siphon off enough votes from Republicans to give Bill Clinton the election. Clinton would have won anyway, Perot or no Perot. However, in the 2000 election Ralph Nader running as a third party candidate did siphon off enough votes from Democrats to give George W Bush the election. If all votes had actually been counted Gore would have won anyway, but if Nader had not been in the race, Gore would have won handily.
French Enlightenment Philosopher Condorcet, Voting Theorist
The Marquis de Condorcet was an Enlightenment philosopher who was way ahead of his time. I visited him in the Pantheon in Paris because he's one of my heroes.
The Marquis de Condorcet, the great 18th-century political theorist and mathematician, proposed a system for electing candidates who truly command majority support. In this system, a voter has the opportunity to rank candidates. For example, her ballot might rank John Kasich, Ted Cruz and Mr. Trump in that order, meaning that she likes Mr. Kasich best, but if he doesn’t win, she would go for Mr. Cruz. She could, alternatively, choose to vote just for Mr. Kasich, which would amount to ranking Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz in a tie for second. The winner would then be the candidate who, according to the rankings, would defeat each opponent individually in a head-to-head matchup — a real majority winner.
Approval Voting and Politonomics
In 1977, New York University politics professor Steven J. Brams and decision theorist Peter C. Fishburn devised approval voting, by which, according to their method, voters cast a vote for each candidate of whom they approve, in no particular order. The candidate with the most votes would win. Approval voting has been shown to be superior to the American method of first-past-the-post, but the problem is where do you draw the line between those candidates you approve and those you disapprove? I devised a method for doing exactly that. I call my method politonomics because it has applications to both politics and economics, in particular to Economic Democracy, and it is capable of producing multiple outcomes instead of just "the winner of the election." Multiple outcomes could be advantageous, for instance, in electing a city council without resorting to winner-take-all districts or a districtless Congress.
Using another voting system in which voters rank the candidates (A is preferred to B is preferred to C) or rate the candidates (on a scale from minus one to plus one, for example) provides the system with much more information than just casting a vote for the most preferred candidate. Outcomes can then be determined in which the overall satisfaction of the electorate is more likely to be achieved. Minorities will be better represented than they will be with majority rule. None of the voting systems proposed so far is perfect. There can be anomalous outcomes produced by all of them (except perhaps politonomics). However, the antiquarian nature of the American voting system whether in Congressional or Presidential elections and especially in gerrymandered districts could very well indeed lead us down the road to the first Fascist President.
When I was a graduate student at UCSD in the midst of the anti-war movement, protesting the war in Vietnam, I went to the library and pondered what would make the world a better place, what could I do to contribute something that might make war less likely and peace time activity more likely. I concluded that more cooperation was needed. More ways to resolve conflicts big and small. For example, democratic voting systems resolve conflicts in such a way that solutions are found that are acceptable to all parties for the most part. I took it for granted that institutions that provided for more cooperation and less competition were more desirable. I thought that this was what the Enlightenment was all about. My heroes were the Enlightenment superstars: Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Rousseau, Diderot, Voltaire, John Locke.
As I sat there and went through the stacks, I discovered another field and another set of superstars. Social choice has a long history going back to the French Enlightenment philosophers, the Marquis de Condorcet and Jean-Charles de Borda, and even further back than that. One of the 19th century superstars in this field was none other than the Rev. C. L. Dodgson otherwise known as Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland. These guys came up with voting systems which are essential to democracy and are essential to the whole notion of cooperation and conflict resolution. The most recent work in this field was by Kenneth Arrow who published a book Social Choice and Individual Valuesin the 1950s which attempted to generalize conflict resolution in society in both the political and economic spheres. Arrow concluded that this was impossible and came up with his famous Impossibility Theorem which was a generalization using sophisticated mathematics of the paradox of voting that was known to Condorcet hundreds of years ago. Therefore, Arrow concluded democracy was impossible and any economic system other than capitalism was impossible too. Hmmm, I thought, this is obviously a cop-out because some political and economic systems are more desirable than others and Arrow has done nothing except to throw cold water on any framework that could consider these. I took it as my self-assigned task to prove that Arrow was wrong, that social choice is possible. My work can be found on the website Social Choice and Beyond.
In “Social Choice and Individual Values,” Kenneth Arrow said , “In a capitalist democracy there are essentially two methods by which social choices can be made: voting, typically used to make ‘political’ decisions, and the market mechanism, typically used to make ‘economic’ decisions.” This paper resolves that dichotomy by developing a meta-theory from which can be derived methods for both political and economic decision making. This theory overcomes Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem in which he postulates that social choice is impossible and compensates for strategic voting, an undesirable aspect of decision making according to Gibbard and Satterthwaite. Thus the politonomics meta-theory spawns both political and economic systems which are indeed possible and which cannot be gamed. In a typical voting system the outcome of an election among several candidates results in one realized outcome – the winner of the election - which applies to all voters. In a typical economic system, a consumer may choose among a variety of possible baskets of consumer items and work programs with the result that multiple realized outcomes are possible with a unique or quasi-unique outcome for each worker/consumer. As the number of possible realized outcomes of a political-economic decision making process increases, the process becomes more economic and less political in nature and vice versa. We show that as the number of possible realized outcomes increases, voter/consumer/worker satisfaction or utility increases both individually and collectively.
I never considered, as I sat there pondering, that there would be people who would argue that what the world needed was not more cooperation but more competition, but, as I sit here today, I realize that the whole conservative right wing is in favor of just that. They want not more cooperation in either the political or economic realm but more competition believing that only winners should prevail and human progress is only possible when you give free reign to those among us who are the most talented, intelligent and ambitious. They believe that competition will result in the strongest among us winning just as Nietzsche believed that a good war hallows every cause. Their ethic is that the naturally gifted elite should prevail, and they are not concerned about what happens to the rest of us or of who is trampled in the process. This is also the philosophy of Ayn Rand as espoused in her novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.
The debate today about increasing inequality in the world has to do with the prevalent conservative belief that only the strong should survive and be promoted and that freedom should preclude equality as a value. The rich should get more tax breaks because they are the true instigators of human progress and should be catered to at every turn. Perhaps a few crumbs will trickle down to the rest of us. This kind of thinking is counter to the Enlightenment and is fast returning us to a neo-Dark Age. No more is human progress to be measured in reduction of poverty and extension of basic services like health care to everyone. It is to be measured in terms of the great advances to human civilization like iPads, iPods and iPhones. People who are capable of coming up with these advances should be cut every break and none of the billions of dollars they make should be transferred by government to the least of these among us like the homeless, the poverty-stricken and the destitute because, well, they are the least among us, not the best among us who should be given every break.
Nevertheless, I remain in the camp of those who think that more cooperation in the political and economic spheres will do more for human progress than more competititon. I also have spent about 40 years in my spare time trying to prove that Arrow was wrong, that social choice is not impossible and that democracy in both the political and economic spheres is not only possible but desirable. This has a lot to do with voting systems, democratic institutions and constitutions but also with cooperative economic systems in which freedom is seen not as the freedom to make money at other people's expense (the losers in the competitive struggle) but the freedom to work as much or as little as one chooses and in accordance with one's preferences as much as possible. Freedom from work is for many people just as desirable a goal as the freedom to make billions of dollars, and wealthy people who don't have to work would be the first to tell you that. Economic democracy in my view is more desirable than cutthroat capitalism, and can be practiced not only at the national level, but at the enterprise level in the form of co-ops like the Mondragon Corporation.
Marx's famous definition of the "good society" was "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." This of course was perverted in defining communism as a society where all the wealth created by those who had a lot of talent and ability as well as a strong work ethic combined with those who had not so much in those categories would be thrown into a pot and then divided up in equal portions and handed out by the government. Such need not be the case in achieving the "good society." The "needs" part is pretty basic and could probably be accomplished with abouit 10% of the wealth that exists in the world today. Most people can provide for their own needs - no transfer necessary. There are some who cannot and to transfer a small part of the wealth of the wealthy to provide for their basic needs seems to me to be no more than humane. That still leaves the vast amount of wealth in the hands of the wealthy. In other words if you total up how much it would cost to provide for all the basic needs of everyone in the world and tote up how much wealth there exists in the world, it would take a fraction of all that wealth to provide the basic needs for everyone who cannot provide for their basic needs themselves who turn out to be mainly children, seniors and handicapped (whether physically or mentally) people.
A recent documentary by German TV station Deutsche Welle pointed out that half the world's production of food is wasted because super markets only want perfect vegetables and ones with slight blemishes are thrown out even though they are perfectly edible. Shelves need to be fully stocked with bread right up till closing hours even though any bread left over at the end of day will be thrown out as "day old." All the food that is thrown out by advanced nations is enough to feed all the world's hungry three times over although no governments or other institutions, much less the supermarkets themselves, seem to be interested in organizing that effort. This is what I mean by the fact that the basic needs of all the world's people could be satisfied without subtracting much if anything from the world's wealthy although a lot of them would admit they do not need incomes of millions of dollars a day like the Fortune 400 billionaires have.
Another documentary noted that Finnish school children have the highest test scores in the world despite the fact that they have one of the world's shortest school days with 15 minutes intermissions between classes during which time they are encouraged to go outdoors and play. All grades have large amounts of music, art and self-defined projects. They don't teach to the test. They are concerned with the development of each student as an overall human being not just as some super competitive cog in a nationally competitive machine. The Chinese on the other hand have the opposite approach demanding that children learn by rote methods and extra hours in school and at study. The Finnish schools are all public and everyone is accepted into every class. There are no advanced classes or tracking of students into lesser classes if they are not among the elite intellectually. Everyone is thrown in together; yet they have the best outcomes of any country in the world on standardized international tests. Egalitariansim seems to gain the best results.
An egalitarian ethic in which the concern is for the development of the whole human being rather than a promotion of just those who have superior abilities in accordance with a competitive ethic seems to me to be the most humanitarian way to treat both children and adults. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights already provides for most of the "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs" ethic. It calls for free health care which most advanced socierties, with the exception of the United States, already provide. It calls for free education and other public institutions and covers most basic human needs including food and shelter.
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
All the basic needs of everyone on the planet could be provided for without subtracting much of the wealth of the rich since most people can provide for at least their basic needs without any transfer of wealth whatsover being necessary. Interestingly, the US among other nations does provide food security for the poor through its food stamps program. And of course seniors are provided for through Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, programs which conservative free marketers are anxious to change or eliminate.
I am with the Enlightenment thinkers especially the English utilitarians like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill who thought about the happiness of society as a whole and concluded that everyone counted, not only the ones with exceptional talent, ability and other admirable qualities. A society should be judged by how it treats "the least of these my brethren" which is the core and essence of Jesus' teachings but, sad to say, not the core and essence of Christianity as it exists in the world today. Perhaps we should start thinking about an alternative constitution for the US which has the world's oldest constitution (236 years old!) while being the world's youngest advanced nation. Other societies including most European societies while being older than the US have newer constitutions. As far-sighted as the Founding Fathers were, a new and updated constitution incorporating not only political but also economic rights along the lines of the UN Declaration of Human Rights would do much to right the wrongs and shortcomings of present day America and the world.
"As Republicans and Democrats grapple over spending caps and tax structures, and as our national legislature stays virtually locked-up with a Democratic Senate and a Republican House, it’s worth wondering how we got here. The United States is one of a bare handful of countries across the world that uses a two-party system of government. Third parties are typically repressed in such an environment and, indeed, members of either or the two parties in the United States serve as the overwhelming majority of elected officials at all levels of government.
"The voting system that the United States uses for legislative districts - as well as the Electoral College system for Presidential elections -encourages a two-party system. This voting system, called often called “winner-take-all”, means that in each election in each district, the winner of the election will win the seat. It seems simple and intuitive, but many other countries do things slightly differently. Proportional representation is often used as a voting system in countries with multi-party systems. Simply put, these seats are filled according to the percentage of the vote that each party received. To illustrate the difference, say that a party wins 15% of the national vote but won no seats in individual elections. Under the American “winner-take-all” system, that party would receive no seats in the legislature. In a proportional representation jurisdiction, however, that party would receive 15% of the seats. Countries that employ some proportional representation sometimes have a certain quantity of legislative seats set aside to be filled in this way in addition to those seats assigned to geographical districts, whose winners will fill the seat. Our Electoral College system, likewise, is a winner-take-all system. Winners of the plurality of the votes in each state win all of a state’s electoral votes. Only Maine and Nebraska split electoral votes according to proportional voting. This environment teaches voters that votes for third parties are often “wasted”, and it teaches third parties that they must fuse to have any hope of promoting an alternative to either of the dominant parties.
"Disadvantages to two-party systems are obvious. The system bars fringe, extremist and issue parties from winning seats and therefore wielding influence. It also discourages cooperation between the two dominant parties. In a multi-party system, parties often have to form “coalition governments” - alliances with other parties which, in exchange, allow the agendas of the smaller parties into the majority. The system does have its advantages, however. It promotes centrism and discourages extremism. In order to appeal to a wide-enough swath of the electorate, the parties must be moderate. It also promotes political stability which is often an indicator of economic growth. By contrast, multi-party systems can go months or even longer with no government in power due to disagreements and fractures among the parties. This instability has notably plagued Italy for much of its modern history.
"The United States has been a two-party system for most of its history. Today’s Democrats trace their founding to Andrew Jackson and the ashes of the early Democratic-Republican Party in the 1830’s. Their primary foes were first the now-defunct Whig Party and later the emergent Republican Party. Somewhat strangely, they were very weak in populous New England but very strong on the frontier and in the mid-Atlantic states. The Republican Party was founded in 1854 to combat the expansion of slavery into the territories and was, perhaps consequently, strong in the North and very weak in the South. One founding father - George Washington - who was venerated for his wisdom and leadership as well as the examples he set, warned of the insidious influence of political parties in his farewell address, and charged the United States to avoid them, saying
“ 'There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.' ”
"Despite his best efforts, however, the United States has largely institutionalized its two-party system. Despite recent third party relative successes, such as Ross Perot in the 1990’s, the chances of sweeping change remain remote."
The following is my rebuttal:
The article states:
"The system bars fringe, extremist and issue parties from winning seats and therefore wielding influence. ... In order to appeal to a wide-enough swath of the electorate, the parties must be moderate. "
This is not true if one of the parties becomes an extremist party in and of itself.
Right now the two party system is not working. Far from coming to some kind of compromise between the two parties leading to a "centrist" government policy, the Republicans are going to the rightward extreme and then holding the Democrats hostage to their position. There is nothing inherent in the two party system that leads to compromise. Republicans have shown that they can prevent any excercise of legitimate government functions even if they are in the minority by using the filibuster. They can filibuster every federal judiciary appointment and even every appointment to head an agency as they've prevented Elizabeth Warren from heading the Consumer Financial Protection Commission. They can literally bring government to a standstill and even destroy the US if they so choose by not raising the debt ceiling. They have threatened to do all of this if they don't get totally their own way. Thus the two party system is fatally flawed.
Their sole goal is to get rid of Obama in the 2012 election, and they are not willing to do anything even if it is beneficial to the American people, even if polling shows 80% of the American people would prefer it, that gets in the way of defeating Obama. Their sole aim is to prove that Obama is ineffective and can't get anything done. Such a system of government cannot last. If the Republicans take the White House in 2012, they will have achieved their goal, and, if they then start passing some legislation that would benefit the American people, the public will think that Republicans know how to get things done while Democrats don't. The only reason they might be able to get some things done is that Democrats won't filibuster every piece of legislation that might benefit the American people just for political advantage because some of them still care about the American people.
However, since the Republican party is a wholly owned subsidiary of large corporations and the wealthy, the chances of their passing much in the way of legislation that would benefit the middle class is nil. Instead once they get their hands on all the levers of power, the US will go the way of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, NJ and other states where Republicans control all three branches of state government: privatizing public institutions including Social Security and Medicare, deunionizing, demonizing government workers, lowering taxes especially on the rich and corporations, cutting spending including unemployment insurance, welfare and the safety net in general. Then Democrats will have no choice except to filibuster all proposed Republican legislation. However, Republicans might throw a few crumbs to the poor and middle class all of which Democrats will heartily endorse because they are not as totally heartless as Republicans.
That was the message Californians sent when they voted Tuesday to radically rejigger elections in the nation’s most populous state. Under Proposition 14, a measure that easily passed, traditional party primaries will be replaced in 2011 with wide-open elections. The top two vote-getters — whatever their party, or if they have no party at all — will face off in the general election.
Supporters argue that without parties picking candidates for the general election, moderates and independents will move to the fore, and voters will pay more attention to the electoral process.
Critics of the measure say it will give a huge advantage to candidates who have the most money or the widest name recognition.
That no one actually knows what the real effect of Proposition 14 will be seems almost beside the point to frustrated voters. What mattered, supporters said, is that something fundamental about politics — anything fundamental — had been changed.
As supporters celebrated, they promised to bring the so-called “top two” system to a state near you, with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger leading the charge — though his second term, plagued by budget meltdowns and plunging popularity, was, analysts said, one of the leading motivators for the measure.
Whether the measure will empower more independent voters — who were already allowed to vote in Democratic or Republican primaries, provided they requested a ballot — remains to be seen. But what did seem certain was that California was again poised to capture the mood of the country, just as it did in 1978 with Proposition 13, which distilled widespread antitax sentiment into a cap on property taxes.
This time, it is the anger of the electorate that Californians have bottled, experts said, even if they are not totally sure what they are doing.
“I don’t know that people really knew what they were voting for,” said Bruce Cain, director of the University of California Washington Center, based in the District of Columbia.
Mr. Cain said the state of the state — high unemployment, record foreclosures and a palpable anger at legislators — had primed the pump.
“When people get mad,” he said, “they lash out.”
But just as with Proposition 13 — which required a two-thirds majority for the Legislature to increase revenue through new taxes — Proposition 14 could come with a raft of unintended consequences, opponents say. They cited a potential rise in fringe candidates as well as the marginalization of small parties.
“Big business and big government won yesterday,” said Christina Tobin, chair of StopTopTwo.org, a leading opponent of the measure, which was heavily outspent by the “Yes” side.
One probable impact was an increase in litigation; both major parties suggested that they were weighing how to stop the implementation of Proposition 14 before its scheduled start in 2011.
Proposition 14 is based on a system in place in one other state, Washington, which the Supreme Court upheld in 2008. Louisiana uses a similar open system, but requires state and local candidates to gain a majority in primaries to win election or face a runoff.
On Wednesday, Mr. Schwarzenegger was being hailed by backers as a political winner and an agent of change, as he trumpeted Proposition 14’s promise of encouraging moderates — who, the argument goes, are shunned by highly partisan primary voters. He also acknowledged the rising role of independents, who now make up one in five voters in the state.
“We in California have said we’ve got to come to the center, we’ve got to bring everyone together in order to solve problems,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said at a news conference in Los Angeles. “And I think the rest of the nation eventually will find out this is exactly where the action is.”
What is also certain is that voters liked Proposition 14; it won in 56 of the state’s 58 counties, with the only two detractors coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum: Orange, the conservative bastion in the south, and San Francisco, the liberal paradise in the north.
Despite that mandate, Ron Nehring, the chairman of the Californian Republican Party, which opposed the proposition alongside the state’s Democrats and four smaller parties, said the measure would actually take power away from the mass of primary voters and hand it instead to a smaller group of party leaders and loyalists who would decide their candidates in conventions and caucuses. A single handpicked candidate would then get support, he said, while challengers would be shunned.
“Ninety-nine percent of the Republicans that were involved in choosing our candidates are now excluded from choosing our candidates,” Mr. Nehring said. “In the future this decision will be made by no more than a few thousand and, in most cases, a few dozen.”
California voters may not be finished with their shake-up. The November ballot, after all, will include a measure to tax and regulate marijuana, as well as possibly including proposals to eliminate the two-thirds majority for passing a budget and further limit legislators’ time in office. (California was one of the first states to adopt term limits in 1990.)
All of those elections will likely pivot on the ability to draw independents, who were ecstatic about Proposition 14’s passage.
“There is now a new political force in California,” said Royce D’Orazio, a stand-up comic who works as the Los Angeles chapter organizer for the group independentvoice.org, who spoke at the governor’s side on Wednesday. “To all our brothers and sisters in states across this country, help is on the way.”
For his part, Mr. Schwarzenegger seemed pleased by his victory — “this is, by the way, national news,” he said — but still tried to temper expectations for an electorate hungry for anything new.
“It will not solve all the problems,” the governor said. “But it will change a lot.”