Tuesday, March 09, 2010


It was great fun to read Steven Landsburg's marvellous suggestions for electoral reform (of the US Senate) on the same day that the Rajya Sabha passed the Women's reservation bill in the midst of a riot by its members.
  • Divide senatorial constituencies according to the alphabet, so that instead of a senator from Alaska and a senator from Wisconsin, we’ll have a senator for everyone whose last name begins with AA through AE. The point being that it’s easy to think up earmarks and pork barrel projects that will benefit the citizens of Alaska at everyone else’s expense, but not so easy to think up pork barrel projects that will benefit everyone whose last name happens to begin with Q.
  • Give each voter two votes to cast in every senatorial election. You get one vote to cast in your own state and one to cast in the state of your choice.
    Again, this forces senators to answer to broader and more diverse constituencies, diluting the power of localized special interests.
  • This one’s not in the book but should have been: Give each senator a personal budget so that once he;s voted for $X billion worth of spending, he’s not allowed to vote for any more spending until he gets re-elected. This pits his various sub-constituencies against each other, so that the New York Senator who lobbies for subsidies to New York City is sure to get a negative earful from upstate.
I am normally against reservations; I think they are a clumsy way to get the results they are meant to achieve. If we are looking to achieve social justice, a combination of land reform and a Citizen's Basic Income would be far preferable. However, I am actually inclined to support reservation for women in Parliament.
These are MPs, for Gods sake: they don't need to know anything, or have any skills. Most of them are ciphers at best and criminals at worst:
The disclosures seemed to have little impact on the 2004 election: 128 of the 543 winners had faced criminal charges, including 84 cases of murder, 17 cases of robbery and 28 cases of theft and extortion. Many face multiple criminal counts—including one M.P. who faces 17 separate murder charges—and no major party is beyond reproach.
They certainly cannot claim that reservations would displace better qualified candidates. In fact, looking at the process which generates such winners, it would probably be a good idea to ensure we let in a large fraction of those who would otherwise never get through. Success in these races is nothing to be proud of.
The one issue with reservation for women is that the women who eventually do stand will be proxies for the violent, stupid men who would otherwise have stood for election.
The electoral model I would really like to see is one the ancient Athenians were familiar with: a system based on lottery. Everyone participates by default, and those who "win" the draw serve as MP for 5 years before returning to civil life.

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