Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Alex Himelfarb discusses why a proportional electoral system can be expected to produce better and more representative public policy:
The adversarial approach often means major policy lurches when the government changes. For example, the Harper government undid some important initiatives of the previous government, including the Kelowna Accord, signed by all provinces and aboriginal leaders, and child care agreements signed by all provinces, to name a couple. Now we are watching the current Liberal majority spending much of its legislative time undoing Harper government initiatives (e.g., restoring the census, and undoing various refugee and immigration policies). We see similar lurches with virtually every change of government, but especially when that change also represents a significant shift in ideology.

These policy lurches belie the claims that our FPTP system offers stability. They undermine our capacity for long-term planning, even long-term thinking, and waste considerable legislative time effectively going around in circles. Such policy lurches are far less common in countries with more proportional systems, where cross-party co-operation is the norm. It’s not surprising, therefore, that political scientist Arend Lijphart (2012), who has undertaken the most extensive comparison of policy outcomes in countries with differing electoral systems, found that for those issues that require a long view and policy continuity, countries with proportional systems—where coalitions are the norm—outperform FPTP countries.

For example, countries with proportional systems score significantly higher on Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index, which measures how well human health and ecosystems are protected. Other researchers have come to similar conclusions. Countries using PR were more ready to pay the price of strong environmental policies, more likely to use renewable energy, and therefore produced a lower share of carbon emissions (Orellana, 2014; Cohen, 2010). The greater co-operation and continuity in proportional systems evidently yield environmental dividends.
Orellana further argues that PR-elected governments are less inclined to “quick-fix” solutions and, because of the greater diversity of their governments and parliaments, more open to policy innovation.   For example. they are more likely to have adapted their welfare and tax policies to changes in the economy and labour market.  Orellana also demonstrates that they tend to be policy leaders on highly sensitive issues such as assisted dying, LGBT rights and freedom to marry.  This openness to change and policy innovation is particularly relevant in a fast-changing world where old nostrums and standard practices are increasingly part of the problem. It should be no surprise, then, Orellana (2014; 2016) and Lijphart (1994; 2012) also find better fiscal performance in countries with PR. There is even some evidence, though it is admittedly mixed, that countries with PR produce more robust economic growth (Knutsen, 2011).
Public policy can only benefit from a system that is less vulnerable to special interests, in which every vote influences the outcome; a system that yields more diverse representation reflective of the diverse values and interests of the electorate, and promotes less adversarial elections and more co-operative parliaments. Governments elected by PR would experience fewer policy lurches, take a longer view, be more responsive to the interests of the many, and even, arguably, more creative and open to policy innovation.
- David Madland points out how a modernized system of labour laws (including more widespread multi-employer bargaining) would produce far better outcomes for workers. Augusta Dwyer writes that a shorter work day could result in substantially improved productivity to go with an improved quality of life. And both Rana Foroohar and Peter Fleming observe that unions need to play a central role in defining and improving working conditions.

- Matt Huber argues that progressives shouldn't settle for a market-based frame in discussing why and how we need to combat climate change. And David Suzuki points out the folly in assuming we can dig our way out of the environmental hole we're now facing.

- Finally, CBC reports on the World Health Organization's recommended tax on sugary drinks as a means to improve public health outcomes.

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