Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Are You a Republican or are you a Democrat? I hope not. (Part 2)


In my previous blog entry, I talked about the problems created by having just two major political parties. Here I talk about what we can do to ameliorate these problems and I also explore some alternatives to the two-party system. 

First, here are a few things we can do to improve the political situation even with two major political parties. These will take away some of the power they have that can burden the citizenry. 

An important solution is to pass a constitutional amendment that requires Congress to vote on only balanced budgets. Also, spending increases (over and above that due to inflation and increased population), would also require a 2/3rds vote from both houses, as would tax increases. Thus, there would need to be a broad agreement to deficit spend, increase spending, or increase taxes; no political party would be able to offer a free lunch to increase the chances of it getting elected. It should have an escape clause that allows Congress to override this with a 2/3rds vote from both houses. (This would allow for deficit spending in an emergency such as a war, or severe natural disaster). 

One other solution offers a way to lessen the impact that the two major political parties have by making it easier for third party (or independent candidates) to get elected. The current system is essentially rigged so that either a Republican or Democrat gets elected. This solution is to change our voting system to what is usually called an 'Instant Run-Off' voting system. 

Briefly, it works just the way a normal run-off works, except that each voter only need vote once. Run-off elections occur when it is required that the winner get at least 50% of the vote. If more than two people are running, it's possible that no one gets over 50%, so the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated, and a new vote takes place. This continues until a candidate gets over 50% of the votes cast. In an Instant Run-Off voting system, each voter indicates their preferences by numbering the desirability of the candidates from 1 to N, where N is the number of candidates. So it's very easy for the voter to do, and with electronic voting, it would be even easier, with the computer asking for the voter's number 1 choice, then asking for their number 2 choice, etc. It can be shown that this voting system is equivalent to the usual run-off system. (For more details see the Wikipedia entry on the Instant Run-Off voting system).

Other than the time saving aspects of this, it also allows a voter to actually vote for the candidate they prefer, and not whom they think might win. Currently, when voting, if you'd prefer a particular candidate you think won't win, you may vote for a candidate that you think can win, so that you're not 'wasting' your vote. With an instant run-off system, you can vote the way you desire, and if your candidate gets eliminated, your next highest candidate replaces the eliminated one, so your vote would not be wasted. This would help to loosen the vice that the two major political parties have on us. 

What we have now that complements the instant run-off voting system is that most jurisdictions allow a person to get on a ballot if he receives a certain number of signatures from voters in their jurisdiction. The number of signatures needed as well as any other requirements would be determined by law. Then all such candidates who qualify would be put on the ballot. The voter then ranks each candidate, and that's it. 

Further, and this is a simple but important modification to the current system, the government ought to stop indicating the candidates' political party on the ballots. There is nothing in the federal or state constitutions that require this, and not putting a candidates' party next to their name would require more knowledge on a voter's part – and that is a very good thing. For instance, there would be no more straight ticket voting, since candidates would not be labeled by their political party. 

Implementing these quite reasonable and eminently fair actions would go a long way toward reducing the need for and power of the current political parties. (Political parties could never be outlawed because this would violate the 1st Amendment). 

Can we have a good government without two dominant political parties? We certainly cannot with just one dominant party. This is typically true in communist countries which frequently require everyone to belong to the Communist Party. So let's pass on that. What about lots of non-dominant political parties? Some countries have this, and it could result in better outcomes for the U.S., but it's hard to make a convincing argument that this would substantially improve our government. 

How about having no political parties at all? Here we'd just vote for the person we think would do the best job (or rather we'd rank all of the candidates on the ballot). This, I think, would eliminate much of the divisiveness that we now have. 

Eventually, we could make the transition into a pure democracy, where the voters would ultimately vote on every potential law, including budgets. Essentially, this would be the same as having only ballot initiatives, with no legislative body having the authority to pass laws or budgets without the consent of the voters. (Still, the voters could not pass a law that would violate the Federal or State Constitution; this would protect individual rights from being violated by the majority). In doing this, we would be voting for ideas and not for individuals. 

I'm open for any ideas you might have about this, so please feel free to share them.


Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Are you a Republican or are you a Democrat? I Hope Not. (Part 1)


"No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems.  They are trying to solve their own problems -- of which getting elected and re-elected are No. 1 and No. 2.  Whatever is No. 3 is far behind". 

Thomas Sowell, Economist


Are you tired of all the divisiveness that exists in the current political climate? A divisiveness that has leaked out into many other areas of life: talk radio, churches, the media, dinner parties, etc. Are you tired of the mounting national debt we are adding to every day? See if you agree with what I believe to be a major cause of both the divisiveness and the increasing national debt. 

Let's start with the divisiveness by first pointing out what is NOT causing it. 

It is not caused by the natural disagreements that occur about particular policies. We disagree about all kinds of things, but they don't usually cause a national splintering. 

And it is not caused by our politicians, as individuals. The vast majority of them want what is best for our country. Thinking about the presidents during my lifetime, I believe this is true of all of them. So the divisiveness is not caused by politicians who are evil, or who want to secretly do harm to the United States. 

Also, it is not caused by us non-politicians, as individuals, because most of us want what is best for our country. 

So what is the main cause of the current political divisiveness? I believe it is due to the fact that we have only two major political parties. Here's why. 

The parties are built around getting elected. This seems rather obvious and rational. If you don't get elected, you can't do nearly as much political good as someone who did get elected. But there are a number of unfortunate sides to this. For example, many politicians from one party will tend to denigrate or even lie about politicians of the other party, hoping that this will improve their chances of getting elected. These attacks upon each other leak out to the rest of us who frequently parrot them thus creating divisiveness. For instance, former Republican Senator Bob Dole, an honorable man, once told President Bill Clinton that the opposition's job is not making deals but "making the president fail, so he could be replaced as quickly as possible." This type of political posturing is clearly not in the best interest of the country, but are the result of political parties doing whatever they can to get elected. 

Furthermore, take any topic related to the government such as; what should we do to combat terrorism? Or what should we do to improve the health of our citizens? There are not two sides to any of these issues – there are many ways to look at them, and many possible solutions to them. But because there are only two major political parties, the parties eventually have to come up with a position on each such question. Since the voters then have to choose between one of two policies, a divisiveness results. Usually, they will defend whatever policy their political party came up with, even if they might agree with some aspects of the other parties' position. 

So why does having two dominant parties result in a large national debt? 

Once again, it has to do with the fact that the political parties are built around getting elected.  Thus, many candidates and politicians tell people what they think will get them elected, rather than telling them what policies they think are best for the country. Most of us are naturally lazy, and would love to get a 'free lunch', especially if no tax increase is involved, or if the 'rich' will be paying for it (which never seems to happen, but it sounds good). So candidates like making political promises that putatively give us a free lunch or two. 

Thus, both major political parties commit us to a fraud; a fraud that we are so used to it doesn't even seem fraudulent anymore. And that fraud is deficit spending. In the federal government, there is no Constitutional mandate to have a balanced budget. So rather than having the courage to say that if we want a certain new program, or we want to increase spending on a program, we'll have to either cut spending somewhere else, or raise taxes, both Republicans and Democrats increase spending without usually doing either. But the piper must always be paid. 

This deficit spending will cost us in numerous ways. For instance, in 2009 the national debt is around $12 trillion. Since the US has about 110 million households, this comes out to each household's portion of the debt to be $110,000. No, you don't need new glasses, the arithmetic is correct. One way this affects us is that for the 2009 fiscal year, we paid $383 billion in interest on the national debt, about $3,500 per household. This is the 4th highest expenditure in the US budget. 

And the current administration expects to add $9 trillion more over the next decade. So by around 2020, the US national debt will be about $21 trillion. Then, each household's portion of the debt will be $200,000, and the interest on that will be $6,700 per household. Is this sound fiscal policy? No, it is fraud, and we and our children will pay for it.  And both of the major political parties have contributed to this.

Are there political candidates who ran for the presidency who actually said what they think is best for the country and did not tailor their messages to get more votes? Yes. Without giving names, it is safe to say that none of them became our president. I don't think that a candidate for the presidency can get elected if he or she says what they truly believe. 

What are some possible solutions? You'll have to wait for part 2 to find out.
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Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Has Mexico Read ‘Atlas Shrugged’?


For those of you who haven't read one of the best fiction books of all time, 'Atlas Shrugged', here's a three sentence summary of a 1200-page book: Those individuals that use their talents to create goods and services that are of value to people should not be punished by their government or anyone else. Any attempts to reduce their company's profits or their income are wrong and counterproductive. Rather, society should be happy that such individuals are prospering, since their prosperity will improve the prosperity of all people of good will.

Today, many people are concerned that the gap between the rich and poor is increasing. And indeed it has been for a number of years. But what they fail to mention is that the poor and middle class are still getting richer (over any time span of 10 years or more). So there's no need to begrudge the Bill Gates', the Ross Perot's, the Sam Walton's or the owners of Google. It is much better to be happy that we live in a country where such individuals can prosper, and where the prosperity of the upper class has a positive effect on us all. After all, with fewer prosperous people, fewer new houses would be built, fewer new cars would be purchased, and the list goes on. And who builds these houses and cars? Those in the middle class and the poor.

(Of course, I am not referring here to a rich person or company that intentionally causes harm in some way, for example by defrauding others. Such should be punished according to the law. I am only referring to those people and companies of good will.)

Where does Mexico fit in to this? Mexico is one of the few countries that has a state-owned oil monopoly, named Pemex. Because it is run by the government, the usual problems occur: it has a huge and inefficient bureaucracy and a bloated workforce. And it doesn't allow private investment and profit sharing and thus does not attract the outside expertise that Mexico needs to increase their oil production. Thus their biggest oil field in the Gulf of Mexico is producing one-fourth of its 2004 output. This has been a financial disaster for Mexico. There is plenty of oil to be had. British Petroleum has just discovered new oil fields in the Gulf containing up to 12 billion barrels of oil. But President Calderon of Mexico has said that Mexico doesn't have the technology or the operational capacity to recover this oil by themselves. He has tried to change Mexican law to allow foreign companies to become involved, but with no success so far.

On the other hand, Brazil is enjoying an oil boom because it has opened it energy sector to outside investment. This is a win-win situation since the outside investors provide the technology and expertise to recover the oil, and they pay Brazil for the right to do so.

Any country that wants to prosper must allow their citizens and their companies, as well as foreign investors, the freedom to develop that country's resources on a profit sharing basis so that all can benefit.

Rather than begrudge a person or company that is successful and profitable, we should applaud it.

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Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.

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