Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Elections as market failure

Rom of 'The Almighty Motherfucking Hammer of God' blog* has a bone to pick with the electorate and Chiz Escudero.

In a comment section in one of Manuel L. Quezon III's blog entries, I asked whether elections could be considered an instance of market failure, in the same way that the market failed to put Sulpicio Lines out of business after five successive sea disasters, and so failed to prevent a sixth one in the Princess of the Stars. One way to prevent market failure, as some economic experts propose, is for the state to regulate the market. They suggest this without batting an eyelash, I imagine, and with a straight face. Obviously, this assumes the government can be trusted and it further assumes that the government knows what it's doing. In turn I would assume that these economists arent from the Philippines, or if they are, they dont go out very often.

Elections are indeed an instance of market failure. And yet we dont want them regulated. We are at a quandary here: in other aspects wherein the citizens exercising their free choice could result in market failure, we protect them by regulating the market, but in elections, we dont dare. And it is because of our abiding faith that elections are 'sacred' and that we dont want it regulated the way we regulate the choices of citizens in other aspects of their social life, like their choice of power distributor for example (in which the government guarantees that the choice doesnt exist). It is sacred because most people think Elections = Democracy. In fact most people's political involvement begin and end with elections. They abdicate sovereignty all to easily, having done their 'democratic' duty.

Elections most emphatically dont equal democracy. Elections, I am convinced, is a trick. It's appeasement to make us sheep think we have a say in how government is run. How many times have the people been ignored? The elected officials do what they want anyway, albeit throwing us the proverbial bone once in a while to keep us placid. If markets are to be regulated because we dont trust the citizens' sovereign choices, we should regulate elections using the same logic. After all, Hitler was democratically elected. In Palestine, the radical Hamas won more seats than the moderate Fatah in parliament, and closer to home, more people voted for Erap Estrada than for any other president in the history of Philippine presidential elections, and yes I believe that it's possible that Gloria Arroyo might have had more votes than FPJ, even without Garci's padding of votes. I say let's treat elections for what it is: an unscientific poll. It's certainly not sacred. Regulate it. I dont care.

Consider the following thought experiment: Qualify the electors, as I once proposed in another thought experiment. This won't guarantee that the winner would still be the best choice since there won't be a mechanism to vet the supply side, that is, the candidates, and it won't prevent politicians from gaming the system, but how worse could it be than what we have now? And while we're at it, let's get rid of this ridiculous idea of regularly scheduled elections, at least for president. Nothing more divisive has ever been invented than regular elections. It keeps politicians planning and scheming until the next regularly scheduled one. Let the president serve until we decide otherwise. The power of the people is not in choosing their leader; the power of the people is in kicking them out. Because although people only have a vague idea of what's good for them, they have a clearer idea of what's bad for them: lack of opportunities, curtailment of freedom, hunger, unemployment, rising prices of prime commodities... The people have numerous ways of kicking incumbents out, regularly scheduled elections being just one of them (which this experiment says is a bad idea for reasons already stated). They could also call for impeachment through their 'representatives' in Congress, or stage a revolution, bloody or not. In this experiment, we choose something akin to a people's initiative for a recall be institutionalized using the same number of signatories as the people's initiative for constitutional amendments already in place. If the appropriate number of verified signatures for a recall is reached, only then will we call for new elections.

I think it's time we realized elections, at this stage in our development as a people, is a joke. Elections != Democracy. We are democracy. Regulate elections, the same way we regulate markets. Or else, to be consistent, leave the domestic market alone. (For the record, Im not a 'pro-market-forces' guy. At this stage in our development, there is a role for the state. The ideal state is a counterforce to the excesses of the corporations. No Im not a pro-market-forces guy. Im more of an anti-government guy. How can I not be? How can you not be?)

===========================
*Formerly known as Smoke. Yes, I too wonder how long she'll be able keep the title without tiring of it eventually. :-)

17 comments:

cvj said...

Are you amenable to elections regulated a-la Garci (or Bedol)?

Anonymous said...

ach, uncle!

do you think me so inconstant /
that I would make such life-altering changes lightly? / i am merely as the tide / revealing different pieces of myself as the moon turns.

-rom

dkny.ca said...

would we end up with elections that are too frequent? the party that lost could always stir up something to topple the one that was elected...

Anonymous said...

we have to pass tests (mental as well as skills) to get a driver's license. why not to vote? more crucial, we have to have really stringent qualification requirements for all candidates. the higher the position, the more rigorous the test.

let's stop imitating the americans. most of the time, they know a "fraud" when they see one. i don't think we do.

cvj said...

A driving test makes sense because it tests driving skills. How do you device a test for voting skills?

Jego said...

There's the rub, eh, cvj? Comelec, too, is a joke. It's the weakest link in the whole idea of regulated elections. It's so frustrating that we the citizens are at the mercy of schmucks, and the schmucks who claim 'mandate of the people' are the biggest schmucks.

I once believed in the theory of one-man-one-vote, the people expressing their sovereign will by electing those who will represent them. But empirical evidence always trumps theory. Once you give up the notion of the 'sacredness' of elections, you can be able to look at it rationally.

dkny.ca: would we end up with elections that are too frequent? the party that lost could always stir up something to topple the one that was elected...

People's intitiative or a recall petition of the entire Philippines is not that easy. And we already have that 'toppling' thing even in the present system. Arroyo did that effectively by conspiring with the military. That's why Im in favor of making it illegal for the executive branch to unilaterally use the military to be used against Filipino citizens. To do that would have to need the aproval of the 2 other branches of government.

rom: do you think me so inconstant...?

Far be it from me to think that, rom. I just liked Smoke better as a title. It evokes an ethereal, mysterious presence that reveals different pieces of oneself as the moon turns. ;-)

cvj said...

Jeg, it's not the 'sacredness of elections' that is in question but the individual's right to vote. You're free to give up your own vote if you want, but i don't think you're free to offer up the votes of others.

Re: the title of Rom's blog. I think AMFHoG is better in the sense that the former title is unhealthy as it might constrain her to continue smoking.

Jego said...

Yes, I think the rational response to the utter futility of Philippine elections to effect change is to refuse to participate in it.

But youre giving me too much credit. I have a snowball's chance in hell of convincing the Filipino to give up the sacred right to vote. He enjoys it too much, despite the fact that his sacred right hasnt changed anything for him.

cvj said...

That's because, as you say, that sacred right to vote is not enough to make a democracy genuine. As you said over at Manolo's, we elect people without possessing absolute certainty of how they will perform once in office. Trying to fix the problem by stacking the deck [aka regulating elections] in favor of one or other quality (either on the voter or the candidate side) does not take away this uncertainty. What is needed therefore is more people participation (either individually or via NGO's) in between elections to provide guidance to the political leadership.

Jego said...

What is needed therefore is more people participation (either individually or via NGO's) in between elections to provide guidance to the political leadership.

On this I agree up to a point. People participation outside the election con job is what is needed. But again, history has shown us that the political leadership refuses to be guided. They do what they want anyway, for their own benefit. Why? Because they can. Taking the army away from the executive branch would be a step in the right direction.

Which brings me to another point. I dont think we can ever eliminate the uncertainty no matter what we do. I just want to improve the chances of those people in whom uncertainty is lesser. Insiders for example, those who have direct access to what these people are like. People like MLQ3 who worked with Arroyo first-hand and knows what she's like. People like, say, Jaime Tadeo, who would know what motivates, let's say, Satur Ocampo. Let them elect each other. Im willing to trust their votes more than the votes of people who have absolutely no idea who these people are apart from what they see on TV and campaign ads (like me, for instance -- I havent the foggiest what these people are really all about.) And once they finish with the elections, let those who are elected prove themselves to us. That's where we the people come in. I believe the mandate of the people is not in how many voted for you. The mandate of the people is given after you get elected.

cvj said...

So does that translate to not voting for anyone who is not your friend or acquaintance (or at least facebook friend)? Isn't that veering too much towards politics of personalities?

Jego said...

Not too much. Merit comes into more prominence. Actual merit, not the illusion of merit. You have to trust someone sometime, or else why bother? There would be instances when you wont vote for someone precisely because you are acquainted with them. Anyway, the proof of their merit comes after theyre elected. That's where the rest of us comes in.

cvj said...

I see. How would you operationalize the process of electing officials by those who know them on the basis of merit, and then getting them affirmed or booted out by the public in general on the basis of their track record?

Jego said...

I only have a general idea, if at all. But dont get too hung up on 'election by those who know them' as this isnt the entire deal. It is, shall we say, a metaphor. Their votes would have more weight if their votes arent diluted by universal suffrage. See the first thought experiment linked in the post. The US electoral college has I think 540 or so electors. The electoral college of the Holy Roman Empire had, what, 10? If we can get 5000 electors on the national level, I'd consider that a good number. Add to this the accredited NGOs'(or party-list) votes as representatives of the people's votes. One or more votes per NGO depending on their constituency. This would require the people to join NGOs if they want a say in the electoral system. Or they could just choose not to participate in electing.

To affirm the winners is easy. The people do nothing. As for booting them out, that is a more organic process. If there is a public clamor, there are several avenues to take: impeachment, etc., but a recall petition would be my preferred method. This would satisfy the objections of those who think a more 'subjective' people power type uprising is not representative of the people. Besides, Arroyo has shown future leaders how to handle protests, and so far they have worked. With enough signatories to the petition, new elections are held within 60 days or something.

cvj said...

Off the top of my head, i'm ok with the idea of Party Lists as a sort of Electoral College choosing among themselves who would be the President (or Prime Minister) as long as the party list themselves are chosen via proportional representation (and not winner-take all voting).

As for the people's role in affirming or booting out, i'd suggest a national referendum two years after (with a yes/no question), plus a mechanism for a people's initiative-based recall further down the road.

What i'm against is weighing of votes in a single electoral exercise where Person A has more votes than Person B by virtue of some criteria.

Jego said...

I could live with that.

cvj said...

Good to hear! Sounds like something we can build on.