Category Archives: Guv’mint

I miss my alien budget.

Good times.

SimCity 2000 always had a special place in my childhood, in large part because  I would spend hours playing it every weekend to avoid having awkward living room time with my stepfamily. (We went through a SimTower phase that I think was brutal on everyone.) And some odd things about the game have stuck with me.

Obviously there were elements like the strangely haunting soundtrack, or the alien death robot — which I never actually used that much, because really all it did was start fires. But it probably says something that what I really appreciate is how the game tapped into my budding interest in politics and government.

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Shocker: Different voting system might change something

Sometimes, the easiest way to understand why we have some particular status quo — for example, our insanely convoluted electoral system — is to find a bunch of people who agree the status quo is a mess and get them talking about what would work better. Committees are the force that turns great ideas into okay laws, and okay ideas into travesties.

I got reminded of this when I was reading this article on i09 about ranked choice, or instant-runoff voting, an electoral system that would let voters rank candidates in order of preference. This helps give a clearer idea of the voters’ preferences in an election where no candidate gets a majority of the vote, and therefore could encourage third-party candidates by getting rid of the spoiler effect.

The weird thing about the article is that it seems to view this feature as a problem.

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Musings on Democracy

I just realized something. First I’m reading this from Matthew Yglasias about why Congress and the White House can’t work anything out:

Note that if Obama were a hereditary monarch, this would be something like the historical process through which the United Kingdom became a parliamentary system with a symbolic head of state. Parliament started with a relatively bounded authority over granting new tax revenue to the king. But the king would, in practice, need new tax revenue periodically in order to fight wars. This fact, combined with parliament’s greater democratic legitimacy, victory in the English Civil War, and successful perpetration of a kind of coup in 1688 allowed it—and specifically the House of Commons within parliament—to over time seize control of the entire policy agenda. But of course Obama’s not a hereditary monarch, and both the House and the White House have independent claims to democratic legitimacy.

Probably the most sensible resolution to this is the original British one — establish a single center of power by systematically destroying the influence of the others, in their case the monarchy and the House of Lords. In a parliamentary system, there’s one head of government who’s indisputably in charge, so people know who to reward when things are going well and who to blame when they’re not.

But that was way too straightforward for our founders.

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Today in Metaphors

From Wonkbook, the daily roundup of government news from Ezra Klein:

House Republicans feel their preferences should take priority because they won the last election. Sharp cuts to non-defense discretionary spending are nothing more than their due. Senate Democrats counter that they still control not just the Senate, but also the White House — the House Republicans are a minority partner in this play, and don’t get to decide what the government does or doesn’t do merely because they control one of the three major legislative checkpoints. An uncompromising force is meeting an unimpressed object.

If you follow American government enough, one of the themes you pick up on is that we’ve got so many independent power centers that whenever people disagree about what to do, nobody can decide who should have the final say. Since everybody can claim some kind of democratic legitimacy and nobody has enough power to just make things happen, our government tends to end up not getting much done. Which was the founders’ original idea, but the world has gotten a bit faster since the 1780s and we’re not doing a great job of keeping up.