Why don’t we get the politicians we want?

Political difference is as varied as people in society.

By electing only one member from each electorate any candidate who has the practical objective of winning the seat must fight over the lowest common denominator centre ground of political views. No candidate competing for this centre ground can well represent the views of all but a small minority of the diversity of political views held by the voters of that electorate.

As a result voters are forced to choose the candidate who represents their views least worst. For most voters no viable candidate will come close to adequately representing their political views.

The tired rhetoric of left versus right reflects this problem. The idea that the variety of political views can be represented as a position along a line with ‘far left’ at one end and ‘far right’ at the other is so simplistic as to be meaningless.

Political left versus right is sometimes meaningfully defined as the attitude towards distribution of wealth. Some people believe that society is best served by wealth being equally distributed to all members. Others argue that when wealth is inequitably distributed total wealth is greater and society overall is better off. Of those holding the latter view there is a spectrum of belief as to where the ‘sweet spot’ is between wealth equality and a single person owing all wealth.

With this revised definition of left versus right any member of society can be placed somewhere along a line with perfect equality at one end and one individual owning all wealth at the other. Although this position on the line is now meaningful it far from represents the whole political view of that elector.

Centralisation is another type of political difference. It can be argued centralisation gives government economies of scale which make it more efficient. Others believe society best served by decentralised government where more government is required but the same issue can be decided differently in different places due to local variations. Again any person has beliefs somewhere between the two extremes.

A different but sometimes related range of views applies to totalitarianism versus libertarianism.

A Swiss acquaintance says that the problem with Switzerland is that everything is either illegal or compulsory.

Some people believe that government should tightly control almost every aspect of society, others believe government should be as small as possible, classically only providing defence, law and justice. Anarchists believe that we should have no government at all. Every citizen thinks that the best option lies somewhere between the two extremes.

Conservatives want little or no change; Radicals want lots of change; Reactionaries want change to the way things were in the past. Every citizen will think that the rate of social change should be somewhere in this range.

We have noted four different independent spectra of political views. Although centralisation and totalitarianism are related decentralisation and libertarianism are not always. There are many more political spectra but these are of the most divisive.

Even within each of the four political spectra discussed many people have different positions depending on the particular issue. A farmer may think that strong government regulation and enforced distribution of income is appropriate for agriculture, based on the ‘essential’ nature of farming, but think governments should not similarly interfere with industry.

Claiming political difference is just ‘left’ versus ‘right’ does not pass simple analysis.

This all leaves candidates for a House of Representatives seat, who are serious about winning, struggling not to say anything controversial. In the unlikely event that they well represent your views they would be going out of their way not let you know for fear that it would alienate many others. They have to say maximally uncontroversial things which place them just on the positive side of the 50% line of lowest common denominator policy.

We, the voters, are left voting for the candidate we dislike least.

The Senate does somewhat better. States, which each elect six Senators, allow ideas only best supported by 17% of the electorate to be represented. This encourages candidates representing a much wider variety of ideas to try their luck. After distributing our preferences we still elect someone who least worst represents our ideas but does so much better than in the House of Representatives.

The structure of our political system determines the results we get. To elect the politicians we want the system we use to choose them must change.

Possible solutions for the problem identified above will be discussed in a series of following articles the first of which is “How about Direct Democracy?”  which is followed by “There can be only one.” which discusses having a single electorate of the whole country.

Copyright John David 2015

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