I’ve tried to visualise in a diagram (below) various forms of government and their (likely) effect on individual liberty.
[Click for larger image. Source PPT]
To the extreme left and right are ideal models. Both can work IF certain conditions are met.
1) A constitutional dictator (jinn) who defends the country’s constitution and does not dabble in any unnecessary thing is likely to be the best for defence of life and liberty. However, this is an unlikely outcome, since dictators who will comply with the law simply don’t exist.
2) On the other extreme (right) is direct democracy in which every public decision is made directly by all the people sitting at a single table and deciding everything. Theoretically this sounds enticing (everyone gets an equal voice). However, it is, in practical terms, the worst of all form of government since it will lead to confusion, mob rule, flip-flopping on policy positions, significant focus on redistribution, and potentially the end of all liberty as the country is weakened and annexed by its enemies.
The real choices available are therefore much narrower. We need a strong ruler who defends our liberty, closes debates as quickly as possible, is perceived to be legitimate, and can be thrown out quickly if he turns into a tyrant.
Systems that can do this job competently are forms either of the Westminster or Presidential systems of government.
The Presidential deliberately creates a dictator (bound by the Constitution): the President. In principle, this system should be superior to the FPTP system. And it has worked quite well in the USA. However, there are risks under this system of Presidents who over-reach their power and are not accountable to anyone for four years.
The Westminster FPTP system allows for greater accountability since the Parliament can vote out the government midway through its term (through a vote of no confidence – and provided defections are allowed: I strongly support the freedom of representatives to defect). True, Indira Gandhi short-circuited the parliament and became a dictator. But in general, FPTP systems can change governments more quickly than in any other system (I do advocate reducing the term of India’s governments from five to three, or at least four, years).
It could be argued that PR allows even quicker change in government. Most PR governments are chronically unstable. But an excess of change is a weakness, the tyranny of democracy – which derives from Arrow’s impossibility theorem. And the practicality of electing a PR government – which can take days, even months – makes the change even slower.
We need the right balance between stability, strength, and voice. The FPTP Westminster system comes close to the optimum. It has some properties of constitutional dictatorship but also accountability and capacity to incorporate popular beliefs into public policy (I believe the Upper House in India needs to be reviewed from first principles. We may not really need an Upper House once all things are considered.)
If India ever gets tired of FPTP, it should try the presidential system, not PR. Any form of government that India uses must strengthen its unity, not support divisive forces.
Having said that, I seen no reason to abandon FPTP. Instead, there are simple ways to improve its functioning to give us governments that can better defend our liberty.
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