I know the obvious winners and losers. It’s the vast middle ground where I need help
This essay topic covers horse racing, picking drugs to be developed in the pharmaceutical industry, and picking stocks. Investors know what to do with the obvious winners and losers. They essentially roll-the-dice for the rest. Let’s see how this situation applies to constitutional thinking.
Some advocate we randomly select officeholders from the citizenry instead of using elections. They claim the outcome couldn’t be worse than what we currently get. We can educate or give expert advice to those chosen randomly.
This approach was used for the Venetian Doge, which for over 500 years used a multi-step lottery system to select its leaders. However with the Venetian Doge, candidates in the lottery only came from the great families. It was a means of keeping the aristocracy from fighting over positions of power.
It is a matter of great importance for the constitution to speak authoritatively on the way in which representatives are elected. If we use elections to decide the ‘will of the people’ we must choose a method of voting that is both highly reflective of that will and satisfying to the voters’ sense of having had their say.
We know first-past-the-post gives an imprecise gauge of the ‘will of the people’ in that most elections have 40+% not voting. Often folk vote mechanically based on party affiliations, factions or identity politics. We put more thought into the purchase of that next car than into our presidential elections. Most people would also agree a simple first-past-the-post election is often unsatisfying in its outcomes.
The political question is whether there can be a method so much the better it will overcome the inertia of sticking with first-past-the-post.
Our election method must allow for the rise of great leaders. For example, we can’t have it where an Abraham Lincoln would be bypassed due to bad luck in a simple lottery system. And once we find a great leader we shouldn’t be so quick as to replace them with the next lottery pick.
Conversely, any method chosen must allow that the very worse can be removed in the next election. We must make room for great leaders, and weed out the bad leaders.
And the vast middle ground? This is where we need help. There are only occasionally great leaders and really bad leaders. What about those who would like to serve but have no exceptional talents? These are where we should focus our attention.
One solution is to build a political system that can tolerate mediocre leaders. Historically we have buffered this mediocrity with an unelected civil service.
Sad to admit, but there are many born to be led, at least through most of their adult life. For all its failures the first-past-the-post system does now mostly weed out the bigoted, the narrow-minded, those mad-at-the-world, and the mean-spirited. It weeds out individuals without ambition or motivation. It weeds out those who submit themselves to 40+ hours per week of mind-numbing television.
First-past-the-post is terrible, but will have to do until we can come up with something better. The insights surfaced through the lens of this essay topic will be central to any analysis of frequently offered alternatives (e.g., proportional representation).