Security through Partisanship

The Talk Politics blog criticises Lib Dem John Hemming’s attempt to bring greater control (at the last moment) to postal votes.

It doesn’t take a political genius to work out the consequences of allowing political parties to scrutinise applications for postal votes. Within a given district or ward, political parties are well aware of the likely levels of support both for themselves and for their opponents and equally that, if denied a postal vote, a proportion of those applicants will ultimately not vote at all. Far from scrutinising applications in the interests of preventing fraud, which is of course in the public interest, its inevitable that political parties will use the scrutiny process in their own interests by seeking, wherever possible, to depress the turnout in areas where they know their opponents are strong. It’s a system that’s intrinsically open to abuse and, frankly, crying out to be ‘worked’ for every political advantage it could possibly yield which mean, inevitably, that that is exactly what will happen.

How does he think parties will be able to depress turnout? The only way would be by pointing out that some postal vote applications are invalid – either the applicant is not entitled to vote, or the application has not been made by the ostensible applicant. In either of these cases identifying the problem would be a good thing.

This is an instance of the general fallacy of the undesirability of “partisanship” or “adversarialism”. If something should be found out, the best person to find it out is the person with an interest in it being found. A neutral party is needed to decide whether the accusation is justified, but the neutral or disinterested cannot be trusted to make proper

The strength of our voting system is not that it is in the hands of the disinterested, but that it is visible to every interested party, who can verify that they are being treated fairly. The problem with postal voting is not that there are fewer “official” checks, but that it takes the whole process out of public view, where interested parties can no longer exert oversight. Whatever his
motives or faults, Hemming is right to attempt to repair that.

Voting Fraud

Postal Voting

I’m well used to spin and deceit from politicians, and I tolerate it.
When I read in 2002 that “Saddam Hussein could be months away from developing a nuclear bomb if he can find a source of weapons-grade material, according to Western intelligence estimates.” I knew an attempt was being made to mislead me. This is normal.

Some misleading statements are lies which are difficult to prove wrong. Some (like the above) are true, but give a false impression. (The trick there is, as I wrote at the time, that just about anyone could produce a nuclear bomb in a few months if given the weapons-grade material). Some are things that could be true in rare and unlikely circumstances.

But how can anyone say “Overall, the postal voting system is no more prone to fraud than other electoral systems.” That is a simple claim of fact that is obviously and provably wrong. I consider it far more a disqualification for office than any of the usual “Blair lied” episodes.

Make my vote count

Just seen make my vote count, a campaign for PR, via the General Election blog

I was about to sign myself up to its petition, but I saw a (random) quote at the top of the page referring admiringly to the Jenkins Report.

The Jenkins Report was the stitch-up that came up with the absurd “AV Plus” voting system, one carefully tailored to change a two-party system into a three-party system while minimising the danger of allowing voters real choice. (This is the system that is used for the London Assembly).

That puts supporters of democracy in the age-old bind: support a measure (AV+), which, while an improvement on the status quo, falls short of what is needed, or persist with the indefensible in the hope that it improves the chances that the “right” answer will become available.

In most cases, a step in the right direction makes further steps easier (see this paper by Eugene Volokh). On this basis, I support incremental tax cuts, deregulation, “civil libertarian” freedoms, even if they fall far short of what I would like to see. But in this case there seems to me a danger that the adoption of AV+ would mark “end of debate” of our voting system. The chief enemy in the struggle is boredom: most people are not interested. To go through a campaign, a referendum, and a major electoral change, and then tell the bored masses “actually, this still isn’t what we want, now let’s change it again to STV”, is to invite scorn and stubbornness.

I think I will probably have to support MMVC anyway. If it gets any momentum it will bore people whether it succeeds or fails, so it might as well succeed. There’s still the chance of getting a better system than AV+ into the debate, and most importantly, I don’t see any other realistic strategy for getting to STV.

Related previous articles:

Protest Votes and Fringe Parties
Bypassing Grassroots
Electoral Metaphysics

What then?

Tim Bray at ongoing writes that

[The Chinese are] walking away from those “cheap labour” manufacturing jobs that have served as one of the main economic drivers of the last couple of decades. At the end of the day, cheap labour doesn’t stay cheap. And while there are probably some more “cheap labour” places for businesses to move—India, Africa—the consequences for China have to be profound. And I can see the day coming, maybe not in my lifetime but not that much further out, when the whole notion of moving businesses around the world so you can pay people less has become, finally, self-defeating. What happens then?

Of course, the first thing that happens then is that we celebrate the end of global poverty of the kind that exists today. It would be a shame to let that go by without marking the achievement.

The way I always look at this question is to compare Japan and Indonesia. Two chains of islands in the Far East. Indonesia is more than double the population of Japan and much larger. Japan is a high-wage economy, the second largest in the world. Indonesia is a low-wage economy, visible to us as an exporter of textiles and cheap manufactured goods.

What would happen to Western economies if Indonesia were to sink beneath the waves tonight? What if Japan were to do the same?

The first would be a blow; the second a catastrophe. Japan is more valuable to us than Indonesia. If Indonesia (and China, and India, and Africa) were to become like Japan, we would be richer.

To descend to the “micro” scale, the competition for cheap labour (as a whole) comes from more-productive expensive labour in more capital-intensive industry. Goods currently produced in labour-intensive ways will be produced in capital-intensive ways with less, but costlier, labour. Workers currently producing low-value goods will be producing more value.

Cheap-labour manufacturing has a “sweet spot” of goods that are easy enough to make that you don’t need highly skilled labour, but difficult enough that you can’t do it with virtually no labour. This is a moving target: I have heard (anecdotally) that socks are not made in places like Thailand and Indonesia; they are made in the developed world because the process is so automated that unskilled labour isn’t needed. As cheap labour becomes less cheap, the sweet spot will disappear.