Democratic Reform – Follow up

Special thanks to Dave Meslin and Amanda Klein for sharing with us their views on democratic reform.  Chris Edwards has shared his thoughts from the evening below.

A lot of ideas for democratic reform were discussed throughout the evening, and the major takeaway is that the system as it stands creates a divisive political atmosphere.  Whatever the preferred method, citizens should be invested in having the system change.

Please keep the conversation going by liking our facebook page and sharing additional thoughts and ideas there (or in the comments below).


Our WSIC events are getting bigger, more engaged, and more interesting every month. That´s no spin: I´ve been to the last five and each has been better attended than the one before, with more vigorous debate on the issues of the day. After two events on the subject of green energy, we moved, last Monday, to something very different: voting reform.

You´ve probably heard of our guest speaker, Dave Meslin: he´s a Toronto activist who makes the news regularly; most recently during this city´s record-breaking `citizen´s filibuster´ down at City Hall. One of the many organizations he´s involved himself in, led and/or founded is the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (`RaBIT´), and that was the subject of his talk this week.

RaBIT advocates for `run-off voting´ in future Toronto elections; it claims this would eliminate vote splitting, reduce strategic voting, ensure majority support for winning candidates, discourage negative campaigning and provide more choice for voters too.

Meslin, accompanied by RaBIT colleague, Amanda Klein, opened with this: whatever reforms to our current voting system you happen to back, almost everyone agrees that the system we have now is the worst. Then he called up several volunteers from the audience, making them `candidates´ in a simplified election that proved how a candidate with minimal support can win out under the system we´ve got. Under RaBIT-style reforms, he said, this would not occur.

Typical for a WSIC event, there were lots of questions. Some members of the audience supported Meslin´s ideas, others did not; he answered them all. Klein, too, proved adept in the debate-some WSIC guests can get a little loud, but she stood her ground. This was the sort of environment WSIC is designed for: an interplay of ideas; a debate between smart people, passionate about a subject that affects them all. Like all of WSIC´s themes, voter reform is not an issue that´s easily resolved, even by people between who agree on a great many things. But dialogue is good.

Thanks to Dave Meslin and Amanda Klein for giving us the time to hear their views first-hand. I think everyone-guests, organizers, and even the speakers, learned a lot on Monday night.

Chris Edwards

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2 Comments on "Democratic Reform – Follow up"

  • Mark Henschel says

    For those of us who are acutely interested in the topic of electoral reform but were unable to attend, I don’t suppose we could get a more in-depth report on the debate than “the audience had questions and Dave answered them”?

    In a representative democracy elections are the means of manufacturing that representation and the nature of that electoral process is critical in forming and informing the character and quality of that representation. AV has particular limitations which might not suit. The arguments for and against are important to set out… and to disseminate for debate.

    Essentially, every voter should obtain representation as a product of our electoral process and that representation should also command the “confidence” of the electorate in a manner similar to the confidence we rely on in our Parliaments. We have an opposition in the House — perhaps (and I think certainly) we need a similar diversity of voice at the riding level.

    In a decision process there will always be a saw-off as the majority rules. In the discussions, deliberations and investigations that precede decisions, however, the people must be represented fairly, equally and inclusively. Canadians have a profoundly heterogeneous voice that must persist with articulation into the House and be heard. Majoritarian systems such as FPTP and AV are relatively weak in this aspect.

    And, to be truly democratic, our governments must operate on a non-zero sum philosophy.

    Perhaps some of this was discussed?

    Of course there’s lots more to be said…

  • Bas says

    (and nobody shuold think) that every Greek citizen is born corrupt. Yet, unfortunately, international markets have understood (at least intuitively) all of the above, and also that nobody can survive in Greece without bending state rules. This is what we shuold all be here for, to change this pitiful social life through drastic and radical reforms. But the lack of credibility described above, poses a serious constraint to any thought of going back to the drachma.Defaulting on bonds will simply lead most Greek commercial banks to bankruptcy (nobody in the EU would be eager to save Greek commercial banks, unlike what has been agreed on the 26th of October, 2011). If the Greek state handles the chaos resulting from an internal banking crisis successfully, then within a few days most Greek commercial banks will be nationalized. Experienced Greek rent-seeking groups will start complaining and violently ask for rents. The Greek government will issue bonds that can only be put forcefully inside nationalized Greek commercial banks. The central bank will have to swallow all newly issued bonds in order to guarantee the balance sheet of commercial banks, printing drachmas.The above mechanism is so well understood by incidents and observed practices in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, etc., that experienced investing banks will bet on an enormous depreciation of the drachma, playing a key role to causing a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hyperinflation will simply cause more volatile economic and social conditions in Greece and chaos will be an almost sure outcome. In light of the above, I think a safe prediction is that if Greece somehow goes back to the drachma, it will end up cutting 6 zeros from prices every 2-3 years for about 10 years until a socioeconomic miracle happens. I really do not want to comment extensively on how harmful and disappointing I find that Greek economists publicly recommend a return to the drachma. In my humble opinion, it gives a terrible signal about what economists think and say, and about our understanding of Greece´s problems. Instead, we must acknowledge the serious corruption problem in Greece, which is part of an economist´s job. Instead of focusing on plain-vanilla current-account calculations with devalued drachmas, we must consider that with Brussels putting the Greek state under the microscope, there is long-term hope. There is no shock therapy for the corruption problem and an extensive politico-economic Greek crisis will not lead to any therapy of corruption. Externally forced fiscal transparency will lead to “killing the beast” described in points 1 and 2 above (not to be misunderstood: I do not mean to eradicate any unions or democratic parties, but the minority of the hardcore rent seekers). Once society internalizes that old rent-seeking practices are not possible for the next 30 years, I think that Greek citizens will start welcoming reforms instead of being suspicious about each and every new reform idea discussed nowadays.

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