My sixth year of full-time teaching is now at an end. Overall I think it went well, although I missed my target grade distributions in both of my upper division classes (too tough in Congress & The Presidency; too easy in Political System of the USA). One of these decades I’ll get it right.
I’m now looking forward to a very busy summer, including a conference, AP exam reading, two summer courses to teach, and three or four research projects in various stages from completely unwritten (my APSA paper) to on the verge of journal submission (my Midwest paper with Scott and Adolphus). After all of that, I’ll probably be looking forward to a relatively restful three-course semester with only one totally-new-to-me course, the first semester of graduate research methods.
The Liberal Democrats’ two choices:
Door #1 (aka Nick-and-Dave, kissing-in-a-tree): at least two years in government, at worst a referendum on the alternative vote, most of your fiscal agenda (where you and the Tories agree) enacted into law, and probably some of the blame for the next year or so, followed by some of the credit for the recovery after that.
Door #2 (aka life with Ed Balls): a government that surely won’t last out the year, a referendum on STV (that probably won’t actually go into effect even if it passes until after the next election, since the government won’t last out the year—heck, the government may not even last long enough to pass an STV bill), some of the blame for the next year or so (but none of the credit for the recovery, because your government won’t last that long), and you get to have a big ugly fight on all the fiscal policy stuff with Labour, who campaigned on essentially the opposite platform from the LDP.
If only there weren’t that sticky issue called “ideology” in the way this one would be a no-brainer. But if the LibDems are serious about PR, they’re going to have to recognize that as kingmaker under a more proportional system they can’t be seen as simply the more respectable version of one of the two major parties—and that eventually they’ll have to work with both of them. Better for the rank-and-file who wistfully recall singing the Internationale in their youth before they sobered up to learn this lesson now than later, methinks.
Contra Simon Jackman, the single transferable vote is a form of proportional representation, albeit one with a very high effective electoral threshold (the share of the vote a party needs to gain representation)—in the worst case, something on the order of (but not quite) 100 percent divided by the average district magnitude + 1 (number of seats per STV constituency).
Of course, the motivation for this discussion is the British election and the Liberal Democrats’ demand for a more proportional electoral system, specifically STV. Labour seem rather more enthused about electoral reform than the Tories at present, but one suspects Labour’s newfound sponsorship of the idea had more to do with pre-election positioning than a genuine interest in reform—Labour certainly didn’t complain with the 2005 election awarded them a healthy Commons majority on essentially the same share of the vote the Tories got this week.
Labour’s pre-election offer was the alternative vote, better known in the United States as instant runoff voting, or IRV. IRV effectively is a simplified form of STV in single-member districts, e.g. STV with a district magnitude of 1. I doubt the LibDems would be willing to settle for IRV, as it probably wouldn’t net them many additional seats, even if their supporters would have fewer wasted votes under IRV (as their second preferences would be allocated rather than discarded). IRV and other similar SMD systems (like the French two-round arrangement) are generally regarded as majoritarian rather than proportional.
In the British context at least, STV makes a lot of sense as a preferred electoral reform. Any proportional system will somewhat disadvantage the two leading parties (the Conservatives and Labour) compared to plurality (first-past-the-post/winner takes all) voting, but STV is less proportional at sane district magnitudes (3–6 seats per district) than virtually all PR systems, so the damage to leading parties is smaller. The major beneficiaries are the regional parties, regionally-weak parties (such as the Scottish Tories), and of course the Liberal Democrats; it should also have the salutary effect of somewhat depoliticizing the constituency boundary-drawing process in Northern Ireland in particular.
Fringe parties and those whose platforms can easily be co-opted by larger parties don’t come out ahead under STV, but that would seem to be a feature, rather than a bug—Parliament doesn’t need the BNP around, UKIP is a party without a purpose in a world with the Tories still in it, and the Greens are effectively Liberal Democrats who just don’t want to call themselves LibDems. Denying these groups 25 or so seats in the Commons between them doesn’t seem like any great loss for British democracy.
P.J. O’Rourke once said that giving money and power to politicians was akin to “giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” But that pales in comparison to the effects of giving an anonymous forum to mentally-teenaged political science graduate students and their hangers-on.
There was a point a few years ago—perhaps even a few months ago—when I believed having a job rumors forum was a necessary corrective to the fundamentally broken hiring process in our discipline. I firmly believe that if we are going to share a discipline of a few thousand people, and if we’re going to work with these people for decades in the future as peers, we ought to treat those starting out on the tenure track with the basic standards of decency we would expect from our own colleagues—and that requires honest, up-front information about the job market and search process as it happens, rather than a few summary statistics a year or two down the road from the hiring season. It is a principle I tried to uphold when we successfully searched for a colleague last year—and given that I still have a job, it was a pretty costless one. Although not one that many of my fellow political scientists have decided to follow, alas.
But whatever the hell is going on over at the rumor site has very little to do with fostering collegiality and openness today. Instead, the site seems to have been captured by an element of jealous, petty individuals who resent the success—or, seemingly more often, revel in the apparent lack thereof—of a small number of graduate students from leading political science programs. Perhaps these students are, to borrow a phrase from a former American president, major-league assholes. Maybe they pick on little kids at playgrounds. I suspect not, but I really don’t know these people (with the exception of Facebook inexplicably offering some of them as suggested friends to me on a regular basis—even though I’ve never met them); it’s rather beside the point regardless.
I freely concede that I am a minnow. I am a threat to no one in the discipline. I get interviews when there’s 13 applicants for a job, not 130. I don’t neatly fit any of the little boxes that define political science as a discipline either—being an “applied methodologist” who studies political behavior seems about as popular as being an H1N1 carrier. On paper, my position is probably just one or two steps above a community college job in the political science hierarchy; in practice, some days it feels like one (albeit without the fun paintball fights). I aspire to jobs that many of these snot-nosed brats wouldn’t even deign to apply for. So maybe I just don’t get why some graduate student’s success at an Ivy would be so personally threatening to anyone else.
I don’t know what the solution is here. Required registration drove down traffic, but it also drove up the level of discourse substantially. Perhaps the only solution is an economic recovery that lessens the perception of the market as being a totally zero-sum game. All I’m certain of is that a website like PSJR as currently constituted that makes me feel the need to shower after every visit isn’t one that’s doing our discipline—or anyone else, for that matter—any good.
This morning I unleash my inner comparativist and take to the pages of OTB to discuss today’s British elections in excruciating detail for an American audience.
I’m not particularly inclined to do any long-form blogging at the moment (here or at OTB), but here are a few random thoughts on issues of the day:
I can’t think of any good reason to object to a merger between United and Continental; it’s probably a long shot, but maybe the combined airline will see fit to introduce a flight from here that’s further afield than Houston.
I don’t have any better tea leaves than anyone else when it comes to the British election. I watched all three debates (which is three more than I watched during the 2008 U.S. presidential contest) and generally think that LibDem leader Nick Clegg simultaneously came off as the best presence and the most politically naïve, which is just as well since Clegg (unlike, say, David Cameron) will never be a British prime minister. Putting the LibDems in charge of the Home Office would probably be a good idea though. Realistically it seems there’s no way Gordon Brown comes out of this as a real (as opposed to caretaker) PM. Your current Nate Silver guesstimate is here.
Predicted constitutional crisis of the week: the Conservatives take a majority of the seats in England but few in Scotland and Wales, and try to muddle through with an overall minority, on the (not unreasonable assertion) that on devolved matters at least the party that won the vote in England should govern, at least on matters of domestic policy where Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can go their own way. See also: the West Lothian question. As discussed before, this problem is an icky mess to solve.
I probably could extend the discussion above into a lengthy post on electoral reform in Britain and the prospects thereof, but… nah. Complicating matters: each plausible reform is essentially rigged in favor of the party proposing it (IRV/AV favors Labour, STV or “top-up” PR favors the LibDems [and UKIP and the Greens and probably the BNP, Pliad Cymru, and the SNP too, although the latter three are radioactive as potential coalition partners for anyone, and UKIP is borderline], and the current plurality arrangement favors the Tories [and whichever unionist and nationalist faction is on top at the given moment in Northern Ireland, similarly radioactive]), making consensus unlikely.
On the one hand, Arizona’s tough new immigration law (as amended) probably still treats illegal immigrants better than they would be in most other countries in the world, including Mexico itself and most Western European societies. On the other hand, I think we probably ought to aspire to higher standards than those countries, even putting aside my crazily-anarcho-libertarian-open-bordernik principles.