Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Two-Party Oligarchy

Excellent article today on Antiwar.com by Ivan Eland, Wanted: A Freer Market in U.S. Politics. He says:

"Although globalization has opened markets around the world, the U.S. political system remains closed to true competition. Curiously, Americans are equally proud that they have one of the freest and most vibrant economies in the world and a two-party oligarchy that restricts competition among political parties. If greater competition is better in economics, why not in politics?

"Although no specific constitutional or legal requirement limits the number of major political parties, the United States has had only two dominant parties throughout most of its history because of the way the Constitution is written. The “winner take all” nature of the political system provides powerful disincentives for two stodgy, fairly broad political parties to break up into smaller, more competitive parties that would actually stand for something. Direct election of the president by the people, the presidential electoral college, and representation in Congress based on geographical areas all mean that only one person can win each election—giving political groups incentives to maximize their strength by hanging together in two disparate coalitions.

"In contrast, a parliamentary system—in which parties earn the number of seats they have in parliament based on their percentage of the vote (proportional representation) and choose a prime minister based upon a party leader’s ability to form a coalition of parties that commands a majority in the legislature—is more competitive. Governing coalitions formed after a rough and tumble election campaign that give voters a wider choice among multiple parties are much different from the electoral coalitions of the two-party system, which cause political groupings to mute their differences in an attempt to allow their coalition to win. Some decry the instability of multiple party systems, but it isn’t easy living free. “Freedom” is just a politician’s fancy word for choice, and multiple party systems offer greater choice and less behind-the-scenes collusion between the parties. In a multi-party system, the collusion among the parties occurs only after the voters have spoken—not before—and is out in the open."

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