Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ah, rational choice

Well, there's certainly a lot going on in the world these days, and it's been a long time since I've been blogging. It's election day today in the States, meaning that for once, local politics is on my mind.

Today the student government body I serve in started discussing our student union's legislative program, that is, what guides our lobbyist. I can't help but reflect on the fact that most of the issues we'd like to see addressed in the coming months and years will not be, as a result of the fact that our state Legislature is so constrained by citizen initiatives and the general hatred of taxation that has evolved in this state despite our social liberality. We can't retain top faculty and remain in the first tier without either more state funding, a radically altered tuition model or both.

That said, I'd be happy to make the pitch for a different tuition model. There's a lot of sentiment against what people are calling the "Robin Hood" model, i.e. an explicitly different level of tuition depending on income, the "sliding scale." I don't advocate that, but I do advocate a moderately higher level of tuition in keeping with other institutions of our caliber across the country, and a corresponding increase in grants and scholarships (and secondarily, loans) in order to allow lower-income students to continue attending the university. I'm also pro-affirmative action (on a primarily economic basis) and, though racial affirmative action is prohibited in our state, I agree with race being a factor in admissions.

Opposing the low-tuition model is unpopular, but realistically is the only way to go. In addition to the revenues, higher tuition levels create a greater incentive to graduate earlier, further relieving the pressure on our University's limited resources. It's worth noting too that there's greater incentive to do well, the more you're paying for an education.

Citizen initiatives are stupid

This brings me to the "citizen initiatives are stupid" opinion I've held for a long time. Simply put, information costs mean that most citizens don't consider all aspects of an issue. A guy I live with today commented to me something along the lines of "we should elect people to read about these issues for us and vote on them." I noted that, theoretically, such people are referred to in our state constitution as the Legislature.

Now, there could certainly be changes to the Legislature; but honestly, I believe the problems with the state legislature are problems common in the American system across the country, and I seriously doubt a switch to a proportional-representation parliamentary system is at hand. (I do, however, advocate radically reducing the number of elected positions in order to minimize information costs and allow citizens to focus on gathering information for major races.)

But the major point I'm getting at here is that citizen initiatives (and citizen-initiated referendums) are ridiculous. Whoever can afford to bankroll an initiative can get it on the ballot, and great sums of money are spent on convincing the public of some point they can only consider in isolation. When considering a new tax, the public doesn't have the scope of the entire state budget to look at and realize what rejecting the tax will do, in terms of further tying the Legislature's hands and leading to painful cuts in social spending (and no new transportation projects that are desperately needed). It's worth noting that California's crisis was worsened by the fact that about two-thirds of their state budget is specifically dedicated from individual taxes, and cannot be changed by the state Legislature.

The Legislature are the ones who know what the hell is going on. Let them do their jobs.


World events

There's plenty going on today, as always; the Mar del Plata summit ended in disaccord as everyone knew it would; Liberia is electing its (hopefully) postconflict president; France is dealing with an eleventh night of civil unrest; Martin's government in Canada is facing a possible downfall in a few days.

Now the French are hypocrites and also in denial, and (of course) discriminate against their minorities (but who doesn't?). One might note, however, that the anger of minorities against the French government might suggest that pretending that cultural differences don't exist might not be a particularly sane strategy.

In Israel, meanwhile, both parties are in turmoil; Channel One reported that Arik has decided to definitively break from Likud, though that's being denied; meanwhile Labor is due to elect a new leader, choosing between Peres and Amir Peretz. Honestly, it seems like Labor is choosing between being Yachad (Social Democratic Israel) and being Shinui.

At this point, Ha'avoda brings nothing new to the table. But should this be surprising? In the first decades of the Jewish state, Mapai was the party that represented the state, in general, winning ridiculous majorities (which were fated to end as immigration continued, and more cleavages opened in society). Splinter groups continued to break from Mapai, until nothing was left except that core which still tried to reach the "consensus." But there was and is no more consensus, all the ideological groups have split from Labor, and the remaining core is a little group which, under Peres, tries to satisfy everyone and pleases nobody.

Honestly it probably doesn't matter who wins this election. In the short term, Labor's best chance for electoral success probably lies with Amir Peretz. At least he's not guaranteed to bring Labor even further down, though he very well might. But then, what would be the difference between Labor and Beilin's party?

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