Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Rock and the Hard Place

This fall, my state is forcing me to participate in the great all-American either-or fallacy: In order to vote in the presidential primary, I have to register as a Democrat or Republican.

What if I don't want to vote for either party? What if I want to vote for what I believe rather than for some "platform" cobbled together by people I don't know and don't trust? What if I want to vote for the planet rather than a person? Or for the interests of future generations rather than my own?

What if I don't want to be labeled?

My hunch is that the candidates--the best of them, anyway--don't like this bipartisan system, either. But in American politics, only two trains pull out, and if you're not on one of them, you're left standing at the station.

Here's what really scares me. Supposedly, there's a balance of power in American government among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Supposedly, they keep each other in check. But in reality, there's now a fourth power in politics, one that permeates the whole process but, like dark matter in the universe, is invisible to the naked eye: the power of the Parties. Party leadership, who are not accountable to anyone except themselves and their own vested interests, make decisions of monumental importance.

Watergate should have been a warning to us. And what about the strange, disproportionate power of Dick Cheney?

By voting for my preferred candidate, I’ll be inadvertently supporting a system that is subverting everything my vote stands for. My vote will be tinged by the proverbial red or blue of party politics and possibly rendered meaningless by the antiquated electoral college system. But it is my vote, my little voice, and the only thing worse than having it rendered meaningless by others would be not to cast it at all.


The Tarquin said...

I normally reject economic analyses of real-world phenomena, but I think it's interesting to consider the fact that most economists aren't particularly concerned about the deleterious of monopolies. After all, if there's only one game in town, and they start abusing the customers, then the incentives for competitors in the market increase and it becomes increasingly easy for someone to come in and start stealing customers from the giant. What many economists warn against are certain kinds of duopolies. Such duopolies (such as Visa and Mastercard in the electronic payments market) are much better at keeping the market under control. They wind up forming stable, non-competing equilibriums with one another and trying (and usually succeeding) to beat the hell out of any competition. In such situations (note that this doesn't cover all duopoly reliationships) the two controlling firms are competitors only in a very loose sense of the word.

Now note that I am NOT an economist. And as I inferred earlier, I tend to take the majority of modern economics with a grain of salt. But the duopoly model seems to me to be a productive way to look at the modern two-party system. We have the illusion of choice and two "competing" firms who effectively block out competition. And, despite Duverger's so-called Law, such two-party political systems are far from unbreakable. The Liberal Dems proved that when they busted open the British parliamentary duopoly, creating a three-party system with the Labour and Conservative parties.

Anyway, like I said, I'm no economist, nor do I have any interest in being, but I found it interesting. Blame Jon Dingel (who IS an economist) over at for getting me interested in duopoly theory.

Citizen Jane said...

Very interesting! Thanks! I had never heard the term "duopolies" before.

The concept goes a long way toward explaining why, inefficient as it is, the bipartisan system in the U.S. has been so stable for so long.