Monday, July 9, 2018

Brexit: "Ignorance is bliss" is the core theme of an initiative/referendum democracy like California's

The Brexit issue - the impending withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU) - offers a clean, clear case study for Californians regarding the initiative/referendum process that so confuses voters and compromises representative democracy in our state.

It is a human tendency to blame someone else...something else...anything else when our failures dominate our lives. And thus on June 23, 2016, the fine citizens of Great Britain who were chaffing around the neck because of the economic inequality that has resulted from the 21st Century and who blamed "them" - you know, immigrants - voted to leave the European Union (EU).

Of course, they didn't have a 15 page ballot providing an opportunity to vote for the details of the process of leaving - a chance to designate who would be winners, who would be losers. Everyone who voted for Brexit knew there would be losers, just not "me" because "I'll" do better if "we" can get rid of...something or someone, because the inequality is definitely not "my" fault.

After all, it's not complicated except for almost everything about it. The one detail that voters could have considered is that Great Britain has "borders" and what to do about them might get complicated, particularly since the average British taxpayer paid about 90% less in taxes than would be needed to enforce border restrictions.

For instance Great Britain has a 310 mile border - a land border - with the Republic of Ireland. Oh, and it's an uncontrolled border, easily comfortable mostly because of the European Union of which the Republic of Ireland will remain a member.

Then, of course, there is the 7,000-19,000 mile (depending upon many factors) coastline border which interestingly is under "Juxtaposed controls" hereby immigration checks on certain cross-Channel routes take place before boarding the train or ferry, rather than upon arrival after disembarkation.

But, hey, all this can be handled while providing "me" with a better job while reducing "my" taxes.

The borders are the most understandable issue, while almost everything else with the EU involves complex math and regulations that underlie the complexities of the 21st Century British economy and the health and welfare of its citizens. The truth was, the members of Parliament could not agree on some facets of the EU relationship reflected in the outcome of a renegotiation process that was announced in February 2016, so they decided to learn about 21st Century elections by referring to the voters the question of whether to leave the EU.

In that election process the "pro-leave" forces - rich people with potential economic gains if Britain left the EU - created a simpleton campaign and were able to secure 51.9% of the vote (assisted by the secrent Russian social media pro-leave campaign). The statistics are pretty straightforward and similar to Trump voters:

    ..."Older and less-educated voters were more likely to vote 'leave'... A majority of white voters wanted to leave, but only 33 percent of Asian voters and 27 percent of black voters chose leave. There was no gender split in the vote, with 52 percent of both men and women voting to leave. Although Brexit has never received much backing from liberal or left-wing political leaders, leaving the European Union received support from across the political spectrum... Voting to leave the European Union was strongly associated with holding socially conservative political beliefs, opposing cosmopolitanism, and thinking life in Britain is getting worse rather than better."
    ..."First, education and, to a lesser extent, age were the strongest demographic predictors of voting behavior... Second, poor economic outcomes at the individual or area level were associated with voting to leave... Third, support for leaving the European Union is strongly associated with self-reported opposition to immigration, but not with exposure to immigration."

How Brexit will work out in the long run is predicted to be negative. As usual, older people voted against their current best interests. Immigration, the issue which the older age group have the most negative attitude regarding, for decades has propped up the health and social services of Britain, services which older people along with infants use the most. And the older voters know it.

On the other hand, it's the 21st Century so they can watch cat videos.

Californian's think that their initiative/referendum/recall system was created to make their control of government more effective because they know all about John Randolph Haynes. Yeah, right. The most likely response from 99% of Californians would by "who?'

Haynes was born in 1853 in Fairmont Springs, Pennsylvania, a coal mining community. He earned his medical doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, opened a medical practice and married women's suffragist Dorothy Fellows. In 1887 they moved to Los Angeles for his health where he became one of the city's busiest physicians. To make a long story short, there he helped found the Christian Socialist Economic League of Los Angeles.

The late historian and California State Librarian Kevin Starr, in his book Inventing the Dream: California Though the Progressive Era, part of his multi-volume series on the history of California, collectively called "Americans and the California Dream", tells us of Haynes:

    This aristocratic, outgoing physician, a lover of wine and food and Oriental rugs, did not let his Socialist beliefs stand in the way of accumulating a fortune in real estate, banking, and insurance, or of carrying on a prosperous surgical practice. The initial appearance of the Christian Socialist Economic League of Los Angeles at a dinner round table was totally appropriate, for Dr. Haynes loved to advance his ideas in the setting of his sumptuous home, rich and warm with family antiques and paintings, after a first-rate meal prepared by the family chef, accompanied by judicious selections from Dr. Haynes's excellent wine cellar.
    If voters could in an industrial democracy put their own legislation on the ballot, Dr. Haynes believed, or vote yea or nay on controversial measures, or recall corrupt officials, the resulting democratic atmosphere would yield naturally to Socialism.

Haynes also came to believe in eugenics proposing the "sterilizing of the unfit" and the forced sterilization of "abnormal individuals." It was this genius that was first responsible for the use of direct democracy in California stating: "The remedy for the evils of democracy is more democracy."

This is not to say that the the Lincoln–Roosevelt League he helped to found with a group of lawyers, businessmen and journalists did not do much for Californians. In Sacramento they accomplished "the constructive destruction of the Southern Pacific machine." But from their group came Hiram Johnson who in 1910 ran for governor of California on the League's platform of hyper-direct democracy. Under Johnson leadership the Legislature successfully referred a Constitutional Amendment to the voters putting in place initiative, referendum and recall in 1911.

At the time, State Senator Leroy Wright said about the measure: "Its tendency is to change the republican form of our government and head it toward democracy, and history teaches that democracies have universally ended in turbulence and disaster." In the last general election, 105 years later, the voters faced 17 statewide ballot measures and a myriad of local measures. Co-president of the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy Joe Mathews noted "It’s the most expensive system in the world, and it’s the most inflexible system in the world."

Mathews and fellow Global Forum co-founder Bruno Kaufmann recently wrote in the Washington Post: "The key challenge ahead will be to design new practices and institutions to ensure that this form of governance is properly mediated so that it enhances the public good, is not captured by organized special interests or does not merely express the prejudices or immediate wash of voters’ emotions."

Mathews and Kaufmann are the main advocates in the world today for democracy. What they mean by "properly mediated" direct democracy is explained in their article:

    Many direct democracies fall short in two areas: deliberation and integration. Ballot initiative systems, like those in California and Arizona for example, don’t offer space, time and supportive infrastructure for citizens and leaders to deliberate together to develop and consider a measure before voters decide upon it. And all over the world, many initiative and referendum instruments are not well-integrated into the representative systems.
    Ideally, the timing of ballot measure votes, and the rules under which such measures operate, should match those of the legislative system. After all, voters casting ballots on initiatives are acting as lawmakers themselves. Switzerland offers perhaps the world’s best integrated system. But too many direct democracies resemble California’s, where the initiative process allows an almost complete circumvention of representative government.
    There seems little doubt that direct democracy will become a more dominant feature of self-government, which complements representative democracy but also compensates for its waning legitimacy in our age of the distributed power of social networks.

Being a pessimist by nature, I have difficulty with the phrase beginning their last paragraph "there seems little doubt." The difficulty in California would be rewriting the rules. The Swiss system they called "the world's best integrated system" if implemented in California would limit the initiative process to Constitutional Amendments which require more signatures today. Ordinary laws are only subject to optional referendum, not initiative. They also have certain double majority requirements. These they assure will lead to "properly mediated" outcomes. They are correct.

That is because the Swiss system has substantive restraints on "the prejudices or immediate wash of voters’ emotions" which allowed the generations of Americans including the Founding Fathers and descendants to commit genocide against the indigenous people, own slaves, and launch wars of aggression against Spanish speaking people.

In my humble opinion, in California we need to require the number of valid voter signatures on any initiative measure to be greater than 5% of the population of the jurisdiction - meaning statewide about 2  million. And such a measure should be scheduled for a vote in the first regular statewide election to be held after one year has gone by since it was certified as having enough signatures.

Regardless, we need to observe the Brexit process and outcome as a lesson in foolishness. And we need to quit thinking "ignorance is  bliss" as an acceptable trait in our voters.

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