“Well written and an interesting perspective.” Clan Rossi --- “Your article is too good about Japanese business pushing nuclear power.” Consulting Group --- “Thank you for the article. It was quite useful for me to wrap up things quickly and effectively.” Taylor Johnson, Credit Union Lobby Management --- “Great information! I love your blog! You always post interesting things!” Jonathan N.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Disenfranchising an Electorate: Using Legal Language on Referendums

Popular sovereignty, the ultimate sovereignty of a people as a whole, is typically exercised by an electorate at the ballot box. Such sovereignty is above that of governments (i.e., governmental sovereignty), which might come as a surprise given how little voters actually decide. Typically, the will of the people is limited to filling public offices by selecting among candidates or write-ins. In the last few decades of the twentieth century, California effectively expanded the power of popular sovereignty by adding a number of referendum questions to the ballots, but even those questions have not come close to covering the full spectrum of major policy issues, which are typically left to the office-holders: the agents of the People. Even though the popular sovereign (i.e., the direct will of the people) can make mistakes—such as requiring a 2/3 legislative majority to pass a tax increase in California—the expansion from merely filling public offices to actually making basic public policy decisions is from a democratic perspective a good thing. The key is to go broad enough that judgement rather than technical expertise or specialized knowledge is used. This effectively franchises at least the vast majority of an electorate as nearly everyone is capable of making a judgement among competing values, whereas a small percentage of people are highly educated in any given society—even in advanced industrial states. The problem, it seems to me, lies in how the policy questions on a ballot are written. In particular, they must be written in such a way that they are understandable to the typical voter. Writing a question, whether on policy, law, or a constitutional amendment, in legalize circumvents the expansion in popular sovereignty. Such an approach defies common sense itself, and yet it the Florida legislature did just that in 2012, placing the Florida electorate in a nearly-impossible position as the popular sovereign. Perhaps the legislators knew that the incomprehensible legalize would effectively safeguard their existing power.

The full essay is at "Florida Disenfranchised Its Electorate."

Misconceptions of the E.U. Budget

Could it be that at least some of the British voters who were in favor of secession from the E.U. held misconceptions of the federal budget? If so, perhaps the antagonism was unduly harsh in the referendum.  

The full essay is at "Misconceptions of the E.U. Budget."

Monday, April 8, 2019

Inconvenient Truths

When I was a post-doctoral student, I sat in on a course on German films during World War II. The instructor was an 80 year-old German man whose parents had been forced into sending him to a Hitler Youth camp. I asked him once whether he had seen Hitler in person, and, if so, did he look like how the documentaries have him pictured. Having the respect for knowledge that should be expected from a scholar, he told me that he had indeed seen Hitler in person. The brutal Nazi dictator was authentically smiling during his visit to the Hitler youth.  I was surprised, as I had been brought up with the image of the grizzled grins and terse glares.  To be sure, the victor’s history fits the horrendous crimes committed, but at the cost of objectivity, which any historian should value. The subjective historical portrayal and the German professor’s honest answer led me to wonder what Hitler was really like as a person. Even the epitaph of monster does not fit with the notion of the banality of evil visible at the Eichmann trial in 1961. Eichmann had been responsible for making the trains run on time to the concentration camps.
About a decade after my conversations with the German professor, I met a 92 year-old American veteran of World War II.  Did the American people know of the holocaust? I asked. Only after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, he answered. Before the U.S. went to war, the European war was something far away. When the U.S. was at war in Europe and Asia, Jewish leaders in Europe asked President Roosevelt to bomb the train tracks that were carrying the cattle-cars to the ovens. Roosevelt, the veteran said, told the Jews that he didn’t have time for that. “Wow, that’s a story!” I said in astonishment. One of the veteran’s daughters asked him how he knew this. “It was common knowledge at the time,” he replied. I had not even known that the American public knew of the gas chambers before the liberation of the camps. Even if Roosevelt wanted to be focused on military objectives because achieving them would mean winning the war, that he felt he didn’t have time to thwart the Nazis from transporting human beings to ovens astonishes me. I asked the veteran if the very language, cattle-cars to ovens applied to human beings shocked Americans during the war. He replied that “surprised” is not the right word for it. He did not characterize how he and other Americans had taken the news, which I found interesting.

The full essay is at "Inconvenient Truths."