Reader survey

Are you ever curious about who reads F&V, how often, and what the readers like? I am. At the suggestion of JD Mussel and Henry Schlechta (whose names many readers will recognize due to their frequent posts here), there is now a Readership Survey on line. It is anonymous and will not take much time to complete. So please consider completing it.

(This post is a “sticky” and will remain up front for a while; please scroll for new content.)

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Sukkot 5778

I love decorating and covering the sukkah with plants grown on site.

After the ingathering from your threshing floor and your vat, you shall hold the Fest of Booths [Sukkot] for seven days. You shall rejoice in your festival… for the Lord your God will bless all your crops and your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).

Chag sameach!

 

Baseball’s wild cards strike again

The 2017 Major League Baseball season offers a strong indictment of the current format of two wild card teams. I rarely see or hear criticism of the new format; the consensus of the writers and talking heads seems to be that adding the second wild card has been a masterstroke, simultaneously making division races more meaningful and creating exciting races for each league’s last slot.

This year’s final standings come up short on those aspects, and more importantly, on another that has concerned me ever since the format was adopted.

This season, we do have some very deserving division winners. Two AL teams (Astros and Indians) have over 100 wins, as does one NL team (Dodgers). Another NL team has 97. However, if the selling point of the format is that it makes races exciting, this season did not deliver so much. Most of the second half of the season, it was fairly clear who was going to get nine of the ten postseason slots. In the AL, the second wild card was more up for grabs, as a bunch of mediocre teams (including my favorite team) vied for the slot. In the NL, most of the season, the two eventual wild card winners were close to one another, but far ahead of the pack. Only a late winning streak by the Diamondbacks and a slide by the Rockies let the Brewers back in and made the race for the second wild card somewhat interesting at the end.

Now look at the wild cards. The gap between the two winners in the AL (Yankees over Twins) is six games. In the NL it is also six (Diamondbacks ahead of Rockies). In both leagues, then, we will have single-elimination games pitting teams whose regular-season finishes were not even close.

It is fundamentally unfair in baseball to give a team so decisively surpassed during the regular season one shot at dethroning the team that bested it during the 162-game schedule. If it happens in a best-of-5, or preferably a best-of-7, well, that’s the way it goes sometimes; a series is a fundamentally fairer way of giving a lesser team a shot and is what has made the postseason compelling ever since divisional play was introduced in 1969.

The wild card is also a splendid idea. It prevents one of the league’s top teams from missing the postseason entirely despite having a better record than one or more division winners. But as soon as that postseason starts, one unlucky game can end the superior team’s season at the hands of the inferior team. This year, one of the wild card teams has the same record as one of the division winners. Yet the Cubs would not be eliminated until they lose three games (and it would be to a team with a better regular season record), while the Diamondbacks would be eliminated if they lose only one (to an inferior team). This is fundamentally bad institutional design.

The design of institutions is something we care a lot about here. There must be a solution to the problems I have identified in the current MLB playoff structure. I still prefer my previous proposal of “two divisions, two wild cards” (2D2W) wth or without the “asymmetric series” that I also proposed. However, when I made the 2D2W proposal, I was arguing for keeping the number of teams advancing to the postseason at four rather than the new format’s five. Even if MLB recognized the improvement my plan offers over the status quo, it is highly unlikely the number of teams making the postseason would ever be decreased.

So, we need to work with five teams advancing, while satisfying my criteria of not having a single-elimination game that might pit teams with substantially different records against one another, and also preserving the current principle of some reward for winning a division rather than a wild card. (Ideally, also enhancing the odds of the team with the best record getting to at least the LCS, or at least not reducing those odds.) I have tried to game out (so to speak) postseason formats that would balance these goals. I have failed. Maybe someone can come up with a plan.

As I said in my 2015 version of this complaint, whatever the outcome, October ball is almost here, and even dumb institutional design can’t ruin that!

The US Supreme Court gerrymandering case

I do not have time to dissect the arguments before the US Supreme Court in the case concerning the permissibility of the partisan gerrymander in Wisconsin. It clearly is a case of great importance to issues we care about at this blog. So, feel free to discuss here.

I highly recommend two pieces by Michael Latner:

Sociological Gobbledygook or Scientific Standard? Why Judging Gerrymandering is Hard (4 OCt.)

Can Science (and The Supreme Court) End Partisan Gerrymandering and Save the Republic? Three Scenarios (2 Oct.)

 

 

MMP weekend: Germany and New Zealand 2017

We are entering days of convergences. Over the next two days, the Jewish and Islamic new years and the first day of Autumn coincide. Then, on the weekend, we have the convergence of elections in the two countries that offer our best examples of mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation electoral systems: Germany and New Zealand. (Lest I be accused of hemispherism, let me hasten to note that in one of those countries, the election will be the day after the start of spring.)

In the case of Germany, which votes Sunday, there really has been no doubt for some time that the CDU/CSU alliance would place first, but it will be down from its 2013 result. There is also little doubt that the two parties that missed the 5% party-vote threshold in 2013 will clear it this time: the center-right FDP and the far-right AfD. The SPD, which briefly flirted with the lead in the polls some months after changing its leadership, looks like it may struggle to break 25% of the vote. The real question is what the coalition will be, after the election results are known.

I would expect the SPD to want a period of opposition to recollect itself after what looks sure to be another disappointing result for the party. Thus it may not be willing to renew the current CDU/CSU+SPD big coalition (what we should stop calling a grand coalition; my more direct translation of the German term is more apt). If the FDP has enough seats to combine with the CDU/CSU, we might see a return to the center-right combo that governed from 2009 to 2013, as well as in many past terms. There is just enough error in the projections from polling to allow for the possibility that this could be a viable combine. (Mouse over the numbers in the table at that link for the range of vote and seat projections for each party.)

However, the most likely result seems to me to be Jamaica! I will admit to rooting for this: CDU/CSU + FDP + Green. (The name refers to the parties’ colors.)

In New Zealand, the contest for Saturday’s election is much more uncertain. For months it seemed National, which heads the current multi-party governing arrangement, was cruising to another win. Then Labour changed its leader and surged (similar to the German pattern). By a few weeks ago, the two largest parties were running neck and neck, while the Greens stumbled badly and looked at risk of failing to clear the 5% party-vote threshold. This scenario was posing a potential difficult challenge for center-left voters: Do you vote Labour to bolster its formateur status (as the largest party, although there is no formal right of first attempt to the largest in New Zealand)? Or do you vote Green to ensure there is a viable partner for Labour other than Winston Peters and his New Zealand First (NZF) party? Given that the electoral system is MMP, you can do both: vote for Labour in your district (electorate) and vote Green on the list. However, while that might be a voter’s way of making a statement of preferred coalition, only the party vote affects the overall balance of seats in parliament. (Some exceptions to that statement, as I will get to below, but none likely relevant to the Labour-Green situation discussed here.)

In recent days, some polling suggests that National might be pulling ahead again. The result could be very close, and it could be a situation in which NZF is pivotal (although that may be less likely than it seemed some weeks ago). That is, assuming NZF makes it. The party has been tending downward and is hovering near 5%, as are the Greens . Here is where the electorate (district/nominal) vote comes in. The threshold provision for a party to participate in nationwide proportional allocation is 5% of party-list votes or one electorate. (Additional MPs elected beyond the electorate candidate are what I have termed “piggyback MPs“, not to be confused with that other MMP creature, the “shadow MP“.) The Greens do not have an electorate where they are viable, but NZF does.

Peters, the NZF leader, currently holds an electorate seat, Northland, having won it in a by-election in 2015. He is the party’s candidate again for the seat. If he retains it, his party would qualify for additional list seats, even if it fell below the 5% party-vote threshold.

The other electorate contests that matter include the one in Epsom, although it is not really a contest. The seat is safe for the one Act MP, David Seymour, who is quite certain to return. It is probably not likely that the Act party vote will be sufficient to earn the party a second seat, although I saw one projection a week or so ago that suggested it was possible. Act has been a governing partner with National since 2008.

Then there is Waiariki, one of the Maori set-aside seats. (Voters who claim Maori descent can choose to vote in their special Maori electorate or in the general electorate seat in which the reside.) Te Ururoa Flavell is fighting to hold the seat, which is the only way his party will retain a presence in parliament. That is quite a change for the party, which has been a National governing partner since 2008. In the past it has won as many as five electorate seats (in 2008) and in 2014 it had sufficient party votes to win a list seat for the first time, in addition to its win in Waiariki electorate. This time, it may end up with just one seat–or zero.

One electorate we know will not matter this time is Ohariu. United Future leader Peter Dunne resigned in August, after a 33-year career as an MP. This effectively kills the party, which has been a support partner to every government, whether led by Labour or National, since 2002. Only in 2002 did the party clear the party-vote threshold, and since 2008, Dunne has been its only member.

In an interesting twist on the Ohariu story, the Greens had initially decided not to contest the seat, in order to give the Labour candidate a chance to defeat Dunne and thereby knock a National partner out of the government-formation equation. When Dunne resigned, the Greens announced a candidate for the seat. With Dunne not running, there is no scenario in which this electorate will matter for the parliamentary balance, so there was no reason for the Greens not to have “local face” on the party (even though many of its voters will split their vote and give their electorate vote to the Labour candidate anyway). Running a candidate is thus another example of what I have called green contamination.

Two MMP elections in one weekend. Now that will be something to watch!

 

How not to federalise

Since his election in 2015, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has done little that supporters of liberal democracy should admire. His program of extrajudicial killings and contemptuous attitude to the judicial institutions of the Philippines demonstrates that he is in many ways a dangerous figure for the country. However, it’s true that a stopped clock is right twice a day, and one of Duterte’s more positive ideas for the country has been a consistently expressed willingness to change the country’s political system, from the existing system of unitary presidentialism to a semi-presidential federal system.

In keeping with this principle, a group of Senators have presented a specific proposal for a dramatically revised new federal constitution. Having only given it a cursory examination, I responded positively-however, a more careful examination demonstrates several substantial issues with the draft.

The proposal would divide the Philippines into eleven states, with Manila City becoming a federally administered region. Only half of Duterte’s proposal would be implemented, though, as presidentialism is kept-the most substantial change to the structure of the now federal government would be a change to the Senate, which would go from being a twenty-four member body elected using MNTV in one nationwide district for six-year terms (with staggered elections to half of the chamber every three years) to a seventy-five member body elected with states acting as districts, nine senators per state, and three senators elected per state every two years.

In general, the Philippines has not been a positive example of presidentialism. Presidents have regularly been elected in fragmented races (Fidel Ramos was elected in 1992 with 24% of the vote), and the party system for the legislature is if anything more weak and fragmented, with fluid allegiances (best demonstrated by the numbers of President Duterte’s PDP-LABAN party going from two at the election to a comfortable majority afterwards).

The federal aspect of the constitution also leaves something to be desired. Governors are elected directly, with first-past-the-post for four-year terms. Initially, and somewhat unusually, state legislators are elected by local councils. Three are elected for each province, a truly astonishing degree of malapportionment. For example, in Central Visayas State, the province of Siquijor (pop. 96,000) will have the same three seats as Cebu (pop. 4.6 million). Three further members are elected: one for farming, one for fisheries, and one for senior citizens.

Indirect election by local councils becomes variable by state legislatures after the first election. It is left unclear as to whether states are able to amend the composition of their legislatures, or whether local councils are still able to recall members of state legislatures.

Weirdly enough, states can create ‘autonomous regions’ within their own territories, the powers of which are only vaguely defined. States also have exclusive power, strangely enough, over “trade…tourism…weights and measures” as well as “pilgrimages to places outside the Republic”, which, as JD pointed out to me, could allow corrupt state officials to be spirited away from federal police on fairly spurious grounds.

None of this is to say, of course, that the principles of federalism don’t make sense for the Philippines. As a large country with clear political diversity, it makes sense to devolve power from a potentially unrepresentative core. Nonetheless, the proposal put forward by the Senators risks creating equally unrepresentative state-level governments with a somewhat esoteric mix of powers. More work is needed, and presumably the plan will be looked at more carefully through the later process of the reform process.