Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Treaty and Constitution

The Government has finally started the long process of reviewing the NZ constitution and the role of the Treaty of Waitangi in it. This process will take many years and will require "buy-in" from all NZers but, as a start, I present some of my own thoughts here.

The conventional view of NZ's current constitution is that our law arises from common law, statute law and convention. Some matters of law are sufficiently fundamental that we accord them the status of "constitution" although there is no explicit category of "constitutional law" defined within the law itself. Changes to "the constitution" (eg the Supreme Court or the electoral system) are normally enacted by legislation. In some cases a supermajority and/or referendum may be required.

Other models are possible. We could equally well hold that our current law arises from pre-Treaty Tikanga Maori and that the Treaty of Waitangi simply expresses the willingness of the signatory chiefs to permit Pakeha settlement and/or amend traditional custom within the authoriy of their Rangatiratanga. If we use such models, however, we are taking the path of revolution (bloodless or otherwise) for we break the chain by which contemporary law is grounded in its antecedents and strip the law of its historical authority. Whether or not these are replaced by other antecedents a period of considerable legal and constitutional uncertainty would inevitable ensue.

The constitutional uncertainty associated with any revolutionary change of model (quite apart from its intrinsic undesirability) precludes a stepwise approach to constitutional change. Since it is the expressed view of the government (and of many other interested parties) that "treaty" issues should be resolved before other, less urgent contitutional matters; there would be little prospect of getting majority public support for revolutionary change (and particularly the above example); and there is adequate flexibility within the scope of "evolutionary" change I consider only constitutional changes enacted by law and preserving continuity of the rule of law and sovereignty.

In an earlier post I wrote that

It seems clear to me that the Maori concept of "rangitiratanga" (after ceding "kawanatanga") means something more than the English concept of "ownership" but somewhat less than the English concept of "sovereignty". If we are to embody the Treaty principles in a New Zealand constitution then perhaps the first step must be to define that difference (Mana whenua? Ancestral Rights?). But we must define them in terms which are clear and acceptable to a broad concensus
Perhaps it is time to look at that extra factor (or factors) now. Under pre-treaty Tikanga, the Maori concept of "Rangitiratanga" encompassed the political (kawanatanga), proprietary (possession) and spiritual (mana). The English term "sovereignty" has some ambiguity but normally means something very close to kawanatanga. Under British law the Sovereign is considered the source of land title but does not actually possess individual parcels of land by virtue of sovereignty. If we apply these definitions to the Treaty of Waitangi (Maori version) then the following principles result -

1) Kawanatanga was explicitly ceded to the British Crown and is now vested in the New Zealand parliament.
2) Rangatiratanga to whenua (kainga and taonga) was explicitly retained but, in the context of (1) this would have to interpreted as possession + mana whenua (ie excluding kawanatanga)
3) Whenua could (and would) be sold to the Crown by free negotiation.
4) Individual Maori became equal British subjects (and New Zealand citizens).

Applying the same definitions to the English version gives us

1) Sovereignty was ceded to the British Crown and is now vested in the New Zealand parliament.
2) Maori retained possession of "Lands, Estates, Fisheries, Forests and other Properties" for "as long as they wish to hold them"
3) Land could only be sold to the Crown (later waived).
4) Individual Maori became equal British subject (and New Zealand citizens).

The differences between these two versions need not be great. There is no issue of substance in point (1). While sovereignty may sometimes be used as a translation of Rangatiratanga that is not it's normal (or legal) meaning. The "powers vested in a governor" in 1840 differed from "the powers of a sovereign" only insofar as the former were granted by delegation. The courts and the Waitangi Tribunal have consistently treated "Kawanatanga" as the powers of a sovereign government including the power (if not the right) to breach the treaty or to legislatively extinguish treaty rights.

The lists of properties in the two versions of point (2) do not correspond precisely but it is the clear intent of both versions that the lists should be exhaustive and the specific wording of neither is restrictive. The Maori concept of "Rangatiratanga" (even after cession of "Kawanatanga") is broader than the English "possession". I tentatively suggest the term "Mana Whenua" be used to describe those aspects of "Rangatiratanga" that are not automatically included in "Sovereignty" or "possession". The word "Whenua" should be interpreted to include land, inland and coastal waters, the foreshore and seabed, riverbeds and lakebeds to the full extent consistent with pre-treaty Tikanga.

Both Maori and English versions envisaged Land sales to the Crown who were then entitled to sell it on to third parties. The Crown subsequently waived the right of preemption at which stage Maori could sell direct to anyone. Most Maori Land is now held in trusts which have severely restricted rights to onsell the land (although most of it has already gone). In practice, however, alienation under British law has applied only to "possession" and those rights encompassed by possession under British Law. Neither version addresses the fate of "mana whenua" following alienation but the obligation of local authorities to consult with iwi exercising mana whenua (kaitiakitanga) under the RMA applies to all land - not just Maori land. It would seem reasonable therefore to assume that mana whenua is not and never has been alienated since 1840. This is a critical area to resolve - particularly in the light of the Foreshore and Seabeds Act.

So a set of constitutional principles giving effect to the treaty might look something like below -

1) Sovereignty (Kawanataga) was ceded to the British Crown by the Treaty of Waitangi and is now vested in the parliament /people/crown/constitution of New Zealand subject to established convention.

2) The Treaty of Waitangi allowed Tangata Whenua to retain "Rangatiratanga" over their full whenua (lands, forests, inland and coastal waters, foreshore, lake, river and seabeds and fisheries), kainga (villages) and taonga (all other physical or intellectual property) according to pre-treaty tikanga. All rights appurtenant to customary Rangitiratanga were thereby retained except for -
2a) Rights which necessarily form part of the Sovereignty (Kawanatanga) ceded to the Crown or which both parties clearly intended to be so ceded;
2b) Rights which were unavoidably incompatible with British Law;
Treaty rights retained specifically include -
2c) Full title (Treaty Title). A Treaty title has the full legal status of a fee simple title and originates from the date of the Treaty. Land transferred to non-Maori before the treaty will have a pre-treaty status determined by Tikanga and the new owner will acquire a Treaty Title if they owned the land before the Treaty. All land title in New Zealand is derived from treaty title and thence from customary Rangatiratanga at the time of the Treaty. The original Treaty Title so derived shall, once legally determined and vested in a legal person or persons, be held to have been the continuous property of that person(s) from the date of the treaty until its subsequent alienation.
2d) Mana Whenua. These are rights appurtenant to Rangitiratanga according to pre-treaty Tikanga but which do not form any part of Sovereignty or title according to British law. Mana Whenua status and its appurtnenant rights are independent of title and remain the unalienated and continuously held property of the traditional holders. Rights appurtenant to Mana Whenua shall (without restriction) include -
2d(1)) Kaitiakitanga - the right to be recognised as legal guardians of any whenua.
...

3) The government of New Zealand shall maintain mechanisms for
3 a) legally determining the hapu, iwi, whanau or other group of person or persons holding customary Rangatiratanga over any Whenua
3 b) legally vesting all "Treaty title" and/or "Mana Whenua" interests in a legal person or persons which -
3b1) is/are appropriately equivalent to or representative of the traditional owners or holders of those rights;
3b2) meets the required legal standards for governance, administration and accountability to shareholders or beneficiaries in the case of incorporated persons
3b3) identify or provide a means for identifying all shareholders or beneficiaries in any incorporated persons
3c) maintaining contemporary and historic records of all matters determined or established in 3a or 3b.

That's probably enough for a start (I'll look at the issue of Breaches and redress later). The bits in Italics are those that I consider may be controversial to some Pakeha or which are incomplete principally because of my ignorance. I realise that it's a little soon to be doing this sort of thing now but I felt there were some useful concepts for debate in here. If you have other views on these matters please share them. If you are Tangata Whenua or simply less ignorant of things Maori than me I hope you will forgive my presumption and any offence I may have inadvertently given. If I have made some foolish (or for that matter not-so-foolish) error then I beg that you will take the time to set me straight.



Saturday, November 20, 2004

Welfare Work and Kids Update

I've had an interesting E-mail correspondence with Phil Sage over the original post (below) and the Universal Marginal rates (or Basic income) system I alluded to. It transpires that here may be an error in the specific proposal I drew up (see sidebar link for pdf document) - fortunately in the right direction.

I estimated the total tax base from a treasury table which I assumed showed the taxbase for all income taxpayers (including companies). It now appears that the table may have shown the taxbase for individuals only. If this is true it would be possible to have more generous benefits and lower tax rates than I suggested.

I have EMailed Treasury for confirmation and will do a revised and updated version of the document when I hear back.

Watch this space.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Welfare, Work and Kids

There have been a number of postings over the Blogosphere following Judy Turner's press release on children born to parents on benefits. The usual suspects DPF (with lots of comments), NZPundit and Genius predictably support Judy Turner's position while NRT (no less predictably) takes the opposing view. Since Judy Turner is the United Future social services spokeswoman I thought I'd take a look from the middle-of-the-road, common-sense, pro-family perspective.
The objections to beneficiaries having children seem to be that

(1) They are turning the benefit into a lifestyle choice.
(2) They are exposing their children to poverty.
(3) They are bringing up children who will be a net liability to NZ as a whole.

The first objection is based on the "child allowance" component of the benefit. This is slightly under $3000 per child whether on DPB or unemployment benefit (somewhat less in real terms than the old universal family benefit which was set at 1 pound per week in 1946). This amount is however paid to low and middle income earners (with children) as well as beneficiaries. It cannot therefore incentivise a parent with existing children to go on a benefit. Nor does an additional child reduce the financial incentive for a beneficiary parent to find work. The child allowance reduces the financial disincentive for beneficiaries or low-income wage earners to have children but it does not make it financially advantageous.

In NZ we try to minimise child poverty and benefits (particularly for families) are set at a level designed to achieve that. The circumstances of low-income working families are little different to beneficiaries so any objection to beneficiaries having children should, to be consistent, also apply to low-income working families. This point is strengthened by considering that many working families may, in fact, be classified as beneficiaries. Consider a single-income two-parent family with two children paying $200 pw rent in Napier. If they earn $560 per week they will still be eligible (just) for an unemployment benefit of about $7 per week (plus accommodation supplement and family support). They would have a disposable income (after rent, tax and benefits) of $359 pw but would be classed as beneficiaries (if they bothered to apply or were already on it). On the minimum wage ($320 per week?) the unemployment benefit would be $175 per week and the disposable income $329 pw. With incomes of $80 pw or less the benefit is unabated at $343 pw and the disposable income will range from $246-299. Single-income two-parent beneficiary families with two children, living in secondary centres and paying $200 pw accommodation costs, therefore have weekly disposable incomes in he range $246 - 359 (with most over $300). On the average wage ($40,000 py) the disposable income increases to only $414. Hardly enough to define the difference between poverty and plenty.

Similarly with the argument that it is desirable (from a national perspective) to limit the fraction of the next generation born to the lower socio-economic groups. Leaving aside the dodgy historical ancestry of eugenics, any reduction in births in one group must be offset by an increase in other groups or lead to an overall reduction in the birth rate. NZ's birth rate is already below replacement and there is no evidence of a baby boom amongst the rich. Nor is there any practical policy I can imagine (much less accept)that might promote such a boom. Given our current demographics our children are our future and the solution to child poverty is to get rid of the poverty not the child.

Most families make decisions about family size and spacing based on a complex mix of health, social and financial issues including the optimum age for the mother to give birth, closeness of age of children, age of parents when children are grown up, magnitude of generation gap between parents and teenage children, relative preferences for permanent (vasectomy, tubal ligation) and temporary contraception and minimising the period of maximum economic sacrifice (when youngest child is under 5). Most of theses considerations are just as valid for beneficiaries as for wage and salary earners and there seems little reason to expect the minimal difference in disposable income between "beneficiaries and low-middle wage earners" to be a dominant consideration.

If we consider our couple in Napier again but assumed they started off as a young two-income couple earning (say) $480 and $360 pw and paying rent of $120 pw for a small flat. When the wife became pregnant they used their savings to put a deposit on a house taking out a fixed-rate interest-only mortgage for most of the price. Suppose the husband's income remains steady at $480 pw and his wife stays at home bearing two more children at two year intervals but finally returns to work (part-time earning $200 pw) when the youngest child starts school. The couple will have achieved the Kiwi goal of home ownership and successfully raised a family of three children but will have been eligible for (and presumably received) an unemployment benefit of between $42 and $64 per week. All 3 children will have been born on the benefit. The weekly disposable income for the family drops from $566 before they buy the house and the mother leaves work to have the first child to $320 immediatlely after. The disposable income (while on a partial benefit) rises to $323, $355 and $389 with the birth of the three children. When the mother returns to part-time work their disposable income rises to $467, enabling them to convert to a table mortgage and have their house debt-free well before retirement. It would be absurd to suggest that they should have deferred having the second and third child until they were off the benefit as this would mean waiting till each child turned five before "starting" the next one. This would have increased the total period of benefit eligibility (and depressed disposable incomes) from 9 to 15 years.

The raw numbers quoted by Judy Turner are difficult to put in any sort of perspective. That 26,000 women currently on a (major?) benefit have (at some time in the past) had children while on a benefit does not give much of an idea of how many beneficiaries are getting pregnant at any given time. There is also the question of definitions alluded to earlier. A person with a dependent family may be employed full-time (and not necessarily at sweatshop rates) and still be eligible for an (abated) unemployment benefit or DPB. Such families are presumably included in Judy Turner's figures although we would not normally consider them beneficiaries.

The 2003 Labour Force Survey gives a breakdown of employment type versus number of dependent children and by the age of the youngest dependent child.

This shows that

(1) About 83% of all families with dependent children have at least one working adult

(2) Single parent families account for about 28% of all families with dependent children but 77% of non-working families (neither or sole parent not working).

(3) two-parent households have similar numbers of dependent children (on average) regardless of employment status (both employed=1.82, one employed=1.90, neither employed 1.93)

(4) unemployed single-parent families have a similar number of dependent children to two-income families (1.80) but employed single-parent families have significantly smaller families (1.50).

I have done some further analyses on these figures which you can view in this spreadsheet. This suggest that

(5) two-parent families have high (94-96%) "Primary Employment Rates" (at least one parent working) regardless of the age of the youngest child or number of children. Families with very high numbers of "dependendent children" may be an exception but the numbers of such families are low and may include (eg) retired families.

(6) "Secondary employments rates" (both parents working) are lower (~75%) for families with youngest child over 5 and much lower (47%) for families with any child under 5. There is a specific preference for families with exactly one parent working where the youngest child is under 5 but an aversion for such families where the youngst child is 5 or over. This may reflect current financial incentives for two-income families combined with practical obstacles to providing full time childcare (for pre-school children) when both parents work.

(7) "Employment rates" for single parent families increase consistently with the age of the youngest child and decrease consistently with the number of dependents. The actual rates are usually lower than the secondary rates for two-parent families and approach them in inly the most favourable cases (1 child, or youngest child between 15 and 18). This probably reflects reduced financial incentives (compared to two-income families) and reduced options for sharing childcare with partner.

In a society where the two-income family is the norm single-income (whether one or two-parent) families will naturally tend to be relatively poor. But not too poor to give their children a loving home, a decent education and caring values. Ever since Rob Muldoon discovered that you could buy more votes with age care than child care (and fund it on the never never), NZ has made disproportionate public provision for the dependent aged compared to the dependent young. The "working for families" package will help restore some of the balance (at least it converts the poverty trap to a "reasonably comfortably off trap"). United Future's income-splitting policy would also help but only a complete move to a universal "basic income" system will restore complete fairness to families (and others). Such a move would have the interesting side effect of eliminating the (increasingly artificial) distinction between beneficiaries and workers thereby making Judy Turner's press release and this posting impossible.

[Greyshade signs off in a puff of logic]
UPDATE
(1) Some of the figures in my original example used the wrong rental value. I've corrected the values now. The differences weren't material but my apologies.

(2)Sage has posted referring to this item. He suggests that I have come to conclusions at variance with the evidence I present. I'm not quite sure what conclusions that would be. I certainly don't endorse the current compressed incentives for low-middle income families to work. FWIW the examples I quoted are based on current (ie fy2005) tax and benefit rates. The working for families package will improve the margins as they come in over the next three years. The respective "disposable incomes" for the example family I gave ($200 pw rent, etc) on annual earnings of $4160 and $40,000 will increase to $370 and $554 respectively compared to 299 and 414 at present but the marginal "effective tax rate" is still 75% (compared to 84%). Note also that the example I gave of a "beneficiary family" earning $560 a week before tax and benefits was for one parent working full time (and one caring for children) fulltime. Having raised my own family that way (and paying an AVERAGE 40% tax at the same time) I can assure you that this is no "hammock road".

I don't accept that the problem has been caused by "successive governments pushing up the base benefit levels because this simply hasn't happened. This reference gives a good background to historical changes in NZ Social Welfare policy and it's quite clear (eg from Fig 3 P23) that the net benefit for a sole parent with one child is much the same now as it was in 1950. The biggest change in NZ society has been the move from single-income to two-income families as the norm.

Many families wish to invest at least one "Full-time parent equivalent" in childcare at least while the youngest child is under 5 and that seems a perfectly reasonable choice. But it creates a relatively limited time of economic vulnerability for that family (unless they have particularly high earning potential). The case for a universal benefit over this period seems at least as strong as that for people aged over 65.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Ils sont foux c'est Belgiques

I thought about calling this post "Red Neck of Democracy III" but decided that might be confusing. Nonetheless this sorry European example reinforces the lessons I tried to enunciate following the US election.

1 Freedom of thought means freedom for the thought we hate

2 Democracy means counting alike the votes of the wise, the ordinary or the foolish; the liberal, the conservative or the fascist and votes for the good, the evil or the merely human.

3 It is the liberal's duty to confront evil counsels in the marketplace of ideas, to fight ignorance with knowledge, folly with wisdom and darkness with enlightenment. It is neither our duty nor acceptable for us to use the tools of repression against our opponents however hateful their views may seem.

Belgium does not seem to have learnt these lessons. The right-wing Vlaams Blok party standing on a dual policy of racist xenophobia and Flemish independence was convicted of "racism" and the sentence is now before the appeal court.
The countries of Europe have good reason to fear a repeat of the 1930's and their paranoia at the emergence of "ultra-right" parties is understandable. But this issue demands a cool, considered response. To respond from fear or panic is to invite the very disaster feared.

Let those who think it proper to initiate violence against the National Front, coerce or punish those who do not share their private agenda or to ban a political party they dislike reflect on this (San Diego Union Tribune)

The party's share of the popular vote in elections has gone from under 10 percent in 1999 to 24.1 percent last June. A poll released in September pegged the party as the most popular in Flanders for the first time.


Saturday, November 06, 2004

The Red Neck of Democracy II - The RR Strike Back

I have already written about what I hope is the big picture on the USA elections. Like Just Left I hope I have expressed my admiration for the positives of the world's greatest democracy. Equally now, I must declare my liberal values and my opposition to the policies of the present US Government while, of course, acknowledging the legitimacy of its victory and its constitutional right to pursue those policies.

Exit polls and other evidence seem to suggest that it was conservative "Evangelical Christians" who swung the polls to Bush. It would seem that Christians came out to vote (and to vote for Bush) in unprecedented numbers both in the swing states and in safe republican states. On the other side liberals and racial minorities turned out in force mainly in the swing states. The net result was a slight EC gain to the republicans (Iowa and New Mexico captured, New Hampshire lost) but a more substantial gain in the popular vote.

It is easy to adopt an elitist stance and sneer at the "deluded superstitions" of these "moral crusaders" or of Bush voters in general. It's even easier when you read of polls showing that most Bush voters believe Saddam Hussein had deployable WMDs and orchestrated the 9/11 attack on the twin towers. Easier still when a woman tells a BBC reporter she's voting for Bush "because Kerry's daughter is a lesbian". But it's wrong. The message has (Karl Rove and Ruper Murdoch notwithstanding) gone out. The "deluded" voters have been told the truth but they are committed to voting the same way they have always done and use "facts" to rationalise their prejudices rather than to inform their opinions - they were never going to vote for Kerry any way.

Nor are the religious necessarily dumb or morally blind. They may be highly motivated and intolerant of the views of others but they are not all stupid. Jimmy Carter (Liberal, former Democratic president, Nobel Peace laureate and Kerry's intellectual equal) was a born-again Christian from Georgia (and he was defeated by a divorced Republican actor from California - where was the religious vote then?)
What was different this time is that the Religious Right was driven by a single issue to vote and to all vote the same way. That issue was Gay Marriage.

I believe, as do many other bloggers of both the left and right, that a couple's right to have their union recognised by the law should not be dependent on gender. Nor do I believe that the law should maintain the ridiculous fiction that such a "Civil Union" is not a marriage. But I believe that this state must be brought about with the broad consent of the public. We must persuade those of a contrary view that we seek no more than is fair and that their own marriages are devalued less by extending the same right to loving same-sex couples than by heterosexuals who marry wantonly, carelessly or ill-advisedly. Such a change in law, when it comes, should be enacted by parliament rather than judges.

In 2003 the Massachussets Supreme Court (Goodridge) held that laws barring same-sex couples from marrying violated the Massachussets constitution. This led to a vigorous conservative campaign to amend the Federal Constitution. This campaign claims that the present constitution requires all states to give "Full faith and credit" to marriages conducted in any state and that Massachussets can now become the "Gay Gretna Green" of the USA. Others argue that common law allows states to refuse to recognise marriages from other states with different marriage laws. The amendments proposed, however, would override the state constitution so as to nullify the Goodridge decision completely rather than simply preventing its "export" to other states. This amendment gained Bush the overwhelming support of the Religious Right even though it is beyond his power to deliver it. Adding a referendum on the amendment to the ballot in key states helped guarantee that conservatives turned out to vote.

Perhaps there is a simple way forward that will satisfy all (or at least most) parties. Let Congress endorse a minimal amendment which simply formalises the existing common law precedent that a state may refuse to recognise a marriage contracted in another state with different marriage laws where those laws conflict with strongly held local public policy. This does not infringe on the traditional jurisdiction of any state legislature or constitution. The State of Massachussets may accept the Goodridge finding or amend their constitution. Any state may pass its own law on Gay Marriage or Civil Unions in accordance with their own constitution. Those states which do not allow such unions will not be forced to recognise them when contracted in other states.

Such an amendment will, in fact, preserve the status quo intact but removes the (overstated) risk that "judicial activists" might alter it in future. It should be possible to get bipartisan support and hence the 2/3 majority in both houses. The subsequent ratification referenda could coincide with the 2006 mid-term elections and, if successful in 38 states the amendment would be passed. The marital law issues can then be left with the states where they belong and federal elections can go back to being about the things that the federal government does.

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Red Neck of Democracy

The reelection of George Bush is a salutary reminder for liberals (in any sense of the word) that democracy includes "rule by people who are wrong" no less than
freedom of thought includes "freedom for the thought we loathe". We must reflect that the religious right, neoconservatives, bigots and the simply stupid have the same right to determine the direction of a country as any of us. Governments are human institutions and no constitution can guarantee the wisdom or moral character of the government of the day. The purpose of the constitution must rather be to safeguard those freedoms and values that Americans (and New Zealanders) hold most precious against a government that does not respect or understand them or one that simply finds the constitution "too finely nuanced".

There are weaknesses in the American system. There are causes for concern in the dynamics of current support for the Bush administration and the Republicans generally and it is appropriate to look at them in some detail (but in a later post). It is not without precedent and not the end of freedom, civilisation or the world as we know it. Rumsfield, Cheney and Wolfowitz are no more sinister than Joseph McCarthy. The Southern Baptists are neither more numerous nor more bigoted than in the pre-civil rights era when they were the Southern Democrats. The judges appointed to the Supreme Court in the next years will be eminent jurists (whatever their politics) and certainly no worse than their predecessors who gave us Dredd Scott v Sandford. The current crop of Republican representatives and senators are no more politically opportunistic or constitutionally insensitive than their forebears who tried to impeach the president on spurious grounds barely three years after the death of Lincoln.

They wish to know whether the President has betrayed our liberties or our possessions to a foreign state. They wish to know whether he has delivered up a fortress or surrendered a fleet. They wish to know whether he has made merchandise of the public trust and turned the authority to private gain. And when informed that none of these things are charges, imputed, or even declaimed about, they yet seek further information and are told that he has removed a member of his cabinet.
deja vu n'est ce pas.

The "checks and balances" of the separation of powers is at best an uncertain safeguard as "divided" governments (Republican President with Democrat Congress or vice versa) is by no means the norm and will not apply for at least the first two years of Dubya's second term. There are, however, other important safeguards.

The constitution limits what laws Congress may pass and what executive actions the President may take. The government cannot pass the Family Marriage Amendment (outlawing same-sex marriage) without a 2/3 majority in both houses of congress and ratification by 38 states. He may be able to start another war but will struggle to gain the congressional and public support he got for Afghanistan and Iraq - besides the US military have their hands full enough already.

The States have considerable autonomy and the federal government's role is circumscribed by the constitution. Bush may block federal funding for stem cell research but the State of California can (and will) pick up the slack. There will be no need for the "Bicoastian" States to secede or join the "United States of Canada" (Thanks Hans). Their State governments will ensure that life goes on pretty much as it would have under a Kerry presidency.

I don't think there will be a mass exodus of American liberals to Canada or NZ (welcome though they would be). Americans are optimists - perhaps that's the difference that separates them from European Social Democrats. Liberal Americans no less than conservatives are individualist rather than collectivist. They instinctively seek the opportunities of soaring alone above the safety of the flock. And they know that Dubya too will pass.

For that is the greatest safeguard of all. No President can serve more than two terms. Perhaps America can expect four more years of deficits, fiscal mismanagement and inappropriate tax redirection to the rich - but the economy will survive it. Maybe we'll see further encroachments on civil liberties - but they can be repealed. Maybe we'll see further intransigence on global warming - but we already have the numbers for Kyoto and Bush's term ends the same year as the first commitment period starts. Maybe we'll see further military adventurism - but first the US has to disengage from Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps with just a modicum of luck...

And then maybe we'll see some good things. It took Nixon and Kissinger to end the Vietnam war. Is it impossible that Dubka and Sharon might finally find a road to peace in the Middle East? And perhaps Kyoto won't matter if someone invents a technological fix to the global warming problem - cold fusion (ok not in four years), affordable photovoltaics or CO2 sequestration from coal gasification for instance. Who knows? It migh \t even be an American.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Life will go on

The coin has landed. This time it didn't quite land on its edge although it teetered a bit before it settled down. Nevertheless, while it was in the air the final result remained unpredictable until the final tumble was cut short by the coin hitting the ground. Compared to 2000 the result may seem like a landslide but, in fact, there has been remarkably little change. This is the 15th presidential election since the (2nd world) war and I have summarised the results of these elections on this excel spreadsheet.

Very little has actually changed. Depending on the final outcome in Iowa and New Mexico, Kerry may have actually gained a net state (New Hampshire) but lost a net 7 electoral college votes to reallocation. Ohio and Florida remain in Republican hands by margins far below the MOE of any opinion poll but (this time) clear of the much lower margin of error for an actual election. Nevertheless it is unusual for the electoral college to be particularly close. This will be only the third time since the war that the successful candidate has failed to get 300 electoral votes (the other time was 1976 when Carter defeated Ford by 297 to 241 electoral votes. Past winning Presidents have secured more than 400 electoral votes in 7 of the 15 elections since 1948 and Nixon and Reagan both scored near clean-sweeps when standing as incumbents (1972, 1984).

Bush's popular vote lead looks like about 3%. If this holds up when all the votes are counted if will be an improvement on 2000 (-0.5%) but still the fifth lowest margin since the war and the worst performance by an incumbent president except for Ford, Carter and Bush Snr (who all lost).

Finally the turnout. I couldn't find a source of voting-age populations (or even total populations) for all 15 elections so I've used total populations and assumed 75% are of voting age. That shouldn't be a bad estimate for the period 1980-2004 and should certainly be fine for comparing turnoutd between elections. The 115 million (if that's what the final figure is) is high by US standards but not as high as the hype might suggest. In fact the turnout would seem to be fairly constant at about 50% and the current figure (52%) would be lower than the 1992(Clinton v Bush) and much the same as 1984 (Reagan v Mondale). Heaven help America (or at least the American election boards) if they ever get the 80% turnout we expect for our national elections.

UPDATE
I've now got more up-t-date figures on provisional counts. Final figures could still change a little in either direction but not much. It now looks like the total vote was 120 million and this is being claimed to be 59.6% of eligible vote. I've used % of Voting Age population which gives a slightly lower % (55.8%). This makes the turnout slightly higher than 1992 (55.1% of VAP) and the highest since 1968. With some votes not yet allocated Bush has 59.2 million (51%) and Kerry 55.7 million (48%)which means both candidates have scored moe votes than any other candidate in history. The Electoral College is now down as 286 to 252 though this could still theoretically change.