What's a government for?
We all live in states these days.
Nobody created states. They evolved from earlier forms of social organization like tribes. Since states evolved, I wouldn't say they have any sort of purpose. They exist.
States can differ a lot.
But what states do is organize a population within a territory according to various rules. That is, states govern their population.
In a democracy there is the idea that that governance should ultimately be in the interests of the population governed. This is tricky to define and achieve, but a part of the mechanism is that citizens vote and that the will of the majority, as expressed in elections, determines the composition of the legislatures that create laws and institutions. This can work and be stable. Places like Canada have been pretty stable and prosperous places for a long time.
But the idea of the will of the majority is an aggregate will - no one person determines what the state will do. In fact, democratic states have many governance systems in place besides legislatures. There are constitutions and courts and police and a civil service all interacting. Many people have taken "the will of the people" to mean "my will". In practice, since referenda are pretty rare, this means that the citizen votes for a representative in a legislature. And in general those representatives organize themselves into parties.
I'm a person with fairly strong ideas about how society should govern itself. I think we need to move away from capitalism and towards a better system. I even have ideas about what that system would be like. But I don't have any illusion that my preferences will come to fruition any time soon. Democracies, and maybe all political systems, face a more proximate problem than the best political or economic philosophy. That is; good governance.
I suggest that good governance involves government that is stable and reliable and trustworthy. I like Popper's idea of an Open Society. This is a society that has no fixed vision about what society should be like, but instead just moves along solving problems as they arise. Popper criticized everyone from Plato to Marx because they all claimed to know how society should be organized and the end of attaining that state justified any means to get there.
It's why I like democracy. I think democratic societies sort of bumble along slowly getting better and better but without a goal that can be stated as a dogma. That kind of structure can enable an Open Society.
So for me, a legislature should be clear mindedly considering the issues before it. What are the facts here? What do people who have studied things think? What's the mood of the people?
That is an idealistic view of course but I think that minority governments have a much harder job attaining that ideal. With minority government minorities can control the government agenda by withholding support unless concessions are made by the majority to the minority. We are seeing an extreme example of that in the USA. The Democrats have a razor thin minority in the Senate. They are proposing policies for repairing America's sick democracy. They are being stymied by a couple of grandstanding members of their own party.
That's not good governance.
The USA opposition is constantly trying to force concessions to avoid the government defaulting on its debts. That is not good governance.
One issue is that people are rarely thinking about governance and how to do it. Rather, their concern is: "is my voice being heard?"
I can sympathize. I have strong ideas that I think are well worked out and that I'd like to present to a legislature or prime minister and have them say: "Great idea!! Let's do it!"
That's what people imagine when they want their voice to be heard. Of course I'd have to stand in line. Lots of people are like me. But we all have different ideas. So good luck with being heard.
In Canada our electoral system is a "first past the post is the winner" type system. People cast ballots and the ballots are counted and the candidate with the most votes is declared the winner.
It's not a perfect system, especially when the vote is close. It's a system where many minority ideas are never considered in the legislature. It leads people who voted for candidates who didn't win with the idea of "my vote doesn't count". This is an illusion. All votes are equal. It's just that one or other candidate gets the most votes.
There are alternative systems to first past the post. They involve voters ranking candidates on their ballot in terms of preference. Which requires quite a complex vote counting procedure that isn't as transparent as first past the post. And I think that with such a system, given political system based on parties, would rarely establish a stable majority government. And I think good governance is more important than all ideas being represented in the legislature.
What do you think?