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Electoral Rules Matter: Part II

Part I cited the renowned expert on electoral rules professor Rein Taagepera. Perhaps his most telling point is this: “As the number of actors increases, the number of possible disputes increases roughly as the square of the number of actors.” This obviously applies to Israel, whose government typically consists of roughly 20 cabinet ministers representing rival political parties. No wonder the average duration of Israeli governments since 1948 is less than two years! This short tenure renders it virtually impossible for the government to pursue coherent, consistent, and long-term national policies.

Here I am reminded of the warnings and wisdom of James Madison in Federalist Paper No. 62, where he defends the six-year tenure of the Senate, a defense that applies to Israel’s Knesset as well as to its Government despite their prescribed (but unrealized) tenure of four years:

The mutability in the public councils arising from a rapid succession of new members, however qualified they may be, points out, in the strongest manner, the necessity of some stable institution in the government. Every election in the States [i.e., the original thirteen states] is found to change one-half of the representatives. From this change of men must proceed a change of opinions; and from a change of opinions, a change of [laws or] measures. But a continual change even of good measures is inconsistent with every rule of prudence and every prospect of success. The remark is verified in private life, and becomes more just as well as more important, in national transactions.

Madison goes on to enumerate the mischievous effects of mutable governments:

In the first place, it forfeits the respect and confidence of other nations, and all the advantages connected with national character [my emphasis] …The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessing of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood … or undergo such incessant change that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?

Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uninformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any manner affecting the value of different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow-citizens…..

Madison also shows how mutable governments and policies undermine the predictability essential to enterprise and commerce, hence national prosperity. He concludes by saying:

But the most deplorable effect of all is that diminution of attachment and reverence which steals into the hearts of the people, towards a political system which betrays so many marks of infirmity, and disappoints so many of their hopes. No government, any more than an individual, will long be respected without being truly respectable; nor be truly respectable, without possessing a portion of order and stability.

Is it any wonder that opinion polls in Israel indicate that as much as 90 percent of the public despises the government and regard the Knesset as a mere haven for job-seekers?

In conclusion, certain Madisonian insights should be reiterated. First, the instability of Israeli governments diminishes the respect of other nations. Second, frequent change of public policies facilitates corruption by cunning “insiders.” Third, the excessive mutability of Israeli governments erodes public trust and confidence. Fourth, the transient nature of Israeli governments—a consequence of Israel’s ill-designed electoral rules—undermines the development of Jewish national character.

To be continued.

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