Tag Archives: Plebiscite

Whither Brexit

Answer… it’s ongoing.

Hard to believe two years have passed since the first big shock result of 2016. Especially since little seems to have happened, in this case.

The main reason I feel like revisiting this topic is its useful lessons for national plebiscites, a concept which has been on my mind lately.

It’s increasingly tempting to believe that America’s national politics might benefit from some element of direct democracy. The reasons are mostly variations on the theme of current practices not working very well…

Comparing surveys on issues, and the outcome of votes for elected officials, it seems like there is definitely a disparity, and seems to me like people are less bad at choosing broad policies than they are at choosing leaders to empower. Both my own observations and some studies suggest that contests for elected office have devolved into mindless seesaws of partisan intensity, whereas facts and argument have at least some chance in initiative and referendum campaigns. On certain issues, meanwhile, ideas seem to have hardened and yet there is no apparent hope of settling e.g. the issue of abortion, because on this issue there is no real overlap between the two parties between which government is, over time, divided in America.

I believe that there are issues in which resort to a nationwide plebiscite would offer some hope of an America that is less ungovernable.

Mainly because, at this point, national politics are basically a kind of bastardized pseudo-direct-democracy anyway. In practice, we elect people to make decisions… in reality, ideological party “sorting” is now substantial, and elections are at least as much arguments about known issues as they are about trying to select wise and honorable people to deal with undefined “new business.” At some point, it seems like we need either a better mechanism for resolving long-term disputes… or else we need to admit that we’re in a civil war and respond accordingly.

Plebiscites seem like a possible solution. Yet even setting aside the inevitable constitutional roadblock, just for discussion’s sake, there are reasons for concern. I think the story of Brexit demonstrates some interesting ones besides the obvious.

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