Monday, September 03, 2012

Talking Crap in Holland v America

The Economist had a really interesting article, Fact-checkers: Talking crap in Holland v America. "The entire front page of the Volkskrant, one of the three top Dutch newspapers, is taken up today by an article about the misleading statements and inaccuracies in Paul Ryan's convention speech on Wednesday"

"The Dutch have a system intended to avoid the sort of fact-free insult-hurling that has plagued America's presidential race this year. The discussion in America over the rival candidates' budget plans has taken place in a vague and undefined discursive space, largely because the Romney-Ryan campaign does not actually have a budget plan. Mr Romney says he will keep the Bush tax cuts, slash income tax rates across the board by 20%, eliminate capital-gains tax for income under $100,000 per year, maintain defence spending, restore the $716 billion over ten years which the Obama (and Ryan) budget would have cut from Medicare outlays, and shrink the budget deficit by closing tax preferences, none of which he specifies. This doesn't add up, as the Center for Tax Policy found last month, but it's hard to say just how it will fail to add up, because Mr Romney has no item-by-item budget plan; we really have no idea how much he proposes to spend if he's elected.

In the Dutch electoral system, this can't happen. Two months before the elections, every political party is expected to submit a detailed budget plan to a non-partisan agency called the Central Plan Bureau (CPB), which plays a role similar to the Congressional Budget Office in America. The CPB produces an analysis of the economic consequences of those budget plans. The effects are assessed in detail for 2013-2017, and there's also a prognosis for 2040 to discourage parties from larding up their budgets with short-term candy that leads to negative long-term consequences."

"The point is, it is simply impossible, in the Netherlands, for a political party to end up systematically ignoring math and accounting the way the Republicans have at least since George Bush's campaign in 2000.

Could we institute something like this in America? No. We can't. The reason is that in America, there are only two significant political parties. It's impossible for a neutral arbiter to preserve its public legitimacy when ruling on subjects of partisan dispute in an election if there are only two disputing parties. Neither side will accept the referee's judgments. The reason it works, for the moment, in the Netherlands is that there are currently ten parties represented in parliament, four to six of which are major contenders. That spreads the political polarities out in different directions and creates more space for neutrality."

It always come back to Federalist Paper #10. In a post-Citizen's United age (really a post-swift boat age) I've wondered how to combat lies in political speech. In other contexts slander and libel laws might help, but they don't in politics, political speech is protected and there isn't time to sue before the damage is done in an election. I do like the Dutch idea and think it would be better than what we have now.

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