04 July 2007

Why Five Years?

I happened to ask in a debate recently, why should we elect governments for five years? Most democracies seem to use four or five years between elections, but I've never seen a justification. One or two years would be quite practical, and ten or more years very easy.

I mentioned I'd been reading Unqualified Reservations lately. One argument made there is that all governments extract the maximum loot from the population, and the difference between governments is in the horizon they have (a government with a long horizon will try to maximize growth so as to be able to steal more in future), and in the dead-weight losses involved in holding on to power.

If one considers the value of elections to be that they prevent expensive civil wars and revolutions, by making it more tempting for rival factions to wait their turn, you can get some idea of how long an elected term should be. In order to maximise the time horizon of government, giving it an interest in shearing the sheep rather than slaughtering it, it should be as long as possible, but not so long that rivals give up waiting and try to overthrow it, necessitating wasteful countermeasures.

Given those concerns, I think we could beneficially stretch the term a bit longer than five years. Even ten might be possible, but that would be pushing it. More than ten, and I think the opposition would not be willing to wait.

It might not matter. Other features might be manipulated to advantage incumbents to a degree that compensates for overly short elected terms. I can imagine that there's a sort of equilibrium - incumbents have enough power over the system that they only ever allow just enough chance of being deposed to prevent violent revolution.


A Nonny Mouse said...

Well, it may be that the government is wise to Wogs buying large quantities of fertiliser these days. Just how many Muslims have arable farms?

A Nonny Mouse said...

The Chartists demanded yearly parliaments. All their other demands were eventually conceded: no-one seems much worried about this one.

There is the factor that politics is a profession like any other and having experience in the job helps. When the mayoral elections were held for London it was found that a majority of Conservatives intended to vote for Ken Livingstone, to say nothing of the other parties. Obviously the electorate thinks that experience is important. It doesn’t help if the moment you start to get on top of your job, you get chucked out.

Also governments have a habit of throwing careful economy to the winds during election year in order to get re-elected.

As a suggestion, I would propose that we abolish general elections and have a bye-election in a different constituency every Saturday. That way we would have a completely different parliament every eleven years or so, and every politician, though not every government, be given 11 years security of tenure.