Sunday, November 01, 2009

Green Constitutional Engineering, in a Thousand Words

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Toward a Bioregional State is the first book on green constitutional engineering. For all those who want a weblink to pass to others with a very short discussion of the book, this is it.

Below is a recent editorial of mine about Toward a Bioregional State. It was published in October 2009 in the Korea Times, an English language publication, on the web as well as in the printed paper as "Today's Column."

[A more recent summary was published in March 2012 in the Korean Hankyoreh, a more independent newspaper. That is added below after the first summary.]

For a background of South Korea presently, there is a huge support for constitutional change. This is among the public (72.2% support), among a huge proportion of both major (gatekeeping) parties of the left and right (and minor parties), and among a few governors of provinces that want greater autonomy. The President wants electoral district changes and voting law changes combined.

Many frameworks in which politics are conducted are seen as increasingly illegitimate among a wide amount of people who disbelieve their left and right parties equally (with 35% and 30% support, respectively, among the public).

South Korea is drifting toward widespread constitutional change. However, when constitutional change is conducted by parties that no one trusts, this potentially solders in only greater corruption, gatekeeping, and environmental degradation of the current systemic status quo that wants to destroy the state frameworks that interfere with its degradative policies. Potentially, given more representative elites doing it, such constitutional change can actually solve systemic issues and lead to a more legitimated state and a more competitive party system. We shall see. My suggestions are of course for the latter: how to get more representative elites in the first place to make a better context for constitutional change.

Besides constitutional engineering debates, there are huge environmental concerns about inequitable state decisions on the environmental and health policies and an increasingly inequitable development policy in Korea wrecking their agriculture, creating their disappearing middle class, and demoting regional biodiversity potentially.

Solving all three concerns--constitutional engineering, inequitable elite development policy, and gatekept environmental concern--is what Toward a Bioregional State is all about.


So I decided to shrink-wrap a summary of Toward a Bioregional State for the Korea Times. This newspaper has been close to the 'political English-reading public' in Korea since 1950. I describe how the constitutional engineering change can solve all three things simultaneously--with green constitutional engineering.

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10-23-2009 16:40
Green Constitutional Engineering in Korea

By Mark D. Whitaker

Three major political concerns of Korea ― equitable economics, constitutional change and the environment ― are seldom discussed together despite being interlinked.

I suggest a method to interlink them with green constitutional engineering, widening the "Green New Deal" toward one of political stability, demotion of corruption and more representative equitable development. Three ideas are offered for constitutional revision debates in Korea in how green constitutional engineering can solve them.

The first debate is over districting; yet, no one has offered how to avoid districting that is partisan gerrymandering. Many accuse parties involved with "district reform" as merely scheming to elect more partisan incumbents by "pre-rigging" elections with creative line drawing.

This fails to create a competitive election and merely divides opposition artificially into separate districts or stuffs ballots (residences) of one party's supporters in one district. A real electoral reform of districts would draw them in a nonpartisan manner.

The public can be assured of this by making stable watersheds as the mandated form of electoral districting. Watersheds are biophysically real lines separating different drainage basins (water catchments). Drainage basins concentrate more than water.

Since much pollution risk is waterborne, watersheds represent areas where common environmental risk experiences exist. Therefore, watershed election districts should be the durable form of environmental risk feedback into state politics.

As a publicly desired neutral, nonpartisan way of drawing election boundaries, it has positive effects on party competition by removing gerrymandering to create truly representative parties. Parties should compete to represent the people's interests, not simply win by default because of gerrymandering.

A second debate is over whether multimember districts (multiple seats per district) or majoritarian districts (one seat per district) would provide stability. Political scientists note that stability problems exist because of ``pure'' static types of biased incentive structures for competition before elections and cooperation after them.

As a check against this, I offer a compromise by suggesting that "flexible seating" be institutionalized depending on the election's outcome. If a watershed district votes more than 50 percent for one candidate, then one person should be seated to accurately reflect the result of the majority.

If a district votes for only a plurality winner (less than 50 percent), then the top three multiple winners should be seated (with their direct percentage of the vote seat) to accurately reflect the result of the majority as well ― since voters in this case want multiple people representing them. This "flexible seating" puts the decision in the hands of the people.

It is achieved by "PRMA" (proportional representation with majoritarian allotment) potential voting rules. Both structural outcomes are options that simultaneously work as a check and balance on the biases of each and also encourage an interparty competition to have incentives to integrate the full electorate.

Smaller parties are assured their contention is worth something under plurality wins, and larger parties are encouraged to be more integrative for majority wins. Korea has had ever-lowering vote totals and party legitimacy. PRMA would provide parties with incentives to be more integrative.

A third debate is the relative power between the executive (prime minister/president) branch versus the legislature. I suggest a similar merged solution in a "flexible executive" arrangement based on election outcomes as well.

Let the outcome of voting determine the structure in each election through how their level of trustworthiness of a candidate is reflected accurately in how much power a winner is allowed to have each time.

For instance, if an executive candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote, the executive branch goes presidential for that term given the greater trust shown. If an executive gets a plurality win (less than 50 percent), the winner has less trust, and the public wants him or her on a tighter leash.

This means the executive goes parliamentarian, and the winner is a prime minister that rules in closer association with legislative checks. This provides legislative checks on executive power.

However, multiparty legislatures can have their own hamstrung "gridlock" difficulties and require a check against their power by allowances for having a stronger executive as president when election outcomes demand it.

It's encouragement for any executive to win as much power and legitimacy behind his or her party nationally beforehand instead of forcing it afterward in a partisan manner. A "flexible executive" solves several debates at once.

These three ideas (of about 60 in my book) are worth tabling to concerned Koreans wishing to avoid repeating mistakes of static, anthropocentric constitutional engineering. Stable constitutions can provide party incentives to integrate the full electorate and to integrate the environment.

States are eco-centric institutions that manipulate for good or ill variegated environments, and South Korea is a very regionalized polity. This regionality can easily be extended in the event of North/South Korean unification, unlike other plans tabled.

President Lee Myung-bak talks about bulldozing regionalism. He sounds like the late former President Roh Moo-hyun. However, that would be disastrously destabilizing, because Korean politics are regional. The state can work creatively with regional reality to be more legitimate and stable.

Opposing regionality is political suicide as Roh's attempt showed while in office, and Lee's attempt would result in the same failure. With an abysmally low approval rating for Lee's Grand National Party (GNP) and its main opposition the Democratic Party (DP) with only 35 percent and 30 percent, respectively, the only way to get referendum approval is to make it clearly a nonpartisan change.

Suggestions I have are nonpartisan, multiparty enhancements with green multiplier effects. When you integrate the full electorate in this fashion, in stable watersheds of environmental risk feedback, you are on the road toward a bioregional state with a representative development policy and a stable multiparty system of legitimate government.

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2009/10/160_54108.html



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Below is the second version, published several years later in the Hankyoreh:

Posted on: Mar.21, 2012 14:03 KST
Green Constitutional Engineering for Korea?

By Mark D. Whitaker

Three major political concerns of Korea ― equitable economics, constitutional change and the environment ― are seldom discussed together despite being interlinked.

I suggest a method to interlink them with green constitutional engineering, making a real Green New Deal toward one of political stability, demotion of corruption, and more representative equitable development for Korea‘s different regions. Three ideas are offered for constitutional, districting, and voting law revision debates in Korea in how green constitutional engineering can solve them.

The first debate is over districting; yet, no one has offered how to avoid districting that is partisan gerrymandering. In late February 2012, sudden district changes throughout Korea for the National Assembly seem suspiciously soon before the next scramble for the national election in a few months?

Such changes were announced February 27 of course with the claim to be within the letter of the current law. However, on closer look we see selectively administered law. Some districts were altered legally under the current laws about reapportionment like reducing the shape of the least populous district (Namhae-Hadong). However, the next two most severe districts that should have been reapportioned and reshaped were not. Instead, only the fourth least populous district was changed (Damyang-Gokseong-Gurye).

This raises the specter of just a novel form of gerrymandering. Many accuse parties, left or right, involved with “district reform” as foremost scheming to re-elect or secure more partisan incumbents by “pre-rigging” elections for themselves with creative line drawing, instead of providing a process that builds competitive election choices, equitable representation, and environmentally sound development across the inequalities of Korea.

In other words, endlessly changing reapportionment tends to be captured by incumbent parties. However, the main question concerning elections and districting should be “how can districts create competitive, more representative elections” instead of expecting merely equal numbers of people in a district to create a competitive electoral process as well? If the latter is the only question, then ’equal sized‘ gerrymandered districts that are uncompetitive are still possible, i.e., voting uniformly 90% for one candidate in a district with only 10% for the other candidates foreordained. Korea lacks a real competitive election by district. Gerrymandering through selective administration of reapportionment laws fails to create a competitive election and merely divides opposition artificially into separate districts or stuffs ballots (residences) of one party’s supporters in one district.

A real electoral reform of districts would draw them in a nonpartisan manner for competitive elections. How can this be done? The public can be assured of this by making stable watersheds as the mandated form of electoral districting. Watersheds are biophysically real lines separating different drainage basins (water catchments). Drainage basins concentrate more than water. Since much pollution and developmental risk is waterborne, watersheds represent areas where common environmental risk experiences exist, regardless of different people‘s party ideology.

Therefore, watershed election districts should be the durable form of environmental risk feedback into state politics.

As a publicly desired neutral, nonpartisan way of drawing election boundaries, it has positive effects on party competition by removing gerrymandering to create truly representative parties. Parties should compete to represent the people’s interests, not simply win by default because of gerrymandering.

A second debate is over whether multimember districts (multiple seats per district), majoritarian districts (one seat per district), or proportional representation by districts would provide stability. Political scientists note that stability problems exist because of any “pure” static types since each can provide biased incentive structures for competition before elections and for cooperation after them.
As a check against this, in voting law, I offer a compromise by suggesting that “flexible seating” be institutionalized within districts depending on the election‘s outcome. If a watershed district votes more than 50 percent for one candidate, then one person should be seated to accurately reflect the result of the majority.

If a district votes for only a plurality winner (less than 50 percent), then the top three multiple winners should be seated (with their direct percentage of their vote received as their seat’s power) to accurately reflect the result of the majority as well ― since voters in this case want multiple people representing them. This “flexible seating” puts the decision on the number of seats in the hands of the people, each time an election is conducted. “Flexible seating” puts the form of apportionment in the hands of the people as well. The candidate‘s percentage of voting power they get is based exactly on what percentage of the votes they got from the people in the election. Thus their elected levels of seat power are what they personally deserve--no more, no less.

This is achieved by “PRMA” (proportional representation with majoritarian allotment) potential voting rules. Both structural outcomes are options that simultaneously work as a check and balance on the biases of each and also encourage an interparty competition to have incentives to integrate the full electorate.

Smaller parties are assured their contention is worth something under plurality wins, and larger parties are encouraged to be more integrative for majority wins. Korea has had ever-lowering vote totals and party legitimacy. PRMA would provide parties with incentives to be more integrative. A more competitive election by party for determining whether a seat goes majoritarian (50% to a single winner) or goes “PRMA” (3 seats for a coterie of plurality winners in apportioned fractions of voting power) is an inter-competitive party incentive to uncover vote fraud by smaller or larger parties.

A third debate is the relative power between the executive (prime minister/president) branch versus the legislature. I suggest a similar merged solution in a “flexible executive” arrangement based on election outcomes as well.

Let the outcome of voting determine the structure in each election through how the level of trustworthiness of a candidate is reflected accurately in how much power that winner is allowed to have each time. For instance, if an executive candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote, the executive branch goes presidential for that term given the greater real trust shown. If an executive gets a plurality win (less than 50 percent), the winner has less trust, and the public obviously wants that executive on a tighter leash.

This means the executive goes parliamentarian, and the winner is a prime minister that rules in closer association with legislative checks. This provides legislative checks on executive power. Elected in 2008, President Lee, with his lower plurality win of 47-48% combined with one of the lowest voter turnouts ever in Korean history, would have been only a Prime Minister, a position that would have been capable of greater legislative checks upon him and his plans. These checks on a low approval President as we have seen were sorely required though they are missing currently.

However, multiparty legislatures can have their own hamstrung “gridlock” difficulties and require a check against their power. This check is by allowances for having a stronger executive as president when election outcomes demand it. Thus if Koreans do vote more than 50 percent for a future executive branch candidate, they will get a President.

It’s encouragement for any executive to win as much power and legitimacy behind his or her party nationally beforehand instead of forcing it afterward in a partisan manner in a situation of their mere plurality win. A “flexible executive” solves several debates at once.

These three ideas (of about 60 in my book) are worth tabling to concerned Koreans wishing to avoid repeating mistakes of static, anthropocentric constitutional engineering. Stable constitutions and districts can provide for more party incentives to integrate the full electorate, provide for competitive elections instead of equal sized gerrymandering, and provide for equitable development by integrating the environment.

States are eco-centric institutions that manipulate for good or ill variegated environments, and South Korea is a very regionalized polity. This regionality can easily be extended in the event of North/South Korean unification, unlike other plans tabled.

President Lee Myung-bak talks about bulldozing regionalism. He sounds like the late former President Roh Moo-hyun. However that would be disastrously destabilizing because Korean politics are regional. The state can work creatively with regional reality to be more legitimate and stable.

Opposing regionality is political suicide as Roh‘s attempt showed while in office, and Lee’s attempt has resulted in the same failure. This particularly is seen concerning his over-hastily-built riverine weirs that are unstable and leaking already combined with the forced dredging of the Korean rivers causing more erosion instead of reducing it. Ecologically and democratically sane regional capacities of checks and balances were denied against Lee‘s unrepresentative dredging plans made in Seoul. Now as one consequence, there is an abysmally low approval rating for Lee’s own self-destroyed Grand National Party for which he has only himself to blame. It has become the New World Party, attempting to hide behind a novel name the same party cronies. Its main opposition has become the (equally renamed) Democratic United Party. Still, voters know who both parties really are. Both parties have less than 32% support in the upcoming election with none of them achieving any form of great legitimacy. This shows the only way to get a more representative, legitimate government is to have more competitive, representative districts that are a clearly a nonpartisan change.

Suggestions I have are nonpartisan, multiparty enhancements with green multiplier effects. When you integrate the full electorate in this fashion, in stable watersheds of environmental risk feedback, you are on the road toward a bioregional state with a representative development policy and a stable multiparty system of legitimate government.

http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_opinion/524487.html


"Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias." -- Wendell Berry, "Last Words"


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