Does New Zealand have the best-designed system of government in the world?

Dylan Matthews says yes.  He cites their mixed-member proportional representation, their unicameral legislature, and monarchy.  He left out the biggest advantage of New Zealand government — not very much federalism!  Admittedly, more populous countries cannot achieve that same outcome with equal ease.

I also would make a case for preferring the earlier New Zealand Westminster system to proportional representation.  What is really the advantage of giving those small parties — not all of which have a fully responsible sense of governing — leverage over their pet issues?  The process of coalition formation decreases accountability and blurs what elections are really about.  PR makes more sense in fractious or ethnically split countries, where various groups require a sense of representation.  New Zealand has long had separate arrangements for special Maori representation, and in any case Kiwi PR has not evolved to be primarily about giving Maori added voice (the ostensibly “Maori party” holds only two seats).  To the extent such additional voice is desirable, it can best be done other ways.


New Zealand would seem like just about the easiest country in the world to govern well: a bunch of mild-mannered Brits, and minus the homeland's feudal leftovers. Offhand, I don't see much evidence that New Zealand has over-performed due to some secret sauce in its government structure.

If you are looking for a country that has achieved peace and prosperity despite challenging circumstances (four languages, long surrounded by bellicose states with the world's best armies), you'd have to start with Switzerland (which, by the way, has all sorts of federalism).

Challenges? Roughly 10% of Swiss population has native language that is not one of the 4 official languages.

I don't get this joke.

He hints at the fact that third-world immigrants are not particularly welcome in Switzerland, and yet constitute a non-trivial part of the population.

No immigrants of any kind are particularly welcome in Switzerland.

PS Though a lot of those 10 per cent are former Yugoslavs (mostly refugees from the Balkan wars of the 1990s), whose ability to blend in is more developer than those of non-Europeans.

New Zealand is a society of migrants, rather like the United States, Canada, Australia, and Israel. The screens provided by migration are going to powerfully influence seminal dispositions in the population. Like the United States, New Zealand has a large population who are not migrants, though these are aboriginals and not manumitted slaves.

Actually, a review of the political history of the last 40 years (regarding the central government) and the entire post-bellum period down to about 1971 reveals that institutions do matter, and ours merit some restructuring. The trouble is, the amendment process does not generate major restructurings and the most consequential amendments had a number of unintended consequences.

If you are looking for a country that has achieved peace and prosperity despite challenging circumstances (four languages, long surrounded by bellicose states with the world’s best armies), you’d have to start with Switzerland

No, you'd start with Israel, but that's an observation that is never uttered in your fora.

Actually, Sailer has commented favorably on Israel several times.

I admire and respect Israel. They govern in favor of their ethnic majority and their government is fully engaged in protecting the territorial and cultural integrity of their nation's geographic redoubt. This is in stark contrast to the US government, which is fully engaged in protecting the territorial and cultural integrity of other nation's geographic redoubts, and is determined to deconstruct the territory and culture of its ethnic majority.

Also, "migrants" is the correct term, because colonists or settlers are not "immigrants," which is a status conferred by an existing State.

I'm a big fan of Israel, and have often commended some of its policies (e.g., on immigration and population) to Americans:

But I'm also a fan of peace, and Switzerland has a 200 year history of minding its own business, international war-wise. In contrast, on that measure, Israel is up to about, what, two weeks now?

You're also a big fan of shuck and jive when it suits you.

Israel has been at peace with all of the states on its borders for 40 years now. In the last war it was in with those states it was attacked out of the blue; in the one previous, three neighboring countries set up a cooperative alliance, ejected United Nations patrols, and moved their troops to Israel's borders, so Israel attacked first; the previous conflict, Israel was a junior partner to Britain and France in their effort to re-take the Suez canal after it was stolen by Gamal Abdel Nasser; in the previous conflict, the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine was attacked by six neighboring armies.

All of Israel's wars over forty years have been with paramilitary forces camped out on Israel's borders, who attack Israel just for the hell of it. If Hezbollah and Hamas would like Israel to mind it's business, they need to stop building tunnels and quit with the artillery barrages and kidnappings.

I'm terribly sorry, I completely forgot that Switzerland's artillery was forced to flatten Liechtenstein in 2009 and 2014 and that Switzerland's armored columns were forced to crush Luxembourg in 2006, not to mention Switzerland being forced to invade Austria in 1982 and having no choice but to besiege Vienna. So I take back everything I said.

Neither Liechtenstein nor anyone else is running artillery barrages against Switzerland, and you know that. Switzerland has been left in peace by its neighbors since the end of the Napoleonic period. Not so for Israel.

I would be a big fan if Israel if they could find some way to get along with the neighbours other than military occupation.

"All of Israel’s wars over forty years have been with paramilitary forces camped out on Israel’s borders, who attack Israel just for the hell of it."

Is this a serious comment? There are a few million Palestinian refugee descendants who would take issue with that,

Israel's used war to successfully expand its territory which is admirable if you approve of that sort of thing.

Also, I forgot about Switzerland being forced to occupy the North Bank of the Po River for the last 47 years, as well as Switzerland being simply unable to not annex the Bavarian Heights.

Steve, remarks like this aren't cute, they're stupid.

Yes, it is a serious comment. The 'few million' Arabs on the UNRWA dole cannot 'take issue' with that without lying, and neither can you. The only territory annexed by Israel past the 1949 armistice lines has been about 30 sq miles worth in metropolitan Jerusalem. Israeli civil law has been applied in the Golan Heights as well; Syria lost the Golan after joining Nasser's chicken-game in 1967 and has refused to negotiate for its return. While we're at it, the quondam population of the Golan was about 100,000 and largely Druze, who have rather mixed relations with Arab Moslems and Jews alike.

Israel was told by Arab governments in 1967 that there would be no negotiations. In regard to the West Bank, Israel first attempted to devolve authority on elected municipal councils (sabotaged by Arab politicians), then agreed to erect an autonomous provincial government (rejected by Arab paramilitary mafiosi), then negotiated to a multi-stage cession of sovereignty (sabotaged by the same set of goons who'd singed the agreement in bad faith), then unilaterally conceded the Gaza, then offered yet again to cede the West Bank in 2008 (rejected by Arab politicians).

When did they cede the West bank? They continue to build new settlements there.

how is a lack of federalism an advantage?

He doesn't like how Medicaid is spent or something.

It can be more efficient, though I'd be surprised if that is Tyler's reason.

It is that he thinks local governments are goofballs.

Yeah, but they're our goofballs.

"how is a lack of federalism an advantage?"

Everyone thinks they can pick individual stocks, and everyone thinks they can create a wonderful centralized government. Neither are true.

No buck-passing. No moral hazard by bailout/subsidy-seeking state governments. No powerful regional officials voters have never heard of and don't keep an eye on. No amateurish decentralized policymaking on a shoestring. No double-taxation by overlaid jurisdictions. No regulations or discriminatory subsidies undermining interstate trade.

"No powerful regional officials voters have never heard of and don’t keep an eye on. No amateurish decentralized policymaking on a shoestring. - See more at:"

My favorite counter-example is the LAUSD.

Its so big, it should have strong economies of scale vs. other school districts. And yet it spent $800 million on a Taj Mahal school, or was it two? It also spent $500 million on iPads which didn't work out as planned.

And of course, since they are so big they have lots of oversight...except they are now voting to have a 1 year email retention policy because they got in trouble over some older emails. So their solution is to avoid that mistake!

But seriously, an $800 million dollar school, and you won't keep emails over a year? That won't lead to problems!

Because they're not big enough to need it. Federalism is a result of trying to satisfy the competing desires of disparate groups, all of whom want some level of self-determination (see the Swiss example above); and to allow local autonomy for unique local problems and cultures.
Federalism may be the best solution to this issue, but in NZ it's not even an issue. New Zealand has about as many people as South Carolina. It's small enough that all competing groups can have their voices heard without needing multiple overlapping levels of government. And given how cheap it is to ship things overseas these days, the NZ standard of living is probably comparable to other first world countries not located in the middle of nowhere.

Federalism is a result of trying to satisfy the competing desires of disparate groups, all of whom want some level of self-determination (see the Swiss example above); and to allow local autonomy for unique local problems and cultures.

The trouble comes when it results, as it does in the US, in giving citizens vastly different degrees of power over national issues, depending on which state they happen to live in. That is simply irrational.

"not all of which have a fully responsible sense of governing"

As if the bigger parties had that either.

It's better to have some small parties to make the bigger ones more alert than to have a 2-party-system offering only bad options (USA).

The US parties in Congress have factions that serve exactly the same role-- and have as much or as little power-- as in a coalition style government. Indeed, much of the complaints one hears about Congress is because of those factions in the House majority not agreeing. Conversely, on quite a few votes this year, especially with marijuana issues, there was a working House majority of 30 Republicans in the libertarian faction and most of the Democrats.

Suppose, to be generous, that as many as 10% of the members of Congress/Parliament are sincerely concerned about good government. A party with 50 members will at least have a few who are serious but a party with 5 members will probably have none. Despite that, my preference, a personal taste backed up by no data at all, is to have a couple of ginger groups. The present US Congress strikes me as one of the worst possible outcomes achievable without abandoning the pretence of representative democracy.

Large parties are just as much coalitions themselves, particularly with local constituencies and local selection, as under the Westminster or US systems. Recalcitrant members can be denied the whip or ignored to exactly the degree that minor parties could be excluded from a coalition. The LDP in Japan provides another example of long factionalism.

Are you saying that you prefer a closed list system, or perhaps eliminating systems requiring primaries?

Pretending that a large party is not a coalition merely because it is under one banner is like pretending that all various Chinese languages are mutually intelligible merely because they are called dialects instead of separate languages like Spanish and Portuguese are.

Tyler doesn't care much about democracy. He believes many questions should not be asked and answered if the answer could displease him. It is sometimes a useful tool to achieve his policy desires.

That's when nobody likes democracy.

Quite a lot of the China dialects are fairly mutually intelligible, although there are lots of differences which may force you to fill in a lot of gaps. If you're filling in 30% of the gaps in the first place, you'd hardly notice.

How old is Dylan Matthews, anyway? Has he hit 25 yet?

I'm always amazed thinking back at my younger days about how few interesting and worthwhile ideas I had until I'd seen more of life.

Eugenics counts as worthwhile and interesting?

Trivia: New Zealand stayed un-colonized by humans until about 700 years ago, and Australia was not colonized until 1770. The rest is history, when one culture, be it human vs animal or human vs human, has a slight advantage in material over another: extinction follows.

Trivia II: recently New Zealand debated changing their flag to get rid of the Union Jack, and replace it with a leaf, which would make their flag look like the All Black football team say some.

Definitely more so than dysgenics.

One clarification there:

While NZ wasn't colonized by humans (Polynesians) until about 700 years ago , there have been humans in Australia for around 50,000 years.
Your text didn't make that distinction clear as it appears to conflate colonization by Europeans with colonization by non-Europeans. Europeans only colonized Australia beginning around 1770.

I think you mean the NZ rugby team.
And it would be a tough flag design to look like a bunch of 6'+ rugby players with legs like tree trunks.

Mr. Matthews is 24 y/o and a graduate of Harvard. My guess he like New Zealandit is more like Harvard that then U.S. is.

We have special representation with Maori because we signed a contract with them back in 1840 - sanctity of contract and all that

Being a small country helps with transparency but wages aren't much.

Good for lifestyle if you like the outdoors but the teaparty types would probably be dismayed at things like ACC and Pharmac - we just shrug and say it works out cheaper for everybody

I wouldn't say we're the best - we tend to look to the Swedes/Danes/Finns/Norwegians for where we'd like to be in many facets of life

People still help each other here

Sounds reasonable. No room for that here in the states. We're more focused on bombing stuff. Efficiency is dependency.

Why do so many Americans try to gain "cred" with overseasians by obsequiously bashing the US compared to whatever other country they're talking about? Yes, Jan, you're the *only* good American. Everyone else in this country is a gun-toting, dirt-farming illiterate obsessed with bombing people. But you're so thoughtful and - dare I say - almost European! What a unique flower you must be.

We now have a concise word for all of the malevolent people and murderers and oppressors in the world: stuff.

Negative Nancys, like Jan, need to step out of their bubble and the 24-hour news cycle from time to time.

Do you now why the US is so high on that list?

I seem to recall Jan actually is Eurotrash.

Why do you seek credibility by playing the "you hate America" card? I like America, but I would like it more if we did less bombing stuff (people, innocent ones, theoretically threatening ones, stuff). Is that bragging about how thoughtful I am? Does doing that get me something?

I don't care about your bragging. You just admitted that you bomb innocent people.

Yeah apparently that means I hate America.

Indeed, the states is too focused on bombing stuff. I think it's cheaper to make friends.

"Good for lifestyle if you like the outdoors but the teaparty types would probably be dismayed at things like ACC and Pharmac – we just shrug and say it works out cheaper for everybody."

I suppose you would shrug in country that doesn't develop new drugs for anyone but uses a government pricing agency to obtain drugs at a price that's more than the manufacturing cost, but less than manufacturing + R&D.

The full cost is left to the country with those Tea Party types, while others free-ride and feel superior at the same time.

Actually we do have the Callaghan Institute and several other research outfits working on developing new medicines but lean in a little closer friend, I can nearly smell the bigpharma shill on your breath

By your logic we should not use penicillin until we can independently invent it - how about competing with unsubsidised farm products in a protected US market that still subsidises its farmers yet says that they believe in free markets? hmm?

Not everybody wants to be like the USA

Almost nobody wants farm subsidies (or the NSA, or drone murderings) and yet we still have them.

Is that "easy to governness" or "hard to governness."

We liked the Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is okay.

You missed the point completely. Let's try again.

You patted yourself on the back for cheap drugs while making a dig at the US.

But you have cheap drugs because 1) mostly US-based companies make them, and 2) US consumers pay the full cost of development, leaving places like NZ and Canada to pay above factory cost but less than R&D cost.

Try and understand this time. I'm not coming back.

To elaborate on chip's point, when people compare (say) New Zealand to the US, the implicit suggestion is that the US should be more like NZ. But as chip points out, in some ways NZ couldn't be NZ without the US being the US. If the US were more like NZ (along certain key dimensions), NZ would be less like NZ.

On the other hand, penicillin wasn't discovered in the US, so maybe the US is not as essential as many Americans would like to believe.

See also, the constant Texas/NY pissing matches.

I didn't pat myself on the back for anything - I pointed to the two most obvious examples of things that I thought of off the top of my head that were very different from what the US would do
I was trying to point out - assuming MR readers are mostly US - that there are cultural and social differences between the countries that help explain the difference in systems of governance.

If you want to pay more for medicine go for gold, buddy - I promise not to stop you
If you are seriously suggesting on an intelligent forum that a country with some of the cheapest healthcare in the world should try to be more like one with the most expensive healthcare in the world then thank you for that wee chortle and remember - you said you're not coming back

The solution would be for America to only pay the lowest price offered to OECD countries for any drug.

Then Pharma would have to have essentially global prices.

I suspect then we'd see price increases in New Zealand.

That reminds me: my shill check from BigPharma is overdue.

No, we just pay more because were stupid.

We pay more because we are paying for people who don't pay.

If we paid less, the drugs would still come. Part of the problem is that we pay a lot for any damn drug, even copycat ones. I'd be okay if we paid a lot more for important drugs, like new antibiotics, and less for things like the 5th Rx antacid on the market.

> I suppose you would shrug in country that doesn’t develop new drugs for anyone but uses a government pricing agency to obtain drugs at a price that’s more than the manufacturing cost, but less than manufacturing + R&D.

Is this true? It may well be, but it doesn't seem obvious. It's pretty plausible that the price is less than the U.S. price which is at least manufacturing cost + R&D + "the cost of marketing the drug in the U.S" + "liability risk in the U.S." (Actually also just some monopoly rent. but ignore this.) But that's not a fair question.

If the product were sold at "fair-to-big-pharma" price in NZ it definitely wouldn't have to cover U.S. level liability risks (not at that level, and maybe not at all) nor would it make sense to price in (even proportionally) a U.S. style marketing and sales effort that wouldn't be appropriate or remotely as expensive. So I agree, the right question is price vs "manufacturing cost plus R&D" but do we really know NZ underpays by _that_ standard?

It's virtually certain that many modern drugs couldn't afford the cost of required medical trials if everyone paid the same amount that Canada does (and New Zealand, if they also force companies to sell at a lower rate). So yes, New Zealand and Canada are effectively free riders when it comes to modern drug R&D.

While I'm not saying you are wrong, can you provide any backup for the "virtually certain" claim. I may be wrong but what I could find online suggested that Pharma NZ paid about $120M USD per year for Lipitor up until the patent expiry. For 4 million people, so what does that say about free-riding over the patent lifetime? "Cost of R&D" is really hard to evaluate because to be fair you need to count the costs of other failed drugs not just the one's that succeeded, but $120 M _each year_? For the population of a small state? Even at NZ's price, what yearly profit across the entire world - no that's unfair, let's just make it countries in the OECD with per capita wealth >= NZ, would that imply?
Free-riding? No one would bother to do the research with miniscule number of hundreds of billions at stake even if you had to uniformly price at what NZ pays?

Pharma doesn't make super-normal profits? I think you mean:

"I suppose you would shrug in country that doesn’t develop new drugs for anyone but uses a government pricing agency to obtain drugs at a price that’s more than the manufacturing cost, but less than manufacturing + R&D + PROFIT"

Prices do not automatically reflect input costs: You need to apply some caveats. And only the most heroic ideologue would be willing to bet on big pharma being a competitive industry. That's one point that I am sure both lefties and libertarians can agree on. We need Alex to chime in here

In 1985, the House of Commons discussed (and refused) the proportional representation voting system to be introduced in the UK. This is an excerpt of the debate:

Mr. Forth also thought that the US was a great example of how FPTP is an "effective" system. The US system is many things, but I don't suppose people would now describe it as "effective". Of course, he also considered that it was a "problem" that people could vote for the "wrong" candidates under PR.

PR can put extremists in Parliament. But the extremists in the population don't just disappear. Under FPTP and related systems, their ideas usually find their way into the platforms of the right-wing party. The Tories had to promise a referendum on EU membership and focus on immigration because they needed to convince people not to vote UKIP. The previous French government likewise spent a lot of time courting FN voters.

An advantage of PR is that people can vote for extremists if they so desire, but, since such parties often attract all the crazies (antisemites, 'human biodiversity' aficionados, gay bashers), regular people steer clear of these parties.

"extremists" - Is everyone that disagrees with you evil incarnate?

If so, I get it.

I havent seen any right wing extremists in powet anywhere in my entire life.

If I want to see left wing extremists, I just have to look at current officeholders from large cities.

I suppose when you define extremism so broadly that favoring immigration restrictions and letting people vote on EU membership count as examples of it, the challenge becomes finding someone who's NOT an extremist.

It would be interesting to know which extreme left-wing ideas have found their way into the Tory platform, though.

How old are you?

All the orcs. And the Hobbits won't assimilate. The elf's rule in their own interests.

Funny that the praise for our proportional representation system comes after an election that delivered something close to the outcome of a two-party system (something that has largely been greeted with relief). I won't elaborate on Kim Dotcom's efforts to game the process, but if he'd succeeded I suspect that public support for PR would have rapidly soured.

New Zealander here. I don't think anyone else has mentioned that Popper lived there for several years and commented that NZ at the time was "the best governed country, and also the most easily governed" or words to that effect.

Dylan Matthew's point about monarchy is an unusual one, but I think correct. It acts as a potential circuit breaker for some of the more unsavoury aspects of democracy.

When Popper lived in NZ we didn't have proportional representation, we had a bicameral parliament, and we didn't have full autonomy from Britain. It's funny, it's almost as if the system isn't what matters...

Is federalism best for America today? Was it best in 1789? Federalism may be appropriate in fractious countries, with ethnic or religious divisions (Iraq, for example), or even with regional differences (America in 1789, for example), but is it appropriate in America today, is the enormous cost of another layer of government and the inefficiency it entails worth it today? I'd argue that federalism is the source of much of the division in America today, as state governments are captured by regional/special interests and used to promote those interests rather than the common good. I'd argue that the failure of American political institutions that so worries Francis Fukuyama is largely attributable to federalism. Of course, most Americans consider the U.S. Constitution a quasi-religious document, perfect in every way, so alternatives aren't up for consideration, no matter how much better they may be.

Maybe we should think of federalism in terms of maximization versus risk avoidance.

Incidentally, I was walking the other day in our little podunk downtown and we peered into a dormant and yet well-appointed office and were surprised to see that it was the home office of our Senator. We had no idea. It reminded me that our centralized leaders are a function of our local leaders/federalist system.

Exactly, it's like buying one stock versus an index fund. The anti-federalist people are the "by purchasing the index fund, you are missing out on buying Apple!" folks. Sure, but you're also missing out on buying MF Global. I'll stick to my index funds and my federalism, thanks very much.

I think you have the analogy exactly backwards. Federalism forces me to accept an single stock of a company that is poorly managed and increasingly misaligned with my interests, instead of an an index fund of different opinions. Our single party system that we can vote for by either chosing D or R, is far more anagolous to a single stock than an index fund.

Federalism per se, does not force that choice at all. Federalism, in the US, actually gives one much more gradients of that choice (e.g. an R in New York is not the same as an R in Georgia; same for the D).

The analogy holds.

That would be true if we didn't have federalism. You know the system where the D/R in New York or Georgia don't really matter and all the power is in DC.

The analogy does not hold.

We seem to be talking about two different federalisms. I'm referring to the system based upon democratic rules and institutions in which the power to govern is shared between national and provincial/state governments, creating what is often called a federation. Which one are you referring too?

I would agree that the delegate you send to Washington from your state has a marginal impact on policy -- depends on that person's clout or the population of your state. However, I would disagree strongly that your state legislature does not matter much.

Federalism, like free markets and democracy itself is a means of containing stupidity. A bad idea implemented and imposed on 300 million people will have extraordinarily bad effects, but a bad idea imposed on a smaller number in a state has less effect.

If you think that giving more power to the likes of Lois Lerner and James Dimon, centralized government makes sense.

I dont consider the Constitution a religious document, but I would like to see it followed until properly amended.

The founders intentionally made our federal government weak and intentionally maintained strength at the state level. That we somehow abandoned that intent without amending the Constitution (excepting the 13th and 14th amendments) is disconcerting.

New Zealanders seem to be united behind the idea of keeping their island-nation uniquely New Zealand-ish. I also get the idea they're not particularly interested in throwing their borders open to just any old skill set.

If a politician in America proposed New Zealand style immigration laws, he would be labeled a racist and would be attacked in the media on a regular basis.

That is true and also would be true of many NZ policies - we are wayyy to the end of the spectrum that gets labelled as "socialist" compared to the States

Typically of Vox's shallow but pretentious style, it doesn't answer the question that came up and ultimately caused failure in the design and referendum on proportional representation in British Columbia. The citizen assembly who put together the proposal went out of their way to not empower political parties. Most systems come down to the three or more parties presenting a list of representatives who get seats proportional to the vote. On top of that some adjustments are made for local representation in some way, but ultimately to win a seat you have to first convince the party to give you an opportunity.

So brilliant Vox people, how is the PR structured? How are the individual representatives nominated? How much of the composition of the house is a result of the political parties making a list?

The advantage of first past the post systems is that it forces the parties towards the center. A single issue or extreme party will win at best token representation, but to win government requires appealing to a broad electorate.

New Zealand has another advantage: disgruntled NZers can move to Australia (and I believe this is not uncommon). Likewise, disgruntled Canadians find it easy to move to the US. Disgruntled Belgians can move to either France or the Netherlands. Disgruntled Swiss can move to France/Germany/Italy. In each of these cases, the reverse flow is much smaller. This effect alone would tend to improve conditions in the source-of-exodus countries.

Sure, but disgruntles Americans can just move elsewhere in the US. Hell if you're disgusted with San Francisco or Boston you can move less than an hour away and you'll barely recognize the place.

Not if you're disgruntled about taxes or the world's most expensive medical care or the world's most expensive and overbuilt military.

You can certainly move to a state or county with lower taxes or better medical care. If you're upset about the world's biggest military, I get that, but moving to another country won't make it shrink. You'll just be disgruntled at it from somewhere else.

The only notable thing about this post is that Tyler is now on record as loathing Federalism.

Keep it in mind the next time he claims to "lean libertarian" while enthusiastically promoting the latest socialist nonsense.

Come on people, how many layers of government can you have for a country in the neighborhood of four million people? Larger countries require federalism, for obvious reasons.

Coincidentally, the US population was basically 4 million in 1789.

But everyone was on dialup.

And make daddy come downstairs.

Physical size matters. Transport possibilities do, too. If a country is divided into a myriad valleys separated by steep mountain ranges (think of Switzerland), local governance is necessary. This isn't the case with, say, Malta, even though the populations may be of the same order.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, New Zealand is not only similar in population, but similar in geographic extent to the U.S. in 1776 with a similar range of climates, and unlike the U.S. at that time, an ocean passage to get from the North island (where most people live) to the South Island (with small smaller towns and lots of sheep herding), and a longer ocean passage or a trip over a mountain range to get from some parts of the South Island to others.

As the examples of federal Switzerland and Bosnia and Belgium on one side, and the uintary United Kingdom and Japanese Kingdom on the other, illustrate, federalism has more to do with the existence of regionally distinct cultures or a history of separate sovereignty than it does with geographic size or population.

Also, it is worth recalling that New Zealand is part of a federal structure - the British commonwealth. Its symbolic representative of the monarchy, called the Governor General, is appointed in London, and the final court of appeal in New Zealand's legal system is to the privacy council (or perhaps the U.K. Supreme Court in the last few years), which is also in London. And, it isn't as if New Zealand doesn't have local governments even though they don't have parliaments and general legislative powers of their own.

NZ has had its very own Supreme Court since 2004.

Point taken, but doesnt Wyoming have the same number of layers of government as Texas? Maybe my choice of those two states is off the mark, but you know what I mean.

States in the Rust Belt tend to have 3 or 4 layers of general government: state government, county government, municipal government, and supplementary municipal government. You shlep into New England, and often counties are data collection units or judicial jurisdictions, not loci of government, and you have just two layers. In the west and the South, county government is king, with municipal government optional and supplementary. In Alaska and in Hawaii, there is only county government (called 'boroughs' in Alaska). Also different classes of municipal government have different powers and duties.

I believe Texas and Wyoming adhere to the common western and Southern pattern (which means there are fewer layers than in Michigan or New York, which have populations in between).

A great many practices are just conventional rather than considered and functional.

NZ used to have a federal system. Rail and telegraph made it redundant.

(Wikipedia: the nonprofit, reliable and actually explainy competitor to Vox.)

While federal isn't the right word, for example China has 5 levels of government: national, provincial, municipal, town and village.

In Canada, we have basically three levels of government: national, provincial, and municipal (which includes agglomerations of towns/counties for rural areas).

All countries have different ways of breaking down the division of tasks, broadly according to what makes sense at the level of localization. A federal structure isn't strictly required to achieve this. I think a federated structure has more to do with political dynamics at the time of founding. England has far more people than Canada, but has a unitary government with municipalities operating independently, but basically under authorities granted by the crown.

Two things, I was going to make the comment that NZ is smaller than Metro Atlanta. Was going to also make the point that "easy to govern" isn't necessarily meant as a good thing, or a bad thing, but just a thing. So I wasn't extrapolating (it's not MY fault!). On the other hand, TC has dinged lower tiers of US government in the past- my memory isn't perfect, but wasting stimulus cash (although supporting aid to state budgets during the recession), mismanaging entitlement programs, etc.

OTOH, Arnold Kling would probably want to slice and dice up NZ as much as possible.

They also have a fresh law (the vote went 61:59 in the parliament) which allows the local secret service unlimited warrantless spying on anyone present and trade the data harvest with the rest of Five Eyes. (Not that the spooks refrained from this behavior before, but at least it was illegal).

The main supporter of the law was immediately after that re-elected as PM.

I am not sure whether to cry or laugh. Though the 61:59 Yes/No ratio at least indicates healthier scepticism of unlimited spying power than similar ratios in the UK or the USA (if such vote were ever allowed to be held).

So the best government in the world = limping to Orwellian surveillance state a little slower than the others.

Interesting. Does NZ face any real threat from terrorists, foreign nations, domestic rebels? Or do they, like Canada, pick up some of these measures to help a neighbor?

NZ has no meaningful domestic insurgencies. As a frequent ally of Western military coalitions, it could easy be a soft target for terrorism and it does have a quite high non-native born population. Any foreign nation that wanted to could crush it, so it needs to give the allies who would provide its military defense in that circumstance the cooperation that they request.

This is now obligatory:

Thanks Harun, that was farkin great

Federalism was the Articles of Confederation. The US Constitution was the first click of the ratchet away from an actual federalist structure. In a lot of ways, it's a clunky, contrived charter. It's also in retrospect the product of men who were terrified of the Continental powers deciding to come back and pick off individual States off.

Centralization over vast amounts of sparsely populated land seems inevitable when you have an ethnic super-majority. Places like the US--Russia's probably the closest parallel--will expand until they hit water or until the natives put up too much of a fight. The US seems determined not to let mere oceans stop it, in either direction.

Never thought of it that way, but divided they almost certainly would have fallen.

On the other hand, north of the border things didn't work out so poorly as part of the empire.

"The process of coalition formation decreases accountability" - maybe, maybe not. Disenfranchising the small parties also removes accountability to a larger polity. But why quibble? Anything at all,even a one-party state, is better than the US's Turd A versus Turd B electoral system which completely disenfranchises the anti-Turd and pro - alternative-to-Turd voters. A one-party system unites the population against their common enemy the state and consequently one-party systems have to either tread more warily or invest in unsustainable suppression mechanisms. The two-party system disenfranchises part of the population and divides the remainder and allowing state oppression to run rampant. See crony capitalism, mass incarceration, racial discrimination....

Indeed, one party states do make strong decisions quickly.

One answer to TC's question about about why more workers are not suspended instead of fired is that suspension policies require the exercise of discretion, and therefore are harder to administer lawfully. If you are a large private employer, giving HR discretion to suspend people will invite lawsuits over certain groups are more likely to get fired than suspended, etc. Much easier to have a zero tolerance policy where every offense is a firing offense. The places where we do see suspensions used a lot are unionized and government workplaces.

New Zealand has far less mineral wealth than Australia.

NZ has something AUS doesn't:


And class.

"I also would make a case for preferring the earlier New Zealand Westminster system to proportional representation. What is really the advantage of giving those small parties — not all of which have a fully responsible sense of governing — leverage over their pet issues? The process of coalition formation decreases accountability and blurs what elections are really about."

Two points:
- Part of the reason MMP was adopted was the perception that the prior electorate system failed to properly represent diverse viewpoints. In that sense the existence of small parties could be viewed as a feature, not a bug.
- Very small parties have little real leverage. Parties that don't win an electorate need at least 5% of the vote to achieve parliamentary representation. Very small parties (i.e. less than 5% of the vote) generally need the cooperation of a major party in order to win an electorate. For this reason minor parties are, with the possible exception of the Maori Party, entirely beholden to a major party.

"New Zealand has long had separate arrangements for special Maori representation"

New Zealand's system of separate Maori seats was divisive and arguably created two classes of citizenship. I would be highly skeptical of any claim that racially separate electorates are a good model solving the problem of minority representation.

One of the great virtues of MMP is that it has rendered the Maori seats largely redundant. They still exist, but Maori are no longer reliant on them to achieve parliamentary representation. They are thus much less of an issue than they used to be.

PR makes more sense in fractious or ethnically split countries, where various groups require a sense of representation.

I'm thinking of a fractious and ethnically split country right now. Guess which one.

What is really the advantage of giving those small parties — not all of which have a fully responsible sense of governing — leverage over their pet issues?

MMR gives people a greater range of opinions to decide from, for example whereas in America we only have the Democrats and Democrat Lite, any votes going to others will be throw-aways, New Zealand has the New Zealand First political party which you can vote for with the confidence that your vote may contribute to giving it more power. Israel is another similar system, it has complete proportional representation, although the rulers are not above banning political parties they don't like.

When was the last time an Arab nationalist party was actually banned in Israel?

I'll wait.

An Arab nationalist political party has never been banned in Israel, although it came very close on several occasions. Kach was banned for being "racist."

New Zealand fits the political scientist's measure of a great government. Indeed, the OP list misses one of the more notable features of the country's political system: the NZ equivalent of green card holders are allowed to vote despite not being citizens (a right also afforded to non-citizens who are EU citizens in many EU elections). In my time in NZ some time ago, the Maori relationship was the central government was very positive relative to most international peers, and NZ was also the de facto commercial capital of Oceania with large, upwardly mobile migrant populations from across Polynesia.

Yet, NZ has lagged dramatically behind Australia economically, despite the fact that NZ's European colonial founding population was made up of middle class colonists trying to establish an agricultural utopia of a bucolic paradise, while Australia's European founding population was predominantly made up of criminals in what is mostly a glorified desert full of deadly critters. Clearly, a government with features deemed desirable by political scientists and cultural traits deemed desirable by economic anthropologists does not reliably translate into economic prosperity.

One plausible possibility is that there isn't enough political conflict. Australia's federal system and higher conflict political culture gives people choices, while a consolidated monopolized system does not.

"Clearly"? These countries are not same apart from migrant population and government style. Aussie has massive mineral wealth. NZ has sheep and cows. Although Aussie took over NZ in the 1970s (in terms of per capita output), the divergence has really occurred over the past few decades with the resource boom.

NZ started to lag economically when we stopped getting Queen's Mates Rates for dairy and lamb.

Australia has a rather more casual approach to raping its land than NZ does. This has offered a substantial economic boost in the past two decades but the rocket is running out of fuel.

The ratio of New Zealand's per capita income to that of the United States (measured in nominal terms or according to purchasing power parity) deteriorated between 1960 and 1990, not since.

Maybe the criminals just needed a fresh start?

One thing I think should be thought of is having a legislature made up of considerably more than 500 people. It would be entirely possible within current laws to expand the house of representatives to 2500 people, reducing by a factor of five the size of each congressional district. The ratio of representatives to citizens would still be lower that other, smaller countries, New Zealand, if it had the same ratio and the population of America it would have 9075 representatives.

Elections would be made more expensive for people trying to buy them, each persons vote would count for more, and third parties would have more of a fighting chance. Of course this will never be done in the current environment, we must wait for the revolution....

While having some member districts can make sense (to avoid diffusion of responsibility or travel distance) we know first past the post systems have failed. Their candidates only interest is in holding power, which is why you get policy like sugar tariffs that almost all constituents oppose. Single issue parties have an interest in solving real-world problems, and the time to become experts in the relevant area. They also have reason to compromise with others on their issues. At they very least, they would make people think.

In contrast, if the candidate from your area represents a different party or has experience in other areas you are out of luck in a FPTP system. Often, they are incompetent at everything. If someone is completely disenfranchised, they have no reason to participate constructively in government or recognize their government as legitimate.

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I like that he doesn't need to rely on magic tricks to get his point across. It forces/allows us to use our noggins.

It's funny that Federalism is poo pooed given that the arguably four most successful nations in the world (The US, Canada, Australia and Switzerland) are all Federations. And almost all despotisms are centralized (Cuba, N. Koria, Iran, Saudi).

Switzerland is also a direct democracy.

But that's impossible to implement elsewhere. I don't know how we would ever do that. Switzerland x 5 would never work. It's completely infeasible. Just like everything that gets scaled up, it just cannot be done unless people who make decisions want to. Who makes decisions?

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In first past the post systems, a 1-2% change in the vote can lead to a 100% change in power.

That's not stable, and the result is governments who primarily preoccupy themselves with pulling apart programs of the last government and building things that the next government will have to undo.

Having an element of proportional representation is not only more democratic, it will make for more stable decisions and facilitate improved long-run planning. Yes, there will be some special interests at the table. Better to bring them all to the table than just the ones who can get behind closed doors.

Winner takes all works well for the lottery, not for democracy.

My main concern of proportional representation is that things would be too stable, so we need a way to introduce a little shakeup to reduce the risk of stasis or corruption.

Really, there are very few decisions that need to be made quickly. A strong executive can always charge off to war when "need" be, or more likely, take action to make swift decisions when, for example, a natural disaster strikes and citizens cannot wait for multiparty agreement.

Finicky close-to-home issues should be thought through carefully, and efforts to work towards some modicum of consensus can hardly be a bad thing. Even if it takes a decade to iron out the new policy, at least we can be assured that there is sufficient consensus that the next government wont simply undo it.

Maybe we should have 1/3 local representatives, 1/3 proportional (level of aggregation to be determined), and 1/3 picked by lots. Not that the numbers are right, but more so that having an element of each would be good. Joe Bloe would never make it into office, but as Aristotle pointed out, the middle class is the one who experiences the effects of decisions, and therefore they should have political power (heavily paraphrased).

Preposterous to offer NZ as a model of great government only if you ignore its other advantages:
1. small population of middle-class origin
2. few "foreigners" (by design)
3. decisively defeated native population
4. isolated physically from everywhere
5. no natural resources so valuable which other nations covet
6. speak English so under Anglo-American defense umbrella

Tyler, I love NZ and I have no doubt that we in USA have things to learn from it. But to compare it to USA is laughable.

2) Why is "few foreigners" an advantage? 3) In fact, it is the only place where the local population came to treaty on fairly equal terms, they were not defeated decisively.

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