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Would a different kind separation of powers in gov be workable?

  1. Jan 31, 2014 #1
    Problems faced by a republic following Montesquieu separation of powers:
    -If voter supports party A on issues of military but party B on issues of healthcare, then he has to choose which area is more important to him.
    -Everything that happens is the fault of president/prime minister. :D (yes, I know that from constitution perspective it is incorrect, however, people just seek some personification of gov that can be blamed). Anyway, there is no way for voter to only partially punish his gov for shortcomings in only one area.

    What if there was a a possibility to divide gov in to more detailed functions and give voter a chance to vote on politicians responsible for them separately? Each branch with its own taxes to finance its own expenditures? (Plus some constitutional safeguards concerning deficits and making future promises for each branch separately; and clear rules concerning areas of responsibility)

    Possible branches ex.: education, social security, healthcare, infrastructure; security and national defence.

    (On the other hand such system may allow to limit role of distinguishing between legislature and executive or point in having two chambers of parliament)

    Do you consider such idea as workable or not? (yes, I know that's a pure political fiction)
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  3. Jan 31, 2014 #2


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    In principle, I don't think that's a bad idea, but there are too many practical hurdles for something like that to work, I suspect.

    For one, it's hard enough to get people to vote as it is. If we had to elect individuals into each seperate "branch" you would likely face voter fatigue.

    For another this would likely lead to an expansion of government - more politicians, more laws, more scandals, and more taxes.

    And would it actually improve anything? That's always the big question.
  4. Jan 31, 2014 #3


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    You would face political campaigns going 24/7/365. You can't get some people to take the time to check out a presidential candidate's record before you vote on his/her election to the highest office in the land. Who is going to bother with the record of the undersecretary for government-political affairs at the Dept. of Education?

    Where I live, the local representative to the state legislature resigned in August 2013. The elections to fill this vacant seat have been on-going ever since, what with party primaries and runoffs, and there is still no replacement elected. By the time someone is elected to fill this seat, qualification for the next state-wide election later this year will be underway. Sometimes, I feel that it would be better to put the names of all registered voters in a district into a hat and draw the winner from that.
  5. Feb 1, 2014 #4
    So, voters would not have the skills to keep track of and elect all the various heads of departments.

    Could the floor of the legislature do so?

    For example, each house of US Congress elects about 20 committees, their chairpersons and members.

    What would happen if the US Cabinet were abolished or removed from control of the president, and moved to be subordinates of the respective committees?
  6. Feb 1, 2014 #5


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    Total disaster, most likely.
  7. Feb 1, 2014 #6
    In democracy we assume that voters have skill to choose their representatives on various level of gov (I can vote for five layers of gov including the EU). If you challenge this risky assumption, then I think that already existing systems suffer from the same problem.

    I'm more used to idea of parliament electing prime minister. It (more or less) works in many European countries.

    This risk I fully see.

    But I don't get this mechanism.

    Why can't there be one big coordinated election every four/five/whatever years?
  8. Feb 1, 2014 #7
    In my view systems don't matter all that much. Power centers will reach their goals regardless.

    It would be nice if we could do away with representative government and have the people vote on each issue, but the world is farfrom being ready for that.
  9. Feb 1, 2014 #8
    During the Andrew Johnson administration the cabinet was more or less removed from the President's control. For good reason, I might add.
  10. Feb 1, 2014 #9


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    Can voters, i.e., the electorate be objective (as opposed to subjective), rational and informed?

    Why would a divided government be more effective, or less costly? Wouldn't each seek predominance, or it's function be subject to the same vagaries or whims of the persons serving in the top position, or the vagaries of the electorate?
  11. Feb 1, 2014 #10


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    What you need is a Government Department of Information and Rationality, to round up the dissenters.
  12. Feb 2, 2014 #11
    This happened during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution. The rump National Convention acted as both legislature and executive with the Committee of Public Safety holding most of the executive power. It was effective in the sense of improving some conditions in France and gaining military victories over foreign adversaries, but was a bit hard on the 16000 or so people who lost their heads and many others who worried about losing theirs. All in all, I give it a C-.

    Last edited: Feb 2, 2014
  13. Feb 2, 2014 #12
    No, democracy absolutely fails at that. It has, however some different advantages that partially justify its existence:
    a) Some abuses of power and corruption among elites are so blatant that even masses correctly identify them and reasonably demand adjustments.
    b) Its popular among people and perceived as legitimate (which is as good as saying that a king is perceiving as being the rightful heir which would provide him with some support regardless of his governance skills).
    c) It provides social peace by giving people a chance to replace unpopular gov in the most possibly humanitarian and orderly manner every four years.
    d) It silences all prospective revolutionaries by convincing them that if they really have as much support as they claim they should run in an election.

    (other thing that point "a" and "c" could be also achieved in some less democratic and more meritocratic system)

    It should be more accountable. Whether more accountability would actually change anything concerning effectiveness and costs that's a more open question.
  14. Feb 2, 2014 #13

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    Case in point: Texas.

    At the state level, we elect the governor and lieutenant governor; the attorney general; the comptroller; land office, agriculture, and railroad commissioners; and justices and judges for the highest courts in the state. We elect all judges and justices in Texas, from the highest courts of the state (Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals) all the way down to the local justices of the peace. We elect surveyors, tax assessor-collectors, treasurers. We elect members to the state board of education. (Aside: Because Texas is so big, our school board has a big influence on textbooks across the nation. The fight to keep evolution in the texts and creationism out has been massive.) The ballots are massive and the key state, district, and local elections are in held off years as if to ensure that only a few people vote.
  15. Feb 2, 2014 #14


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    In the states, you vote in local, state, and federal elections. Adding more layers of government is not the solution. The bureaucrats and elected officials in each layer of government are going to be working to make sure they are needed and that their departments and offices and budgets are not downsized or eliminated entirely. Government is the closest thing to perpetual motion which has been devised by man so far.

    Just like the US system, the parliamentary system works, except when it doesn't.

    In the parliamentary system in the UK and other members of the Commonwealth, the PM is not elected by the parliament, but is the head of the party which has the most seats. In parliamentary systems which have a large number of parties, coalition government becomes a distinct possibility, since one party is usually unable to win a majority of seats and form a government. Coalitions tend to be unstable, leading to the fall of the government. If voters can't be bothered to vote every two years on a certain date, then they won't be bothered to vote at irregular intervals which arise from having a government suddenly fall in a parliamentary system.

    Every four years in the states, we elect a president, a new house of representatives, and one third of the senate. That's just on the federal level. At the state level, there may also be an election for a governor plus various seats in the state legislature. In addition, there may be various referenda on local issues, like amendments to state constitutions or legislative initiatives. All it means is that for some people, they can ignore all of these issues at one time by not voting, instead of not voting in a lot of different elections.
  16. Feb 2, 2014 #15
    But usually somebody does get a majority. A parliament can replace the government without needing to call elections.

    How does USA get to have a government all the administration?

    Cabinet members do not need to keep confidence of Congress - but they do need advice and consent of Senate to get appointed in the first place.
    Advice and consent for appointments can be done with simple majority and does not need 2/3 of Senate as is the case with treaty ratifications.

    If President (elected by majority of Electoral College votes, so mostly by bigger states) is from a different party than Senate majority (equal representation of all states, so mostly small states), how does USA get a cabinet? The Senate would not consent to secretaries whom President would appoint, but the Senate does need the President to appoint secretaries the Senate would consent to, because the majority of Senate does not have a mechanism to elect secretaries and impose them on a President unwilling to appoint the secretaries Senate would consent to.

    The Senate cannot remove an opposition President by simple majority no confidence, impeachment requires both 2/3 of Senate, which may not be forthcoming even though simple majority to block President´s appointments is, as well as passing the articles of impeachment by simple majority of Representatives which also would not be forthcoming because the President became President in the first place by enjoying the votes of most bigger States in Electoral College and therefore also a majority in Representatives.
  17. Feb 2, 2014 #16
    Not a distinct possibility, but a normal way of governance. There is a time lag between election and forming gov, but it seems to protect against such dysfunctional polarization which recently become a characteristic feature of the US system. (I would avoid saying anything as how democratic I consider US system when it effectively prevents from appearance of any third party, because I would like to concentrate on effectiveness) The situation become interesting and encouraging for compromise when it is possible to build more than one coalition from given distribution of seats in parliament.

    In my country (Poland) we toyed with idea of coordinating a few voting in the same time to cut costs and increase turnover for the less popular ones.
  18. Feb 2, 2014 #17


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    I find that hard to believe. Do you have any examples? Many nations frequently have coalition governments, Germany for example and I wouldn't say that nation is doing badly for itself at all. Coalitions are common in nations with PR systems of voting which isn't surprising given the diverse nature of political opinions. In nations with FPTP systems two party dominance is common due to duverger's law. IMO the former is more desirable as it fosters more cross party cooperation and more accurately reflects the will of the public, thus being more democratic.
  19. Feb 2, 2014 #18


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    This can happen, but it takes an unusual set of political circumstances for it to occur.

    It's not clear what this sentence means.

    The president appoints the cabinet members, who become the heads of the various departments of government. The appointees are then installed in the cabinet only with the consent of the Senate. If an appointee's confirmation vote fails, the president must appoint a new cabinet member.

    In most cases, the Senate defers to the choices the President makes in terms of cabinet positions, unless there is some concern that the appointee will not be a good choice for the position. A cabinet appointee's nomination can fail to gather Senate approval for a variety of reasons, some of which remain obscure to regular people.

    Case in point: the first Pres. Bush nominated a sitting senator as his defense secretary. This senator had served on defense committees in the Senate and had amassed quite a bit of influence in that body. However, when his nomination came before the senate for confirmation, it was rejected by that body for reasons which were not that clear to the average non-political junkie.

    The dynamics of elections for president and for members of congress are often different, and there is no guarantee that a president of one party will have his party control one or both houses of congress. Even if both houses and the presidency are controlled by one party, control of congress can change in the so-called 'mid-term' elections, which occur 2 years after the presidential election.

    When the party of the president does not control both houses of congress, you have the phenomenon of divided government in the US. When Clinton was elected in 1992, both houses of congress were in control of the Democrats, and had been since the 1950s with one brief period when the Republicans controlled the Senate from 1981-87. In the 1994 congressional elections, control of both houses flipped from Democrat to Republican and remained that way the rest of the decade.

    In the last presidential impeachment in 1998-99, Bill Clinton was a Democrat and there was a slight Republican majority in the Senate (55R-45D) and the House of Representatives was controlled by the Republicans. The impeachment conviction failed in the Senate because none of the Democrats voted for it and there were a few Republicans voting against as well.
  20. Feb 2, 2014 #19


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  21. Feb 2, 2014 #20
    How does USA avoid lack of government due to deadlock between President and Senate?
    Precisely. A simple majority of Senate does not have a mechanism to remove and replace a President for belonging to the opposing party.
    An incoming Senate majority at midterm elections does not have a mechanism to vote no confidence in the sitting cabinet, but a 2/3 of lame duck Senate is in position to deny confirmation to the cabinet appointees of an incoming President.
    And since cabinet members need to be appointed with consent of Senate, President and Senate of different parties could lead to deadlock in confirming a cabinet.
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