November 27, 2010

CHANGE: Iceland elects ordinary folk to draft constitution. More thoughts here.

UPDATE: Reader Bjarni Olafsson writes:

Hey Glenn,

Regarding the Icelandic constitutional convention. I’m Icelandic and I’m very apprehensive about the whole thing. To you American Tea Party people this might sound like an awesome idea, but then you live in a country where one fifth of the country identifies as a tea partier and more than half has a positive view of the tea party. In Iceland, on the other hand, the electorate is much further to the political left. I’m not going to smear my countrymen and call them all socialists – because they’re not – but there are strong socialist trends in the electorate, especially after the crash. I’m afraid that the outcome will be a constitution that will have a massively engorged bill of rights, packed with the sort of “rights” people like you and me are not overly fond of. I’m also afraid that property rights will take a beating, especially when it comes to ownership of natural resources. The system of transferable fishing quotas – which has made the Icelandic fishing industry one of the few in the West to operate in the black – is very likely going to be gutted (no pun intended).

This sounds like a good idea on paper, but when you have 520 people running for 25-31 seats (the exact number of delegates will be decided after the election to ensure gender equality – it’s that kind of convention) it really isn’t much more than random chance who gets in and who doesn’t. Sure the first ten will be the most recognizable people on the ballot but seats 20+ will be essentially random.

Also, I’m not entirely sure, but I guess that Madison took a bit longer than 2 months to write your constitution, and he didn’t have to fight with 24-30 other people all the time while he did it.

There are some bright spots – quite a few of the candidates want to strengthen the separation of powers. We essentially have a British style parliamentary system, where the same party controls the parliament and the executive. If the result of the convention is more in the direction of the US system (special elections for PM/President) then something good will have come out of it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Well, Bjarni, you just need to get involved and push for pro-market reforms. The future belongs to those who show up. After all, things didn’t look so great here a couple of years ago. Then the Tea Party appeared. Only it didn’t just “appear.” It was created by people who were told they were outnumbered and unimportant. They demonstrated otherwise.