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Debate: Citizen initiative

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Are ballot initiatives, such as those in California, a good idea?

Background and Context of Debate:

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Governance: Do ballot initiatives improve governance?

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Pro

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Con

  • Ballot initiatives enable fatal policy contradictions. In a representative democracy, people elect candidates who share their views and are qualified and informed on the issues at hand. In contrast, ballot initiatives mean that people who decide about the issues are largely ignorant about them (because they make a rational decision not to spend 12 hours a day studying the finer aspects of new proposals, treaties etc.). People are willing to pass any ballot they can benefit from in the short-term, however, the vast majority of the people is unaware of the long-term impacts. In California, when the infamous Proposition 13 was passed, property taxes were kept low. Later on, after a number of other passed ballots on lowering taxes and increases in public spending, the Orange County went bankrupt and the state of California was on the brink of collapsing.





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Politics: Is direct democracy always desirable?

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Pro

  • Direct democracy encourages people to educate themselves on the issues and affairs of a state. Ballot initiatives are great incentives for the people to educate themselves on the issues and affairs of the state in order to be the "responsible" citizens. And this clearly benefits the political culture in such countries.




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Con


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Economics: Are ballot initiatives desirable?

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Pro

  • Ballot initiatives are inexpensive. "One objection to widespread use of direct democracy concerns its alleged high direct costs. According to Kendall and Louw (Kendall, 1989, page 135), the Swiss Federal chancellery estimates the costs of a national initiative combined with a federal counterproposal to about 1 Swiss franc per voter. Even when special ballots have to be held to decide single issues, the costs are modest. In California such a special ballot was held in 1973. It cost the state about USD 20 million, or about 80 cents (USD 0.80) per capita. (Walker, page 93). In addition to the direct costs incurred by the government, comes the costs associated with launching an initiative. In Switzerland this cost is estimated to at least one franc per petition signature (Junker, page 122). In California initiative campaigns cost several million dollars. In per capita terms however, these costs are still marginal, which is why this method of making decisions is so effective. Even if we assume that the Swiss spend a few million francs (everything included) on national issues every year, this has to be compared with a Swiss federal budget of about 23 billion francs (1985) (Junker, page 40)." John F. Knutsen:Direct Democracy




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Con

  • Ballot initiatives are expensive. "Direct democracy becomes too costly in other than very small political units when more than a few isolated issues must be considered. The costs of decision-making become too large relative to the possible reductions in expected external costs that collective action might produce." (Buchanan, J.M. and Tullock, G. (1962)The Calculus of Consent:Logical foundations of constitutional democracy)




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See also

External links and resources

Books

  • Fareed Zakaria, "The Future of Freedom"


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