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A political trade is a form of political compromise in which one party agrees to give in to another party on a specific issue, and in exchange, the other party agrees to give in to the first party on one issue. Political trades are viewed by the mainstream as a natural or inevitable part of politics, and they are often seen as a good thing; this is reflected by the use of the word "compromise" which has a positive connotation. I use the word "trade" because it is more neutral and also more specific...a political trade is a direct "You get X, I get Y" deal, which is often just one particular type of compromise.
My stance on these trades is very different from the mainstream; although sometimes these trades can result in good outcomes, there are numerous downsides to this practice, which this page explains in depth.
Political trades, as I will argue below, are one of the worst and most damaging forms of such compromise. Furthermore, there are many cases in which compromise is not necessary and is not even beneficial. In the United States of America, political trades have become a common ingredient in the passage of large packages of legislation, and have resulted in numerous negative outcomes.
Drawbacks to Political Trades:
- Outcomes that do not reflect the will of the people - In a representative democracy, political trades can be potentially undemocratic, as they can result in outcomes in which both
- Favoring party leadership and party machinery over the democratic process - Political trades are usually the outcome of intense negotiation processes. They thus lend themselves to heavy influence by the leadership and internal structure of the dominant political properties; the popular vote becomes less important, thus making outcomes less democratic.
- Large package legislation - Political trades necessitate or require the voting on of large packages of legislation, which often include unrelated measures. The result is legislation which is large, complex, and difficult to understand. Large packages of legislation also obscures voting records...a given politican has to either vote for or against the package as a whole, or abstain from voting. This makes it impossible to look at the politician's record on voting on individual issues in the package, which, in the long-run, makes it hard to judge a politician's stances and integrity from their voting record. It also provides fuel for negative campaigning, as a campaign can say "Such-and-such politician voted against such-and-such issue.", and the comment will be true, but the politician may not have supported that issue, but only voted for it as part of a big package.
- Time-consuming political process - The process of negotiating political trades is complex and time-consuming. A large portion of the time and effort spent by American politicians, political commentators, and party machinery is spent on negotiating political trades. Our political system would be able to accomplish more and run more smoothly if we spent less time negotiating trades.
Avoiding Political Trades:
The culture of political trades can be overcome and replaced by a more constructive culture. The first and most important step in this process is to recognize that political trading is not the best form of compromise.
Compromise without trades:
- Changing or negotiating thresholds, or weakening or strengthening legislation - One of the best and most flexible ways to avoid political trades, when there is a controversial issue being voted on, is to weaken or strengthen legislation until there are enough votes for it to pass. For example, when considering a tax increase or tax cut, the rate of the increase or cut can be negotiated and set at whatever rate it would need to be set at to achieve a majority or passing vote. Even when there is no numerical rate, legislation can still be weakened or strengthened. This allows for political compromise while keeping votes restricted to simple, single-issue bills.
- Outside-the-box solutions - Often, when two or more parties or factions are butting heads on an issue, it is a sign that there is a legitimate drawback to both perspectives being offered. Rather than being forced into two choices, if people start brainstorming and coming up with novel or innovative solutions, it can be possible to come up with results that would achieve a majority vote and placate both parties. For example, the issue of whether to make same-sex marriage legal or illegal often generates strongly polarized camps, but people from both camps can sometimes agree with a stance that makes the government play less of a role in marriage, so that the definition of marriage can be left up to individuals and religious communities, a solution that pleases advocates of small government and separation of church and state alike.
Voting and moving forward:
Compromise is not always necessary in a democracy, and in fact, is often a worse outcome than a simple vote. In a democracy, it is inevitable that some issues will be put to a vote and will pass or fail by a narrow majority. While these issues are controversial and will undoubtedly leave large numbers of people unsatisfied, these outcomes are not necessarily any more damaging or undemocratic than the outcomes of complex political deals and trades.
When issues are voted on individually, the worst outcome is generally one that slightly less than half the population disagrees with. When political trades come into the picture, the outcome can be much worse: not only is it possible for more than half the population to be dissatisfied with the outcome, but the political process can become inefficient, the political environment can become hostile, and the resulting large packages of legislation can be burdensome and poorly-designed, and voting records become obscured.
Take a stance against political trades:
For this reason, I take a stance against political trades out of principle. This stance is reflected in the Cazort.net political platform. The alternative to political trades is building consensus and voting on individual issues.
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