Michael Greve uses Germany as an example of why proportional representation leads to indecision and gridlock.

Proportional representation--PR--is said to be more democratic, inclusive and respectful of minorities than British-American winner-take-all, first-past-the-post elections. Unfortunately, it does nothing to foster clear majorities capable of effective government.

Germany's system of almost pure PR has consistently produced coalition governments and now, for the first time, a situation in which no party constellation can produce a government with a coherent program for much-needed reforms. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's reform of Britain's sclerotic economy wouldn't have been possible with PR and cooperative federalism; nor could one imagine Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi accomplishing anything similar in Japan.

The more subtle but ultimately more insidious problem is that PR--unless balanced by plebiscitary institutions such as a directly elected, powerful executive--tends to be constitutionally unstable. Instead of institutional checks and balances, PR constitutions resemble temporary peace pacts among contending interests, classes or warlords. The structure is only as stable as the underlying constellation of forces; or it is stabilized by nonpolitical means.

Some people decry America's two-party system for shutting out the "little guy", but the fact is that the primary races within each party serve as a filter to prevent Nazis, Communists, and other sorts of lunatics from attaining national office (as they do in France, Germany, and other PR countries). First-past-the-post elections ensure the creation of a government with a mandate from the majority, which leads to more decisive action, less pandering to fringe groups, and greater stability.



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