Necessity of voting

In the last 200 years, the world has undergone many changes. One of the more fundamental ones is the change in structure of the governments worldwide. There was a time when almost all governments derived their power from the "divine right" of the king or queen to rule over the masses. This meant that God had given the right to govern to the local monarch, who in turn had given the authority to the various government office holders. Today, most countries enjoy democracy. So, what does democracy mean?

The way I see it, democracy turns the old world order on its head. Rather than the king or queen having the divine right to rule, the masses have the divine right to choose the rulers. So, in contrast to the kings, the Presidents get their right to rule from the people and not from some God. In essence, all of the machinery of governance is owned by, operated for the benefit of, and with the consent of the general public. But how do you find out what the people want and need?

That is where we run into problems. While people vote for their representatives at all levels of government (members of parliament and mayors and members of city, state and national government), they also want some direct say. This leads to referendums and other such "direct" actions. But even then, the needs/wants of the general population may be elusive. That is because the entire population does not go and vote (You Australians are perhaps the only exception).

Now, it is very easy to condemn such "avoiders" and say things such as "People have died so that you could have the right to vote". But see things from the non-voters' perspective as well - They see no reason to vote when their vote does not lead to a better outcome. All it does is add to the frustration of this life. And who wants more aggravation? Not me!

But there is another perspective. It is going to take some time to go through so please bear with me...

Thomas Jefferson, a really sharp guy, said "We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate". This is a very important distinction. Since we were kids, we have learnt how to optimize. We learn which routes are shorter. Which stores have better candy. What is easier to ask for from parents. Another thing we have learned is how to focus our energies on tactics that yield the best reward. For example, if your parents would never negotiate on spinach, why waste your time whining about spinach when you can eagerly eat your spinach and ask to be excused from broccoli (which you hate even more)? Similarly, when you are selling girl scout cookies, hit the houses where you are confident for a sale and if your quota is done, you don't need to go to the low-yield households!

Politicians are devoted to similar optimizations today. They know that 50% of the electorate is going to show up and vote. Also, there are only 2 parties (Republicans and Democrats) who have enough money and machinery to have a realistic chance at winning just about any election at any level. So, in order to win an election, a candidate needs to ensure that 51% of those who show up vote for him/her. In order to do that, 25% of the public must be exhorted to ensure that they are registered to vote and show up to the polling booth on election day and vote for their guy. Guess what? Most candidates pick a topic that most of the public is not even aware of, paint their opposition as minions of the devil and rile up their group/gang/ghetto to go and vote in their favor! The big "silent majority" that is struggling to build a nice life is completely and purposefully alienated so that they don't come and spoil the system.

Well, it is about time the "silent majority" asserted itself. Why? Well, while you were sleeping, the extremists on both sides have hijacked your country and banned civil discourse and compromise. We have politicians who strut around like peacocks and behave worse than the French kings and we all know what happened to them! I am not saying that you are going to see a sea change if you vote this November. But once the politicians realize that 70%, 80% or even 90% of the public is showing up at the polls, they would have to cater not only to their cohort, they would have to keep this silent majority happy too.

Of course, some of you are going to say "Both Democrats and Republicans have ignored me, why should I vote for either of them". Well, then don't! If you are in California, chances are that Libertarians and Greens both have candidates for every office. Other states may or may not be as tolerant to deviant views. Vote for them. Maybe that would scare the Republicans and Democrats.

About time this business as usual came to an end...


Why General Motors cannot sell me a car

Many of us have been hearing how the rising employee costs are hurting General Motors and preventing them from becoming competitive in the marketplace. Many talk about the lavish pensions and healthcare guarantees that the UAW (United Auto Workers) has managed to blackmail GM into. Every now and then, various self-appointed pundits (like myself) talk about GM ditching their pension plans.

But let us look at reality for a moment. GM has created most of its problems itself. There was the EV1 disaster when GM, despite loud protests by its own customers, refused to let people continue to drive the EV1 that they had come to love. As recently as 2005, GM pooh-poohed the utility of hybrid cars, letting Toyota become the thought leader. Then there is the whole SUV mania. Despite rising gasoline costs, GM has continued to focus on gas-guzzling behemoths.

I am a car owner and driver. From my previous post, you would come to know that I have an 18-year old Toyota MR2. I love this car. It gives good gas mileage and is a nice peppy car. But I also need to replace it as it ages and gets louder. Recently, I heard about Saturn Sky, a new 2-seater model from GM. I decided to check out its specifications and compare.

Guess what? This 2007 car cannot match my 1988 car! The fuel efficiency is worse, the turning radius is more (imagine that for a sports car) and almost everything else comes out behind the 1988 MR2. Now imagine if you were in USSR and your 1965 Lada worked better than the 1985 Lada. What would you say? I bet you would say "Well, that is the way it is." But luckily for us, we are not in USSR. We are in the very cradle of capitalism. We are in the most competitive automobile market. And if GM cannot compete with a car that came out 19 years ago, they might as well pack up their stuff and call it quits.

My prediction is that before too long the federal government would try to give GM a subsidy. When that happens, remember that this is the same company that once said "No true blue American would ever buy a Japanese car". And make sure your elected representatives don't steal your tax money to prop up a defunct car company.

Happy driving...