Immigration is a Natural Right, and the Constitution Protects It

Most people don’t know this, but the Constitution actually doesn’t grant any part of the Government the power to regulate immigration.

In 130 U.S. 581 (1889), the Supreme Court published this opinion:

The power of exclusion of foreigners being an incident of sovereignty belonging to the government of the United States as a part of those sovereign powers delegated by the Constitution, the right to its exercise at any time when, in the judgment of the government, the interests of the country require it, cannot be granted away or restrained on behalf of anyone.

The powers of government are delegated in trust to the United States, and are incapable of transfer to any other parties. They cannot be abandoned or surrendered. Nor can their exercise be hampered, when needed for the public good, by any considerations of private interest. The exercise of these public trusts is not the subject of barter or contract.

130 U.S. 581 (1889), Supreme Court of the United States

The above argument essentially states that although the Constitution only gives the Congress the power to establish uniform rules of naturalization—not immigration—the United States obviously has those powers, as it is a sovereign nation.

This argument is shaky. The Federal Government does indeed have certain powers not enumerated in the Constitution, particularly:

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 18, United States Constitution

To accomplish the enumerated powers and to support all other functions of government in exercising the powers granted by the Constitution, the Congress may produce any law necessary and proper. It may not assume new powers, and in fact this was explicitly proscribed:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

10th Amendment to the United States Constitution

Taken together, it would seem States do not have the power to exclude people entry—that would infringe on a great many powers of the United States—and the Federal government has not been delegated such a power.

A Careful Reading

By a careful reading, we can argue the framers didn’t leave out immigration as an oversight, but rather that the above is by intent.

Consider first the unfortunate original wording of Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, United States Constitution

The more-recent amendment corrects some of the defects:

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.

14th Amendment to the United States Constitution

In each case, certain persons not taxed are excluded—as if they are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and thus cannot be taxed, and thus also are not citizens.

Immigrant laborers who come to the United States pay taxes, and are subject to the laws and jurisdiction of the United States. This is interesting, because the Constitution also covers who is definitely a Citizen:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

14th amendment to the United States Constitution

Any person born or naturalized in the United States must be subject to its jurisdiction; and in fact a person remains a United States Citizen if outside the United States for a time. The above reading seems awkward and redundant.

If we read this as that citizens are all persons born in the United States, and all persons naturalized in the United States, and all subject to its jurisdiction, it starts to make more sense.

A visitor to the United States is not a resident, and is a foreigner, to be sent away if the United States decides so; but if a person comes to the United States, settles here, and becomes a resident, then that person has declared themselves subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, to our laws and our justice, as they cannot be sent “home”—they are home.

The same clause says that these people are residents of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. A person can move to the next State and be a citizen of that State, and the State cannot stop this.

This raises questions about Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4:

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4, United States Constitution

Obviously, we must ensure only citizens have the rights of citizenship: a visitor to the United States should not be granted the right to vote, but a resident has the right to vote.

No State may bar any citizen of the United States from voting in the State’s elections simply because they were a resident of the next State over; the moment you move to another State, you are a citizen of that State. This is an unsustainable and problematic requirement, except that the United States maintains a uniform rule of naturalization and can unambiguously provide that a person is recognized as a citizen, thus relieving the States of this burden.

A “uniform rule of naturalization” is distinct from a rule of discrimination among those seeking naturalization. It does not indicate that citizenship may be denied, but rather that a rule must be made to establish how citizenship is obtained. If such is the intent, then rules which may effectively deny citizenship are not the intent.

Finally, by an interaction between the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, it is impossible to produce two justice systems whereby immigrants are faced with different sentencing—such as deportation—not applicable to others:

nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

14th amendment to the United States Constitution

If a person declares that they are subject to the laws and the jurisdiction of the United States, then they may only be faced with the same justice as any United States citizen.

The Right of Liberty

The very Declaration of Independence recognizes the fundamental, inalienable right of liberty:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The Declaration of Independence

This concept of natural rights derives from Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, from the observation that without law and government we are all free to go anywhere, take anything, do anything, say anything.

Without government, we can all infringe upon the rights of others; thus we create government, entrusting by social contract some natural rights so as to protect others. We may not imprison, or tax, or otherwise deprive others of life, liberty, and property, except by the due process upon which we have all agreed.

Even Alexander Hamilton, urging caution in approaching immigration, held firmly that immigration is not to be denied:

By what has been said, it is not meant to contend for a total prohibition of the right of citizenship to strangers, nor even for the very long residence which is now a prerequisite to naturalization, and which of itself, goes far towards a denial of that privilege. The present law was merely a temporary measure adopted under peculiar circumstances and perhaps demands revision.

But there is a wide difference between closing the door altogether and throwing it entirely open; between a postponement of fourteen years and an immediate admission to all the rights of citizenship.

Some reasonable term ought to be allowed to enable aliens to get rid of foreign and acquire American attachments; to learn the principles and imbibe the spirit of our government; and to admit of at least a probability of their feeling a real interest in our affairs.

The Examination Number VIII

Hamilton, in his strong urging against the dangers of foreign influence by mass immigration, argues strongly that fourteen years postponement is too long, and that all who come to be citizens must be given a reasonable and expedient path. As in Federalist #2, Hamilton argues that shared experience as Americans brings the unity of all Americans—even those of foreign birth—by great expedience.

Hamilton argues against granting citizenship to foreigners “the moment they put foot in our country,” while also declaring that they should at once be conferred some of the rights of Naturalization the moment they declare their solemn intent:

If the rights of Naturalization may be communicated by parts, and it is not perceived why they may not, those peculiar to the conducting of business and the acquisition of property, might with propriety be at once conferred, upon receiving proof, by certain prescribed solemnities, of their intention to become citizens; postponing all political privileges to the ultimate term.

The Examination Number VIII

While Hamilton and Jefferson disagreed on this point—Jefferson arguing that a person was a full citizen with all rights the moment they appeared and declared citizenship—they both agreed firmly that any who come to this Nation to be citizens of the United States are citizens of the United States.

Interestingly, Hamilton’s argument that those rights “peculiar to the conducting of business and the acquisition of property, might with propriety be at once conferred” suggests that any who come here to rent or purchase home, to open shop, and to find jobs should at once be given such rights—and only argues the postponement of those political privileges such as the right to vote or to run for office.

It seems then that naturalization is a human right, and an inalienable right—being the right of liberty—and the above arguments on the reading of the Constitution make a great deal more sense than the arguments of the Court that the Constitution is simply wrong.

Medicare for America Tweaks

The Medicare for America Act of 2019 is an amazing piece of work. It’s an Australian-type plan, where Americans not covered by conforming private insurance are covered automatically by Medicare.

Subtitle B, Sec. 2203 establishes all the things Medicare for America covers; likewise, as per Part C of Subtitle B, all private plans shall conform to Medicare for America, and are called “Medicare Advantage for America” plans.

There are a few things I’d change, of course.

Premium Formula

Title I, Sec. 104 establishes premiums based on all kinds of bounds and numbers. The premiums are based on regional rates, may be no more than 8% of adjusted gross monthly income, and are reduced based on the household income relative to the poverty line.

The American Citizens Dividend would eliminate all downsides of a flat FICA, providing a more-stable and reasonable system. Instead of paying an 8% premium if you’re enrolled in the plan, every American would pay the Medicare for America FICA—which would be roughly 1.25% by calculations I made in 2017.

Consider a household with $25,000 of income and the high 8% premium. The dividend’s premium is 12.5%, so the household pays 20.5% into these FICA taxes in total. The American Citizens Dividend pays over $6,000 per single adult, so a one-adult household is still net plus $875 after FICA and Dividend, and a two-adult household is net plus $6,875.

At the 1.25% level, it’s $2,500 and $8,500, of course.

All Americans should pay into the healthcare plan, unlike in Subtitle B, Sec. 2204(a)(1), which specifies:

Subject to paragraph (2), each individual enrolled for benefits under this title for a year shall pay monthly community-rated premiums for such year in an amount determined by the Secretary in accordance with subsection (b).

Medicare for America, Subtitle B, Sec. 2204(a)(1)

By having all Americans pay in equally, we greatly reduce the FICA and share our collective responsibility for healthcare. Yes, that means those of us with individual healthcare pay a bit more—I’d be paying $1,000/year into Medicare for America only to use my private plan.

There’s more, though: the plan as-is isn’t sustainable except for the provisions that the fund will receive Federal subsidies. This means it’s a mystery how much of anyone’s money goes to the fund, and arguments about how Medicare affect the deficit are suddenly valid because it’s no longer really a social insurance and not self-funded. My method is totally self-funded, revenue-neutral, and removed from any impact on the deficit.

Employee Opt-In

Under Subtitle C, Sec. 126(c), we find this long paragraph:

Employee Choice.—An employee may opt out of a qualifying employer-sponsored plan as satisfied by subsection (b)(1) in order to enroll in Medicare for America. The employer shall make a contribution equal to the contribution it shall make in order to meet the requirements established by subsection (a)(1) or (a)(2). The Secretary of Health and Human Services shall have authority to set standards for determining whether employers or insurers are undertaking any actions to affect the risk pool within Medicare for America by inducing individuals to decline coverage under a qualifying employer-sponsored plan and instead to enroll in Medicare for America. An employer violating such standards shall be treated as not meeting the requirements of subsection (a).

Medicare for America, Subtitle C, Sec. 126(c)

In essence, if an employee opts out, then the employer must pay an 8% payroll tax.

The employer is required to pay 70% of the healthcare plan costs in any case. Instead of 8%, I have suggested the employer and employee both pay as payroll tax what the employer would have paid had the employee taken the employer’s plan. This removes any financial incentive and allows the employee to select whichever option they prefer.

Small Employers

Under Subtitle B, Sec. 2202(b)(3)(B), small and large employers are treated differently regarding enrollments.

My solution is simpler: each employee shall pay no more than some affordable rate (e.g. 8% of income) into their premium, and the employer shall pay a minimum of 70%. If the employer does not provide conforming care (notably, by charging the employee more or by making an employee ineligible), then the employer shall pay twice this affordable rate as a payroll tax.

That means if the employer pays $7,000/year for the employee’s premiums and the employee earns less than $43,750 annually (yes, nigh-impossible with a structural minimum wage, except for part-time employees), the employer is better off simply not offering a healthcare plan.

This offsets some of that 1.25% FICA, and effectively pro-rates and subsidizes employers for the healthcare costs of part-time employees below a certain wage: instead of paying $7,000/year for a half-time employee, the employer only pays $3,500/year.

Under this approach, there is no difference between large and small businesses. The administration is the same, and tax considerations and inflation and whatnot factor out.

Ghent System

I would additionally provide a hybrid Ghent system, such that an employer and labor union gets a 10% subsidy for their share of the premium for any employee covered by a union-provided healthcare plan, so long as the employee is a member of the union.

If the employee’s union has negotiated a conforming Medicare Advantage for America plan, then the employer must pay 70% of the premium cost. The union can collect the remainder through dues. In this case, the employer will receive a subsidy of 7% of the premium cost, and the union will receive a subsidy of 3%.

This encourages union participation, as the employer receives a minor tax break and the employee’s dues are slightly-lower. Note that 70% of the healthcare premium is shifted to the employee and off the union, so the employee doesn’t cover those costs through dues.

Other Notes

There are a lot of excise taxes, notably on tobacco and alcohol, in here. The pipe tobacco excise jumps from about $2 to $50, for all that’s worth.

Per-Capita Income, not Median Income, Must Drive Minimum Wage

The Washington Center for Equitable Growth argues for indexing the minimum wage to the median wage.

They make two arguments against indexing to mean wage—we argue for indexing to mean income per capita—which don’t hold.

This approach is better than using the average wage, or mean wage, as the peg for the index. If the minimum is indexed to the mean wage, when minimum-wage workers receive a raise, the average wage rises, which then increases minimum wages, and so on. Over time this process increases the share of the workforce earning the minimum wage, compelling employers to bear continually larger increases in labor costs.

Washington Center for Equitable Growth

This argument presupposes that a higher minimum wage drives a larger minimum-wage workforce. The opposite is actually true: a lower minimum wage increases the minimum wage-workforce.

As minimum wage decreases, all wage earners above the minimum can purchase more minimum-wage labor. Minimum wage jobs include retail, fast food, and other high-consumption consumer service jobs, and so lower-cost minimum wage labor allows higher consumption per-capita of these services and the related labor.

Purchasing the same products at lower prices thanks to lower labor costs means money is left over. Increased purchasing of these and other services raises the size of the workforce. Because these goods are more readily-consumed with additional spending power than other goods—and because other goods are produced with much-more-productive labor—the extra labor demand is disproportionately allocated to minimum wage labor.

Increased labor demand causes increased labor supply, whether by immigration or increases in fertility decisions, although fertility decisions are more-complex and can increase when unemployment increases if minimum wage is sufficiently low and welfare can more-effectively support child rearing. One way or another, a lower minimum wage eventually leads to a faster-growing labor force taking up proportionally more minimum-wage jobs.

In contrast, if the minimum is increased in line with the median wage, then the share of the workforce earning the minimum wage will remain roughly constant over time. This is because the median wage moves independently of the minimum wage. The benefit of keeping the minimum wage constant as a share of overall wages is that workers competing for low-wage jobs would find demand for their labor among employers equally constant.

Washington Center for Equitable Growth

This repeats the second error in the first quote: it assumes minimum wage does not impact median wage.

If the minimum wage rises from $10/hr to $15/hr, what happens to workers making $14? Zipperer implies these workers will receive $15, which begs the question: why were they receiving $14 in the first place? Surely they either have some negotiating position to obtain above-minimum wages or they don’t; it can’t be both.

In practice, minimum wages lift median wages. That $14/hr worker might not get a 50% increase ($21/hr), yet will still earn more than $15/hr. It’s conceivable they may earn $19/hr, or $17.50/hr, but certainly not $15/hr—else why exercise what special qualifications the job requires which are not necessarily possessed by anyone who can stock grocery shelves?

Consider, for example, an overnight baker at a Panera. Why work overnight making bread when you can work during the day stocking shelves at the same wage? If you make $16/hr today and the new minimum is $15/hr, would you consider leaving behind one dollar of wage to get away from night shift?

Zipperer makes a larger mistake with the above quote. To explore, let’s consider:

Examining how the minimum wage would change over time if it were indexed to other measures of economic activity, such as prices or wages, is fairly straightforward. 

Washington Center for Equitable Growth

So what does their chart look like?

A minimum wage, indexed to median wage, would reach $8.26/hr in 2014. How does that compare to per-capita income?

Median and Minimum Wage as an annual full-time income, shown as a portion of per-capita income.

In 1950 (not shown), the minimum wage of $0.75/hr paid $1,560 for a year’s work, compared to a per-capita income of $2,247. That’s almost 70%.

We see this up to 1970, often higher. Minimum wage represented 69% of per-capita income in 1960, 67% in 1965 and 1967, and 66% in 1968. It was higher—as high as 78%—in intervening years.

The 2/3 GNI/C number reflects this per-capita income. The 2014 figure would be $18/hr by this measure, far above the $8.26/hr figure given. We can’t switch to that overnight, but it’s a perfectly reasonable target, considering other nations and the United States’s own history:

The United States trails other nations in minimum wage levels as a percentage of per-capita income.

Perhaps most interesting, while the minimum wage has reflected a slightly-smaller percentage of the median income, it has stayed comparatively level. Minimum wage fell from 40% of the median income in the 1960s to 25% in recent years.

In the same time span, the median income fell from 165% of per-capita income to 101%—the 2014 figure was as low as 95.6%. That’s only 61% of its 1960s level.

Median household incomes also reflect a higher labor force participation, and the 2013 median wage was only $34,750/year, versus $4,000 in 1960. That’s moving from 132% of per-capita income to 64%, cutting the minimum wage by more than half.

Median income, median wage, and other median measures—measures of the distribution of negotiating power—don’t provide a stable basis for setting a minimum wage. By contrast, per-capita income reflects our actual productivity and wealth, and minimum wage as a portion of per-capita income ensures a fair share to all workers. We must index the minimum wage to the per-capita income.

How Trade Actually Works

Somehow, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both managed to sell far-right, conservative trade policies to both the progressives and the conservatives. It’s not hard to see how: trade economics are far-abstracted from most people, and the isolated microeconomic effects are easy to showcase as a threat. Fear draws votes like nothing else, and telling people their lives and livelihoods are on the line is a great way to get elected.

Here we explain how trade can be so good yet so easily cast as bad, what the remedy should be, and how trade economics actually works. We use abbreviated abstractions and thought experiments because nobody wants to read a 470-page blog post in an attempt to develop a Ph.D. in macroeconomics. Real-world evidence consists of huge piles of mathematics and a lot of economists repeatedly being proven wrong about NAFTA destroying jobs.

Structural Change

Everything which makes the individual consumer wealthier also makes the nation wealthier. These things—technical progress and trade—involve structural change, or the reorganization of the factors of production. Such reorganization must impact someone, somewhere, negatively, which gives trade conservatives their cudgel.

In truth, even an entire collapsed city represents roughly 0.05% of the American economy. If your factories flee to Mexico or China, that’s all the damage. Immediately we must ask: why not just fix it?

While those 0.05% of Americans lose their jobs, the other 99.95% get richer. Some at the top get a lot richer, while consumers in general see lower prices relative to wages—so long as minimum wage keeps up—and thus can buy more goods and services. This reduces poverty.

So here’s a question: if 99.95% of us are, say, 0.5% richer, why can’t we all be 0.45% richer and shuffle the other 0.05% to compensate those impacted by structural change?

This is exactly what the American Citizen’s Dividend proposes. It’s also part of the purpose of universal healthcare, universal family care, unemployment insurance, welfare, and other social insurances and needs-based programs. Most of us are richer, and we’re so much richer we can compensate those who were in the path of progress so they can recover and share in the new wealth. Again, sharing in the new wealth includes a structural minimum wage.

The threat that your job might be the one to run off to Mexico overrides the abstract macroeconomics of progress—of greater wealth, higher standards-of-living, and lower poverty. It’s hard to sell the idea that growth means change and change might mean we as a society must take care of you from time to time. It’s exceedingly easy to sell the idea that lower costs mean higher profits and the rich are cutting our throats to make themselves richer while we get poorer.

Thought Experiment: Cars and Planes

Most folks can easily shrug off Ricardo’s theory of trade economics by claiming it’s all academic. Wikipedia effectively summarizes it in one graphic, and it looks like some kind of magic.

The blue triangle depicts Home’s original production (and consumption) possibilities. By trading, Home can also consume bundles in the pink triangle despite facing the same productions possibility frontier.

So let’s imagine the United States and China can both make cars and airplanes, and see how we get from blue to pink on both sides.

Assume the United States expends the same resources to make either one airplane or one thousand cars. Thus the United States can make ten airplanes and zero cars, ten thousand cars and zero planes, or five airplanes and five thousand cars.

In China, the manufacture of one airplane could instead produce merely one hundred cars. China, with the capacity to produce ten airplanes, can instead produce one thousand cars.

These are the same cars and the same planes made to exactly the same quality specifications. China just happens to be comparatively better at making planes: they sacrifice the capacity to make fewer cars for each plane.

Okay, what do we do about it?

If each nation allocates resources evenly, the United States can produce five airplanes and five thousand cars, while China produces five airplanes and five hundred cars. That’s ten airplanes and 5,500 cars.

Let’s trade with China.

The United States instead produces ten thousand cars, while China produces only ten airplanes. We still have ten airplanes, but also ten thousand cars. That’s a net gain of 4,500 cars while expending the same resources.

Already we see just how we’re doing the same work yet getting more simply by trading.

Impacts on Consumers

How does trading cars for planes affect each trading partner?

  • China can import 4,500 cars for the cost of, at most, 500 Chinese-made cars. An American car costs the Chinese consumer a minimum of 1/9 that of purchasing a Chinese car.
  • America can import 5 planes for the cost of, at most, 4.5 American planes.

Notice there are minimums and maximums here. The prices can fill that broad gap just about anywhere, and will rarely turn out optimal. Competition tends to drive prices to the lower end, although new trade theory (below) reduces competition and still lowers prices.

Wages and Exchange Rates

There’s another issue: these are comparative advantages. It might very well require twice the Chinese labor to make an American plane, and it’s still only a good deal for America below 90% of the price of an American-made plane. It’s still worth trading.

In such a situation, exchange rates will adjust such that the Chinese wage, in American dollars, is only 45% of the American wage. Rather than 1/9, that American car will cost the Chinese worker 1/4 of what a Chinese-made car will. That still means they labor for only 25% as long to purchase a car.

Often we hear about the exploitation of third-world labor, yet we don’t talk about the crisis of unemployment they’d face without these or other jobs. We certainly don’t discuss why those wages are so low, or talk about how quickly those wages are growing, or the simple increase in standard-of-living among these workers.

The comparative advantage explains many of these things. It also cuts off an important argument: that trade is only sustainable (cheap) because labor and environmental standards are lax in these countries. Trade would be profitable for both sides even with strict environmental standards and basic labor practices. You’re never going to get trading-partner wage parity, but you can get GNI-share wage floors (and a lower exchange rate).

New Trade Theroy

There’s one more component to trade theory: Paul Krugman’s New Trade Theory, for which he was awarded the Sveriges Risbank prize in Economics in honor of Alfred Nobel.

New Trade Theory simply observes that accumulation of the factors of production can provide a type of wealth-creating structural change. If you want to make large-body airplanes, you need a lot of resources in huge factories to make not a lot of units. With only two such factories in the world in two different countries, the cost of making large-body airplanes falls thanks to economic efficiencies of scale.

This is why Ford and GM no longer make everything in one place. Making all the different factory parts and all the different cars in one factory involves a lot of work stoppages, retooling, and other labor-wasting effort. Interchanging common parts and making a narrow range of things in each dedicated factory keeps the assembly line rolling, and the cost per unit falls.

Because the United States is busy trying to fix a nursing shortage and build a STEM workforce, we run a little short on labor, so we have Mexico and Canada and China make a lot of cars and car parts, and we ship things around. We’ve also gotten extremely productive in manufacture, able to manufacture far more with a smaller labor force, so manufacture in general has grown less while other industries have grown more.

Put all of that together and you see a lot of odd things happen. You see entire industries vanish even as they get bigger. You see cheap shirts coming out of China, made from fabric dyed in Indonesia or India, dyed from textile manufacture in the United States, woven from cotton grown in the United States or Egypt. You see language like “Assembled in Michigan” on cars that are made in Japan, Germany, the United States, Mexico, China, Sweden, and Canada, with materials and parts shipping repeatedly back and forth between these nations just to make one vehicle.

You see people with little grasp beyond that their job might go to China, because even the economists can’t really get their heads around trade.

Those people are prey for deceptive politicians with conservative trade policies.

Illustrations of Electoral Failures

Many people find electoral systems abstract and esoteric. Party primary and plurality seem like obvious, fair systems, yet draw large amounts of attention for their unfair results and damage to our democracy; and the Electoral College gets attention when it disagrees with that same often-maligned popular vote system, ironically creating a call for a national popular vote. People aren’t generally experts in the economics of social decision making, and only recognize that there is absolutely something wrong here.

Fortunately, people are in general intelligent and capable of understanding complex concepts if someone explains them well enough. For complex electoral systems, we can use the United States 2016 Presidential Election as a frame of reference, and propose several different sets of votes. From these votes, we can calculate outcomes and show how each electoral system fails.

We must understand upfront the utmost importance of representation. Our elections must produce a representative result. That representation might not fit with what we as individuals or larger groups want; that’s not the point. The point is for us, as a majority, minority, or whatever portion, to have our say and to influence the election so that every vote counts—that means we must concede some things sometimes.

To emphasize this point, I’ve used a model in which there are more Republicans voting than Democrats in the 2016 election. In general, this means a Republican wins—but which Republican? That’s the key question.

In our first example, we have 24% ranking Rubio, then Trump, then Clinton: we’ve assumed the Republicans will always vote Republican first.

As seen above, Plurality selects only from first-ranked votes. More voters—a full 30%—voted Trump than anyone else, so Trump wins. We can see how flawed a system this is.

Party Primary is actually worse. In the real 2016 Republican primary, Trump won with 44% of the votes thanks to the same vote splitting seen above. The Party Primary system also faces non-mathematical flaws rooted in human economic behavior.

Party-line voters who don’t care who wins the primary are less-inclined to vote. In practice, you might see 75% of the Sanders voters turn out, and only 50% of the Clinton voters. Using our example here, with more Democrats preferring Clinton, Sanders would achieve a victory at 54% to 46% in the primary. Social media propaganda attacks capitalize heavily on this problem.

Our example also shows a top-two system, which just picks Trump and Clinton by plurality vote. Again, Trump wins.

Majority Runoff and its ranked choice voting version, Instant Runoff Voting, show the center squeeze effect: least-voted Bernie Sanders gets booted early, sending votes to Clinton. Clinton and Trump thus squeeze out Rubio, turning this into a Clinton-Trump contest, in which Clinton wins.

The last example is our Condorcet method. The graph on the right holds particular importance: it shows who defeats who, with the arrows pointing toward the losers in one-on-one contests.

Because Rubio defeats Trump, Clinton, and Sanders in the respective two-candidate elections, Rubio is the Condorcet winner. Systems like Tideman’s Alternative elect this winner, representing a consensus of the voters.

So okay, there were more Republicans, and Rubio wins under this system. Does that mean this is a better system, or is it just electing a candidate some of us personally dislike less than the winner?

Those aren’t mutually-exclusive propositions: 70% of voters preferred Rubio to Trump. A lot of us apparently personally disliked Rubio less than Trump, yet Trump got elected. Trump got elected despite a majority of voters not wanting to elect Trump.

Let’s fiddle with the numbers a little.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016. A large body of Never-Trump Republicans had no alternative but to vote Clinton, and the above illustration supposes Clinton won the popular vote because of a great many Republicans ranking Rubio, then Clinton, then Trump. The Electoral College essentially stuffed these Republicans into strong Red jurisdictions, covering up their votes just like gerrymandering, so Trump won anyway.

Again, Trump wins Plurality; and again, Rubio remains the Condorcet candidate—so far, the correct winner, given the arguments above. What about the other systems?

Party Primary selects Clinton and Trump. This removes Rubio. The graph shows Rubio defeats Clinton, who defeats Trump; since Rubio has been removed, Clinton wins. Just as with Trump, 54% of the voters preferred Rubio to Clinton.

Top-Two again selects Clinton, and Rubio voters bail out on Trump. Runoff and Instant Runoff Voting also squeeze out Rubio, leading to a Clinton victory.

Even though the majority of the voters clearly prefer Rubio to Trump, Clinton, and Bernie, only the Condorcet system elects Rubio. The rest fail, this time electing Clinton instead of Trump.

A small, unimportant change to the votes has a big change to the outcome. How badly can this fail, anyway? Let’s find out what happens if fewer people vote Trump and more people vote Bernie Sanders.

Sanders is now preferred among Democrats; Rubio voters still prefer Clinton to Trump, which elected Clinton in our second example; and one percent of voters have moved from the Trump camp to the Never-Trump camp.

Plurality still elects Trump, who has the most votes—no surprise there. A Condorcet system still picks Rubio.

Party Primary now selects Bernie Sanders. Sanders can’t beat Trump, so Trump wins. Voting for Bernie instead of Clinton elected Trump.

Top-Two actually gets it right for once. Because more people voted for Rubio, the line-up is Rubio versus Trump, and Rubio beats everybody.

This outcome is precarious: if more than 1% of voters additionally switched from Clinton to Bernie, Top-Two would have selected a Bernie-Trump election, and Trump wins—once again, voting for Bernie Sanders elects Donald Trump. This should never happen, yet it keeps happening.

Runoff and Instant Runoff Voting again center-squeeze. This time it’s Bernie defeating Clinton, instead of Clinton defeating Bernie; and then Rubio goes, leaving a Bernie-Trump election once again. Instant Runoff Voting elects Trump—and once again, changing your vote from Clinton to Sanders elects Trump.

That’s all fine, but what if nobody’s on top?

Enter strategic bloc voting. The Trump voters are trying to eliminate Rubio by burying under Sanders—a known flaw that can manipulate Condorcet systems. Tideman’s Alternative carries a high degree of resistance.

In this example, Plurality elects Trump, Top-Two picks Rubio, and both Party Primary and run-off elect Clinton. Trump voters have identified Sanders as the weakest candidate, and so buried Rubio under Sanders.

The attack works fairly well: Sanders defeats Rubio and Clinton. Rubio defeats Clinton, who defeats Trump, who defeats Sanders; and Rubio defeats Trump, who defeats Sanders.

From any candidate, you can find a path of victories leading back to that candidate. Rubio defeats Clinton, who defeats Trump, who defeats Sanders, who defeats Rubio. Looks like we don’t have a Condorcet candidate, and every candidate except Sanders seems to win under these systems, so how do we decide who wins?

Enter Tideman’s Alternative.

Tideman’s Alternative identifies the top cycle—in this case the Smith Set, which is those candidates who are not defeated by any candidate not in the Smith Set.

To better illustrate, this example includes Gary Johnson, defeated by everybody. The green arrows show the Smith Set path. None of the candidates in the Smith Set are defeated by Johnson. You can trace a path of victories from any candidate in the Smith Set to any candidate in the election.

Tideman’s Alternative eliminates all non-Smith candidates—that being Johnson—and then performs one round of run-off (sometimes called “alternative vote”). This eliminates Sanders, leaving Rubio, Trump, and Clinton.

In round 2, the Smith set is Rubio. This makes Rubio the Condorcet winner, and so Tideman’s Alternative elects Rubio.

As shown here, Tideman’s Alternative can reliably find a consensus winner, and resists tactical manipulation. It does have failure modes, but those failures rely on a large amount of manipulation: Sanders defeated all non-Trump candidates in this example, so even if Rubio voters voted Rubio, then Trump, then Sanders in an attempt to bury Clinton, the outcome wouldn’t change.

The failure modes can also be unpleasant. Consider this attack if 4% more of the voter were Trump voters instead of Rubio voters.

Here we see more Trump voters and fewer Rubio voters. An honest vote, with Trump voters placing Rubio second, elects Rubio; but the Condorcet burying attack changes the outcome.

By attempting to corrupt our elections through tactical manipulation of their voting ranks—by ranking not by the order they favor, but rather in an attempt to mathematically distort the outcome—Trump voters succeed in electing Hillary Clinton.

This happens because a few Rubio voters are honestly opposed to Trump—these are the Never-Trump voters who voted Clinton in 2016. This attack also requires Trump to be the stronger candidate—and Trump won 44% of the Republican Primary, in which the more-moderate independent voters can’t even vote.

To make this clear: if just over 4% of Rubio voters defect to Clinton, Trump has fewer than 50% of the votes. Clinton has around 28%, and Sanders is eliminated. Sanders votes go to Clinton, granting over 50% of the votes, a Clinton victory. That mean this attack elects Clinton even if almost no Rubio voters reject Trump.

Our electoral system matters. Our elections need to find the consensus of voters, not the end result of manipulations and errors. We’re not here to elect a winner, but a representative.

Why Unified Majority Instead of Popular Vote

Simply put, popular vote is a disaster.

Our two-plus system came about because of Plurality elections and a division of ideals. There are basically only two parties because they represent two opposing ideals: Liberalism and Conservatism. The center isn’t a moderate version of these, but rather a break-over point; and the two ideals are practiced with varying intensity.

With a popular vote, the party with the most votes wins. If there are more Conservatives, you get the Republican; and if there are more Liberals, you get the Democrat. Whichever party has slightly-more population or can simply maintain greater turn-out gains permanent, unyielding control.

Were that not bad enough, we nominate by party primary: there will be a Democrat, a Republican, maybe a Libertarian, and an Independent if they can get enough signatures on a petition. Of course, only the Democrat or Republican will win. If people don’t all register to the winning party and vote in their primary, then they have no say in who gets elected, and the winner need only represent that party.

Only the party with the most voters wins, and only those voters registered to vote in that party’s primary are represented.

We see these problems in the division between “red states” and “blue states”: while local elections may define the state as “purple”, the dominating party holds both Senators and the Governor’s house, exclusively reflecting the ideology of the voters registered to that party. States with a near-even population split regularly experience upheavals, and can come within a fraction of a percent of electing wildly-different candidates.

By extension, a national popular vote would either change nothing or would permanently define America as a red nation or a blue nation. This excludes representation for nearly half the voters and, at best, would convert the United States to a single-party system.

The Unified Majority system replaces State elections and even the Electoral College with a process of selecting representatives of the voters as a diverse body, then selecting from those a representative of the voters as a whole.

The voting population selects its candidates, then identifies the candidate of greatest mutual consent.

Rather than representing parties, the election then represents voters. If the voters change…

A more-liberal voting population this year.

…then so do the candidates selected in the primary—potentially several candidates from the same party, spanning the variations in voter’s views. Rather than pinning the center to the break between the two parties—between Liberalism and Conservatism—the center represents the average of all voters.

This system doesn’t just elect a winner, but a representative: the candidate ultimately agreed upon by the preferences of the voters as a whole becomes the winner. A candidate who offends the ideals of a great many voters cannot win, and the variation between candidates of the same party matters a great deal more than the party to which they affiliate.

Under a Unified Majority system, the electorate comes together in unity to select the candidate best representing us all.

Range Voting: A Complex Version of Plurality

Range voting represents a variety of systems by which a voter may express a partial vote for a candidate, rather than a full vote.  Where ranked voting allows a voter to move their vote onto a second choice in search of an electable, preferred candidate, range voting systems require rating candidates.  In simplest form, the voter rates their top-ranked candidate as 1 and their lower-ranked candidates as less.

Range voting advocates suggest voting is about marginal utility, whereby voters seek to identify the most-useful candidate by rating how “good” they are and then adding up their scores.  This contrasts with Condorcet voting, which seeks consensus on an overall-preferred candidate by rank.

Due to vote splitting, range voting simplifies to plurality:  ratings depend on whether a third candidate appears strong or weak, rather than the marginal utility of a second-choice.

Plurality and the Split Vote

In a plurality system, voters elect by casting the most single votes for a candidate.  When two desirable candidates exist, they may split the vote and elect a third candidate, as shown below.

6 Marshall
5 Carter
8 Dark

In modern American elections, voters avoid casting a vote for a third party or even a weak candidate in a primary because they don’t want to throw their vote away.  Knowing that Marshall is a strong candidate and Carter is the underdog, voters wishing to avoid electing Dark will vote for Marshall because a vote for Carter is a vote for Dark.

9 Marshall
2 Carter
8 Dark

Ranked ballots allow voters to rank candidates in order, and so those five Carter voters may rank #1 Carter and #2 Marshall.  Because all Carter voters also rank Marshall as preferred over Dark, the race between Marshall and Dark would reflect eleven votes for Marshall and eight for Dark.  Marshall gets six votes against Carter’s five.  Marshall thus beats Carter and Dark, and is the Condorcet Winner.

Without ranked ballots, voters must consider whether the popular candidate can clearly and strongly defeat the unpopular candidate, and whether they are for or against the popular candidate.  Generally, the voter must vote for the most-popular candidate they find acceptable or they will weaken their chances.

Range Voting and the Split Vote

Range voting suffers an almost-identical defect.  Consider the above race, where Marshall has a weak advantage over Dark, and Carter acts as a spoiler candidate.

A voter who prefers Carter over Marshall and considers Marshall half as good might rate the three candidates as follows:

0.5 Marshall
1 Carter
0 Dark

Knowing that Marshall might just barely defeat Dark, however, the voter also knows that a half-vote for Marshall is a half-vote for Dark.  Such ballots, with Marshall and Dark voters fully-committed, generate the following election results:

7.5 Marshall
5 Carter
8 Dark

As such, Carter voters will want to increase the rating for Marshall, essentially diminishing their vote.  By contrast, if Marshall and Carter are expected to come close to one another—say 8.5 and 9—and Dark is expected to lose, then Carter voters will want to rate Marshall lower to avoid electing Marshall when their first choice is Carter.

As with simple plurality voting, voters can more-freely vote for a third candidate when the opposition is expected to lose in any case.  In such cases—such as where one party has a strong hold and all opposition parties are expected to receive far less than one-third of the vote—the choice often comes down to two candidates, and functions as a vote-for-one plurality vote:  the voter’s best strategy is to rate their preferred candidate 1.0 and their lesser candidates as close to 0 as they feel confident in the capacity of the popular candidates to beat the unpopular ones regardless of any vote splitting.

Also as with simple plurality voting, voters must essentially sacrifice their third-party vote if they fear vote splitting.  When rating a second-choice candidate, they must provide a high rating to avoid vote-splitting, and so increase the likelihood of electing that candidate.

The Not-So-Obvious Conclusion

Range voting systems behave little different than current plurality systems.  In the most extreme cases, systems like STAR voting behave little different than California jungle primaries with instant run-off voting:  split voting causes strategic voting, and the plurality winner becomes the majority winner.

Ranked voting systems provide voters the confidence in their vote:  supporting a second-choice candidate does not harm their first-choice candidate, as an unranked candidate is only another type of lower-ranked candidate.  Likewise, casting their first choice for a non-incumbent, non-popular candidate does not throw their vote away, as an utter loss simply moves the whole vote down.  Ranked voting systems thus free the voter to seek a consensus vote through Condorcet voting rules, and better reflect the voter’s desires than range voting.

Smith-Set Voting: Protecting Our Democracy

Americans routinely voice concern over our election system, including internal threats such as gerrymandering and voting fraud, external threats from foreign interests, and even the design flaws of plurality voting and the Electoral College.

These threats open us up to more than just fraud and split votes.  Our election process isolates ideological groups for party nomination, and then presents Americans with a choice between these nominees.  This excludes the broad consensus of Americans in the nomination process, encouraging extreme views and giving victory to whichever party activates a slim majority of swing voters.

Polarization of politically-engaged Americans

Such polarization robs the American people of consensus, while creating governmental instability:  extreme candidates win elections, and so the candidates become more-extreme and power shifts back and forth with disastrous consequences.  New administrations tear down the work of old at great cost to our economy and national security, each claiming progress while trampling over the will of half the American people.

A more-representative election system resists this pull, bringing victory to those who represent the electorate.  Many voting rules can even resist gerrymandering and minimize the impact of voter fraud, foreign influence, and other internal and external attacks.

The Legislature and Executive

Before we discuss voting systems, we should create a goal for our elections.  The United States Federal government and most States have a bicameral legislature, as well as an executive such as the President, Governor, or Mayor.  Their purpose and the method of election make an enormous difference in representation.

Most States divide their legislatures between the House of Delegates and the State Senate.  They elect multiple Delegates and one Senator per each legislative district.  By contrast, the States elect single Senators in separate elections at-large, and single Representatives per Congressional district.

City and County governments generally elect one member per district to a unicameral legislative body—City or County Council.

To provide fair representation, we must treat each of these as having different and very particular function:  Houses should represent the diversity of views; while Senates, Councils, and Executives must represent the electorate at large.

Proportional Delegates, Condorcet Senators
Proportional representation (top) and Condorcet representation (bottom)

The House of Delegates

The House of Delegates should represent the varied needs of the electorate.  Each Delegate should represent a block of voters with similar needs to which they more-fully commit than a more-majoritarian representative.

Ideally, the United States Congress would also increase representation and require multi-member districts—at least three Representatives per Congressional district—to enable proportional representation.  That’s a more-ambitious goal, whereas States only need change their voting rules.

Proportional representation strengthens the voice of subgroups of voters, even when mixed into population.  Across the district, those voters impact the election in such a way as to select a candidate for themselves, drawing their needs out from the broad geographical body.

The Senate and the Executive

Both the State legislative bodies and the United States Congress elect fewer Senators.  A body of voters has several representatives in the House, and only one Senator to represent them as a whole.  City and County Councils are effectively a Senate without a House.

City and County Councils, Senators, and the Executive must represent the electorate as a whole, rather than a simple majority.  Whereas each Delegate emphasizes the needs of a subset of the district, a Senator represents all of those needs simultaneously.

Structure of a Bicameral Representative Democracy
Proportional Delegates, with Condorcet Senators and Executives

This contrast between the House and Senate allows negotiation between the varied needs in the House along with the general approval of the outcome in the Senate.  Coalitions of Delegates where a simple majority holds a strong ideological tilt must pass Senator who individually represent a compromise ideology.


Elections must fulfill the above needs by voting rules.  Voting rules control how election boards count ballots:  plurality, majority, run-off, and more-complex systems such as Condorcet and Smith methods.

We must use election methods with ranked ballots to implement what are called Proportional and Condorcet voting rules.  These election methods select by consent of the governed:  Condorcet voting, especially, determines which single candidate has the greatest support overall.

Proportional Elections

Proportional representation requires a system called Single Transferable Vote, or STV.  While actually voting is simple enough, the voting rule—the method of counting—is unfortunately complex.  Those rules most-resistant to attack and most-effective at ensuring fair and correct representation carry the greatest complexity.

Most implementations compromise in some way, such as by simply using the Scottish method or the Meek transfer.  Rather than Schulze STV, one could consider removing the Condorcet Loser instead of the Plurality Loser each round.  The effects are questionable.

In general, any STV method produces satisfactory results.  Unnecessary complexity introduces risk of fraud, and so compromises have merit.  Likewise, strong election verification at the early stages allows independent third parties to count the ballots and challenge the outcome with trivial computer implementations.  The American People can decide their comfort and press for the finer details.

Single Transferable Vote, when electing three or more winners, nearly eliminates the impact of gerrymandering.  It works well for Delegates, and would be an asset to Americans with multi-member Congressional districts.

Single Elections

Single-winner elections, such as Senate and Executive, should use a Condorcet method such as Schulze or Ranked Pairs.  These methods elect from the broadest majority support, essentially selecting a candidate from voter consensus.

Condorcet methods generally elect only from the smallest set of candidates who, in one-on-one elections, would gain a majority vote over every candidate not outside the set—called the Smith Set.  If the Smith Set contains only one candidate, that candidate is the Condorcet candidate.

Each candidate in the Smith Set (top) defeats all of each candidate not in the Smith Set (bottom)
Each candidate in the Smith Set (top) defeats all of each candidate not in the Smith Set (bottom)

When a candidate gains the majority vote, that candidate is the Condorcet candidate.  As such, elections must provide a span of candidates sufficiently representing the voting base.  It makes sense, then, for primary elections to nominate two or three candidates per party via Single Transferable Vote, eliminating the tendency to run two extremes against each other while not exhausting the voter with an enormous number of candidates to research and rank.

Electing through STV primary and a Smith-set restricted general—such as Tideman’s Alternative Smith, which resists all kinds of tactical voting and nomination—ensures the winner represents the voting base as a whole, rather than the result of strategic politics, voter base rallying, and party loyalty.