Thursday, December 17, 2009

Governance: Concensus

In Chapter 9 of our upcoming food policy textbook, Per and I discuss the importance of participation and consensus building for ensuring that governance is good for more stakeholders and that minority rights are protected. Marginal Revolution points me to a fascinating Wiki article on one attempt at legislative governing by consensus in mid-1600s Poland and its pitfalls, particularly when other principles of governance - notably lack of corruption - are not in place:

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (the very large purple country right) was essentially federalist, and "a decision taken by a majority against the will of a minority (even if only a single sejmik) was considered a violation of the principle of political equality." So any representative could call out "Liberum veto" (I freely forbid) to end the discussion and nullify any piece of legislation.

In the first half of the 18th century, it became increasingly common for Sejm sessions to be broken up by liberum veto, as the Commonwealth's neighbours — chiefly Russia and Prussia — found this a useful tool to frustrate attempts at reforming and strengthening the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth deteriorated from a European power into a state of anarchy.[3] Many historians hold that a major cause of the Commonwealth's downfall was the principle of liberum veto.

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