Odds & Ends

Which type of political institution is better able to generate policies that can solve major national problems, interest groups, or political parties?

In general, I would have to say that political parties do a better job because, at least in the United States, parties are much broader-based than interest groups. Unity in an interest group is the norm--an interest group is almost by definition united in the pursuit of the group's goals. Narrowly interested groups also tend to seek group interests at the expense of the rest of society.

A political party, however, is generally made up of several interest groups and individuals with diverse interests. When a political party is united, a wider range of people and groups have come together in support of a policy than would come together within a unified interest group.

How many immigrants in the U.S can't vote and why, and are these immigrants included in the census?

Only citizens of the United States can legally vote in U.S. election. Any immigrant who becomes a naturalized citizen can vote. Immigrants are, in fact, counted in the census, but it is not always clear in the census data who is an immigrant and who is not. Many naturalized citizens no longer consider themselves "immigrants" when asked.

For more information on immigration and naturalization see "How do you become a United States citizen?"

Is it true that if a child born on foreign soil, even though both parents are American citizens, can never run for President of the United States? Any other elected offices treated similarly?

With regard to eligibility for the office of President, the Constitution reads:

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of the President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

A child born to citizen parents living overseas is in fact a "natural born Citizen of the United States." If the child meets other eligibility requirements (particularly the 14 year residency requirement), he or she could hold the office of President. (Incidentally, there was some controversy about whether or not Eisenhower had met the 14 year requirement before assuming the presidency because he had lived outside the country for an extended period of time as a military commander during the 14 years immediately preceding his bid for the Oval Office. The conclusion in his case was that the 14 years did not have to be consecutive.)

All other offices under the Constitution are open to citizens, both natural born and naturalized.

Is profit the best allocator of our scarce natural resources? If not, why?

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "profit," but I'm guessing you're asking if the monetary value of a natural resource should be the only consideration with regard to their use.

My short answer to that question is "no." You also asked "why," so I suppose you'd like some elaboration (I'm nothing if not perceptive). Here's my long answer:

People value the things around them--their possessions, their family members, the environment, etc.--for a variety of reasons. Moreover, some things are more valuable than others to different people. Money first began to be used in society because there was a need to have a consistent, widely understood value for things. This made trade and commerce much more efficient. Most goods and services have a monetary value associated with them upon which most people generally agree. However, there are many things for which a widely accepted price tag is elusive.

One such set of things is natural resources. The market assigns values to raw ore and other things extracted from the Earth, but these dollar values are not always the true costs of the resources. For example, the wood taken from a tree is sold to someone who values it for the things that can be made from it. This value does not necessarily equal the value of the tree's absence from the forest in terms of oxygen production, pollution reduction, erosion control, etc. We can, in fact, try to put a dollar value on these kinds of things, but we generally do not think of all of the costs associated with using a natural resource.

The approach I favor in terms of natural resources is a prudent, balancing approach. If resources are used wisely and sound conservation practices are followed, the true costs of using them can be minimized. If, on the other hand, resources are used indiscriminately without any consideration for the real costs involved, environmental catastrophes can occur.

How does a bill become a law?

Slowly, if at all. Actually, there's a section on the site about the legislative process.

What are the main distinctions between the American and British systems of government?

The main distinctions between the United States and the British political systems are:

  1. The British system still holds an official place for the monarchy. Although the King or Queen's role is now primarily as a figurehead, it is an important symbolic difference.
  2. While the United States system is based on a written Constitution, the British constitution is unwritten--it is a compilation of legal decisions, documents, laws and customs.
  3. The British system is a parliamentary system in which there is no significant separation between the legislative and executive powers. In a parliamentary system, individual members of Parliament are elected in their various districts. The party that has the most members in Parliament selects one from their ranks to be the Prime Minister. Together, the Parliament and Prime Minister exercise both legislative and executive powers. In the American system, the Congress exercises the legislative power separately from the President who wields the executive power.

What does "GOP" stand for?

GOP, stands for "Grand Old Party." It is the nickname of the Republican Party.

What is the difference between the Democratic party and the Republican party in general (their issues and beliefs)? What does the term left and right mean in politics? What in a political sense is a liberal and a conservative?

It is difficult to generalize about Democrats and Republicans because there are no formal requirements that an individual must meet before affiliating with one or the other (or neither). Having said as much, there are some fairly clear differences between the "average" Republican and the "average Democrat.

Generally speaking, Democrats are more supportive of government intervention in the economy (social welfare) while Republicans are more supportive of letting the free market take care of the economy with as little government intervention as possible. Democrats are generally more supportive of individual rights (speech, expression, association) while Republicans emphasize communities and individual responsibility. However, these generalizations do not always hold. For example, Republicans favor a more individualistic interpretation of the Second Amendment (right to bear arms) than do Democrats (they favor gun control in the name of protecting communities).

Other issues that Republicans clearly differ from Democrats include abortion (Republicans are Pro-Life; Democrats Pro-Choice), school choice (Republicans favor vouchers; Democrats oppose them) and affirmative action (Republicans are generally opposed to racial quotas in hiring and school admissions; Democrats are generally supportive of them).

In politics, "right" generally means conservative or Republican while "left" generally means liberal or Democratic. The right-left distinction, however, is often misleading because it is possible to be liberal, i.e. supportive of individual rights, on one issue and conservative, i.e. supportive of community stability and responsibility on another. Moreover, there are other dimensions to ideology that make the two-dimensional model less than perfect. For example, people differ in terms of the size of the government they support, the role of religion/reason in government & politics, the proper role of government in the economy (as noted), and a wide variety of other ways.

In most cases, it is not very meaningful to try to distill all of these differences into two simple categories. When my students ask me if I'm liberal or conservative, depending on my mood, I tell them I'm neither or both. More often than not, I tell them I'm a "Madisonian liberal." They usually have no idea what that means.