Too much is never enough

Four years ago I wrote about Tom Flanagan’s first book, Game Theory in Canadian Politics. This passage seems germane to the challenge facing Liberals, New Democrats and separatists over the next nine days:

One tenet of game theory is the notion of the “minimum winning coalition” – that it’s better if fewer actors share a prize than if more do, because the payoff for each player is bigger and because it’s easier to hold a small coalition intact. Say either three players can share a one-dollar prize, or two can. Well, you’d really rather be in a two-player coalition: you can win 50 cents instead of 33, and you don’t have to listen to the third guy whining all the time.

Flanagan showed that this is true in Canadian electoral politics, too. Governing majorities that greatly exceed half the seats in the Commons are rare. They hardly ever form outside a serious crisis like a war or depression. And, prone to squabbling, they tend to fall apart very rapidly indeed. “Of the four largest parliamentary majorities in Canadian history,” Flanagan writes, “two fell apart spectacularly within one or two subsequent elections.” While he cautions that “there is no iron law,” he found “some tendency for larger-than-necessary coalitions to disintegrate.”

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