Austrian Economics

The Pretense of Intuition

In a January 14 article for Vox, Ian Millhiser discusses a new proposal in the Harvard Law Review designed to accomplish four things:

(1) a transfer of the Senate’s power to a body that represents citizens equally; (2) an expansion of the House so that all citizens are represented in equal-sized districts; (3) a replacement of the Electoral College with a popular vote; and (4) a modification of the Constitution’s amendment process that would ensure future amendments are ratified by states representing most Americans.

 The scheme consists of dividing up the District of Columbia into more than one hundred new tiny states so as to drastically increase the number of leftist-controlled states so as to push through a wide variety of new Constitutional amendments. 

Milhiser is enthusiastic, since he believes the US electoral system is too “undemocractic” and that the system must be overhauled “so that the United States has an election system ‘where every vote counts equally.'” 

[RELATED: Stop Saying “We’re a Republic, Not a Democracy” by Ryan McMaken]

Milhiser’s concept of “unequal” is illustrated more clearly when he calls the US Senate “ridiculous” because it is a system “where the nearly 40 million people in California have no more Senate representation than the 578,759 people in Wyoming.”

So now we have arrived at the heart of the matter. 

Milhiser contends Californians are underrepresented in Washington—or more likely he thinks leftists are underrepresented, given the context of the piece—because Wyoming and California have equal representation in Congress. 

This, we are supposed to believe, somehow leaves millions of Californians disenfranchised. 

Common sense, however, strongly suggests Californians—or at least the politicians who claim to represent them—are quite well represented in Washington and wield quite a bit of power. Let’s look at some numbers:

California has fifty-three votes in the US House of Representatives while Wyoming has one. 

As a percentage of the full House, California’s delegation makes up 12 percent of all votes while Wyoming’s makes up 0.2 percent. 

In fact, California’s representation in the House is so large that California House members outnumber members from an entire region of the US: namely the Rocky Mountain region. If we add up all eight states of the Mountain West (Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico) we come up with only thirty-one votes. Moreover, many of these states have split delegations (as with Arizona and Colorado) and rarely vote as a unified group. California, on the other hand, has only seven Republican House members out of fifty-three, meaning that the state’s delegation tends to reliably vote together.

California even enjoys a sizable advantage in the electoral college as well. It is true that the electoral college formula evens things up somewhat. California representatives wield more than 10 percent of all electoral college votes, and Wyoming enjoys only 0.6 percent of all votes. Now, if the Rocky Mountain region were to vote together for a certain candidate, it could theoretically, almost equal the power of California. But, the region doesn’t vote together, with Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada often going for one party while the rest of the region goes for another. Thus, California, because its electoral votes are centralized, brings more power to presidential elections than the entire Rocky Mountain region.

So, while it’s true that Wyoming’s two votes in the US Senate make it easier for a Wyoming-led coalition to veto legislation that favors California, the same can be said of California in the House. While California and Wyoming theoretically have equal power in the Senate, Wyoming has essentially no power in the House, and could not possibly hope to do much to overcome opposition from California House members. The fact that voters in Wyoming have more US senators per person hardly places people with California-type interests at the mercy of people with Wyoming-type interests.

Essentially, the system as it now functions places significantly more veto power in the hands of California in the House. At best, though, Wyoming has only an equal veto to California in the Senate. Veto power, of course, is one of the most important aspects of US legislative institutions, since it is designed to help minority groups protect their own rights even when lacking a majority. This is the philosophy behind the Senate’s filibuster, and the philosophy behind the bicameral legislature. The purpose is to provide numerous opportunities for minorities to veto legislation pushed by more powerful groups. 

The importance of protecting minority rights, of course, is a mainstay of the ideology we used to call “liberalism”—the idea that people ought to enjoy basic human rights even when the majority doesn’t like it. 

All that is out the window, however, where progressives and other leftists suspect they are in the majority, in which case the protection of minority groups is null and void. Suddenly, the Democratic majority is the only thing that matters. 

Had rank majoritarianism won the day in the past, Indian tribes, Catholics, Quakers, and Japanese Americans would have all been extirpated or run out of the country a century ago. But the sort of prudence that put some limits on the power of the majority in the is now thoroughly unfashionable on the Left. The Left now strains to grasp the opportunity to rid themselves forever of even what small amount of legislative resistance can be offered by the hayseeds in flyover country. 

The fact that California gets more than fifty times the votes of North Dakotans isn’t enough for progressives. They must also stamp out what limited influence North Dakota has in the Senate as well.  

This sort of thinking suggests that in order to make the US more “democratic” large minorities of voters—voters with specific economic and cultural interests that differ from those in other regions—ought to be rendered essentially powerless.

All that said, I endorse the plan from the Harvard Law Review Milhiser is pushing. It undermines the idea that the US’s current state boundaries are somehow sacrosanct and that enormous states with millions of people are a perfectly fine thing. The US and its member states are far too large, and could use a thorough dismembering. But Milhiser should be careful what he wishes for.

Source: mises.org

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