Sunday, November 07, 2010

Waiting for Gerry

Snippet in a PG piece today about all the reapportionment/redistricting that is about to land on us in Pennsylvania: GOP gets freer hand to redraw districts

In that is mention of something I did several years ago which projected the change in state legislative districts by county.  I've updated that quickly.  I've put into google docs a spreadsheet of what current population projections show for what the redistricting is likely to look like for each county in Pennsylvania.  The headline in that is that Allegheny County is still looking to have the biggest loss across all counties in state house representation. My projection showing a loss of 1.7 state house districts.  The biggest gainer is Chester County which will gain just under 1 whole state house district.   I will put below a table of the biggest projected gainers and losers (by county) in terms of total population, and what those translate into in terms of state house districts.

How those maps are drawn is another question altogether.  States as politically diverse as Florida and California recently enacted reform legislation that will inhibit Gerrymandering as we know it..  or more accurately as they know it since Pennsylvania is not even dreaming of approving any such reform for the redistricting process about to begin.

Biggest Projected State House Losses by County
2000
2009
2010 - My

        State House Districts


County
Census
Estimate
Projection

2000
2010
change
.Allegheny 1,281,6651,218,4941,213,37221.219.5-1.7
.Westmoreland 369,993362,251361,6236.15.8-0.3
.Luzerne 319,260312,845312,3255.35.0-0.3
.Beaver 181,412171,673170,8833.02.7-0.3
.Cambria 152,630143,998143,2982.52.3-0.2


Biggest Projected State House Gains by County
Census
Estimate
2010 - My


State House Districts

County
2000
2009
Projection
2000
2010
Change
Chester 433,501498,894504,1967.28.1+0.9
York 381,753428,937432,7636.37.0+0.6
Northampton 267,077298,990301,5784.44.8+0.4
Lancaster 470,660507,766510,7757.88.2+0.4
Monroe 138,690166,355168,5982.32.7+0.4

37 Comments:

Anonymous The Wiz said...

No shock that the eastern half of the state is growing while the western portion continues to shrink. And since they dominate the legislature, the dominance of the eastern politicos will continue and may even accelerate. And they will continue to demand an unfair distribution of tax monies.

While my dream of a new state is, shall we say, a tad unrealistic, there is one thing that may help and that is reform of the legislature itself. There are many state reps and even the new Governor-elect that have come out in favor of such reform. But their plans to merely reduce the size will not be sufficient to help that state progress. While we should shrink the House by half, I take the radical position to actually increase the state Senate, from 50 to 67.

The problem as I see it is that the heavily populated south eastern corner of the state controls the government to the detriment of the rest of the state. And since gerrymandering these districts allows for incumbents serving in perpetuity, it must be stopped. The only true way to stop it, at least in the Senate, would be to have each county be a Senatorial district. Thus we should have 67 Senators.

This would give the counties equal footing across the state and give rural areas more say in their governance. It would put a halt to gerrymandering to protect incumbents or the party in power. And working much like the federal system, it would force more balanced legislation in order to pass both an urban dominated House and a rural dominated Senate.

It will take quite the fight but I think it would be well worth it.

Sunday, November 07, 2010 5:45:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

You'd need the president and 60 US senators on your side for as long as it takes to shift a Supreme Court decision (Bakker vs Carr, I think) that has been settled for a generation. And you'd get denounced for racism every step of the way by everyone to the left of Rush.

Sunday, November 07, 2010 6:05:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

I think PA should reduce the house to zero and go unicameral. (Why, whoever writes software for Apple, does autocomplete know how to spell "unicameral," but always wants to give me "Pittsburg" spelled that way?)

Sunday, November 07, 2010 6:18:00 PM  
Anonymous The Wiz said...

Appears it was Reynolds vs Baker that ruined my plan. Dirksen was right, there should be an amendment made.

This is another example of federal over reach. The federal system allows it with the US Senate but states aren't allowed. Typical federal attitude that they can dictate to the states what they don't have to adhere to themselves. I'd challenge it under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.

Sunday, November 07, 2010 9:40:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

Governments should represent people, not acres, and I fail to see why among the many identifiable common-interest minority groups that have to deal with the consequences of being in the minority in a democratic system, it is rural people in particular who are entitled to have government restructured to give them disproportionate power, and none of the other minority groups.

In other words, the problem is not that the feds can do it and the states can't. The problem is that the feds can do it in the first place--the odd nature of the Senate with its disproportionate representation was produced by a highly contingent political process and should be undone, although that would be a tricky effort seeing as how the democratic process was further thwarted by a special protection against an amendment to that effect.

Fortunately, there are perfectly constitutional ways in which to deal with gerrymandering, so that is just a political question.

Sunday, November 07, 2010 10:44:00 PM  
Anonymous The Wiz said...

Rural people are a huge minority in this country. And the system I proposed would not give them disproportionate power but actually a more balanced, proportionate power.

Under the current system, they have almost no power at all. The cities control both chambers of the legislature and are given free hand to do as they please, including taking a disproportionate amount of tax revenue. Why, they could even toll I80 through rural Pa and use the monies collected for the benefit of the cities, if they so pleased.

A divided chamber with one representing the counties would balance the power between the urban and rural areas. Rural areas would control one house, urban areas controlling the other. Thus they would be each forced to compromise to reach a conclusion. Both sides are represented equally in the overall process.

If it makes you feel better, call it affirmative action for rural people. But until changes are made, the rural areas will get short shrift in all things political.

Monday, November 08, 2010 8:46:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

Rural people are one of many possible minority common-interest groups in Pennsylvania and the United States. For example, central city residents in major metros are also a minority--less than 15% of Pennsylvanians live in either Philly or Pittsburgh proper.

So where in your plan are the extra representatives for residents of Philly and Pittsburgh? Why shouldn't the residents of Philly and Pittsburgh be represented "equally" with the rest of the state combined? Why shouldn't the rest of the state combined be forced to compromise on even terms with the residents of Philly and Pittsburgh? Until changes are made, the residents of Philly and Pittsburgh will get short shrift in all things political!

And that is just one example of how your logic could be applied to more than just rural people. There is an infinite number of ways you could divide up the state, and it is impossible to give each minority group an equal voice with the opposing minority. You are selecting just one of the many such possible such groups for special favors through disproportionate representation, but each such group has an equally good argument.

And make no mistake, disproportionate representation is exactly what you are advocating. When fewer people in Group A have the same number of representatives as more people in Group B, you are allocating more power to each person in Group A than Group B.

Monday, November 08, 2010 10:33:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

By the way, you need to check your facts on taxes and spending. Urbanized areas pay a lot more in taxes than they get back in spending--it is the rural areas which are coming out way ahead, in part because those thousands and thousands of miles of rural roads and bridges are enormously expensive to build, maintain, and patrol. The rural areas are also poorer, so are net beneficiaries from Medicaid. And so on.

What has actually happened is that rural people have leveraged their disproportionate advantage in the U.S. Senate and by extension Presidential elections into advantages at lower levels of government as well, through the mechanism of the two-party system. The massive subsidies represented by free rural highways at the state level are mirrored at the federal level as well. To the feds' own Medicaid contribution you can add Medicare and Social Security as well (rural areas are both poorer AND older). And then there is the great tax on urban consumers to provide cash to rural producers in the form of agricultural subsidies and tariffs. And the tax on urban telecommunications and utility users through the mechanism of mandatory build-outs in rural areas. And on and on.

Rural people are so used to being the net beneficiaries of all these programs that they don't even see it any more, treating it as the natural order and balking at the very idea that even a tiny sliver of this great redistributive flow would go the other direction (in the form of, say, a toll on a highway). But make no mistake, having been granted through an historically contingent and essentially arbitrary process disproportionate power at multiple levels of government, rural people have used that power to transfer wealth from urban areas to themselves.

But of course the urbanization of the population continues, as it has since the founding of this country. Where once rural people were the vast majority in the country, urban populations took over the majority in the early 20th Century, and with each passing year the balance shifts further. Moreover, the cost of subsidizing rural populations has gotten increasingly expensive, as energy has gotten scarcer, medical expenses have increased, and so on. So despite the Senate, the Electoral College, and the two-party system, rural people are slowly but surely losing their unnatural grip on American politics.

And I understand why rural people may be starting to feel a little desperate--the wealth transfers they have been giving themselves for so long may, at some point in the not-so-distant future, finally come to an end. But they still have some time yet to prepare for that end, and that is what they should be doing.

Monday, November 08, 2010 10:36:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

...in part because those thousands and thousands of miles of rural roads and bridges are enormously expensive to build, maintain, and patrol.

Excepting places where the late Senator Byrd or Rep. Murtha worked their magic, the users of the rural roads, at least the paved ones, are urbanites and suburbanites passing through from one urban area to another. Nearly all of the rest of it, at least in the Midwest, is required to produce food.

And I understand why rural people may be starting to feel a little desperate--the wealth transfers they have been giving themselves for so long may, at some point in the not-so-distant future, finally come to an end.

Your argument is that rural areas should get less because they are poorer? Or that that nicer rural areas should stop expecting anything? Either way, you have far less chance of changing the US Senate than the Wiz has at changing the PA Senate.

Monday, November 08, 2010 11:09:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Anyway, there is some desperation on the part of rural people. It is because most of the economies of rural regions depend on things that can be imported (food, natural resources, people) from rural areas in the 3rd World while cities are more insulated.

Monday, November 08, 2010 11:30:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

Excepting places where the late Senator Byrd or Rep. Murtha worked their magic, the users of the rural roads, at least the paved ones, are urbanites and suburbanites passing through from one urban area to another.

That isn't remotely true. It might be true if you were just talking about interstate highways, but there are thousands and thousands of miles of paved rural roads in Pennsylvania that aren't particularly near or in between major metropolitan areas.

Nearly all of the rest of it, at least in the Midwest, is required to produce food.

I'm not necessarily saying having rural roads and bridges is a bad thing (although I am not sure the entire existing network is truly sustainable). I am just pointing out that the way that they are being paid for amounts to a HUGE rural area subsidy.

Your argument is that rural areas should get less because they are poorer?

Um, no. First, I was just correcting the facts. The actual facts are that through a combination of all these programs, rural areas are getting a massive wealth transfer from urban areas.

Second, I am fine with social insurance. On the other hand, social insurance should be designed to be temporary, meaning we shouldn't be aiming to permanently subsidize economically unsustainable situations.

Given that, our goal should be to transition to future circumstances where we no longer need to subsidize so many rural residents, not to continue those subsidies indefinitely. And rural areas cannot economically support a lot of residents in a modern economy--that is why urbanization has been such a steady trend in the United States, and indeed the world. So ultimately, rural populations are going to need to come down even further in relative terms (which is happening anyway).

Either way, you have far less chance of changing the US Senate than the Wiz has at changing the PA Senate.

I'd say they are about equally unlikely, but sure, I'm not planning on that happening in the near future. However, I do think that as the urbanization of the U.S. population continues, despite their structural advantages, rural areas are going to continue to decline in political power.

It is because most of the economies of rural regions depend on things that can be imported (food, natural resources, people) from rural areas in the 3rd World while cities are more insulated.

It is not the developing world so much as technology. You just don't need that many people any more to produce crops, mine, log, and so on. Heck, you don't need that many people to lay and maintain the roads. And to the extent rural areas in the developing world are competing by using cheap labor, that is purely a temporary situation--eventually that labor too will be mostly replaced with technology (and China having recognized this fact explains much about their longer-term policies).

Monday, November 08, 2010 12:00:00 PM  
Anonymous The Wiz said...

Brian; nearly all the major highways have been constructed to get goods and people to and from cities. Maps look like connect-the-dots for cities. The major roads like the interstate system, the turnpike, and even roads like Rt 8 or 422 were built for the purposes of connecting cities together and heavily used by trucks servicing cities. The truck traffic on the pike is unbelievable. (The rail road industry was devastated by the "subsidized" trucking industry)

And large areas of cities get large volumes of tax revenues directed to the extreme poor that live there for food, housing, welfare, social services and more. And these extremely poor communities have a much higher need for medical, police, emergency services, and prisons. That is amplified by the fact that some 40% of city property is tax exempt government buildings, education centers, hospitals, charities, libraries, and much more.

Do you have any studies to show the flow of tax revenue? And by rural I mean rural not the vast suburban areas that surround the cities. It is probable that the suburban areas that surround the cities subsidize both rural and urban areas.

And its not just tax revenue. It is also laws, policies, and regulations. The rural areas have very little say under the current system. The only way any power is derived is through the seniority system that allows for long-serving reps to gain power. But even then, the huge Philly metro area will get the final say on anything.

And these very issues are a major reason that population continues to shift to urban/metro areas. Their tax and policy advantages, among other reasons, encourage people to move to those areas. People go where the jobs are and cities often give corporations large tax right offs and other incentives to locate facilities there.

Should the US Senate be someday based on population rather than states, vast rural areas throughout the Midwest would have no say at all. And that would change the Electoral College so that no candidate for national office will ever visit western states with little population or for that matter even rural areas within states like Ohio or Pa. All rural areas would have no or very little say in their governance.

Our founders saw this as a major issue when they wrote the Constitution and were wise enough to balance the two concerns. Why isn't such a balanced system fair for the people within states?

Monday, November 08, 2010 12:22:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

And rural areas cannot economically support a lot of residents in a modern economy--that is why urbanization has been such a steady trend in the United States, and indeed the world.

That makes Pittsburgh a double-plus extra heavy duty failure. My home county, despite being so rural that at no point would its population have filled Mellon Arena, is less than 1/3 off its peak population.

Monday, November 08, 2010 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

nearly all the major highways have been constructed to get goods and people to and from cities.

Now what about the thousands and thousands of miles of NON-major rural roads and bridges the state built and is maintaining?

And large areas of cities get large volumes of tax revenues directed to the extreme poor

There is lots of poverty in rural areas, and lots of poverty in some parts of urbanized areas. But urbanized areas also include lots and lots of non-poor people. When you average it all out, the poverty rates of rural areas are much higher.

Do you have any studies to show the flow of tax revenue?

You could start with "Intrastate Distribution of State Government
Revenues and Expenditures in Indiana", a January 2010 study, which in turn cites some other recent studies in Georgia and Kentucky. I'm not sure there has been such a study in Pennsylvania, but I am sure it is the same for the reasons explored in those studies.

It is also laws, policies, and regulations

Which are also loaded in favor of rural areas. I already noted agricultural tariffs, and I also noted how telecommunications policy has been set to subsidize rural buildouts, and on and on.

And these very issues are a major reason that population continues to shift to urban/metro areas.

Urbanization has been happening everywhere in the world that has participated in the industrial revolution, for as long as that area has participated in the industrial revolution. Local policy choices are just noise in the overall pattern.

Should the US Senate be someday based on population rather than states, vast rural areas throughout the Midwest would have no say at all

PEOPLE in those areas would have exactly as much say as their PEOPLE living in particular cities would have that much say, and everyone else. Democracies are supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people, not of, by, and for acres of land.

And that would change the Electoral College so that no candidate for national office will ever visit western states with little population or for that matter even rural areas within states like Ohio or Pa.

Politicians would go wherever their marginal voters were located (and in the age of telecommunications, their physical presence is of limited relevance anyway). That would again include rural areas to the extent their population dictated, which is how it should be.

More generally, as I pointed out before, there are lots of identifiable minority groups for whom these exact same arguments could be made. You simply can't give disproportionate representation to each minority group, so why out of all the possible minority groups to favor should we be favoring the rural minority?

One person, one vote, is the only way of being fair. Anything else is arbitrarily choosing some people to favor over others.

Our founders saw this as a major issue when they wrote the Constitution and were wise enough to balance the two concerns.

Nope. At the time the Constitution was negotiated and ratified, rural populations so outnumbered urban populations that it wouldn't have occurred to those people to worry about this issue. Rather, the nature of the Senate arose because of the peculiar circumstances of the time, in which the states were viewed as sovereign entities that needed to approve the new form of government, and the states were already different sizes (in population) at the time. So they came up with the whacky Senate, and locked it into the Constitution as best they could, in order to buy off the support of the smaller states for the new government.

Again, it is bad for the states, and bad for the federal government too. We just can't do much about the federal part.

Monday, November 08, 2010 1:24:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

That makes Pittsburgh a double-plus extra heavy duty failure.

If you are referring to the City of Pittsburgh, maybe. The urbanized portion of the metro area, on the other hand, is a different story. Moreover, the City of Pittsburgh is actually down a lot less in occupied housing units (around 14%) than in population. That's what happens when you combine a densely-developed fixed area with declining people per household.

But anyway, all this again just raises the question--why don't residents in the City of Pittsburgh ALSO get extra political power in this minority-protecting plan? Why just the rural people? Why is the interests of the rural minority more worth protecting than the interests of the minority of people who live in the City of Pittsburgh?

Monday, November 08, 2010 1:31:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Rather, the nature of the Senate arose because of the peculiar circumstances of the time, in which the states were viewed as sovereign entities...

Everyone who didn't view them as colonies viewed them as sovereign entities. And it isn't that peculiar of a circumstance. Whenever somebody has tried to peacefully aggregate political units, areas with smaller populations have gotten some element of over-representation.

Monday, November 08, 2010 1:35:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Why just the rural people?

Rural people annoy me less. Suburbanites annoy me more.

Monday, November 08, 2010 1:37:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

To be more specific, in the 1790 Census, the rural population was 94.9%, the urban population was 5.1% (it wasn't until the 1920 Census that the urban population finally passed the rural population). Again, the idea of needing to protect the rural population from the urban population in a proportionate system would have struck folks in the 18th Century as laughable.

Monday, November 08, 2010 1:40:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

Everyone who didn't view them as colonies viewed them as sovereign entities.

Perhaps, but I think there is a good argument that they weren't, and they certainly weren't after the Constitution was ratified. So it is a little strange to require the ratification of the Constitution to recognize a sovereignty of the states it would fail to recognize in substance once it was operating. But in any event, that was certainly the operating understanding at the time.

Whenever somebody has tried to peacefully aggregate political units, areas with smaller populations have gotten some element of over-representation.

I don't know if that is true, but if so, it just highlights how this is a historically-contingent structure, and not one with a fundamental grounding in democratic principles, let alone one deliberately designed to favor rural interests over all others.

The logical thing would be to do this if necessary at the beginning, then after the former allegiances to particular subunits had died down among the citizenry, restructure the government to proportionate representation as a final end state. Smart cookies that they were, though, the negotiators for the small states probably saw that coming, hence the specific lock-in provisions in the Constitution.

And even so--who would have thought that particular Constitution would last for so long? The people at the time certainly had no clue that it would, and globally that has been a very unusual term.

So I would stand by the point it is a mere historic contingency that we have never had an opportunity during the last 200 year to get rid of dead wood like the Senate and Electoral College.

Monday, November 08, 2010 1:50:00 PM  
Anonymous The Wiz said...

First, we live in a representative republic, not a democracy. The founders specifically avoided a full democracy as that would amount to mob rule, or at the least, majority rule with the minority having no power. And the representation was assembled in a way to balance the two major constituencies, small states vs big states. And the big states had some big cities that would dominate a democracy such as Philly and NYC. Even a small state like Mass would have had a disproportionate power base as it had the large city of Boston. Thus small states/colonies, especially ones that were very rural, wanted equal power sharing.

But anyway, all this again just raises the question--why don't residents in the City of Pittsburgh ALSO get extra political power in this minority-protecting plan? Why just the rural people? Why is the interests of the rural minority more worth protecting than the interests of the minority of people who live in the City of Pittsburgh?

The residents of the city proper have plenty of political power as much of their interests are directly aligned with those of the inner ring suburbs. And much of people of getthe outer suburbs have the same interests as the city dwellers.

They combined want things like subsidized busing, light rail, roads and bridges, social services, emergency services, subsidized pension plans(had to throw that in) and much more.

I will take some time to read the study you referenced but for now the weather is too nice sit at a terminal all day. To be continued after I ride my mountain bike through my beautiful rural trails.

Monday, November 08, 2010 2:11:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

So it is a little strange to require the ratification of the Constitution to recognize a sovereignty of the states it would fail to recognize in substance once it was operating. But in any event, that was certainly the operating understanding at the time.

No, it isn’t strange at all. The Senate was the price (or, more accurately, the guarantee against being bulldozed) the smaller states wanted for the loss of the greater independence they had under the Articles of Confederation. Whether you could say the states were sovereign or not before the constitution was ratified, they were certainly much less bound to any national government.

I don't know if that is true, but if so, it just highlights how this is a historically-contingent structure

You keeping saying that, but I keep not getting the point. Yes, it is a historically contingent structure. So what? Everything is. That’s kind of part of the definition of “history.”

So I would stand by the point it is a mere historic contingency that we have never had an opportunity during the last 200 year to get rid of dead wood like the Senate and Electoral College.

Again, by that standard, what isn’t historic contingency? How is saying something is historically continent the same as saying it should be changed. The Senate, in addition to representing smaller states, slows down electoral change because only 1/3 is elected at a given time.

Monday, November 08, 2010 2:17:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Quite a debate that I don't want to ruin by interjecting. I would say that I am teaching a course in urban and regional economics in the spring that will hit upon all these topics and more. I can only hope the students I get are half as engaged.

Monday, November 08, 2010 7:40:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

And the big states had some big cities that would dominate a democracy such as Philly and NYC.

At the time, no. For example, the population of Pennsylvania in 1790 was 434,373. The population of Philly was 28,522, or 6.6%.

Seriously, you are imposing a modern sense of the role of cities in politics that at the time would have been inconceivable.

As for general anti-majoritarian tendencies, sure--the founders were concerned with protecting the privileges and property of rich white men from the possible effects of direct democracy (I would maintain that republics can be democratic in the broader sense). But again, it just wouldn't have occurred to them to worry about city-dwellers specifically. And I might note there is no documentary evidence of such a worry either.

The residents of the city proper have plenty of political power as much of their interests are directly aligned with those of the inner ring suburbs. And much of people of getthe outer suburbs have the same interests as the city dwellers

Metro area interests are not nearly as cohesive as you are claiming, and indeed you can make the exact opposite argument as applied to outer suburbs and rural areas, that they have aligned interests on things like subsidizing autocentric infrastructure. For that matter, rural areas and central urban areas have aligned interests on issues such as poverty relief.

The deep question is, again, why of all minority interest groups do only rural people deserve an added boost in political power? Why shouldn't they, like all other minority groups, also have to join into political coalitions on equal terms to pursue their interests? Why are they the only minority group whose interests need to be given special protection through extra representation? And so on.

The truth is that this is all just ad hoc rationalization for an accidental result. The Senate and Electoral College were not originally intended to give rural areas extra political power, but after a couple centuries of urbanization combined with fixed state boundaries, it happens that those structures now have that effect.

So some rural people now have a sense of entitlement to extra political power, and they attempt to rewrite history to make that result sound deliberate and not accidental. But if that wasn't the status quo, and rural people were out of the blue arguing that they deserved more political power than other people, no one would take that proposal seriously.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 4:16:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

The Senate was the price (or, more accurately, the guarantee against being bulldozed) the smaller states wanted for the loss of the greater independence they had under the Articles of Confederation.

But I am taking a step back and noting you didn't necessarily have to conceive of the ratification process as functioning on a state by state basis. I realize at the time that was the assumption, so practically that was the way it had to be done. But conceptually, that isn't obivously necessary.

The Senate, in addition to representing smaller states, slows down electoral change because only 1/3 is elected at a given time.

Of course you could have that with proportionate representation. I haven't been arguing here against bicameralism, staggered terms, or so forth. Generally, in the event we, say, created a process to write a new Constitution, I wouldn't rule out creating a legislative chamber that had some attributes of the existing Senate.



Yes, it is a historically contingent structure. So what?

It is the antidote to the argument above, which has the following structure:

(A) The Founders did Political Thing X.

(B) Today, over 200 years later, Political Thing X has Consequence Y.

(C) The Founders were very wise.

Ergo, Consequence Y is a good thing.

If you don't believe in that sort of argument, fine. I was responding to someone who was offering a version of that argument in favor of rural overrepresentation.

How is saying something is historically continent the same as saying it should be changed.

It isn't. The reason disproportionate representation should be ended is that there are no good reasons for favoring the interests of some people over other people with extra representation. That principle applies to the Senate and Electoral College.

Again, I'm just responding to an argument which suggests that the mere fact the Senate and Electoral College still exist demonstrates that there must be good contemporary reasons for them to exist. If you are happy to treat the fact of their existence as irrelevant to the question of whether they should exist, then so am I.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 4:32:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

But I am taking a step back and noting you didn't necessarily have to conceive of the ratification process as functioning on a state by state basis.

You don’t have to conceive of the Earth as round either, if you want. The people who wrote the constitution were there representing states and selected by state governments. The states had their own military force, (outside of a few cities) there was no political unit at a lower scale that existed independently of states, the political unit at a higher level of aggregation did not function, and people identified themselves as citizens of this or that state. You can quibble about states being sovereign or not, but you can’t point to any existing political entity that could have filled the role they did in creating the United States.

(A) The Founders did Political Thing X.

(B) Today, over 200 years later, Political Thing X has Consequence Y.

(C) The Founders were very wise.

Ergo, Consequence Y is a good thing.


My argument would have a more complicated C. I do think that some of the founders were very wise, others “meh.” But people have operated under this system over two centuries now and many people have taken steps that would not be taken had the system not existed. And the system has proved remarkably durable as far as these things go and relatively flexible when needed. While the founders were certainly not all knowing, changing the constitution without following the provided amendment process would have far more negative effects than positive effects. I suspect it would be the end of domestic tranquility for my lifetime and, even if not, the precedent would be certain to be abused by somebody.

Also, you can move to whatever state you want if you want a bigger vote in the Senate.

The reason disproportionate representation should be ended is that there are no good reasons for favoring the interests of some people over other people with extra representation.

That it is the existing system in a long running democracy is a good reason. You do realize there is no way to create a system of representation in which the method for aggregating preferences does not affect the outcome.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 9:10:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

MH,

You've made a good practical case for the people at the time needing to form the U.S. Constitution through the states, a point which I have never denied (that practically, it had to be done that way).

And the system has proved remarkably durable as far as these things go and relatively flexible when needed.

OK, but now the historical analysis matters again. I say disproportionate representation in the Senate and Electoral College was a mere historic contingency serving no valid purpose today (or indeed really then, aside from being necessary to get the thing ratified). You seem to be implying it actually played an important explanatory role in the durability of the Constitution. That is an important difference of opinion (see more below).

By the way, I'd dispute it is obvious that the U.S. Constitution has proven remarkably flexible. We've managed to stumble along anyway, but arguably we have frequently been harmed by our relatively inflexible Constitution.

While the founders were certainly not all knowing, changing the constitution without following the provided amendment process would have far more negative effects than positive effects.

Ironically, the founders themselves went ahead and formed a new Constitution without following the procedures established in the Articles of Confederation. Do as we say, not as we do, I suppose (more on this below as well).

In any event, while ordinarily I might have some sympathy for this argument, I don't have any particular sympathy for it as applied to a provision which is itself excepted from the ordinary amendment process. That is getting into serious dead hand of the past territory, when you are allowing no procedure at all for making a change.

I suspect it would be the end of domestic tranquility for my lifetime and, even if not, the precedent would be certain to be abused by somebody.

Eh, depends on what we are talking about. If the procedure we came up with was even more onerous than the the ordinary amendment process, then I don't see how it would be much of a game-changer. If you are worried about the mere precedent of changing a Constitution without following its own procedures for change, well, again, that is actually where the current Constitution came from, so it is a little late for that concern.

That it is the existing system in a long running democracy is a good reason.

Pure status quo bias isn't a good enough reason to make it impossible to change. Reason to make changing it hard? OK, maybe. Reason to make changing it impossible? No.

I also think it makes a bit of a hash out of your argument to point out that not only do many other well-functioning democracies in the world not have this feature, but now each and every one of the 50 states is managing to make do without this feature. To be blunt, it is really quite absurd to argue this is somehow necessary for the functioning of a republic.

Also, you can move to whatever state you want if you want a bigger vote in the Senate.

First, having equal political rights shouldn't be a matter of which state you live in.

Second, the federal government sets policies for all the states. You can't escape the ill effects of agricultural tariffs just by moving to Montana.

You do realize there is no way to create a system of representation in which the method for aggregating preferences does not affect the outcome.

Indeed I do. But that isn't an excuse for adopting any sort of political structure that strikes your fancy. Two votes for whites, one vote for non-whites . . . why not? Kenneth Arrow said we can't do better!

Proportionate representation can take many forms, and there is room to argue which form is best. But disproportionate representation is really quite indefensible.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous The Wiz said...

@Brian Th; You said the outer suburbs are more aligned with the rural areas. I strongly disagree. The people of Cranberry consider themselves to be Pittsburghers and have no allegiance what so ever to Clarion Co or McKean Co or Jefferson Co. Even the people of Harrisville, Parker, or Eau Claire consider themselves to be country people and not part of Pittsburgh even though they reside in the same county as Cranberry (Butler Co). But "Cranberrians" would vote and lobby for things like mass transit, bridge work, better parks, crime prevention, social services, cultural support, and more for the city of Pittsburgh and its environs.

Look at the Toll I80 embroglio...Cranberrians would have supported it but people in northern Butler Co were strongly opposed to it as were the counties of the entire Northern Tier. Yet it passed both houses in Pa since the major cities backed it.

And you hold to the position that the founders were concerned about big states vs small states. What concerned them was the unequal distribution of population. They didn't care that Pa had more acres than Vermont as they knew that acres don't vote, people do. They knew that if they had a single House with representation based solely on population the bigger, more populous states would dominate. Thus the Senate compromise.

Then you state the 1790 census stating that Pa was 94% rural. That is somewhat misleading as a great portion of Pa was unsettled; indeed any area from the Appalachians on west were considered The Frontier. Additionally, people were rural then by necessity. They raised their own food (cows, pigs, gardens) they raised their own clothing (sheep, cotton) and they raised their own transportation (horses, oxen). But in Pa, they mostly lived in the Philly area and a smaller number along the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers.

I would wager that a large portion of the people in Pa considered themselves to Philadelphians just as Cranberrians consider themselves to be Pittsburghers.

The same for NY, it was mostly NYC and the Hudson River valley. City life as we know it today was not possible then but they still had large population centers that would dominate the vast unsettled states.

This is more than a historical anomaly. It is a critical issue that is relevant today. I am biased as I live in the rural area. You are biased the other way as you live in a large metro area.

If I can't get my way, than its time to start my new state. I was gonna call it Marcellus as it seems to cover the same area. But now that the Utica is becoming an equally large play, now I will name it the Gaseous State. And since it would include the entire state of W Virginia, you won't have to change your flag!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 12:17:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Ironically, the founders themselves went ahead and formed a new Constitution without following the procedures established in the Articles of Confederation. Do as we say, not as we do, I suppose (more on this below as well).

That is hardly the same thing, since they had permission to amend the articles. What they did is amend them completely (i.e. delete the whole thing and create a series of amendments). Congress does the same thing to this day, for example when the Senate wants to write a tax bill. You’re resting a great deal of your argument on junior high U.S. history trivia.

Pure status quo bias isn't a good enough reason to make it impossible to change. Reason to make changing it hard? OK, maybe. Reason to make changing it impossible? No.

You seem to think that the Senate is impossible to change because the constitution says it can’t be changed. Of course, you could just change the part of the constitution that says you can’t change the Senate by the same process you can use for amending the constitution. It is, amendment-wise, exactly the same as any other constitutional change. The reason that it can’t be changed is because it is not in the interest of the majority of states to make the amendment.

Second, the federal government sets policies for all the states.

I do wish they’d set fewer policies.

But disproportionate representation is really quite indefensible.
I do think the representing states is quite defensible and not disproportionate. Also, on the average, I think Native Americans are more over-represented that white people.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 12:30:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

now I will name it the Gaseous State

It's Taco Night.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 12:41:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

You said the outer suburbs are more aligned with the rural areas. I strongly disagree. The people of Cranberry consider themselves to be Pittsburghers

First, I said exurbanites had interests in common with rural areas, like subsidizing highways.

Second, exurbanites may consider themselves part of the Pittsburgh Metro, but they sure don't consider themselves residents of the City of Pittsburgh.

But "Cranberrians" would vote and lobby for things like mass transit, bridge work, better parks, crime prevention, social services, cultural support, and more for the city of Pittsburgh

Really? Check out where the votes for the anti-city party start gaining the majority over the pro-city party (Briem has lots of such maps available). It isn't all that far out into the suburbs.

Look at the Toll I80 embroglio

The majority of the I-80 toll was going to go to the state's roads and bridges, and not public transit. That might have something to do with how it got broad-based support originally.

What concerned them was the unequal distribution of population.

What concerned them was getting the darn thing ratified. To the extent there was some feeling that less populous states deserved extra representation, that had nothing to do with protecting rural populations. The reason that less populous states today correlate with more rural states is urbanization--but that was all in the unconceived future for the founders.

Then you state the 1790 census stating that Pa was 94% rural. That is somewhat misleading as a great portion of Pa was unsettled

Rural by population, not area. But that's the relevant point: it wouldn't have occurred to them that proportionate representation would be a problem for rural people, because the vast majority of people were rural people.

But in Pa, they mostly lived in the Philly area and a smaller number along the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers.

There was no "Philly area" in the sense of a modern metropolitan area or urbanized area outside a central city. Outside Philly, you were immediately into farms and such.

So you are right that the population of Pennsylvania, and the United States in general, was still mostly on the eastern part of the young country. But that made it no less rural in nature.

City life as we know it today was not possible then but they still had large population centers that would dominate the vast unsettled states.

What do you mean by "population centers"? You are right that the more densely populated rural areas could (and did) dominate the more lightly populated frontier areas. But the Senate and the Electoral College did nothing to change that! The biggest states, like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, actually had some of the biggest frontier areas. The smallest states included the likes of Delaware and Rhode Island.

I am biased as I live in the rural area. You are biased the other way as you live in a large metro area.

I actually live in a very small municipality, and you live in a giant county. See how that works? We each have to form political coalitions to get what we want.

In any event, only one of us is asking for our vote to count more than the other person's vote. So this isn't symmetric.

If I can't get my way, than its time to start my new state.

That's one possible solution to the Senate problem without having to write up a new Constitution: we could periodically reform the boundaries of the states to have roughly equal populations (hey, we're back to gerrymandering!).

And if you liked, we could form a few giant rural states, so you would be able to take your chances without us city folks messing up your state and wasting your money on public transit.

But you should really take a look at that study I cited before making that choice.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 3:20:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

That is hardly the same thing, since they had permission to amend the articles.

I'm not suggesting anybody do anything without "permission".

My point was they didn't use the internal mechanism of the Articles for "alterations" (Article 13), and indeed established a procedure for ratifying the new Constitution that varied in important details (like not requiring universal ratification).

You’re resting a great deal of your argument on junior high U.S. history trivia.

You were the one that argued it was going to ruin everything to do something so unprecedented as changing a constitution without following its internal procedures. But apparently now whether or not it is precedented doesn't matter.

Of course, you could just change the part of the constitution that says you can’t change the Senate by the same process you can use for amending the constitution.

Actually, probably not. They very cleverly placed that provision in the section that defines the Amendment process itself. Accordingly, a fair legal reading would be that an amendment that purported to change that clause would be a nullity.

But hey, if we do it and everyone plays along, fine by me.

The reason that it can’t be changed is because it is not in the interest of the majority of states to make the amendment.

This is purely theoretical, but if you made it part of a package deal with getting rid of the Electoral College, it might serve the interests of the majority of states (it is a bit of a myth that the Electoral College favors small states--it actually favor large swing states).

I do think the representing states is quite defensible and not disproportionate.

Well, the good news is you can have states represented AND have proportionate representation.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 3:37:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

You were the one that argued it was going to ruin everything to do something so unprecedented as changing a constitution without following its internal procedures. But apparently now whether or not it is precedented doesn't matter.

You're being deliberately obtuse as a debating tactic, which if you are a lawyer I suppose I can’t hold against you personally. You are arguing that because I’m not worried that the Articles of Confederation were modified on a bit of a dodge, I cannot consider a continually functioning* Congress and Constitution to be precedent setting?

Over 200 years ago, after two years of debate, the Articles of Confederation issue was settled when all of the states ratified the constitution. What’s next? Saying that we don’t have to pay income tax because Congress didn’t sign the form right when Ohio was admitted to the union?

*The term “functioning” is not carefully chosen.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 3:58:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

I'm not being obtuse--I really think there isn't much of substance to your alarmist complaint up above about setting bad precedents, given that the bad precedent in question has already been set.

And speaking of debating tactics, you seem to be trying to reverse the field by implying I somehow have a problem with the way the Constitution was adopted. That's the exact opposite of the point I am making.

My actual point is that if we established a very onerous process for getting rid of disproportionate representation, and it ultimately enjoyed widespread support, then in the fullness of time, no one would particularly care that we hadn't followed the specified amendment procedures internal to the Constitution.

So I think your alarmism was misplaced. Seriously.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 5:05:00 PM  
Anonymous The Wiz said...

Prof Briem; I believe this line of discourse has run its course. Time to grade our papers; since you are preparing a course in this very subject, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the debate.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 10:12:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I think I will have to refer that question to folks over in the political science department. But A for effort in my book.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 7:55:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Yes, I'm done.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 8:43:00 AM  
Anonymous The Wiz said...

@ Prof Briem....I never thought you would be so PC! lol

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 8:58:00 AM  

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