Great Compromise Not So Great?

Matt Yglesias has discovered the facts that 1) each state gets two Senators and 2) some states are bigger than others, a condition that has obtained since the inception of our current system in 1789.  There was, as some may recall having read, this thing called the Great Compromise whereby delegates representing sovereign states under the extant Articles of Confederation agreed  they would have a bicameral legislature wherein one house represented people and another represented said states.  This compromise, incidentally, was a diminution of the power the smaller states had under said Articles.

Anyhoo, it has come to Matt’s attention and he’s none too happy about it:

The point is that this is an unfair and bizarre way to run things. If you consider that the mean state would contain two percent of the population, we have just 34 Senators representing the above-average states even though they collectively contain 69.15 percent of the population. The other 66 Senators represent about 30 percent of the people. If the Iranians were to succeed in overthrowing their theocracy and set about to write a new constitution, nobody in their right mind would recommend this system to them.

Probably not — but we might have been better off recommending something like that to the Iraqis.  Some form of strong federalism or even confederalism makes a lot of sense in cases where states are comprised of geographically bound subgroupings with a strong sense of separate identity and history of autonomy.

The problem in the United States is that our current system no longer reflects the reality on the ground.  Most of us are now highly mobile with no strong sense of place-related identity.  Most Californians or New Yorkers or Virginians probably just think of themselves as Americans and only incidentally as residents of their states. This is least true, however, in the less populated states, which tend to be comprised of residents with intergenerational roots and therefore much more provincial.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. It’s time to redraw some lines.

    We probably need two Californias, a single Kan-neb-kota. A Wyo-monta-aho, a single Carolina, no Mississippi at all quite frankly, but if we have to have one fold it in with Alabama and the panhandle of Florida and call the new state Redneckia.

    Split Texas into Too Damn Dry Texas and Too Damn Humid Texas.

    Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire bunk together, Connecticut joins the new state of Greater Manhattan (NYC, Long Island and CT.)

    I think we could sell Hawaii. Possibly to Oprah who already owns property there. And we all know Alaska doesn’t belong. “Hello, Canada? We got a deal for you . . .” This would have the advantage of putting Gov. Palin in line for the Prime Minister’s job.

  2. Michael says:

    Before 1913, Senators didn’t represent the population at all, but rather they represented the state governments and were appointed by such. In that regard, giving each state government an equal representation made sense, as no state was to be considered more important than any other state.

    But, if Matt is just not getting around to Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution, it may be a while before he gets to the 17th amendment.

  3. Triumph says:

    This is least true, however, in the less populated states, which tend to be comprised of residents with intergenerational roots and therefore much more provincial.

    What states are you talking about? This may be true for Wyoming or maybe Vermont, but for other less populated states, the annual rates of domestic net migration range wildly. North Dakota has had a -6.3 rate of domestic net migration while Alaska’s has been -1.1. Delaware’s–on the other hand–has been 5.9 and Montana’s has been 3.5.

    If you actually look at the census data, there is little correlation between state population and mobility.

    http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/migrate.html

  4. odograph says:

    Ideally we’d have a parliament to break the two party dysfunction (see also Steve’s “Why Voting Doesn’t Always Give the Best Result” and “Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem”)

    … but I don’t see a problem with a per-state upper body.

  5. Where are the tax payers represented? Since we have increasingly foisted more of the tax burden on a smaller portion of the population and in turn increased the redistribution of funds to a larger portion of the population, the tax payers have become an abused minority in the population. But of course doing something about that wouldn’t help put more liberals in power, so Yglesias doesn’t even consider that issue.

  6. James Joyner says:

    What states are you talking about? This may be true for Wyoming or maybe Vermont, but for other less populated states, the annual rates of domestic net migration range wildly. North Dakota has had a -6.3 rate of domestic net migration while Alaska’s has been -1.1. Delaware’s–on the other hand–has been 5.9 and Montana’s has been 3.5.

    Interesting. My sense of most of the non-urban parts of the South, New England, and the Mountain West is that they’re multi-generational in a way that more metro-driven states aren’t. I could be completely wrong, though.

  7. Michael says:

    tax payers have become an abused minority in the population

    If you only count income and capital gains taxes, that may be true. But poor people pay payroll and sales taxes just like everyone else.

  8. Triumph says:

    My sense of most of the non-urban parts of the South, New England, and the Mountain West is that they’re multi-generational in a way that more metro-driven states aren’t. I could be completely wrong, though.

    It really varies state-by-state. It even varies within states (especially in the Mountain West).

    There is a good county map on p. 11 of this census report: http://www.census.gov/prod/2006pubs/p25-1135.pdf

  9. Eric Florack says:

    Are we really talking here about the tyrrany of the majority, where the population centers of the east coast…and now the west coast… run everything?

    If I recall, wasn’t the Senate set up by the founders so as to provide a balance against the populated regions?

    More…. A look at who, politically speaking dominates those population centers… might it explain Yglesias concern? His political leanings seem fairly clear. And after all, the part of the constitution in question is one that is unambiguous enough to prevent it from being re-cast by the USSC… which is usually the tool for the left to deal with such matters.

  10. Young Mr. Ylgesias is, of course, aware of the roles designated for the House (which he ignores) and the Senate in the US Constitution, but seems to want to ignore them to achieve his progressive goals by rigging the game while his team is in the lead.

    Paybacks will be hell, Young Mr. Yglesias.

  11. Eric Florack says:

    Young Mr. Ylgesias is, of course, aware of the roles designated for the House (which he ignores) and the Senate in the US Constitution, but seems to want to ignore them to achieve his progressive goals by rigging the game while his team is in the lead.

    Well, yeah, that would be another way of putting it, yes. (chuckle)

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  12. ggr says:

    Canada has no elected senate to represent regional interests (ie government seats are for the most part proportional to provincial populations – and yes I’m aware of PEI). This has set the stage for strong regional grievances (until recently only Ontario didn’t feel left out of confederation, though they’re starting to complain now as well), which is increasingly fragmenting the country.

    Inevitably, the need for regional voices has given rise to provincial gov’ts who campaign strongly against the federal gov’t, and who have fought tooth and claw – with the blessing of most of their voters – to decentralize the country.

    In continent sized countries (such as the US), Giving all the power to the most populous provinces or states is one of the best ways to rip apart a country that you could come up. Senate reform in the US would probably quickly be followed by demands for reducing the federal power, as people tried to again regain control of their own regional affairs. No one likes to be governed from afar.

  13. Eric Florack says:

    Senate reform in the US would probably quickly be followed by demands for reducing the federal power, as people tried to again regain control of their own regional affairs. No one likes to be governed from afar.

    Given the number of ‘hands off’ legisation coming from the states since January, essentially calling for decentralizing the government, I’m not convinced that Canada’s constitutional design, or ours, is the issue, or that the rewording of a constituion is the solution to any such problems. Rather such issues seem to stem from how leftist,and thereby prone to big centralized power, a partcular government is. We didn’t see such state level resolutions being seriously offered until such time as the Democrats had all three branches of government. Simlarly, the constitutional issues in Canada also seem to me tied to the intentions/political leanings of the government in power.

  14. Michael says:

    Rather such issues seem to stem from how leftist,and thereby prone to big centralized power, a partcular government is. We didn’t see such state level resolutions being seriously offered until such time as the Democrats had all three branches of government.

    An equally plausible explanation is that rightist state politicians have differing levels of acceptance of federal authority when the opposition is in control, while leftist state politicians are consistent.

  15. Michael,

    Just what percentage of sales tax do you think goes to the federal government?

    Look at the four main areas of federal revenue (data is from CBO 2006, last set I could find). Numbers are effective tax rates in percentage form for the five quintiles, starting with the lowest quintile. The sixth number is the average across all the quintiles.

    Income tax -6.6%, -0.8% 3.0%, 6.0% 14.1%, 9.1%
    SSI tax 8.5%, 9.2%, 9.4%, 9.6%, 5.8%, 7.5%
    Corporate tax 0.5%, 0.6%, 0.8%, 1.2%, 5.4%, 3.4%
    Excise tax 1.9%, 1.2%, 0.9%, 0.8%, 0.4%, 0.7%

    Total effective federal tax rates 4.3%, 10.2%, 14.2%, 17.6%, 25.8%, 20.7%

    So you can see that for the total effective tax rates, the top 20% pay an effective tax rate higher than the average and that all the other quintiles (aka 80% of the population) sees total effective tax rates less than the average.

    So taking the different taxing sources into account, it still stands that a 20% minority is paying above average in taxes and an 80% minority is paying below average. So where is the representation of the minority of tax payers bearing the larger load? They get swamped in the polls by those who like paying a lower tax rate than the average needed to pay for all the federal programs.

  16. The concept of states is itself outdated and frankly silly. These are random lines drawn on a map. They have no basis in ideology, religion, ethnicity, language, resources or any other real thing. A line between Cubs fans and White Sox fans would make more sense than a line between Connecticut and Massachusetts.

    We are a very homogenous country. The differences between the average Nebraskan and the average Californian are minuscule. One’s a Lutheran, one’s a Methodist; one says “Sir” and the other says “Dude.”

    There are more differences between an Omahan and a Nebraskan farmer than there are between the Nebraskan farmer and a Californian farmer.

  17. Eric Florack says:

    An equally plausible explanation is that rightist state politicians have differing levels of acceptance of federal authority when the opposition is in control, while leftist state politicians are consistent.

    Only one problem; Why didn’t we see that happening under Clinton, and Carter?

  18. Michael says:

    So you can see that for the total effective tax rates, the top 20% pay an effective tax rate higher than the average and that all the other quintiles (aka 80% of the population) sees total effective tax rates less than the average.

    Ah, so by “tax payers” you were referring only to those taxed above the average. I am unfamiliar with that definition, so you can see where I might have been confused.

  19. Michael says:

    Only one problem; Why didn’t we see that happening under Clinton, and Carter?

    Because you had better conservatives in those days?

  20. Jim Durbin says:

    Yglesias never fails to show the value of a wasted education.

    The appointment of Senators by State legislatures was an anti-democratic (but pro-republic) measure designed to prevent the will of the majority to run roughshod over the minority. It was designed to prevent the majority from governing as they wished. The 17th Amendment was designed by progressives to make the Senate more accountable to the people, so that more progressive legislation could be passed.

    The Constitution was put in place so that people like Matt couldn’t just change the rules when they had enough votes or an electoral wind blowing at their back. Every piece was put in place to prevent a large centralized government such as we have now.

    Don’t they teach anything worthwhile at Harvard these days? High School Seniors – go to a real school – Washington and Lee still teaches something called “history.”

  21. ggr says:

    Given the number of ‘hands off’ legisation coming from the states since January, essentially calling for decentralizing the government, I’m not convinced that Canada’s constitutional design, or ours, is the issue, or that the rewording of a constituion is the solution to any such problems. Rather such issues seem to stem from how leftist,and thereby prone to big centralized power, a partcular government is. We didn’t see such state level resolutions being seriously offered until such time as the Democrats had all three branches of government. Simlarly, the constitutional issues in Canada also seem to me tied to the intentions/political leanings of the government in power.

    In the case of Canada its definitely regionalism – western Canada,Quebec and the Atlantic provinces all see themselves as being neglected by a federal gov’t who’s policies are almost always aimed at Central Canada (which is where most of the votes are). In fact, under Mulroney’s conservatives western alienation skyrocketed (starting the Reform Party) because of the realization that even with a PC party western interests were always going to be sacrificed to those of Quebec and Ontario (the big vote provinces).

    The party in power doesn’t have that much to do with it, its just the reality that any governing party will ultimately aim its policies to getting elected – that is, at the largest regions. I suspect that one reason regionalism hasn’t been as big an issue in the states (well, at least since the Civil War) is the senate. Remove that senate and the sense that each region has some say in the way things are governed disappears.

  22. The concept of states is itself outdated and frankly silly.

    Wrong. Just wrong.

    A major selling point of a federal republic was to have all these little experiments in democracy where different ideas could be tried out in, dare I say it, the marketplace of governments, with the best ideas surviving and being replicated elsewhere. Having a single entity where one mistake can bring everything down kind of reminds me or, well, the federal government today.

    And if you think a dense state like New Jersey or Florida has the same type of service delivery problems for schools, courts, roads, et cetera, that a state like Wyoming or Utah has, you are delusional. Some starts have international borders, some don’t. Some states have maritime needs, some don’t. Some states have relatively large rural populations, some don’t. Some states are losing population, some aren’t. Some states need heat in the winter, some don’t. Some states need air conditioning in the summer, some don’t. And on and on and on.

    One set of laws does not fit everyone and heaven help us if you or Young Mr. Yglesias get your way to force that model down our throats. But hey, only more step then to reach the transnational progressive nirvana of one world government. Just curious but do you also complain about the homogeneity of the suburbs, strip malls, and chain food restaurants? Because that seems to be what you are advocating.

  23. Don’t they teach anything worthwhile at Harvard these days?

    Jim, Maybe that’s the problem, that Harvard will teach “anything” in some sense. Postmodernism seems to reject the whole value proposition of the adjective “worthwhile.”

  24. Michael,

    I assume that you have figured out by now that the federal government doesn’t collect sales tax.

    You seem to miss the point. The federal government collected 20.7% of the population’s income. Ignoring the issues of deficit spending which is just shifting the collection time, that is what the government needs to run. We will call this the 20.7% worth of government. But that tax burden is not proportionate.

    20% of the population is getting “20.7%” for the cut rate of 4.3%. In short, they are being subsidized by 16.4%. What a deal.
    The next 20% is about half rate at 10.2%. So right there, you have 40% of the population getting between 2 to 5x the government ‘services’ than they are paying for. The next 40% are also getting more government than they are paying for. So 80% of the population is taking from the other 20% in the form of getting more government than the share they are paying for.

    Now lets imagine that we elected senators based on tax dollars. Just to make it easy we are going to say each percent is worth one vote.

    You still have a mismatch, but its not as bad. Out of 72.1 possible votes, the vote totals would look like this.

    6%, 14%, 20%, 24%, 36%

    Now the bottom 40% still get 40% of the votes in the house of representatives, but only 20% of the votes for senate. In contrast, the top 20% get 36% of the votes for senate and only 20% of the votes for house. We now have a check and balance between taxing and spending. Don’t spend enough and that bottom 40% votes for representatives who will give them more bread and circuses. Spend to much and that top 20% will vote for senators who won’t spend so much on bread and circuses.
    The more you tax a small minority to pay for the rest, the greater the leverage they have to correct the problem.

    Is it really that hard for you to see how the current one man, one vote system can run off the rails as you shift the tax burden on to a small minority who pay a disproportionate share of the taxes? At some point that minority may just decide they don’t want to be taxed like this anymore. Then how do you pay for the bread and circuses?

  25. An Interested Party says:

    All this concern for the taxes that the wealthy pay is really quite touching…perhaps those who are so upset over this can put on a telethon or something to help with the horrible burden faced by these poor people…also, in all this talk about who is paying and not paying their fair share, I notice that no one mentioned how so many blue states get less back from the feds than they put out as opposed to many red states which get more from the feds than they pay out…is this not also an issue of fairness that needs to be discussed…

  26. All this concern for the taxes that the wealthy pay is really quite touching…perhaps those who are so upset over this can put on a telethon or something to help with the horrible burden faced by these poor people…also, in all this talk about who is paying and not paying their fair share, I notice that no one mentioned how so many blue states get less back from the feds than they put out as opposed to many red states which get more from the feds than they pay out…is this not also an issue of fairness that needs to be discussed…

    With all due repspect your myopia seems to be that you can just keep on taking from the “ricH’ and they won’t change any of their behaviors, you know, like the ones that employ a lot of people. We can call it trickle down unemployment.

    As for the blue states, do they like to eat? All that food has to get to them somehow, and the roads you don’t think the red staters seem to deserve is how how their food gets to them. That’s just one example of why this argument is so damned bogus.

  27. Charles:

    There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the laws of various states. One has a little more sales tax, one has a little more income tax.

    Rather than being little labs where busy fellows are constantly trying to improve government, state governments are usually clown colleges full of guys who should be cleaning pools or selling cars. California. New York. Louisiana.

    It’s absurd even to talk about a state government for a state like Wyoming. Wyoming has the population of Oklahoma City. That’s not a state. It’s a big, square cattle ranch studded with mines. What exactly is the state government of Wyoming learning how to do? In your imagination the USG fails and we turn to Wyoming?

  28. G.A.Phillips says:

    I just want to go back to having to be a Christian to hold Office…..

  29. Mr. Reynolds, wrong. You seem to celebrate ignorance of the many differences in states laws regarding incorporation, taxes, gun control, agriculture, torts, right to work laws, homesteading laws, etc, etc, etc.

    So which set of Mandarins do you think ought to be running the people of Wyoming’s lives if not the people of Wyoming?

    Ever wonder why you have to be licensed to practice law in each state independently?

  30. So which set of Mandarins do you think ought to be running the people of Wyoming’s lives if not the people of Wyoming?

    The people of Wyo-tana-ho. Or the people of the great state of Rocky Mountain. Wyoming is a rectangle on a map. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s a pure abstraction. A border encompassing that which is no different from what’s on the other side of the border. If we moved the lines 100 miles in any direction no one would even notice.

    The point is and was that states are outdated and silly. They have no real meaning. And the only counter-argument so far is that they are some sort of laboratory for government.

    It’s not a strong argument.

  31. An Interested Party says:

    …just keep on taking from the “ricH’ and they won’t change any of their behaviors, you know, like the ones that employ a lot of people. We can call it trickle down unemployment.

    So how is it that anyone was employed in the past when tax rates on the wealthy were far higher than they are now? Was everyone employed by the government? And that argument doesn’t really work when you are talking about wealthy people who don’t create jobs…maybe those people should be taxed at a different rate than people who do create jobs, huh?

    As for the blue states, do they like to eat? All that food has to get to them somehow, and the roads you don’t think the red staters seem to deserve is how how their food gets to them. That’s just one example of why this argument is so damned bogus.

    Ohhhh…you mean like California? Oh wait, that’s not a red state…so it’s ok to give more to red states because all that extra money supposedly goes to roads so that they can supposedly feed everyone? So maybe we should give less to those red states that don’t provide a significant amount of food? And maybe we should give more to blue states that do provide a significant amount of food? Maybe you should come up with a better example…

    I just want to go back to having to be a Christian to hold Office…..

    Oh, why not go all the way and say that to hold office, someone must be a Protestant white male land owner…maybe that would make you feel better…

  32. Kirk Parker says:

    James,

    I have no idea why you think a federal-type system would not be good for Iran, too; they have a heck of a lot of ethnic diversity.