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.