The US’ Flawed Democracy

Forget the "republic v. a democracy" abstraction. The numbers show some serious flaws in translating popular will into government.

Ok, so let’s move beyond what many see as an abstraction (the “republic v. a democracy” business) and ask a bit more concretely why someone concerned about representative democracy would be concerned about recent outputs from US institutions.

Built in Advantages for one Party in the House.  There are some flaws in our electoral system.  One is that it can produce spurious majorities, and a corollary to that fact is that currently the system favors the Reps over the Dems structurally.

On the first point, as I noted in the Oxford Handbook of Electoral Systems:  “In 1914, 1942, 1952, 1996, and 2012, the party that won the most votes nationally did not win the most seats in the House.”  This is called a “spurious majority” because, logically, the party that wins the most seats in legislative elections body ought to also be the party that wins the most seats in the legislature. So, if the party with less votes get the majority, it is rightly termed “spurious,” Spurious majorities can be a sign of a serious problem with the underlying mechanics of an electoral system.  (For those wondering, the first three cases gave Democrats the majority of seats, and the second two gave Republicans the majority).

In simple terms, the House of Representatives should be, well, representative.  However, the way we elect the House (single-seat districts) creates distortions.  Some of those distortions are due to the geographical sorting of the persons in question (which favors rural voters) and some of those distortions are via gerrymandering (the purposeful drawing of districts in a way the ends up affecting their representational character).

Even when majorities are not spurious, the system is skewed in one party’s favor.  Note that in the 2016 election Republicans won 48.35% of the national popular vote (according to the Clerk of the House) and yet they won 55.40% of the seats.  Democrats won 47.30% of the vote, but won 44.60% of the seats.  So, a 1.05% advantage in votes translated into a 10.80% advantage in seats.  And even if we look at the combined third party vote share (4.35% of the vote for no seats) it does not explain the difference.  We can see that the GOP had a substantial built-in advantage in terms of the basic process of turning votes into seats.

This means that for the Democrats to win the House in 2018 that they will have to do substantially better than the Republicans.  For example, here is Dave Wasserman from the Cook Political Report:

So, winning a majority for the Dems takes more than a majority of the vote nationally (~7%). There is something wrong with that picture from a democratic theory point of view.  You know, everyone being created equal and having a government of, by, and for the people and whatnot.

There is a clear representation problem here.

Size of the House.  Also from the Oxford Handbook:

the size of the House is set by law, and has been the same since 1912. At that time, the US population was roughly 92 million, and each congressional district held 210,328 residents. As of the most recent census (in 2010), the population was over 324 million, and each district contained an average of 710,767 persons. In comparative terms, the US first chamber is small relative to population.

This is perhaps the most fixable of our representation problems.  But clearly it should be seen as absurd on its face that a House size set for 92 million is sufficient for a population of 320 million+.

Electoral College Inversions.  Yes, I have beat this to death, but two of the last five presidential elections (40%) have gone to the popular vote loser.

The Supreme Court.  Two of the nine Justices (22% of the Court) will have been appointed by a clear popular vote loser (and the health of an 85 year-old is all that stands in the way of a third).  Further, four of nine (44%) will be appointed by a president who came to office originally without winning the popular vote.  It is fair to note that George W. Bush’s two appointees came in his second term, but it is highly unlikely he would have been president during the 2005-2009 term had he not eked out that win in 2000.

The Senate.  Recognizing the near impossibility of changing the Senate, let’s please note that the top 25 most populated states currently have a combined estimated population of 274,466,690 residents and the bottom 25 have 5,286,123 residents.

That means that:

  • The most populated 25 states have 5.19 times the population of the 25 least populated states.
  • There are 22 states that have a larger population by themselves than do the bottom 25 combined.
  • Basically the 25 bottom states have a population only slightly more than South Carolina (5,0888,916), but have 50 votes in the Senate versus SC’s two.
  • Each Senator from the top 25 states represents, on average 5,489,333.8 residents and each Senator from the bottom 25 represents 1,057.24.46 residents each.
  • California (the largest state) is 69.33 times larger in population than Wyoming (the smallest state).  They have co-equal influence over any advise and consent power, including SCOTUS Justices.

Let’s consider that recent history has seen  spurious majorities in the House in 1996 and 2012 and Electoral College inversions in 2000 and 2016 (meaning four inversion of popular will in elections over a period of 20 years–that’s pretty frequent and suggests more than just a fluke here or there).  Now 22% of the Supreme Court selected by a president who badly lost the popular vote.  Anyone who doesn’t take these facts as indicating a problem with our system either doesn’t understand the implications or is so caught up in being on the winning side of all of this as to be rationalizing it away.

Note, too, in an already polarized political situation all of the above exacerbates the divisions.  One side gets less than it deserves in terms of the allocation of power, and so get frustrated, while the other side fears losing its advantage, so doubles-down on the system, which further frustrates the other side.  None of this is surprising, but it is the stuff of real political crisis if it persists.

And for those who will assert that I only started getting concerned about these things because Trump won, I would note a few previous posts:

And since I found it, here’s one from 2017 as well:  Skewed Majorities are Bad for Democracy.


Work Cited

Taylor, Steven L.(2018) “Electoral Systems in Context: The United States.” The Oxford Handbook of Electoral Systems Edited by Erik S. Herron, Robert J. Pekkanen, and Matthew S. Shugart.  Oxford University Press.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Kit says:

    Populous Blue states should “settle” the least populous Red states, starting with Wyoming

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    The undemocratic qualities of the House and the Senate are quite different. As you note the undemocratic quality of the House could be mitigated without amending the Constitution; remedying the undemocratic-ness of the Senate is much more difficult and would require amending the Constitution, something hard to imagine outside of a Constitutional Convention and there are good reasons to believe that a Constitutional Convention would open an enormous can of worms; it’s probably something we should avoid resorting to.

    Although I think that Republican gerrymandering is clearly a factor in the present skewing of the House, no theory of gerrymandering would be complete without explaining gerrymandering in Illinois and Maryland. Party is probably an insufficient explanation. My intuition is that a more complete explanation would consider the more general relationships between party, ideological, racial, and ethnic minorities within the states.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    @Kit: No. What would the settlers do for a living in, say, Wyoming? Blue states should just buy red states. I’d be serious if I could come up with a mechanism for doing it.

    Statehood for Puerto Rico and DC would help a little.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    As others have noted, the trend Dr. Taylor notes will continue and in 2040 70% of the population will live in 15 states. The remaining 35 states, old, white, and rural, will elect 70% of the Senate. Do you think Mitch McConnell and the Koch Bros, with the rest of the Billionaire Boys Club, aren’t planning around this?

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  5. gVOR08 says:

    You mention the Supreme Court as one of our un-democratic institutions. Matt Yglesias at VOX has a good take on Kavanaugh that seems apropos here.

    But where a progressive judge might see judicial intervention as primarily warranted in order to protect the powerless against assaults from the powerful, Kavanaugh and the conservative legal mainstream see it as a tool to protect business owners from majority rule. If one is a sufficiently unprincipled liar — which Brett Kavanaugh certainly is, as we saw in his remarks after Trump introduced him to the nation — one can dress this up in the language of democracy or originalism or whatever else.

    Is the Constitution a charter of self-government that allows the people’s elected representatives to try to find reasonable institutional solutions for the varied problems of the world? Or is it a charter for property owners that allows them to craft a state that’s well-armed and capable enough to defend their rights but incapacitated to govern the economy in any way?

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  6. MBunge says:

    @gVOR08: in 2040 70% of the population will live in 15 states.

    Yes, because trends go on forever, don’t they?

    Mike

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  7. An Interested Party says:

    This is spurious reasoning. If this were turned in for a poli-sci grade, it would get an “F.” It fails both for basic math and elementary reasoning.

    Oh that’s hilarious coming from some random Trump Whore criticizing someone who holds a Ph.D in political science…

    A power base built on Democratic segregation is certainly more invalid than one built on GOP gerrymandering…

    Bullshit…both are illegitimate and the GOP gerrymandering involves taking away political power from ethnic minorities so it is quite similar to the Democratic segregation of the past…

    Yes, because trends go on forever, don’t they?

    Does anyone see some mass migration of people to the rural dead zones of this country in the future? Anyone at all…

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  8. Andy says:

    There are some flaws in our electoral system. One is that it can produce spurious majorities, and a corollary to that fact is that currently the system favors the Reps over the Dems structurally.

    True, but our system is not designed to consider the representativeness of factions, nor should it. If we had a multi-party system then I would agree that it’s a problem.

    With only two parties – each of which represents a minority of Americans – factional representation is irrelevant outside of a few very rare and extraordinary instances.

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  9. de stijl says:

    … it is highly unlikely he (GWB 43) would have been president during the 2005-2009 term had he not eked out that win in 2000.

    Bush won fair and square 5 to 4. Bush won 55.5% of eligible votes. In Presidential races that is a massive WWE-style STOMP!

    It should have been a bigger win because Bader Ginsburg is tiny – in all fairness, Notorious RBG should only have been granted 0.73 of a vote just based on mass and Scalia 1.27 votes which is totally just, fair, proportional, and representative.

    Plus, RBG is Jewish and Scalia was Catholic and there are way more Catholics than Jews, and besides we all know that America was established as a Christian nation from the get-go.

    Also, we also know how much America loved Catholicism back then in ye olden days with those cute lil popes with those hats and the robes – Catholics were more loved than baby Jesus loved Gerber mushy peas. Whereas Jews charged enormous, usurious interest rates and had weird sideburns and funny hats back then in ye olden times.

    Pound-for-pound, if adjudicated fairly, RBG should have had 0.45 votes and Scalia 1.55 votes.

    Making the true total 5.55 to 3.45 – a bracingly clear 62 – 38% win for Bush 43 over putz Gore.

    QED, bitches!

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  10. gVOR08 says:

    @de stijl:

    Pound-for-pound, if adjudicated fairly, RBG should have had 0.45 votes and Scalia 1.55 votes.

    My gawd, Thomas would have 2 or 3.

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  11. de stijl says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Does anyone see some mass migration of people to the rural dead zones of this country in the future? Anyone at all…

    A full-blown zombie apocalypse (Romero-style slow and shambly zombies) fits the bill quite nicely. Land spreading out so far and wide, Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

    https://youtu.be/umS3XM3xAPk

    That song ends so chattel property weird to modern ears:

    Husband: You are my wife!
    Wife: Goodbye, city life!

  12. de stijl says:

    @gVOR08:

    Granted, Clarence Thomas is a dashing, vigorous, stout man which counts in his favor, but he is also a *black* man which carries a penalty but mitigated by the fact that he married a white woman. He also wears glasses due to near-sightedness.

    Clarence Thomas gets 1.0 votes. Final answer.

    Okay, gonna stop now in case the parody gets misinterpreted

  13. Gustopher says:

    @Kit: Wyoming has 537,000 people in it, and is strongly red — 20% Democrats, 20% Democrat leaning independents. You would need to get about 200,000 Democrats to move there to swing the needle.

    I don’t think that’s feasible. We can get the supply lines for avocados up and running, but there just aren’t that many jobs there.

    Rather than figuring out how to get jobs for 200,000 imported Democrats, we might be better off just trying to revitalize small cities across America. We are hitting a spot where San Francisco, Seattle, and New York are full — housing costs are way out of whack with incomes because there just isn’t the housing stock — so we cannot continue the current trends anyway.

  14. @Andy:

    but our system is not designed to consider the representativeness of factions, nor should it.

    You will have to explain what that means, because I am not sure. If you mean the system wasn’t designed consciously to give the most seats to the party with the most national votes, sure. That doesn’t make its failure to always do so a problem.

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  15. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Ok:

    On the first point, as I noted in the Oxford Handbook of Electoral Systems: “In 1914, 1942, 1952, 1996, and 2012, the party that won the most votes nationally did not win the most seats in the House.” This is called a “spurious majority” because, logically, the party that wins the most seats in legislative elections body ought to also be the party that wins the most seats in the legislature. So, if the party with less votes get the majority, it is rightly termed “spurious,” Spurious majorities can be a sign of a serious problem with the underlying mechanics of an electoral system.

    My contention is that it’s not actually a serious problem when there are only two parties – particularly when neither of those parties actually represent a majority.

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  16. In case anyone is wondering, life is too short to read MBunge’s posts and so I did delete one and will delete all future ones in my threads.

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  17. @Andy:

    My contention is that it’s not actually a serious problem when there are only two parties – particularly when neither of those parties actually represent a majority.

    I disagree, but I am not sure I can convince you why I think you are wrong. I don’t think, despite a lot of words, that I have even gotten you to understand that two parties is not some choice we made and that some reforms could change the dynamics of the party system.

    Fundamentally your position in all of these discussions: that is the way that it is. Yes, I agree that X feature of our system is the way that it is. My point is to critique and show how X leads to particular outcomes that are not necessarily desirable.

    If you think that our politics have been healthy, and continue to be such, then my critiques no doubt seem pointless.

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  18. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    BTW, have you seen this from Brookings (and updated version of this, which I found in my bookmarks)?

    It seems like a good supplement to this post.

    I haven’t read the Oxford Handbook yet, I will need to check that out.

  19. @Andy: Thanks for the link, I will give it a look.

  20. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I disagree, but I am not sure I can convince you why I think you are wrong. I don’t think, despite a lot of words, that I have even gotten you to understand that two parties is not some choice we made and that some reforms could change the dynamics of the party system.

    Well, I’ve never suggested that the two parties is “a choice we made.” Quite the contrary as, unlike most here, I’m against the two-party system.

    What I seem unable to get you to understand that you can’t change the dynamics of the system as long as the two parties are entrenched in it and control it. That is an issue which I don’t think you’ve ever responded to. Nor have I been able to get you to acknowledge or respond to the inherent dangers in reforming political systems beyond the practical difficulty of doing so.

    Fundamentally your position in all of these discussions: that is the way that it is.

    No, my position is that one can’t wish away the way things are. If one really, actually wants to change “the way it is” then one is obligated to have some idea of how to actually accomplish said changes. We can all wish for world peace, representative government, free ice cream, ending poverty or any number of noble goals. Repeating that one’s desired end state is theoretically better than the present condition is not sufficient because all it does is undermine the present system while providing no path to a better system.

    If you think that our politics have been healthy, and continue to be such, then my critiques no doubt seem pointless.

    On the contrary, I continually point out that our politics are unhealthy.

    And, as I’ve repeated many times, I agree with you that our politics would likely be better if your reforms actually implemented. Our difference, as I’ve said before, comes down to how to get from here to there. That is a topic you have assiduously avoided but it is one that I believe is critically important as I believe that process and means matters as much – if not more – than ends when it comes to political legitimacy.

    There were a lot of idea people that thought that overthrowing dictatorships and replacing them with democracies would bring about a regional order. Those people were wrong because they didn’t understand the fundamentals of the societies and political communities they chose to experiment on and they also neglected process.

    I do not want to conduct a similar experiment here in America and I will continue to question and challenge ideas that I think will put us on that path.

    In short, I’m happy to respectfully agree to disagree.

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  21. @Andy:

    What I seem unable to get you to understand that you can’t change the dynamics of the system as long as the two parties are entrenched in it and control it.

    Well, of course–and I have never suggested otherwise. The likelihood is that we will get no change until the current difficulties worsen. If, in fact as the trends suggest, that 50% of the population will be represented by 16% of the Senators, for example.

    I am trying to get people to see the source of the looming crisis and theoretical (and practical) alternatives that exist. We in America tend not to understand these options.

    I think people need to understand some basic institutional dynamics that are not widely discussed.

    I am not naive about the likelihood of many of these changes.

    I understand, for example, the near impossibility of Senate reform. That does not change the fact that the Senate’s structure is part of the problem, and it is going to get worse. At the moment all I am asking for is for people to come to grips with the fact that the 1789 constitution, with its political compromises designed to solve 1780s problems may not be as perfect as we like to think and, moreover, to start to understand the problems is it causing for us now.

    I am not a Pollyanna about change. And I know that crisis is likely to lead to change well before discourse will. All I can do is try and promote the conservation (which I appreciate you are engaged in).

  22. Eric Florack says:

    The very reason that the government was designed the way it is was because of the founders desire to protect the American people and their god-given rights from the whims of popular desire. They wanted to prevent those rims from Gaining the power of government, because they saw it as a very clear Danger.

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  23. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Thank you for the romanticized fantasy version of history. The founders you so seem to revere largely didn’t believe that the common man should even be allowed to vote. Certainly Jefferson, Adams and Madison – the big three responsible for much of the Constitution – didn’t.

    The system they designed was intended to create the appearance of democracy (the House) while giving the elite (the Senate, not elected but selected by state assemblies comprised almost entirely of the landed gentry) veto power over everything, and sole approval over everything. We won’t even get into the electors being selected by those same landed gentry folk and technically being empowered to select whomever they chose as President and Vice President. They gave themselves the power to override a popular vote for leaders.

    Want a justice? Want a treaty? Want any bill passed? Talk to the Senate.

    When the founders talked about democracy, they meant for people like themselves, not for people like you. What they actually created was a benevolent oligarchy.

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  24. de stijl says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I’m just trying to figure what “rims” Eric is talking about. And the random quasi-German capitalizations.

    Could it be short for pilgrims? Some strange rimjob reference?

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  25. Kit says:

    @Gustopher: The 2014 Senate race went by about 90k votes. The average household income in Wyoming is $57k. That’s $5 billion. California spends $100 on welfare. Chump change! There are, depressingly, literally hundreds on American individuals who could afford this. A small tax would easily cover the expense. I proposed this as a joke, but the numbers look far easier than I imagined.

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  26. Ben Wolf says:

    @Eric Florack:

    The very reason that the government was designed the way it is was because of the founders desire to protect the American people and their god-given rights from the whims of popular desire.

    The very reason our government was designed the way it is was because the Founders and Framers wanted to protect the political and social liberties they envisioned from the feudal tyrannies they saw in Europe. They were very explicit about this.

    They assumed the U.S. would have economy dominated not by feudalism or the new mode of production later called capitalism (of which both Jefferson and Adams were highly suspicious) but by self-employment (Jefferson referred to that economy as the “empire of liberty”). That empire was based on a number of principles, including in Washington’s words, “the equal distribution of property” whereby families or individuals could be economically self-sufficient. The hope wad to prevent an hereditary aristocracy from forming. As I commented yesterday, by 1799 even Madison, a defender of wealth, was writing of the “daring depravity of the times” in which the new government was being subverted by the capitalist system and what Marx later described as the “fetishization” of money.

    Jefferson was writing in 1816 of the dangers of a different kind of aristocracy in the United States: an aristocracy of money, one which the Constitution was not constructed to maintain for the simple reason its writers were pre-capitalists and did not understand the dynamics of this new system:

    I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in it’s birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and to bid defiance to the laws of their country.

    No one can credibly argue our current economic or political systems even remotely resemble what any of the Founders and Framers, for all their faults and inconsistencies, intended.

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  27. @One American: There comes a point at which a rude guest is asked to leave. That time had come.

    Disagreement is welcome, constant attempts to provoke is not.

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  28. @Eric Florack: Of the various things I am talking about in these posts over time is that appeals to the Framers’ design, as if that is all you need to know, is an insufficient position. The notion that the Framers created a system that was such perfection that it can function in perpetuity without reform and adaptation is ridiculous, to be honest.

    Also: I will note that what your version of things is to defend the document as anti-democratic, but you want to make it sound romantic and wise.

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  29. Eric Florack says:

    @HarvardLaw92: that you believe that, I’m not sure if I should be abused or alarmed.

    But it does make sense that somebody from Harvard would come up with crap like that.

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  30. Eric Florack says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    ” A Republic, if you can keep it”

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  31. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: How can we talk about the design of the Constitution — especially as it relates to the relative power of states — without mentioning that one of the prime drivers of the compromise was the continuation of slavery? It wasn’t wisdom that led to the extra power granted to rural states — it was the desire for union balanced against the slave states’ refusal to sign any document that would limit their power to own human beings.

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  32. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    In case anyone is wondering, life is too short to read MBunge’s posts and so I did delete one and will delete all future ones in my threads.

    Bless you for easing the suffering of the besieged masses….

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  33. MarkedMan says:

    Ok, I’ll address the elephant in the room. It’s not only that the representation is becoming so off balance. It’s that the current system favors the most poorly run and backward states, i.e. the Trump states. The states that benefit from this are of two types*. First, there are the ones whose populace, for generations, have responded so blindly to regular calls by their ruling elites to abuse each other over race, religion or culture that their standard of living, infrastructure and environment have remained decades behind the improvements realized by any other modern economy. The second category is the recipients of massive federal welfare like Wyoming, Montana, etc (basically the square states + Alaska) who wouldn’t even exist without the massive influx of dollars from the blue states but who, like the stereotype of brown welfare recipients they hold in their heads, resent and disparage the fellow citizens that actually support them.

    I, for one, am tired of the Trump states inability to move themselves out of the bottom tier by virtually any measure of a modern society (education, pollution, standard of living, infant survival, and on and on and on) while sticking their hands in the pockets of every state that has managed to put the interests of their population above the blindly animalistic calls to racial and cultural animosity.

    *In fairness, Utah doesn’t seem to fall into either category.

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  34. drj says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Why didn’t you look up who actually could vote in, say, 1790, before accusing someone else of posting “crap.” Google is your friend.

    You might even look less of a fool the next time.

    It wasn’t until 1850 that most economic barriers to voting had disappeared.

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  35. Ben Wolf says:

    It is certain in Theory, that the only moral Foundation of Government is the Consent of the People. But to what an Extent Shall We carry this Principle? Shall We Say, that every Individual of the Community, old and young, male and female, as well as rich and poor, must consent, expressly to every Act of Legislation? No, you will Say. This is impossible. How then does the Right arise in the Majority to govern the Minority, against their Will? Whence arises the Right of the Men to govern Women, without their Consent? Whence the Right of the old to bind the Young, without theirs.

    But let us first Suppose, that the whole Community of every Age, Rank, Sex, and Condition, has a Right to vote. This Community, is assembled—a Motion is made and carried by a Majority of one Voice. The Minority will not agree to this. Whence arises the Right of the Majority to govern, and the Obligation of the Minority to obey? from Necessity, you will Say, because there can be no other Rule. But why exclude Women?3 You will Say, because their Delicacy renders them unfit for Practice and Experience, in the great Business of Life, and the hardy Enterprizes of War, as well as the arduous Cares of State. Besides, their attention is So much engaged with the necessary Nurture of their Children, that Nature has made them fittest for domestic Cares. And Children have not Judgment or Will of their own. True. But will not these Reasons apply to others? Is it not equally true, that Men in general in every Society, who are wholly destitute of Property, are also too little acquainted with public Affairs to form a Right Judgment, and too dependent upon other Men to have a Will of their own? If this is a Fact, if you give to every Man, who has no Property, a Vote, will you not make a fine encouraging Provision for Corruption by your fundamental Law? Such is the Frailty of the human Heart, that very few Men, who have no Property, have any Judgment of their own. They talk and vote as they are directed by Some Man of Property, who has attached their Minds to his Interest.

    . . .

    Harrington has Shewn that Power always follows Property. This I believe to be as infallible a Maxim, in Politicks, as, that Action and Re-action are equal, is in Mechanicks. Nay I believe We may advance one Step farther and affirm that the Ballance of Power in a Society, accompanies the Ballance of Property in Land. The only possible Way then of preserving the Ballance of Power on the side of equal Liberty and public Virtue, is to make the Acquisition of Land easy to every Member of Society: to make a Division of the Land into Small Quantities, So that the Multitude may be possessed of landed Estates. If the Multitude is possessed of the Ballance of real Estate, the Multitude will have the Ballance of Power, and in that Case the Multitude will take Care of the Liberty, Virtue, and Interest of the Multitude in all Acts of Government.

    John Adams saw the same danger that Aristotle did: those without might use their votes to take from those who owned. And he arrived at the same solution as Aristotle, to divide the nation’s capital broadly as possible. This is one of the reasons “rural” states were given disproportionate representation. Capital in that time was primarily land. In this model we have a nation of independent landholders and artisans with only modest wealth inequality, not densely populated cities and concentrated wealth.

  36. @Eric Florack: Indeed. And words mean things.

  37. @wr:

    How can we talk about the design of the Constitution — especially as it relates to the relative power of states — without mentioning that one of the prime drivers of the compromise was the continuation of slavery?

    You are correct, of course. The Great Compromise (creation of the Senate–which then impacted the Electoral College), the 3/5th Compromise, and the agreement to basically not regulate the slave trade until 1808 all show the centrality of the politics of slavery to the entire affair. As such, many of the revered deals are not some genius of republicanism, but cold calculations to appease the power dynamics of the day.

    Part of my goal in all of this, regardless of anything else, is to try and show that a lot of how we, as Americans, view this documents is based far more on mythology than any actual knowledge.

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  38. @Eric Florack:

    The very reason that the government was designed the way it is was because of the founders desire to protect the American people and their god-given rights from the whims of popular desire.

    BTW, you mean god-given rights like freedom for women to vote, own property, and be treated like equal human beings to males? Or, god-given rights not to be held as property due to one’s skin color?

    Treating the Constitution like the perfect enshrinement of god-given rights is problematic, to put it mildly.

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  39. Steve V says:

    Whatever the balance of power was between the states in 1789, it was altered significantly by the reconstruction amendments. Originalists never think about them, though.

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  40. @Steve V: There is very much that (not to mention various SCOTUS rulings that occurred over time as a result).

    And, as Ben Wolf notes, the economic basis of the country (and the world) was more than a little different in 1789 than it is now (and has been for quite some time). The Constitution is a pre-industrial revolution document.

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  41. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Would you care to, you know, actually rebut any of it, or is the Fox News fingers in your ears thing all you’ve got?

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  42. Kylopod says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Would you care to, you know, actually rebut any of it, or is the Fox News fingers in your ears thing all you’ve got?

    My experience with Eric Florack is that when you bring evidence and logic to counter what he says, he just replies “That’s a load of crap” or simply reasserts his position while completely ignoring your counter-arguments. I have never seen him engage in any real back-and-forth with another commenter.

    And he’s one of the most responsive of the right-wingers here. Most of them simply disappear from the thread the moment they’re challenged.

    I have, over the years, reached the conclusion that there’s something fundamentally lacking in the personality of most right-wingers. They don’t approach political discussions from the perspective that they’re holding tentative opinions, subject to revision in the face of new information. They perceive that the things which they believe (which are, to a large degree, things they’ve been told to believe) are simply true by definition. They aren’t just certain that they’re right, they are literally incapable of conceptualizing the possibility that they might be wrong. Trying to reason with them is like trying to explain the color red to someone who was born blind. It can’t be done, because they simply lack that perceptive ability. When they post on these forums, they aren’t aiming to engage in debate. They perceive simply that they’re “telling it like it is,” which means asserting the self-evident truths they self-evidently know to be self-evidently true. Anyone who disagrees is self-evidently wrong, and anything that person says is automatically laughable libtard noise, as meaningless to them as a barking dog. They’re simply not listening, because they’ve been programmed to reject what you say at the outset.

    Many of the regulars here describe this type of behavior as trolling, and think that just by responding, we’re falling into their traps. The problem with that theory is that I’ve seen this type of behavior offline as well. At some point we have to apply Occam’s Razor and realize that when people act this closeminded, the likeliest explanation is not that it’s just some kind of attempt to bait and provoke (though there’s an element of that), it’s a true reflection of the way they see the world. And this is the prevailing way of seeing the world on the American right.

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  43. MarkedMan says:

    @Kylopod:

    They aren’t just certain that they’re right, they are literally incapable of conceptualizing the possibility that they might be wrong.

    Your point is valid but I’ve got a slightly different perspective: these types of people don’t view “winning an argument” in the same way as you and I do. They win by not backing down. You think you are defeating them with facts and reality. They think they are winning because they didn’t back down.

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  44. gVOR08 says:

    @Kylopod:

    They perceive that the things which they believe (which are, to a large degree, things they’ve been told to believe) are simply true by definition.

    Many people have a religious bent. It may not actually appear as adherence to a religion, but to a secular faith. And in my personal observation, you are correct, they cannot do provisional belief. Conservatives are often described as Manichaean, everything is black or white, good or evil. May have to do with the enlarged amygdala thing.

    I had a conservative acquaintance who went ballistic when the state of OH estimated the revenue effect of some tax change. ‘You can’t know until you collect the tax.’ He applied the same principle to any estimate or forecast. He was a tax accountant, which was probably the best place for him. Although even in accounting you need to estimate various future factors.

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  45. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    BTW, you mean god-given rights like freedom for women to vote, own property, and be treated like equal human beings to males? Or, god-given rights not to be held as property due to one’s skin color?

    But you see Steven, those were the cultural norms of those days. So it was ok.

    Of course, the problem with that excuse is its fundamentally is synonymous with saying that enshrining slavery in the constitution was meeting the “the whims of popular desire” for that given historical moment.

  46. Blue Galangal says:

    @Kit: Universal Basic Income would handle some of these questions nicely!

  47. @mattbernius: That and the fact that if we are going to use phrases like “god-given” then either God has some explaining to do or the Framers do.

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  48. They Saved Nixon's Brain says:

    @Blue Galangal:..@Kit: Universal Basic Income would handle some of these questions nicely!

    The present welfare system has failed us–it has fostered family breakup, has provided very little help in many States and has even deepened dependency by all-too-often making it more attractive to go on welfare than to go to work.
    I propose a new approach that will make it more attractive to go to work than to go on welfare, and will establish a nationwide minimum payment to dependent families with children.
    I propose that the Federal government pay a basic income to those American families who cannot care for themselves in whichever State they live.
    Richard M. Nixon 37th President of The United States of America

    (who is this guy?)

  49. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Favoring a single party is not the largest problem, favoring small states is. Small states are far more likely to be dominated by a single economic activity(More likely, a single commodity) and more likely to be rural. But even a state created inside the metropolitan area of Los Angeles or New York would be dominated by a single industry.

    That creates political and economic distortions, nothing good can come from here.

  50. MarkedMan says:

    @MarkedMan: Just as anecdotal or tangential evidence to my post above, Trump reiterated again today that he “believes” Putin because he forcefully denies it, very forcefully. Trump, is of course, a Russian stooge, and likely knows Putin is lying inasmuch as his tiny reptilian brain can “know” anything. But what’s interesting is that he feels this is somehow a convincing argument. Trump is the ultimate Trumpoid and therefore thinks that Putin must be winning the argument because he doesn’t back down, and that other people will find that compelling. Of course, anyone who has a mental age higher than eleven understands that how loudly you deny something has nothing to do with whether or not it is true.

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  51. Mister Bluster says:

    @They Saved Nixon’s Brain:..(who is this guy?)
    I remember reading about this speech after Trickey Dick had been in office for a few months.
    “Not a bad idea!” I mused to myself. “If I had been old enough to vote in November of 1968, I might have voted Republican!”
    Alas, it didn’t matter. I was 20 when the election was held.

    I watched Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) a few years ago.
    I couldn’t believe that I almost felt sorry for the guy. That lasted about a day.
    I have said before that I am in favor of digging up Nixon’s corpse and holding it accountable before the United States Senate.
    After today I will let RMN RIP.
    There are far, far more serious “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” threatening the Supremacy of Our Great Charter due to the actions and words of REPUBLICAN Donald Vidkun Quisling Trump.

  52. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Ben Wolf: “The hope wad to prevent an hereditary aristocracy from forming.”

    Not seeing this, either in principle or from what little I can recall of relatively brief study of the issue. You’re going to need to elaborate if you want to sell this.

  53. @Just nutha ignint cracker: Well, if you look at someone like Jefferson, there was the notion that the nation would become populated by yeoman farmers who would form a vast middle class.

    And, also the entire policy of westward expansion was about occupying territory by pretty much giving away land.

    Now, in the deep south, the goal was clearly to establish (or, more accurately, maintain) a system of a landed gentry. Indeed, Jefferson’s lifestyle and Jefferson’s theorizing were at odds here, as was true about a lot of his lifestyle v. his theorizing.

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