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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Change the Senate?

For John, BLUFIs the US Senate makeup fair to voters?

Yesterday Law Professor Ann Althouse posted this item on the question of the apportionment of the US Senate (two per state, regardless of state size or population).

"The disproportionate power enjoyed in the Senate by small states is playing a growing role in the political dynamic..."

The equal representation of the states in the U.S. Senate is really old news, so what's this about? Large states have grown more than small states in recent years. And large states have become "more urban and liberal," with smaller states "remaining rural and conservative."

Frances E. Lee, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, said the problem was as real as the solution elusive, adding that she and other scholars have tried without success to find a contemporary reason to exempt the Senate from the usual rules of granting citizens an equal voice in their government. “I can’t think of any way to justify it based on democratic principles,” Professor Lee said.
I thought this paragraph from the original New York Times article was of value.
Vermont’s 625,000 residents have two United States senators, and so do New York’s 19 million. That means that a Vermonter has 30 times the voting power in the Senate of a New Yorker just over the state line — the biggest inequality between two adjacent states. The nation’s largest gap, between Wyoming and California, is more than double that.
I think the value of the US Senate is that it works, by and large.  It is what would replace the US Senate that is the question.  We don't wish to jump from the frying pan into the fire.  Our system works, and it works in a quirky way, because it is a bit inefficient.

In answer to Professor Frances E. Lee, quoted above, I believe the justification is that it works.  That is a sort of amateur view of the world, as opposed to the view of professionals, but sometimes the amateurs have a better overall view of what works.  One is reminded of the quote attributed to a French philosopher, while he admonished an American colleague:

Well yes, it works in practice, but will it work in theory?
The US Senate does work in practice.  I hope we don't change it because it doesn't work in theory.

Regards  —  Cliff


Neal said...

It works.....much like a black hole works in space. Beyond that it has become a wholly dysfunctional swamp of partisanship and pious petulance. Four years to produce a "budget" that is nothing more than a mandate for more tax money. That's a budget??? The old Roman Senate had nothing on this band of blithering bozos......

Craig H said...

First off, I absolutely agree with Neal, but Bozo-ism is a problem well beyond any discussion of Senate proportion-ate-ness, so we can put that aside for the moment...

I live with a practical real-life example of the fairness of disproportionate representation: My present-day condo association voting rights are identical to those agreed when the condominium agreement was signed many decades ago. Even though I bought into my unit for much more money than others bought into theirs, I still only enjoy voting rights based on the original proportions, and that absolutely is fair.

Why should the fecundity and/or immigration-friendliness of New Yorkers count against Vermonters? Folks can rail all they want about "majority", but, essentially, we're guaranteeing the birthright of every American, and, seriously, any New Yorker interested to multiply their Senate influence by 30 can simply hop over the border and live in the Green Mountain State--we have Federal laws to guarantee their freedom to do so.

I'm with Cliff--the downside risks of whatever would replace the current system seem far greater to me than the electoral inefficiency of one-state-two-senators. Puerto Ricans have it the worst--though citizens and on the hook to the IRS, they get NO voting representation at all. (I think a similar situation with the Colonies might have been mentioned in my American History textbooks, but it's all getting hazy to me now).

Neal said...

Gosh, wasn't that loosely gathered under the heading of "taxation without representation?" I'm certain that the textbook to which you refer, Kad, has long ago been relegated to the dustbin as "unenlightened." Successful regime change REQUIRES "purification" of information available to the public.

I think the Senatorial balance is about as "good" as you are ever going to get. Having said that, there is a universe of difference when one talks about Senate seats and the asses that sit in them. The former is the process, the latter is the problem.