Sunday, November 28, 2010

Time for a smaller government

I just read this intriguing piece in the Times:

What's great about this article is that I think the means that it describes and ends we would all find desirable: a government that votes it's conscience. We differ greatly as to the means. I've been thinking recently that the problem is lack of accountability. First a little history:

Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress was a unicameral body in which each state held one vote. The ineffectiveness of the federal government under the Articles led Congress to summon a Constitutional Convention in 1787. The issue of how Congress was to be structured was one of the most divisive among the founders during the Convention. James Madison's Virginia Plan called for a bicameral Congress: the lower house would be "of the people," elected directly by the people of the United States and representing public opinion, and a more deliberative upper house that would represent the individual states, and would be less susceptible to variations of mass sentiment, would be elected by the lower house.

The Virginia Plan drew the support of delegates from large states such as Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, as it called for representation based on population. The smaller states, however, favored the New Jersey Plan, which called for a unicameral Congress with equal representation for the states.

Eventually, the Convention reached the "Connecticut Compromise" under which one house of Congress would provide representation proportional to each state's population, whereas the other would provide equal representation amongst the states. The Constitution was ratified by the requisite number of states and the House began work on April 1, 1789, when it achieved a quorum for the first time.

During the first half of the 19th Century, the House was frequently in conflict with the Senate over regionally divisive issues, including slavery. The North was much more populous than the South, and therefore dominated the House of Representatives. However, the North held no such advantage in the Senate, where the equal representation of states prevailed. Conflict over slavery and other issues persisted until the Civil War.

The war culminated in the South's defeat and in the abolition of slavery. Because all southern senators except Andrew Johnson ( who would become the 17th President) resigned their seats at the beginning of the war, the Senate did not have the balance of power between North and South during the war. In reality, if the southern senators had not resigned their seats, it is unlikely the 13th and 14th ammendments could have passed.

The only constitutional rule relating to the size of the House says: "The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand." Congress regularly increased the size of the House to account for population growth until it fixed the number of voting House members at 435 in 1911. The number was temporarily increased to 437 in 1959 upon the admission of Alaska and Hawaii (seating one representative from each of those states without changing existing apportionment), and returned to 435 four years later, after the reapportionment consequent to the 1960 census.

Which leads us to the present day, where each congressional district has more than 700000 people in it. The House, which was meant to directly responsible to the people, has become more and more abstracted. When there were only 33k people in a district, 10 activists could easily have a snowball affect and cause an avalanche in an election. With 700000 people in a district, 10 activists have a snowball's chance in hell of affecting an election.

We cannot have a free market without a free populance, and we cannot have a free populance without each person's voice being heard. And that comes down to scale. If we were to form a government among our members here, we'd make a pretty liberal government indeed based on the fact that there are many more liberals in this group -- but even though I am not a typical conservative, my opinions and thoughts would have some influence because I was heard by the other 55 members of our group. At 700000 people per district, one voice is lost in the din.

When I say that the Federal Government is too large and too powerful I am complaining about just this. 300000000 people cannot be fairly represented by 437, nor justly governed. The system by which the Red States impose their will on the Blue States and the Blue States dictate terms tot he Red States based on the votes of Ohio and Florida has got to end. And the only way it CAN end is for the states to reassert the rigths granted to them in the constitution.