Thursday, March 19, 2009

Americans Fed Up

Phil Orenstein of Democracy Project has blogged about Glenn Beck's new protest group. Phil writes:

>"When I stood up to speak, introducing myself as a Republican and promoting certain candidates for public office as potential standard bearers for disenfranchised American patriots like us, I could sense the overall disdain for politicians and political parties. I got the idea that they have no use for the Republican, Conservative or Libertarian parties or the corresponding labels that define their alleged principles. They see their elected officials and party leaders mostly as petty, self serving, unprincipled charlatans, except perhaps for Rep. Peter King. Nothing I said regarding translating their anger into action at the polls in November, made any sense to them."

The disenfranchisement of many Americans stems from the excessive size of the Amnerican federal republic. When the nation was founded it had 3 million people and the states had an average of 231,000 people each. In 1995 and 1996 231,000 foreign immigrants came to New York City alone. 231,000 is the population of Plano, Texas. Los Angeles and Chicago alone have populations of about 3 million.

The nation has become too large to govern. The problem is aggravated by the conflicting commitments to democracy and to the welfare state. Both are incompatible with ever-increasing size. Service delivery must respond to local needs so that nationalized programs like Social Security are too inflexible. Democracy requires that voters have some input into electoral processes. But the small effect of a single vote in a nation with 50 states and an average population of six million per state means that voters have no reason to believe that their voice counts. Size stifles voice. Thus, voting rates tend to be low and voting is dominated by people with something to gain from advocacy of state wealth transfers. American government therefore discourages creativity and progress by taxing production. The federal government has become a cancer on the promise of American life to provide increasing improvement in technology and standards of living. For the past 36 years, since 1971, real hourly wages have declined as government spending has mushroomed.

The problem is compounded by practical limits on the size of Congress. In a state with 231,000 people, each Senator could represent 115,000 people. In a state with six million people, each Senator reprsents three million. Each Senator today has the same representation ratio that the president had in 1790. The first House of Representatives had 59-64 members. That is one Congressman for every 48,000 citizens. The 110th Congress had 434 members. That is one Congressman for every 691,000 citizens. The ratio has increased fourteen fold.

The Federalists based much of their thinking on Montesquieu, who argued that democracy was possible only in a small republic. Madison argued otherwise in the Federalist Number 10, that the potential magnitude of the United States would support democracy because factions or special interests would counteract each other.

The Montesquieu effect is that an individual's voice has greater effect the smaller the republic becomes. The likelihood of political action increases with decreasing size because action has efficacy. Personal reputation, public respect, and economic gain are more likely to be achieved. However, crowd emotion threatens democracy. In larger republics, such as the United States in 1790, interest groups form and counteract each other. The nation is still small enough that individuals can influence interest groups. Large size makes communication and transportation difficult. There is less responsiveness due to the larger size than in the smaller democracy. But the large size has the advantage of permitting dissidents to exit and encourages more reasoned discussion by interests. The Madison effect outweighed the Montesquieu effect in 1790 because interest groups can correspond to a legitimate range of public needs.

However, there is no reason to believe that this will be so indefinitely, that size can increase infinitely and the Madison effect will continue to outweigh the Montesquieu effect. It is quite likely that the Montesquieu effect will begin to outweigh the Madison effect when interest groups are too large to motivate individuals to participate or skewness in benefits from organization become marked.

Mancur Olson has outlined this process. When the benefits from organization outweigh the organizational costs to each individual, then organization is likely. Small groups with large benefits tend to be better at organizing. They contribute to politicians and have the most access. Politics increasingly becomes a matter of economic opportunism. Specific financial arrangements that depend on special interest organization, for example the monetary creation powers of the Federal Reserve Bank, governmental privileges of health care providers, laws protecting trial attorneys and the like delineate the contours of power. General public concerns become mired in cross conflict because reward structures are unclear. Interests such as Wall Street arrange $2.5 trillion subsidies while defense, government operations, education, and other governmental responsibilities are botched or co opted by specific interests. Thus, there is a tipping point where the Montesquieu effect outweighs the Madison effect. This began to occur a century or so ago. In 1884 the Mugwumps were still willing to organize a national outcry against supposed corruption of a presidential candidate, James G. Blaine. In 2008, corruption by congressmen occurs with impunity.

There are other factors that modify size effects, specifically the development of technology. It would seem that centralized media changed the Montesquieu effect. This may be why as America grew to large population in the 19th century the republic was able to function. Yellow journalism bound the nation together. This was reinforced by radio, then television. Centralized media made the nation smaller so that its large scale was less of an impediment. The effect of the corrupting influence from centralized economic actors, railroads and other large corporations, led to a Madisonian response: reforms proposed by the Mugwumps, the Progressives and the Roosevelt New Deal. But such reforms were ineffective. They assumed away the scale and rationality problems that confront large organizations. This was because the idea of cognitive limits on management was unknown. The Progressives, moreover, chiefly focused on state reform. By the 1930s, naivete about the management possibilities of large scale had escalated even business enterprise had arrived at decentralizing responses to limits on the ability to manage large organizations. The Roosevelt New Dealers claimed that they could surmount scale impediments to competent management that had stymied America's best managers.

The centralizing trend of the federal government continued unabated. There are numerous reasons why this trend would result in destructive, suboptimal outcomes. The interest group problem becomes exacerbated. Competent execution of programs is difficult. One program after the other has either failed to be discarded; has failed to respond to public needs; has responded instead to particular needs of special interests; and/or has been mismanaged.

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