Sunday, August 9, 2009

Big State, Small State

There is an opinion essay in the Washington Post on the topic of states with small populations and equal representation in the Senate. California has the largest population at 36.7 million people and Wyoming the smallest at 532,668 and yet they both have 2 senators. This is a legitimate issue that comes up now and again, and at some point will have to be addressed. But it's coming up now because apparently senators from small states are proving to be obstacles to Obama's agenda. No solutions are provided of course, but the underlying point is that small states should not have the power they do as a result of the current representational scheme. I agree, but I have three propositions to offer:

First, big states should be broken up into smaller states. People always point out the disproportionate representation of the small states in the Senate without ever acknowledging that the big states are too big. California should be broken up into three states, Texas maybe four, New York two, Florida two and so on. If some states can be too small, other states can be too big. If we are going to start rearranging representation in the Senate then lets go all the way. If we want equality in representation then we have to push the outliers towards the middle, whether small or big.

The piece also drops in a little something that I don't think the author really thought through:

And then there's the Senate's age-old distortion of distributive politics, in which goodies are doled out on anything but a per-capita basis. California, Illinois, New York and New Jersey are among the 10 states that get the least back per tax dollar sent to Washington; Alaska, the Dakotas and West Virginia are among those that get the most.

Let's apply that to individuals and private organizations: those who pay more in taxes should get more representation and influence. If it's right for states it's right for everybody, right? This means that rich people and corporations (the evil duo) should have more representation than middle class and poor citizens. Do you really want to go there?

The other thing that is missing here is competence. Yes, California with 36.7 million people is the most populous state, but so what? California is a disaster. Californians have completely misgoverned their state. Why on earth should we give them MORE influence at the federal level? Maybe representation should be based on demonstrated competence at governing regardless of population. That would at least give states an incentive to govern well. Their disastrous incompetence at governing should result in less influence not more.

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