Monday, May 7, 2012

A US State as a Representative Body

Once upon a time the United States was just a bunch of colonies that, thanks to a combination of geography and France, broke away from England.  They were small in population, only about 2.4 million in all.  That's smaller than many states these days.  Smaller than cities.  New York City has about 8.4 million people.  Already that makes a single city larger than the entire original colonies.  On top of that, there are people in New York who don't live in the city, for a total of almost 19.5 million.
This puts the average American revolutionary at about 185 thousand people per representative unit.  Obviously a bit removed from your small town.  But let's compare to the modern New York state with 19.5 million, or 19,500 thousand people per representative unit.  The representative nature of the state is a bit diluted.  Wyoming, not a very populous state, is still at almost 570 thousand per representative unit.

Think about this next time someone speaks about states' rights.  Is giving power to the states actually giving it to The People, or is it merely shifting it to a different political arena?  Should states get to decide human rights?  Imagine if tomorrow you woke up and you were a second-class citizen.  If the federal government did it you can bet you'd find a lot of people to join you and a couple centuries of court decisions as ammunition.  Well, maybe only one, or a few decades, start with Brown v. Board and work your way up from there.  States have a long, proud history of oppression.  And that's exactly the problem, the myth that states are somehow a representative unit, when a single state is less representative than a pure federal system would have been in 1776 (which obviously isn't when the Constitution was ratified).

The solution isn't breaking apart the level of representation further.  It never was.  Instead, look at actual policy.  Ask if it improves your life or makes it worse.  Ask what precedent it sets and how that can be managed.  A great rule from Washington is better than a terrible rule from the city council.  One of those places has the funding to get the information needed to make good policy.

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