Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Odds and Ends of Democratic Deficiences

Matt has cute citations of Constitutional problems today. First, angst over the lack of DC representation now that Congress is considering renaming 16th Ave to Ronald Reagan Ave.

Next, there’s pondering why do we have an election day on a weekday that most people don’t get off. I personally believe universal voting is the ultimate solution, as the government should represent the preferences of all of its citizens, not any specific subset of its citizens. Australia and other democracies has shown that it leads neither to totalitarianism, or even more welfare. Which reminds me that any conventional wisdom about ‘making turnout “easier” for casual voters benefits Democrats’ has no scientific backing, and is not even accepted among most political workers. Making turnout easier in a Democratic district or union benefits Democrats yes, but overall there are just as many casual Republicans (such as rural farmers who live 10 miles from the nearest polling place) who are more likely to vote when things get easier.

Before I (and our capricious media) forget, there’s the huge Transportation Bill. Go look at some of the details. It’s easy to get the impression that this is a ton of pork spread around by a greedy Congress. But it’s a ton of pork in a few very specific states, paid to specific Congressmen needed to get the bill through. Alaska, Tennessee, North Carolina, etc. If the Democrats were in power, I’m sure they’d do the same pork-filled things (although considering that it’s the Senate, at the very least I’d rather $250 million go to build a random bridge in New York or California, than Alaska). The point being, our insecure system has lots of choke points for malicious actors to get a lot of funding and employment programs to their constituents (that, and any time a Republican pundit claims they hate state welfare, to remember how much actual Republican politicians are fine using money for make-work jobs to get elected).

EconLog has a defense of Constitutions that says they have their greatest effect on policy by shaping the norms of a culture. I agree that this is a strong effect. Our country generally agrees very strongly with every individual having “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Oh wait, that’s the Declaration of Independence, which has no legal binding. It’s really rather easy to make up norms the populace wants to follow, without imposing huge legal inefficiencies on the government. Not to mention, if “encouraging certain beliefs” is the goal of our Constitution, then I’m sure we can do better than the current set up.

I do like how EconLog casually starts with “Many economists hold the view that constitutions don't affect policy.” I’ve seen this economics and political science before, where academic accept it as a given these general beliefs that the public and politicians cannot wrap their mind around. To a rigorous, skeptical mind it’s clear that our Constitution won’t stop politicians from allocating money or power however they wish. But to people who don’t think about these issues except around the dinner table, no matter how well educated they are, the beliefs they are inculcated with in K-12, are far stronger.


At 9:58 AM, Anonymous little_e- said...

i think you are very right that it's the norms of life, liberty and happiness we've been inculcated with, not the constitution. if you went and quized people on random bits of the constitution, they'd fail miserably. hell, if you even asked them if they'd uphold various rights, (not mentioning that they were rights, of course) a great many people would respond that no, those rights shouldn't be guranteed. (i had an article about that somewhere around here...)

and, hell, as you would no doubt be quick to point out, countries like britain which lack constitutions seem to have inclucated similar notions in their populace.

i find the disjoint between what the law *is* and what people *think* it is rather odd. it's like in that case recently, when the court ruled that the police don't have to enforce restraining orders. yes, they're ordered by the court, but the police can do whatever the fuck they want with them and you can't sue if your kids end up dead.

there's this notion that a restraining order means the gov't will prevent a person from getting near you, and this notion that 'life liberty and happiness (or property)' means that the gov't will protect such things. neither is true.


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