Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

No Matter How You Vote, The New Congress Won’t Represent You | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on November 6, 2018

For centuries, this myth of representation has served to quash opposition to government abuse, and to bolster claims that submission to government is “voluntary.” It’s time to abandon the myths.

…Two Ways Representation Doesn’t Work

Specifically, there are two ways that real-world political representation doesn’t fit the popular notions of how it all works.

First of all, even if a politician wanted to faithfully represent the people within his constituency, this would be impossible. It is impossible because the politicians can’t know the views of the whole population within his constituency. And it’s impossible because the more diverse a constituency becomes, the more unlikely it is that any legislation can be crafted to serve the interests of everyone.

Secondly, we must not fall into the trap of assuming that political representatives even try to respond to the policy desires of the district voters. The idea that government coercion is made legitimate through political representation leans heavily on the idea that politicians adhere to a delegate model of political representation in which they try to advance or protect the interests of their constituents. Unfortunately, this is a bad assumption.

The Impossibility of Representing “the People”

Casey illustrates that political representation does not work on a theoretical level. But let us be “practical” types for a few minutes and imagine that we could, in theory, put together a constituency of people with similar economic, cultural, and religious interests. We could then at least entertain the idea that it might be possible to represent this group. That is, with a constituency that is highly homogeneous, we could at least make a claim that we can understand and pursue the interests of the group.

But even if this is our standard do such legislators even exist?

Limiting  our analysis to the United States, we might find examples in some small, culturally homogeneous areas. This may be true at the level of a county commission or in the legislature of a small state like New Hampshire, where legislators represent only a few thousand people per district.

At the Congressional level, however, where a single district typically includes hundreds of thousands of people, claims of homogeneity are obviously nonsense. And, the larger the constituency, the worse it gets. As Frances Lee and Bruce Oppenheimer note in their book Sizing Up the Senate:

Large states … will encompass more political interests than small states, all other things being equal. … [A]lthough small population does not guarantee homogeneity, large population does result in heterogeneity.

It logically follows, then, that a more heterogeneous population is unlikely to have a political representative who actually shares many of their ideological views.

In his book Congressional Representation and Constituents, Brian Frederick concludes:

[A]n expanding constituency size is not an insubstantial contribution to House members’ level of ideological divergence from their constituents. … In smaller, ideologically cohesive constituencies it is easier for legislators to satisfy the policy desires of the citizenry. The growth in House district populations seems to have increased the distance between the representative and constituents of the area of policy representations.

Consequently, it’s not surprising that once we get to the level of the US Senate, representatives show virtually no congruence with the ideologies of the people they’re supposed to represent. In his empirical study of representation, political scientist Michael Barber writes:

[S]enators’ preferences diverge dramatically from the preference of the average voter in their state. The degree of divergence is nearly as large as if voters were randomly assigned to a senator…

While it’s certainly possible to defend legislators who vote according to personal principal on various grounds, we cannot also claim that this sort of governance is a “representative” system in line with popular notions of how political representation is equivalent to voter consent for various political agendas.

If elected officials are in the habit of voting to suit their own ideologies — even when it means overriding the ideological preferences of many voters — then its hard to see how we can also call this “representative” or a system that transmits “consent” from the voters to their political representatives.

And yet, in spite of all the evidence that elected officials neither know the preference of voters, nor vote in accordance with them, we continue to be told that governments must be respected and obeyed because they have legitimacy granted to them by the fact they are “democratic” and “representative.”

For centuries, this myth of representation has served to quash opposition to government abuse, and to bolster claims that submission to government is “voluntary.” It’s time to abandon the myths.

Be seeing you




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