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Maybe Matt Took Pottery At Harvard (Instead Of US History)


So Memorandum leads me to a post by my favorite whipping post, Matt Yglesias, in which matt is shocked - SHOCKED - to discover that a) Senators do not represent equal populations, and b) that the U.S. Senate presents a meaningful check to the U.S. President's power in setting domestic policy.

Now, while I'm always amused when he gets the vapors, I'm especially amused since I finished a history section with my 12 year old going over pretty much exactly this ground about 6 months ago. And he's at a free public middle school in an upper-middle class neighborhood, not an undergraduate at Harvard. James Joyner seems to have a similar reaction...

So if Matt would like to get some reading recommendations - like, say, Federalist #10 - I'd be happy to oblige. Or I could ask Littlest Guy to help him out...


Thank goodness for Yglesias. On a day when news out of Iran is hard to find a reliable fool is priceless. The wonderful thing about the Senate being a check on executive power is that it was designed to serve that purpose in times like the present. Three cheers for the founders.

I am not a regular reader of Yglesias.

But every time-- and I mean every time-- I am pointed to him or get bored and look in randomly, the boy is saying something dopey.

Maybe to balance things out we could provide larger states more members to the lower house based on proportion to the population. But i'm just thinking out loud.

That's just crazy talk, mark!


I think I understand what Yglesias is getting at. The problem is that there are too many senators who dress like sluts. In fact, they remind him of Sarah Palin. And when you think by lame association as Yglesias does, the conclusion is obvious. They just have to go.

In fact, they remind him of Sarah Palin.

I wish I had that problem. What a way to go through life, deluded but happy.

I wish I had that problem.

No, you don't. Because look who else reminds Yglesias of Sarah Palin:

Ahmadinejad is in most ways a classic right-winger, a demagogic nationalist and cultural conservative. In a manner somewhat reminiscent of a Sarah Palin, however, he clothes this right-wing politics in a language of class resentment ...

As if this were not bad enough, he goes on to find Ahmadinejad aesthetically superior, even kind of dreamy:

Unlike the populists of the American right, however, he merges this rhetoric with something resembling an actual populist economic agenda. The main element has been the use of oil revenue to expand the state sector of the economy in an attempt to distribute wealth more broadly ...

Yes, you are right. I admit my error. Evidently a degree in philosophy from Harvard is a bad sign. Magna cum Laude a disaster. I was a physicist, I knew that, honest.

"Evidently a degree in philosophy from Harvard is a bad sign."

Mel Brooks put it succinctly enough:

Comicus: "Stand-up philosopher. I coalesce the vapors of human experience into a viable and meaningful comprehension."

Dole Office Clerk: "Oh, a bullshit artist!"

It really is sad to see people hate political opponents so much that they lose common sense.

O.K. pretty entertaining and all, but I'm not sure which straw man we're knocking down here. Regarding the Great Compromise that gave us 2 Senators from each state, it's worth noting that the population was a) much more rural as a whole in 1787 and b) much more evenly balanced between the original colonies than is the case between the states today. Someone defended the Compromise by arguing for regional interests (even if there were 100 in Montana, they have an interest in protecting their resources . . .or something like that). However, courtesey of the conmmerce clause, that majority of senators representing an insubstantial minnority of voters gets to tell CA and NY how to regulate their air, how to build their buildings, and what birth control advice to dispense. Making some minor adjustments to the number of senators to account for the inappropriate shift in power that has occurred over the last 200 years would not offend the spirit of Federalist 10.


Roland, we could also amend the Constitution to specify that the commerce clause applies only to commerce, which would take care of all three of the cases you mention.

Regarding the Great Compromise that gave us 2 Senators from each state, it's worth noting that the population was a) much more rural as a whole in 1787 and b) much more evenly balanced between the original colonies than is the case between the states today.

Should we start adjusting the number of senators with every census, then? In which case we should just abolish the senate.

Let's just take Democratic constitutional theory straight to its logical conclusion: Abolish the senate, abolish the electoral college, abolish the states, merge everything into one mega-city ruled by a Democratic God-King, put everybody in one big union, and go fucking bankrupt.

Glen: Incrementalism is a virtue one should not depart from lightly. One certainly would not want to go from an ossified state of two Senators from every state straight to Rousseau's tyrannical will of the majority. Noting and ackonwledging that it's an issue is a start.


Roland, do you want to make a case for you claim that " b) much more evenly balanced between the original colonies than is the case between the states today. "

...that's not how I recall my Colonial history or economics.

New Hampshire on a par with Virginia? Rhode Island on a par with anyone?

What balance are you talking about, if I may?


I spent some time with Google and Nikles is not totally wrong, but his point is much less supported than I would have guessed. The least populous original state was, BTW, Delaware, not Rhode Island. The percentage of total population in the top half of the states is almost the same now as it was in 1780, between 80 and 85 percent. On the other hand, the ratio between most and least populous has gone from about 12:1 to 100:1. And the percentage of the bottom third of the states is lower now than in 1780. (1,2)

Marc and Andrew: The original 13 colonies were divided into three regions: (1) New England (NH, Mass-Maine,RI,Conn), (2) Middle (NY-VT, NJ, Pennsylvania,Delaware), and (3) South (Maryland, Virginia, NC, SC, and Georgia). Looking at the regions together, the chart posted by Andrew Lazarus indicates populations of 666,000 for New England colonies, 768,000 for the middle colonies, and 1289 for the Southern Colonies. However, a large number in the southern colonies were slaves. Recall that in the Great Compromise slaves counted for 2/3rds, and in any event they didn't get to vote. So . . . , it looks like voting power was pretty evenly distributed between the NE colonies, Middle Colonies, and Southern Colonies. In terms of Senators, New England had 8, the Middle Colonies had 8, and the Southern Colonies had 10. Again, pretty balanced.

As Andrew also points out, the least populous colony Delaware was 45,000; the most populous, Virginia, was 538,000. Again, if we discount slaves who had no vote, the discrepency between larges and smalles was a lot less than 10:1; Delaware (45k) vs. NY-Vt (256k) is probably a better gauge--this is a ratio of 5:1.

So, with the three regions almost evenly balanced in votes (disregarding the fact women didn't vote for present purposes) and the discrepancy between the most populous and least populous states being ~5:1 in voters, that seems much more evenly balanced than is the case today.

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