Thursday, February 12, 2004

A Republican Congress and President offer us an expanding welfare state financed by large deficits. Ideology is trumped by electoral politics. Public Choice economics offers the explanation that affluence is the problem. As the opportunity cost of serious political participation increases, more people choose "rational ignorance". (Yes, voter participation increases with income and education but all strata participate less now than in the past.) Most people either do not vote or they participate via a paper-thin level of interest. This is why appearances, hairdos, images and (pricey) twenty-second TV spots matter so much. The consequence of low levels of participation is that interest groups win. The shorthand way to say it is that rich societies choose to afford bad government.

There is, seemingly, no way out. The argument suggests that reform via spending and taxation caps or super-majority voting requirements is unlikely.

Yet, the courts could be helpful. Political gerrymandering is now a science. Data, hardware and software are better than ever. Within the last ten years, the proportion of incumbents re-elected in the U.S. House of Representatives has risen from 92% to 98%. It cannot go much higher. This means that in almost all Congressional (and who knows how many other) districts, large numbers of voters and would-be voters are disenfranchised. In most cases, they sense it or know it.

If we get lucky, the judges and justices may spot a Constitutional problem here. This one would not require a journey of discovery.