Tuesday, July 01, 2014

A plausible and I think important political reform

Most of my writing on actual policy issues is merely critical: let's not try anything too radical, at least all in one step (e.g., abolish the state or abolish capitalists), but every once in a while, I hit upon a positive suggestion that I think is worth forwarding. One from a while back was the idea that we might introduce some form of sortition in our political system as a very effective means of reducing the influence of money in our political life.

Here is another: We ought to try to make our political districts reflect real-world "localities," rather than simply dividing the population up into even-sized chunks, or worse yet, setting district boundaries based on partisan considerations.

Here is Bernard Bosanquet on the importance of "the neighborhood" in political life:

"The total disregard of an ethical purpose connecting us with the surroundings nearest to us in bodily presence, tends to deprive the general life of its vitality, its sensuous health, strength, and beauty... We may observe that in as far as electoral districts are treated as mere circumscriptions of such and such numbers of electors, the life of a neighbourhood is disregarded." -- The Philosophical Theory of the State, p. 309

Let me explain how I think this important insight could be taken into account in the actual political life of two areas with which I am fairly familiar: the Columbia Street waterfront neighborhood, and Park Slope, both in Brooklyn. These are each genuine neighborhoods, each with their own genuine local concerns. But Park Slope has roughly 20 times the population of the Columbia Street waterfront neighborhood. In a districting scheme that pays attention to only numbers of electors, this means that the Columbia Street waterfront district will inevitably be swept up in some larger entity and will not have its own unique concerns adequately represented in city government.

How could this be remedied? First of all, these entities could be recognized as true neighborhoods, and each be given their own local government. New York City could still establish, for instance, a budget for parks. But then those funds could be allocated to the neighborhood governments to do with as they want. We could still respect the principle of proportionate representation: the local Park Slope government, representing 20 times the number of people as the Columbia Street government, could be allocated 20 times the amount of park funds as the latter entity. But each local government could use those funds as it saw fit, thus maximizing the use of the knowledge of "the local circumstances of time and place."

Furthermore, at the level of borough or city electoral politics, it could be recognize that each of these neighborhoods deserve their own voice in broader governance. Thus, make the Columbia Street waterfront district its own electoral district in Brooklyn Borough governance. We still need not violate the principle of proportionate representation: let the Park Slope district elect 20 representatives, and Columbia Street elect one. At least then, the small district has its own voice in the larger legislative body.

The application of this principle to, say, the US House of Representatives is straightforward: rather than creating arbitrary district lines with the goal of cordoning off an equal number of people within each district, instead create districts based upon natural communities of interest, and then allocate a number of representatives to each district based upon its population.

1 comment:

  1. So basically instead of having disparate communities lumped together in the same units, have administrative districts drawn according to community patterns? Setting the number of representatives that each community gets after determining their boundaries sounds like it would work well.


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