Monday, January 15, 2007

Pg. 69: "The Concept of Constituency"

Andrew Rehfeld, an assistant professor in the department of political science and a fellow in the Center for Political Economy at Washington University in St. Louis, is the author of The Concept of Constituency: Political Representation, Democratic Legitimacy, and Institutional Design.

He put the book to the "page 69 test" and came up with the following:
The Concept of Constituency questions our unthinking reliance on territorial electoral constituencies to structure political representation. For example, in the US citizens are represented in the legislature based on where they live. I argue that not only is this an antiquated institution, it regularly skews law and policy against the public good in service to local partial interests. As an alternative I argue we should assign citizens of large nations into random groups each of which would have a single representative. In the US, this would mean creating 435 electoral groups each of which looked like the nation they collectively represented. After a period of transition, the result would be a move towards moderate centrism and the promotion of the public good.

The book is divided into three parts that treat the conceptual, historical and normative feature of electoral constituencies. The first part is a comparative analytical treatment of the way that constituencies have been defined through history—whether by group rights, political party, territorially, and through self identification.

Page 69 is the first page of the second section, a historical account of how territorial constituencies came to be used in the United States.

"Why were modern representation institutions in England and America organized around territorial constituencies?… Before the modern institutions of representative government were formed, the basis of life was decidedly local small and static. Geographic and social mobility were not the norm—indeed there were significant impediments to each—and as such it was difficulty to attach strong sentiments to things not locally based. Even as late as the seventeenth century, communities sent delegates to English parliament because it was by local communities that individuals.”

From the moment the US government was founded, however, this local basis of representation vanished. After 1789 each Congressional district was over 10 times as large as colonial and state legislative districts. Territorial constituencies for national representation never represented local communities of interest.

The final third of the book takes up contemporary problems and will be of most interest to general readers. First I argue that the notion that “all politics is local” is a fiction. Politics happens to be local only because we’ve created massive incentives for national politicians to care about local issues because they elect groups that are territorially defined. If we defined districts by profession, all politics would be “vocational.”

Territorial districting has also lead to the indefensible practice of Gerrymandering in which representatives get to craft electoral districts to maximize their own prospects of reelections. Even when these are undertaken for purportedly noble reasons—to give minorities like African American a “voice”—they can only succeed by creating even “whiter” districts in which majority representatives have less incentives to listen to the concerns of blacks (no longer in their districts). What emerges is a “paradox of representation” (named after a book by David Lublin): legislatures with more black representatives produce “whiter” legislation because the representatives from those “whiter” districts have fewer incentives to listen to the louder minority voice within the legislature. The solution, I argue, is to design institutions that foster “voice without earplugs.”

Readers will find the alternative I propose in the last chapter of the book the most fun: to create randomized, permanent, national electoral districts. Moderation would be the only winning strategy for every candidate for office. There is a strong normative position I argue for in favor of centrism: we should design our political institutions to reflect general median views in the polity, and leave it to leadership of various sorts to help move underlying opinion in different ways.
Thanks to Andrew for the input.

Read an excerpt from The Concept of Constituency.

Among the praise for the book:
"Rehfeld presents a surprisingly powerful argument for breaking the power of gerrymandering.... [P]eople ought to be thinking about both his proposal and his arguments about constituency more generally in trying to understand what to do about the American gerrymandering mess."
--Jacob T. Levy

"In the current climate of complete and utter confusion, even despair, concerning the direction of redistricting practices, Rehfeld's project is important, laudable, and most welcome. His book is a much-needed attempt to develop a stock of concepts and a vocabulary sufficient to permit reasoned argument and justification in subdividing an electorate into constituencies, and he shows us both by argument and by example how to demand sound justifications for any use of territory as the basis for election districts... The book is written with exceptional clarity, engagingly advances a rich argument, and performs a valuable service by challenging us to pay careful attention to positions and arguments that, as Rehfeld persuasively shows, have not been subjected to adequate scrutiny."
--James A. Gardner, Election Law Journal
Previous "page 69 tests:"
Laura Wiess, Such a Pretty Girl
Jeremy Blachman, Anonymous Lawyer
Andrew Pyper, The Wildfire Season
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Meghan Daum, The Quality of Life Report
Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man
Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost
Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue