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October 09, 2006


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the idiot

Is this the first in a series?

I have read and enjoyed GLFB almost since its inception, but I am having a hard time making heads or tails of this post.

The fundamental question on the reauthorization of the Ryan White Act is whether the formula should be changed to reflect demographic trends, that is, by sending more money to states mostly in the South where growth is fastest at the expense of traditional recipients, or remain the same, concentrating allocations where per-capita rates are highest.

Now this maps on to the bicameral divide Westmoreland highlights, which is to be expected.

Is he saying that the question of whether the utility of highly regionally inconsistent maximally efficient funding is greater than that of regionally consistent submaximally efficient funding is properly avoidable under a different situation? I don't have the relevant expertise, nor access to those with it, to answer the question, but is Westmoreland suggesting that the Framers would have been better to obviate the debate of such a question?

His use of the term "punted" is unfortunate and obfuscatory. Surely the decision to require a structural balancing test between populationally- and geographically-dominant ideals was not a punt, but rather a requirement that the law of land be both at least not harmful to all the land, and supported by a majority of voters in the land.

The focus on the formulation of the Great Compromise is distracting from the central issue of system-level behavior. Any argument as to the reasonings of the Framers in the construction of the Constitution is an exercise in an intentionalist fallacy. That the framers desired action x to have result y, even if that was their sole desire, fails to rule out that the primary result, as applied, of action x is something else entirely.

The problem isn't that the Framers were going for the wrong thing with the Great Compromise, but rather that they failed to anticipate partisan partitioning of power within their legislative framework. For almost all its history, if not all, the Senate has performed precisely the role implicitly contemplated by the Constitution: structurally requiring that all legislative articles proposed at the very least do not harm underrepresented demographics (States are strawmen in this argument. Underrepresented demographics in proportional government are by their nature statistically most likely to appear both .a. specific to a region, and .b. in regions with the lowest density of representation). Prior to the passage of the 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th Amendments, as well as the Civil and Voter's Rights Acts certain demographics remained nonetheless underrepresented, but that is a problem that has been bracketed by the passage of those provisions.

The House on the other hand, has been turned by the advent of political parties into a de facto parliament, and almost immediately after the initial appearance of partisanship there, it failed to efficiently perform its function of insuring regionally-based majoritarian support.

The House's function in a nonpartisan system is to make impossible minoritarian oligarchies like the one that prevailed in Germany until World War I. The Senate's function is to make impossible majoritarian oligarchies like the one that lost to Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. The Senate managed to, in relevant part, survive the partisan divide that followed the first Presidential election, and perform its systemic function at near-perfect efficiency. The House did not fare similarly, and its systemic function was in large measure crippled. It was this event that created the current legislative minoritarian imbalance, not jockeying in the Constitutional Convention.

There seem to be two solutions to this. One is the parliamentarization of the Senate, an action that seems to have started, dating to around 1995, but is nowhere near complete. This would cripple the Constitutionally-envisioned purpose of the Senate on scale of the crippling of the House's functionality. This has the advantage of being spectacularly easy. It's one nuclear filibuster away. Regionally-based minoritarian structures would be quickly discarded as impediments to pure majoritarian will. Civil rights bills would always pass, as would flag-burning amendments. The second solution would be structural disincentivizations to partisanship in the House, but what structure these would take is unclear, as is how they would be implemented. The second solution also has the problem of running counter to decades-long historical trends in national politics.

No matter what needs to be done, it is unclear what Westmoreland's purpose is in trying to systemically prevent the consideration of whether imperfectly covering unaccounted-for AIDS cases at the expense of solid coverage of already-acknowledged cases is a better allocation of scare resources than continuation of solid coverage of only already-acknowledged cases. That seems to be a question that should at least be permitted to be raised in a government of all the people, whatever the answer.

Again, I apologize if this is the first in a series, and it turns out I'm jumping the caravan before it gets under way.

(Cross posted at A Village Idiot)

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