Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Some Long Reads

I've been saving up some longer pieces from other sources that are worth a long read. Get some coffee.

Academic/pundit Larry Sabato is arguing for a larger House of Representatives:
When Congress last increased the size of Congress in 1912 (setting aside temporary expansions for the admission of states), each representative had just over 200,000 constituents.

Today a representative answers to over 700,000 constituents, well over 10 times the number of constituents deemed appropriate by the First Congress. While it seems unwise to adhere to the strict letter of Article the First, the time has likely come to abide by its spirit and increase the size the House.

The United States is supposed to be the world’s premier representative democracy, yet India’s Lok Sabha is the only lower chamber on the globe where representatives have more constituents. Indeed, Pakistan’s National Assembly and Indonesia’s People’s Representative Council are the only other lower chambers with a population-per-seat ratio exceeding even 400,000.

Even adopting the so-called “Wyoming Rule,” which would set the size of a Congressional district at the population of the smallest state, would result in a House of only 547 members, tying for the 13th largest in the world. This would still decrease the number of constituents per district by 20%, and would help minimize the distortions from malapportionment. 
The literature - the literature? am I back in grad school? - anyway, folks talk about a 
"Cube root rule" that an optimal legislative body size is the cube root of the population. Based on the 2013 census estimate of 316148990 that gives us a US House size rounded to 681, and an average congressional district of 464,242. That's roughly where the US was after the 1960 census. 

A lot has changed since 1960. In the internet era it's harder to say one thing in front of one audience and another thing elsewhere. That's let to the decline of what they call
dog whistle politics:

In case you're unfamiliar with the term "dog-whistle politics," it gained wide currency during the George W. Bush administration, when liberal bloggers began noticing the way Republicans skillfully crafted appeals that were meant to only be understood by the party's base, while the rest of the electorate took no notice (Wikipedia dates the term as far back as the 1980s, but it was in the Bush years it came into common use in this country).

One prime example came during a 2004 debate, when in answering a question about what sorts of Supreme Court justices he would appoint, Bush dropped in what sounded to most viewers like a non sequitur about the 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery. To Christian conservatives, however, Bush's meaning was clear: without ever mentioning abortion, he was telling them he would appoint justices who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. To know that, you'd have to know that anti-abortion activists often compare Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott. If you didn't know that, the message was as inaudible as a dog whistle.

To succeed, though, the dog whistle must have two characteristics. First, only your people are supposed to understand the hidden meaning, and that's no longer possible, since there are armies of writers and analysts ready and able to translate anything you say, then feed it back to reporters so it can get discussed again and again. Second, the surface message has to itself be pleasing, or at least innocuous, to the larger audience. And talking about Monica Lewinsky as a way to indict Hillary Clinton is anything but.

Also changed since 1960: the party alignment of the South. South Carolina's The State has an excellent history of the rise of the South Carolina GOP, as a microcosm of the whole region.

And last, 21 things they never tell you about poor countries:
"Economists start from the assumption that humans are individualistic, utility-maximising and strictly rational in a narrow sense. Actually many people are communitarian, social, non-calculating, uncertain about the future and often act according to sentiment or whim. Mainstream economics allows no theory of power or politics and can’t see the world economy as a system."

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