The Projection Racket, Pt. 2

This is Part 2 of The Projection Racket, a series of notes detailing the civic arguments underlying
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  1. So without having finished reading this whole thing (I took a break to leave this comment, because I suppose I’m a narcissist with a short attention span), I want to point out something that popped in my head after reading first chunk of the essay, the part we’ll call “Yay voting!”.

    People–for reasons that are beyond my understanding–seem to think that we live in a parliamentary system. Vote for a party, get the policy changes that said party is promising. Easy, right? Except that’s not how any of this works. Not even remotely close. President Obama, a man who everyone would pretty much agree was the most liberal president in the modern era, still had ICE detention camps, still deported illegal aliens, didn’t raise taxes on the top income bracket to 50%, didn’t ban fracking, the list goes on and on. A whole lot of progressives were disappointed by his presidency because they thought–again, unsure why–that his election meant that they could have everything they wanted. So now every election is going to be like this. Nobody is enthusiastic about Joe Biden. But he’s a vessel for a party, and the belief is that with him you’ll get a Green New Deal, and a Warren style wealth tax, and and and. Reality will be a harsh mistress for the folks who mistake our system for one more akin to the UK. On the right there are other problems, but they vary from this particular kind of delusion. Or at least they used to. Perhaps the honest Trump voters would, in their more reflective moments* admit that they’re bummed that they didn’t get a wall. But irrespective of party affiliation, the misunderstanding exists and it is a quietly more dangerous force than anyone is willing to acknowledge. It leads to disappointment at the grass roots level, which then leads to anger, which then leads to figures like Trump and Bernie, both of whom attempted to hijack existing party structures in order to gain power. Now that the template exists it’s hard to see how this realignment is undone. Younger voters have been promised quite a bit, and they want it come Hell or high water. They’ve been trained to believe that the simple act of voting will wipe out their student debt and end climate change. When they see their candidate/party win and a year later they’re still cutting checks to Navient how do you think they’re going to feel? Pretty soon President Biden will look a lot like he isn’t in fact a Scotsman at all. Danger ahead, folks.

    *A blessed Yom Kippur to any of you who are observing today. May your name and the names of your families be written in the Book of Life for another year.

  2. Avatar for O.P.A O.P.A says:

    I’m skeptical that expanding the size of the House would be effective. A recent Economist article (The XXL Bundestag) highlighted the problems this is causing in Germany.

    Because of their semi-proportional representation and growing small parties, the number of representatives has increased to the point where governing is becoming unwieldy. There are some early stage plans to restructure.

    More generally: how big can a body become before it can no longer form consensus. Jefferson stressed the need for representation beyond the scope of a town. 6,000+ representatives seems to me that it would require a different structure.

    Personally, I’d rather prefer attempts to pull power back to the local level (county, if not neighborhood), to allow for more accountability and transparency.

    All that said, I still support your policy recommendation. Although it may produce an untenable House structure, it would force a redesign of our system, and that is of course the whole point. And like you say, the CAA has already passed congress, so politically is more feasible.

    Excellent articulation of the problems, and a decent prescription to boot! Thank you for the detailed and thoughtful piece.

  3. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Thanks, O.P.A! Really appreciate you reading and giving it some thought. Two points:

    1. Completely agree with the point about local and personal response to move items out of the scope of what others can influence. That's a lot of what we write about, so, to be clear, this is intended to be the "other half"
    2. I'm familiar with Germany's example, which is a good one. The problems are part of what I think we *want* from this. I think it is a jarring, necessary disruption to entrenched interests that is among the few things in our power to achieve without requiring those interests to vote themselves out.
  4. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Yep. Good thoughts. I think that the narrative of “what a Democrat is” or “what a Republican is” are powerful parts of the “yay, voting!” meme. I think that the challenging part of the problem described in the piece is that we want to think of “extreme” in terms of polarization as “extreme” in terms of a left-right axis, when this isn’t really the case. When we understand the “extremes” of our particular form of polarization as the identification of as many points of difference in the narratives of the two parties as possible, we see why it is just as often the TRUE extremes of libertarians or theocrats or hardcore socialists or single-issue-environmentalists, for example, that are left out in the cold by this system as centrists.

    That is part of why I think that this approach has more legs than most give it credit for. The more we think of the Widening Gyre as cutting off oxygen NOT ONLY to a political center but to strongly held views that are off-modal in multiple dimensions, the more we understand the scope of the erosion in our political self-determination, and how many people of very different stripes it affects.

    I am hopeful that emotional response you correctly describe can be marshaled to make the vote a more effective mechanism more directly, but in the end, hope tends to spring eternal. We have a seemingly inexhaustible capacity to believe that the impediments that kept the changes from happening were external in nature, and not the fact that our guy was part of the same structure as everyone else.

  5. Re: #2. 100% agree. Change is the point. Any redesign of the rules that breaks up ossified institutions and forces them to re-optimize is going to at least temporarily force them to attend to peoples’ needs, at least before they figure out how to game it again.

  6. Your amazing analysis of FPTP and WTA gradually producing an entrenched two-party system and thereafter a Widening Gyre has been most enlightening. It’s almost like the successive ratios of any Fibonacci series inevitably converging on phi. If we accept that voting is not just the opiate of the masses, and that voting and representation should be (I think that’s what you’re saying) adjusted these days, why not give every legitimate voter at least one vote and those that pay taxes or contributions to the purse additional votes according to one-extra-vote/$100? This is much more direct than is current and likely more transparent, assuming that extra votes are discoverable.

  7. Avatar for olowe olowe says:

    Thanks for this Rusty, especially for the graphics. Exactly what I was trying to picture in my mind during ET Live! …

    Gun jumping to the next installment, would you include a section on real estate taxation? The NYT Trump tax expose could be a great catalyst for reform (or spark to BITFD if you will). I’m not asking about Ivanka’s consulting income or NYT vendetta or other partisan BS. The reason for my request is I suspect that we may have a window of opportunity to get the people riled up over a topic that would be ignored at any other moment.

    Because it’s Trump vs. NYT, will more eyeballs consume more info about tax policy than ever before? What a great opportunity to review the litany of subsidies afforded asset owners (landlords) at the expense of others! And again thanks to POTUS versus NYT, perhaps more people will make the effort to comprehend the ways, means and extent of such favoritism and BITFD?!

  8. Thanks again for this series. Some random thoughts.

    1. I’m sure barbecues and Thanksgiving are different now. I wonder if wedding planners are now suggesting red and blue table seating charts? Center, where art thou?
    2. I’d like to see elected officials in Nascar designed uniforms during work hours. That way we can see who sponsors them on a day to day basis It’s perfect donor transparency. Center, where art thou?
    3. How did we get here? Gradually, then suddenly? Flash mobbing the House sounds about right. Center, where art thou?
  9. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Right? Increasingly I think we’d need to expand the jumpsuit patches from corporate logos to the seals of various foreign governments.

    And yes, I think gradually and then suddenly is right, as it usually is. The competition game defections by both parties were pre-Trump, but they had the more gradual feel. Left packing universities and media outlets for years, among many other things. Right gerrymandering districts, injecting conservative politics into most protestant churches and going nuclear on justices, among many other things. Ben and I disagree slightly on this, but I see Trumpism as more of a catalyst from the gradually to suddenly than as the primary source.

  10. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    I’m all for transparency, and I appreciate the underlying point that influence peddling for cash is sort of already happening. But this is one of those cases where I still think I’ll take sort of over literally. :slight_smile: I think we can make the vote less of a pure feel-good exercise by removing as many structural abstractions in the electoral system as possible. After that, I do think that the next best answer is moving the primary nexus of government to a more local level, but that’s a policy argument to be had among citizens (with one vote each, I think).

  11. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    We do plan to have an installment focused on the tax code. We haven’t decided how deep we’re going to go - and it’s a real rabbit hole, if you let it become one - but you’re absolutely right that this is a pretty visible time to be talking about it. Real estate and partnership tax law has got to have some pride of place, I think.

  12. Finally had the time to read through the rest and fully digest it. It’s absolutely gutting to see on paper (er, screen) the reality before us. Brilliant work, Rusty.

  13. What a thought provoking piece Rusty. That’s my post. For now as I digest…

  14. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    I’m plenty grateful simply for your commitment to reading it!

  15. Very interesting stuff, Rusty, thanks for the essay. You spend a lot of time emphasizing how internally stable the widening gyre process is. Do you know of historical examples where a large, structurally diverse group of people have been able to escape the widening gyre and rebuild cooperation-based governance without some more or less bloody catharsis? I’m having a tough time imagining any non-violent solution that doesn’t involve widespread secession movements, which seems a little outside the Overton window for ET thus far.

  16. Avatar for FFWA FFWA says:

    I love it. Let’s pass this thing! How do we start publicizing this amendment? I don’t think people have heard of this, and I think the disgust is high enough that a surprisingly large number would support.

  17. A superb, thought-provoking essay, Rusty. Thank you for writing it. One question keeps nagging at me. How does one balance myriad parties/interest groups and getting things done? Are Italy’s coalition politics better than made-in-America political dysfunction?

  18. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    I dunno, maybe the Glorious Revolution of 1688? More realistically, I think there’s a lot to learn from Poland and the Solidarity movement of the 1980s. That’s where I’m focusing a lot of my attention right now.

  19. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    This was my initial pushback against Rusty’s proposal to increase the House size to 6,000+ reps … that in fact it would strengthen party and institutional influence over legislation, as the logistical and informational barriers to getting anything done would be overwhelming. But as I’ve thought about it, I’ve come around to believing that this is the necessary first step in forming NEW parties that would re-center the American political process. Crucial to that, of course, is what Rusty says about the first vote of the reconstituted House … eliminate FPTP and WTA elections in favor of some form of proportional representation.

  20. Thanks for the pointer, I’ll have to read up on the Solidarity movement. My only exposure to the Glorious Revolution was its fictional depiction in Neal Stephenson’s (fantastic) “The System of the World” series, but it seemed like it was a legal coup attempt by one set of largely unsupported elites against another set that was widely supported by the general population, and the schism didn’t really extend below the upper class.

  21. Totally agree with the representation issue. I did not know at all about the Congressional Apportionment Amendment… and I feel pretty stupid about it considering I’ve argued amongst my political friends for years that representation needs to scale with population growth.
    As far as writing, I think you kind of buried the lead. As screwed up as our country is, when you or someone else has a solution please start with that! I’ve had to pause reading this article 5 times today between meetings, phone, and zoom calls today. I hope the pack is hard core enough to wade through the preamble because you have serious meat on the bone at the end of this article.

  22. But, But, But…Poland didn’t have more guns than people and the ammo and what seems the increasing willingness to use it, encouraged in no small part by the Grifter-in-Chief

  23. This is one of my favorite notes ever written on the site. After reading this note and agreeing that the benefits of increasing the number of people in Congress outweighs the risks, I had become somewhat of a missionary of the CAA. However, in researching it further, I am afraid it is not as much of a solution as first presented.
    The final wording of the CAA seems not to support the outcome presented and that I agree with, increasing the size of the House. As a literalist in my constitutional leanings, the substitution of the word “more” for “less” in the last section of the final approved amendment appears to change the meaning. While the first two sections of the amendment institute a proportional floor based on US population, the last section, due to the previously mentioned word change, appears to create a fixed floor of representation while creating a proportional ceiling based on US population.
    I believe the below website/pdf does a much more in depth job of outlining the error and issue than my summary above.

    If this is the correct interpretation, then it would appear the CAA might not be as helpful as presented. If so, is there another road to take? I must admit I was drawn to this solution in part because of the feasibility of its passage in comparison to a brand new amendment but it would appear with the issues of the final wording that a new amendment would indeed be needed and I do not see that as politically feasible.
    Maybe you subscribe to a different interpretation of the amendment in which case I would love to hear it as I would love some hope/follow up on this topic as I am currently stymied.
    For now, as a resident of the great state of California, I have turned my attention to our state’s constitutional cap on the number of members of our state legislature and given our unique culture of propositions, feel like there is a possible way forward to address this issue of better representation at a state level.

  24. Hi John! It’s a long-standing well-known feature of this amendment, and a non-issue in my judgment as a fellow fan of plain-reading of the understanding of words when they were written into our constitution. As a compatriot in this fight Lyman Stone has pointed out previously, the initial record and associated records/references show that the correct version of this language, that is, the text that was voted on in the US Congress, was the version with the word “less.” The version with the clerical error was indeed sent to states for voting, but the state legislatures do not vote to affirm the text they were sent. They vote to affirm whatever it was that Congress approved. And the Congress voted on and approved “less”.

    As it happens, I’ve become more skeptical in the near term as well, not because of this but because I think that the major political parties have likewise identified the extent to which their state party infrastructures were vulnerable to revolt against national party identity strategies and leadership. Strategies which leaned on leveraging historically more-independent-of-national-party-politics-than-usual state legislatures in states like Texas to get this going are a lot tougher in this environment. In other words, now that Trump is more an idea than a person for the GOP, I think it’s a lot harder than it was to ask any faction of the party to commit to something like this that would weaken things nationally.

    But not impossible.

  25. The distinction between voting to affirm what Congress approved vs what Congress sent is one that I had not seen in my research so that is good to know and does solve this quandary for me - Thank you!
    The landscape of state parties becoming more behold to the national party and less likely to veer off course from messaging is one that puts a damper on things.
    It is really difficult to see what is happening in states like AZ with their state elected officials running roughshod over fellow party members for not falling in and joining ranks on the national narrative of Trump’s stolen election.

  26. In terms of actually trying to get the CAA passed, I think the big question is: Which state do we start with?
    With the pack spanning multiple regions, states and countries, the first obvious (and decentralized) answer is to lift where you stand and focus on the state (or country) you live in.
    And yet in reviewing it further, it becomes more complicated than that. What about the individuals living in the 13 states that have already ratified the CAA? What about those of us in states that are so huge (CA, TX to start with) that we don’t really have a hope of being the launchpads?
    Based on combined history and geography of the US, most of the states that have already ratified the CAA are part of the original 13 states along the East Coast. And yet there are a few states in the original 13 that haven’t ratified it yet. Massachusetts, Delaware and Connecticut for the original 13 and then Maine to round out the New England/upper East Coast region. Of the small states mentioned above, it would seem that maybe CT would be the logical choice to start as that is where a decent pack membership is found (along with the two co-founders of Epsilon Theory :slight_smile: ).
    But while there might be greater connection to CT it is a small state and the incentive for increasing the House of Representatives could be lacking amongst the population and state legislature.
    This brings us to the bigger states:
    CA, TX, FL, NY, PA, IL, OH, GA, NC, MI.
    Of the top ten largest states, 3 of them have already ratified (NY, PA, NC). I believe that CA and TX are too large (given current manpower/interest) to navigate a path to ratification as the first states. The remaining largest states may have similar issues as CA and TX.
    Let’s shift now to public political sentiment. Should the focus be placed on democratic leaning states since they would find it more advantageous to ratify the CAA due to their supposed advantage from the increased numbers? This strategy might even benefit from the local politics has become nationalized trend. Or would this politicize the issue and make it difficult to ultimately get ratified as there would not be enough “Democratic” large states to ratify it alone?
    Taking all of these things into consideration, I think it might be more helpful to focus on a medium sized purple state. My list would include Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nevada. Larger sized purple states would be Georgia and Arizona.
    Of course, finding the best demographically potential state for being first means nothing without the boots on ground, local connections and local politics needed to make change occur. Which brings us back to lift where you stand and potentially CT.

  27. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Great question!

    In my opinion, Connecticut is first. That’s partly for the reasons you mention (i.e. it’s where we are, lots of members here, smaller state), but also because you can make the argument that one of the two legislative bodies here already approved it for ratification. That is, you might only have to get it done in the lower house. More importantly, I think that curiosity itself - and the fact that it derailed the amendment in the first place - would make a CT effort an immediate publicity opportunity with the potential to capture imaginations.

    From there I think you’d want to capture momentum elsewhere in the country, although time is largely on your side. A year ago I’d have thought Texas, which, despite its size and conservatism, has a huge libertarian streak and a more curious bit of independence at the state level than in its federal representation. I worry that right now - when state leaders in California, Texas, Florida and elsewhere are acting in aggressively partisan fashions to agitate an already agitated base for national politics - is not the right time.

    Barring that, you can either focus on (1) purple states which have natural third-party affinities like Colorado or New Mexico or (2) states dominated by the minority party during a period when one party has cemented what feels like an insurmountable advantage at the national level.

    For now, I continue to think we’re best served figuring out the right time to move aggressively on Connecticut.

  28. Hopefully as more and more attention at large is getting paid to election reform, the CAA will be able to be discussed as a potential solution in addition to many other reforms being pushed. Things originally mentioned in the note like getting rid of winner take all or first past the post. It is still a long slog to get the CAA (or any potential reforms) passed but Alaska’s recent election overhaul shows it is possible.

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