The Widening Gyre

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  1. Thanks Ben - I needed to see that. In the U.S., what can an individual do to facilitate change on the scale this country needs when opposed by the Big 3? Nothing… but the states can. My concern was that this massive divide would end in succession. Thanks for the new direction, and for confirming what Buckminster Fuller wrote:
    “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing models obsolete.” ~ Buckminster Fuller, 1895 - 1983
    You and Rusty continue to inspire the pack.

  2. Avatar for rjfjk rjfjk says:

    Ben, I usually agree with you, but the people’s amendment has been tried and failed miserably, I live in a city where we went from citywide city council seats to single districts. Once that occurred, the common good went out the door, lobbyists easily funded smaller campaigns and the city became obsessed with pork to district indicatives and lost focus on real issues that the city faced.
    It’s now firmly in control of a few high powered local titans, entrenched district politicians… and zero cooperation for the real issues facing the city…

    When voters have a ballot issue, they uniformity voted over the city council to override the district led decisions… but, then the titans and their proxies just recreated new laws like a tax loss strategy to restart the process and overrule the vote of the people…

    I don’t think a real democracy over a republic will be the answer.
    Keep up the good work,

  3. This post by BH is so interesting. Thank you! But there is something disquieting about the (apparent) assumption that the lower-right quadrant of the competition game [defect, defect] = [1,1] is a negative outcome. Doesn’t that mean that no deer are harvested and so may multiply into the future? As a Nash newbie (despite my Princeton Math BA), I would welcome being schooled on this; maybe more examples would help. Meanwhile, as BH has emphasized, we’re in the Widening Gyre for sure. Personally, I’m not in favor of diluting the Electoral College with originalist proportional representation because the coastal population will prevail over the productive (food and energy) population in the interior.

  4. I don’t believe it would work this way. The changes are all relative, so Ohio would go from having 20 EC votes (18 House, 2 Senate) to 237 EC votes.

    17 / 535 = 3.1% of the EC

    New math is one seat per 50,000 residents. So 11,780,000 / 50,000 = 235
    235 House, 2 Senate = 237

    237 / 6,260 (6,160 House, 100 Senate) = 3.7% of EC votes

    You’d need 3,159 EC votes to win a Presidential election if you just took the existing formula of 270 to win and applied it to the newest absolute number of representatives. Ohio’s 237 EC votes would be 7.5% of what you’d need to win. Today Ohio’s 17 EC votes are…6.3% of what you’d need to win.

    Edit to add: I started with the incorrect number of EC votes for Ohio. My mistake. I have changed the numbers to reflect the 2024 presidential election.

  5. I certainly hope you are right!

  6. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    It changes the EC dynamics for the tiny population Western states.

  7. Hmm. So Idaho and Montana both have 4 EC votes as of today. Half of those votes come from having the same number of Senators as every other state, so by expanding the House the influence of their Senate seats goes down in both absolute and relative terms. Is that what you’re getting at or am I making up a different problem?

  8. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    That is what I am getting at!

  9. Great article and an interesting proposal. But check my math: It takes 38 states to ratify an amendment. Idaho is the 38th least-populated state with 1,893,000. Dividing by 50,000 results in 38 house electors and 2 senate electors for a total of 40. 40/6700 = 0.597%. Currently, Idaho has 4 electoral votes out of 538 = 0.74%. Why would the state legislature vote to dilute their influence in the EC?

  10. Yes, big picture based on the numbers in DY’s example. Senate seats go from 100/538 in the EC to 100/6260. Huge dilution for states with very small populations that punch above their weight due to 2 Senate seats.

  11. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Because there will be 38 US House seats up for grabs in Idaho in the next election cycle, and most of those seats will be taken by Idaho state legislature reps.

  12. ID’s state legislators currently only have 4 options (House & Senate) to get into national politics and increase their visibility, wealth and power. They make about $19k (includes an allowance) plus expenses as a state legislator (its a part time gig). Under an expanded house of reps, they now have 38 house seats to fill, with the potential salary of about $174k (full time gig). There are currently 35 ID state senators and 70 state representatives. That’s a pretty good step up for a state legislator, even if they do lose some power in the EC - which to be fair, the presidential candidates don’t currently spend much time or money worrying about trying to win ID. And in a world in which the CAA passes, I’m pretty sure the Senate decides to increase their number as well to address the imbalance in the EC.

  13. I think the answer is ranked choice open primaries instead of 3rd party. Ranked choice open primaries will draw the candidates to the middle and tend to reduce the extreme crazies from either left or right. Want proof? look at the recent Alaska special election or look at the majority of the primary crazies that start moving towards the middle, at least moderating extreme views once they have won their respective primary and need votes outside their echo chamber.

    Of course the 2 major parties have a vested interest in maintaining closed primaries so they can work and talk in their own echo chamber. The only way ranked choice happens is if people force it thru over the objections of the institutional parties.

  14. I’m really trying hard not to be a jaded cynic here, I really -really- am. I think you’re completely right in that Apportionment is an answer. I also think term limits would be another answer. The problem is the people required to vote on this stuff are the same people whos’ oxes get gored if it passes. Even Apportionment. The state legislatures have to vote. There’s not a single state elected official that doesn’t hope that one day they can “go up the ladder”.
    As a society we’re on train tracks, not a highway. Direction is a constant, and speed is the only variable. Society can’t exit anymore. Only individuals can, but with the path we’re on that’ll dissapear eventually too. At that point all that’s left are foxholes. God help us all.

  15. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    The secret sauce to the CAA is that it does NOT have to be voted on by Congress. It only has to be approved by state legislatures, and the CAA would open up thousands of “promotions” to those state legislators.

  16. Who all rely on their federal counterparts to get elected via riding on their coattails at rallies and press events, and bringing home the federal bacon. The defacto patronage system akin to ancient Rome is the hidden problem in the calculus. CAA is yeoman’s work and I applaud the effort. But I’m too involved in local and state politics to be optimistic here. Neither party wants anything to do with this.
    If I’m looking to solve for the patronage problem in order to enact a CAA reform, then your earlier point about 3rd party is The Answer. If you can elect 3rd parties in statewide races to vote for CAA you might have a chance. The cost on this option is making an election an up or down vote on CAA as a movement. Another option would be to elect 3rd parties to municipal and local elections then you have a chance at a much larger structural reform down the road. The cost on that option is time obviously and risk of failure probably grows as time goes on (what is the half-life on corruptibility of a politician?).

  17. Avatar for KCP KCP says:

    Appreciate you providing your thoughts on this broad, very important topic.

    My view is that Big Media/Tech are tools in the game of Big Politics. We (taxpayers) pay for this game of Big Politics; it really doesn’t matter who you are rooting for - your tax $ pay for either side to attempt to bring the other team down. This game is played every 2 years.

    Americans have simply become numb and dumb - no one seems to care about the amount of Federal receipts (or debt) that is spent, let alone the opportunity costs across multiple resources, in totality by both sides during the Game. They just want a W.

    The taxbase in this country pays admission to the Game every day in the hopes that their side wins a cycle - just to play the same game over again.

    In the meantime, nothing really gets done on the federal level outside of the courts. Congress will champion its bi-partisan abilities when it is able to pass an emergency spending bill AT THE OUTSET OF A PANDEMIC! I’m sure getting all constituents in line to spend our dough is a great accomplishment at the height of an 100 year uncertainty event…what courage.

    We are dumb and numb - it’s like playing this Game of Big Politics fills some unmet need/void in our lives. We ask for solutions to problems, but we don’t hold Big Politics to account when they don’t deliver. We glom to large sweeping themes whether its MAGA or Build Back Better, while some simple fundamentals (healthcare spend vs, outcome per capita, lack of immigration policy) get lip service or are left to the courts. Are we tired of fentanyl deaths in this country? Has anyone seen one change in criminal laws or even a discussion to change the risk/reward equation for dealing/distributing that makes the penalties so severe that the spread of this killer slows down significantly?

    IMHO the only way this game of Big Politics changes is when the taxpayers stop paying, the world markets stop allowing us to indebt ourselves or we encounter such a gripping crisis that we have to stop allowing ourselves to get distracted by the tools of the game - Big Media/Tech.

    I agree with Ben, it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. We just witnessed on side demonstrate with violence to protest an outcome - in the previous game the other side abused federal departments, laws and courts to create a “passive” coup de’tat - packaged and sold to the watchers of the Game as “indisputable evidence”.

    Most Americans pay for the Game to be played out, sadly, both willingly and unknowingly. Others up the ante for a side by funding them.

    Its time for more Americans to wake up - demand some progress towards better and hope, not expect the leap to great. Screaming, protesting won’t change the equation, but money flows will.

  18. An issue with our political system that I think the CAA helps address is the intraparty, behind the scenes dealing prior to a candidate coming into the public eye. I think that in many, if not most situations, a candidate running for a national office has had to fall in line with the party ideology to be put up to run. By that time, the party allegiances are set and are unlikely to change while the candidate is “made.”

    With more seats should come more opportunities for unbacked candidates to take office, which should mean more representatives focused on the good of the people, not the party. Also, if an elected representative decides to align with a vote aggregator for the “bigs,” that alignment will happen in public, not in private.

    Thanks Ben - I like it.

  19. Avatar for bpatno bpatno says:

    The Civil war has started. Asking to amend the constitution, will give the left or right the ability to hijack your idea and change to their ideas. However, I believe the left has no morals and is more dangerous since they will crush anyone not with them including the Epilson Pack. The Epilson pack will need to work with other Groups (party) in the same way the European Country parties work together in shared goals. This process of many small groups trying to work together usually gets crushed from a small centralized party. Russia in 1920s, when the communists took over is a great example. Today the Democrats are emulating this process and Communist control… Democrat Party does not allow dissent and is run by a centralized top down organization.

  20. Avatar for Laura Laura says:

    It’s always interesting to see those distributions. I’ll have to look into the background data as I’m curious what overall percentage of voters they capture. I believe the percentage of independent (small ‘i’) voters has steadily increased over that time as well.

    A couple other things that I think are relevant to consider:

    • It would be interesting to look at the dark money political funding in that same time frame; Citizens United changed things in Big Politics, and if Jane Mayer is accurate in her perspective shared in her book Dark Money, since that time the Republican party in particular has become less relevant as a fundraiser than the billionaires that increasingly directly fund candidates, or even self-fund their own campaigns (Trump and Bloomberg e.g.)

    • Dark money freed to influence Big Politics is amplified by Big [Corporate] Media and Big Tech because they are the same interests in many cases; I think it’s important to bear in mind enabling legislation like the Telecommunications Modernization Act that allows for the rise of Big Media in the first place – we must repudiate the stories embedded in our legislation that dictates low prices = consumer friendly, or more generally consumer = citizen. I also think it’s helpful to remember that web businesses got an enormous subsidization in the beginning of the Internet era by not being subject to certain taxes. That was a policy choice, not a technological inevitability of “zero marginal cost scaling” as it’s often portrayed in the stories of Big Tech. Beware narratives of inevitability! (or infallibility for that matter)

    • The existence of Big Tech has changed things as has the reality of tech-enabled exponential growth in our economy/society. I think it’s an interesting thought exercise to consider the embedded structures of the vote in light of tech innovation and the change it’s brought to people’s lives. We now have a class of “digital nomads” that are not necessarily rooted in one place. What if those low population states became voter homes to mobile populations? That is something that individuals could take up on their own and potentially flip the dynamics with a relatively small number of people. Places like Wyoming, where I grew up and left due to lack of opportunity, are home to policies that favor ease and opacity when it comes to setting up businesses. The LLC was invented there after all. What if the same welcoming spirit was extended to, or seized by, digital nomads and remote workers who vote?

  21. One of the best part of Epsilon Theory is how it makes me ,no forces me to deal with and confront my own inherent biases and first instincts
    ( my System 1 in Kahneman’s terminology) .
    It makes me more “aware”, and as that happens hopefully I become a better person, more tolerant of other views, more hesitant in my first reactions to narrative influence.
    The Widening Gyre has been a great read. Please continue this series Ben !

    In terms of solving this growing problem, I think bottom up ( individual resistance) is the best way, but an unlikely and difficult way to vanquish before something bad happens ( Ken Burns “Holocaust “ is a scary, frightening potential forerunner)

    I’m in favor of major, outside the box change, so the Constitutional Apportionment idea works for me. I’m also from PA which has passed it, so is there anything that I can do for this movement?

  22. Avatar for A_Lee A_Lee says:

    Thanks for the article (and follow on tweets), I liked the idea when I read Rusty’s article and like it even more now, but for me I think the part about how people now view each other sunk in the most.

    In my life, like most others I assume, neighbors/friends/family are or have become “the other side” that are “irredeemable” and “the enemy of democracy”, though I know them as good and well intentioned people and treat them as such. I remember previous articles that this is a bottom up approach and how to welcome back people once they realize what has been going on (don’t rub their face in it essentially). I guess it’s the middle part, between the beginning and welcoming back I have a foggy view of, but would like to see.

    Also, random thoughts from an exhausted father while trying to get a 2 year old to sleep……

    • Sounds like a DD0S attack against Big Politics.

    • 6,600 representatives @ $174,000 = ~$1.15 Billion a year in salary (not including benefits) vs 435 @ 174,000 =~$75.7 Million, big increase, but drop in bucket of $5.35 Trillion total budget

    • Maybe this gets more people involved in politics/voting with hyper local federal representation. I remember another previous article talking about how if more people voted, but not for the ridiculous candidates, that could be the most powerful method of changing the mindset of political parties.

  23. I know this wasn’t written out like an attack or a reason against the CAA but I have heard plenty of individuals make this same statement as a negative for the CAA. “It’s too expensive” or “it’s too expansive” is usually the refrain . To which I usually argue as you did-

    However, I also usually point out the following from the report below as well.

    Each member of the House is allowed to hire up to 18 full time employees and an additional 4 part time employees (pg 9). Their $ allocation for employees is $994,671 (pg. 7). The maximum they can pay any employee is $199,300 (pg. 13). (But if they do, then they reduce their total compensation pool of $994,671 to pay the rest of their staff).
    Assuming that they utilize the total amount of the money allocated to each member for staff (and logically they should), then the house rep salary ($174,000) + staff expenses ($994,671) is actually around $1,168,671 for each house member, for a total of about $508 million. It’s still an increase from $508M to $1.15B but not that crazy of a jump.
    While Ben argues that the first bill and order of business for the newly elected Congress after the CAA should be proportional voting. IMO-it should be the elimination (or mass reduction if you want to compromise) of house staffers.
    Assuming that each member has a staff of about 10, another way to look at the House is that we have 4,350 unelected representatives and 435 elected representatives. Combined, you have 4,785 people in the House, a ratio of about 69,000 constituents per person in the house (using a 330 million US total population.
    If the average house member has 15 staff members (and they are allowed 18 + 4 part timers) then we are at 6,525 unelected representatives plus the 435 elected officials for 6,960 total and a ratio of about 47,400 constituents per person in the house.
    I think it a fair trade to replace unelected staffers with elected representatives for an extra $640M.,from%20Puerto%20Rico%20is%20%24174%2C000.&text=The%20House-passed%20FY2022%20legislative,continue%20the%20freeze%20in%202022.

  24. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    Reposting this for anyone who hasn’t watched it yet:

    Agree with comments that Ben defines this problem better than just about anyone. Taibbi equally called it, from a slightly different perspective, in Hate Inc a few years back. The rise of politics as pro wrestling has been ongoing since the 90s. Jeff Zucker/CNN, NY Times, and other Big Media are complicit in the popularization of politics as zero-sum game, because it makes them more money in the end.

    Agree with Ben that CAA is a long shot and a dice roll even if it passes. Like PA, my state has already passed it, so locally seems I can’t do much even if I was invested in the ideas.

    I am invested in the ideas in the above video, much more so than voting even. My vote is one of hundreds of millions. Statistically, it does not matter, even assuming fair elections.

    The people I know, my friends and neighbors and family, who are divided just like yours, do matter to me, and I matter to them. We can learn the concepts in this video and apply them to the people we know. And we must assume we will not change the outcome, whatever it may be, because this evil is bigger than us. But at least we tried, and we might find more allies along the way. And then this position of strength through true tolerance and diversity of opinion and respect despite important differences will not vanish. These are the true core American values, I think, the things that will keep me here and not running away to somewhere else[where?], like my grandparents did from Europe during the last conflagration.

    And we can preserve them to ourselves if nothing else, and we can try to teach them.

    Softly teach them. Otherwise (1) we are nothing but rhinos with slightly different horns, and (2) as we are without obvious allies, our types (Heinlein’s “loud-mouthed pacifists”) tended to be first up against the wall during the Russian Revolution and other conflagrations.

    On the ground, three main points from that video:

    • as @A_lee points out, don’t rub their face in it
    • normalize difference; don’t be afraid to note important differences, but also don’t dwell on them
    • whenever possible, develop parallel structures of inclusivity and tolerance that are independent of Big Politics/Media/Tech; eg localism
  25. Please re-post, for those newer to the Pack, Rusty’s awesome note on his ancestors joining a cult in 19th century Texas. I can’t find it in the search function! But, it has old-time religion, the narrow mindedness of a monoculture society, human frailty, and most importantly -forgiveness! With all of this malevolence for the other side the humanity of everyone has to be kept front of mind. If my great grandparents could forgive in this instance, it can inspire hope today.

  26. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    If you’re curious, I found it by going to ET Forum Advanced Search and then searching for this:

    “cult” @rguinn

  27. I was in the right ballpark - MERCY more than forgiveness. The note has aged well!

  28. Avatar for A_Lee A_Lee says:

    I didn’t pull the thread completely (like a good engineer should) on the increased salary cost, and didn’t think through the staffer part of it. Worst case if each ~6,600 House rep got the 18+4 and utilized all $994,671 then your looking at (6,600 * (174,000 + 994,671)) = ~7.7 Billion a year vs. ~1.15 Billion…still a drop in the bucket of 5 trillion.

    I do like the idea of reducing staffers. Less un-elected personnel is something I personally agree with.

    If the average house member has 15 staff members (and they are allowed 18 + 4 part timers) then we are at 6,525 unelected representatives plus the 435 elected officials for 6,960 total and a ratio of about 47,400 constituents per person in the house.

    It’s almost as if the writers of the CAA knew a thing or two, funny how numbers work sometimes.

  29. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    From Pack member @jpclegg63

    There was discussion in OH about whether the populace will accept the legitimacy of election results. Frank Lutz, who consistently polls, was urgent with his admonition that he thinks that risk is present in the mid-terms. He is picking up a majority US public opinion that citizens do not believe in elections.

    The brief video also touches on his views of the Truss government and a similar lack of faith in politicians by the British public.

  30. Avatar for Laura Laura says:

    In the spirit of absurdity, please enjoy this video if you get feeling too downed by widening gyre and its minions. There is a role for humor in coping with adversity! At least I couldn’t stop laughing throughout. I wasn’t sure what was funnier, watching it or imagining the fun of making it.
  31. We watched last night, had us in tears!

  32. Avatar for Laura Laura says:

    Glad to know I’m not the only with a fairly juvenile sense of humor!

  33. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    The roll call is pretty outstanding.

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