Skip to main content

Minority Rule

One of the foundations of our democracy is rule by the majority. Of course early on there was a lot of debate about who was allowed to vote as well as the issue of the power of states versus a plurality of voters. But the general idea was that a vote would be taken on issues and the majority would decide.

Starting in the 1970's the filibuster, began to be used in the senate by both parties as a means to prevent a vote that would be won by a simple majority. This tactic allows 41 Senators to block passage of a bill, and over time this has become the rule for all major decisions resulting in gridlock at the will of a minority.

During the debate over ratification of the US Constitution Alexander Hamilton saw the danger of this and described it in one of his contributions to The Federalist Papers, a series of articles in support of ratification of the proposed US Constitution. Here's an excerpt from Federalist 22;

"... what at first sight may seem a remedy, is, in reality, a poison. To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser. ... If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good. And yet, in such a system, it is even happy when such compromises can take place: for upon some occasions things will not admit of accommodation; and then the measures of government must be injuriously suspended, or fatally defeated. It is often, by the impracticability of obtaining the concurrence of the necessary number of votes, kept in a state of inaction. Its situation must always savor of weakness, sometimes border upon anarchy."

Hamilton's prediction seems prescient given recent events.  

Routine use of the filibuster appears to be a clear case of our government operating in a way that is both at odds with the fundamentals of democracy as well as the intentions of at least one of our founding fathers. I believe that the filibuster should be eliminated and rule by the majority reinstated. What's your opinion?


Popular posts from this blog

Money for Nothing?

Despite recent setbacks over the last 30 years the US economy has grown by over 120% in constant dollars. This should be good news for all Americans, but there's something interesting about this period of time that's quite different from prior years.

Over most of the history of the US gains in GDP were shared more or less equally on a percentage basis among all income groups. This makes sense if you assume that the success of an enterprise, whether it's a small business or the country as a whole, is the result of the efforts of the group rather than a few individuals.

What's unusual about the last 30 years is that, unlike prior periods, the gains have gone exclusively to the upper 20% of wage earners, and the bulk of that to the top 1%.

My first reaction is that this just doesn't seem 'fair'. Shouldn't everyone participate in our country's financial success?

We know from history that there's no economic force that tends to favor equitable distr…

Lets Cut Taxes!

The Texas legislature is in session and a tax cut is on the agenda with two competing proposals. One is to reduce property taxes and the other is to reduce sales taxes. Which one is the best?

I've been complaining about property taxes for years, and since I'm close to retirement I see property taxes as an unending, uncontrollable, and increasing drain on my future fixed income. Sales taxes on the other hand are proportional to my spending, and so somewhat controllable. That's why I'd prefer the property tax cut.

But on further reflection I changed my mind. Here's why...

If government is going to work it needs to be fair, but historians and economists know that this isn't the natural order of things. Throughout history wealth has tended to become concentrated. People in power naturally act in their own self interest, and the result is to further increase their power and wealth. I don't see this as intentionally evil. It's simply the result of rational (a…

Free market fixes for climate change?

In her recent article for the Chicago Tribune titled "End climate change scare tactics; try free market fixes" Rachel Marsden dismisses President Obama's recent concerns about climate change as a threat to global security and goes on to suggest that although there is no way to control the earth's climate we can adjust by allowing multinational corporations to conquer the environment. Both of these claims seem misguided to me for a number of reasons.

As to the concern about security and the environment there are many documented cases of destruction of the environment by human action and subsequent societal collapse. The story of Easter Island is a good example, and may serve as a miniature version of what could happen globally.

As the earth's climate changes, areas that were marginally able to support the local population will suffer. And unfortunately the results are not self contained. Collapse results in lawlessness, chaos, and refugees who naturally head for t…