Saturday, November 17, 2012

Gerrymandering: as it declines - surprising results

Gerrymandering - I appraised it back when most blue and Red states shared equally in this crime against democracy. Now, big changes are afoot, at long last, and reform has veered in unexpected ways. Prepare for several surprises.

First a little background. Post-election, shallow rationalizations fingerpoint at California, where Democrats increased their control over the legislature to a 2/3 majority in both houses. Many Republican friends bemoan this, attributing the partisan tsunami to everything from demographic shifts away from white-male supremacy to a growing "culture of dependency."

== Rule by the Takers? ==

Bill O'Reilly leads the sour grapes refrain -- that a majority of voters, lacking any concept of citizenship or deferred gratification, are interested only in "voting themselves stuff..."

...which is another grumbled version of the Tytler Calumny... (O'Reilly only replaces a smartypants word "largesse" with "stuff.") This slander against democracy has been dogma in grouchy circles for 90 years, even though it lacks a single actual example from all of human history.

Grouches call the Tytler Calumny an iron law - that democracies are all doomed as citizens become greedy, lazy and decadent, causing collapse, followed by the inevitable return of oligarchy and tyranny. They call Abe Lincoln a fool to hope -- "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."  

Whiney, disloyal... and wrong.

Sure, demographic shifts have some effect. (Watch Jon Stewart remind O'Reilly of times when "white America" fretted about unclean immigrants called "the Irish.") But that's not the real explanation for what happened in California.

There is news under the news, a political revolution that ignores the chattering caste and the lobotomizing "left-right political axis." It does bear on real differences between Red and Blue America, but not those that you think.

Care to explore what really happened?

== California's three-part citizen rebellion ==

The stunning event was a triple whammy that swept California a few years ago, when voters rose up and voted-in a trio of constitutional changes that would:

(1) end gerrymandering and require impartial redistricting

(2) turn the general election into a run-off between the top two vote-getting candidates in the primaries, regardless of parties

(3) make those primaries open, so that all voters could pick among all candidates, choosing the pair in each race who would run-off in the fall.
2012 was the first year with clear results, which were unexpected and epochal because of how the three reforms interplay. I'll get to all that in a minute.

Only first note this.  The anti-gerrymandering initiative was originally authored and pushed by the Californian Republican Party (CA-GOP). An act of hypocrisy, since every Red State indulges in the foul practice far more vigorously - - from Texas to Georgia to Alaska -- to a degree that would embarrass even a Chicago ward heeler!  No problem. CA-GOP figured they'd take advantage of Blue Staters' penchant for reasonableness and low levels of party loyalty, plus their ability to see how wretchedly unjust the old system was. For purely self-interested reasons, CA-GOP urged state voters to do the right and logical thing! Of course, CA-GOP's true aim was more conniving -- to rob their adversaries of an advantage in the biggest blue state.  (In fairness, the Democratic Party has tried to talk Red State voters into doing this... with zero results.)

Now I confess - I voted against the referendum, despite my long record inveighing about Gerrymandering!  I still hoped for a multi-state deal, with California dropping the practice in exchange for (say) Texas and Indiana.  That would leave neither party disadvantaged and thus...

... but of course, that never would have happened. I was wrong and the people were right. Someone had to do it first. And, in fact, California voters proved stunningly wise.

== The wisdom of three ==

Think about those triple reforms I listed above. The combined effects of the triple whammy are stunning:

1) No longer able to arrange purely safe districts for themselves, nearly all state legislators and congressfolk now have to work harder in the general election than before. Aw. Too bad.

2) Radicals of both parties were robbed of influence because now republicans in largely democratic districts can vote in the primary, the election that matters, and vice versa in GOP majority districts. Moderation was the huge winner. (And would be in Red America, if this happened there. Think about what that would mean to the radicals in the current GOP U.S. House delegation.)

3) In many cases, the result has been a general election in which two republicans face off against each other, or two democrats!  Suddenly they are interested in, and are listening to and trying to please folks who are the minority in their district. That minority transforms into tie-breakers, the king-makers.

Ponder that. For the first time, if you are in the minority party of your district, someone will listen to you anyway. Your vote will actually matter. If you are a republican in a largely democratic district, you may never have a conservative representative. But you'll be able to tip the balance between two liberals. And they'll know that fact. They'll talk to you.

4) And finally, the big surprise result that no one expected. The dems picked up more seats in the Assembly, State Senate and Congress.

But... but how did the democrats do even better without gerrymandering?  That shouldn't happen, because the districts are now fair! I will tell you how, and it should have been obvious all along.

== The surprise outcome, and what it means ==

Under gerrymandering, the ruling party jiggers districts to their own advantage. In Texas, not long ago, some were more than a hundred twisty miles long with necks less than one mile wide. (Be proud, you Republicans, be very proud.) They arrange boundaries so that there are a few tortuous districts with 90% or more democratic voters and a lot more districts with 65% republican voters. The result, in theory, should be more republican seats. That is the logic and it is why republican voters in the state go along with such a blatantly cynical and rapacious scheme. Out of partisan loyalty.

But it's a lie!

In California, the new redistricting law replaced this system (though it had never been as horrific as Texas) with sensible, compact districts... a whole lot of which happened to be merely 55% democratic.  This meant that the local politicians could not take victory for granted, they had to work hard and woo some republicans... but the odds were still slightly in their favor, since CA has an overall demo-tilt. And this showed in a year when democrats were highly motivated to vote. They worked harder... and their party gained seats.

Now think about this result.  What it means is that gerrymandering was never what the politicians claimed it to be! A way for democrats in California or republicans in Texas to eke out a few more seats for their side.  That justification, after all, might persuade your radical Tea Party voter to shrug and go along, because Fox has him so riled up he will forgive an obvious scam (gerrymandering) because it hurts the hated other side.

But no, gerrymandering is not about party advantage, at all!

It is about reinforcing radicalism and -- above all -- it is a job protection racket for elected politicians. Designed to preserve safe seats and ensure that the pol needn't ever fear a threat that voters might actually judge him, consider alternatives, or even fire him.  Just look at the results! Congress as a whole has a national approval rating of just 9%!  Yet, individual representatives in safe districts get returned again and again. This is the biggest reason.

== The key come-away lesson ==

It is possible to do everywhere what Californians have done. Banish a foul and disgusting crime against democracy that's been committed by the entire political caste, regardless of where they stand along the largely irrelevant left-right "axis."

Yes, there is a partisan tint to all this... voters have risen up against gerrymandering in several blue states but not a single red one, and this shows in the radical, never-compromise, manichean dogmatism of the Republican House. It shows in the fact that the not-gerrymandered U.S. Senate shifted left this election along with the overall electorate re-picking President Obama, while the gerried House only nudged a little, even in the face of 9% approval ratings for the institution.

But the partisan tint does not matter.  By any standard, gerrymandering is filth. It is crime. Its nineteenth century vileness is indefensible in the 21st. It doesn't even make logical sense in the terms used by its defenders!

And we will all have a better America when it's gone.

== Can we get rid of it? ==

Given the entrenchment of both partisanship and job-protection thinking among the politicians in some parts of the country, it's hard to see this obscenity ever being negotiated away.  I am hoping that a few more blue states -- notably Maryland, New Jersey and Illinois -- will see citizen uprisings against gerrymandering. But the GOP has probably learned its lesson from the surprising way things turned out in California. They will be tepid, at best, and possibly help to oppose such reforms in states like New York.

No, there is just one locus for salvation and hope -- one that should have stepped in ages ago to save us. The courts. Because gerrymandering is blatantly, despicably an outright effort to steal elections and votes - a guild-protection racket by a profession against its customers, deliberately repressing competition in restraint of fair trade. A scheme to disenfranchise 40% of the electorate in any state, denying them the chance, ever, of voting for a person they feel actually listens to them or might represent them.

It has exacerbated partisan radicalism, fury and impracticality in American political life. And it does even more foul things that you can read about in my older essay on the subject.

Will the courts ever throw out this blatant violation of the principle of one person, one vote?

Not while Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts and Kennedy sit on the high bench. Which is why we may just have to wait. Maybe quite a while.  Even though this whole issue has nothing to do with classic left-right, or capitalism/socialism, or liberal-conservative or any other legitimate political matter. Nor is it even about the Republican Party, whose health would likely improve a lot if California-style reforms took place across Red America.  (They are currently unable to adapt to their shellacking in the 2012 elections, because gerrymandered radicalism stands in the way of pragmatic re-evaluation.)

No, this Court won't rule in favor of the people because... because...

...well... I honestly can't figure any clear or logical or cogent reason why. As I've shown, only short-sighted fools believe anymore that gerrymandering is actually about partisan advantage. One can picture the clever - if biliously partisan - Justice Scalia finally realizing this. One can envision him accepting that there's no justification - not even a cynical one - for the outrageously unjustifiable, and at last voting to end the crime, bringing Thomas and Alito with him. Yes, one can picture it.

Still, you know they won't do it, as sure as day. A future court, honored by posterity, will erase this felony, a crime in which history will judge this court to be complicit.

And so -- we'll wait.



1. See the same California transition and realization, told interestingly from a more partisan democratic perspective.  As I said, the real victor in California was moderation. Hence, although the California legislature is now 2/3 democratic, the big surge came among moderates. Don't expect compulsory Druid-worship. Or broccoli-eating mandated by Jerry Brown's denim-levi secret police. I'll take wagers on this.

2.  If you live in a still-gerrymandered state, you aren't helpless! Try a lovely judo tactic. Register in whatever party "owns" your district! All democrats in republican districts should talk fellow democrats into registering republican! And vice versa for you republicans in democrat-gerried districts.  Forget labels, or which party has your loyalty nationally or by doctrine.  The election that matters to you is the primary! If enough of your neighbors do this, you'll be able to help a moderate republican take on the radical republican incumbent. (Or the same thing in a dem-held area.) You and others who pull this trick - you will become the swing voters, the king-makers. Your vote will matter again.

3. For more political suggestions, see: Politics for the 21st century

David Brin
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David Brin said...

BTW I left a few Adam Smith quotes relevant to rent-seeking for RandyB under the older posting:

Gordon Mohr said...

A bit of a weakness in your story: impartial investigators think Dems still managed to manipulate the new districting process, too. See ProPublica: How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission.

Still, I'd agree that the triple reforms you highlight are likely to help things over a few longer cycles, as parties and candidates adjust and there's more turnover (and primary challenges).

At this point, though, the California GOP's decline is pretty severe, and the 'Republican' name is tarnished from the spillover effects of faraway candidates optimized for other regions. Also, the rise of year-round politi-tainment (on cable and internet) has both narrowed and hardened the party identities. The parties used to be something most people only thought about every 2-4 years, like say the Olympics, and were fuzzier categories accommodating more regional variety. Now 'Democrat' and 'Republican' have become more like national sports teams, which seems really bad for systemic variety/flexibility/antifragility.

For a damaged entity like the CA GOP, now playing under all new election rules, I wonder if it should just dissolve, allowing its constituents to re-form with new allies into a structure (and less rigid label) optimized for the new realities. Rather than having to rehabilitate the old brand, competitive candidates here would be able to say something like, "I don't have to explain Todd Akin's views. He's a Missouri Republican, I'm a California Whig."

Nebris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Brin said...

Gojomo. I would like nothing better. California is where 20 courageous GOP politicians could make a declaration. Science good. Murdoch bad. Beyond that, all is negotiable toward a new conservatism that will argue with and restrain the worst meddlesome impulses of our well-meaning liberal neighbors, and enhancing always the potential for vibrant and fun and creative and non-brutal competition, while preserving the things that give conservatism its better name.

Nebris said...


David Brin said...

The claim seems rather lame and the language and narrative do not strike me as the sort that would be made (even in florid braggadacio) by a competent person who had performed a competent deed. All that I say is was the "report" and that is the point.

Tim H. said...

A minor point, the accusation that Obama won by bribing the 47% needs to be balanced against Romney's promised tax cuts for the 1%. In light of the fortunes based on "conservative" government decisions, the 1% is pretty much on the teat as much as any social security recipient.

Tacitus said...

I suppose the real test will be seeing how the new crop of Cal legislators does in dealing with your state's problems.

They would seem to have sufficient material to work with...


Unknown said...

You forgot to mention Pennsylvania & Ohio where gerrymandering is terribly one sided & the GOP has created districts that are 12 inches wide in some area's.

Acacia H. said...

Here's a little something different - a YouTube video of positive things caught on security cameras. It showed up over on Facebook, but with the ending slightly changed as I believe it's actually an advertisement from Coca Cola.

I must say however that it's a fantastic glimpse at humanity... and the fact that it's not as bad as some groups would claim. We're not damned to some mythical hell and inherently creatures of sin... but instead decent.

Anyway, I thought it was rather uplifting myself so I decided to send it this way. :)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

ChrisR PA and Ohio are Blue by culture and by presidential polling but they swung red statewide and now the GOP pols are desperately using gerrymandering to try to keep it that way.


1) Anyone know a good link to how many governorships or legislatures changed hands?

2) link to that PA district that's just 12 inches wide?

Mel Baker said...

I think we Californians were all shocked to see how badly the GOP lost after redistricting. I like you David voted against the Citizens Commission, but as I covered the story I was pleased that it worked so well. Just looking at the maps for Congress, Assembly, State Senate, etc you could see the logic in the contours of the lines and they didn't make your brain bleed. Also look at the fact that we agreed to tax ourselves a little more on an entire state level and the budget deficit all but disappeared! Makes you believe again in capital "D" Democracy.

Tony Fisk said...

Wait for the revelations that (cherry-pickin') cola contains oxytocin levels exceeding the FDA regulations. It becomes a proscribed substance.

A 12" district!!? Someone should get a (security) video of people 'walking the line'!

Rob Perkins said...

David, I found this:

The Philadelphia districts look positively byzantine.

David Brin said...

Woof I just got reminded why I avoided this show... like all other very probably addictions. Some excellent things are too time consuming except in small bits. Like this great bit.

Michael Bryan said...

"Of course, CA-GOP's true aim was more conniving -- to rob their adversaries of an advantage in the biggest blue state. (In fairness, the Democratic Party has tried to talk Red State voters into doing this... with zero results.)"

Not quite true. In Arizona, we put an independent redistricting commission on the ballot and voters approved it. Of course, the GOP freaked out and tried to strip the Commission of independence by trying to remove the Chairwoman - didn't work. Courts stepped in and stomped on the move.

David Brin said...

Crap! Michael Bryan just ruined the perfection of a polemical riff!

Yes the main point remains valid. Republican-dominated state government push gerrymandering super-hard and this crime increasingly wears the GOP brand. But now I can no longer say that NO red-state has seen citizens gather the guts to rebel.

Tragic. A polemic simplification lost! Sob.

Though AZ is in the west and there's talk about it being in the purple column next time. Hardly deep red by culture. More like Ohio and PA... the GOP holding on in terror.

Seriously, it's good news. Thanks Michael.

dsmccoy said...

If you add up all the votes for all the house races in the country by party:

Democratic House Candidates 55,151,578 = 48.89%
Republican House Candidates 54,468,113 = 48.29%

(Data from about a week ago, probably some minor adjustments from later data).

So the Dems just squeaked by and won the "popular vote" for the house, lending credence to the idea that the GOP kept the house majority solely due to gerrymandering.

North Carolina is another horribly gerrymandered state, a few Democrats who win with around 90% and a bunch of Republicans who win with around 60%.

I think your point is very good about gerrymandering entrenching radicals and goes a long way toward explaining the horribly polarized political gridlock in this country.

Acacia H. said...

Personally, I wonder why we don't have a parliamentary House of Representatives. It would encourage more people to vote... and lessen the politics of personality that has become big in government. It would also kill gerrymandering and increase the power of minority parties in both Red and Blue states - I know that it's been forever since a Massachusetts Representative was Republican, for instance, despite a decent percentage of the population being Republican.

It would never come about, of course. Politicians don't want to be selected to office because their party won a percentage. They want to get into office because they were able to bamboozle the voters and then stay in because incumbents often get reelected.

Rob H.

sociotard said...

Michael Bryan, can you explain why Arizona's 2nd district looks so weird? It looks like a gerrymandered area to me . . .

Ah, wikipedia says this isn't actually to favor any politician. It's a Hopi/Navajo thing. Not avoidable, even with a commission.

Paul451 said...

[From the thread before last.]

Re: Total redistribution wealth tax.
"Donald Trump [...] said their should be such a tax once per generation or maybe decade."

That would hit the economy like the GFC. Bad things would happen.

But perhaps a reverse lottery? Once a year, on a particular date, one in 25 of the wealthiest people/families, corporations, trusts, groups, etc are randomly picked and completely stripped of assets. I mean utterly stripped, in the case of individuals, left without the clothes on their back (just a government issue grey tracksuit.) The challenge for the "Chosen" is to rebuild. If they have the talent and the will, then their skill and their social network should see them back in the game fairly quickly. If they don't, then they should never have had the privilege in the first place. (You could see returning to wealth after being Chosen becoming a point of pride amongst the Trumps of the world. Hell, just being told you are on the list.)

Assuming an age limit for individuals, every persistently wealthy person would get hit twice in their lifetimes on average, some would get lucky, some would get... lucky. Companies wouldn't be able to grow far beyond a certain scale before being Chosen and broken up. Reduces the risk of monopolies by chance alone.

To add a layer of strategy and fairness, you might give each person/company on the list up to 5 "opt outs" to exempt themselves from the Lottery that year (before the Choice is made. The idea is if you know there's something happening this year that makes it special, say sick spouse, or kids' first year in a particularly good college, or an especially sensitive deal, or launch of a major new product line.) They'd get another 5 opt-outs if they return to wealth after being Chosen.

Anyone on the list who flees overseas before Lottery Day is banned from doing businesses in participating countries,even if not chosen. And if they are Chosen, not only do they have their reachable assets seized, but become a fugitive, facing a jail sentence if they return (or travel to an extradition country.) So, if you're on the list, come home or check in at an embassy during the Lottery. Likewise, the rules of what constitutes a "company" or "group" would be tweaked just before the list of entrants is announced, to adapt to this year's avoidance schemes.

[Not a real idea, I know, just a fantasy.]

Paul451 said...

Rob H.,
There's nothing preventing parliamentary democracies resorting to Mr Gerry's salamander. Queensland was notorious for it during the corruption of the National Party years. (But all states have had gerrymandering. Generally ended whenever the (centre-left) Labor party finally got in.

rewinn said...

Before the election, I had wondered why the Romney hadn't spent its pots of money (or that of its allies) developing a GOTV campaign to rival the Democrats'. They needed *something* to overpower the Dems' advantage in volunteers!

It turns out they did! "Inside Team Romney's whale of an IT meltdown" recounts a classic tale of a top-down IT project gone wrong, so very wrong in ways predictable by ANY DILBERT but by NO POINTY-HAIRED BOSS ... "...The bitter irony of this entire endeavor was that a supposedly small government candidate gutted the local structure of [get out the vote] efforts in favor of a centralized, faceless organization in a far off place (in this case, their Boston headquarters). Wrap your head around that."

David Brin said...

Paul451 your lottery is very much like Joe Haldeman's BUYING TIME. In which a rejuvination treatment for 20 years costs all you own.

David Brin said...

Gojomo I have read the propublica piece and it is filled with outright falsehoods.

For example, CA did NOT go from a democratic-gerrymandered state to neutral. They were about to and hence CA-GOV rushed to push the neutrality law (much to their later chagrin) But in fact, the gerried districts had been locked in by the previous GOP tenure under Pete Wilson around 1992. Around 2002 the dems had a chance to totally gerrymander, and let it go in order to preserve safe districts.

Rob Perkins said...

@David, "The West Wing's" first two or three seasons were divine. If you want a shorter addiction and you have HBO, try "The Newsroom". Same showrunner, same progressive ideals, most excellent storytelling.

Prakash said...

Hi David,

I find your blog extremely interesting in terms of the concepts your explore, but please don't make categorical statements like "not a single example from history of voters voting themselves largesse".

In the spirit of CITOKATE, I offer you examples. The Indian parliamentary elections 2004 and 2009. The BJP government in India in the previous term had concentrated on many unglamorous and hard aspects like building roads. They were outvoted in 2004 and 2009 again by the INC, who offered a horde of make-work rural jobs and the food security bill, which does little to improve food infrastructure, just offers the food that is stored to poor folk.

Now, Infrastructure is crumbling everywhere, power blackouts have gone beyond tolerance, investors and economists are wondering about what happened to all the promise of the India story.

I think that the last two national elections in the world's biggest democracy should count as valid data points.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Prakash

In your example - did the poor vote themselves the largesse or were they bribed by an elite?
You do see the difference?
One is inherent in the people - the other is a tool used by the elite
Like the Romans and circuses

Secondly the concept that Dr Brin was denigrating was NOT
"not a single example from history of voters voting themselves largesse"

But the larger
"Every democratic government fails when the voters find they can vote themselves largess"

I don't think India has fallen yet

gregory byshenk said...

Robert said...
"Personally, I wonder why we don't have a parliamentary House of Representatives. It would encourage more people to vote... and lessen the politics of personality that has become big in government. It would also kill gerrymandering and increase the power of minority parties in both Red and Blue states - I know that it's been forever since a Massachusetts Representative was Republican, for instance, despite a decent percentage of the population being Republican."

First, I want to note that what you mean to say (I think) is "proportional representation" (PR). 'Parliamentary' has to do with the sysem of government, not of election (one where the executive serves the legislature rather than being an independent branch). There are 'parliamentary systems', such as the UK, that hold "first past the post" elections.

Second, PR avoids "gerrymandering" and such by doing away with districts, as such. Thus, it would have no bearing on "the power of minority parties in both Red and Blue states", because it couldn't work on the basis even of states. PR would mean that, if party A recieved X percent of the vote, then the top N candidates from that party's list would be elected.

One argument I've heard against PR in the UK is that it would mean the end of the "local" MP.

Tacitus said...

Didn't the UK pioneer gerrymandering? In its penultimate form as "The Rotten Bourough"? You would have an MP elected in some instances from a district that had largely been eroded into the sea!

No relevance really to US politics....although I guess places like inner city Detroit have had an economic decline almost as total!


Tacitus said...

From HMS Pinafore:

Sir Joseph Porter: "I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party's call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all."
Chorus: "And he never thought of thinking for himself at all."
Sir Joseph: "I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!"

Although a pocket borough is not exactly the same as a rotten one...

who thinks many members of Congress adopt the same attitude...

Acacia H. said...

I was thinking more along state lines. For instance, let's say Massachusetts votes 35% Republican and 65% Democrat. It has 9 Reps. Thus 3 are Republican and 6 are Democrat.

Of course, to be fairer to society and not have this be totally corrupt, cut the salaries of the Reps by half. That way people aren't going into it and trying to become rich. (And for that matter, have an ongoing and active ethics committee making sure people aren't getting bribes and the like.)

Rob H.

Ian said...

Maybe the US should take a lesson rom Greece (heresy, i know)and allow the candidate who wins the electoral college vote appoint additional Senators and Representatives.

It'd be one way to reduce the hcances of gridlock.

Anonymous said...

In states like Texas that are covered by the various voting rights acts, there is another factor (besides partisanship) that rules district shape: race.

There are several districts in urban areas in Texas that have bizzare shapes to assemble a district that contains a high majority of a given minority race so that the members of the district can have a chance to elect a member of that race. In particular, Gene Greene's 29th district was set up to elect a hispanic, but due to a combination of weak candidates and infighting, an Anglo was elected to the seat and has stayed there since the it was created.

LarryHart said...

Passing along an excellent point made by Paul Krugman today:

The truth is that while single women and members of minority groups are more insecure at any given point of time than married whites, insecurity is on the rise for everyone, driven by changes in the economy. Our industrial structure is probably less stable than it was — you can’t count on today’s big corporations to survive, let alone retain their dominance, over the course of a working lifetime. And the traditional accoutrements of a good job — a defined-benefit pension plan, a good health-care plan — have been going away across the board.

Every time you read someone extolling the dynamism of the modern economy, the virtues of risk-taking, declaring that everyone has to expect to have multiple jobs in his or her life and that you can never stop learning, etc,, etc., bear in mind that this is a portrait of an economy with no stability, no guarantees that hard work will provide a consistent living, and a constant possibility of being thrown aside simply because you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And nothing people can do in their personal lives or behavior can change this. Your church and your traditional marriage won’t guarantee the value of your 401(k), or make insurance affordable on the individual market.

So here’s the question: isn’t this exactly the kind of economy that should have a strong welfare state? Isn’t it much better to have guaranteed health care and a basic pension from Social Security rather than simply hanker for the corporate safety net that no longer exists? Might one not even argue that a bit of basic economic security would make our dynamic economy work better, by reducing the fear factor?

Acacia H. said...

You also have to wonder what it states about the Protestant Work Ethic - I mean, if hard work, frugality, and prosperity are signs of the Christian God's favor and your prosperity can be wiped away by the whims of a band of old white men in power (the Board of Directors and corporate heads), then what really is the point of the PWE? After all, either God is stating "doesn't matter what you do, I can and will take it away on a whim and it doesn't matter how good you are" or "I'm not going to intercede on your behalf, no matter how good a Christian you are" (or in other words, the PWE is a fraud created by man and God doesn't actually judge people on it).

And if people can lose their job no matter how hard they work, and there is no recourse and they may in fact not be able to get another job because of ageism... and Social Security is in tatters because of Republican efforts... then why try? Why put in the hard work to begin with? Why not just seize what you want from the people who took it from you?

In short... Marx ends up being right, and it's because of the short-sightedness and greed of the rich. Except the end-result won't be Communism. It'll be anarchy.

Rob H.

Bland Allison said...

I was glad to read this, as it gave me a better perspective on California politics.

My opinion has been that it all went south with Proposition 13. In retrospect, Prop 13 was an early "starve the beast of revenues and then yell about spending" dress rehearsal for the Right.

This was a great election for California. In voting for taxation on themselves and for a super majority in the Senate/Assembly, Californians may be able to wake up from their long Prop 13 nightmare.

As a typical California Liberal, I'm pleased to hear any reasoning against a Democratic Party over-reach at this stage. That feels like the biggest danger.

colinatl said...

Dr. Brin, you claim that court conservatives will never undo gerrymandering, and I think that part of the reason they won't is that it's not clearly unconstitutional. Meaning, there is no basis in the US Constitution by which state decisions about congressional boundaries should be judged fair or not fair. There might be some strained "equal protection" arguments, or "due process" arguments, but these are generally weaker (though not unused) and certainly not used often by the Court's conservatives.

That said, the only way this COULD become a winnable Supreme Court issue, I believe, would be to enact a Constitutional Amendment somehow barring gerrymandering in federal district creation.

Now, such an Amendment would be nigh impossible to get 2/3 of both houses of Congress to vote for. So perhaps this an occasion for 2/3 of the state legislatures to call the NEVER used Constitutional Convention method (look it up) to propose the Amendment without the approval of Congress...

One can dream...

atomsmith said...

We need more math in our laws.

This can eliminate gerrymandering now, but also preserve order in society when we evolve to multi-dimensional hyperbeings.

* District boundaries shall partition the States into disjoint, simply connected regions such that any closed path within a district may be continuously deformed to a point. No District boundary shall include a non-orientable surface.

* A district whose fractal dimension deviates significantly from its topological dimension shall be reapportioned. (Significance to be set by local morality commissions.)

* A district shall not be less than half the area (or other appropriate Lebesgue measure) of its convex hull. If at least 90% of the population lives within an embedded manifold, the convex hull may be calculated in the domain space.

David Brin said...

Prakesh thanks. And yes, let me cite another example of democracy being undermined by short sighted grabby voters. Greece. Today's Greece ironically does fit that pattern. All right there are examples of that failure mode.

But not Periclean Athens or Holland or Florence or the Venetian somewhat-republic, all of whom ran themselves with scrupulous fiscal integrity. As has Parliamentary Britain, most of the time. And most US states and the scandinavian nations and strangely, the US as a whole.

Yes Robert, Many states are EFFECTIVELY gerrymandered by their lawful borders. I would merge lots of states! Delaware and Maryland, the Dakotas and Carolinas and MissAbama and MontanOming. And the state's presidential electors should be alloted by proportion or at least by congressional district.

Love the fractal redistricting.

We are re-watching Ken Burns's Civil War. Dang. We are STILL mired in the freaking thing!

gregory byshenk said...

An interesting update on the question of gerrymandering from Washington Monthly.

"...even automated redistricting simulations, like the ones used here , tend to produce results in which Republicans are overrepresented. This is because, so long as you use traditional geographical criteria for redistricting, it’s very hard to draw up districts in which sparsely populated, Republican-friendly areas do not end up getting more representation than densely populated, Democratic ones."

RandyB said...


BTW I left a few Adam Smith quotes relevant to rent-seeking for RandyB under the older posting:

Thanks for noting your reply on the other thread.

I responded, FWIW, but I am happy to leave it there.

Alfred Differ said...

The problem with Krugman's argument is that the person he describes who wants that kind of security is one step closer to serfdom. I get that most people want security and are willing to trade unseen opportunity for it, but I'm not sure I want to live in a state that establishes that as the default rule... even if the citizens want that.

Part of the PWE encourages this thinking. It encourages one to not worry about the unchangeable. Leave it to a higher power. If there is one thing I've learned from economics is that hard-workers AND lucky people get rewarded.

It is useful to avoid worrying about the unchangeable, but I doubt we know how to recognize the boundary around us until we step past it. Even then, all we really know is that Approach X didn't work.

Acacia H. said...

Technically, Dr. Brin, you're not completely accurate about the Greek Voters. One of the primary complaints is that they feel richer people should pay a greater share. One of the biggest problems in Greece is tax avoidance. Everyone does it because the rich get away with it and no one else wants to foot the bill and let the rich walk away empty-handed. So they're all cutting off their noses and spiting their faces in an effort to get at the rich and powerful.

What is truly needed in Greece is an effective tax collection system that has several layers of ethics enforcement to ensure tax people aren't bribed by rich people to ignore their avoidance... and ensure that everyone pays. Once the rich start paying, you'll see the poor more willing to accept austerity... because it'll be less needed.

Of course, what's also needed is a complete revamping of their tax system to eliminate tax loopholes and the like that allow rich people to avoid paying taxes. Sort of like with the U.S. on steroids when you think of it.

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

Re: Mathematical district boundaries.
I was having a look at the local rules. Basically, an independent commission uses the results of the last election to redraw the boundaries so the party that won the popular vote would have been able to form government, that way the changes in the next election reflect true change in the wishes of the voters. In addition, no district should product a result more than 10% off the average state-wide vote in the last election.

Then there's a bunch of demographic and geographic rules. But I suspect that is to give the parties something to argue over before the commission, taking their eyes of the two core rules. Seems to work.

(Personally I'd like to see a rule to eliminate "safe" seats, just to make things more interesting. But that's just me. Throw in a two-consecutive term limit, too, to stir things up.)

((Ooh, maybe a ban on using the winning party identifier in the top 5 safest seats. So, I live in a safe Labor seat. The word "Labor" and "ALP" would be banned from the next ballot. The Labor candidate would have to run as an independent or under some other party tag.)

Re: Greek voters.
In addition to what Rob said; since austerity measures were brought in, Greek unemployment has risen faster than the EU average, the Greek GDP has fallen more than the EU average, and the Greek debt has gotten worse. So why would Greek voters support the parties who advocate more austerity.

Doug S. said...

There's a really easy way to game California's "open primary + runoff" system. Only have one candidate from your party in the "primary" election, guaranteeing that he or she makes it to the runoff...

infanttyrone said...

Completely off topic and only designed to make you chuckle...

An odd compare/contrast exercise...with an admittedly silly question as a result...

Here's a Nobel Prize winning physicist having a little fun in his Q&A session:

Here he is having fun again (don't recall if this is from Q&A or from within the lecture proper):

Here's someone many of us saw on TV as youngsters (he's still rockin' 'n' rollin'at 98...we should be so lucky):

So, the question is....
Was Irwin Corey Thomas Pynchon's first choice to accept the National Book Award on his behalf in 1973,
or did he just get the gig because Feynman was busy that night ?

duncan cairncross said...

Here is an interesting paper

gregory byshenk said...

The first Feynman clip is interesting, is that his answer itself shows that his answer is simplistic (also amusing in light of the second clip). Interesting because, as Feynman no doubt knew, we can easily be mistaken about what we are seeing, and it is only by testing what we are seeing in other ways -- such as by reaching out to the "steak" we think we see and attempting to manipulate it -- that we can conclude that what we see is what is "really" there.

Ian said...

Re. electorate borders: why not have both major parties prepare a proposed electoral map and then submit them either to the state supreme court or to a state-wide referendum?

Do it on a pendulum negotiation basis: one proposal gets accepted in toto, so in effect the incentive is to appear as reasonable and fair as possible.

Ian said...

Any comment on this story David?

Scientists working on NASA's six-wheeled rover on Mars have a problem. But it's a good problem.

They have some exciting new results from one of the rover's instruments. On the one hand, they'd like to tell everybody what they found, but on the other, they have to wait because they want to make sure their results are not just some fluke or error in their instrument.

It's a bind scientists frequently find themselves in, because by their nature, scientists like to share their results. At the same time, they're cautious, because no one likes to make a big announcement and then have to say "never mind."

The exciting results are coming from an instrument in the rover called SAM. "We're getting data from SAM as we sit here and speak, and the data looks really interesting," says John Grotzinger. He's the principal investigator for the rover mission. Last week I visited him in his office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. That's where data from SAM first arrives on Earth. "The science team is busily chewing away on it as it comes down," says Grotzinger.

Paul451 said...

Re: Raising the retirement age, from a couple of posts ago.

Another debunking of the arguments for raising the retirement age.

Re: MSL has found something.
My money is on organics, but I expect to be disappointed.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

The problem with Krugman's argument is that the person he describes who wants that kind of security is one step closer to serfdom. I get that most people want security and are willing to trade unseen opportunity for it, but I'm not sure I want to live in a state that establishes that as the default rule... even if the citizens want that.

That's a good point worth recognizing.

However, I'd say it's less about voluntary serfdom and more about a robust commons available to all.

The idea that anything of value is someone's private property, and that the "someone" gets to suck all of the value out of it before doling out the leavings--that notion is not the solution to the problem. It IS the problem.

David Brin said...

Doug said: "There's a really easy way to game California's "open primary + runoff" system. Only have one candidate from your party in the "primary" election, guaranteeing that he or she makes it to the runoff..."

This is why I expect there to be a rise in party conferences and conventions, wherever reforms are instituted. Why should the people pay the costs of an intra-party selection process? Let the primary pick the top two to run-off in the genral. If the partisans want to fight and try to coerce unity, let it be on their nickel, their time and effort.

Greg B... go to
and go all the way to the bottom to see my allegory about galileo and plato and the issue underneath that Feynman youtube

Ian I like your proposal, but it's mostly blue states that have ballot initiative processes.

Alfred Differ said...

I live in California and voted for the new primary rules and district boundary rules. I also voted for term limits. In hind-sight I wish I could rescind my vote for term limits. I think the new district boundary rules and open primaries are a better approach to removing incumbents that shouldn't be there. The current term limits prevent me from choosing people who have OJT and talent. Instead I get a slate of noobs and people riding special interest money through a range of elective offices. Some career politicians are an acceptable alternative as long as they can turn their district into a safe one except by representing us well.

Alfred Differ said...

hmm... proofreading isn't my strong suit.

... as long as the CAN'T turn their district into a safe one...


David Brin said...

Alfred I agree on all counts. Noobs indeed.

gregory byshenk said...

David, I like your allegory. My shorthand is: the universe will never say "you're right!", but if we can ask just the right questions, it will (at least sometimes) say "you're wrong!".

duncan cairncross said...

The problem with Krugman's argument is that the person he describes who wants that kind of security is one step closer to serfdom.

That is so wrong!
Serfdom is when you depend on the whim of another
That is what you have now!

With a decent safety net you can spit in the eye of your boss when he demands that you bow before him

A decent safety net produces free men - not serfs!

David Brin said...


Anonymous said...

This is such asn important issue that there should be a constitutional amendment establishing independent Electoral Commission.
Steve in Oz

Anonymous said...

I disagree with one point in your argument. California no longer has a primary election. As you point out the real interesting stuff happens in the June 'primary'. Calling that a 'primary' is a disservice to the people of California.

California has a general election in June followed by a guaranteed runoff in November.

Anthony said...

DOug S. and David - the rules for getting on the ballot in California preclude your option for gaming the system. Any person who has been registered with a party for some period of time (I think 12 months) can enter the nominating process. The first part is to turn in signatures from 20 voters within the district (or state, for statewide offices) to obtain nominating papers from the registrar of voters. Then, one must obtain signatures of about 1% of the voters in the last election of that type (so for a primary, of the voters from that party in the previous primary) *OR* pay a fee in lieu of the signatures. Last I checked, the fee was about $1/signature, and one could split signatures and a fee (so if 10,000 signatures were required, collect 5000 valid signatures and pay $5000). This process is open to *any* qualified voter, specifically to prevent party machines from blocking reform-minded outsiders (or blacks, in the case of the Democrats) from the ballot.

Anonymous@9:34 is right, the Voting Rights Act, which covers more states than you think, has been interpreted to require clustering of non-whites into majority-minority districts, and generally by race (so no districts which are 30% black, 30% hispanic, 40% white, if you could instead have a district which is 60% hispanic and another which is 60% black). Under the current political alignment where almost all blacks and the large majority of hispanics vote Democrat, that results in concentrating Democrats, especially since the white people who live near blacks and hispanics tend to be more Democrat than average whites.

Greg Byshen and the Washington Monthly aren't entirely right, as it is possible to create districts which fan out radially from an urban area to collect enough Republicans in each district to prevent concentration of urban Democrats. The Voting Rights Act limits this, but it is possible, and I recall hearing that Ohio did such a thing, though perhaps not in this redisctricting cycle.

Anonymous said...

"it is a job protection racket for elected politicians."

Those of us in New York State, where the (Democratic) Assembly and (Republican) Senate routinely sign off on each other's gross incumbent-protection gerrymandering plans, have known this for 80 years.

Anonymous said...

"Might one not even argue that a bit of basic economic security would make our dynamic economy work better, by reducing the fear factor?

The Swedish system: vibrant free enterprise is *made possible* by a strong social welfare system. Anyone can start a business without fear of starvation.

Hank Roberts said...

damn spammers ...

back on topic

Dr. Brin, if your team of millionaires was waiting for claims of voting fraud, they will be looking into the Anonymous reports about both Ohio elections -- right? It says

"... as The Free Press reports, a number of odd similarities with 2004 began occurring in Ohio this year just after the 11pm hour once again: Curiously, the Ohio Secretary of State’s vote tabulation website went down at 11:13pm, as reported by Free Press election protection website monitors, and mentioned by Rove on the news. This was one minute earlier than the time on election night 2004 -- when Ohio votes were outsourced to Chattanooga, Tennessee -- and then the vote flipped for Bush...."

Anonymous said...

Actually, I find your conclusions about gerrymandering because of California's results wrong. The thing about Dems getting more seats after stopping the practice is not that it doesn't work but that the Repubs are currently way too extreme for the mainstream. As they should. Within Republican base, the loonies had the majority and probably got more party loyalty votes by being strict oppositionists, but now the whole voting population counts.

So, it's not that gerrymandering was bad for the Dems, it's that the Repubs have gone insane by taking Dems' search for consensus for granted and begun drinking their own coolaid.