Thursday, January 06, 2005

Redistricting in California

I was excited about Schwarzenegger's plan to end gerrymandering in California until I read Kevin Drum's post on why he can't support the plan. Gerrymandering is awful and the plan is pretty good, but it would only increase Republican dominance of Congress, and DeLay would laugh his head off that he managed to get away with his naked power grab while the idealist liberals in California surrendered some of their own power in the name of democracy.

It's like the Prisoner's Dilemma. If all 50 states end gerrymandering together, everyone wins (less extreme partisanship because legislative candidates actually would cater to the center; less bias in favor of incumbents; a more truly democratic system of representation). But if blue states end gerrymandering first, Democrats lose but Republicans win; if red states end gerrymandering first, Republicans lose but Democrats win; and if no one ends gerrymandering, we all lose. Unfortunately, rational actors will always choose to screw the other guy, so it looks like gerrymandering is here to stay. (Or, perhaps the solution is for a swing state to lead the way and end gerrymandering?)

It also reminds me of Robert Dahl's Polyarchy, in which he argued that democracy would have the best chances of emerging/surviving if the costs of losing were relatively low (i.e., you wouldn't be executed, have your whole estate confiscated). Could it be that the stakes are just too high these days for democratic reform? (Obviously gerrymandering is not like political executions, but I'm speaking relatively here...)

Well, maybe Schwarzenegger will win the day and California will be as a city upon the hill in better representative democracy. It could be good in the long run, I guess...

By the way, I am also a bit bothered by the somewhat Bonapartist strain in the way Schwarzenegger keeps threatening to "go to the people" with a popular referendum if the legislature won't go along with his demands. Something troubling about superceding normal checks and balances with easily manipulated mass democracy centered around a personality cult...

Update, 11 Jan: Jesse Zink expresses similar thoughts re: referenda at Doubly Sure, a thoughtful and well-written blog that I just discovered (amazing - the "Next Blog" link on the Blogger bar actually turned up something good!)

2 Comments:

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