Judge Gray: More Democracy and Less Lobbying

The Functional Libertarian
May 9, 2013

Here is an idea that was suggested to me on the campaign trail – and the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. See if it does to you.

Article I Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution specifies that each member of the House of Representatives must represent a minimum of 30,000 people, but it sets no maximum. Since there were 105 members of the House Of Representatives in 1790, when our country had a population of about 3.9 million people, that meant that, when our government began, each House member represented an average of about 37,140 people.

Over the years the numbers of the members in the House increased with the population, until 1913, when it hit and remained at 435. But since the population of the United States has grown to about 319 million, each member of the House now represents an average of more than 730,000 people.

There is no Constitutional magic in the number 435. As best I can discover, we stayed there simply because it was determined by the number of desks that would reasonably fit into the House chamber.

So the idea is, what if we went back to the original idea of having one House member for every 35 to 40,000 people?

Of course, simple math shows us that this would result in there being something like 8,500 members of the House of Representatives! And that would be unworkable!

But not really. Today, using the internet, there is no good reason why the House members simply could not stay home. The internet would allow them easily to participate in debates, vote, hold special public and private meetings, caucus and meet with each other either one on one or in groups, and do whatever else they need to do from their one home office. Why not? Yes, this would mean that our House representatives would not be meeting each other in person, and that is a drawback, but just think of the enormous benefits.

The most obvious benefit is that these members would be much more closely related to their constituents, which would directly yield more local representation. In addition, if these public hearings and votes were being broadcast, they would soon be available to the general public as well, which would benefit good government. Furthermore, since the members would not be traveling so much, they actually could hold another job, which would also keep the members more closely tied to reality.

Another major benefit is that this new approach would render it almost impossible for today’s lobbyists to corral and influence that many members, because it wouldn’t be worth the cost to attempt to lobby something like 5,000 House members all around the country! And if they tried, those attempts would be much more conspicuous.

A further major benefit would be that if a member was only serving a smaller area with only about 37,000 people, the increasingly obscene costs of running for and winning elective office would be substantially reduced. This would not only allow people of more limited means to be competitive, it would also result in some of the non-major parties being able to elect some of their candidates to the House. And this would reinvigorate the entire process of government!

But what about the cost of having and paying for 8,500 members of the House of Representatives? Well, since the members would have a second job, their salary could and should be reduced, and there would also be no need for a retirement program or other benefits. In addition, since they would only have one office, they would only need one (smaller) staff, and their travel expenses would also be cut significantly.

With such a large number of members of the House, that could foreseeably result in some very organized members accumulating a great amount of power and thus control the votes of lots of other members. That is a risk but, to a large degree, we already have that problem now. And at least it should result in fewer bills becoming law, because we already have too many laws.

Finally, the good news is that there would not be a need for a Constitutional amendment for this new system to be implemented. But the bad news is that it would need a vote of Congress to pass this program into law. And that could be a big problem. Why? Because the power and even prestige of today’s members of the House of Representatives would be diminished, as well as their salaries and benefits. So it would be hard to persuade them to vote for this proposal.

So what is the answer? First, ponder this idea, as I have, and decide what you think about it. If you are like me, I think the idea will grow on you. Then if you get as excited as I have become about it, forward this suggestion on to your circle of friends and acquaintances. Yes, many present members of the House will be against the idea for personal reasons, but it is our government, and We the People have every right to change our government to be more representative of our interests.

James P. Gray is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the composer of the high school musical revue “Americans All,” and the 2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President, along with Governor Gary Johnson as President. Judge Gray can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net, or through www.JudgeJimGray.com.

36 thoughts on “Judge Gray: More Democracy and Less Lobbying

  1. Jill Pyeatt Post author

    I think this is one of Judge Gray’s better articles. Nothing cringeworthy here (IMHO). It is an interesting idea, and one I’ll mull over for a while.

  2. Dale

    I won’t speak to the telecommuting idea, but I have something to add about the optimal size of the House.

    Theory suggest that the optimal number of representatives isn’t linear with population, but proportional to something more like the square root of the population. And empirical studies suggest that 0.3 * x^0.4 to be a good fit. Which for 319 million is a hair over 756. But the voting-age population of the US is less than that, more like 211 million, which suggest congress should have more like 642 members. (And remember to count the 100 Senators!)

    So ideally, you’re looking at about 107 more house members, or 221 more (so a total house of 656) if you think children and non-voting-eligible residents should be represented too. (Which, since they count in census apportionment, they probably should.)

    Oh, and the district of Columbia should get several of those.

    http://www.voxeu.org/article/optimal-number-representatives-democracy
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voter_turnout_in_the_United_States_presidential_elections

  3. Richard Winger

    The proposal, if enacted, would make it much more practical to switch to proportional representation for the U.S. House of Representatives. If the proposal were enacted to continue single-member districts, the people who draw the boundaries of the districts would have even more power to gerrymander than they do now, so at a minimum the proposal (if it retains single-member districts) needs to be paired with nonpartisan redistricting commissions, or maybe a single federal redistricting commission.

  4. Tom Blanton

    I think I’d prefer having nobody represent me and having nobody representing anyone else either.

    I’m sure this would seem sub-optimal for those utopians who cling to the myth of good government, but having a society that has a few problems without a government seems better than a society that has numerous problems with a government.

    Besides, isn’t it preferable to have only 435 fucking assholes trying to control every facet of your life as opposed to 8,500 of the bastards? It seems zero is the most attractive number.

    Anyway, why would 435 petty tyrants go along with diluting their own power by swelling their ranks to 8,500? That would be worse for them than letting third parties compete on a level political playing field.

    I guess a lot of people haven’t come to the realization of just what kind of people politicians really are.

  5. Robert Capozzi

    6 tb: I think I’d prefer having nobody represent me and having nobody representing anyone else either.

    me: Secede onto your property, declare it the sovereign nation of Blantonia, and you get your wish!

  6. paulie

    Having a smaller number of representatives is not a stepping stone to having none. Would one be preferable to 435? I don’t think so. I agree with Judge Gray’s reasoning here and was pushing this idea years ago myself. I first learned about it working on the Sophocleus for Governor campaign in 2002.

  7. robert capozzi

    P yes. This is yet another example of the disengaged limitations of abolitionism. We saw the same logic flaw when MNR praised the fall of S Vietnam. Instead of ushering in a nonarchic utopia, it created a larger state.

  8. Todd Maxwell

    Problem is not abolitionism, it’s figuring out the best way there, which is not always a straight line.

  9. robert capozzi

    10 tm, abolitionism may not be a “problem” IYO, but it IS in mine! If the LP’s positioning is to abolish all, even most, of government, odds are VERY high that MOST will be alienated from that view. If the predominant message is, for example, “SS is immoral, let’s abolish it,” then vast majorities will discount the LP message as extremist. Such positioning requires highly abstract thinking, which most are unwilling to do, especially on bread-and-butter issues like that one.

    In theory, senior incomes would be higher in a completely free market approach, but that’s likely best accomplished incrementally (and unthreateningly).

    OTOH, there certainly are reasonable positions to take that involve abolition of some agencies and some government functions.

    Politics requires judgment, a discerning of what will sell and attract.

  10. Starchild

    Increasing the number of members of Congress so that each individual member represents a much smaller number of people, and is thus more susceptible to grassroots democratic pressures from constituents and less susceptible to institutional lobbying, is not a new idea, but I agree it is an excellent one, and appreciate Jim Gray speaking out for it.

    I believe making representative governance as bottom-up as realistically possible is vital to safeguarding liberty.

    It’s true that threats to freedom can come from the people themselves (the so-called “tyranny of the majority”), but it seems to me that in practice, the overwhelming preponderance of tyranny comes from a relatively small minority wielding substantial amounts of power over the masses, even if they do with the consent of (or more accurately in many cases, the manipulation of) a functional majority.

    Mobs can certainly perpetrate injustices, but I think they are not very good at effectively wielding oppressive power over the long term. That tends to take a centralized, top-down autocratic and/or bureaucratic regime. Such regimes therefore are the greatest enemies of freedom, and we ought to seek reforms such as this that would make them more accountable to the people they supposedly represent.

  11. Tom Blanton

    I don’t understand the minarchist obsession with centralized national government. Has limited totalitarianism become the new religion for the liberty movement?

    Whether or not you have 435 or 8,500 political hacks governing over 300,000,000 people from a building in DC makes little difference – especially with an army of bureaucrats and an Imperial President with plenary powers. The power remains centralized.

    The Americans can’t hold 435 tiny tyrants accountable now, by what magic will 8,500 be held accountable? Suddenly your crazy family and psycho neighbors will elect politicians that respect freedom and property? They will all decide that the welfare/warfare state isn’t so exceptional after all?

    Fuck the government. More and more Americans are ignoring it everyday and libertarians should be leading the way.

  12. Tom Blanton

    I love the way some radical moderate absolutists try to infer that anyone proposing statelessness is demanding it happen overnight. Perhaps then, it is fair to assume that the moderate extremists want to implement their moderate reforms over an extremely long time-frame. Let’s say we balance the budget in 2085. Let’s gradually decriminalize marijuana so that possession of up to 2 grams will be completely legal by 2100.

    I see nothing wrong with winding down the federal government over a period of a decade, much like would be done with any large organization in bankruptcy. Protect assets and sell them off slowly to pay or settle obligations. Let people opt out of the whole FICA regime as opposed to cancelling SS checks for the elderly who need the money to buy dog food to eat.

    The surveillance state is here. The police state is here. The whole world including America is America’s battlefield in its war on everything the elite doesn’t like. We have a welfare state that is bankrupt.

    This is the legacy of over 100 years of radical moderate rule by mainstream moderate political parties.

    It’s time to go radical.

  13. Starchild

    Tom @13-14 – You have to start somewhere. You propose winding down the federal government over a period of a decade. In the process of decentralizing power from 535 people to 300 million people, why don’t you view going from 535 to 8,500 in the same light as you would view selling off a few buildings in Washington D.C. to start paying off government obligations?

  14. Robert Capozzi

    14tb: I see nothing wrong with winding down the federal government over a period of a decade, much like would be done with any large organization in bankruptcy.

    me: My feedback is that sounds less insane than the “moral” position of abolitionism. If the NAP is to be read literally, than accepting any “evil” is “evil.” There is no compromising with “evil.” Compromise with “evil” and become “evil” yourself.

    TB, if you advocate this “Unwind the State in 10 Years,” you are not a button-pushing abolitionist.

    Then the question becomes: Is your 10 Year Plan to Nonarchy sellable? Can you convince a critical mass of people to adopt your 10 Year Plan? And is your nonarcho model sustainable?

    btw, I like that you are more practical than our abolitionist anarchist brethren, if I’m reading your view correctly. I don’t think you are “evil” for acknowledging that some state is useful, at least during the 10 Year Wind-Down.

    MNR talked about “transitions” as well, but I don’t recall him justifying – even temporarily – the State’s continued existence on “moral” grounds. Does anyone have a cite?

    As for the TAAAList approach, my view is to advocate for maximal liberty generally, and specific measures specifically, at least in a political context. I support legislation that advances liberty ATC, and don’t support that which does not. It’s a straightforward, modest approach, but one that takes into account how this swirls-of-gray world works.

    Hold low the banner!

  15. Robert Capozzi

    more….

    To be clear, though, any 10 year Plan is advocating aggression. It violates the NAP.

    Discuss….

  16. Robert Capozzi

    15 s:… why don’t you view going from 535 to 8,500 in the same light as you would view selling off a few buildings in Washington D.C. to start paying off government obligations?

    me: I’m not sure that analogy holds. Selling buildings is a clear liquidation of a piece of the State.

    Still, the point of increasing the number of MCs is it is calculation, and I’d say a wise one. It should disperse Congress’s power over more people, making each MC less powerful.

    That sounds like a good idea to me. Seems sellable, too, although not an easy sell.

    I wonder if it might backfire, though. Would it make the Speakership even more powerful, for ex.? Dunno…

  17. Michael H. Wilson

    Just get rid of the air conditioning in D.C. and that might help a lot more.

  18. Tom Blanton

    I don’t have enough time, energy and space on this website to write out a complete 10-year plan to liquidate the federal government in a manner that a majority of American statists, limited or full blown, would find acceptable.

    It would take me a month or so to get it together and it would probably take close to a ream of paper.

    Selling off a few buildings to pay down debt isn’t where I’m coming from at all. I’m talking about abolishing the government in an orderly fashion. Would it consist of continuing aggression? Sure, but steadily decreasing in concrete ways that are too numerous to list. But, it is no secret among libertarians that running a police state, a surveillance state, a welfare state and a warfare state is extremely expensive and is not conducive to a healthy society. So, a little imagination, very little, might give a few here some idea of what areas of government need to be abolished immediately and without perverse consequences – in fact, with good consequences.

    As to whether having 8,500 Republicrat sociopathic liars who are more equal than mere citizens is preferable than having 435, my opinion is not so much. If it captures the imagination of others and creates orgasmic patriotic delight and tears of joy at the thought of restoring American exceptionalism and the Norman Rockwell vision of a proud republic, fine. Call your House Rep and demand that he or she support having 8,500 House members. Good luck with that.

    It’s just as easy for me not to vote for 1 out 8,500 as it is for me not to vote for 1 out of 435. However, it would be much more difficult to keep up with what hundreds of new committees filled with shiny new pompous assholes were contemplating doing to make life harder.

    But why stop at 8,500? Why not 17,000 or 340,000? I know, how about having 320,000,000 unelected representatives that don’t ever meet except at the grocery store now and then?

  19. Catholic Trotskyist

    I agree with Jim Gray and Starchild; increase the size of Congress. Although I agree with this for a different reason, since I don’t believe complete liberty is possible in a civilized society.

  20. Steve M

    increased representation is what you theoretically get when you take authority away from the federal government and hand it to the states.

    Even more so when you continue by moving authority from the state to the city/county level…. then down to the precinct level.

    It won’t mean that their will be less corruption its just that scale of the corruption will get smaller.

  21. Robert Capozzi

    21 tb:So, a little imagination, very little, might give a few here some idea of what areas of government need to be abolished immediately and without perverse consequences – in fact, with good consequences.

    me: I don’t disagree. Say your Abolition List amounted to, say, 20% of the federal budget. It might also involve abolishing overnight, say, 10 agencies.

    The same savings might be accomplished by trimming ALL agencies by 20%.

    Myself, I’m neutral on these 2 options. I like both of them. I’m more interested in actually enacting such a change, less in whether specific agencies and functions are abolished.

    Whatever works, sez me.

    tb: I’m talking about abolishing the government in an orderly fashion. Would it consist of continuing aggression? Sure, but steadily decreasing in concrete ways that are too numerous to list.

    me: If you accept monopolistic aggression — even as a transition — that sounds statist to me. Why would you EVER accept statist aggression as justified?

  22. Starchild

    Robert @25 writes, “If you accept monopolistic aggression — even as a transition — that sounds statist to me. Why would you EVER accept statist aggression as justified?”

    Robert, it seems to me that you often defend policies a lot more statist than that, and regularly criticize libertarians like Tom for being too “extremist” (as if it’s a bad thing to advocate for a libertarian approach that’s extremely different from current public policy!).

    When you are as supportive as Tom Blanton is of taking strongly libertarian positions, then it will make more sense for you to criticize him as being too tolerant of monopolistic aggression.

  23. Robert Capozzi

    26 s, seems ironic of me, don’t it? To unpack my intention here, which I thought’d be clear: I am exposing an inconsistency of NAP-solutism. If one buys the NAP literally, then it follows (for me, at least, not TK, apparently, nor TB) that the only truly consistent stance is to advocate immediate abolition of the State. Anything short of that’d be statist, therefore “immoral,” therefore “evil.”

    I don’t find your notion that there are “more/less” L positions. I don’t believe that TB is “more” L than I am. His positions tend to be more dramatic than mine are, that’s all. Mine are more realistic, which I contend makes them more attractive and sellable to the general public, and therefore more likely to be effective.

    Where I believe NAP-solutists lose their way is that they tend to take a beautiful idea – non-aggression – and they apply in a specific, literalistic manner. I don’t think that works. It is valuable to have a True North in any endeavor (in this case, political change) while recognizing that it is a process, a journey. Journeys are taken one step at a time, not in grandiose leaps from here to “there,” wherever “there” is.

    Holding out for a L Perfect Storm seems contra-indicated to me.

  24. Starchild

    Robert @27 – If you recognize that there is a “True North” as you put it (i.e. you recognize the general validity of the Nolan Chart), then you should recognize that some positions are more libertarian than others.

    You don’t seem to have trouble recognizing that some positions are more “realistic” than others, which would appear to be a far more subjective judgement call. I think most people would broadly agree that being libertarian has to do with being for less government control and more individual freedom, but ask people what’s “realistic” and the answers will be all over the map.

  25. Tom Blanton

    As to NAP, I take the ASAP defense regarding the dismantling of the state.

    Absent magical powers, the state will not vanish at once unless it collapses – which I fear it will. That won’t be pretty. The idea behind unwinding the state just as one would unwind any other bankrupt organization is to provide time for those dependent on the state to make other arrangements, to allow those owed money (paid in benefits or debt instruments) an opportunity to collect at least some of what may be owed, and to allow civil society to organize human-scale associations to provide services currently monopolized by the state.

    When do we act? ASAP – as soon as possible. How long will such a process take? I submit that a few years is preferable to a few decades or a few centuries.

    If your dog comes home covered with ticks and you desire to remove the ticks, you must allow some ticks to remain on your dog while you tediously remove other ticks, one by one. This is not allowing ticks to continue to suck your dog’s blood. This is accepting the reality that it will take a certain amount of time to remove every tick. It might take 4 hours, or if you remove one tick per day or one per week, the process might take a year.

    Now, if two people own dogs covered with ticks and both decided the ticks should be removed, wouldn’t it be absurd if the guy who is removing ticks from his dog at the rate of one per week criticizes the other guy for removing the ticks on his dog over a one day period, claiming that the this person is tolerating the ticks even though he is removing them as fast as he possibly can?

    Then let’s imagine this hypocritical critic decides he wants to head north. He is aware that he can use the North Star as a guide. As he undertakes his trip, he goes west, then south, then east and then south again. When asked why he didn’t go in the direction of the North Star, he replies that he is afraid he might actually arrive at the North Star.

    Enter the fearful twilight zone of liberty where freedom is for me but not for thee and where tyranny is intolerable but freedom might be worse.

    “Meanwhile, can’t we all just work together, within the system our masters have designed for us, to make our slavery more to my liking?” the traveler asks.

  26. Tom Blanton

    Where I believe NAP-solutists lose their way is that they tend to take a beautiful idea – non-aggression – and they apply in a specific, literalistic manner.

    The operative words: “I believe”

    Is this a belief based on reading the minds of these crazy “NAP-solutists” or is it merely projection?

    Do these “NAP-solutists” really believe there is a magic button that can be pushed that would end the state immediately? If so, who are they and where are they?

    Or do they say they would push “the button” merely to upset the radical moderate extremists that resist change (those that are seated in the right wing)?

  27. Be Rational

    Catholic Trotskyist // May 11, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    “I agree with Jim Gray and Starchild; increase the size of Congress. Although I agree with this for a different reason, since I don’t believe complete liberty is possible in a civilized society.”

    I would prefer that we live in a society that is as close to complete liberty as possible, even if that society is a little less “civilized” … in fact, I would prefer a society that is a little less civilized. Those elements of civilization that limit liberty are actually the chains of slavery and poverty under a privileged ruling elite.

  28. Robert Capozzi

    s 28: If you recognize that there is a “True North” as you put it (i.e. you recognize the general validity of the Nolan Chart), then you should recognize that some positions are more libertarian than others.

    me: Not how I see it. To the extent the Nolan Chart is useful, anything in the L quadrant is just as anything else in the quadrant. The idea of “True North” is that it provides a distant direction-finder, NOT a specific endpoint. The star itself is unreachable, after all!

    s: “realistic” …would appear to be a far more subjective judgement call.

    me: Yup, in spades! Politics requires judgment. Yes, wouldn’t it be easier if it was a simple arithmetic formula. Sadly, it ain’t.

    29 TB: ASAP…

    me: Sure. I’d love to see the size of the state shrink ASAP. Waiting, however, for a critical mass to buy into the worldwide Blantonite 10-Year Plan for Global Statelessness, seems absurd. If you can pull off marshalling forces for that, I suggest, would make your Jesus, John Locke, Lao Tzu, and Karl Marx rolled into one. What you’ve bitten off is nothing short of remarkably, off-the-hookedly near-impossible.

    You may not be surprised to hear that I don’t buy your “tick” analogy. Tick’s provide no value to the dog. The State – with all its many flaws – seems necessary to maintain a semblance of domestic tranquility. I’ve in the past indicated that it – again – isn’t impossible for statelessness to provide for domestic tranquility, but I know of no meaningful precedent, particularly in this post-1945 era.

    30 TB: The operative words: “I believe” Is this a belief based on reading the minds of these crazy “NAP-solutists” or is it merely projection?

    me: Neither. It’s from years of reading and studying the words of NAPsolutists.

  29. Tom Blanton

    Waiting, however, for a critical mass to buy into the worldwide Blantonite 10-Year Plan for Global Statelessness, seems absurd.

    Of course that seems absurd, global statelessness and intergalactic statelessness doesn’t come into play until later. Right now, I just want the crackers in the Republic of Texas and the hipsters in the Republic of Vermont to unite and form a coalition for a 50-state secession after which a confederation would be formed to unwind the U.S. government. But, I’ve already said too much about all that.

    But, instead of wasting so much time and effort trying to persuade people with actual ideas, I will try to instill the rubes with the idea of statelessness through transcendental osmosis.

    After all, any radical moderate extremist worth his salt knows that you can never get what you want by telling people what you want and you can never get people to adopt an idea by telling them what that idea is. That is the fundamental basis of moderate absolutism isn’t it?

    I’ve learned a lot about tactical strategic perception management and manipulation from the great radical moderate statists. From now on, I plan to tell people only what they want to hear and work on planting new ideas using advanced transcendental techniques.

    See, it’s already working.

  30. Tom Blanton

    The State – with all its many flaws – seems necessary to maintain a semblance of domestic tranquility.

    If this is tranquility, why do so many people need tranquilizers? Even the portable electro-shock therapy tasers used by the tranquility officers don’t seem to be working. But, I must admit that America is a lot more tranquil than some of the other nations that our government attempts to control with tranquility drones and tranquility missiles.

  31. Robert Capozzi

    34 tb: If this is tranquility, why do so many people need tranquilizers?

    me: It depends on what you mean by “this”.

    If you are asking me whether the current configuration is preferable to statelessness, I’d say “current configuration” by a hair. I say that because statelessness just seems too risky to me.

    Prior to 1945, I may have given a different answer.

  32. Robert Capozzi

    33 tb: After all, any radical moderate extremist worth his salt knows that you can never get what you want by telling people what you want and you can never get people to adopt an idea by telling them what that idea is. That is the fundamental basis of moderate absolutism isn’t it?

    me: An interesting question. In my experience, I sometimes get what I want by asking, I sometimes get what I want without asking, I very often don’t get what I want whether I ask or not. My impression is that my experience is common, even universal!

    Is yours any different, TB?

    It appears to me that you are NOT getting what you want, despite your asking for a 50-state secession going to statelessness. Neither seems imminent. Clearly, neither has happened. So, at least in your case, it appears that you and I have similar experiences.

    Am I missing something?

    That said, I do think it’s useful to ask for what you want…to paint the Big Picture. For me, in this context, it’s maximal peace and liberty. It’s a general statement.

    Then, in the shorter term, it seems wise to offer specific remedies to move in the direction of maximal peace and liberty. Yes, that IS a calculation that requires judgment. Propose too big a “remedy” and sound like a lunatic. Propose too small a remedy and one does not inspire enough to the cause of maximal peace and liberty.

    That’s just one man’s opinion, though. It certainly looks to me like no L has been effective, since most people are not Ls and the State continues to grow.

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