The Prelude to the First Step to Restoring Liberty

                The first of the ideas that will restore liberty-enabling checks and balances is an idea that will help first to restore the most critical balance of all:  That balance between the sovereign people whose liberty has been weakened and a federal government that has been encroaching on that liberty for decades.  The idea is so simple it will seem radical.  It may even seem to be an idea whose implementation would be so challenging as to be well-nigh impossible.  As wiser minds might have put it, the things we need to do to solve these problems are simple in concept; but they require serious effort to understand correctly, and discipline and nerve to apply the solution.  And as British former Prime Minister Winston Churchill observed “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.[i]”  My friends, I submit to you that by this point we’ve essentially tried everything else.  It is now time for us to undertake that which is simple, but difficult.  Difficult, yes.  But not insurmountably so.  If you are ready to leap with me to do the difficult work of studying briefly one of the key historical processes by which we arrived at this unfortunate juncture; if you are intellectually curious enough to patiently listen to my explanation of this challenging yet eminently simple solution; and most importantly if you find yourself willing to take the required actions; then please embark with me on this journey into the healing of our divided land.

                The Founders vested the powers to derive legislation, to make laws, in a body of persons rather than a single person.  They wisely concluded that a body of representatives of the people would be best suited to considering the need for laws, debating the efficacy of proposed laws, and the selection and ratification of ideas to codify into laws.  I think most of us probably agree that the Founders were correct; that a body of elected representatives is the best political organizational option for creating laws.  We see this not only in our own country at all levels:  Federal, State, and local; we see it in many other countries through congresses or parliaments.  In any case, the Founders believed the creation of the body that would generate laws to be of primary importance.  Hence, the first article of the Constitution dealt with the establishment of the Congress. 

                The part of Congress that was to be closest to the sovereign people was the House of Representatives.  How was it to be closest to the people? It was to be closest to the people through proportional representation. 

                Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution gives the initial number of representatives per state.  “The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative. . . .”[ii]

                The framers specified that at most, there should be a minimum of one representative for every state; but in general placing an upper bound on the number of representatives by limiting the total to one representative per thirty-thousand people. 

                This number is probably a bit surprising; especially to us today given the population of our country, currently estimated at close to 320 million, and the current number of representatives in the House of Representatives, 435.  Let’s establish a little context.  In 1790, the population of New York City was 33,131; the population of Philadelphia was 28,522; that of Boston, 18,320; Charleston, 16,359; and Baltimore, 13,503[iii].  Put differently, we were once electing representatives at a population level commensurate with the populations of only two or three of the largest cities per state.  For comparison, New York State, the home of about 33,000 New Yorkers in 1787, had a total population of 340,120[iv]; it was given six representatives, or about one representative per 60,000 citizens; or one representative per “Two New Yorks,” if you will. 

                The proportion today? One representative per approximately 647,000 people.

                How well-represented do you think you are?

                Let’s let social science put a number on that thought:    

                If, per Dunbar’s number, each person can be said to know 150 other people, and calculating the probability of knowing one person (ostensibly your representative), if it were a matter of straight division you would have a half-of-a-percent chance of knowing one person out of 30,000 people.  Similarly, you would have a one-quarter-of-one-percent chance of knowing one in 60,000.  Your chance of knowing one out of 647,000? About one-quarter of one-tenth of a percent.  Now while you may not have had a good chance of knowing your representative even amongst 60,000 people; the odds were much better that one of the 150 people you knew may have known your representative, and could therefore introduce you.  Your odds of someone you knew who had direct contact with the representative was probably about 12% out of 60,000 people; but only just above 1% out of 647,000 people[v].  As time goes by and the U.S. population increases, these odds are going to get progressively worse. 

                As troubling as this statistic might be to some, others might be relatively happy with the notion of a cap on the number of representatives.  They may be satisfied with their own representative.  They may believe that “Smaller government” means having only just enough representatives and that 435 total representatives is a fine number.

                Let me now put this another way that may lend pause to that notion.

                According to one source, lobbyists in 2018 spent over $3.46 billion lobbying Congress and federal agencies[vi].  The exact figures are not broken down, but if you split this into half for Congress; that’s somewhere near $3.2 million per representative and senator.  According to another source, total contributions to U.S. House candidates in 2018 were $1.55 billion[vii].  That equates to almost $3.6 million spent per House seat! Is this a good thing? Or is it a problem that needs to be addressed? Lobbying in and of itself is not necessarily bad.  We have the freedom to petition our government, and lobbying can be an effective way for a specialized and high-trust society to do this.  But how much is too much? How many lobbying interests really capture the range of concerns that each individual has, especially as lobbying becomes as concentrated as it has in recent decades with a few lobbying clients giving anywhere from $12 million up to almost $94 million[viii]?

                Given these two paramount concerns regarding representation, adequacy of representation and the amount of money spent lobbying any particular representative; I would argue that the latter is the greater concern.  But the solution I will propose will help alleviate concerns in both regards.  This solution I am about to propose is not going to be a stand-alone solution, unfortunately; but it will be one of the key reforms We the People need to make.

                We can turn the issue of money in politics into a simple exercise in supply and demand.  Demand for money is relatively static (excluding inflation) if there are 435 representatives vying for campaign dollars.  If the supply of money can also be considered inelastic, then the $3.2 million per congressional race will be the same going forward.  And any increase in lobbyist efforts will result in even more money per congressman; and presumably increased influence for the concentrated interests petitioning the government.  We the private citizens cannot hope to match our voices and meager resources to this level of influence; especially if the representatives have no personal connection to us via ourselves or our mutual friends. 

                So now I finally unveil the first of several key steps in my proposal that I believe will begin restoring liberty. 

                We the People need to act to increase our own influence with regard to the House, the body of Congress that is supposed to be closest to us.  We must take several steps to rectify the imbalance that is currently tilted in favor of the concentrated moneyed interests.

                We the People, as one of our first steps, must increase the number of representatives in the House of Representatives. 

                In future posts, I will explain how I believe we should do this, and to what extent it should be done. 

                This is one of many simple (and yet difficult) steps we will have to take.  I believe this to be one of the more important of those steps; perhaps the most important step.  This proposal will have far-ranging ramifications that will touch on the Electoral College, the Senate, and Congressional staff; it will also have an effect on the debate for term limits.  And those are ramifications for just the legislative branch! I believe I know how to approach these issues, in some cases happily synergistically. 

                Please stay tuned for further details, which I will publish as soon as I can.  Until then, please feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section.  Comments are moderated.  Please keep comments civil and to-the-point.  Thank you!  


[i] From https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/winston_churchill_135259, last accessed 8 Dec 2019

[ii] From the Transcript of the U.S. constitution found at https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript, last accessed 10 Dec 2019

[iii] See http://physics.bu.edu/~redner/projects/population/cities/1790.txt, last accessed 9 Dec 2019

[iv] See https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/us-census-1790/, last accessed 9 Dec 2019

[v] This assumes your chances of one of the 150 people you know being your representative can be calculated by dividing the number of people you know by the population in question; and assumes that each of those 150 people themselves know 50 unique individuals. 

[vi] See https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/summary, last accessed 10 Dec 2019

[vii] See https://www.followthemoney.org/show-me?dt=1&f-fc=1&c-exi=1&c-r-ot=L&y=2018#[{1|gro=, last accessed 10 Dec 2019

[viii] See https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/top-spenders?cycle=2018, last accessed 10 Dec 2019

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2 Responses to The Prelude to the First Step to Restoring Liberty

  1. Avatar Kale Mosley says:

    Interesting thoughts on a refreshing idea.

    Looking forward to the next installment.

  2. Avatar Chris Penningroth says:

    Thanks, Kale!

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