Demythologizing Democracy

by Don Boudreaux on January 30, 2011

in Myths and Fallacies, Politics, Reality Is Not Optional

Here’s a letter to the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

James Banner objects to a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow any legislation enacted by Uncle Sam to be “dis-enacted” by a vote of 2/3ds or more of state legislatures (“An amendment rooted in past failures,” Jan. 30).  Mr. Banner argues that this amendment would give “a minority of Americans another means of preventing the majority from governing.”

The case isn’t so clear.  Suppose that each of the 535 members of Congress is elected to office by a razor-thin majority of a mere 51 percent of the votes in his or her district or state.  49 percent of American voters would then be represented on Capitol Hill by persons they voted against.  Now suppose that this Congress enacts a statute by the barest majority: 51 ‘yea’ votes in the Senate and 218 ‘yea’ votes in the House.  The result is a statute that is enacted with the favorable votes of the preferred representatives of only a tad more than 25 percent of Americans.  In this case, a sizable majority (nearly 75 percent) of us are forced to follow rules imposed by a minority of us.

The proposed amendment might or might not be a bad idea.  But one cannot make a sensible assessment of it by naively presuming that all, or even most, legislation approved by Congress – even if signed by the President – invariably reflects the wishes of a majority of Americans.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

Of course, there are many, many other reasons for rejecting the conclusion that legislation duly enacted by sitting legislatures reflects the ‘will’ of the majority – much less the ‘will’ of The People.

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