18 November 2008

Convict Nearly Wins Senate Seat - Or The Paradox of (Reductionist) Politics

It is a testament to Stevens' popularity — he was once named "Alaskan of the Century" — that he won nearly half the votes, even after his conviction. He routinely brought home the highest number of government dollars per capita in the nation — more than $9 billion in 2006 alone, according to one estimate.
With Stevens gone "it's a big gap in dollars — billions of dollars — that none of the other members of the delegation, Begich, whoever, could fill," said Gerald McBeath, chair of the political science department at University of Alaska Fairbanks. "There is no immediate replacement for him." [full story here]

The idea behind the reductionist model of the world is simple: what is best for the part(s) is best for the whole.

If this were true, having 535 congressmen all clamoring for tax breaks and spending for their districts would result in what is best for the country. But actually, the more successful each senator or congressperson is in getting more spending into his / her district, the larger the deficit and the higher the burden on the country as a whole.

To give you some idea of well this reductionist model is working, next year the federal deficit might reach one trillion dollars. And while nearly all individual congresspersons or senators has an approval rating high enough to win by a comfortable margin, Congress as a whole has an approval rating in the single digits.

Congress is not designed to do what is best for the country. It is designed to do what is best for each district. There is a difference. It's not obvious how we'll translate that distinction into policy.

5 comments:

Lifehiker said...

I'm praying that Obama will have enough political capital to take what he needs directly to the American people, and to punish the jerks when they either stonewall him or go the way of pork barrel politics.

Frankly, I think the democrats are happy not to have a 60 vote majority in the senate. The only game they love to play is the blame game, and without 60 votes the game is alive and well.

wheelsonthebus said...

excellent. well-put.

it is short-sighted to look out for the state while ignoring the country.

LOREN said...

Hi Ron! Thanks for dropping by my blog. Hmmm.. I think I'd be learning a lot about US politics here. You have a nice and distinctive blog!

Ron Davison said...

LH,
yes. I suspect that Obama will have that much political capital. And I have (good blogger that I am) already begun to fret about it.

Emily,
Short-sighted indeed. And odd to think that one's house will ever fare better than the neighborhood in the long run.

Loren,
Thanks for reciprocating. Yes, during election season I focus even more on politics than normal.

David said...

I fret too Ron. He can take his needs to the people but they don't vote on legislation and as you've pointed out correctly the inmates are teflon. Perhaps if people really get pushy with their reps but what's the chance? Gimme a number. We can't even make our state hacks pass a budget.