Thursday, December 17, 2009

parochial lawmakers

Commentators on Congress frequently bemoan the power of local or special interests compared to what they see as the national interest. And, yes, lawmakers frequently act and vote to protect local jobs and programs and to mirror strong policy views among their constituents.

The Framers of the U.S. Constitution built parochialism into our political system by creating a legislature of people representing geographic areas, not classes or professions or proportional votes for parties. And even though they hoped that these delegates would adopt a national perspective, they knew that they were likely to be locally oriented.

Recently, while chasing a footnote (as academics are wont to do), I came across two quotations from notable Americans acknowledging this parochialism. Ezra Stiles, president of Yale, said in 1783: "Let a bill, or law, be read, in the one branch or the other, every one instantly thinks how it will affect his constituents." And James Madison, a few months after the Philadelphia convention that drafted the Constitution, cautioned against choosing state legislators by districts: "A spirit of locality is inseparable from that mode. The evil is fully displayed in the County representations, the members of which are everywhere observed to lose sight of the aggregate interests of the Community, and even to sacrifice them to the interests or prejudices of their respective constituents."

So if you have a gripe about parochialism, blame the Framers.

No comments:

Post a Comment