America’s Compromised State

America’s Compromised State

Originally published at Project-Syndicate | June 17, 2020

A malevolent, incompetent Trump administration bears much of the blame for America’s failure to control COVID-19. But there is an additional, less noticed cause: the Connecticut Compromise of 1787, which handicapped American democracy at its inception, and has since undercut Congress’s response to the pandemic.

At the Constitutional Convention of 1787 small and large states disagreed about the basis of representation, with the former arguing for equality of states, and the latter for equality of people. The compromise was to establish a bicameral legislature, with one chamber for the people and one for the states. In the House of Representatives, people are represented in proportion to their numbers; in the Senate, each state has two senators, regardless of its population.

As a result, the four largest states today – California, Texas, Florida, and New York – hold only eight of 100 seats in the Senate, even though they account for one-third of the US population. Eight votes also go to the four smallest states – Wyoming, Alaska, Vermont, and North Dakota – which together contain 1% of the population.

Now consider income inequality, which is often measured by the Gini coefficient, with zero signifying perfect equality, and one indicating perfect inequality (a single person receives all income). The US Gini coefficient is 0.42 – the highest among rich countries. Yet if one were to apply the same metric of inequality to representation in the Senate, it would be an even larger 0.50. Voters in Wyoming have ten times as much voting power as voters in Texas do. And because legislation must pass both chambers, coalitions of small states can easily block measures that are in the interest of the vast majority of the population. The Senate frequently does precisely this.

The geographical distribution of COVID-19 cases and deaths is even less equal than the distribution of voting power in the Senate. As of July 8, 45% of the 125,000 recorded COVID-19 deaths were in just four states – New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois – and 70% were in ten states. There have been deaths in all states; but the combined death toll for Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming, and Montana is only around 80. The 25 least affected states have lost a total of 8,000 people – 6.4% of the national total.

When US President Donald Trump proclaimed a national emergency on March 13, the country went into lockdown more or less uniformly. The emergency was national, and Congress responded by passing four separate measures on a non-partisan basis. But over time, the state-by-state lockdowns gradually eased – both officially and unofficially – with much less uniformity than the original freeze. In places with low rates of infections and few deaths, people started moving around more freely compared to residents of states like New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, where people were dying or had died in large numbers. The Senate’s appetite for more emergency spending rapidly dwindled.

On May 15, the Democratic-controlled House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act on a mostly party-line vote. But the legislation has since made no progress in the Senate. The Republican majority in that chamber is a direct consequence of the Compromise of 1787, which awards a wildly disproportionate share of seats to rural, less-populated states that lean Republican.

Hence, the stage has long been set for a tragedy. Soon enough, the virus began to spread in the south and southwest, where low death rates had encouraged widespread nonchalance. Once policymakers realized that infections and deaths were spiraling upward, they tried to reverse the reopening process. But it appears they were too late, and now infections are once again threatening eastern states by way of travelers from southern and western states.

Lacking a national plan, let alone a constitution that would allow for central control, each state follows its own instincts and perceived interests, usually myopically. With free travel between states, the virus now will bounce back and forth across the country until a vaccine becomes available or herd immunity has been attained (assuming that lasting immunity is even possible).

As the deaths continue to rise in states that previously had fewer cases, the Senate will likely take up some version of the HEROES Act. This relief will be urgently needed, considering that unemployment benefits will run out at the end of this month, and the most affected states will soon run out of money. But it would have been needed less if the Senate had shown leadership earlier on. A coordinated national strategy for the lockdown might have resulted in a slower return to work, but it would have been more sustainable than the chaos now underway.1

In any case, the contagion is shifting from “blue” (Democratic) to “red” (Republican) states. As of July 8, the ratio of deaths in the 26 states with Republican governors (compared to the 24 states with Democratic governors) had risen to 29%, from 22% in late March. Republican governors arguably have been more influenced than their Democratic counterparts by the pernicious disinformation issuing from the White House and its media allies. Demonstrating open contempt for scientific advice, a recent Wall Street Journal editorial mocked Harvard University as “one of the last institutions in America that haven’t learned to be wary of making radical changes based on models from public health experts.”1Sign up for our weekly newsletter, PS on Sunday

That said, I suspect matters would not have been very different if Democrats had replaced Republican state legislators and governors. The problem is the lack of a central, enforceable national strategy in a country with a federal system that is ultimately controlled by local authorities responding to their own needs and perceived risks. It was always going to be difficult to ask people to sacrifice for faraway others, in order to mitigate a risk they do not see in their own communities.1

The power of the states was a problem in Philadelphia in 1787, and it remains a problem today. Inequality is often cited as the cause of many social ills. As if America’s economic inequality weren’t bad enough, its institutionalized representational inequality has now severely undermined the effectiveness of its democracy.

Angus Deaton: The 2015 Nobel laureate in economics, is Professor Emeritus of Economics and International Affairs at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and Presidential Professor of Economics at the University of Southern California. He is the co-author of Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism (Princeton University Press, 2020).

59 Responses to America’s Compromised State

  1. I was curious if you ever considered changing the layout of your
    website? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.

    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content
    so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two images.
    Maybe you could space it out better? adreamoftrains best hosting

  2. I loved as much as you’ll receive carried out
    right here. The sketch is tasteful, your authored material stylish.

    nonetheless, you command get bought an impatience over
    that you wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come further formerly again since exactly the same nearly a
    lot often inside case you shield this hike.

  3. This is the right site for anybody who would like to understand this topic.

    You know so much its almost tough to argue with you (not that I actually will need to…HaHa).
    You definitely put a brand new spin on a subject that has been discussed for years.
    Wonderful stuff, just excellent!

  4. This is very interesting, You are a very
    skilled blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your magnificent post.
    Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks!

  5. I was recommended this blog by means of my cousin.
    I’m no longer positive whether or not this post
    is written by way of him as nobody else recognise such special approximately my difficulty.
    You’re amazing! Thank you!

  6. Hi, I do think this is an excellent website.
    I stumbledupon it 😉 I am going to return once again since I book marked it.
    Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide others.

  7. With almost everything that seems to be developing inside this area, many of your opinions are actually fairly radical. Nevertheless, I am sorry, because I do not subscribe to your entire suggestion, all be it exhilarating none the less. It looks to me that your commentary are not entirely justified and in fact you are generally your self not totally confident of your point. In any event I did enjoy looking at it.

  8. Thank you, I’ve just been searching for info approximately this topic for a while and yours is
    the best I have discovered so far. But, what concerning the
    bottom line? Are you certain about the source?

  9. I know this web page presents quality depending content and additional stuff,
    is there any other website which offers such data in quality?

  10. Do you mind if I quote a few of your posts
    as long as I provide credit and sources back to your website?
    My blog is in the very same area of interest as yours and my users would
    really benefit from some of the information you present here.
    Please let me know if this ok with you. Regards!

  11. Great beat ! I wish to apprentice whilst you amend your
    site, how could i subscribe for a weblog web site? The account helped me a acceptable deal.
    I have been tiny bit familiar of this your broadcast offered vivid transparent concept

  12. I simply could not go away your web site before suggesting that I extremely loved the standard information a person provide in your
    visitors? Is going to be back steadily to check up on new posts

  13. Wonderful goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff previous to and you’re just
    extremely wonderful. I really like what you’ve acquired here, really like what you are stating and the way in which
    you say it. You make it entertaining and you still take care of to keep it smart.
    I can not wait to read much more from you. This is really a great website.

  14. Hi, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.

    When I look at your blog site in Chrome, it looks fine
    but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, great blog!

  15. I do not know whether it’s just me or if everybody else encountering problems with your website.
    It appears as though some of the text within your
    posts are running off the screen. Can somebody else
    please provide feedback and let me know if this is happening
    to them too? This might be a issue with my browser because I’ve had this happen previously.
    Appreciate it

  16. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to
    say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing to your
    feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  17. Somebody necessarily lend a hand to make seriously articles I might state.
    That is the first time I frequented your website page and to this
    point? I amazed with the analysis you made to make this actual put up amazing.
    Wonderful activity!

  18. It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the long run and it is time to be happy.
    I have learn this submit and if I may just I desire to recommend you some interesting things or tips.

    Maybe you could write subsequent articles relating to this article.
    I wish to read even more things approximately it!

  19. Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is important and everything.
    However think about if you added some great visuals or
    video clips to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and
    video clips, this blog could definitely be one of the most
    beneficial in its field. Excellent blog!

  20. My partner and I stumbled over here by a different web page and thought I might as
    well check things out. I like what I see so now i’m following you.

    Look forward to checking out your web page for a second time.

  21. Woah! I’m really digging the template/theme of this site.
    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very hard to get that “perfect balance”
    between user friendliness and appearance. I must say that you’ve done
    a very good job with this. Additionally, the blog loads very
    quick for me on Opera. Superb Blog!

  22. Greetings, I do believe your web site might be having internet browser compatibility problems.
    When I look at your web site in Safari, it looks fine however when opening in I.E., it’s got
    some overlapping issues. I just wanted to provide you with a quick heads up!
    Besides that, great blog!

  23. First of all I would like to say awesome blog!
    I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your head before writing.
    I’ve had a tough time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out.
    I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to
    15 minutes tend to be wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips?

    Many thanks!

  24. I simply couldn’t leave your web site prior to suggesting that
    I actually enjoyed the usual information an individual supply to your guests?
    Is gonna be again frequently to inspect new posts

  25. Everything is very open with a precise description of
    the challenges. It was truly informative. Your site is very useful.

    Thank you for sharing!

  26. Hi there everyone, it’s my first pay a visit at this web page, and piece of writing is in fact fruitful
    for me, keep up posting these types of content.

  27. I got this web page from my pal who shared with me regarding this web page
    and now this time I am browsing this website and reading very informative articles or reviews here.

  28. I just like the valuable info you provide on your
    articles. I’ll bookmark your weblog and take a look at again here frequently.
    I am rather certain I’ll be told plenty of new stuff proper right here!
    Good luck for the following!

  29. Excellent site you have here but I was curious about if you
    knew of any message boards that cover the same topics
    discussed in this article? I’d really like to be a part
    of group where I can get suggestions from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest.
    If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
    Many thanks!

  30. Heya i’m for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It truly useful
    & it helped me out much. I hope to give something back and aid others like you helped me.

  31. Nice weblog right here! Additionally your website loads up very fast!
    What web host are you the usage of? Can I am getting your associate link on your host?
    I desire my web site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

Leave a reply

The Coming Global Technology Fracture

The Coming Global Technology Fracture

Today’s international trade regime was not designed for a world of data, software, and artificial intelligence. Already under severe pressure from China’s rise and the backlash against hyper-globalization, it is utterly inadequate to face the three main challenges these new technologies pose. Continue Reading