Ah, Election Day. Here’s to exercising our right as citizens to vote for politicians to represent our various best interests, all in the hope that the multitude of campaign advertisements and robo calls will finally come to an abrupt and satisfying end. Or so it often seems with our current system of representational democracy.
Who is best represented in our democracy? And what if we were represented differently? Say, instead of voting as an individual person of a town, county or state, what if our elected officials represented us on the basis of our class? Just such a question was posed by Annie Lowrey in her Washington Post article “What if Senators Represented People by Income or Race, Not by State?”
“Imagine a chamber in which senators were elected by different income brackets,” challenges Lowrey, “with two senators representing the poorest 2 percent of the electorate, two senators representing the richest 2 percent and so on.”
Okay, let’s do it. (Wait! “It was my understanding that there would be no math.”) Here’s the representational breakdown of the income groups (number of senators doesn’t add up to 100) she came up with, using data from the Census Bureau:
- Millionaires = 1 senator
- $100,000 – $1 million wage earners = 5 senators
- $30,000 – $80,000 = 34 senators
- Under $10,000 = 16 senators
- No income = 8 senators
Huh. That’s an interesting representational breakdown. And one in which, I’m willing to guess, the representational concern shown for, or demanded by, those in various economic groups would be far different than in our current democratic system, as we voted for today.
“The level of cash spent on our electioneering … has never been higher,” says Sam Pizzigati, who studies wealth and inequality for the Institute for Policy Studies. “This year’s federal mid-term contests will likely eat up an all-time record $4 billion.”
And this multi-billion-dollar excess doesn’t even include state legislative or gubernatorial races.
“Where’s all this cash coming from?” Pizzigati asks. But unfortunately, we already know. From the portion of the population that would be represented, in Lowrey’s fantastically imaginary scenario, by one single senator.
The 97 richest wage earners, Pizzigati points out, “could have footed the entire … 2010 election campaign bill, out of their 2009 earnings, and still have, on average, over $220 million each left over from all the loot they stuffed into their pockets last year.” Which, in the parlance of a recent Washington, D.C. rally, is sort of insane.
And to top it off, with the recent Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court this past winter, the unbalanced reality that Pizzigati writes about seems likely to get far worse, while the more equitable representation that Lowrey imagines seems even more fantastical.
But in noting, let alone proposing, the fantasy of representational democracy by class, it becomes ever more difficult to ignore the effectiveness with which big money undercuts our seemingly-endlessly-struggling democratic political process.
Voting and politics and money, oh my!
Campaign finance reform, anyone?