Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“Most economic fallacies derive from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another.”     Milton Friedman

December 31, 2006

The Power of the Minority

by Adam Selene

I know it is common, in this country, to believe that our government acts based upon the so-called will of the majority. This leads to another idea we refer to as the “tyranny of the majority”. Unfortunately this set of ideas is completely false in a representative government that is based on the idea of 50%+1. Our government is based on just such an idea, both in the way we elect our representatives and in the way that our representatives pass laws.

Let’s ignore, for a moment, the true complexity of Congressional law making, or the fact that Congress has delegated wide swaths of its power to bureaucrats that are not accountable to the voters. Consider this set of facts, instead:

  1. A member of Congress, whether Representative or Senator, is elected by achieving a plurality in their district or state, respectively. We’ll assume, for this argument, that they always receive 50%+1 votes to be elected and that there is 100% voter turn out.
  2. A law is passed in Congress by a vote of 50%+1 of the House and the Senate. Again, we’ll ignore the exceptions since they aren’t particularly important anyhow (impeachment, and such) and we will assume that all members of Congress vote on every law.
  3. Finally, we’ll assume absolutely honest Congressmen who represent as accurately as possible the wishes of the folks that voted for them.

What does that add up to? Well, if you followed along, 50% of Congress, representing only 50% of their districts, pass laws. That means the will of a mere 25% of the voters will decide how much you and I are taxed each and every day, what laws govern us, whether we have a ponzi scheme called Social Security, which judges will become Supreme Court Justices, and so on. In practice it is even worse than that, since legislation has to get through a committee before it can be voted on. That means that less than 10% of the population will indirectly decide whether a piece of legislation becomes law, or not, assuming that we only consider the Senate. In actuality, in the House, a mere 2% of the population is represented in deciding whether a bill leaves committee, or not.

I feel better about pure representative democracy now!

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3 Comments

  1. You left out “signed into law, or vetoed, by a President who is often elected by a mere plurality of votes cast, and for whom popular support may have fallen substantially in the time since his election…”

    ;-)

    Comment by KipEsquire — December 31, 2006 @ 2:31 pm
  2. You also forget that we are voting for candidates, not legislation. It is rare that anyone agrees 100% with the platform of the candidate they put into office, so you can assume that for most legislation, only a percentage of the people who voted for that candidate support that legislation.

    And when you consider whose interests are usually served by our elected officials (i.e. lobbyists), it’s quite possible that a flat majority of the voters for a candidate disagree with the legislation they’re enacting.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — December 31, 2006 @ 4:26 pm
  3. Oh, I left out a LOT of complexity to make my point. But, even without considering all of those things, the fact that a mere 1% representation of the voters can block or enact a bill should be frightening to anyone who wants the Feds to have more power.

    Comment by Adam Selene — December 31, 2006 @ 5:41 pm

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