Monday, June 24, 2002

Every time I read an issue of Harper's Magazine, I want to sing it's praises from the hilltops. And yet, I have neglected to mention it recently from this particular anthill. So let me clear my throat. Ah-hem. Let's begin again.

Harper's Magazine / May 2002 / $5.95
Readings [Essay]
"Dismantling Leviathan" by Donaldson Livingston
pgs 13 - 17

I love its first line: 'Free trade,' like 'free love,' is a beguiling abstraction that hides more than it reveals. But this essay is less concerned with the semantics of free trade, but instead addresses the idea of the size of the ideal state:

A cottage is not a small mansion, and a mansion is not a large cottage. The charm and beauty of both is love when the size is out of scale. What is the human scale of political order? From Plato, Aristotle, and St. Augustine down to the present, there has been a remarkable agreement regarding the optimal size. A city state of 50,000 to 200,000 is all that is necessary to produce a florishing culture...

We should pause to reflect on just how far the United States has moved beyond anything that could be called a human scale of political order. The Constitution was framed for 3 million people in thirteen sovereign states. When the first Congress met in 1790, there was only one representative for every 30,000. Since only property-holding white males could vote, that was close to Plato's ideal figure of around 5,000 voting citizens per state... if the ratio of the Framers existed today, there would be arund 9,000 members in the House. A deliberating body of that size would be out of scale. But does that mean that the ratio of the Framers is out of scale, or that the union has simply grown too large?

Congress and the president now spend over 2 trillion dollars per year, about two thirds of the gross national product of Germany. This vast amount runs through the hands of only 435 representatives, 100 senators and one president. Never has so much financial power been controlled by so few.

On a related note:
Happiness encircled by water
Island nations are more likely to be co-operative, democratic and cohesive, observes Prince Edward Island scholar HENRY SREBRNIK
Monday, June 24, 2002 – Page A13

In many small island states, the average legislator represents fewer than 10,000 electors. In the big island state of Britain, by contrast, the average parliamentary seat contains about 90,000 people; in France, almost 100,000; and in the United States, half a million.

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