In a good way, by the way.
AN IMMODEST PROPOSAL
What could the government of the most populated land in the world, China, possibly have in common with the smallest, the Vatican City State?
Clue: Iran and Sweden also have one.
Another hint. Monaco and Luxembourg, two of the richest places in the world, have it. So do Chad and Somalia, two of the poorest.
Don’t know? Come on … you can do it.
Or can you?
Costa Rica and Croatia, Greece and Guatemala, Kuwait and Laos, Mali and Malta, Greenland and Uganda: all of them have one.
What’s that you said? No, it has nothing to do with nonauthoritarian or authoritarian governments. Iceland and Israel have one; so do Cuba and North Korea.
Not Anglo-Saxon? Nope, wrong. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have one.
It ain’t American? Sorry, terribly sorry … Nebraska has one. So do Washington D.C., Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
I saved the best clue for last. Look out the window. Most American cities and counties have one.
O.K., I’ll put you out of your misery. The list is long. Roughly half of the sovereign nations on earth have one.
What so many incredibly different places have in common:
A unicameral legislature.
That’s right -- no house and senate. One body does all the legislating.
The bicameral legislature of the American federal government and 49 of our states originated in Greece. In 594 B.C. the statesman, lawmaker and poet Solon created the Council of 400 in Athens to check the power of the ruling aristocracy. In 508 B.C. Cleisthenes carried on Solon’s work. He revolutionized the existing constitution, for which he is known as the Father of Athenian Democracy.
Fast forward 1,700 years. England‘s bicameral legislature evolved in the 1200s/1300s out of a council that advised the king. Lords and Commons: from what I saw while living in London, those names tell you where it’s at.
The Lords membership is determined by the queen, and is for life.
Commons members, on the other hand, are elected by popular suffrage.
The original English legislature was not what the U.S. had for over 200 years: not a democracy but a polity, i.e., a hybrid of oligarchy and democracy moderated by a large middle class and tending toward democracy. The House of Lords consisted of nobility and church leaders; the Commons, of knights and the bourgeoisie.
However, the English bicameral system readily lent itself to modifications toward a polity. The American Founding Fathers used Britain as a model. To wit:
(i) the Lords. 100 American senators, two per state, are elected for six year terms. Senatorial districts are statewide.
In time and space, senators are more remote than
(ii) the Commons. U.S. house representatives are elected every 2 years and have districts based solely on population, at present about 750,000 people.
The size difference in senate versus house constituencies can be gigantic. California, for example, has 2 senators and 53 house representatives.
The Founding Fathers believed that, given their smaller districts and more frequent elections, house members would be closer to the -- as they are called behind closed doors in political circles -- little people. House representatives would represent them, not the rich. Think: Solon and the Council of 400.
It didn’t work. Otherwise, I wouldn`t have written this post. And you wouldn`t be reading it.
Today, the house is rolling in money. In 2008, the average net worth of a house member was $4,600,000. 240 out of 435 house representatives were millionaires -- 55%. In contrast, only 1% of Americans are millionaires.
We’re a long way, literally and figuratively, from Athens.
Contrary to the ruling oligarchy, The Third American Revolution opposes soiled fairy tales in which as-if worlds prevent real democracy from taking root, flourishing. That Revolution would re-establish the polity but with more power for the democratic component and less for the oligarchy.
Senators are, as the Fathers anticipated, richer than house members. In 2008, 68% of senators were millionaires. Their average net worth was almost $14 million. In 2009, their median wealth was $2,380,000.
Look at the numbers again. Call it what you will, it still remains the same. America has two Houses of Lords. I will amend that statement shortly.
The American polity, which lasted 220 years and lit up the world, expired in 2008-9. Cause of death: massive hemorrhaging under the weight of billions of dollars doled out to America’s mega-rich. The second the oligarchs stepped out from behind the curtain, appeared before the lights, cameras, action, stuck out their hands for $13 billion – and got it, the American system changed from a polity to an oligarchy. That transformation was The Second American Revolution.
Revolution, because what happened was no change in but rather of political systems. As the hapless camel experienced with one extra straw, qualitative addition led to qualitative change.
With the death of the polity and the birth of a full-blown oligarchy, the original reason for having a bicameral legislature no longer exists.
* * *
But at the end of the day, does America have a bicameral legislature?
An unexpected question with a surprising answer.
The French have a saying: Jamais deux sans trois. If you have two of something, a third will appear. If that is true, no bicameral legislature is truly bicameral.
Bicameral legislatures in fact have a third body which is ad hoc. It suddenly is, then is not. You have to look hard to find it.
That third body is the Conference Committee.
In a bicameral legislature, whenever one body passes a version of a bill that differs from the one passed by the other body, the disparity must be resolved. For that purpose, a small group of members from the house and senate is appointed by their leaders. That group, the Conference Committee, meets in private.* Its members iron out the discrepancies and report back to their respective bodies, who vote to pass or reject the Conference Committee Report.
For many years I worked for the leadership of a House of Representatives. I saw hundreds of Conference Committee reports. When they arrived on the house floor, the Reports were routinely subjected not to a formal roll call but to a show of hands or voice vote; hence, there was no public record of who voted how.
Not that it would have made any difference:
I do not recall a single Report being seriously debated, much less rejected. Which can open a very dark corridor …
The handful of lawmakers forming a Conference Committee can go beyond the call of duty and insert major, new, uncalled-for “stuff” that goes undetected until it is too late. That ability to sneak in new material -- or, as the case may be, old material that the legislature previously rejected -- is what makes the closed Conference Committee really, truly, a third body.
Typically, Conference Committees spring into existence in the closing period of a legislative session, when legislators are exhausted, hassled, hurried. All the easier to simply raise a hand or shout “Aye!”, especially when everybody else is doing it and your Floor Leader is leading the charge -- and you, the lawmaker, are fed up with the whole thing and only want to go home.
Of course, in a unicameral legislature there is no secretive Conference Committee. Its plots and subplots do not exist.
When discovered, art forgeries in museums make a swift trip in the freight elevator to the basement. Similarly, when a unicameral legislature is adopted, Conference Committees and all that does with them are quickly relegated to the outskirts of history. And they aren’t the only thing to be run out of town…
Lawmakers often introduce legislation merely for political purposes. They know in advance the other body will kill their indispensable bill to save the republic. Don’t waste your time, though, searching emails or monitoring phone calls; I never saw a single phony bill sponsor having to explain the facts of life to the leadership of the other body. Nod, wink.
Sidebar: fraudulent bill sponsors don’t fear retaliation by voters. Batting averages are crucial in baseball. In legislatures, however, the percentage of bills a lawmaker sponsors that become laws means nothing whatsoever. “I tried,” your representative will tell you with a shrug and Cheshire cat grin. Henceforth, there’s your cue. Now it’s your turn to nod, wink:
If a representative knows his bill was stillborn, why introduce it?
Not really bill sponsorship, aided and abetted by bicameralism, is a favorite scam of legislators to wring financial contributions out of everybody from oil tycoons and big league bucks lobbyists to waitresses and farm workers.
Here is a case study you won’t find in any political science textbook:
Every year without fail in the legislature where I worked somebody would introduce a “Right to Work” (RTW) bill. In right-to-work states, you do not have to join a union to get or keep a job.
Seconds after the bill was dropped in the hopper, the same old battle lines formed. The “shocked” and “horrified” union leaders actually loved it. The RTW menace instantly justified their jobs and expense accounts; it gave them the excuse to “remind” thousands of dues-paying members who their “friends” were in the legislature. Nod, wink.
Enemies, too. Anti-union conservatives of course loved the RTW bill, but not for the reason you expect.
Year after year, I watched the AFL-CIO trade away 95% of its action just to kill RTW. “Tell me what somebody wants,” one RTW sponsor told me, laughing, twisting an invisible stiletto, “and I’ll tell you their weakness.” Thus, the conservatives got the trade-offs; the unions were housebroken until the next legislative session. Nod, wink.
As for the union leaders, having “defeated” RTW they jubilantly went home and made scores of self-serving calls to Washington; they held back-patting sessions up and down the state; they appeared on TV at the drop of a hat, and sent puff pieces to newspapers, which indolent editors in the boonies published verbatim; they gave spirited parties in which their rank-and-file members screamed “Victory!” among other things.
Everybody knows about chain letters. What they don’t realize is that they are predicated on failure, not success. After all, if chain letters really worked, they would travel around the world and back again, multiplying faster than clothes hangers in a closet. As the initiator of a chain letter, you would be sitting at home and suddenly receive millions of letters from China, India, Bangladesh, Croatia, Zimbabwe, all demanding a free bottle of booze, money, whatever. In short, if chain letters really worked, there would be no point in doing them.
Likewise, the RTW bill was predicated on failure. It was in reality a Full Employment Act for legions of lawyers and lobbyists. Actual passage of the bill would have brought down the curtain on this otherwise perennial and predictable lucrative bit of stagecraft.
As indicated, RTW had a second ultimate purpose which both sides shared in equal measure: rally the troops. I noticed how thousands of little people -- those perfect soldiers who faithfully marched in the rain and snow and dutifully wrote letters -- invariably wound up being subjected to The Walt Disney School of Management principle: Children under 12 must be accompanied by money.
In these titanic struggles between the frogs and the mice, it is pointless to try to find the good guy and bad guy. Representatives and senators cheerfully alternated who played Mutt and Jeff -- who introduced the RTW bill, who killed it. A pile of other legislation, e.g., bills allowing interstate banking and collective bargaining for public employees, were forever caught in the cogs of the same shameless shakedown.
When a unicameral legislature is adopted, senate/house crossfire tricks and traps instantly expire. In the same vein, now that the polity is dead, it’s time for houses of representatives all over America to give up the ghost. Our catastrophic public deficit urgently demands that bicameral legislatures soaking the nation go the way of clackers, Metrecal and the Edsel.
* * *
“I know what you’re thinking about;”
“But it isn’t so. Nohow.”**
In the movement to an American unicameral legislature, Nebraska leads the way.
Nebraska started out with a bicameral legislature. Following a trip to Australia in 1931, George Norris, the state’s extraordinary United States Senator and one of JFK’s profiles in courage, took up the unicam cause. He campaigned long and hard, arguing that bicameral legislatures were anchored in the undemocratic House of Lords. Senator Norris also believed it was utter nonsense and a waste of money to pay two groups to do the same thing.
He won. Nebraska’s unicam swung into action in 1937. The state never looked back.
In debates over changing from a bicameral to a unicameral legislature, one bone of contention invariably is flung on the floor. Which should disappear, the house or the senate?
Here, again, Nebraska leads the way. Its 1934 amendment to the state constitution abolished the house and transferred its powers to the senate. As a result, with 49 senators Nebraska has the smallest legislature in the nation.
Given The Third American Revolution’s goal of greater democracy, at first blush it would seem we should eliminate the senate -- the Lords -- not the house. As indicated, that view has been overtaken by events. Economic realities show that America now has two -- actually three -- Houses of Lords. By abolishing nationwide houses of representatives, we eliminate thousands of politicos and their expenses -- staffs, rents, furniture, travel, retirement.
Equally important, by abolishing the house we get rid of the soiled fairy tale. 2,000 years ago, Aristotle observed how the polity, the democracy-oligarchy hybrid, the “best government,” eventually is killed by oligarchs:
"[Forgetting the claims of equity], they not only give more power to the well-to-do, but they also deceive the people [by fobbing them off with sham rights]. Illusory benefits must always produce real evils in the long run; and the encroachments made by the rich [under cover of such devices] are more destructive to a constitution than those of the people."***
In America, the 2008-2009 encroachments made by the rich left the people holding sham rights and illusory benefits -- the flotsam jetsam of the sunken polity. If houses of representatives are not now illusory benefits, what is?
It’s time for the house to do formally what it has done in reality: disappear.
One can and should argue that if the house is eliminated the senate will need more money to handle the additional workload. Well, those costs would be greatly offset by savings in other areas, e.g., no more wasteful conference committees and phony house/senate cross fires.
* * *
Nohow. Tweedledum is right:
AOC, you cannot abolish the house. The oligarchy won’t allow it. America’s hyper-rich love the bicameral system and its pretension to “democracy” with sacrosanct “checks and balances.”
There is absolutely nothing new there. The sham rights and illusory benefits Aristotle saw and denounced two millennia ago characterize the transition from polity to oligarchy.
2020 elections are already cranking up. I call upon Gallup and other pollsters to ask voters about a unicameral legislature for America.
Then, get ready ..
Well, not really. To let the American people decide if they want a unicam requires first changing the Constitution to provide for national referenda. The American oligarchy now fully in charge will never permit that amendment.
*The exclusion of Conference Committees from open meetings laws is not unique:
Ever been to a public meeting of a government body? Did you see notes passed under the table and telephone calls for and from your public officials? Those communications demonstrate that, within the open public meeting, other closed private meetings are taking place right under your nose. To my knowledge, nobody has ever complained about those open-secret reunions to which you, the public, are cordially not invited. Zero complaints mean everybody, including you, tacitly approves of them -- which in turn means nobody truly approves of public meeting requirements.
Welcome to an as-if world -- the world in which everyone behaves as if we really had a “democratic” and “transparent” government “regulated” by “sunshine” laws in the “public interest,” etc. As if, because you know it isn’t true; the politicos know that you know it isn’t true; you know that they know that you know… Nod, wink: Nohow.
Look out! -- not all closed private meetings in open public ones are verbal. Watch for hand signals. I recall a legislative committee chairman who dropped his pencil on the table if he wanted a motion to table a bill; pointed the pencil down if he wanted a Do Not Pass recommendation; pointed the pencil up if he wanted a Do-Pass recommendation. Worked every time.
**Lewis Carroll, http://gabian.org/looking_glass.4.php.
***Aristotle, The Politics of Aristotle, translated and edited by Ernest Barker, Oxford University Press, New York, 1962, p. 186. (Book IV, Chapter XII). Brackets made by the translator.