Such a Thing as Too Much Representation? Or Too Little?

I just love charts like the one found in this story in The Economist:

A couple of things jump out.  One, the number of legislators in China – 2,987.  Remember, this is only counting those in the federal legislature.  By way of perspective, the United States has 535 federal legislators.  In the United States Senate with 100 members, each member pretty much knows who the others are, at least well enough to call other members by their first names as they pass in the halls.  In the United States House of Representatives, it is more difficult.  This is the case for at least two reasons:  1) there are a heck of a lot more of them – 435, and 2) with two-year terms, it simply isn’t worth the time to get to know most freshman, several of whom probably won’t be there after the next election and who have no real power yet anyway.  Add in the prevalence of commercial air service and increasing demand to spend time in their district, the members spend very little time or effort getting to know each other.  I can’t imagine what it would be like in a legislative body with almost 3,000 people.  But, I also don’t know that there’s a better answer…even with almost 3,000 legislators, they still have more constituents per member than all but three other countries.

Which leads to the other country with more than a billion people:  India.  They have taken a little bit different approach which leads to another thing that jumps out:  using these figures, each member of their legislature represents more than a million-and-a-half people.*  There’s simply no way that one person in a legislature can represent the interests of a constituency that big.  Again for a little perspective:  by comparison, each US legislator represents a little more than one-third of that number…and they deal with a public that believes most of them are out of touch.

This wasn’t always the case, however.  The Constitution originally provided in Article I, Section 2 that “The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative.”  Until 1850, the size of the House grew as the population did.  After 1850, Congress fixed the size of the House so that, as the population grew, so did the number of people each Representative grew as well.  Because states don’t grow at the same rate, after each Census seats are moved between states to keep the populations each member represents as even as possible.

I continually find myself fascinated with the way people are governed and the different ways in which systems of governments have developed.  This chart illustrates one more time that there is no perfect system.

*There’s one caveat to this chart that needs to be pointed out or you could find yourself misled.  A number of these countries have bicameral legislatures.  Therefore, you can’t read this chart to say that each member represents the number of people in the chart (i.e., you can’t say that each Member of Congress represents  almost 600,000 people; Representatives in the US House will represent on average almost 711,000 people, Senators each represent their entire state – state population ranges from 563,626 to 37,253,956).

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