By J.B. Ruhl
Jim Chen's recent posts, coming as they do on the brink of what could turn out to be an unusually interesting election nationally and for many states, reminded me of a law review article Glenn Reynolds wrote long ago (before Instapundit) called Is Democracy Like Sex? (48 Vanderbilt Law Review 1635). His basic thesis was that, like sexual reproduction, democracy serves the function of shuffling decision makers (the genes of governance) and thereby increasing society's resistance to the governance equivalent of biological parasites--special interests. His corollary thesis, however, was that this effect depends on an enhancing the institutions of representative democracy, not on providing more opportunities for direct popular decisionmaking. From there he argued that the anti-parasitic effect of electoral turnover has been suppressed by the growth of federal power, which I took him to mean the growth of the federal administrative state, because it is (a) easier to lobby just one rather than 50 governments, and (b) the administrative state tends to persist through electoral turnover.
Of course, Reynolds was using sex as a metaphor, but in fact the underlying properties, in my view, are of complex adaptive systems and do map fairly well with sexual reproduction because, after all, sexual reproduction involves complex adaptive system properties too. So it should be no surprise that maintaining a governance system that sustains a healty turnover of decision makers against a relatively stable institutional background is a pretty good recipe for governance resilience and fitness.
This leads to some interesting questions. Many people, for example, are banking on some serious "shuffling" in Congress November 7th, but what difference do they expect it will make? Has the administrative state, particularly as the growth of the Unitary Executive theory of presidential power seems increasingly to be coming into application, sucked the anti-parasitic effect out of representative democracy? Will "more cooperation," as Jim suggests in his posts, give us more resilience, or in fact is a little more tension needed? Do term limits promote the anti-parsasitic effects of representative democracy, or do they interfere with the natural shuffling process? Etc. Jim and Glenn, any thoughts?
Perhaps the question to ask November 7th is, just how sexy is the American electorate?