Free Markets, Free People

Neil Freeman

Painting the map… different.

Some of you have already seen this graphic.  It’s what the United States woud look like if all 50 had the same population, with a few extra factors taken into account so that the borders still make as much sense as they can.

Neil Freeman / fake is the new real

The extra factors include keeping almost all existing counties whole, aiming for compact shapes and not splitting up metro areas unless really necessary.  They also try to keep drainage basins together.  Click on the picture if you want to see the whole proposal.

The purpose of this exercise is to solve the perceived problem of unequal representation in the federal government. This way, not only do all U.S. senators represent the same number of people, but so do all members of the House of Representatives.  So each person has equal representation in the Electoral College as well, though of course some states would still be more competitive than others.  (Oh, and DC gets to drop the “Taxation Without Representation” license plates.)

This isn’t intended as a serious proposal, but it mixes two things that I love because they both tug the mind out of its usual grooves of thought:

  1. altered maps – When you first saw a simple “upside-down” map of the world, didn’t it just demand to be stared at for a while?
  2. visualizations of unusual political/social reform proposals – It’s easy to think of the status quo as natural, and easier yet not to think of why things are quite the way they are; illustrating the world in a way markedly different from reality challenges the mind to justify the current order.  I suspect this has something to do with my enjoyment of sci-fi and historical what-ifs; instinctually turning toward such questioning may be a common trait among libertarians.

I try not to be too hasty in throwing out the current order; Burke and Hayek had useful insights about the limits of knowledge and reason.  So I haven’t adopted this reform proposal, but it has been fun thinking about it.  I even spent part of today lightly crunching the county-level numbers from the U.S. Senate elections since 2008, just to see how it would affect the balance of power there.  (I still haven’t gotten around to checking how it would affect recent presidential elections.)

But beyond the electoral reform, you can spin your mind for hours about the economic and cultural consequences of following these simple and (each taken in isolation) sensible algorithms.  The artist who created the map asked people to “take it easy with the emails about the sacred soil of Texas” – though I do wonder whether the four senators from Dallas-Fort Worth and the greater Houston area would be very different from the senators Texas usually elects.  What else jumps to mind?

  • Just try to picture the kind of senators the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago are likely to elect when they don’t have to appeal to a swath of suburban and rural voters.  Picture it!
    • The first three of those metro areas got more than 75% of the benefit of housing-related tax benefits like the mortgage-interest tax deduction, according to a 2001 study.
    • L.A. and NYC would have less influence on the sources of much of their drinking water; that could easily tip the balance and allow landowners upstate to open their land to energy development.
  • For that matter, imagine governing the Great State of People Who Commute to Chicago.  “Chicagoland Minus Chicago.”
  • Y’know, if you look at how Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte did in Casco counties in 2008 and 2010, compared to Elizabeth Warren’s margins in her part of the new state, it’s not hard to imagine Republican senators representing Boston.  Just sayin’.
  • Chinati, the rather heavily Hispanic border state, narrowly voted more for Republican senators than Democratic ones in 2012.
  • The Black Belt in the South appears to prevent none of the new states from electing Republican senators, including Ozark, Tidewater, and even Atlanta, though it would have been close in 2008.
  • Right now, the heaviest dependence on direct government benefits is particularly concentrated in certain places, and mostly not in urban counties.
  • Specifically, the Coal Country patch from West Virginia into southern Ohio and eastern Kentucky would be split between more states, while the patch of heavy dependence in the Ozarks (southern Missouri into northern Arkansas) would be concentrated into… Ozark.  The most dependent part of Michigan is combined with the most dependent part of Wisconsin.  The most dependent parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado would be combined in Shiprock.
  • Would the big cities that were disconnected from poorer hinterlands become less tolerant of federal redistribution?  Would Boston, now sharing a much larger territory with more people dependent on benefits, take a dimmer view of state-level redistribution?
  • Meanwhile, the urban centers of today’s Colorado would get to be in the same state as the Bakken shale oil boom: Ogallala, which is also a great beneficiary of…
  • Agricultural subsidies!  You can already see the representatives of Nodaway wearing their Farm Bill buttons. Then there’s Ozark again, straddling both banks of the Mississippi River and getting another dose of federal money.  Another notable dependent: Tidewater.

This is going to a lot of trouble to ensure that a voter in Billings has the same level of representation as a voter in Cheyenne, and that a Californian has equal say in the Senate as a Rhode Islander.  But maybe all that trouble from such simple rules is why it’s so ripe for speculation.