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Thursday, December 29, 2011

An Aristocratic People’s House?

Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House rose by more than 2 1/2 times, according to the analysis of financial disclosures, from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars, excluding home ­equity. Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the comparable median figure sliding from $20,600 to $20,500, according to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan.” This comparison excludes home equity because it was not included in congressional reporting.
These statistics support the view extant in the U.S. Federal Constitutional Convention that relative to all of the representatives in the legislatures of the several states, the “few” in the U.S. House of Representatives gave that body an aristocratic quality. This fear did not necessarily translate into a belief that the federal system itself would be consolidated as a consequence. Even so, aside from the growing economic distance between the U.S. House reps and their constituents, the increasing wealth can be taken as a baleful indication of a funneling of wealth and political power in ever tighter circles. In other words, the statistics support those who urge that more governmental power be shifted from Congress back to the semi- and residual-sovereign state legislatures.
While it is true that the delegates at the federal convention feared excess democracy, which was notably against the interest of creditors such as themselves, in the state legislatures (e.g. Massachusetts), it can be argued that his bias left them (and the constitution they drafted) vulnerable to political (and economic) consolidation, with Congressional power (and wealth) effectively setting its own limits. The statistics may give an unsuspecting public pause in taking seriously the proposition that the federal system should be readjusted so as to achieve better balance, which in turn enables more viable checks on the abuse of power—whether in Washington, D.C. or Topeka.


Peter Whoriskey, “Growing Wealth Widens Distance Between Lawmakers and Constituents,The Washington Post, December 26, 2011.