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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Dirty Little Secret Behind At-Large Representation

Michael Bates of Batesline lists the twenty members of a group in favor of at-large election of aldermen in Tulsa, along with their addresses. Of the twenty listed by Bates,

with four exceptions, everyone lives in District 9 or in the same square mile as Southern Hills Country Club, which is in District 2.

Back in the 1990s, when at-large representation was a divisive issue between the Fayetteville Cockroach Caucus and the citizens' movement, somebody made a similar observation: all the at-large directors lived within a few blocks of each other in the same white-bread neighborhood in northwest Fayetteville.

When Dan Coody, then a maverick in local politics, pointed out this inconvenient fact, director Ann Henry (leading Cockroach and later Soccer Mom/New Democrat candidate for the Third District congressional seat) squealed "Class warfare! Class warfare!" See, as Clausewitz pointed out two centuries ago, a war doesn't start when an army crosses a national frontier--the invader would like nothing better than a peaceful walkover. It starts with the first shot fired by the army of the invaded country. And class warfare only begins when we start fighting back. Until then, it's just "progress."

The bastards always justify at-large representation in terms of "civic spirit" and "unity," and other high-sounding twaddle. But the real purpose is to make sure the same little clique can run things without any interference from below. And they know it damned well. So when they affect moral outrage, just spit in their fucking faces.

Addendum. In the comment thread on his original post, Michael Bates puts the size of Tulsa's wards in perspective. The anti-federalists complained two hundred years ago that the large Congressional districts (just over 30,000) under the new Constitution would make it prohibitively costly for any representatives of the mercantile and moneyed interests to run. Bates points out that the average Tulsa ward is half again as large as one of those "large" districts. So even an electorate of 50-odd thousand, apparently, isn't big enough to keep the riff-raff out.


Blogger Adem D. Kupi said...

I didn't know what "at-large" elections were until now (thanks to google)...

File under: how to make spectator democracy even worse.

November 07, 2005 3:40 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

Unfortunately, I'm not sure exactly what is meant by "at-large" voting in this situation, since I can think of two interpretations.

1) Each voter can cast one vote for each position, meaning that an organized majority can sweep the elections and win every office.

2) Each voter can only cast one vote, meaning that if all groups are organized, each person will contribute to the election of a different candidate.

The first system is most clearly designed to allow the majority to roll over everyone else. The second system is theoretically fair, but since representation is based on the number of votes cast and poor folk tend to vote less than rich folk, this will tend to shift power towards the wealthy neighborhoods.

November 07, 2005 8:46 PM  
Blogger MichaelBates said...

The Tulsa proposal establishes three separate seats, and each voter can cast one vote for each position. As you say, "an organized majority can sweep the elections and win every office."

November 07, 2005 8:53 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Back in the 1930s the left appeared poised to sweep the Vancouver City Council - at that time based on a ward system. The provincial govt. hearing the pleas of the wealthy West End of the city abolished the wards and placed the city under and at-large system. The authoritarian right dominated Vancouver for the next 45 years. All attempts to return to the ward system were rebuffed by the provincial govt. and Vancouver still has an at-large system.

November 08, 2005 6:40 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Leaving aside for the moment the defects of democracy arising from fallible human nature, e.g. groupthink and capturing, there are various other problems arising from applying it where it doesn't fit and some inherent limitations such as those from Arrow's Theorem.

My best approach to just this last problem is to use the French presidency two best candidate run off system for specific posts, the cumulative voting system with term limits and constituencies aligned with natural units for the main engine, and an upper house on a different voting system and long terms (e.g. the House of Lords as it used to be, or the Canadian Senate), so that discrepancies would force new elections rather than a stitch up (so no tie break technique to resolve deadlocks).

November 08, 2005 7:09 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


At-large aldermen (or directors) are elected by all the voters in the city. In the city where I currently live, Springdale, Ark., ALL of the aldermen are elected at-large. They are assigned to "represent" specific wards, but there's no way the people of that ward can hold them accountable.

Like most of the Progressive era's "good government" reforms, the core motivation behind at-large representation was managerial liberalism, aimed at "depoliticizing" government and placing it securely in the hands of "competent professionals."

The more idealistic of the New Class believed that disinterested expertise could transcend class divisions and promote some "common good," but in practice they were harnessed as plantation overseers for the plutocracy.

And the less idealistic of the New Class had trouble distinguishing between the "common good" and their own desire to manage and regiment the lower orders (hence Hillary, Rosie, Barbra & Co.). So long as their affinity for socially engineering was catered to through the human resources movement, Taylorism, and the welfare state/educationist bureaucracy, they couldn't care less about the ENDS for which the organizations were being run.

So in the end, the Fabians and SDs wound up carrying water for the state capitalist system.

November 08, 2005 3:17 PM  

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