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Malapportionment Is Destroying the Planet

By Matthew Yglesias on February 3, 2010 at 11:28 am

"Malapportionment Is Destroying the Planet"

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Rhame, North Dakota by afiler 1

The US Senate famously overrepresents certain rural areas* but some level of this form of malapportionment is a common feature of electoral systems. That allows for this interesting investigation from Lawrence Broz and Daniel Maliniak:

Gasoline taxes vary widely across industrialized countries, as does support for the United Nations’ effort to address the climate change problem. We argue that malapportionment of the electoral system affects both the rate at which governments tax gasoline and the extent to which governments participate in global efforts to ameliorate climate change. Malapportionment results in a “rural bias” such that the political system disproportionately represents rural voters. Since rural voters in industrialized countries rely more heavily on fossil fuels than urban voters, our prediction is that malapportioned political systems will have lower gasoline taxes, and less commitment to climate change amelioration, than systems with equitable representation of constituents. We find that malapportionment is negatively related to both gasoline taxes and support for the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (where “support” is measured as the duration of the spell between the signing of the Protocol and ratification by the domestic legislature).

That’s via Erik Voeten. Of course there’s no short-term prospect for changing this in the United States. But it is an international problem, and some countries may have easier-to-change electoral systems. What’s more, over the long haul improving the institutions of government are more important than deciding which party happens to govern at some particular point in time. Left and right are bound to rotate in office over the years—what really drives outcomes is the nature of the polity in which they rotate.

* I hesitate to just flat-out say it “overrepresents rural areas” because some of the places it overrepresents (Rhode Island, for example) aren’t rural and many people live in rural areas (upstate New York, downstate Illinois) that are underrepresented in the Senate. What the Senate does is arbitrarily overrepresent certain places, and most of those places are rural.

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