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Counting on history

I found myself wondering, as I picked up the census envelope this afternoon, whether I had written about the census before. It turns out I have not. Not altogether surprising, really, since ten years ago I hadn’t started blogging yet. We don’t do these all that often, it turns out.

And I started thinking that it is a bit odd, isn’t it, that the census is actually mandated in the Constitution. I mean, yes, it does make sense from a practical standpoint, given that many of the arguments had to do with the varying levels of population and population density in the States. I don’t know anything about the history of it, but it’s not hard to imagine that there were, in the Constitutional Congress, differing views about exactly how many people there were in Virginia (and how many “people”), and that it was considered important to (a) have an actual enumeration, (2) to have a plan for before that enumeration is completed, and (iii) to have a plan for after you have that enumeration. And somebody would realize that the different rates of population growth would give them and their State more power soon, if the Census were retaken, and managed to slip in a plan for a new Census later.

On the other hand, it’s not hard to imagine that the language might simply say that an enumeration must be done from time to time or even that reapportionment, whenever it is agreed is necessary, must be preceded by an enumeration. At any rate, instead of what we have, a mandated ten year cycle, the Census could have been at the discretion of the Legislature.

And if that was the case, if it was not absolutely compulsory on the clock but could be postponed from year to year, and it figured to cost ten or fifteen billion dollars, and would, when completed, mean that some Representatives would lose their seats, and other departmental budgets would have new requirements (mostly more, but with always the risk of less), and that whatever happened, it would be change, and always at least a trifle unpredictable…

Would we ever take a Census again? In our system, with it’s myriad veto points and methods for delay and obstruction, with the magnificent Madisonian self-interest appeals and incentives that keep the old eye on the re-election ball, with any proposal on the timing of the thing being subject to partisan politicking and public demagoguery, can you imagine it would ever pass?

I’m just thinking about it, since at the moment, of course, reapportionment seems likely to be Bad for My Party, as the last one was, and since My Party is in the majority, they would not be well-advised to spend ten billion on it, in a recession and a war (or two). And if it was Good for My Party, the Other Party would throw a fucking fit if they tried to ram it through. I mean, some of them are having a fit anyway, but you can’t do anything about that; some of them are going to be crazy about whatever shit happens.

Just a thought. No real point to it. My instinct is generally to resist those kinds of restrictions, as if the Legislature isn’t doing some combination of what the people want and what responsible governance requires, there is an electoral remedy. And maybe my imagination is just wrong on this, too influenced by the politics of the moment. Still. That’s what went through my mind.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,