Tag Archives: polarization

The Electoral College and the Tidewater Nation

The author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, tries to show us why we should not view policy positions as simply “Democrat” or “Republican”.  According to Woodard, we live in a country of 11 nations that form coalitions based upon various issues.  The objective of each nation is to preserve their identity and to be influential in national politics.



Woodard (c)2011

The author suggests that contrary to popular notion of the United States being a melting pot, new arrivals either specifically moved to one of the 11 nations because the nation encompassed their values or the newcomers were assimilated, adopting the pre-existing values of a nation.   In this second scenario, the original founders of a community set the framework for that nation and new arrivals conform to or otherwise reinforce that culture.

Colin Woodard also explains that different nations in the United States held different conceptions of democracy.  The Yankeedom nation held the Nordic or Germanic conception of democracy, which encouraged near universal male suffrage.  Yankeedom was founded primarily by middle-class, well-educated Puritans.  Immigrants came in family units and they valued community structure and shared values.  When migrants settled other parts of the United States, they carried these tendencies and traditions with them.  When confronting other nations, such as New Amsterdam, the Midlands, and Greater Appalachia, they sought to impose their Puritanism.

Other nations were founded by deep inequalities.  The Tidewater and Deep South treasured Greek or Roman democratic system, where the existence of slaves coincided with their perception of democracy.   The Greek of Roman democracy exists to benefit the few, allowing a select group of men to become “enlightened” and guide their societies.  This benefit is seen as outweighing the agonies of those enslaved.  They viewed slavery as more humane than the treatment of the urban poor in the northern nations.  They reasoned that at least the slaves had a master that was supposed to care for them.  “Enlightened” Tidewater and Deep South gentry also argued that Yankeedom was a society of shopkeepers, which prevented individuals from becoming educated enough to advance their societies.

The Tidewater and Deep South were also not founded by equal proportions of men and women and tended to support the Royalists back in the United Kingdom.  During the English Civil War, then tended to side with the King.  The Tidewater saw themselves as an extension of the Norman culture while Yankeedom was Anglo-Saxon.  Things changed for the Tidewater when the British Empire sought to homogenize control over their empire.  The King redefined the rights of his British subjects.  Only those living in England had full rights.  This  clarification of who was considered an Englishman did not go over well for the gentry of the Tidewater.

It should be interesting to note that other nations did not value the democratic system at all.  New Netherland (New York) preferred a hegemonic system and hoped to be reabsorbed by the Dutch or British monarchies on several occasions.   Autocracy worked given that citizens showed tolerance towards one another.

It should not be surprising which cultures would support the continued use of the Electoral College system.  The National Constitution Center features a podcast from December 1, 2016 titled “Should we abolish the Electoral College?”.  The two panelists have biographies included on the website.  From this limited information, we might conclude that the one panelist is from either Yankeedom or the Left Coast while the other is from the Tidewater.  Given that Woodward’s theory is correct, both natives and migrants become assimilated by their nations.  In turn, panelists eventually will advocate the ideals of their nations.

This perspective is interesting because “Yankeedom” or “the Left Coast” could be considered “Democrat” in this past election cycle.  They will be on the defensive when faced with the new administration.  The representative from the “Tidewater” may or may not be considered a “Democrat”, but they come from a dying nation.   The Tidewater nation may not exist in the future. The growth of the DC metropolitan area into Maryland and northern Virginia essentially divides this nation.  Incremental growth from the Midlands also reduces its power.  With rising sea levels, the region will also loose geography to the east.  Essentially, the representative from the Tidewater seeks to preserve any formerly established advantage at all costs.

Both panelists introduce us to the history of the Electoral College.  Some of the original founders envisioned the electors to choose the President and Vice President that were most qualified for the position.  Initially the most qualified person would become the President and the second-most qualified would be Vice President.  Electors were supposed to deliberate and select candidates to run for the final election.

The Electoral College was one of the last systems established during the Constitutional Convention.  The framers were concerned about the excesses of democracy and the emergence of demagogues, but showed “haste and fatigue” by the time they got around to the Electoral College.  Modern campaigns were also not envisioned.  Founding fathers thought the President should be determined based on their reputation and history of service, not by their cleverness, or radicalism, during a campaign.

According to Alex, the electoral college was supposed to serve as a nominating board to send candidates to the House of Representatives.  From this cohort we would end up with the best candidate.  However, by the 1820s, the responsibility for narrowing down the candidate list was being usurped from the Electoral College and handed over to the political parties.

During the 19th century a series of reforms were advocated.  Since several nations exist in the same state, district elections were advocated versus the “winner-take-all”. Some also wanted to eliminate human electors.  Andrew Jackson, an Appalachian, was one of these strong advocates for changing the system.

The moderator and President of the National Constitution Center reminds us that when elections are close, the Electoral College provides us with a clear winner.  A series of small differences in certain states are magnified by the electoral system.  In effect, there is “no room for doubt”.

The Tidewater representative suggests that the smaller states look favorably on keeping the Electoral College.  Its existence helps preserve the Federation; all consistences matter.  The Yankeedom or Left Coast representative refutes this idea, starting that two strong advocates for ditching the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote came from small states, Rhode Island and North Dakota.  Candidates do not campaign in these states under the Electoral College system and they probably still would not if we switched to a Popular Election system.

Both representatives do agree that a popular vote system would lead to increased role for the federal government, since national standards for registration and voting would need to be set and enforced.  The Tidewater representative shows deep concern over this possibility.

It is important to put this concern in its proper context.  As previously mentioned, the Tidewater nation is the only one today that is at risk of extinction.  During the expansion of the Deep South, the values of the Tidewater were eroded and made more extreme, especially its policy towards slavery.  Tidewater leaders eventually followed the lead of the Deep South.  The tobacco industry declined in the Tidewater just as the cotton industry became prosperous in the Deep South.  The Deep South was also able to expand west whereas the Tidewater was cut off by a new nation, Greater Appalachia.

american-nations-advancingWoodard (c)2011

The Yankeedom representative tells us that the conception of “democracy” has changed over time.  The Electoral College does not conform with people’s every day notions of democracy.  He uses our gubernatorial and student body elections as classic examples.  In these instances the popular vote installs the new leader.

This argument rests on the belief that all people in the 11 nations share this belief.  We might question if the Deep South uses wealth and race, or if Greater Appalachia uses strength, in place of popular elections as their preferred method for finding a new leader.

The panelists also discuss the geography of states.  The blue oases in red states do not count.  Woodard addresses this issue by analyzing nations at the county level.

They also discuss the implications of a Popular Vote system.  The Tidewater representative reminds us that having “run off elections” creates an entirely different system.  Other “fringe” political parties would have a stronger initiative to enter the contest.  These “fringe” parties would be able to form coalitions and run for a second round.  The Tidewater representative also warns us that with more than two political parties, there would be less of a “moderating” influence.  It is also uncertain if third parties would increase or reduce the emergence of demagogues.  Regardless of how many exist, political parties were not viewed favorably by most of the founding fathers.

Part 1: A Note on Jurisdictional Boundaries & Unaccounted Variables for Sections 1-3.

Part 1: A Note on Jurisdictional Boundaries & Unaccounted Variables for Sections 1-3.


This next post will probably continue with the remaining parts of this paper.  In this draft, I would like to basically summarize what Oates says in section 4 of his paper as well as give some geopolitical examples that are not only from the U.S.

Oates says that there is a tradeoff between “internalizing spillover benefits (and costs) and allowing local differentiation” (p. 1130).  If we look at the eastern United States, we could conclude that states are “too small”, or rather more precisely, they are unable to self-contain both positive and negative externalities.  Local and state jurisdictions are forced to not only avoid nonbenefit taxation, but “actively engage in benefit taxation” on nonmobile economic units (p. 1125).  However, this system of taxation is not enough to address certain problems such as crime, pollution, and transportation.

It is now common for Pennsylvania practicing attorneys to registrar for the bar both in their home state as well as New Jersey.  Why?  Clients typically bring complicated cases that involve plaintiffs from mutiple jurisdictions but in and out of state. Crime in itself is not constrained by artificial boundaries on the federal level, let alone on the local or state level.  Luckily, the structure of federal court jurisdictions (circuits) aims to contain this externality.

Pollution is another example of a negative externality that must be contained within (as well as between) small states.  Delaware offers corporate incentives in order to attract businesses to incorporate within their boundaires.  However, if federal laws did not exist, they could just as easily lower environmental standards to absymal levels just to attract the most industrious businesses.  Through the Coasian process [where “interjurisdictional externalities are addressed through negotiation and coordinated decision-making” (p. 1131)] compacts or associations can be created to deal with specific issues.  Oates offers us the examples of the Chesapeake Bay Management, Ozone Transport Region (OTR), and the failure of the Delaware River Basion Commission.

Lastly, the issue of transportation is probably one of the dauntest challenges before local and state governments.  How does New Jersey exercise control over the traffic influxes throughout its state?  What happens when the people in New York or Philadelphia live in New Jersey, but have taxes removed from their salaries in another state?  Are the highway tolls enough to correct this externality?  Can local or state governments discriminate against individuals who reside in one state, but work in another?  Should they pay more taxes in their state of residence?

Not all countries took the same approach as the United States during the early years of their development.  More precisely, not all countries began with an array of small states as their economic impetus.

Let’s look at Argentina.  The province of Buenos Aires is enormous.  Effectively, it comprises of all of the land outside of Buenos Aires, historically the only port on the Atlantic.  In the beginning years of the colonization process, the northern parts of Argentina (with trade links tto Perú) were the richest and subsequentially.. also some of the smallest in land area.

File:Provincia de Buenos Aires (Argentina).svg



The total land area for the province of Buenos Aires is: 191,115 square miles.  If we include the autonomous capital city of Buenos Aires, we can add another 78 square miles.  What happens with a land area of this size?  All of the “externalities are contained” (rivers, highways, ports etc.), at least until the distinction was created that separates the capital from the province.

To put the combined 191,193 square miles with a familar geographical areas:

Massachusetts: 10,555
New Hampshire: 9,350
New Jersey: 8,722
Connecticut: 5,554
Rhode Island: 1,545
New York: 54,556
Pennsylvania: 46,056

= 136,338 square miles [combined]

One of the unresolved problems as a result has been the problems faced by transportation system.  Nobody wants to invest in the trains, since both the city and provincial governments are hoping that the other one will flip the bill.

Another consideration is the “timing” of the creation of artificial provincial or state boundaries.  When the economic weight in Argentina shifted to the province of Buenos Aires, it held a generally monopoly.  Once industrialization occured, the city and the outskirts acted as a magnet, attracting increasingly amounts of not only immigrants from abroad, but citizens from within to the city limits.

Perroux speaks about “polarization’s ” negative effects on the other limits of Paris.

“For example, the regional economy of Paris can be considered to be a growth pole. The case of Paris shows that effect of polarization on the surrounding geographic area is not always positive. The attraction of Paris has been so great that it has been extremely difficult to promote any economic development in the area outside of the Paris region. French planning literature refers to this as the phenomenon of Paris and the French Desert.”


I would like to drawn a similar conclusion for Argentina.  If Argentina’s seaboard were cartographed like that of the northeastern United States, would local and state jurisdictional competition prevent “dead zones”.  Argentina prevented “negative externalities” in the beginning of its existence, quickly rising to become the 8th richest economy in the world before WWI.  Is it that eventually, you need to allow for jurisdictional inefficiencies because concentrations of power eventually turn what should have been by design “efficient” into only concentrations of corruption?


Criticisms & Considerations for Sections 1-3 without providing a summary of Oates’ arguments:

“At the most general level, this theory contends that the central government should have the basic responsibility for the macroeconomic stabilization function and for income redistribution in the form of assistance to the poor.  In both cases, the basic argument constraints on lower levels of governments.  In the absense of monetary and exchange-rate prerogatives and with highly open economies that cannot contain much of the expansionary impact of fiscal stimuli, provincial, state, and local governments simply have very limited means of traditional macroeconomic control of their economies” (p. 1121).

Why make the assumption that national governments are more capable of controling their macroeconomic policy?  What about small countries?  What about countries that had their monetary policy essentially controlled by the FMI and/or World Bank?  Are national governments less apt to protect the poor in a globalized world?  How much of an advantage do national governments have over state/local governments through the control of macroeconomic and monetary policy?  Even if this power is increasingly diminishing, can we measure it?

“The presumption in favor of decentralized finance is established by simply assuming that centralized provision will entail a uniform level of output across all jurisdictions.  In a setting of perfect information, it would obviously be possible for a benevolent central planner to prescribe the set of differential local outputs that maximizes overall social welfare…” (p. 1123).

Why can we not assume that very small countries do have “perfect information” or better termed, “a higher degree of efficiency in collecting information and providing for their citizens”.  Does this matter when we consider the advantages of decentralization?

Note for me: Samuelson Condition: ∑ marginal rates of substituion = marginal cost [variant per jurisdiction] (p.1124).

“Taxes, as we know, can be the source of distortions in resource allocation, as buyers shift their purchases away from taxed goods.  In a spatial setting, such distortions take the form of local inefficiencies, as taxed units (or owners of taxed items) seek out jurisdictions where they can obtain relatively favorable tax treatment” (p. 1125)

“Fiscal equalization… …may actually hold back the development of poorer areas by impeding the needed interregional flow of resources (both emigration and immigration) in response to cost differentials” (p. 1128).

I want to take a leap in connecting these two quotations from Oates without loosing the meaning of the original context.  From the first quote (and as already known) federal government use taxes to purposely create distortions in incentives.  I typically think of my friends in São Paulo, Brazil who complain about the high taxation levels.

I would like to consult the book below to analyze the changes in the tax structure:


The graphes on pages 55 & 57 are particulary inciteful.  The measure the pieces of the federal tax structure as components in the total net sum of revenues derived and as shifting percentages in comparison to one another.

In this essay written by Geraldo Biasoto Jr., we are also reminded that we are assuming that the federal government has a coeherent tax policy.  We could assume that the federal tax program is piecemeal (and possibly ineffective) or also that the federal government is purposely taxing certain areas and individuals more, as an incentive to get them to inhabit other sections of the country.  (Encourage individuals to move out of São Paulo Metropolitánia).  The reverse could be seen in the United States as “lower wages and costs… ultimately induced economic movement to the South, bringing with it a new prosperity” [Oates p. 1128/ McKinnon (1997a)].