Monday, August 23, 2010


I haven't read much (maybe any) Heinlein, so I hadn't come across this until just now (and I still haven't read the source material). Evidently Heinlein, in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, suggests that a Congress should require a two-thirds majority to pass legislation (our own requires nearly that in the Senate, except for Obamacare) but only a one-third minority to repeal legislation. That fascinates me.

Our current system of government places the same strictures on any change to government, but it seems obvious to me that not all changes are the same. Requiring two houses, selected differently, to independently authorize (one by supermajority) and an executive to approve a new incursion on the freedom of the populace seems like an eminently reasonable, and maybe even insufficient, policy. But requiring the same to increase the freedom of the populace, even in a way that might be injurious to society, does seem a bit excessive. And luckily we're provided with a fantastic proxy for what infringes freedom and what increases it. The only lever available to government is the restriction of freedom, so all laws must necessarily impinge on it.

I'll note I'm not arguing that all restrictions on freedom are bad. I'm, rather, arguing that while prohibiting me from stealing things from my neighbor's house is a good idea, it does restrict my freedom to steal things from my neighbor's house. But surely a super-majority of people would agree that the protection of property is worth that restriction and by extension a significant minority would never wish to repeal it.

On the whole I can't think of a good reason why I wouldn't want to see bills repealable by a significant minority. I do question, though, whether parts of bills should also be repealable. On the one hand much legislation going back to the founding has been based on compromises that would fall apart if some of the parties believed that the compromise could be repealed later by a significant minority. On the other hand, maybe not being able to pass a bill that Joe Senator would have voted against if it hadn't been for the promise to build a bridge in his hometown wouldn't be such a bad thing.

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