Thursday, June 30, 2016

Political Pragmatism: Taking Policy Results Seriously

Originally posted on 2016-06-30. Last substantive revision on 2018-03-17. 

The American Constitution was ratified in 1789. Nearly 11,000 constitutional amendments have been proposed in the interim. Of those, a paltry 27 saw actual amendment ratifications successfully pass. Round up combined attempts to an even 11K and you get a success rate of 0.00245454545%. Perhaps you think that's a figure to be proud of, but then there's peskiness like this to contend with. But even if you defiantly ignore the populist will, just getting to the "Amendment Proposed" stage requires a two-thirds majority vote from the House and Senate. Contrast with Germany, which has 50 Constitutional amendments under its belt, and this is if you only start counting from 2003 onwards. That's 50 successful amendments in less than 13 years for Germany, while the last successful ratification in the U.S. took place 24 years ago as of my writing this. At one point, Scalia calculated that it can feasibly take 2% of the entire U.S. population to block an amendment that's spiritedly backed by a supermajority. America; Home Of The Same.

The point? There are people who subscribe to forward-looking ethical theories yet oddly insist on having political sacred cows. I can only infer that they've not adequately politicized their consequentialism. The reasons for this will differ. In the worst case, they will have failed to do so quite deliberately. Political identity wins out because the sacredness-conserver is not a consequentialist to begin with. Then again, many members of this group are assuredly oblivious to having implicitly snubbed a systematized theory of ethics in favour of political identity. More on them later.