Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Term Limits

A surgical reform would be congressional term limits, which would end careerism, thereby changing the incentives for entering politics and for becoming, when in office, an enabler of rent-seekers in exchange for their help in retaining office forever. The movement for limits -- a Madisonian reform to alter the dynamic of interestedness that inevitably animates politics -- was surging until four months after Republicans took control of the House. In May 1995 the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that congressional terms could not be limited by states' statutes. Hence a constitutional amendment is necessary. Hence Congress must initiate limits on itself. That will never happen.

George Will wants to change the incentives that lead to political corruption and rent-seeking which is the right approach to cleaning up Congress.  If you have a desire to change behavior you need to change the factors that are incenting that behavior.  

So let’s take a look at what factors change when you introduce term limits.  Congressmen are no longer interested in getting re-elected, at least after X terms.  So that means that at the end of their term they are free to fight for whichever cause will serve their self-interest as opposed to those interests that will get them re-elected.  With the current system there is at least a modicum of interest in serving the constituency for which they serve, with term limits there will be none.  

So what we will end up with is a system where Congressmen will serve the interests of the most powerful in hopes that it pays out for them post public office.  Such a system also punishes districts that have honest, hardworking politicians that serve the public good; you flush the good along with the bad.  It certainly can be argued that there isn’t much good, but there certainly is some.  

As Will admits, the only way to prevent special interests from buying Congressional favor is to ensure that there is nothing to buy.

HatTip: Instapundit, Volokh Conspiracy

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