Thursday, May 04, 2006

Much Ado About Term-Limits: Part I

It seems like every political season the subject of term limits makes it rounds amongst the punditsphere. This season doesn’t seem to be much different.

By standing up by himself in the beginning and then persevering through the insults, counter-attacks and tirades of the old bulls of the Senate, Coburn has given the country a vivid demonstration of genuine political courage. One result has been that many more Members of the Senate have begun to vote with him instead of against him.
But there is another aspect of Coburn's demonstration that bears comment and that is how he has also provided a demonstration of the tremendously salutary effects of term limits.

So by proving that there are, indeed, some good eggs in Congress we should chase everyone out? I’m not sure I understand, but Mr. InstaPundit himself seems to agree

I think we should term-limit some folks this November, but he's right. The argument against going ahead on term limits was that electing Republicans would fix things. It didn't.
I think there are two primary arguments against term limits. The first is a very practical one, you get rid of the good along with the bad. As a proponent of limited government I am quite happy to retain Mr. Coburn, Mr. Ron Paul and others that actively pursue a small government agenda. Why should we eliminate those that we like in order to enforce our preference (an opposition to big government) upon a populous that seems to disagree with us? Especially when there is no reason to believe that our big budget foes won’t be replaced by big budget replacements. Or worse, our small government heroes replaced by big budget busting antagonists?

The second reason is, perhaps, somewhat counter-intuitive – by imposing term-limits we make congressmen more likely to waste government resources. Why do I think so? Look at what incentives are driving behavior. Congressmen want to retain power, so they spend government resources buying influence and increasing their public standing.

Sometimes that means promoting a big name project that they can bring back to their constituents to flout how much he/she has done for them (i.e. the Bridge to Nowhere). Sometimes it means making life easier for a politically powerful ally in the form of corporate welfare or permissive legislation. All the time the Congressmen must at least give the appearance of doing what is best for his constituents, if they push the envelope too far it will weaken themselves politically.

So what happens when you remove the incentive to retain power? You remove all need to please the constituents, and leave only the self interest. There is no longer a need to temper spending at all, in fact you have given them every incentive to increase spending in ways that benefit, not the people that he/she is representing, but themselves. Instead of Bridges to Nowhere we’ll build specific projects for specific people or businesses.

If Joe Congressmen wants to become a lobbyist for Big Oil after his term limit is up he will fight like made to get Big Oil anything that it wants without even a thought about the political consequences. Term limits are going to exacerbate a problem that is already pretty bad. I’ll address my thoughts on how to fix the problem in Part II.

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