Sunday, September 4, 2011

Some Political Recommendations:

In relation to the already begun election cycle in this country (I feel like we can actually say campaigning has been going on for four years in preparation for this election), and in light of the disaster that has been the last decade and a half of American politics, I have a few recommendations for radically transforming the shape of our political landscape:

1.  Constitutional amendment limiting terms in office for legislators.  I’m thinking something to the effect of this:  “No person shall serve more than twelve years as a member of Congress.”  That’s 2 terms as a Senator, 6 terms as a Representative, or 1 term in the Senate and 3 in the House.  No more than this for anyone, let’s not have career politicians anymore.

2.  Constitutional ban on political advertising.  You can campaign by making speeches, touting your record, debating, etc.  But no running ads.  Possible exception for yard signs and bumper stickers, they aren’t too annoying.

3.  Restructure the way Congress is paid.  Legislators will be paid a median (not the average) salary for their constituency with a housing allowance to pay for their DC residence.  Their office will be given a staff salary budget that is intentionally small.  No more chiefs of staff making 100K a year, no more 30+ person Senate staffs.  Outside sources of income forbidden (to prevent corruption).

4.  Requirement that members of Congress act as an official emissary of the United States at an overseas engagement at least once per term.  These trips will be paid for, so this isn’t a financial burden.  But it would be nice if people in Congress actually understood what happens in the world before they make decisions about what America’s role in the world will be.  And then they would all have some foreign policy experience.

5.  Ability of the president to veto particular amendments to a bill which add spending (in other words, pork-barrel amendments for pet-projects of legislators at home).

6.  Radically limit the access of lobbyists (particularly those representing any sort of industry or commercial interest) to all branches of government.  Ideally, ban them altogether, but this is probably not feasible.

7.  Encourage legislative advisors/researchers to have a degree in the field they are advising on, not in political science.

Essentially, my thought is we need to make the incentive to serve as an elected official the desire to actually serve, not the desire to have a career in politics or to get rich or to have a book deal when they are done.  Also, I think by making congressional representatives be, at least financially, on the same footing as the rest of us and forcing them to get out and see the way the world works outside their sphere of influence is more likely to encourage them to write good policy with real people in mind.  Limiting the access of lobbyists is another safe-guard for that in my opinion.  Rather than writing legislation based on the interests of corporations or industries or unions, they will be writing it based on their own experience and the knowledge of their advisors about what would make for sound policy.  I think these changes coupled with a ban on political advertising would radically alter the way political discourse happens in this country (and what the priorities of politicians would be) for the better.  Might also help our budget situation...  But I’m also not an expert in politics by any means, I’m more a cynic.  So those with more political knowledge and experience, I very much invite your comments.  Where am I being short-sighted or overly cynical?  What other suggestions might you have?


  1. 1. I have a feeling this will simply transfer power from the federal to the state/local level. There will still be career politicians, just less so at the national level. Even then, 12 years is a career.

    2. Fair enough.

    3. Not sure what difference this makes. People in congress aren't there for the salaries now anyway. I mean, half are millionaires anyway. I don't think there's any way around this; money and power go together. There's plenty of ways for corruption to slip in (ex: revolving door).

    4. I'd rather have our ambassadors be the ambassadors. Don't really trust congressmen enough for that.

    5. Eh... executive has more than enough power as it is.

    6. There's a thought. Question of course is what it means to be a lobbyist. Plus, isn't the point of representative democracy to serve as a mechanism to balance varied interests? If so, is it still doing its job when those interests aren't heard? Just some thoughts

    7. Don't really see a way to implement this.

    My opinion is that the real problem is a lack of policy understanding, and for that matter, interest on the part of the general populace. As for better candidates to chose from, well, we might be out of luck there. Let's face it, we're a nation of lawyers. In order to get into the current political system, you pretty much need a background in law. That's just the nature of it right now. I'd personally rather have a congress that's in session much less, except in cases of national emergency. Maybe couple that with a limit on how long legislation can actually be. Cutting out all the useless gunk may lead in the long run to a political system that is more transparent and accessible.

    Eh, if you really wanted political "results" or "efficiency," you might want to just model the gov't after china's (they're all engineers and such there). Of course, that has its own drawbacks.

    As for the whole budget thing, well... it pretty much comes down to the eternal problem with policy: you can't set policy in a group setting without some established set of values that people agree upon (see arrow's impossibility thm). If it were up to me, I could get a sustainable long-term balanced budget in about a week. Of course, it'd tick a lot of people off. And that's the general problem with our political system and politics in general.

  2. Hey Bo! Haven't heard from you in a while, thanks for commenting. I think a lot of your critiques are good ones and on further reflection I'm not sure how serious most if any of these proposals are except possibly as a starting place for a discussion about political reform.

    One think you said that was very interesting to me was about wanting political "efficiency." I'm wondering if you could elaborate about what you mean by "efficiency" in this context.

  3. By "political efficiency" I meant the ability to quickly implement policy, especially policy of a sweeping nature. So one idea floating around right now (and somewhat rightfully so) is the idea that our current government, especially Congress, is simply unable to implement policy. But the way I see it, this is essentially one of the base principles of American democracy, ie, that changes, especially large ones are unable to be implemented unless there is some kind of broad consensus on the part of the public. The problem of course is that for most current important issues, there's nothing even approaching a public consensus. Even assuming there is some kind of consensus on the part of the academic community or other experts, it doesn't matter since the political system responds to the will of the median voter, which doesn't exist right now. Additionally, it makes it politically almost impossible to take really long term policy actions, even when they are necessary, such as curbing entitlements and such.

    The only way around this is to essentially take a lot of the decision making power out of the hands of the voter base, such that the median voter doesn't matter. (again, only way to achieve a pareto efficient result given normal assumptions, etc) Of course this presents its own problems, so it's not like that's entirely desirable either.

    Actually, returning to what I said above, I guess it could be argued that right now there isn't a "median voter" even on a lot of issues. So things are even messier since there will literally be nothing done in the current system.

    Sorry if the response is rambly; I'm just writing off the cuff right now.

  4. Just realized my last paragraph was completely redundant as written, so let me clarify.
    1) Right now no policy is possible since there is no general consensus (thus no median voter). It could be argued that some policy, even bad ones, would be better than this state of limbo, but that's another subject.
    2) In general, the US political system is structured such that it has a hard time taking long term policies, again due to the idea of the median voter thm, etc. No real way around this in a rep democracy. Additionally, policies taken will not ever be optimal, again, a general deficiency of a representative democracy (slightly off topic but still relevant).


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