Bad Incentives, Bad Politicians

Glenn Reynolds’ latest column in USA Today rests on a clever insight:

Government officials are happy making and executing plans that affect the lives of millions, but when things go wrong, well … they’re willing to accept the responsibility, but they’re not willing to take the blame. What’s the difference? People who are to blame lose their jobs. People who are “responsible,” do not. The blame, such as it is, winds up deflected on to The System, or something else suitably abstract.

But when you cut the linkage between outcomes and experience, you make learning much more difficult. When you were a toddler learning to walk, you fell down a lot. This was unpleasant: shocking, at least, and often painful. Thus, you learned to fall down a lot less often.

His proposed remedy:

I’d favor some changes that put accountability back in. First, I’d get rid of judicially created immunities. The Constitution itself creates only one kind of immunity, for members of Congress in speech and debate. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, courts have interpreted this grant of immunity, explicitly in the Constitution, more narrowly than the judicially created ones).

I’d also cut all payments to members of Congress whenever they haven’t passed a budget. If they can’t take care of that basic responsibility, why should they get paid? Likewise, I’d ban presidential travel when there’s not a budget. He can do his job from the White House.

I’m willing to consider other changes: Term limits that kick in whenever there’s a deficit for more than two years in a row. Limitations on civil-service protections to allow wronged citizens to get offending bureaucrats fired. Pay cuts for elected officials whenever inflation or unemployment are above a threshold.

I couldn’t get behind all of Reynolds’ proposals, but it’s an interesting thought experiment. What changes would you like to see implemented to hold public officials more accountable?

  1. D.C. McAllister
    C

    It seems that a good place to start is to enforce laws and regulations already on the books. Too many politicians are not held to account for the laws they break or bend or manipulate. Implementing new regulations won’t change this. People either respect the rule of law, recognize the lines and boundaries of the separation of powers or they don’t. If someone doesn’t stand up to them and hold them to account for the laws they’ve already broken and the lines they’ve already crossed, they will just keep doing what they want to do even if new laws are put in place.

  2. Boymoose

    When we walk into a polling place we should be tested:

    Please name the President and there party?

    Please name the Vice President and there party?

    Please name your senator and there party?

    Please name your Congressman and there party?

    If you have unpaid taxes, child support, parking tickets or any other fee you can vote by paying today.

    Its not the politicians ( they are doing what we reward them for ) that have it backwards, its us!

  3. Pseudodionysius

    Capital punishment for perjury.

  4. 2klbofun

    While in session, all congresscritters must wear a shock collar.  Remote controls for the collar will be distributed to all members of the person’s district.

  5. Butters

    We need structural changes in the form of legislation that constrains the size of government, beyond what’s currently in the Constitution.

    A Balanced Budget Amendment, sunsetting of regulations if they are not eventually voted on, sunsetting of entire departments  and programs if they are not periodically re approved.

    Effectively make it so if Congress did nothing or stayed home, government would contract by default. Today we have the opposite.

  6. Frozen Chosen

    What we need is a drastic overhaul of the civil service system in this country so that criminals like Lois Lerner can’t abuse their office and then take a paid vacation at taxpayer expense.

    What we’ll get is the status quo with federal employees who are essentially bulletproof.

  7. George Rapp

    Constitutional sunset amendment – if not renewed, every law passed after the ratification of the amendment expires ten years from the date it was signed by the President … the idea being to keep Congress so busy reviewing what’s about to expire that they have no time for junkets, pointless hearings, or Sunday talk shows. 8^)

  8. George Rapp
    Butters: We need structural changes in the form of legislation that constrains the size of government, beyond what’s currently in the Constitution.

    A Balanced Budget Amendment, sunsetting of regulations if they are not eventually voted on, sunsetting of entire departments  and programs if they are not periodically re approved.

    Effectively make it so if Congress did nothing or stayed home, government would contract by default. Today we have the opposite. · 0 minutes ago

    Great minds apparently think alike, Butters.  8^)

  9. Jim W

    I favor corporal punishment for every member of congress when  deficits exceed a certain dollar amount. Give the Capitol Hill police some nice Singapore bamboo canes.

  10. flownover

    Is that the soundtrack to Man of La Mancha  playing in the background ?

    To dream the impossible dream.……..

    Let’s saddle up hombres and tilt at some windmills !

  11. Totus Porcus

    1.  Constitutional amendment prohibiting Congress from exempting itself from any Federal law or regulation.  Who thinks Obamacare, for example, would have passed if it applied to Members of Congress?

    2.  Get rid of public sector unions.  Government employees don’t need to be protected from ruthless capitalist overlords. Then we might actually be able to fire corrupt public employees, instead of watching them smirk dismissively while evading direct questions.

    3.  I like the sunset provision too.  The tax code might be a little simpler if such a law were in effect.

  12. Chris Campion

    These 3 were on my short list.  It’s amazing that the elected “leadership” of the country exempts itself, at will, from the laws it forces the rest to obey at gunpoint.  I imagine someone like a Washington or a Madison nearly flipping a wig at this prospect.

    Totus Porcus: 1.  Constitutional amendment prohibiting Congress from exempting itself from any Federal law or regulation.  Who thinks Obamacare, for example, would have passed if it applied to Members of Congress?

    2.  Get rid of public sector unions.  Government employees don’t need to be protected from ruthless capitalist overlords. Then we might actually be able to fire corrupt public employees, instead of watching them smirk dismissively while evading direct questions.

    3.  I like the sunset provision too.  The tax code might be a little simpler if such a law were in effect. · 1 minute ago

  13. barbara lydick

    I have yet to hear a cogent explanation from anyone in Congress that rationalizes their exemption from Federal law – especially that train wreck coming down the track.  How dare they.

    We need to demand that they explain themselves.

  14. Skyler
    Totus Porcus: 

    3.  I like the sunset provision too.  The tax code might be a little simpler if such a law were in effect. · 12 hours ago

    A sunset provision wouldn’t work.  They’d simply do a blanket renewal every year for every law that was set to expire.

  15. Skyler

    The sentiments are nice, but the execution would be difficult.  How do you define “balanced” budget?  Do they pass a balanced budget and then the day after they are paid, can they spend some more money?

    I’m sure that “deficits” would be interpreted to mean “Projected deficits” just they consider a cut to mean, “less than the increase they intended.”

    There’s no way to win with trickery.  The only solution is to decrease their power.

  16. kgrant67

    tasers

  17. Totus Porcus
    Skyler

    Totus Porcus: 

    3.  I like the sunset provision too.  The tax code might be a little simpler if such a law were in effect. · 12 hours ago

    A sunset provision wouldn’t work.  They’d simply do a blanket renewal every year for every law that was set to expire. · 8 hours ago

    There must be some infinite legislative loop we could design to keep them from doing anything new.

  18. Totus Porcus

    Actually, having worked in DC, I believe this is the single most effective thing we could do to limit the Federal Government:

    4.  Ban air conditioning in all Federal offices. 

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