Term Limits, Balanced Budgets and Self-Discipline

One curious feature of our political system (and, to be fair, that of many other nations as well) is the way in which we constrain ourselves and our representatives.  The Constitution was designed to do exactly that.  I suppose that that is a good thing, but the limitations put in place by any Constitution are only words unless there is a political culture in place that will respect those limitations.   But, if you have such a political culture, why do you even need a legal framework to achieve it?

I think about this pretty frequently, particularly with respect to the issues of term limits and balanced budgets.  When you think about it, passing a law, which requires representatives to retire after serving a fixed number of years in office or one which forces a legislature to balance a budget, is kind of silly.  After all, if voters truly believe that their representatives have served for too long, all they have to do is refuse to vote for them.  And, if a legislature wants to pass a balanced budget, all they have to do is make sure that tax receipts and expenditures are equalized.  Why do we need to pass a law to tell us to do what it is we think is right?

Of course, you could make that argument with regards to most any function of government.   We are frequently told that a particular government program is not being funded to the proper level or that some activity needs to be funded by government or it will not happen at all.  But, again, if you think about it, that doesn’t make sense either.  If there are a large enough number of citizens who believe that a particular program is valuable and needs to be funded or funded at a higher level, why does that require a government program at all?  All those individuals have to do is put their money where their mouth is and there should be more than enough resources to achieve their goals, particularly if they are not required to fund programs that they do not support.

So I guess I am asking what we, as citizens, want.  Is it to fund some particular activity to a satisfactory level or is it to force other people to help us fund it?  In Political Science,  there is the concept of the “free rider,” one who receives a benefit of some sort without contributing to making that benefit happen.   But this seems different to me as there isn’t necessarily any personal benefit, except insofar as seeing some program being funded provides some psychic benefit.

It seems that there are a very large number of people who simply don’t trust themselves to do the right thing or don’t trust others to do what they think is the right thing.   The sense is that people, whether voters or legislators, need to be forced to do the right thing.   But, of course, most everyone has their own notion of what the “right thing” is and sometimes they come into conflict with each other.  And the more such issues are placed into the public sphere, subject to the changing whims of voters and their representatives, the more conflict there will be.  Whether one wins or loses an election becomes almost a life or death matter.

In the wake of that situation, is it surprising that the political “losers” cry and become depressed and protest?  Not at all.  If you believe that government is the proper institution to allocate rights and resources, losing an election to a person or party who doesn’t share your values is very traumatic.  But, why should that be the case?   Why shouldn’t free individuals make their own judgement as to how to allocate their own resources and why should they have to fear that their rights will not be respected if the “wrong people” come into power?

These are not rhetorical questions.  Everyone needs to think about these issues and answer them, at least to their own satisfaction.  Am I being unrealistic in believing that we would be better off if everyone made their own choices or is it unrealistic to believe that the political process is going to make good choices for everyone?    I know which way I lean but I don’t claim to know all the answers.  I only hope that I can do a better job of asking the right questions.

Thanks again for following along.  If you think something I’ve had to say is worthwhile, tell your friends to do the same.  Until next time, have a great night and a great day tomorrow!


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