January 3, 2011

A Mechanism for a (Slightly) Longer View

Justin Katz

The Dear Mr. Chafee letter by John Marion, of Common Cause, makes a generally applicable suggestion that might lead to food for thought:

... I would suggest that when Gov.-elect Chafee makes most of his decisions, he should use a 25-year time horizon. ...

The electoral cycle is short because we insist on accountability through the ballot box. If our leaders had generation-long terms of office we could not send them signals about whether we approve or disapprove of their actions frequently enough. But a four- (and for members of the General Assembly, two-) year electoral cycle creates an incentive for politicians to be shortsighted in their policymaking.

Arguably, the party system acts as a mechanism for extending the political horizon somewhat. If politicians are concerned about the health and growth of a political party, then they have incentive not to push policies that will whiplash.

Two "of courses" arise. First, of course, a longer view of that sort can be extremely detrimental. Think the Democrats' scheming to create an electoral base with illegal immigrants, destitute inner-city minorities, and public-sector organized labor.

Second, of course, (and relatedly) the longer views of political parties tend to favor policies that increase the influence of government. If the goal is to build constituencies, then policies that increase dependents over time will bring their own reward. The necessity of limiting government's reach is something that each generation must learn (which is difficult when pretty much the entire educational system from kindergarten through college preaches a different gospel), and it will tend to ebb and swell with the health of the economy and the periodic overreaching of the creeping socialists.