Milton Friedman, gridlock, term limits, federalism, & making politicians behave

Milton Friedman explained that politicians “are in a business… competing with one another to get elected.”  Electing the “right” people, said the renowned economist, “isn’t the way you solve things. The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things.”  Or at least make it unprofitable to do the wrong things.

Term limits are one step toward this goal. Term-limited legislators tend to seek office to address issues rather than personal goals, and are more independent of party politics and rent-seeking interest groups. Term limits would create a legislature of, by, and for the people rather than ruling class of career politicians detached from the private sector.  Several states limit legislators’ terms. The 22nd Amendment term-limited the President. U.S. Senators and Representatives should have similar term limits.

Another step is to restrain federal power by restoring state legislators’ influence on the federal government.  For example, repealing the 17th Amendment would allow state legislatures to once again elect Senators.

James Madison noted that having different constituencies electing the House and Senate provides an “additional impediment … against improper acts of legislation.”  As law professor Todd Zywicki notes, the 17th Amendment ushered in the era of legislation benefiting national special-interests at the expense of the people. For example, ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion threatens to bankrupt states.

Law professor Randy Barnett‘s “Repeal Amendment” is another way to restore checks and balances. It would empower two-thirds of states to repeal any federal law or regulation.

This originally was printed in the Boulder Daily Camera on August 13, 2011.

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Thanks to Amanda Teresi of Liberty on the Rocks for bringing the Friedman quote to my attention. Check out their video, above.

If I had a higher word limit, I would have mentioned making elections more competitive by removing ballot access restrictions and using a type of range or approval voting system.


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Filed under politics, public policy

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