Congressional Malfeasance

Via Radley Balko, I ran across this lovely bit from Matt Yglesias. Mr. Balko crunched the numbers and figured that your congresscritter has to read 90 pages of law a minute to be able to get through the laws before voting on them. Mr. Yglesias, being a knee-jerk donk wanker, tries to blame this all on the GOP. This is a problem I have with Mr. Yglesias and many other donks. The barely hidden message is "if we were still in charge of Congress, this wouldn't be happening" and can be extended to any aspect of political chicanery the donk has just noticed. Nice try, but this kind of crap has been going on for years and is thoroughly bipartisan. It is not physically possible for the members of Congress to actually read all the bills they pass, and hasn't been for quite some time. The only people that actually read all the crap Congress passes are the legislative assistants who draft the damnable things.

I have felt for a number of years that if you, as an elected official, have not read and do not fully understand the bill you are voting on, you should vote nay. Obviously, this is not a belief shared by the members of Congress. The problem has reached critical dimensions, as Mr. Balko pointed out late last year. How is it that failing to read something before making it the law of the land is not considered gross incompetence at best and criminal malfeasance at worst? I don’t understand how one can even remotely claim to be doing the job successfully without even reading the bills under consideration.

This is a classic example of an agency problem . We, as busy citizens, delegate the responsibility for running the government to our agents. Unfortunately, our agents (aka Congress) have a completely different set of objectives than we do. We can’t take the time to monitor them exhaustively, what with being gainfully employed and raising children and generally trying to have lives. The incentives for our agents have diverged quite sharply from the interests of the general population. We have created an incredibly dysfunctional system complete with a vast array of perverse incentives to reward our elected officials for screwing us.

I wish I knew what the answer was. The B-school literature on agency problems always throws out crap about making sure the agent’s interests are aligned with the principal’s. That’s all well and good, but the advice lacks a little something when it comes to actual practical methods. All the research focuses on business solutions, not political ones. Short of ending the 1st Amendment after the first 5 words, I’m not sure there is a solution.


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