Reform Week Part IV

In the 1990’s the NBA started drafting high school kids and letting them play in the league. It was an idiotic decision that has haunted them to this day. High school boys are not ready to play at that level and they lack the maturity to develop as a bench warmer for a few years. It is fairly well established that the peak years for athletes of this type are from 25-to-32. Taking a player who is seven years from his peak is sure to retard his development and waste a lot of money. The result was a steady decline in the level of play in the league.

That is an important lesson. Even in sports like track that are based on pure physical gifts, you need more than natural talent. There is a set of skills and a degree of maturity that allows the athlete to fully exploit their natural talents. Development systems not only help nurture talent, but they also weed out the mercurial and erratic before they are put into a position where others are counting on them. More than a few great talents have washed out before they hit the professional ranks because they lack the character or maturity for the job.

For political athletes, a similar development system is necessary to police the ranks efficiently. One or two corrupt individuals slipping into the legislature is manageable. A whole parliament full of crooks is a recipe for disaster. Making the process of getting there arduous is a time tested way of filtering at the source. The Roman Empire became unstable right around the time they started taking shortcuts and cutting corners in their development of their political leaders. They started making exceptions and before long no one respected the rules and customs of the Republic.

American politics is suffering an NBA problem. The Senate and House are both stocked with far too many people who never served time in the minor leagues of politics. It is hard to find anyone who has a job, much less did the grunt work of being a town manager or city councilman. Instead of earning their bones in the minor leagues, they are jumping right to the big show.

For example, the great hope of the Trotsky wing of the GOP is Ben Sasse. He spent a year in the dreaded private sector after college and then got on the gravy train of government work. A dozen years on the dole and runs for Senate and is now the shiny new penny “representing” Nebraska, a place he rarely visited for twenty years prior to his election. Instead of working his way up from dog catcher or state rep, he just parachuted into the Senate without much vetting.

Marco Rubio is an example of trying to rush guys along before they are ready. Rubio had a successful career in the Florida legislature. Making the leap to the Senate was a big step, similar to going from AA to the majors. He had the skill to do it, as long as he was going to spend his first term learning the ropes and growing into the position. If he flourished, then maybe he could be offered a spot on the 2024 GOP ticket or perhaps run for governor of Florida. Instead, he is a has-been at 44.

One way to restore the development system is to return the Senate to the states. The original design was to have the Senate represents the interests of the states, while the House was the democratic voice of the people. The 17th Amendment, passed in 1913, changed that and threw the system out of balance, making it just as prone to democratic impulses as the House. More important, it has made the Senate more accessible to the overly ambitious. The result is a chamber increasing full of feckless climbers like Ben Sasse.

Repealing the 17th would not be an easy sell, but simply returning the selection of senators to the states is probably a workable compromise. Each state could then create a system for picking senators. Given this power, they will inevitably create a system controlled by local interests, even if it maintains the veneer of popular selection. Having the legislature nominate candidates for the public to vote on is an obvious solution.

Another reform that would help restore the development system is to expand the House of Representatives. The Apportionment Act of 1911 set the current size of the House in an age when the population of the country was a third of what it is today. Doubling the size of the house would get the apportionment closer to what it was a century ago. It would also make buying influence much more expensive. Buying off two hundred legislators is much easier than bribing five hundred of them.

Expanding the House would also make being a congressman less important. Lowering the prestige of the House, while increasing the prestige of state legislatures will help keep the kids on the farm until they are ready for the big show. That means state government gets better at protecting the interests of the state as a counter to federal power. The good people of Nebraska would washout a poser like Sasse long before he could be inflicted on the nation.

Finally, another angle of reform could be on the pay side. Paying Congressman and Senators $200K a year sounds like a lot, but Washington is not a cheap city. A pol has to maintain two homes and bear the cost of commuting, to some extent, from the district. It’s why guys like Paul Ryan take advantage of insider information to make money in the markets. It is perfectly legal and they all do it.

It is how a guy like John Kasich gets a net worth of $25 million, despite a lifetime in elected office. Harry Reid became a millionaire off shady land deals he was able to broker first at the state level and then in the Senate. One of the surest ways to become a millionaire is to get elected to Congress. On your first day there is a line of lobbyists ready to give you investment tips.

In order to strip away the self-dealing, the pay would have to go up considerably. Maybe giving Congressman and Senators an allowance for a house in Washington and a salary commensurate with the importance of the job would be enough to make a ban on self-dealing workable. There is some history here as Congress passed the gift ban twenty years ago. There will always be bribes and people willing to take them but removing some of the justifications makes it easier to police.

28 thoughts on “Reform Week Part IV

  1. I’ve always thought repealing the 17th Amendment needed to be done. We do need one part of the Legislature with long term serving members. Without this the bureaucracy rules everything and the same mistakes keep being made over and over. We should also change campaign financing so that money only comes from the district of the Representative being elected. I know the Courts have ruled differently. If the Legislature had any balls they could just impeach them anytime they ruled differently. Congress can also decide “what” the courts rule on. If they had balls, once again, the could tell the courts to butt out of a great deal they’re involved with.

    Corporations could be reined in by one change. Any corporation that gives money to politicians is treated as a person for income tax and liability. The whole corporation, directors included. That would get their attention.

  2. If the central government keeps usurping powers from the states, municipalities, and people, then that also retards the development of young politicians. If your day in the statehouse or town hall is spent dealing with trivialities because the issues you used to be able to influence are already decided by federal mandates or regulations, then you are not going to grow much as a politician. If you do push back on the Feds, knowing that they will retaliate by withholding funds (which fungibility and wealth transfers aside, were taxed from your citizens in the first place), then your bench will be conditioned to be quite timid.

  3. The structure of the House of Representin’ is an artifact of our history of federalism and the historically accurate presumption that persons in close geographic proximity have common interests and therefore should have a common representative. It’s not clear that either of these factors are relevant in today’s world. Federalism is long dead, thanks to the progressive movement. Further, it’s not clear at all that geographic proximity still defines common interests. A farmer in California’s Central Valley has more in common with a corn farmer in Iowa than with a professor at Berkley. Similarly, an investment banker in Manhattan has more common interests with an investment banker in Palo Alto than with most of his next door neighbors. Economic growth and technology development have severed the links between physical proximity and common interests. There is simply no compelling reason to have Congressional Districts anymore.

    It’s an interesting thought experiment to contemplate whether the country might be better served by at-large representatives. Article I would limit the at-large contests to a state-by-state basis, but there’s no reason that a state could not junk their Congressional Districts and hold at-large contests for the House. Every voter gets one vote. If your state has 10 representatives then candidates with the top 10 number of votes win. Amend Article I and the same thing could be done on a national level.

    This would be a big step toward a more direct representative democracy. Double the size of the House and almost every conceivable ethnic group and/or interest group could pool enough votes to get at least one Representative in the House. It would probably shift political power from rural areas to urban/suburban areas, but that might not be such a bad thing. Agriculture policy and water use policy could be rationalized.

    But with the notion of “safe districts” gone, members of the House would no longer be free to disregard the interests of their constituents in favor of the interests of the donor class. If, as a politician, you have defined your constituency to be “working class voters in my state” then you had damn well better make sure every vote you cast coincides with the interests of working class voters in your state or the next election they will likely vote for someone else. To be sure, the donor class would be able to buy their share of Representatives, but I think they would have a much harder time purchasing a majority in the House under an at-large system.

    • A better idea would be for the states to voluntarily split up, each into several states.
      For instance, Cook County, Ill, which contains Chicago, has zero in common with Southern Illinois which is heavily agricultural.
      Western NY and Upper NY state have zero in common with the greater NYC metropolitan area, but the population density of the NYC region gives the metro area many representatives in the NY legislature so they can literally deny Western, NY residents those programs they would like.
      200 years ago, most states were heavily agricultural, so all the residents had much in common. This is no longer the case.
      The states have gotten too big- population wise – and they have segregated themselves into those areas that are mostly urban (e.g., NYC, Chicago, Philly, Seattle, Portland, etc. ) to those areas mostly non-urban.

      The Constitution must be changed to allow states split apart with greater ease.

  4. The popular election of US Senators by the citizens of their state has resulted in “outsiders” having significant influence in the election process of US Senators as well as a “shifting” of allegiance of the elected Senator.
    When US Senators were selected by their State legislatures, the Senator knew who buttered his/her bread. They were elected to represent their state, and everybody knew it. Their allegiance was to their state.
    When this all changed, US Senatorial elections now had money coming into their campaigns from outside of their state.
    I believe it was in 2012 or so during the senatorial election in W.Virginia. The democratic candidate actually held a fund raiser for her campaign in MANHATTAN, NYC !! Think about this; a bunch of hard core progressive millionaires from the upper west side or upper east side (folks that most likely had never set foot in W.Virginia and would never be caught dead in W.Virginia) donated millions to her campaign. These donors could care less about the people of W.Virginia. Yet, their $$$ flowed into her campaign coffers. She ultimately did lose (I do not recall her name), but it is simply wrong that non-residents of a state can really affect the outcome of a Senatorial election.

    Elections for US Senator today are like mini-national elections in which those running for office can oft times count on vast sums of money from interests that have zero interests in the state’s affairs or its citizens.

    As an aside, I wonder how the growth of the federal government (and the affairs into which they stick their greedy, corrupt fingers) would have been affected if US Senators were still elected by their own state legislatures.

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  6. I’ve always liked the idea of expanding the House, because it seems like an easy way to break the two-party stranglehold. Every few years a “political science” type has to remind me why we’re tied to two parties, and every time I think it’s bogus. As Trump and Sanders have shown, modern tech means you don’t need the full party apparatus to run a campaign anymore. Similarly, the last real argument I heard against expanding the House — that we’re at the max feasible for effective parliamentary procedure — is likewise obsolete. Half the “speeches” on CSPAN are delivered to an empty chamber anyway, for the benefit of the cameras. A healthy polity needs a Sanders-like figure, and a Ron Paul-type figure, but it needs them as the heads of a small party influencing a coalition, not languishing on the back benches and having to run for President to get themselves heard.

  7. Bryce Harper and Barak Obama, two who had the talent to jump to the top. Harper may live up to the promise.

  8. You saw what happens when the minor leagues get wiped out in the Democrat race this year. Putting aside the Clinton’s threats against competitors…there was simply no bench. The wipe out of governors, legislators and Congress critters almost ensured no competition.

  9. I seem to recall that the punishment in ancient times for an elected official caught taking a bribe was to cut off his nose, put him in a sack with a rat, then toss him into the river.

    The problem with our post modern civilization is that there is no fear of consequences or punishment. You cant have a libertarian society where everything is permissible as long as it “doesnt hurt someone” without applying severe consequences when an innocent bystander does get hurt.

    The Islamists are evil assholes, but on punishment, I think they have it right. You need to put the fear of god into the majority of the population, and make an example of “fuck ups” when they do “fuck up.”

    Maybe even sell tickets to the event, and use the proceeds to compensate the victims.

    As to washington d.c. and the sale of America, my view is that anyone who served in congress and presided over the running up of $19 Trillion in debt should swing from a lampost along with the lobbyists who pitched the bribes in the first place.

    • The only punishment for politicians is the fear of not getting elected. But you’re right. The average person has little recourse. Good example (and I suspect it’s the same in the US) watch what happens when your renter quits paying and you try to evict them. Suddenly they have more rights than the landlord. But if the Landlord stops paying their taxes – well, we all know how that will turn out.

      • Not getting re-elected is really not much punishment for a member of Congress; they will always find a job as a lobbyist and earn a far bigger salary. This is really part of the bigger problem; a ruling elitist class that retains a large degree of influence even when they are no longer in office.

        • Exactly. Getting elected to national office is your ticket to the big time. Once you’re in, you only have to be in office for a few years to build the relationships needed to set you up for life. If you can stay in office for a few decades, so much the better, as that puts you in position to make a truly gigantic fortune.

          Somebody did a study recently, I wish I could put my finger on it. The gist of it was that, sometime in the recent past, getting elected to public office became the number-one route to amassing a multimillion-dollar fortune in the USA. When politics becomes more lucrative than business, engineering, or science, you know your society is doomed.

  10. Never mind doubling the size of the House; I’ve always suggested that it be increased to 5000-7000 members. Reduce the size of a congressional district dramatically. They can meet in RFK Stadium once a quarter. Make it a truly part-time thing, and raise the threshold for a quorum to a crazy-high percentage. Then, limit the length of any bill or measure before the Congress to no more than 500 words. Not pages … words. Don’t pack it all together and then pass it as one giant, horse-choking turd. Put your personal stamp of approval on each and every individual part. Or don’t.

      • If you’re going to do 800, you might as well do 3,000. Either way, you’re going to have to build a new House chamber.

        • They’d need a new chamber if they were going to stay in session all the time, making trouble. But see that a full-time job outside a courtroom in one’s home district is a qualification, and they can meet once a quarter or once a month at most, and the State of the Union Show can take place in RFK Stadium.

      • Z….May I call you by your first name….love your articles….very good….how about we just let the state legislators vote in the whole as Congress….Virtually…no need to even come to DC…..States appoint the Senators….If we need a sitting house….each state legislator can rotate in on a duty roster like those used in the military…..Oh and you get one six year term for any position in the governments of the US….mayor – once, governor – once, senator – once, and so on. Dont quite your day job, Pols.

  11. There’s actually no relationship to servitude and pay. Soldiers, firemen and police are a good example when you consider what they are paid relative to what they risk losing every single day. While I’m sure there are exceptions, paying people more money to stand on the front line and take a bullet for people they don’t know has little if any meaning to people who dedicate themselves to serving the public in the most unselfish of ways. Then try paying a professional basketball player what you pay teachers and watch how quickly the sport disappears. They’re not playing for the love of the sport any more than politicians are in politics to serve the people. For politicians it’s all about power, pure and simple. It’s why they will do and say anything to remain in office. The money is nice, but you can’t put a price on power..

    • Then try paying a professional basketball player what you pay teachers and watch how quickly the sport disappears.

      I assume then, in Germany, that rugby, American football, badminton, baseball, and cricket players earn at the income of German soccer stars?

      • Honestly, I don’t care what professional players earn, even German football players. It’s all private industry and I can choose to contribute or not. But when a college basketball coach in the US makes over $2-million and a tenured physics professor at that same university makes less than $100K, the priorities are clearly screwed up especially when your children are going neck-deep in debt to pay for their education.

        • The physics professor brings in far less money to the school than the basketball coach. Not always, but the market rate for one is simply higher than the other for all the same reasons the German football star makes more than the German programmer.

          That said, American college athletics is a one of those cultural items that no one would invent if it did not exist. Every culture has them.

          • Sorry – I didn’t mean to get off topic.:-) My point being the focus of politics, and in this case education, has shifted from that of serving the greater good to filling the pockets of corporations and institutions. Whether it’s the president of a country or university it’s not about the money as much as it is about control.

            Last comment – the basketball coach is giving the university a fish, the professor is teaching students how to fish which benefits students and society more than any basketball coach. Big difference in my eyes.

          • I don’t disagree, with regards to college sports and colleges. None of makes much sense anymore, but no one has figured out how to unravel in an orderly fashion. my guess is it will unravel in an disorderly fashion.

            Status and prestige are a huge part of politics. I don’t dispute that. I think it could be easier to police the corruption if there are few incentives for corruption. Most Congressman and Senators resent the hell out of the fact their campaign managers make five times what the candidate earns and i can see their point. If I’m the guy getting the votes, the guy carrying my bag should not make more than me.

          • Just to correct your comment “Every culture has them.” – German universities do not have sports programs anything like the US. Our sports programs are limited to after school football clubs – which is where our professional football players come from. I believe this is also true in the UK and most all European universities.

        • That $2-mil coach regularly brings in $xx-mil in revenues and $x-mil worth of publicity for the school. That $100K prof might bring in a $xxxK grant once in a while, and every now and then a physics prof becomes well known in the physics community. It’s economics.

          • Sorry for piggy-backing Mr. Z. When I posted the above, yours didn’t show up, or it was “below the fold) and I didn’t notice it (more likely).

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