February 26, 2010
I was just wondering whether, as part of a democracy, we should have an anti-congress. The role of the anti-congress would be solely to repeal laws, rather than to pass them, and perhaps end government programs / projects.
I like this idea for several reasons. First of all, it seems counter-intuitive to me that the law should get increasingly complex as time goes on. The tax code, for example, was 60,000 pages long in 2003 according to this random blog post that I found by Googling “us tax code growth”.
Does this make it more effective, or does it just make it increasingly difficult for even accountants and lawyers, but especially private citizens, to deal with? It seems as if you’d want to keep the tax code at a certain level of complexity so that it remains accessible; I don’t know what’s in a lot of these pages, but I find it difficult to understand why it would need to grow at such a rapid rate, even given the increasing complexity of modern life.
Secondly, it seems that Congress and the president would have a natural bias to keep passing new laws and creating new programs, rather than repealing existing ones. Something like the Patriot Act or the current health care overhaul is seen as “getting something done”, but I can’t remember the last time I heard a politician campaign on removing an obstacle, a restriction, or a use of government money (I guess the deregulation of the airline industry is the last major thing I can think of). So even if a law or a program is a bad one, there’s nobody who’s focused on repealing or getting rid of it.
Milton Friedman talks a lot about how the “invisible hand” of the market works in the opposite way in government. In theory, in the market many actors try to maximize the achievement of their own goals (e.g. making money) and in so doing maxmize the value they deliver to society (e.g. building a package delivery company that people want to use, or rapidly scaling a franchise that makes superior pizzas).
In government, the opposite happens. Politicans make lots of rules and laws at the behest of particular groups and special interests that want something protected. As a result, the general interest is impaired for the benefit of particular interests. For example, agricultural subsidies are helpful to a relatively small section of the population, but they’re harmful to a larger portion of the population, which has to pay for them. Even government programs that can be considered successful are rarely subject to any kind of accountability or review.
Which is a good third reason to be in favor of an anti-Congress. It seems that we would all benefit from programs periodically being reviewed and asked to justify their existence. We definitely do this with private non-profits. It’s arguable whether we do this with private corporations - some do, some don’t probably. I’d bet that the better-run ones do.