Term Limits and a Legacy of Snark


So, back in college, I will confess that I would, on a regular basis, voluntarily, leave Manhattan on the weekends to partake in a strange, strange ritual called Parliamentary Debate. And my partner and I were fond of running a pro-term limits case. It was one of the ones we'd kept around longest, and so got refined to the point where it was pretty brutal, if I do say so myself.

Invariably, our opponents would claim that without experience and institutional memory, the power of lobbyists and special interests on naive legislators would dramatically increase. And we had a whole raft of snarky responses deploying arguments from public choice theory and psychology to prove that this wouldn't happen, that our poor, deluded opponents were hopelessly off-base.

Well, whoops.


NEXT: Virginia Sucks

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  1. Some more ideological rubber hitting the road. Again, though, achieving the desired results of crippling government effectiveness and sucking wealth and power to the really big monied interests.

  2. Hmm, “crippling government effectiveness.” I knew there had to be some silver lining.

  3. If you must have a government, I would think you would want it to be effective. Turning it over to amateurs is a good way to do that.

  4. It all becomes clear now… I should have known that APDA would have been a feeder for intelligent libertarian publications. Any place where my team could run a case that necrophilia with prior written consent should be legal is a natural breeding ground.

  5. Heh heh. Parlimentary debate. Now there’s an activity to develop one’s critical capacities.

    Does parlimentary debate even count as debate? I participated all through college and I still can’t make up my mind.

  6. Term limits appeal to the “these people are idiots, get them out” impulse. Sadly, since there are only idiots willing to replace them, who are in turn chosen by an electorate made up of idiots, we end up with a gaggle of less experienced idiots, easily preyed upon by less idiotic more experienced professional lobbyists.

  7. The point of term limits is the mutual giving up of seniority across represented regions. I’ll give up mine if you give up yours. It’s not that fresh faces are better.

  8. It isn’t like all the “veteran” legislators aren’t bought out as well.

    So who cares if the new guy in office is swayed by some special interest group due to being naive. Is that any worse than the legislators who (supposedly) _know_ more about the issues but _choose_ to take more money from RIAA/MPAA/Philip Morris/whomever and shaft the public all the same? I’d say that you have a better chance of enlightening the young blood than you do of convincing the old crooks on the hill to start working for us instead of lining their pockets.

  9. It seems to me that there is a perfectly good place for term limits in a bicameral legislature:

    One house can either have no term limits or very long term limits. This house will, hopefully, have a longer institutional memory. Meanwhile, the other house can have relatively short term limits. This will assure more turn-over.

    You might question the importance of turnover, but consider this: Most legislative districts are so heavily gerrymandered that it’s well-nigh impossible to oust the incumbent. Sure, it’s likely that a term limit will lead to his replacement by a member of the same party, but

    1) There will still be a competitive primary
    2) There’s at least a chance that the new legislator will be from a different party. Even if he isn’t, it’s likely that the new legislator will have had to at least run in a more competitive race.

    If you believe that competition leads to a better marketplace for goods and services, might it not also lead to a better marketplace for ideas and officials?

  10. There is only one way to reduce the influence of lobbyists on legislation, by reducing the size, power, and scope of government til it is not worth the investment to try and infulence it. Till then, what we’ve got is what we’ll get.

  11. Two words re: term limits. Strom Thurmond

  12. Like it or not, my libertarian friends, our system of representative government is not going anywhere any time soon. Accordingly, while many may dislike their legislators, better that we have legislators who are experienced and know what they’re doing, than to have inexperienced men and women who get rolled by monied interests intent on draining still more money from the public trough.

  13. Not defending Strom’s politics, but here’s an interesting article at least respecting the guy… by Shelton Hull


  14. I frankly think that the Christian Science Monitor, one of my favorite publications, just got the story wrong here. They were particularly at fault in headlining this story. If you read it all, you found one of the original arguments for term limits restated and buttressed by experience: the increased turnover disrupts lobbyists’ traditional means of influence, the long-term relationships built up with powerful lawmakers, and makes them work harder. Yes, that means they spend more of their clients’ money than they use to. Yes, that means that they are more visible than they used to be. But to conclude that they now have more power than they used to over the legislative process, and further than this invalidates term limits, is to make a leap completely unjustified by the empirical data.

    I’ve spent much of my adult life in and around state legislatures, especially in North Carolina — where term limits are little more than a subject for academic theorizing. Lobbyists for major industries or associations exert a tremendous influence on lawmakers of whatever vintage. All you can hope to do really (and can do in a free society) is to force them to butt heads with each other a lot and to raise the real price per vote bought through 1) engineering more competitive elections, 2) ensuring more turnover via term limits and other means, and 3) building alternative institutions, such as citizen lobbies and free-market think tanks, to combat their influence.

    As to the solution being to shrink the size of government so that lobbyists have less to try to acquire or to block for their clients, that’s true but irrelevant to the discussion. The issue is how to shrink the size of government — a task that much of the lobbying corps in most states will oppose.

  15. Julian–

    You link to a good article.

    But I wonder if there isn’t a better, easier solution.

    “Lobbyist” is a registered activity, just as being in the press corps. Anyone is allowed to right or publish, but you need credentials to be able to sit in the audience of Pentagon briefing. Similarly, I am free to write to my Congressman and petition him to support say, medical marijuana legislation. But in order to corner him in the halls of Congress and breathe down his neck to redesignate Vietnamese Catfish, I need to be a registered lobbyist.

    So how about term-limiting these lobbyists’ registration terms? I haven’t thought through the implications, but it seems like a decent enough idea.

    Also, there’s lobbying that’s good and lobbying that’s bad–depending on your ideological schema.

    For libertarians: Rent-seeking = bad. Regulation obstruction = good.

    What sort of lobbying is most aided by the imposition of term limits?

  16. I knew there was a good reason I was against term limits. Now I can point out that’s its a bad idea because it gives lobbyists more power as opposed to accusing supporters of just trying to stop other people from electing the politicians they want.

  17. Lefty:

    Of course the government’s effective. How do you think those “moneyed interests” got to be that way? You really think FDR was working for YOU? For every welfare mother on the government tit, there’s a drug or high-tech or aerospace company sucking blood straight out of the big sow’s jugular. The liberals are all wrong; the system isn’t broken, it’s working just the way it was designed to.

  18. I’ve always agreed with George Mason, in The Virginia Declaration of Rights:

    “V That the legislative and executive powers of the state should be separate and distinct from the judicative; and, (*Here’s the important part*..)that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression by feeling and participating the burthens of the people, they should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private station, return into that body from which they were originally taken, and the vacancies be supplied by frequent, certain, and regular elections in which all, or any part of the former members, to be again eligible, or ineligible, as the laws shall direct.” ^

    I don’t have a problem with anyone being elected as many times as the voters can stomach him, as long as, every once in a while, he is ineligible, and has to go out among the people to earn his daily bread. The professional legislative class rarely feels the “burthens” of we lowly citizens. That should change.



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