[Steven Landsburg, guest-blogging, April 24, 2007 at 7:01am] Trackbacks

The problem with democracy is not that politicians kowtow to financiers and lobbyists; it's that politicians kowtow to their own consituents, spending other people's money along the way. In other words, their incentives are all wrong. Effective reform should supply better incentives.

So if I could make just one change in the American political system, it would be to give each voter two votes in every congressional election. You'd get one vote to cast in your own district and another to cast in the district of your choice. When a congressman from West Virginia funnels taxpayers' money from fifty states to his home district, I want him to face the prospect that taxpayers from fifty states will share their feelings with him on election day.

I'd also redraw the boundaries of Congressional districts according to the alphabet instead of geography. Instead of congressmen from central Delaware and northern Colorado, we'd have a congressman for everyone whose name begins with AA through AE, another for everyone whose name begins with AF through AL, and so on. The point being that it's easy to devise a pork barrel project that benefits everyone in northern Colorado, but a lot harder to devise a pork barrel project that benefits everyone whose name happens to begin with Q.

Finally, I want federal income tax rates determined separately in each congressional district, as a function of how much spending your congressman has voted for. The more he votes to spend, the more you pay in taxes. That should solve the problem of voters who pay little attention to what their representatives are up to.

If you're worried about this deterring congressmen from voting for bills that are truly in the national interest, I'm willing to make an exemption for any spending bill that passes by a supermajority of, say, 70%.

Am I serious? Of course I'm serious. Of course I'm also aware that our legal system would probably render any of these reforms quite impossible, and that this of all blogs is the one where readers will jump in to tell me why. But the disconnect between congressional incentives and the welfare of the general public is real, and needs highlighting. So when I say "Let's redraw the congressional districts according to the alphabet", what I'm really saying is "Let's think hard---and creatively---about ways to sever the link between parochial interests and congressional incentives." That's an entirely serious point.

All of which is another major theme in my new book, from which this post is adapted.