Politicians respond to incentives, the biggest of which is keeping their job.
As I write, millions of Americans are heading to the polls for the 2022 midterm elections. By all accounts, this year's midterm will be one for the record books. Everything from abortion, inflation, taxation, crime, schooling, and even “democracy itself” are on the ballot.
Democrats believe that if their candidate doesn’t win we will cascade into a fascistic hell from which there is no escape. There will be no more elections, the will be no more bodily autonomy, and there will be no safe-space for anyone that wouldn’t fit into Mitt Romney’s immediate family.
Republicans believe that if their candidates lose, we’ll continue toward collectivist hell from which there is likewise no escape. Their children will be transitioned, if they are lucky enough to be carried to term. They will continue to be used as involuntary trial candidates for ‘Big Pharma.” Their 401k’s will evaporate, and we will finally fall off the dreaded fiscal cliff once the Biden Administration gets their way.
Seldom will you hear either party ask why each election has become so important as to warrant the heightened alarmism we’ve now accepted as normal. We’ll leave that point for a later date.
It happened because we let it happen. You, me, the American voter. We are the problem, and since we are the problem, only we can be the solution.
Milton Friedman once explained this concept:
“People in congress, they’re in the business competing with one another to get elected. The same congressman will vote for a different thing if he thinks that’s politically profitable. You don’t have to change congress. People have a great misconception in this way. They think the way you solve things is by electing the right people. It’s nice to elect the right people, but that isn’t the way you solve things. The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing.”
Politicians have two main jobs.
Only when Americans realize this simple fact of life will we truly change things. Republicans are responding to incentives, as are Democrats. Their incentive is to win your vote, it’s up to you to decide how or why they win your vote.
For too long, the ‘how or why’ has been clear, concise, lazy, and the source many problems. Right now, all a Republican or Democrat must do to win the vote of Republicans or Democrats is not be a member of the other team. The choices in Pennsylvania and Georgia are evidence of this fact. But unfortunately for us, that’s where the incentive process placed in front of a candidate ends.
Take the changes in Democrats’ stance on crime as an example. As the left scrambles to prevent an impending “red-wave,” many Democratic candidates are emphasizing their new “tough-on-crime” philosophies.
Understanding how this shift happened is the most important point. The Democratic candidates are responding to incentives. Remember the two main jobs of a politician. Do these candidates really care about crime? Do they personally believe their own campaign slogans?
The answer is: It doesn’t matter what they believe. What truly matters to them is how they get elected, and how they get re-elected. The personal beliefs of any single candidate are worthless when the populace has placed a clear incentive structure in their way.
Do Republican candidates truly believe that the 2020 election was stolen? Some of them do, but the more important fact is that some of them claim to believe in Donald Trump’s election fraud story simply to win votes of Trump supporters. It’s statistically more likely that there are less “election deniers” on the ballot than we think.
So what’s the point?
We spend so much time and money attempting to change congress when we only need to change ourselves and those around us to achieve our desired goals. Instead of focusing on the “right person” getting in office, we must make it politically profitable for the “wrong people” to do the right things.
Conservatives making it politically profitable means that a politician can only win, and win again, by voting in a fiscally responsible manner. Not only because they have an R next to their name. Progressives making it politically profitable means that a politician can only win, and win again, by voting to tax the rich. Not only by having a D next to their name.
Doesn’t that sound like the system we already have? No, it does not.
If this were the system we already had, Mitch McConnell would not have a 20% “favorable” approval rating in a seat he’s held since 1985. Nancy Pelosi would not have a 34% “favorable” rating in a seat she’s held since 1987. These politicians respond to incentives just like everyone else, and until now the only incentive placed in front of them has been to beat the other team.
There’s no need to spend millions fronting the “right person” to beat them. By changing the voters hearts and minds, and thereby the incentives those voters give their leaders, you could have a Nancy Pelosi that supports limited government, or a Mitch McConnell that supports the Green New Deal. The choice is yours. You may find yourself with more power you might expect.
“No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems – of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.” — Thomas Sowell