In an American society increasingly polarized over politics, one uniting belief is that there is something very wrong with our government. While this is true, there is an unfortunate tendency – on both sides – to try to identify simple, easy to recite reforms to fix our woes.
On the left, for example, the cries are usually for ‘getting money out of politics,’ with various organizations pushing to ‘repeal’ the Citizens United ruling. On the right, it is common to see calls for a Federal balanced-budget amendment and term limits. While there’s certainly no harm in preventing the Federal government from running up deficits – though the issue is more complicated than many realize – the call for term limits is every bit as misguided as the left’s call for restricting campaign funds. It misidentifies the underlying issue, and would actually manage to make the Federal government even more immune from voter accountability.
One point in term limits favor is that they are popular. Polling in recent years indicates that term limits aresupported by up to 75% of the country, which explains why they were included in the platforms of various presidential candidates including Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Gary Johnson. The popularity can probably be chalked up both to its simplicity, and to the fact that few groups are hated quite as much as the US Congress has been in recent history.
There is certainly something said for ‘throwing the bums out,’ but failing to address the more fundamental problems with the Federal government would likely find voters similarly dissatisfied in short order. This is the main fallacy of term limits: it presumes the problem is the people in government, and not the government itself.
This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on Oct. 5, 2016.