Lean Pork

If their representatives don’t bring home the bacon, Americans are free to fire them on Election Day. But what if members of Congress didn’t run for reelection in their home districts but were randomly assigned to run somewhere else? A 2011 paper, “Randomizing Districts for Reelections: A Thought Experiment,” tried to find benefits in a legislature divorced from geography. Under such a system, “legislators cannot focus their attention upon pleasing a geographically-concentrated special interest while neglecting the broader national interest.” (more)

A cute idea, but it would hurt incentives for info specialization, where representatives learn their district’s issues, and voters learn their incumbent’s record. I think my 17-year-old proposal would work better:

Congressfolk seeking re-election seek, among other things, concrete benefits they can bring to their district, which they can claim clear credit for. Thus they focus on getting dams, grants, etc. directed to their district, and seek tariffs or subsidies for industries especially concentrated in their district. They tend to give only lip-service for issues, like say health-care reform, which might benefit everyone in the nation, and which lots of congressfolk would be involved in developing — the benefits and the credit to be claimed are both diffuse and unconcentrated. …

So my simple proposal is to allow federal tax rates to vary by congressional district. Given this, taxes would suddenly become a concentrated benefit. Incumbents could brag about how much lower taxes were in their district, and challengers could complain how high they were. Incumbents would have clear incentives to trade votes to get taxes lowered in their district, and the credit would be clear – who else would want to push for lower taxes in that district? (more)

Admittedly, while excess local pork is a problem, it may not be the main problem our political system faces at the moment.

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