Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Congress of Common Men?

It is "common wisdom" that our Congress lacks truly common men and women, that those who represent us are rarely drawn among a representative strata of the society they represent.  If only the more average citizens could be elected, these patriots would work wonders for the common good rather than putting politics or certain segments of society first.  I find plenty wrong with this commonly held belief, but let's put aside the supposed conspiracy keeping average folk out and the intellectual weakness of the "common good" concept.  Even if a majority of such working class heroes were elected, little would be done of use.  To create change, Congress must legislate.  This is not a patchwork of unrelated laws but rather an immense set of legislation and regulation running into hundreds of thousands of pages, dealing with hundreds of agencies and trillions of dollars, exclusive of contracts with the private sector.  Senator John Q. Public has no chance of effecting meaningful change in this labyrinth he cannot navigate. 

Perhaps more frightening, Representative Silverspoon N. Mouth, with his years of public service and elite education afforded him by his privileged status in society, cannot comprehend this interminable Gordian Knot, either.  That's a frightening thought: nobody actually understands the law.  The most studious lawyers among us only become experts in parts of that law. 

If there are so many laws written in a language only a few can understand, any pretense of our laws being subject to democratic approval should be dropped.  Our elections are never based on the laws passed by politicians but rather on whether the quality of life has seemed to improve or not; most people could no more connect the impact of laws to actual life than they could read the mind of God himself. 

In their ignorance, people call for more regulation from the government.  It has nothing to do with having a sound understanding of economics, finances, or the law, but rather a primordial gut response that the people in charge need to "do something" to prevent bad economic outcomes.  Again, the people in Congress hardly understand the law, much less our entire economic system, but because of political pressure they feel compelled to create some new law or another.  Since the folks in Congress do not understand the laws well enough to change anything in a meaningful way, they turn to the experts in those particular areas of laws to be impacted by the new regulation.  

Those people are called lobbyists.  Their entire point in existing is to understand segments of the law relevant to their interest and write proposed changes that will change those segments in their (or their employer's) favor.  The more we regulate, the more complicated the mess becomes, and the more power lobbyists end up with due to this black hole of legal information. 

"It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood"

~Federalist 62 (I recommend reading it in its entirety)

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