The Failure of Compromise

Last week, in a post about redistricting, I noted that people are mistaken if they think that their vote actually elects their representative.  Here’s another reason why your vote counts for less than you think: the representatives we send to Congress write very little of the governing law of our nation.  Not that I’m trying to discourage you from voting or anything…

Nancy Pelosi

Everyone’s heard by now the infamous quote from Nancy Pelosi before the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) was passed.  She said, “We have to pass the bill so you can see what’s in it.”  Everyone thought that what she said was ridiculous.  I never thought I’d be saying this, but Nancy Pelosi was right.  Even the legislators that were writing the law couldn’t know what they were actually creating, because the law itself (all 2,000+ pages of it) is less than 10% of the final governing document.  The other 90% is written by unelected bureaucrats in the form of regulation.  That’s right!  Another 30,000 pages of regulations will be written by someone who’s not elected!  That’s what really decides how the law is implemented.  It’s also why the federal government has to spend $100 billion per year to implement it.

The Problem
This is the problem of having the central, federal government try to write laws for the entire country.  They are trying to bring together the divided interests of diverse people, and make it into a one-size-fits-all piece of legislation. The essential problem is that they are trying to make a centralized plan for a huge variety of different people.  This is why central planning so often fails.  The essence of the problem of making an economic plan is that they have to make a choice between conflicting or competing ends.  They need to deal with the conflicting needs of different people.

This is what I call “the failure of compromise.”  People have said before that when you compromise by having each side give in a little bit, you often get something that no one likes.  You also often get something that doesn’t work–economically, politically, or practically.

The ObamaCare example
Just take, for instance, the issue of health care.  You have the people on the liberal side of the political spectrum that say that there should be a single payer (the government) that funds all health care.  You have people on the conservative side of the political spectrum that say that the health care system should be more market-driven than it is already.  There are countries around the world that have a single payer system, with varying degrees of success, and the United States could probably make it work.  Now, there are economic problems with a single payer system, and we probably couldn’t make it work for very long, but we could probably make it work, at least for a short period of time.  We could also probably make a more market-driven system work.  This would be my preference, because I think that the economics would work better.

But, because there are such widely different people with widely needs in our country, and every interest group is vocal in their support/opposition to a certain plan, our lawmakers cannot find a true majority agreement on any plan, so they create a compromise.  They pass a law that issues “general rules,” and then leaves the issues of “particular cases” to more bureaucratic discretion.  In the case of ObamaCare, we got a law that no one really likes, and a law that’s been left up to different cabinet agencies to interpret and implement.  And so, we end up having the Department of Health and Human Services hand out “waivers” to the new health care regulations like candy, because no one really likes the finished product.

The danger of such delegation by the legislature to administrative agencies is that we are coming to believe more and more that, if things are to get done, the responsible authorities must be “freed from the fetters of democratic procedure” (in the words of F.A. Hayek).  This is leading us down the path to a society that is democracy-in-name-only.

My solution?
My solution is for the federal government not to be involved in so much.  Since our country is so large and diverse, we cannot often make laws that can be uniformly applied across the country.  We cannot have laws that dictate actions to the entire country based on something that only works in Illinois or Massachusetts.  Because we only end up with things that people hate.

Questions: Do you see compromise as a failure?  Should so much of the law-making be left to administrative agencies?  You can leave your comments by clicking here.