Monday, July 12, 2010

Federal Employees and Voting

So browsing other blog/news posts this morning, I came across a link to a Washington Post article which discussed how federal employees are largely happy these days, even in the face of the broad economic malaise in the US. This makes sense, of course: after all, (including benefits) federal workers are compensated roughly double what private workers are for the same jobs, employment is up, and the prospects of government largess into the indefinite future are arguably higher than ever. In addition, with the Democratic party essentially running all of the government, you might imagine the majority of people in government being Democrat inclined, which would generally make them more content with the recent direction of the country, and actions of its leadership.

However, this does raise an interesting dilemma for the country in general. With an ever increasing public payroll, and the real possibility that at some point the majority of the voters will be receiving public payouts in one form or another, we're creating a self-reinforcing incentive loop which might be hard to escape. When the government was small, and operating within means of revenue collected from the people, this was not a problem: the size and scope were limited by the revenue collected. To the current politicians running the country, though, limits such as budgets and revenue are not only ignored, but to some viewed as impediments to the conversion of America to a socialist dream (or nightmare, depending on your perspective) state. In the country's current state, we might do well to break the perverse incentive circle before it's too late.

I was thinking, what if there was a rule that if you took government money directly during the year (or two) leading up to an election, you were not allowed to vote in it. Yes, this would remove a lot of people's votes, and yes, it would lead to everyone not being equally represented in votes, and yes, people would complain mightily about it; but, consider the effects. You might have a fighting chance to rein in out-of-control government expansion, curtail implied bribery of the voting populace, and break out of the vicious expansion of the federal government before it's too late.

Of course, there are variations too. For example, you could prevent voting only for those who have received more from the government in any year than they have given back through taxes, fees, and donations to the IRS. This would allow anyone to still vote, as long as they assured their net income from the public was not positive. It would also prevent unscrupulous politicians from using the rule to negate entire blocks of voting through targeted handouts. It might also encourage more qualified people to vote, as their votes might carry more weight, especially since a large group of regular voters (namely, career public "servant" leeches) would be disqualified from influencing voting outcomes for which they clearly regularly have conflicts of interest.

I'm not sure if this would be a good idea, and I'm fairly sure it's too late to enact in the US in any case, but it's food for thought.

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