Legislative Performance Futures

Article by Ben Podgursky on “Incentivize Good Laws by Monetizing the Verdict of History”….There are net-positive legislative policies which legislators won’t enact, because they only help people in the medium to far future.  For example:

  • Climate change policy
  • Infrastructure investments and mass-transit projects
  • Debt control and social security reform
  • Child tax credits

The (infrequent) times reforms on these issues are legislated — which happens rarely compared to their future value — they are passed not because of the value provided to future generations, but because of the immediate benefit to voters today:

  • Infrastructure investment goes to “shovel ready” projects, with an emphasis on short-term job creation, even when the prime benefit is to future GDP.  For example, Dams constructed in the 1930s (the Hoover Dam, the TVA) provide immense value today, but the projects only happened in order to create tens of thousands of jobs.
  • Climate change legislation is usually weakly directed.  Instead of policies which incur significant long-term benefits but short-term costs (ie, carbon taxes), “green legislation” aims to create green jobs and incentivize rooftop solar (reducing power bills today).
  • (small) child tax credits are passed to help parents today, even though the vastly larger benefit is incurred by children who exist because the marginal extra cash helped their parents afford an extra child.

On the other hand, reforms which provide nobenefit to today’s voter do not happen; this is why the upcoming Social Security Trust Fund shortfall will likely not be fixed until benefits are reduced and voters are directly impacted.

The issue is that while the future reaps the benefits or failures of today’s laws, people of the future cannot vote in today’s elections.  In fact, in almost no circumstances does the future have any ability to meaningfully reward or punish past lawmakers; there are debates today about whether to remove statues and rename buildings dedicated to those on the wrong side of history, actions which even proponents acknowledge as entirely symbolic….(More)”.