Short-Term Problems

Anyone who has been aware of the political process for more than an election cycle or two has probably noticed an interesting fact about our democratic process — politicians tend to come and go. But problems tend to stay.

This short video produced by the Institute for Energy Research demonstrates this pattern:

In the United States of America, politicians must manage their political ambitions within the restraints of terms and elections. Some offices are confined by term limits, but all are accountable to voting booths.

Politicians and their politics are short-term.

Some would say that politicians themselves are short-term problems. Regardless, no politician, even a career one, is going to be around long enough to solve long-term, systemic problems. Certainly, they can make adjustments. They can send us in this direction or that direction. But they will not “solve” the problem. Whether the problem be taxation, health care, foreign defense, or energy as in the above video, it will outlive the politician who adopts it as their pet project.

One of the reasons why this is the case, is because politicians themselves are forces that perpetuate the ongoing problems. For example, just when the Democrats thought they had “solved” the “crisis” of health care in our time, the Tea Party and Republicans viewed their very solution as a problem. And now health care is a battleground that Congress finds itself fighting on again, when the armaments haven’t even cleared the field from the last fight.

Another reason is that most of these problems are not solvable through government action. The extent to which one believes that statement depends on their political leanings, but the fact remains. Over time many problems will be resolved through the free market, though that may not be a popular idea with elected officials. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner tell an interesting story their book, Super Freakonomics, where the free market solved a problem the government never could — horse manure festering in city streets.

The world had seemingly reached the point where its largest cities could not survive without the horse but couldn’t survive with it, either. And then the problem vanished. It was neither government fiat nor divine intervention that did the trick… The problem was soved by technological innovation… The automobile, cheaper to own and operate than a horse-drawn vehicle, was proclaimed “an environmental savior.” (pg. 10)

Not all problems have such a visible free-market solution, but human ingenuity has the time and resources to solve a problem that elected officials can never have.

The bottom line is that it is flawed to believe that politicians are the answer. Not any one particular politician, nor the whole lot of them.

But there is one thing that out-lasts politicians and keeps pace with the problems of the political process. That force is principles.

A citizenry dedicated to free-market principles and determined to stay the long and arduous course, may actually solve problems. And they certainly will outlast politicians.