By Arnold Kling
From Russ Roberts.
And the next president, Republican or Democrat, will spend less than we’ve been spending. But not a lot less. So those Tea Partiers are in for disappointment. Oh, we might go back to the level of government spending way back in the Dark Ages of 2007. But you have to go back to Calvin Coolidge to find a Republican president who presided over a smaller government when he left office than when he arrived – Congress doesn’t like taking away things from voters who’ve become accustomed to free lunches paid for by other taxpayers.
The first sentence might actually have to read “will grow spending less than we’ve been growing spending.”
Why do seemingly dramatic elections have relatively minor consequences? Three hypotheses:
1. The institutional arrangements of the Constitution make change difficult.
2. The median voter theorem: the two party system naturally gravitates toward satisfying the median voter, who wants little change.
3. The median insider theorem: the political process is run by insiders, whose interests remain relatively stable. Voters can change who gets to exercise power, but they have no influence over how it is exercised or for whom it is exercised.
Roberts does not indicate which factor he considers important, although the paragraph quoted suggests (2). I put most of the weight on (3). Moreover, I regard this as un-fixable. Attempts to “take money out of politics” will, at most, reduce the influence of some elites and increase the influence of others. Politics will remain a game where insiders battle over resources while outsiders are manipulated.