Congress has a hard job. The problems facing our nation are genuinely difficult. Not only does our country reflect significant diversity of backgrounds, but we also hold many opinions. We rarely agree what problems to focus on, and even when we are focusing on the same problem, we hardly agree on solutions. Experts are no help, because for every expert opinion on one side, your opponent can drum up two expert opinions saying the contrary. See Experts Are The Last People We Should Listen To.
Congress has many powers, including to pass laws, levy taxes, and oversee how money is spent. It is difficult to solve hard problems well. Any solution we implement, even if it meets with partial success, will not be perfect. So there is plenty to criticize in any partial solution.
By contrast, it is both easy and satisfying to talk about problems. We are quite skilled in finding fault in others’ proposals. It brings us particular satisfaction to nitpick our political enemies’ plans. And it not only feels good to point out problems and imperfect solutions, you also arouse citizens’ ire. The aroused public is more easily goaded to contribute to political campaigns. More money means more influence, means more election success, means more power. So we see the forces driving a truly vicious cycle. National politics as theater, and the best actors whipping the audience into throes of passion. Performance indeed.
My simple point is this: Congress has much greater incentives to prolong problems than it does to promote solutions. See Congress Gets A Grade for more details.
So the next time you feel like yelling the obvious solution at the TV screen when your incompetent Congressional representative is just making things worse, remember they’re performing exactly as expected.
But that does not mean we have to continue to accept underperformance. Here are a number of ideas to improve politics: Ways To Make Politics Better. Send me your ideas and we’ll expand the list.