First Gen American asks:
I was brainstorming with my friend on how to make our government more effective at driving change. One idea we had was to put a character limit on bills that go before congress. (Say a 3 page limit). So instead of having a huge proposal with 8000.sections and all kinds of ear marks, you attack a problem like health care or the economy in bite sized chunks. I am not an economist but we have implemented a similar strategy with contracts st Work. Keep them simple and add one page amendments as needed if the situation arises. We dont try to cover every scenerio ahead of time, unless its a joint venture type thing.. Nefotiating ala carte is faster than trying to do everything at once. Would love the economic’s view of this concept.
Wasn’t this one of Herman Cain’s suggestions?
Sadly, although this suggestion on the surface seems like a good idea… bills tend to be long partly for good reasons. (Partly for bad reasons too, but earmarks are the grease on the wheels of bipartisanship.)
First, in general, we only want government intervention in the case of market failures (including paternalism). That’s because when we have government intervention, there are almost always unintended negative consequences, and factors will almost always try to go back to their unfettered market state, even if that means people are worse off. A lot of legislative detail goes into limiting these unintended consequences (small business exemptions, for example) or closing up loopholes. That adds length.
Negotiating a la carte really doesn’t work in federal government. When one party tries to hold the other up, legislation just doesn’t get passed. I’m not an expert in political economy, but I understand that these huge bills work well because they allow compromise and earmark bribery. Without that, things do not get done because bills are just not voted on. There would have to be reform to the way congress does business in order to have even a chance of bringing legislative pieces to a vote. On top of that, some things only work when all the pieces are in place and do not work a la carte. The health care bill in particular is an example of this– costs need to come down, coverage must be mandated, and insurers must not be allowed to discriminate. These three items need to happen together, missing any one leads to the act not working.
In business it’s different– vendor and client have similar goals and a more collegial working relationship. In government, especially these days, political parties score points off each other by blocking the other from getting things done. It’s less collaborative and more combative. There are winners and losers and not just winners. Additionally, the effect of a repeated game will be different, as congresspeople don’t get to choose who else is in congress, but business folks get to choose who they make a contract with next time. These differences make it easier to have simpler contracts in the private sector. (Contract theory is also not my area of expertise though.) When parties are combative, I bet contracts get longer and cover more contingencies– in fact, I bet someone has already published a lovely model describing that idea, and possibly even tested it.
So, bottom-line– those bills are huge because government isn’t efficient and needs to cover all its bases.