Perhaps the title of this post should be: “term limits can not fix representative democracy”; loss of trust is the result of representative democracy, because representative democracy carries within the “virus” that weakens, and may even kill it. The “virus” is forever growing power for politicians, and forever diminishing freedom and power for the people.
Yesterday I looked at term limits for legislators and their effect on state debt and employment levels; I do not believe they have any effect. Today, I look at the 36 US States with term limits for their governors, to see how they influence public debt and unemployment. I take the data also from Ballotpedia. Term limits for Governors
Here is the data; you decide.
Debt $ % Unemp.
Alabama 2 consecutive term limit 1,787 5.8
Alaska 2 consecutive term limit 8,068 5.9
Arizona 2 consecutive term limit 1,937 8.0
Arkansas 2 lifetime term limit 1,580 6.2
California 2 lifetime term limit 3,825 9.3
Colorado 2 consecutive term limit 2,905 6.4
Connecticut No term limits 10,877 6.1
Delaware 2 lifetime term limit 4,651 5.6
Florida 2 consecutive term limit 1,311 6.5
Georgia 2 consecutive term limit 1,216 4.5
Hawaii 2 consecutive term limit 6,835 14.3
Idaho No term limits 1,845 5.5
Illinois No term limits 4,883 6.8
Indiana 8 out of 12 year limit 3,238 5.0
Iowa No term limits 1,934 3.6
Kansas 2 consecutive term limit 2,590 5.3
Kentucky 2 consecutive term limit 3,201 7.4
Louisiana 2 consecutive term limit 3,895 9.4
Maine 2 consecutive term limit 3,530 5.4
Maryland 2 consecutive term limit 4,607 7.8
Massachusetts No term limits 11,043 7.4
Michigan 2 lifetime term limit 3,331 5.5
Minnesota No term limits 2,870 4.6
Mississippi 2 lifetime term limit 2,499 7.4
Missouri 2 lifetime term limit 2,986 4.6
Montana 8 out of 16 year limit 2,572 4.9
Nebraska 2 consecutive term limit 1,032 3.0
Nevada 2 lifetime term limit 1,035 12.0
New Hampshire 2 consecutive term limit 5,644 4.2
New Jersey 2 consecutive term limit 7,371 8.2
New Mexico 2 consecutive term limit 3,366 8.1
New York No term limits 7,162 9.6
North Carolina 2 consecutive term limit 1,537 6.3
North Dakota No term limits 3,788 4.8
Ohio 2 consecutive term limit 2,851 5.6
Oklahoma 2 lifetime term limit 2,138 6.1
Oregon 8 out of 12 year limit 2,943 6.9
Pennsylvania 2 consecutive term limit 3,706 7.3
Rhode Island 2 consecutive term limit 8,457 7.0
South Carolina 2 consecutive term limit 3,022 4.2
South Dakota 2 consecutive term limit 3,907 3.6
Tennessee 2 consecutive term limit 888 7.4
Texas No term limits 1,729 6.9
Utah No term limits 2,271 4.1
Vermont No term limits 5,577 3.2
Virginia No consecutive terms 3,226 5.3
Washington No term limits 4,287 6.0
West Virginia 2 consecutive term limit 4,244 6.4
Wisconsin No term limits 3,974 5.7
Wyoming 8 out of 16 year limit 1,357 5.5
I am no statistician; perhaps you can find a positive relationship between term limits, low debt and low unemployment, but it looks like the results are all over the place.
But there is much interest in term limits in the US.
Termlimits.com advocates term limits at all levels of government. They believe term limits will fix many of the ills of US Governance. I do not agree. I believe term limits are irrelevant to fix the root problem of US democracy.
The Heritage Foundation also wanted term limits in 1994; “Term Limits: The Only Way to Clean up Congress”.
By 2009 the Foundation had become less enthusiastic: “Confronting Unlimited Government: Lessons from the Term Limits Movement”. I quote: “Term limits promote progressive ambition and careerism to a greater degree than existed before legislators were term-limited”.
Another important organization, The Brookings Institution, wrote in 2018: “Seventy-four percent of likely voters are in favour of congressional term limits” I paraphrase what the Institution says:
- Term limits will take power away from voters because it will severely limit the choices voters have. This argument makes little sense; to say that because a politician can not run again, the choices of the voter is “severely limited”, is absurd; there are plenty of people ready to run for office. This is not surprising considering how often we learn how many politicians in the US Congress become rich during their terms in office.
It makes as much sense to say that when a politician can not run again for office it makes it possible to bring to Congress people with new and better ideas.
2. Severely will decrease congressional skill to draft legislation. This argument sounds like a joke to me. Politicians in Congress rely on staff, external independent experts, and lobbyists to draft legislation.
3. Term limits will limit incentives for members of Congress to learn, because the knowledge on specific issues will not be of use to the politician who knows his or her life in Congress will finish soon.
This is absurd; you would think politicians, like everybody else, want to do a good job when they are doing it, and they feel they have to learn for “right now”.
To say that a politician may not be interested in learning, because the knowledge will not help him or her in the future, is an insult.
Seventy-four percent of voters in the US believe term limits are good. I think they are good too, but term limits will not increase trust in politicians, or provide for better government.
The Brookings Institution puts forward a few more arguments which to me they sound like rationalisations.
I agree with the Institution on one point; term limits are not the solution. But I believe term limits are better than nothing, to help prevent the entrenchment of politicians.
Unfortunately, term limits do not address the root problem in US politics at all levels, which to different degrees, is the root problem in all other representative democracies.
The root problem in representative democracies is that politicians have all the executive power and the voters have only the power to elect the politicians.
In representative democracies functioning relatively well (not over one or two dozen in the World), the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary check each other’s power but, together, they have all the power, the people have no power to directly decide any issue. That is why direct democracy is necessary; to check the power of Executive, Legislative and Judiciary by giving the people more power.
Once the people have direct control of the decisions of the Executive and the Legislative, and once the Judiciary can not prevail over the people on the “constitutionality” of laws, then the US and all other representative democracies will recover the trust of the people in politicians.
Direct democracy makes elections and politicians less important because the final decision-making power is in the hands of the people. Lobbies also become less important, because they know that influencing politicians does not count for much when the politicians no longer have the final word on anything.
Let us not waste our energy on term limits, let us bring direct democracy. With direct democracy, term limits do not matter. With or without them, politicians have no choice but govern in tune with the voters and THAT will bring back trust; it is pretty basic.