Every few years, we hear calls for term limits. If we throw the “bums” out, the thinking goes, we can elect representatives who are more responsive to voters. While the appeal of such thinking is understandable, it is fundamentally flawed.
The real problem is not in Congress, but in the voters. Voters are the ones who put the “bums” there in the first place. Congress is simply responding to the demands and values of voters. Wholesale replacement of Congress will not change this fact. We will just wind up with a different group of “bums.”
If we want better people in Congress, then we must change what voters expect from government. As long as voters demand that Social Security and Medicare be “saved,” that regulators crack down on Wall Street, that the environment be protected at the expense of production, Congress will continue to comply. So long as voters want government to intervene in the private, voluntary interactions between individuals, Congress will continue to do so.
Term limits are not the answer because they are not addressing the question: What is the proper purpose of government? Until voters can answer that question properly—the protection of individual rights—term limits won’t solve anything. And when voters can answer that question correctly, term limits won’t be necessary.