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August 28, 2006

The Biggest Problem Solved

Today’s Downsizer-Dispatch…
This year, as last year, August is strategy-and-tactics month — a time when we explain what we’re doing and why. In this installment we’ll solve a big problem . . .

Ask 10 people at random, “Do you believe the federal government is too big, too small, or just about the right size?” Nearly everyone will say, “Too big.” We’ve tested this repeatedly. The results are consistent. Nearly everyone is a DC Downsizer, in principle. Yet few people vote this way. We consistently elect people who increase the size of government. Why?

There’s a branch of economics devoted to this problem. It’s called “Public Choice Theory.” It gives us the answer. All of the actors involved, the voters, the lobbyists, the politicians, and the bureaucrats, are behaving quite rationally, despite the apparent contradiction.

It makes sense for politicians to increase the size of government. It benefits them psychologically. It makes them feel powerful and important. It also benefits them financially. They open the door to future wealth as lobbyists (after they retire) by saying yes to every special interest they meet. And they pay no cost to gain these benefits.

The politician isn’t spending his or her own money. The politician also faces no risk at the ballot box. Incumbents have rigged the system to protect themselves from this danger. Incumbent office holders have every reason to increase the size of government and no reason not to. And the same dynamic applies to bureacrats.

Special interest lobbyists are also behaving rationally. They can gain government favors worth millions or billions for relatively small investments. And they face a risk of losing out to their competitors if they don’t seek these favors.

The taxpayer is also behaving rationally. Everyone knows, at least subconsciously, that there’s little chance of changing things at the ballot box. There also seems to be little benefit from fighting government growth through other means. The cost of defeating any one government give-away is very high, while the benefits to the individual taxpayer are very small. Each citizen pays only a few pennies or a few dollars for any given government favor, while the costs of ending that favor would be many times higher.

Everyone involved has rational incentives to do exactly what they’re doing. And so government grows-and-grows with no end in sight. The solution to this problem is to change the incentives.

We must make it very expensive for politicians, bureaucrats, and special interests to increase the size of government, while making it very cheap for taxpayers to stop such growth.

This is the aim of DownsizeDC.org. The current structure of Public Choice Theory really leaves the public with NO CHOICE. All the real choices belong to the politicians, the bureaucrats, and the special interests.

But we intend to put the publics’ choice back in Public Choice Theory.

Our solution focuses on a few simple facts . . .

1. Congress is very small, while the number of DC Downsizers (in principle) is very large.
2. Congressional power depends on the appearance of public acceptance for its legitimacy.
3. This need for legitimacy compels Congress to have open portals of communication with the public.
4. Citizens have a right to petition Congress for a redress of grievances.
5. This petition can take an overwhelming form.

These facts will enable us to change the incentives. The Internet enables us to organize overwhelming, inescapable, mind-numbing pressure on Congress. It will allow us to raise the cost to the politician of increasing government to an unbearable level, while lowering the cost to the citizen of stopping such growth to one or more of the following . . .

* A few key strokes and mouse clicks on a regular basis
* A few one-minute phone calls
* A little socializing about once a month or so (for our Congressional Invasions)
* As little as a dime a day

That’s it. That’s all. These small investments are sufficient to impose your will on Congress and force them to Downsize DC. But what form will our “Downsizing-will” take? This is the subject of our next strategy installment, in which we examine the difference between a “controversial subject” and a “radical idea.” We’ll explain why this distinction is important for Downsizing DC.

In the meantime, our fundraising drive continues. Day-by-day we’re getting closer-and-closer to having enough secure funding to put our new Downsizing Movement into a higher gear. If you like what we’re doing, and the thought behind it, please help us pay the small cost to achieve it. A dime-a-day would amount to $3 a month on your credit card. Or you could do more to make things happen faster — a larger monthly credit card pledger or a larger one-time donation. You can contribute here.

Thank you for being a DC Downsizer.

Jim Babka
President
DownsizeDC.org, Inc.

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