Wednesday, July 22, 2015


On May 3, 1965, in the comic strip “Wizard of Id,” the king called on his subjects to remember the Golden Rule. When they asked what he meant by that, they got the reply “Whoever has the gold, makes the rules.” At least that’s the earliest incarnation of this particular quotation that the Quote Investigator could find. Memory is a tricky thing. I remember the quote coming from the comic strip "B.C." I suggest that at least in the area of American politics, the Wizard of Id got it backwards, just as Karl Marx did with his Marxian economic theory.

According to Marxian economic theory, the more work you put into something, the greater its value. This is obviously untrue. I could lavish hours of toil into making mud pies, and at the end of the process they would still be worthless mud pies. What Marx saw was people toiling mightily and producing great wealth, and he confused cause and effect. The hard work didn’t cause the end product to have great value. The great value of the end product gave the incentive to work hard.

Turn the Wizard of Id’s aphorism around: “Whoever makes the rules, gets the gold.” For proof of this proposition, I refer you to the financial disclosures of longtime legislators. Look at the disclosures they filed when they were freshman legislators and compare the disclosures made later in their tenures in office. Even after leaving office, public officials rake in untold wealth with book deals, consulting fees, speaker’s fees, and other forms of pork.

The possibility of becoming as rich as Croesus in public office attracts all sorts of candidates who are more interested in getting rich than in governing right. There have always been politicians of that sort, but in times past we had smaller electorates and they were easier to identify. The way campaigns are run in today’s media, it’s almost impossible to weed out the sociopaths, con men, and nincompoops.

Which brings me to a suggestion for a Constitutional Amendment. It has zero chance of ever being adopted, but it would be interesting to see if we wound up with better government as a result of its implementation. In order to discourage sociopaths and con men from seeking elective or appointive office, the office should be made to look as unattractive as possible. In order to keep sociopaths and con men from doing major damage and amassing large fortunes over long tenures in office, the tenures in office should be limited. In ancient Athens, one of the world’s first democracies, they addressed these two issues by (1) having elected officials pay for some public services, such as festivals and the building of warships, out of their own pockets, and (2) limiting the term in office to one year, after which the official was disqualified from holding public office for ten years.

I think we can get by with something a little less Draconian than the Athenian system: (1) Appointed and elected office holders, including judges, shall be entitled to no more benefits than any other government workers. (2) Appointed and elected office holders, including judges, can hold office no longer than six years, after which they are disqualified for a period of six years from holding that office again. When I’m talking about appointed office holders, I’m talking about high level appointees, like judges and cabinet members. We've already got a term limit provision for the office of President, so I would except the presidency from requirement (2).

At the risk of repeating myself: the benefit of this system is that it limits the incentive of crooks to seek public office to begin with, and it limits the amount of damage they can do if they achieve public office. Another thing it will do is get more people involved in running the government. I can’t see where it is a bad thing to spread the responsibility for governing around among more of the citizen body. This is supposed to be a democracy, isn’t it?