Silver Lining Part IV: Term Limits and Female Politicians

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This is the fourth in a series of columns dealing with silver linings: the phenomenon that unwarranted and unjustified acts can sometimes have positive elements. This of course does not justify them, but we do ourselves a disservice if we ignore these benefits.

In the first of these columns, "A Silver Lining in Drug Prohibition," I noted that real criminals who might not otherwise be caught are sometimes jailed for engaging in the drug trade, which they have every right to do. But fewer murderers and rapists at large is surely a good thing. In the second of these columns "A Silver Lining in Unjust Executions," I observed that those executed for murders for which they are innocent (a travesty of justice if ever there was one) were sometimes guilty of committing other capital crimes for which they were not charged. Thus, a critique of the death penalty was not as powerful as otherwise thought. In the third, I tried to clarify my position on this issue vis–vis several objections that had been made of it.

Today, we consider the silver lining involved in term limits: it reduces the percentage of female politicians.

There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth at this phenomenon on the part of our friends on the Democratic side of the aisle. According to an editorial appearing in the Seattle Times (8/17/03, p. A6; okay, okay, this statement doesn’t appear on the editorial pages, but rather is disguised as "news"): "Fewer female legislators in statehouses: Term limits are seen as culprit in curtailing women’s progress in winning seats, which has stalled since the early 1990s." The editorial, sorry, the story, goes on to say that in states with term limits, female politicians are very rare. For example, 9.4 per cent of South Carolina legislators were female, in Alabama it was 10 cent, and in Kentucky the figure was 10.9 percent. In contrast, in the non-term limit states, the percentages were much higher. E.g., 36.7 percent in Washington, 52 percent in Michigan, 33 per cent in both Colorado and Maryland. (The overall average in 2003 was 22.3 percent, down from a high of 22.7 percent in 2002).

So much for the facts. Where is the silver lining?

In order for there to be a silver lining, there has to be an evil, and, also, some good must come out of it. I am already on record (Block, Walter. 7/9/02. "The Evil of Term Limits") in taking the position that term limits are highly problematic. I did so on grounds blazed by Professor Hans Hoppe. His argument is based on time preference: other things equal, the longer a politician is in office, the more of a long-run viewpoint he can afford to take. If he can leave the office to his children (e.g., a monarchy) he will act even more responsibly; he doesn’t want to kill the golden goose, otherwise there will be nothing left for his progeny to exploit.

In the other direction, if a politician could only be in office for, say, one month, then "make hay while the sun shines," even more so than at present, would become his motto. That is, he would have very little incentive to reign in his natural rapaciousness, for he would be turned out all too soon. There would only be the thinnest veneer of "public service" to cover the theft-as-usual policies. Why leave much of anything for the next officeholder, certainly not if it interferes with your own pillage?

Term limits, then, are a disaster, in that they enhance the already very great incentives for politicians to loot.

But there is a silver lining: females appear to be booted out by this initiative to an even greater degree than males. Why is this to be considered a good thing?

On the economic front, it is clear that women on average favor social welfare schemes more than do men, and I extrapolate from females in general to their sister politicians. It is surely no accident that programs such as social security, welfare and unemployment insurance came after the "weaker sex" was given the right to vote. This phenomenon might stem from women being more risk averse than men, and seeing such coercive socialistic policies as somehow "safer."

Further evidence: there is a large "gender gap" between the Republican and Democratic parties on domestic issues; females favor the latter over the former; as well, the membership of the Libertarian Party is overwhelmingly male. (As against this, I must concede that on matters of imperialism and foreign military adventurism, female timidity probably inclines them to a less aggressive stance).

Secondly, apart from considerations of this sort, there is no intrinsic reason to favor male over female politicians. With the exception of Ron Paul and only a few others, all are hypocritical and pompous mountebanks, not content with merely robbing us, but determined to convince us they do it for our own good. However, another issue arises: one of the strongest motivating forces behind the leftish push for female politicians is the quaint notion that apart from underhanded skullduggery, all groups would be exactly equal. That is, in the truly just society, both genders, all races and nationalities, all ages, people of all sexual orientations, etc. bloody, etc. would be equally represented in all callings. If they are not, this is due to exploitation, or injustice, or some such. That is, absent improprieties such as racism, sexism, look-ism (I kid you not), able-ism, etc., since males and females comprise roughly 50 percent each of the electorate, this would also be their representation amongst office holders. (Also, the National Basketball Association would employ as players tall strong athletic blacks, and short fat Jews, in proportion to their overall numbers in the population; it is only due to racial discrimination against Orientals that so few of them are on National Football League team rosters.)

There is no one who has done more to combat this pernicious fallacy than Tom Sowell. (See this, among his many excellent books, Race and Culture). But he needs all the help he can get on this mission. It is incumbent upon all men of good will to help him in this regard. And one way that we can do so is to recognize one of the side order benefits of that otherwise insidious policy of term limits: that it disproportionately penalizes female politicians.

To clarify matters. I do not favor term limits. However, I do recognize that there is a silver lining in this particular cloud.

Dr. Block [send him mail] is a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans. See his Autobiography Archive.

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