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De Omnibus Dubitandum - Lux Veritas

Friday, October 18, 2019

Why Politicians Aren't Incentivized to Fix Big Problems Like Homelessness

By Alex Berezow — October 10, 2019

Somehow, it's election season again. Although the general election isn't until November 2020, campaigning began in early 2019. Basically, in America, the presidential campaign cycle is roughly two years long. This is insane.

In other countries like Japan or Canada, campaign length is measured in days or weeks, not months or years. The rest of the time, politicians are doing what they were elected to do: govern. They don't spend half of their time in office campaigning about what they plan to do while in office.

It's tempting to speculate that this is a contributing factor to our society's inability to fix big problems. It seems to me that a long campaign season makes American politicians uniquely incentivized not to solve them. It's easier to raise money and scare up enough votes to get elected by promising change rather than actually delivering it.

Consider the following: Most Americans agree that immigration is a good thing, but most also agree that our immigration system needs sweeping changes. Americans are concerned about the size of the national debt. Most Americans want more spending on infrastructure.

Yet, how many of you are willing to bet that we will see a deal on immigration, the national debt, or infrastructure in the next year? Next five years? Next ten years? Ever? I'm certainly not confident. When I was a kid in the 1990s, immigration and the national debt were hot topics. They still are nearly 30 years later.

Will We Ever Fix the Problem of Homelessness?

Perhaps what vexes me the most is our inability to solve the problem of homelessness. In 2018 in the Seattle area, 191 people died on our streets. Public safety and public health have both deteriorated. Infectious disease outbreaks are common, as are fatal drug overdoses. Why do we allow this to continue?

Because, once again, politicians aren't incentivized to solve it. Believe it or not, there is talk about the existence of a "homeless-industrial complex," similar to the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about. (See this excellent article by Christopher Rufo in City Journal.) In the case of the latter, there was a concern that the military and defense industry were incentivized to advocate for war rather than peace.

Similarly, the homeless-industrial complex is incentivized to not solve the problem of homelessness. In cities like Seattle, self-appointed homeless advocates, who often earn six-figure salaries, wield enormous political power and influence. They support politicians who support them and vice versa. Like war, if homelessness ever goes away, they lose both money and power.

Combine that self-serving interest with our nation's political climate, and that is a nasty recipe for politicians to actually benefit from not solving problems. If people have to die because of inaction, so be it. That's the cost of winning.

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