Commentary

More Gridlock, Please

Too often, political elites equate a positive political agenda with grand government programs. There is a built-in bias that government needs to “do something.” When they call for an end to gridlock, they really mean more government programs. Whether coming from Democrats or Republicans, calls for more cooperation almost always tilt toward bigger, more expensive government.

But history should have taught us that often, the best way government can help solve our problems is to stop doing things. Voters clearly thought so: On election night, 56% told exit pollsters that the government is doing too many things better left to business and individuals.

In many ways, gridlock is the political equivalent of the Hippocratic oath — first, do no harm.

[O]ften, the best way government can help solve our problems is to stop doing things.”

Just look at the past few years. If we had had a bit more gridlock, we might have been spared both TARP and the stimulus bill, as well as a job-killing, budget-busting health plan. Our federal debt would be far lower than it is today, and government regulations would be less burdensome. What little gridlock we did have saved us from a ruinous carbon tax.

For the next two years, gridlock means that government will spend a lot less of our money. We know from history that during periods of divided government, which tends to lead to gridlock, government spending increases by an average of less than 2% annually. In contrast, under unified government with cooperation rather than gridlock, spending grows by an average of more than 5%.

Gridlock might also give businesses confidence that there won’t be a repeat of the new taxes and regulation of the past two years, encouraging them to invest, expand and hire.

Moreover, gridlock protects us both ways. If the new Republican Congress tries to impose a conservative social agenda, liberals might have a sunnier attitude toward gridlock.

“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” That quote has been variously attributed to Mark Twain, Judge Gideon Tucker and Daniel Webster. Whoever said it, it is a remarkably accurate and cogent argument for gridlock.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C.