Government Failure: The Role of Congress

In a romantic view of democracy, legislators act with the interests of the general public in mind. They grapple with policy issues, work toward a broad consensus, and pass legislation that has strong support. They frequently reevaluate existing programs and prune the low-value and harmful ones. They put citizens first and limit their actions to those allowable under the U.S. Constitution.

Unfortunately, that is not how Congress works. It often enacts ill-conceived laws that do not have broad public support. Many programs perform poorly year after year, yet Congress gives them growing budgets. Congress almost never terminates programs because members have a hard time admitting that their policies have failed. Indeed, members try to evade blame for government failures, and they only try to fix problems after high-profile scandals have occurred.

A new essay, “Congressional Incentives and Government Failure,” at looks at how Congress operates. It examines the incentives that induce members to support policies counter to the general public interest.