To Cut Spending, Focus on the Rules of the Game, Not the Players

It might seem that the natural solution is to elect politicians committed to reining in spending, especially on the entitlement programs and pensions at the heart of state and federal overspending. The problem, however, is that even fiscally conservative politicians face significant perverse incentives to spend beyond their constituents’ means. And even if they do manage to trim the budget, today’s cuts can be reversed by tomorrow’s leaders.

Luckily, there is hope. Political incentives are shaped, in part, by institutions, i.e., the rules that govern budgeting, electioneering, and legislating. These rules influence the decisions of legislators, governors, presidents, bureaucrats, voters, and even lobbyists. So if we can improve the institutions, we can enduringly diminish the incentive to overspend.

That’s me, writing in the spring issue of The Insider.