Mises Wire

The Right Is Wrong to Pursue Term Limits

Americans across the board have routinely spoken for term limits. Recently, however, this has been most common among Republican politicians. On January 29, Ron DeSantis announced his legislative priorities over social media as he found himself no longer focused on a presidential campaign, and his very first item on the list was enforcing term limits. Additionally, perhaps the most right-wing politician in America, Anthony Sabatini, routinely calls for term limits. Most recently, almost a week before DeSantis’s post, Sabatini tweeted out “WE NEED TERM LIMITS FOR CONGRESS,” and historically, Sabatini has gone as far as sharing that there should be “TERM LIMITS FOR EVERY ELECTED OFFICIAL IN THE UNITED STATES PLUS STAFF.”

Before I continue, I will state that I do not mean to attack DeSantis and Sabatini, as anyone who does a quick search of my writing here can find that these are two of the politicians of whom I am most fond. It is the very fact that I respect these two that I use them as my examples to show the stance the Right has taken on this issue.

Prima facie, this feels like the right decision. If I tell you to picture a career politician, odds are that you are already picturing one of your least-favorite politicians who has been demonstrably awful for the country. It feels almost naturally American to advocate against these career politicians, and the natural solution is term limits. However, given some more thought than that first instinct, this is not as good of an idea as one might think.

The first reason for this is that the politicians who take a stand against the covid regime—like DeSantis—or the even-more-liked politicians among Mises Wire circles—like Ron Paul, Rand Paul, or Thomas Massie—are simply not elected very often. The country is significantly better off than it would have been if Ron Paul had been term-limited out in the late 1970s. Certainly, I have no desire to see his son, Senator Rand Paul, or Representative Thomas Massie term-limited out anytime soon. On the flip side, if more entrenched establishment politicians like Nancy Pelosi had been term-limited out, they would have been easily replaced with ideological clones of theirs that seem to run rampant in the 202 area code.

Furthermore, on a more intellectual level, one can look at Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s arguments against democracy in his book Democracy—the God That Failed. Hoppe lays out the case that private ownership of government—monarchy—is preferable to the democratic government we are familiar with today. He furthers this claim in an article stating:

A private government owner will predictably try to maximize his total wealth, i.e., the present value of his estate and his current income. . . .

Accordingly, a private government owner will want to avoid exploiting his subjects so heavily, for instance, as to reduce his future earnings potential to such an extent that the present value of his estate actually falls. Instead, in order to preserve or possibly even enhance the value of his personal property, he will systematically restrain himself in his exploitation policies. For the lower the degree of exploitation, the more productive the subject population will be; and the more productive the population, the higher will be the value of the ruler’s parasitic monopoly of expropriation.

Simply put, when a leader privately owns the structure of government and has comfort in the fact that he or she will be there for many years to come, he or she seeks to preserve the wealth of that government so that it may be a reliable source of expropriated wealth for years—or even generations—to come. The flip side of this is what we see in a democratic government where the individual has less assurance of the future of his or her position and as such is incentivized to expropriate as much as possible before the goose stops laying the golden eggs for him or her.

Term limits take this to the next step. The incentives are already to expropriate what can be taken now and leave nothing for the next generation. However, now imagine Nancy Pelosi or Dick Cheney establishment-type politicians who know from the very beginning that their time in power—and even their staff members’ time in power—is eight years tops. They are now in an all-out race to expropriate all of the resources they possibly can. Then, immediately after, the clock resets, and we are left with a new generation of equally greedy politicians all in a race to expropriate what can be taken before they are guaranteed to be removed.

The most common argument against this would be a claim that Hoppe is incorrect and that democracy is actually a good thing. While I would personally claim that Hoppe is absolutely correct, even this argument against Hoppe still leaves term limits as a poor option because if democracy is a trusted structure, then there is no reason not to leave democracy to continue to function and not hinder it with term limits. No matter what angle we use to look at this problem, while term limits seem initially positive, further analysis shows that term limits will only make matters worse.

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