Governors Should Be Recallable
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
On October 7, 2003, Californians will vote on whether to fire their governor. Some people argue that elected officials should only be recalled or let go if they commit a crime. They claim that an elected official should have job tenure, a property right to the job for the term of office.
This takes job security to an unreasonable degree. In economics, we have the concept of the principal and the agent. If you hire someone to do a job, he is your agent. You are the principal. A problem arises, because the agent has its own interests. If you hire a lawyer, for example, he is supposed to be working on your interest, but in fact a lawyer will also work on his own interest, such as getting high fees.
This is the principal-agent problem. If the agent has job security, it becomes a big problem. The agent can work less on your interest and more on his interest when he cannot be fired. If you hire a gardener and he ruins your plants, but you cannot fire him, your garden will be in danger of being destroyed by the very agent that was supposed to keep it well. If you think your doctor is not competent but you are not allowed to get a new doctor, your health is in danger.
To keep the agent working for the principal, the agent should not have job security. The principal should be able to fire the agent at any time. Any contract should have an exit option. That is why most countries allow divorce. If one is forced to remain in a relationship, one becomes a slave to it. If the governor cannot be let go, he becomes a temporary dictator.
Opponents of recalling say that if a governor may be recalled for any reason, it will create instability in government. But recalls are costly and time-consuming. Many recalls are attempted, but few succeed. Someone with money cannot get an official fired unless the voters also want to.
We have fixed terms for government representatives to save on costs, because it is less costly to have mass elections at one time. Americans elect their governors for four years because if they were elected for only two years, they would spend most of their time fund-raising for their campaigns. So why not elect them for eight years? Because we want to be able to fire him if we are dissatisfied.
This fixed term of office is an artificial contrivance caused by our mass-democracy voting structure. Such fixed terms are inherently dysfunctional. In private enterprise, the chief executive does not have a fixed term. He serves so long as the board of directors approves, and then can be fired at any time. This is the effective way to run a business.
Unfortunately, the chief executive of state government is not elected by a small board but by the mass of citizens. If instead the legislature elected the chief executive, then they could fire him much more easily and with less political trauma. That's how the parliamentary system works. The prime minister can be fired any time the parliament wants to.
Given the voting structure of the United States, the possibility of being recalled benefits the voters as principals. The possibility of recall limits the incentive of a governor to violate the interests of the voters for his own benefit. The exit option keeps agents on their toes.
As to the California recall election, voters should judge whether the governor has acted in the interest of the public in a competent manner, and also on the merits of his election to the office. Critics of the recall claim the governor was elected "fair and square." The election may have been legal, but the governor's campaign was not "fair and square," in my judgment. The governor's campaign ran negative ads against the Republican candidate who had the best chance of being elected, resulting in a Republican primary election winner who was easily defeated in the general election. That may be politics as usual, but it was unfair and trapezoidal.
As to the vote for the new governor if the recall succeeds, I think that voters should vote their conscience. Vote for the candidate who you think has the policies that would be best for the public, regardless of whether he can win. For example, if you think the Green Party candidate has the better policy, but he can't win, and you vote for the Democrat as the lesser evil, you are voting for evil. Most voters vote for the lesser evil, so we keep ending up with evil policies. Your single vote will not determine the outcome, so really your are voting because your conscience tells you to vote, so why not go all the way and vote for the candidate your conscience says is the best? Do the righteous thing; vote your conscience.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2003 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
Also see Foldvary's earlier editorials
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