Economic efficiency scores not pretty

by Walter Williams

When you vote for a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate, what should be your selection criteria? I’m all too afraid that most Americans, were they to be honest, would answer that they’d vote for the person who has pushed or will push for legislation that benefits them, their community, their city or their state. They couldn’t care less about or completely disregard the harm that the legislation does to other Americans in other communities, cities or states.

You say, “Hold it, Williams, that’s a scurrilous charge to make about politicians and your fellow Americans.” Let’s look at one among hundreds of examples.

Louisiana is a sugar-producing state. Government sugar subsidies, tariffs and quotas on foreign sugar permit Louisiana sugar producers to charge American consumers three to four times the world sugar price. There’s no question that owners and workers in Louisiana’s sugar industry benefit in terms of higher profits and wages, but what about the tens of millions of American consumers who must pay higher prices for sugar and products made with sugar? They are the losers.

Mary Landrieu and John Breaux represent Louisiana in the Senate. What do you think Louisianians would do to them if they did not lobby and vote for government sugar subsidies and restrictions on sugar imports? With the help of the sugar industry, they’d be run out of town on a rail.
Louisianians want their goodies. What happens to other Americans and foreign sugar producers who find our markets closed to them is of little concern. Sens. Landrieu and Breaux are by no means unique; they’re singled out to make my example concrete.

Completed just in time for the elections is the Economic Efficiency Score.

(www.lerner.udel.edu/econ-e/)

It was developed as a Ph.D. dissertation by University of Delaware student Martin Kennedy, now a professor of economics at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn.
Professor Kennedy came up with an Econ-E Score for congressmen by investigating votes in the 106th and 107th Congresses on issues where economic efficiency was at stake.

He analyzed votes on economic legislation that would yield nationwide benefits greater than costs and those that would have nationwide costs greater than benefits. The former were designated as efficiency enhancing and the latter efficiency diminishing.

Based on their votes, an Econ-E Score was derived for each member of the House and the Senate. Their Econ-E Score could range between 0 and 100. For example, a score of 40 indicates that the member supported efficiency-enhancing legislation 40 percent of the time. A score of 100 would indicate the member of Congress always voted to enhance economic efficiency. Zero indicates that he never voted to enhance economic efficiency. Professor Kennedy’s index shows that no member received a perfect score; however, two members received a zero score.

The economic efficiency scores don’t paint a pretty picture about our elected representatives.

The highest score held by a Democratic House member (48) was jointly held by Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Ron Kind of Wisconsin, and Ralph Hall and Charlie Stenholm of Texas, who all voted for efficiency-enhancing legislation 48 percent of the time.
The highest score for a Republican House member (87) was jointly held by John Shadegg of Arizona, John Sununu of New Hampshire, and Tom Petri and James Sensenbrenner, both of Wisconsin. In the Senate, the highest score (64) held by a Democrat was held by Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and for a Republican, it was Richard Lugar of Indiana (91). The average Econ-E Score was 20 for Democratic House members and was 54 for Republicans.
The average for Senate Democrats was 40, and for Senate Republicans, it was 69.

Congressional Econ-E Scores tend to confirm what I suggested earlier that doing what’s best for America is nowhere near as important to congressmen as doing what’s best for special interests within their constituencies. Doing what’s best for the nation is a losing proposition and can cost them an election.

But I don’t blame politicians for their efficiency-diminishing votes. After all, isn’t it unreasonable to ask a politician to commit political suicide by upholding his oath of office and doing what’s best for all Americans?

Walter Williams writes for Creators Syndicate.