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Politicians, fresh pork and leftovers

Thomas Sowell’s column “A bridge too far gone” (Commentary, yesterday) is spot-on, and once again he has proved himself to be the smartest man in America. Our political leaders are more interested in maintaining their positions so they can reap the extensive benefits of the jobs to which they have gotten themselves elected. The only way to do that is to bribe voters by showing them how well they can spend other people’s money on the constituents who sent them to the Capitol.

As I see it, we can address this with a two-pronged approach. First, we take away the benefit packages that make this a career that gives Congress and its denizens access to Walter Reed Army Medical Center or Bethesda’s National Naval Medical Center in retirement and pensions sweeter than anything else in regular America. That they have voted themselves these perks is criminal. That we voters allow it is ignorant. Then we make it necessary for them to get raises and benefits by national referendum, which can be done only every two years. Top this with a term-limiting initiative, and we will return quickly to the citizen legislator of old.

The fact that politicians have visions of careers that span decades, culminating in a stint at the White House, means they all too frequently misappropriate funds for pork spending that could have been used for legitimate projects that are within the constitutionally mandated framework.

Maybe, just maybe, if we can take away the excessive taxing authority they have given themselves, we can get some real work done on America and its real problems.

NORMAN HENDRICKSON

Bowie

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Thomas Sowell is on to something in his critique of politicians’ neglect of infrastructure. Politicians are the ultimate discounters. Future expenditures and problems are discounted to near zero value in the realm of politics. What counts are showy expenditures that can get you re-elected tomorrow. Long-term politics is an oxymoron.

However, Mr. Sowell does not go far enough in his critique. There are plenty of instances in which private ownership leads to public disaster. Remember the BP pipeline rupture in Alaska? How about the coal-mine disaster in Utah, even though it affects just a small, unfortunate group of miners? Then there was Love Canal, which was used as a landfill for toxic material, and Three Mile Island, a nuclear generating station and the site of an awful nuclear meltdown.

Some might say to give the problem to the government. Hand over the coal mines, and maybe that oil pipeline in Alaska, to your local congressman. Build Soviet-style high-rise buildings in every city and then watch them be demolished a mere 30 years later because they end up as crime-ridden, unlivable cesspools. In other words, just socialize all of your problems and everything will be fine, which gets us back to the Minnesota bridge collapse.

Socialize or privatize — that is the question, and neither alternative will bring you to the land of zero risk. However, one thing is certain: When you concentrate all of your risk in one institution, it will increase the magnitude of the ultimate disaster, and that is exactly what happens when governments fail.

Any insurance company knows that it does not decrease its risk exposure by taking on more, if varied, risk; there is a limit that must be equated to its resources to pay claims. There is no such thing as a risk-free lunch, but if you want to keep your disasters small-scale, it is better to go the private route, as Mr. Sowell suggests.

SAMUEL BURKEEN

Reston, Va

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