Wednesday, July 11, 2012

No Wonder: Look Who Runs the Government!

     If you ever think that the government in Washington is in a state of paralysis, with two sides arguing and posturing and refusing to give any credence to whatever any one of their opponents says, then . . . look who's in charge!

     I had this revelation when I read "Watching Behavior Before Writing the Rules" in last Sunday's New York Times. According to author Richard H. Thaler, professor of behavioral economics at the University of Chicago, "As a general rule, the United States government is run by lawyers who occasionally take advice from economists." He allows that once in a while a scientist may be consulted in matters involving their technological expertise. "But when it comes to forming policies," he concludes, the scientists, or anyone else for that matter, are "rarely at the table with the lawyers and the economists."

     I have nothing against lawyers. There have been a few lawyers in my family. In general they are smart, and, of course, they've studied the law, so it makes sense that they're closely involved in making the laws. I'd think we'd want a good sprinkling of lawyers in the government to give us the benefit of their training and their expertise.

     But lawyers are all of a piece. They have been trained to think a certain way. And they don't think like regular people. They're paid to argue a position, defend a point of view (whether that point of view is right or wrong), and do anything within their power to win a case. By and large, lawyers are honest people, and they don't break the law to beat their opponent. But they do know the boundaries of the law, where they can stretch it and bend it, and what they can get away with.

     Remember lawyer Bill Clinton asking, in a famous example of legalese: "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."

     There are a slightly over 1 million lawyers in the country, comprising less than 1% of the population. And, no doubt, they should comprise some reasonable portion of Washington lawmakers. But the problem is, as Thaler says, the lawyers have completely taken over the government -- they make up the vast majority of the power elite in Washington and in most state governments as well.

     Of course, all nine justices of the Supreme Court are lawyers. That makes sense. The current president is a lawyer. Many of our presidents have been lawyers. And the latest count I found showed that there are 58 lawyers in the U. S. Senate, out of 100 senators. That's almost 60%! And more than 170 lawyers sit in the House of Representatives, out of a total of 435 members. That's 40%.

     That's too many lawyers, if you ask me -- too many people who have similar backgrounds, who think the same way, who have the same approach toward doing business. How would you like it if your local Lion's Club or Chamber of Commerce was run by a pack of lawyers? How would you like it if your church was run by lawyers? Or your book group, or your social club? You might want to have one or two lawyers on your board of trustees, to consult when the need arises. But you don't want them running things. Because they'll argue and bicker, and try to tell everyone else what to do, and generally make a mess of things.

     So why should our government be any different?

     In the upcoming election, we have no choice for president. Not only do we have two lawyers running against each other, but they both even went to the same law school! (Romney, Harvard 1975; Obama, Harvard 1991).

     Now it might not be a bad idea for the president to be a lawyer. Bill Clinton, despite his flaws, was in my opinion a pretty good president, But, arguably, the three best presidents in our lifetime were not lawyers:  Truman, Eisenhower and Reagan. On the other hand, two of the worst presidents, Carter and Bush, were not lawyers either, so go figure. But one thing you can't argue -- the two presidents facing impeachment for their illegal activities, Nixon and Clinton, were both lawyers.

     A blog called "Barefoot Accountant" argues (somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it makes a good point) that the president should be an accountant. Lawyers can talk, admits Bill the blogger, in fact they can talk endlessly, and argue and discuss and finally produce nothing but gridlock. But can lawyers add? He suggests that if an accountant was in charge, we'd have a balanced budget; no government waste; no wars; and (perhaps best of all) press conferences that are not covered by the media.

     Regardless of what you think about accountants, what I can say, unequivocally, is that there are too many lawyers in Washington, messing things up for the rest of us. So I suggest, when you go to vote this fall, identify the candidate who's not a lawyer. Unless that person holds really wacko views (don't laugh, a lot of people who run for Congress do have wacko views), then vote for the one who's not a lawyer.

     My Congressional district is represented by a woman who's a doctor. She's a Republican, and is more conservative than I am on most issues. I voted for her opponent last time around. But now I know that she's not a wacko. And doctors are pretty smart, too. So maybe this time I'll vote for the doctor for Congress -- unless she's running against an accountant.


Janette said...

Good observations.
I don't think an accountant would normally come from behind a desk and put their face out to be smashed. My representative is a rancher/ businessman. Unfortunately, my two Senators are professional political people. Sure they were trained differently, but after 20 years---it is what it is.

Trivia---most FBI agents are accountants!

Olga said...

I can see a place at the table for an accountant,but running things--shudder. Your description of lawyers attempting to get something done reminded me of Unitarian-Universalist congregation meetings I have been to. I guess diversity and a well rounded balance of personalities is needed.

Mac n' Janet said...

Wasn't it Shakespeare in Henry VI who had someone say, "First let's kill all the Lawyers". I would prefer business people and other professionals to run Congress.

rosaria williams said...

Interesting points!
Leaders can come from all professions, even acting!
Perhaps we should agree on a list of qualifications before any candidate can run for office, say, understand the will and the needs of people he will represent as well as having good sense? We tend to pick the talkers, the well-supported, the ones who can promise more than they could possibly deliver.

RetiredSyd said...

I think we accountants are too smart to go after that job.

Stephen Hayes said...

You make some good points. I always here people say," I want a president I can relate to, someone like me." The last thing I want is a president like me. I can't even imagine what a billion dollars is.

schmidleysscribblins, said...

Being a demographer, I spent much time with lawyers. Believe me, we need them. Most problems are caused by non-lawyers who feel free to sue at the drop of a hat. Also, there are businessmen (my Senator Warner in VA) and doctors (Tom Coburn) in the House and Senate.

Only 1% of the population of the US might be lawyers, but they make up 5o% of my county and they all work for the government. Most are not in Congress, but running the government as Civil Servants.

PS I worked with lawyers when I worked in the private sector too. Businesses have many lawyers.

PPS Did you know Mitt Romney had both a law degree and an MBA from Harvard? (see yesterday's NYTimes). He was a member of the elite of the elite. Wonder if all those brains, plus his honesty will translate into a fine president. Or, have we already been there with Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Obama? Dianne

June said...

First, if you'll allow an aside to Dianne: Mr. Romney would not appreciate your associating him with the word "elite."

Second, a clarification, from
"The words, ‘Let’s kill all the lawyers,’ were not spoken by a disgruntled litigant (or even by Henry VI’s press secretary). They were uttered by the conspirators in Cade’s Rebellion, who planned to overthrow the English government, destroy the ancient rights of English men and women, [as such "rights" were available to women at that time], and establish a virtual dictatorship."

June said...

And now that I have my pickiness satisfied, my own comment.

I agree with you. Probably too many lawyers because . . . God knows . . . any lawyer worth his salt could talk the ears off a donkey and reach no conclusion.
An accountant with a heart might be a good addition to the bunch, but I dislike doing business or government with an eye on only the bottom line.
Maybe service in the government should be arranged as jury duty is. Then every single person would have a chance to muck up the works.

Arkansas Patti said...

Throughly enjoyed your views and came to the same conclusion, sort of. I do agree that profession doesn't really tell us what we will be getting as with the exceptions you stated that didn't fit the norm.
I am all for mental evaluations of anyone seeking political office. There is something scarily wrong with someone even "wanting to be president."

Sightings said...

Gee, I thought people would argue with me about the best and worst presidents. Guess there's general agreement on that.

I'm not saying "kill all the lawyers," just that we shouldn't automatically hand over the reins of govt. to them just because they're grabbing for power and influence. Lawyers are like salt -- you need some, but too much is not healthy.

That being said, I shudder to think what would happen if we gave every single person a turn at government. There are a lot of crazy people out there (I know, some of them are my friends!) who make even Senators and Congressmen look reasonable and responsible.

In the end I agree with the Chatterbox -- the last thing I want is a president like me. Or even someone I like. I liked Carter, thought he was a great guy. But he proved a lousy president.

Dick Klade said...

Perhaps we should pick presidents based on what they say they will do rather than what they were trained to do.