Our elected representatives in Congress have been voting larger expenditures year after year—larger not only in dollars but as a fraction of the national income. Tax revenue has been rising as well, but nothing like so rapidly. As a result, deficits have grown and grown.
At the same time, the public has demonstrated increasing resistance to higher spending, higher taxes, and higher deficits. Every survey of public opinion shows a large majority that believes that government is spending too much money, and that the government budget should be balanced.
How is it that a government of the majority produces results that the majority opposes?
The paradox reflects a defect in our political structure. We are ruled by a majority—but it is a majority composed of a coalition of minorities representing special interests. A particular minority may lose more from programs benefiting other minorities than it gains from programs benefiting itself. It might be willing to give up its own programs as part of a package deal eliminating all programs—but, currently, there is no way it can express that preference.
Similarly, it is not in the interest of a legislator to vote against a particular appropriation bill if that vote would create strong enemies while a vote in its favor would alienate few supporters. That is why simply electing the right people is not a solution. Each of us will be favorably inclined toward a legislator who has voted for a bill that confers a large benefit on us, as we perceive it. Yet who among us will oppose a legislator because he has voted for a measure that, while requiring a large expenditure, will increase the taxes on each of us by a few cents or a few dollars? When we are among the few who benefit, it pays us to keep track of the vote. When we are among the many who bear the cost, it does not pay us even to read about it.