Reporter's Notebook

Your Answers, Questioned
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Our special series “A&Q” inverts the classic Q&A, exploring the complexity of some of the most frequently posed solutions to policy problems. We invited readers to weigh in with their own As and our reporters responded with Qs.

Show 4 Newer Notes

Would Term Limits Fix Political Polarization?

In response to the A&Q I wrote on political polarization, this reader wondered why I didn’t mention congressional term limits as a possible solution:


One potential solution you failed to explore is term limits on members of Congress. We place term limits on the president to avoid too much power accruing to one individual. However, when you have members of Congress sitting in the same seats term after term, in some cases for decades, that allows those individuals and their backers to retain disproportionate influence in the political process as well.

When you couple this issue with the fact that members of the House of Representatives are running for re-election every two years, you have large portions of Congress who are fund-raising more than they're governing.

My suggestion would be two-fold. First, limit members of both chambers of Congress to two terms. Second, extend the terms of members of the House of Representatives to three or four years.


Are term limits feasible, and would they help reduce political polarization?

My recent A&Q on middle-class stagnation questioned these proposed solutions to the problem: build more housing to bring down the cost of real estate, raise taxes on the rich, reduce the size of the social safety net, bring back unions, repeal NAFTA, and use the Fed to keep interest rates extremely low. The following reader proposes another solution, followed by my reply:


The problem isn't that workers aren't being paid fairly; it's that they don't have the skills needed to get paid more. We need a national apprenticeship program starting in high school so that people will be valued workers even without a college or technical degree.


Is America’s skills gap for real?

On the one hand, you would think so, with tales of star computer programmers pulling down vertiginous salaries in the Bay Area. This is exactly what one would expect from a skills shortage in any occupation. That job's wages would gallop ahead of the rest of the country, as business demand for a skill outpaces supply of workers who can do it.

But nationwide, programmer salaries haven't grown much more than average, even when you zoom into Boston, Dallas, or Austin. More computer scientist majors are graduating than the labor market is placing in jobs. In short, there just isn't much clear evidence of a skills shortage that would be easily repaired by forcing lots of marginal liberal-arts graduates into a vocational program for coding.

“Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers,” said the great Voltaire, according to, and, and, and a thousand other places across the Internet.

But where did Voltaire say this, or write it? Pursue that question a short distance, and you’ll come across Wikiquote, which says the source of this expression wasn’t, in fact, Voltaire, but a book of maxims by Pierre Marc Gaston de Lévis. And sure enough, there it is: “Il est encore plus facile de juger de l’esprit d’un homme par ses questions que par ses réponses.” (“It is easier to judge the mind of a man by his questions rather than his answers.”)

The Internet is filled with answers to life’s conundrums. Many of those answers are helpful, and a great many are suspect, or insufficient, or just wrong. How to figure out which is which? Perhaps by taking the answers as a starting point, rather than the destination.

Over the next few weeks, we’re trying a spin on a long-loved format for journalism: the A&Q. We’re taking the classic Q&A and turning it on its head, beginning with some of the most frequently posed solutions to pressing matters of policy and complicating those answers with thoughtful questions. Here are the first eight, published today:

You can peruse all the A&Qs (as well as forthcoming topics to be addressed) here. If you know of a good answer we haven’t questioned, send it along: And if you’d like us to take on more topics in this format, send us those ideas too.