Monday, March 08, 2004

Incentives and the Presidency

Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber links to the "surreal rantings" of Adam Yoshida, who starts off yesterday's surreal rant with a genuinely interesting question:
I've always wondered if it were possible for someone to get elected President with a truly secret agenda in the back of their mind. Could a sufficiently determined individual mouth the right platitudes, do the right things, get to know the right people, and then take hold of the greatest office in the land and use it for some strange purpose? Such things are hardly unknown. Our recent history is filled with examples of covert agents how managed to remain under cover for years or even decades. Look at how high the Cambridge Spies rose in Britain before their fall. Or look at Robert Hansen and Aldrich Ames. They managed to pull off their deceptions for years without being detected. And this, I might add, they managed despite the fact that, to do their work, they needed to be known to Soviet (or Russian) intelligence and actively cooperate with them, thereby opening up any number of chances for exposure. But what if someone was a really deep sleeper agent? Or simply a rogue individual with a private agenda? How could they be detected? How could they be stopped?
Yoshida goes on to say some pretty silly things about John Kerry and George Bush. I don't know if the guy is 'for real' or not. But I think the quoted introduction is interesting to think about. I guess what I really want to turn out to be the correct solution is that any person who sufficiently advances in American politics to become President would benefit more from the nation's prosperity than from fulfilling what alternative agenda he might have had coming in. Unfortunately, that's just not plausible, the way the status quo is set up. A U.S. President just doesn't have all that much to gain from U.S. prosperity. Maybe it's time for a change. In the business world, executives and board members are required to own shares of their corporation -- this guarantees an incentive to look out for the corporation's best interest. Maybe we should do something like that for the Presidency. Here's my idea. We'll hook up the President's body to a sophisticated machine that takes as input economic performance data, crime rates, poverty rates, war casualties and injuries, corporate scandals, light-rail crashes, and Nielson ratings for reality TV shows. Whenever something bad happens to the nation, the machine would respond by causing physical pain to the President's body. A hundred soldiers die in Iraq? The machine breaks George Bush's left pinky. It could work.

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