The recent Republican Senate primary in Mississippi no doubt turned on many factors such as the character of the candidates. But the victory by Thad Cochran, the establishment Republican Senator, also underscores an unfortunate consequence of our system of government. The Constitution itself creates a structure that favors senators who promise to direct federal dollars to the state rather than to limit government spending. This structure facilitated the central premise of Senator Cochran’s campaign: with his seniority he could bring home the bacon.
The Constitution requires that Senators be elected from each state and thus Senators are more responsive to state rather than national constituencies. As a result, each Senator (and member of the House of Representatives for that matter) has an incentive to secure pork barrel legislation for his state despite any economic losses to the nation. And his constituents will generally not object, because almost all of the money to pay for in-state benefits comes from other states.
In short, the Framers’ decision to make representation wholly local rather than to have legislators elected from a national list, as is the case in some other democracies, creates a tragedy of the commons. Each representative will overgraze the federal budget at the expense of the nation’s prosperity.