From: Emma Metz Sipple
What does Democrats’ and Republicans’ refusal to cooperate about policy have in common with your choosing whether to work overtime at your job?
It’s simple: Both involve opportunity costs.
We all experience the economic concept of opportunity costs in our daily lives. Opportunity costs are what you give up in the way of resources (time or money) to get something else. When you choose to work overtime, the opportunity cost paid may be time with your family, relaxation time or completing household tasks. The opportunity cost for failure to cooperate among our elected officials gets a little messier.
In this letter, I will address two opportunity costs of failure to cooperate between political parties: 1) lost time, meaning, what they could have accomplished if their time were spent on something else, and 2) alienation of the American people from the political process due to public perceptions of the value created (or not created) by our elected officials.
The first opportunity cost is time spent on partisan bickering. The opportunity cost of bickering is constructive communication about, well, anything.
Speaker of the House John Boehner commented on President Barack Obama’s recent actions involving immigration, stating he “deliberately sabotage(d) any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms” (Fox News, 2014). Since this seems to be one of Boehner’s favorite strategies, I trust he labeled it correctly.
This type of attitude toward cooperating takes the place of productive dialogue about things like tax reform and economic growth.
The next opportunity cost of Democrats’ and Republicans’ refusal to work together is the trust and faith of the American people. When I ask many of my friends if they follow politics, they answer something like, “If I wanted to sift through drama, I would watch ‘Jersey Shore.'”
This sentiment is echoed through Adam Nagourney’s article in the Washington Post, where he reported a voter in Iowa stating, “They just don’t seem to get anything done anymore. All they do is fight between each other. … Everything needs to change” (Nagourney, 2014). Paired with the historically low voter turnout, this comment illustrates the weight of lost faith and trust.
Why might these tradeoffs seem acceptable to politicians? The simplest response is that they are weighing the opportunity cost of being uncooperative against something different than what their constituents consider important. This may be striving to position themselves and their parties in a positive light for the 2016 election.
In that case, acting perverse may seem like the best choice for them, but it does not benefit the rest of us.