Should elected officials go back to school?
I suspect even the author of this bill isn’t wholly convinced his proposal will ever become law, but it certainly got the attention of politicians in Illinois.
But if it does, would the idea catch fire in Wisconsin as well?
Illinois state Sen. Dave Syverson, a Republican from Rockford, announced last month that he intends to author a bill that will require mandatory economics continuing education instruction for city, county and state elected officials.
Here’s Syverson’s rationale, taken from his Jan. 31 news release:
“Why is it politicians seem to continually miss what in hindsight is such basic elementary economic truths? Part of the problem lies with the fact that so many of today’s elected leaders come from backgrounds in social work, education, law or government — all fine professions — but none that come with any understanding of business or economics.
“I do not doubt many of these leaders have good intentions; however, they are generally only trained to see or concentrate on what the direct immediate consequences of their legislation would have on the particular group or issue they are working on.”
Syverson cited record pension debt, a record backlog of unpaid bills, failed social programs, loss of jobs to other states and the state’s general economic malaise as the primary needs for an economics education.
Syverson’s got a point.
Of all the things candidates highlight during a campaign, their economics acumen is rarely among them. Sure, politicians have opinions, but how much knowledge do they have? They have opinions on education, public safety, same-sex marriage, gun safety. But the difficulty with some of these issues comes from making decisions based on opinion rather than knowledge.
In the real world, that only gets you so far. Successful organizations rely more heavily on people with expertise in a particular subject, as well as market research and scientific evidence.
Unlike Illinois, Wisconsin is running a budget surplus following Act 10, which allowed the state to significantly cut spending.
The debate now is what to do with the extra cash. Should the state cut taxes? There are arguments both for and against.
Should the money go into transportation for badly need road upgrades? Many groups are lobbying for that option.
Should the money go back into education to help school districts stretched to their limits?
What makes these decisions so difficult is that there’s no right or wrong answer. Even a class in economics doesn’t change that.
Syverson said his legislation would require elected officials to take an eight-hour economics course every two years.
“It’s been said ‘In economics you learn from mistakes — in politics you repeat them.’ As a state we cannot afford to keep repeating the mistakes of the past,” Syverson added as part of his announcement. “I hope with legislators having a better understanding of how the economy works, it will translate into better actions.”
Even though this proposal likely never will see the light of day, it’s something voters should seriously think about when they head to the polls during the primary election Feb. 19 and the general election April 2 to choose their elected representatives.