Is the only duty of a representative to his district and constituents?

In a system like the US where we elect representatives to respresent certain geographical regions, there’s a tendency for them to try to maximize the amount of public resources coming into their district regardless of the usefulness of it. They’ll try to land a contract to make a certain military hardware part which could be more efficiently produced elsewhere, they’ll try to create roads or other infrastructure which isn’t objectively that useful, or they might open the museum of honey or something inane in their home districts.

That both gives jobs directly to someone, who is then more likely to vote for that candidate, and that candidate can talk about how many jobs and money he brought to the home district, which ideally makes other people try to vote for him.

Gonzomax said in this thread that basically Nevadans would be stupid to elect Angle. Reid is the senate majority leader - he can get things done for Nevada in a way that Angle never could. Whether or not you support Reid/Angle is irrelevant here - I’m just demonstrating the attitude.

It seems to me that if we fund projects based on the personal power of the representative of that district, and that the primary determination of where and how to use public resources is the clout of their politicians rather than the merits of the project, we’re all worse off as a country.

It becomes a race to plunder the public treasury - try to take as much as you can from everyone else while giving away as little as you can on your own. In the end, we’re all worse off, because some public funding might’ve gone to open a museum of old used tires in your district rather than perhaps funding a medical research study in a state university which could result in real world positive results.

Isn’t there an enlightened self-interest angle to take? Sure, a few people may get jobs with a crappy local project, but with everyone competing to do the same for their districts, we’re all worse off for it. If we were to take a longer, more rational view and allocate resources where they’re best spent, we’d ultimately all benefit.

But there’s something of a prisoner’s dilemma aspect here - if everyone acted in the mutual interest, we’d all be best off. But if most people acted in the best interest, and a few acted selfishly, they would be able to game the system to their extreme advantage.

To make a specific example - I’ve seen it said that Reed basically single handedly killed Yucca Mountain. Now whether you think it was a bad idea or not is irrelevant to this thread. Basically, we need something to do with the nuclear waste. There’s some objective solution, some best idea. But if that best place happens to be in the backyard of a powerful representative, he might be able to indulge in the NIMBYism of his constituents and get the project scrapped. The end result is that nuclear waste is stored in much less safe and secure facilities all across the country rather than in a good place in the middle of nowhere. A representative only working to indulge the short term selfish interests of his district ultimately makes us worse off as a country.

I don’t know what a solution to this issue is - but it seems like we take the idea of representatives trying to loot the public treasury to benefit their constituents as the default and acceptable mode of things, and I question that. Is there an obligation to serve both the enlightened, long term interest of your constituents over short term ill-advised headline grabbers? Or more generally, is there an obligation to do what’s best for the country and even best for the world even if it isn’t to the immediate benefit of your district?

When Bill Bradley was running against Al Gore in the primaries for Prez, wasn’t he asked to defend, in the Iowa Caucuses, his previous votes against ethanol (since it’s a pretty inefficient way to make gas)? If I remember correctly, I think he said something to the effect that when he voted against the ethanol subsides it was as a senator for New Jersey - he justified his flip-flop as being what’s best for Iowans (and by extension, the whole country).

From subsidies to protectionism to rent-seeking to BRAC resistance: It’s a crazy system, but IMHO it’s the best out there.


Short answer: No, of course not. Otherwise how would committees been be defensible in Congress?