Term Limits

I’m a major, major opponent of term limits in general, so I’m increibly interested in how Michael Bloomberg’s effort to get New York’s mayoral 2 term limit removed so that he can run for a 3rd term. Basically, this is a good idea on the merits. Bloomberg is a very popular technocrat who most people think has done an excellent, though certainly not perfect, job over the past 8 years. And it’s almost universally held that he’s a much superior choice to anyone looking to succeed him at the moment. But there is an unseemly aspect to this. THe limits were ut in, and later upheld, by ballot initiatives and Bloomberg is using the city council to remove them. As Dana Goldstein concludes:

Ballot initiatives certainly aren’t a fail safe way to promote good public policy, but since New York City’s citizens enacted term limits in the first place, they should have the chance to vote on whether or not to repeal them. Any other outcome would simply be undemocratic.

But, in effect, they do have that option. If they really want term limits, they can effectively keep them in place by voting against Bloomberg. And this is the essence of the problem with term limits. They alter outcomes by artificially limiting voters choices and making irrational decisions. Basically, voters may, in abstract, think that they want to limit executive tenure, but that doesn’t always hold up in the real world. And if Bloomberg runs again and wins a 3rd term, that shows you that when the rubber hits the road, term limits really aren’t that important to people, on top of leading to unfavorable outcomes and inferior government.