Political Myopia & Short-Term Bias in Government

Lauren Reiff
8 min readFeb 22, 2019
Photo by Jomar on Unsplash

Democracy, unfortunately, is not a pristine and perfect political solution. It comes with its limitations. One of these limitations has always been a tendency for short-term interests to prevail at the expense of long-term considerations.

Nothing ever happens in government without an incentive structure and so, while a future-oriented, long-term approach may be what politicians’ “better-selves” endorse, there is simply little motivation present to aim one’s eyes into the distance, out into the horizon of the future. The consequences are daunting, after all.

Unsustainable public assistance programs are looming liabilities that no one wants to seriously broach, besides giving a dismal shake of one’s head. Government debt has also reached a point wherein its eye-watering current magnitude invokes less healthy alarm in people and more of a numbed sensation. And it’s no wonder. What are you supposed to feel if you have a sinking suspicion that your nation has crossed a certain threshold of no return?

In addition, unfunded pensions preoccupy many, but little in the way of realistic solutions to this problem are actively being labored on. There’s no shortage of anxious talk about these predicaments, sure, but have we stopped to consider how exactly they developed in the first place?

All of the pressing issues mentioned above are “conveniently” located on the horizon of the future. They are issues with questions of sustainability, and what does government do but vaguely address the concept of sustainability without ever actually doing something about it?

But they are also problems that are fast demanding solutions. Why is it that our immense governmental apparatus finds themselves so ill-equipped, so abruptly unprepared for these approaching dangers? The answer lies mostly in a pernicious feature rooted in the democratic framework — that of short-term bias.

Practical Reasons & Psychological Reasons

Short-term bias is a bit like a stubborn weed amongst an otherwise fairly healthy garden. Nearly all politicians find themselves preoccupied first and foremost with their short-term reputation and status. Every politician knows that pleasing constituents is paramount. This is…

Lauren Reiff

Writer of economics, psychology, and lots in between. laurennreiff@gmail.com / I moved! Find me here: laurenreiff.substack.com