By: George William
These days there has been a growing call among those who are politically active, from both the left and right, that we should make it illegal for sitting members of congress to trade stocks. I will not delay the telling of my views on the matter. I believe such calls are foolish, emotional and short sighted. I understand them, but that does not change what they are.
These calls for such an action have gone out because of such stories of Congressmen such as Nancy Pelosi (Speaker of the House) using insider trading to benefit herself and her family greatly. This is horribly wrong, using one’s power and influence to benefit themselves and others, when it comes down to it though, is this the appropriate measure to take? How would it be enforced?
The first issue that pops up is family. Will it be illegal for family members of congressmen to trade stock as well, and if so, how much family? Is it really right to punish the family members of our elected officials even more than they already are for a choice they likely had no part in? To work this out, we’ll start from the inner circle and work outward.
Husbands/wives, one could argue that since their incomes are counted together and ideally they should be making choices together as well, the spouses are just as involved as the Congressmen themselves, so maybe you could get by with that. I still say no however. Just because one spouse commits murder you do not jail both. Just as much as they are married, they are still individuals that have rights and privileges regardless of whom their married to.
How about their children? The average age of a Senator is 63 and of the House 58. That means most if not all have children that are old enough to be making such financial decisions as trading stocks. Are we to make it impossible for them to be investing in their future just because of their parents? They have rights and privileges that need and ought to be protected.
Extended family/friends/strangers, all of these people could be treading on the behalf of those mentioned above for a cut because the issue itself isn’t who’s doing the trading but the power, influence and information involved. If one were to make anything illegal on the matter, they’d have to make trading stocks itself illegal, which still would not solve the problem. For example, you could have a powerful company like Google confront the Congressmen and make them partner. If you made that illegal then if not them then their family, and so on and so forth. We’re in the same situation. Making any part of this illegal is not the solution.
The second issue is tenure and popularity. Let’s first cover tenure. The average tenure of a House member for the 117th Congress (current session) was 8.9 years (4.5 terms) as of January 3, 2022. The average years of service for the Senate 11.0 years (1.8 terms). That is in stark contrast to the few who have had decades long careers such as Nancy Pelosi who has served since 1987. The same goes for Senators in stark contrast to the likes of Mitch McConnell. I argue that such a length of time is not nearly long enough to benefit in such a manner as the position provides.
Lastly, how popular are they? After all, popularity and influence is a key factor in power and the way many people can benefit from it. How many nationally elected officials can you name? Seriously, before reading on, that would be, the President, VP, House, and Senate. Count.
There are 100 Senators and 435 Representatives. At most, you probably knew 10. With this and that mentioned above means, I believe, is that most people who are elected to Congress are everyday people who just want to serve their communities and country. For a lot of these people, their retirement is in these investments they’ve made over their life. By making it illegal to serve with the ability to trade these means they’ll have to sell everything before they take office, which could ruin them, or make them keep but unable to trade during service, which could also ruin them.
This course of action would only ensure that the wealthy could take the financial risks of holding office, and nobody wants that. This would only exacerbate the problem, not fix it. The true course of action is to limit the scope of government again. Have it be not so intrusive in our lives and business so that there is not much to gain in such bribery. So that those who choose to serve are not in it for financial gain but service of community and country.