Parliament and Opportunity Costs

CBC Newsworld had a very good interview this morning with Niall Ferguson. He’s enjoying a great “told you so” moment, claiming he warned everyone about the credit crisis back in 2006. 

Related: Niall Ferguson’s how-we-got-her piece in the current VF:

He said that Paulson had done a decent enough job heading off a Depression, but that was about it. He also said that there was no real point in bailing out the auto industry, since the auto sector woes have nothing to do with the credit issue. Therefore, it would be a waste of money. 

But he also made an additional argument, which is that no only would be be a waste of money, it would distract our attention and energies from the actual problem. This point — about the opportunity cost of our attention — is one that is far too infrequently made. We worry about the monetary costs of our government, be very rarely do we sit down and try to figure out the cost of lost time spent chasing down one set of problems at the expense of another. 

Call this the opportunity cost of legislative attention. One thing we don’t always keep in mind when considering parliament’s activities is the fact that there is a fixed amount of time that can be spent getting legislation through. If you spend one week debating a single bill, there is a whole lot of legislation that won’t get debated, and hence, will never see the light of day. This is something to keep in mind when pushing for reforms, such as free votes, that will eat up more of parliament’s time. 

I’d be interested in reading up on this. Can anyone recommend a book or any academic articles on the subject? Write me at the usual address.

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