By Lea Sparkman
The United States government has always consisted of three governing branches to serve as a system of checks and balances. However, according to Bruce Owen, professor emeritus of economics at Stanford, these branches have become so corrupt and filled with elite politicians that our governmental structure may benefit from a change. Owen has proposed the addition of a fourth “Umpire” branch to limit corruption within the government.
In the paper he is working on, Owen argues that the government’s current design is no longer capable of limiting the bias and corruption of politicians. Government officials “routinely service well-represented elites without regard to adverse effects on the well-being of the People,” Owen writes. To correct this, Owen’s additional branch would aim to correct this maldistribution and increase middle-class representation in our governing bodies.
The “Umpire” group, unlike the existing three branches, would consist of middle-class citizens at least 45 years of age who are unconnected to the existing political structure. According to Owen’s paper, these 11 individuals would be nominated by the president, the vice president, the chief justice, the speaker of the house, the majority leader of the Senate and the minority leaders of the Senate and House before being put up for a vote in Congress. Nominated umpires must gain their appointment by a two-thirds majority in the Senate.
In an interview with The Daily, Owen admitted that such a nomination system “is famously partisan.” Another option to obtain umpires, according to Owen, is picking citizens to serve as umpires randomly in a process similar to jury selection.
However, Owen also explained that this alternative system has its own set of disadvantages.
“The downside of [jury-like selection] is that people may end up on the council who are unqualified to deal with the issues that are involved [with the position],” Owen said. “There’s a lot to think about here, a lot of pros and cons with respect to each of those issues.”
The umpires would serve 15-year terms, earning triple the compensation of a Congress member during this time. Owen hopes that the longer terms and their previous lack of involvement with the government will isolate the umpires from lobbyists and other sources of corruption, allowing them to act as a true check to biased decisions made in the other three branches.
Members of the Umpire branch would be able to veto any laws, according to the working paper, that are likely to substantially “reduce the aggregate well-being of the People or substantially redistribute income or wealth so as to reduce the wellbeing of the poorest citizens.” The branch might also gain access to classified government documents if necessary, assuming security measures are installed.
The umpires, like the other governing branches, would also have checks on their power: The branch’s decisions may be overridden by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress or by a two-thirds majority in one house in conjunction with a presidential veto.
Owen believes that, though not yet finalized, the addition of this branch would better prevent corruption than the current failed procedures, such as election and congressional reforms, to more fairly distribute wealth. This institution would require the approval of a constitutional amendment, which, as he states in the working paper, is considered the “major difficulty.”
He remains hopeful about the prospect of a fourth branch and is open to modifications to or discussions about his current plan. In his interview with The Daily, Owen spoke about several different approaches to keeping the umpires as isolated from political corruption as possible.
“What I’m suggesting is, ‘Here’s a particular example of how it might be done,’” Owen said. “I’m not suggesting that this is the only — or necessarily the best — way to do each of these things.”
Contact Lea Sparkman at 16lsparkman ‘at’ castilleja.org.