Archive for September, 2012

This looks bad for Romney if the polls are on-target:

It means that Romney can only stand to lose New Hampshire on this list of toss-up states:

Colorado (9)
Florida (29)
Iowa (6)
Nevada (6)
New Hampshire (4)
North Carolina (15)
Virginia (13)

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A pro-secession protest in Catalonia on September 11th brought out 8% of the region’s entire population, The Economist reports. Opinion polls have support for independence at about half of the electorate, possibly more. The moderate nationalists in power in Catalonia have even radicalized their platform. In the past, Convergence and Unity was a moderate nationalist, center-right party coalition dedicated to greater autonomy for Catalonia and a recognized right to self-determination. While refusing to rule out independence in the long run, they rejected secession as attainable or desirable in the near term. Now, they explicitly advocate eventual sovereignty (effectively, independence within the European Union).

In addition to Convergence and Unity, there has been, since the mid-1980s, a significant independentist strain within Catalan nationalism. The Catalan Republican Left (ERC) has been the main exponent of this current. In the early 2000’s, ERC actually formed the regional administration along with the regional Socialists. They helped put together Catalonia’s new autonomy statute that, among other things, defines Catalonia as a “nation” rather than a “nationality” for the first time. (Yes, this sort of symbolism seems to matter to nationalist voters.) Over time, ERC support has been growing, and so has broader support for independence. Thus, this most recent outbreak is nothing new, rather the last expression of an upwelling of  “fed-up nationalism” that has been going on for at least a decade.

In one sense, Catalan nationalism is easily explicable as the (more…)

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Rasmussen Reports has this just in on the NH gubernatorial race:

Rasmussen Reports’ first look at New Hampshire’s gubernatorial race since the state’s party primaries finds Republican Ovide Lamontagne slightly ahead of Democrat Maggie Hassan. A new telephone survey of Likely Voters in the Granite State shows Lamontagne earning 48% of the vote, while Hassan picks up 44% support. Two percent (2%) prefer some other candidate, and seven percent (7%) are undecided.

This is a critical race since the outgoing Democrat governor was a blocking force against some of the pro-liberty agenda of House Speaker Bill O’Brien.  A Republican governor would make things a lot easier up there – assuming O’Brien and company don’t lose too many seats to Dems and less liberty-friendly Republicans.  Of course, I don’t assume that Lamontagne will go along with everything since he’s more of a social conservative than a lot of Republicans in the House.

Important caveat in this poll: The margin of error is +/- 4.5 percentage points.

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A nice acknowledgement by Richard Fisher, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, of what they at the Fed do not know:

We are blessed at the Fed with sophisticated econometric models and superb analysts. We can easily conjure up plausible theories as to what we will do when it comes to our next tack or eventually reversing course. The truth, however, is that nobody on the committee, nor on our staffs at the Board of Governors and the 12 Banks, really knows what is holding back the economy. Nobody really knows what will work to get the economy back on course. And nobody—in fact, no central bank anywhere on the planet—has the experience of successfully navigating a return home from the place in which we now find ourselves. No central bank—not, at least, the Federal Reserve—has ever been on this cruise before.

Here Fisher is paging Dr. Higgs and the regime uncertainty thesis by quoting a “respected” CEO:

“We are in ‘stall mode,’ stuck like Velcro, until the fog of uncertainty surrounding fiscal policy and the debacle in Europe lifts.”

And finally, challenging the dual mandate of the Fed:

I would point out to those who reacted with some invective to the committee’s decision, especially those from political corners, that it was the Congress that gave the Fed its dual mandate. That very same Congress is doing nothing to motivate business to expand and put people back to work. Our operating charter calls for us to conduct policy aimed at achieving full employment in addition to preserving price stability. A future Congress might restrict us to a single mandate—like other central banks in the world operate under—focused solely on price stability. But unless or until that is done, we have to deliver on what the American people, as conveyed by their elected representatives, expect of us.

The rest here is very much worth a careful read.  I’ve been in favor of using monetary policy (if properly done) in the recent past to help with our economic troubles.  Fisher gives us something to think about in terms of the limits of monetary policy, the problem of the Fed’s dual mandate, and the need to get our fiscal house in order.

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And makes a point too:

HT: One of my FB friends (with apologies to George Will)

And for more on the “creepy” things we’ve seen this fall, see these articles: here and here (and if you look at the first one, you’ll see ScarJo looking as awesome as ever.  Too bad she isn’t the kind of woman who would put “Property Rights” or “No Eminent Domain Abuse” or something similar on her hand instead).

Update: My post above could be misread in a way that would suggest I would advocate such hand signs if only the right words were on the hand.  That is not what I meant, so I immediately wrote this in the comments which I repeat here:  “And btw, I would find anyone putting anything political on their hand and putting it over their heart or saluting as a bit creepy unless they were mocking it like Perry. So, I just wish ScarJo would believe in things like property rights — not that she would do some kind of hand thing with them. And I’d be even more creeped out if Republicans did it and put things like Family or Virtue or Honor or anything else.”

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From Real Clear Politics:

The basic argument for why Romney is being written off far too early is pretty simple. He trails the incumbent president by 48.2 percent to 45.3 percent in the RCP Average seven weeks before the election. There are very few races that have been this close, this far out from Election Day, that would be characterized as anything other than a tossup.

I’m not as sanguine because the Electoral College map looks pretty bad for Romney, but this piece makes a lot of good points.

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On taxes and contributions

The graph below from NPR.org is both insightful and fair (as is the accompanying article.)

But one thing has always struck me funny when discussing Social Security and Medicare with those on the left.  When they are defending the benefits of the programs, they always refer to “contributions” into a social insurance system, and they sometimes argue that we shouldn’t include such contributions when calculating the federal tax burden.

But when these same people are defending the non-payment of income tax by the 47%, they are quick to note that many of that group pay or have paid Social Security and Medicare “taxes,” which, as we know, are heavy federal taxes.

So, my friends, you have to pick one: are they taxes or contributions?

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Per commenter FreeDem’s request, here are some other ways to interpret Ron Paul’s primary performances in each state, building on the statistical models estimated here.

The first exercise is to simulate what Paul’s percentage of the vote would have been in each state had they all voted at the same time with the same “institutions” (candidates on the ballot, primary vs. caucus, closed vs. open, and so on). For this exercise, I assumed that all calendar and institutional characteristics were at the median for the nation as a whole. Thus, I assume a primary not a caucus, a closed primary rather than an open or semi-open one, three other candidates on the ballot, a ballot date after Mitt Romney had built substantial momentum with his Michigan victory on Feb. 28 — but before his virtual mathematical clinching on Apr. 2, and no home state advantage for any candidate.

Under these conditions, Paul would have obtained 13.9% of the vote in the average state. Here is how he would be forecast to do in each state, in alphabetical order:

State pred12
Alabama 7.39%
Alaska 15.37%
Arizona 8.70%
Arkansas 13.77%
California 12.17%
Colorado 10.81%
Connecticut 15.94%
Delaware 12.48%
District of Columbia 12.17%
Florida 10.14%
Georgia 12.20%
Hawaii 12.30%
Idaho 11.53%
Illinois 9.68%
Indiana 15.93%
Iowa 19.70%
Kansas 13.73%
Kentucky 14.82%
Louisiana 10.51%
Maine 19.48%
Maryland 13.58%
Massachusetts 17.73%
Michigan 16.80%
Minnesota 12.71%
Mississippi 6.53%
Missouri 12.76%
Montana 14.80%
Nebraska 11.26%
Nevada 10.09%
New Hampshire 31.74%
New Jersey 11.75%
New Mexico 12.29%
New York 17.28%
North Carolina 12.63%
North Dakota 15.54%
Ohio 12.80%
Oklahoma 16.45%
Oregon 15.12%
Pennsylvania 26.43%
Rhode Island 27.08%
South Carolina 16.29%
South Dakota 15.40%
Tennessee 13.42%
Texas 15.57%
Utah 5.39%
Vermont 31.41%
Virginia 24.61%
Washington 15.81%
West Virginia 12.54%
Wisconsin 13.85%
Wyoming 13.27%

The rank order of states here is of course exactly the same as in the table of residuals from my earlier post, but the presentation of the numbers is perhaps more intuitive.

The next analysis looks at why Paul improved from 2008 so much in some states and little if any in others. In my last post I found that Paul’s electoral performance in 2012 is predicted by state opinion ideology, with more left-wing states giving more support to Paul. However, 2008 LP support is not at all correlated with Paul support in 2012. I inferred that Paul received a great deal of support from voters who would otherwise go Democratic and from liberal Republicans and independents, particularly since the association between ideology and Paul support strengthened conditional on an open primary.

However, I did not control for how “pro-Ron Paul” a state was in 2008. FreeDem reports seeing some odd state-level differences between Paul’s 2008 success and 2012 success when eyeballing the data. Using my analysis of the 2008 returns, I now try formally testing whether Ron Paul’s support in 2008 was correlated with his support in 2012. I regress the log of Paul support in 2012 on the institutional variables, Democratic-Green vote share in 2008, and the log of institution-corrected Paul vote share in 2008. Here are the results:

. regress lnrp caucus12 open12 closed12 ocb clinch home demgr08 lnrp08

Number of obs =      49
F(  8,    40) =    9.67
Prob > F      =  0.0000
R-squared     =  0.6592
Adj R-squared =  0.5911
Root MSE      =  .31484

        lnrp |      Coef.   Std. Err.      t    P>|t|     [95% Conf. Interval]
    caucus12 |   .5744784   .1465334     3.92   0.000     .2783233    .8706335
      open12 |   .0946405   .1444686     0.66   0.516    -.1973414    .3866224
    closed12 |  -.1744016   .1367005    -1.28   0.209    -.4506836    .1018805
         ocb |  -.1192173   .0418184    -2.85   0.007    -.2037355   -.0346991
      clinch |  -.1881422   .1700441    -1.11   0.275    -.5318141    .1555297
        home |   .0832717   .2090593     0.40   0.693     -.339253    .5057963
     demgr08 |   .0091053    .004799     1.90   0.065    -.0005938    .0188044
      lnrp08 |   .4681954   .1376803     3.40   0.002     .1899331    .7464578
       _cons |  -.5945686   .6079726    -0.98   0.334    -1.823327    .6341899

Now I do find evidence that Paul’s support in 2012 depended on the strength of the Paul constituency in 2008, controlling for everything else. Although the statistical significance is strong, the substantive import is in a sense strikingly low. Since the dependent and independent variable are both in logs, we can interpret the coefficient on Ron Paul support in ’08 — 0.468 — as an elasticity. In other words, for every 1% more votes Paul got in 2008, he got just 0.5% more votes in 2012. That tells us that while Ron Paul’s base turned out again for him in 2012, his additional success was probably not related to picking up a bunch of semi-libertarian marginal voters who might have gone with him had his campaign been stronger in 2008. Instead, he reached a whole new constituency. Paul more than doubled his vote share between 2008 and 2012. That mostly did not come from mobilizing more libertarians. He got the libertarians to vote for him again, but most of his new votes came from people we would not normally think of as libertarians.

Who exactly were these new Paul voters? We can find out more, I think, by looking at individual states where Paul improved or did not improve between elections. Here are some states where Paul did badly in both years (adjusted vote shares from 2008 and 2012 in parentheses): Alabama (2.9%/7.4%), Utah (3.0%/5.4%), Mississippi (1.9%/6.5%), Arizona (4.4%/8.7%), and Illinois (5.4%/9.7%). These are states without many libertarians and also without many social and foreign policy moderates and liberals. We could throw in West Virginia (2.9%/12.5%), Florida (3.8%/10.1%), New Jersey (4.9%/11.8%), Delaware (4.2%/12.5%), and California (6.3%/12.2%) as also being of this type.

Then we have states like Idaho (10.8%/11.5%), D.C. (7.8%/12.2%), Montana (7.8%/14.8%), North Dakota (7.1%/15.5%), South Dakota (8.6%/15.4%), and Washington (8.2%/15.8%), where Paul did well in 2008 but did not improve much in 2012. He seemed to hit a ceiling in places like these. My hypothesis is that these states have a lot of libertarians but not many social and foreign policy moderates who are willing to take a Republican ballot. In all the states I just mentioned except perhaps D.C., social conservatives tend to dominate the state Republican party. Washington may be a partial exception, but only a partial one. Washington certainly does not have the tradition of moderate Republicanism that, say, Massachusetts and Connecticut do.

Then there are states where Paul underperformed in 2008 and then improved significantly in 2012: Connecticut (4%/15.9%), Indiana (4%/15.9%), Iowa (3.8%/19.7%), Kentucky (3.8%/14.8%), Massachusetts (3%/17.7%), Oklahoma (4%/16.5%), Rhode Island (6.1%/27.1%), South Carolina (4.3%/16.3%), and Vermont (6.4%/31.4%). New York (6.7%/17.3%) is a state where Paul went from slightly above average to well above. What at least some of these states have in common is a lot of former Republicans and independents who are moderate to liberal on social and foreign policy issues. (I can’t explain Oklahoma, but South Carolina’s improvement might have to do something with a bounce from New Hampshire, and Kentucky with Rand Paul’s prominence.) In Vermont, especially, I will bet my bottom dollar that most Ron Paul voters were centrists or even progressives ticked off at wars, banker bailouts, and civil liberty infringements, but not necessarily signing onto Paul’s whole economic program. His outstanding improvement there may also have something to do with spillover from New Hampshire.

Finally, there are only a few states where Paul did very well in both years: Maine (6.9%/19.5%), Michigan (7.2%/16.8%), New Hampshire (11.2%/31.7%), and Pennsylvania (7.8%/26.4%). These seem like states with both quite a few libertarians and lots of moderates and progressives willing to take a Republican ballot. While economic insecurity might be another hypothesis for the increase in Paul support, that wouldn’t explain why Paul did so poorly in Nevada (10.1% adjusted), New Jersey (11.8% adjusted), or Georgia (12.2% adjusted), all of which have suffered more than the national average from the bursting of the housing bubble.

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At Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Kevin Vallier has an interesting piece on the failure of “Enlightenment libertarianism” and the case for “post-Enlightenment libertarianism.” While I agree fully with Dr. Vallier’s critique of libertarian dogmatism in the Randian and Rothbardian modes, I have considerably more difficulty with the public-reason liberalism he associates with “post-Enlightenment” thinking.

You can’t prove a complete political or moral philosophy apodictically from self-evident axioms. That much is obvious. Somewhere along the way, you are going to have to make contestable assumptions. What Rand, Rothbard, and deductivist dogmatists of all stripes forget is a basic Humean (Enlightenment thinker!) humility about what reason is really good for. Reason helps us check whether arguments are valid, following inevitably from their premises, and whether premises are more or less likely to be true, by matching them against our observations of the external world or our internal moral compass (intuition). But any set of statements that is self-evidently or necessarily true is not going to have much substantive import or be widely applicable to the world we experience. The role of moral and political philosophy should therefore be to make clear the assumptions on which different normative judgments must rest and to assess the plausibility of those assumptions. Like any other political philosophy, libertarianism rests on contestable assumptions — ones I happen to regard as fairly plausible, but contestable nevertheless.

But what about “public reason” methodology — does that allow us a way out of the limitations inherent to intuition and deduction? As Dr. Vallier puts it: “The post-Enlightenment view still aspires to show that our diverse reasoning can lead us to converge on public principles that protect human freedom, but its aspirations are chastened. The fact of reasonable pluralism explains why many liberals have become public reason liberals, because treating others as free and equal requires admitting that the free use of practical reason leads in many different directions.”

As someone who occasionally reads contemporary political philosophy but is far from an expert, my novice’s take is that public-reason liberalism does not give us much purchase on controversial moral questions in Western societies. To the extent that public-reason philosophers are merely making modus vivendi, Augsburg-style arguments for liberalism, those arguments are potentially valuable as far as they go, but they cannot go far. Of course, public-reason theorists don’t think they are making mere modus vivendi arguments. But the more they diverge from mere modus vivendi argument (which has to be guided by empirical research, I might add), the more they tread into controversial moral territory of the “bad, old Enlightenment” rationality.

Take Rawls’ Political Liberalism for example. It’s been over a decade since I’ve read it, but I recall finding it far less persuasive than A Theory of Justice. Rawls, you change your methodology radically and just happen to end up reaching almost exactly the same conclusions (albeit with less scope for liberty)? Come on! There seem to be numerous controversial moral assumptions sneaked into his argument despite the overt concern for overlapping consensus among moral communities that radically disagree. Rawls’ theory of justice couldn’t even find overlapping consensus among the members of his own department.

So it seems to me we are stuck with the bad, old way of reasoning because there is no alternative. But certainly a little humility and open-mindedness are in order.

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Economist Tyler Cowen is a big fan of signaling theory.  So in Cowenesque fashion, I ask: is he signaling something by not providing a translation in a recent post that highlights a long quotation in Spanish on the Honduran charter cities?  Or did he just not have the time?  (This is what Occam’s Razor would suggest)  Or was he trying to reach only the Spanish-speaking audience of his blog (which must be relatively small compared to the English-speaking audience)?  Or did he think only the relatively small Spanish-speaking audience would have any interest in the article (which is a dubious proposition given how libertarians and development economists are probably interested in this issue)?  He’s trying to drive traffic to Google Translate? (just kidding).  Other reasons?

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What are the chances that the person who gets this job won’t be a complete and utter leftist* who will engage in classroom proselytizing?  It may be non-zero but one wonders…

The Department of Political Science at Ohio University invites applications for a tenure track appointment in Human Security/International Relations. Research agendas could encompass, but are not limited to, global poverty and development, gender, health security, migration and refugees, post conflict reconstruction, or environmental sustainability. The successful candidate will teach introductory and graduate courses in International Relations, as well as courses in his or her research area. Preference will be given to candidates who can enhance our curriculum on the politics of the Global South, especially Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East.

* I have no problem with a university hiring a complete and utter leftist.  I just disdain proselytizing in the classroom and the double-standard about what counts as acceptable dependent variables for academic study (and I doubt that this department would be happy with scholars who approached these admittedly important issues from just any perspective).  Could one imagine most universities putting up a similar ad like this (not that it should) one below:

The Department of Political Science at Ohio University invites applications for a tenure track appointment in American Politics. Research agendas could encompass, but are not limited to, individual liberty, originalist and textualist jurisprudence, and the concept of government failure. The successful candidate will teach introductory and graduate courses in American politics, as well as courses in his or her research area. Preference will be given to candidates who can enhance our curriculum on the politics of state intervention in the market. 

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This has been a test of the emergency Youtube embedding system. Feel free to enjoy this clip from the hilarious British political satire, “The Thick of It.”

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Rasmussen Reports releases the most heartening survey result I’ve seen in a while:

By an overwhelming 72% to 15% margin, voters believe it is more important to guarantee freedom of speech rather than making sure nothing is done to offend other nations and cultures.”

Of course, I’m very skeptical of the argument that people are pushed to act as we’ve seen around the world because of an “offensive” film.  I believe there are deeper things going on.  Heck, even if the film was a spark, a causal analysis that stops there is like an analysis of the causes of WWI that ends with the shooting of the Archduke.  Of course, the administration has a reason to stick with the “denigration” story.

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Shultz et al. in the WSJ

Several prominent economists had an attention-grabbing op-ed in the Journal yesterday. Some key sentences:

Did you know that, during the last fiscal year, around three-quarters of the deficit was financed by the Federal Reserve? Foreign governments accounted for most of the rest, as American citizens’ and institutions’ purchases and sales netted to about zero. The Fed now owns one in six dollars of the national debt, the largest percentage of GDP in history, larger than even at the end of World War II.

1) QE3 seems like the right thing to do, but debt monetization on this scale surely raises a reasonable prospect of stagflation. I have no doubt that the Fed will try to claw back all the money it’s issued in the last five years, but will it succeed? This is uncharted territory.

2) No wonder interest rates on Treasuries are so low.

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State Department: “We condemn the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “The U.S. deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”  “Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.”

President Obama: “While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.”

Our Government denigrating the 1st Amendment?: 

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Reason yesterday recalled Veronique de Rugy’s nice chart showing how budget “cuts” under sequestration would impact federal spending from 2013-2021.  If you listen to the chatter in Washington, these cuts are dangerous and extreme. If you pay attention to what Ms. de Rugy is saying, such talk is nonsense.  Unfortunately, de Rugy’s position hasn’t won over Washington (surprise, surprise) or the public.  The latter may be worried about the sequester because they think that spending levels that Bill Clinton would find absurd are indeed cruel and unsatisfactory.  Or maybe the public actually thinks these are significant real cuts.  Here, rhetoric may be to blame.  As Ms. de Rugy also points out about budget discussions:

While the sequester projections are nominal spending increases, most budget plans count them as cuts. Referring to decreases in the rate of growth of spending as “cuts” influences public perceptions about the budget. When the public hears “cut,” it thinks that spending has been significantly reduced below current levels, not that spending has increased. Thus, calling a reduced growth rate of projected spending a “cut” leads to confusion, a growing deficit, and an ever-larger burden for future generations.

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More money

Ramesh Ponnuru has it exactly right in criticizing George Will’s terrible column recently that criticized the Fed’s recent decision for more quantitative easing.  He says he supports the spirit of Will’s criticism, but thinks all of his conclusions are wrong.

It’s in applying those principles that he goes astray:

Uncertainty is exacerbated by the Fed’s exercise of its vast discretion, including QE1, QE2 and, perhaps soon, QE3 (or QE5, including two “twists” also aimed at lowering borrowing costs). Bernanke, who promises more “policy accommodation” to support the economic recovery, is inadvertently vindicating Milton Friedman’s belief that “the stock of money [should] be increased at a fixed rate year-in and year-out without any variation in the rate of increase to meet cyclical needs.”

Friedman adopted that view at one point in his career — admittedly, the most influential point — because he thought that the velocity of money (the rate at which it changes hands, or the inverse of the demand for money balances) was fairly stable. If velocity is stable, then stabilizing the growth of the money supply stabilizes nominal spending. (The money supply × velocity = nominal spending = the price level × economic output. Or, M*V = P*Y.) Stabilizing nominal spending is the best way for a central bank to stabilize an economy, because most labor and debt contracts are negotiated in nominal terms. By stabilizing the growth of M*V or P*Y, the bank is providing the most important form of stability it can, and letting market actors make their arrangements against that backdrop.

The economy still has lots of problems right now–many of them induced by too much government–but loose money isn’t one of them!  Does the Fed run the risk of increasing inflation?  Let’s hope so, because we need a little more inflation right now, at least until spending starts to recover.  I think even Friedman would agree with that and would have likely encouraged more Fed asset purchases long ago.

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And not from a right wing or “denialist” source either but published as an editorial on September 12 by the Washington Post:

No matter how you slice it, the American taxpayer has gotten precious little for the administration’s investment in battery-powered vehicles, in terms of permanent jobs or lower carbon dioxide emissions. There is no market, or not much of one, for vehicles that are less convenient and cost thousands of dollars more than similar-sized gas-powered alternatives — but do not save enough fuel to compensate. The basic theory of the Obama push for electric vehicles — if you build them, customers will come — was a myth. And an expensive one, at that.

I’d really like to see this type of car succeed.  However, government subsidies such as these don’t seem to make much sense even though pollution abatement is a public good.

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The Boy in the Striped Pants

In March of 1973, famed Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight made his first journey to the Final Four.  The basketball crazy state was in an uproar.  At least I imagine it was, given what I have learned from watching Hoosiers.  What I do remember, though, is trudging across the hills of Bloomington by foot with my fellow second graders to see the team’s bus depart for some far off locale.   I never saw the Hoosiers play.  There was no ESPN, and we didn’t have a TV anyway.

The other sporting event I do remember from that year spent in Bloomington (which is also the location for another famous sports movie, Breaking Away) was on the baseball field later that summer.   I was able to get my parents to purchase a mitt and sign me up for a T-ball league.  I remember spending hours breaking in my mitt.  Others would say I did it wrong, that the pocket was in the wrong place.  But it felt good.  I still have that mitt.

In those days our sports options were about as limited as the number of TV channels.  There was no soccer, or gymnastics, or lacrosse, or any other number of sissy sports.  There was football, baseball, and basketball.  A few odd ducks did swimming or tennis, but overall summer meant baseball.   Soccer is a sport much better suited for children.  It is friendly and egalitarian.  Everyone can run and kick.  Indeed, I like to tell my snooty academic friends—the kind who pretend to like soccer or cycling for the same reasons they make condescending comments about Sarah Palin or McDonalds—that soccer is a great children’s game.  It is sort of like Hide and Seek or Kick the Can, but with a ball.  Everyone can do it.  No one cries.

Baseball  involves lots of tears.  I never broke down and cried on the field, but I remember a few years after my T-ball experience crying in my bed at home.  In a strangely precocious and self-aware epiphany (I must have been 11 or so) I realized that I wasn’t ever going to be a professional baseball player.  My mother tried to comfort me, though she must have been wondering where I ever got such a notion in the first place.  But what did she know?  She was European.  She thought running and cross-country skiing were sports.

I of course thought everyone wanted to be a professional athlete.  That seemed to be the pinnacle of male prestige in our society, at least as I saw it.  I had learned to love baseball from books.  The book I returned to over and over again was The Boy’s Life Book of Baseball Stories.  It told of the heroic exploits on the Little League diamond, about boys who seemed to have an uncanny ability to approximate real baseball.  Most real baseball games with children involve throwing the ball around a field where it is seldom hit and seldom caught by anyone.  I devoured old books from the local library about baseball legends on the NY Yankees.  Since we didn’t have a TV in my early days, I was quite old before I realized that the Dodgers had moved to California decades before.  The Giants, too.  This seemed wrong.  I would follow those great Yankees teams of the 70s.  I still remember the thrill of watching Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in one World Series game.  I felt somehow vindicated.

I’m sure I could find a few faded photos of that ’73 T-ball team.  One of them might even have the whole team in it, including The Boy in the Striped Pants, which was the official name we used for him in my family.  He was the shortstop, the big, brash, athletic kid that everyone feared.  Our team had  t-shirts and caps from some long-forgotten local business sponsoring our team.  But we had to come up with our own pants.  I’m sure I wore Toughskins jeans from Sears, the kind that lasted extra long because they had “double knees,” a patch that was pre-sewn into the knees to prevent holes.  My mom always bought me Toughskins.  If I wanted impractical pants, the kind without double knees, I could buy them myself, my mother said.  This I eventually did in a moment of fashion despair in the 8th grade, using the paltry earnings from my daily paper route.

The Boy in the Striped Pants did not wear Toughskins.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t come in stripes, or bell-bottoms for that matter.  He had the long messy hair common for boys in the early 70s, and his face was freckled and usually dirty.  Everyone knew the shortstop was the position that the best player got to play (at least in T-ball, where there is no pitching.)   I didn’t aspire to play shortstop, but I desperately wanted to play first base.   I was gaining confidence in my ability to catch the ball, and the first baseman was the one who made the out, the one who got the job done.  The Boy in the Striped Pants would field the ball, I would run to the base, put my right foot on it, and stretch my gloved left hand out as far as possible, just in time to put out the sprinting runner.  First base was where the action was.

I didn’t play first base.  I was an outfielder, where the ball seldom ventured in T-ball.  But one day, our manager came up to me and asked me what position I would like to play that day.  This was like manna from heaven, a tender mercy of the Lord to a small, ordinary boy.  I was so stunned, I couldn’t believe it.  But before I could gather my wits and say “First Base!” the Boy in the Striped Pants pipes in and says, “He wants to play catcher.”  My heart fell.  In T-ball, no one cares about the catcher.  Since there is no pitcher, there is little need for a catcher.  The manager, smiling kindly, leaned over and asked me if I really want to play catcher.

As I look back on the past four decades since that moment, I have the normal sorts of regrets, things said and unsaid that I’d like to do over.  I have had good moments in sports, including baseball.  I was not the kid picked first, nor was I the one picked last.   But my skills did not match my aspirations, as is the case for most of us.  What I can see now, from my middle-aged perspective, is the outsized role that sports so often plays in society and how profoundly we are shaped by the world we are thrust into and how rarely we strike out on paths that are truly, if ever, self-directed.

Yes, I nodded, I wanted to play catcher.

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On Rand Paul’s 2016

Interesting clip on Paul’s future and the future of the Republican Party (a theme we’ve discussed before here) from two smart libgressives.  Embedding isn’t working, so here it is.  A lot of thoughtful points about the difficulties that Paul could face in 2016 (though I think Rob may be overestimating Paul’s difficulties in KY if he simply concentrates on running for Senate). 

One little thing: The last line about the end of the welfare state could only come from someone who doesn’t quite understand the Republican Party today or Mitt Romney.  So he must have been engaging in hyperbole.  For good or for bad, they aren’t libertarians and won’t be gutting the welfare state as we know it.  Can we not remember the expansion of the welfare state under George W?  Didn’t you notice that the Republican conventioneers were all about saving Medicare?  Even big parts of ObamaCare will be preserved in the unlikely event that the Republicans run the table this year.  The Republicans aren’t your great, great grandfather’s Democratic Party  (of Grover Cleveland, of course!).

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After the 2008 primary season, I analyzed Ron Paul’s performance in each state to see how institutional factors such as caucus and primary form affected his electoral success. This exercise turned out to be useful for estimating the size of the pro-liberty electorate in each state. In this post, I do the same with the 2012 results.

The dependent variable in this analysis is the percentage of the vote obtained in each state’s statewide primary or caucus. If a state held both a primary and a caucus or convention, I used the primary results. The independent variables are as follows. (All variables were taken from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections.)

First, I use a dummy variable for whether the state had a caucus or convention versus a primary. As an outsider candidate with a committed band of activist supporters, Paul tended to do much better in caucuses than primaries.

Next, I also included dummy variables for who is eligible to vote: a dummy for an open caucus/primary, in which all voters are allowed to vote, and a dummy for a closed caucus/primary, in which only registered Republicans are allowed to vote. The excluded category consists of “modified-open” elections, in which independents and Republicans are allowed to vote. Since Paul was more popular among self-identified independents than among self-identified Republicans, it stands to reason that he would do best in open primaries and worst in closed primaries.

I also tried variables for the number of other candidates running active races and appearing on the ballot. In this regard, I counted only “significant” candidates that might have had a chance of winning, that is, the following six (other than Paul): Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and Michele Bachmann. Bachmann dropped out of the race after Iowa and Perry and Huntsman after New Hampshire. Thereafter, Santorum withdrew only after the April 10 primaries and Gingrich held on until May 2. However, in many states – almost entirely primary states – candidates that had withdrawn remained on the ballot and often received significant support. We should expect both of these variables to have a negative influence on Paul’s vote share (for instance, in Virginia, where only Romney and Paul were on the ballot, Paul benefited from tactical voting by supporters of other candidates and received 40%), but in fact the number of candidates in the race had a statistically significant, positive association with Paul’s support (candidates on the ballot has the expected negative association, as shown below). This result is theoretically implausible and apparently simply captures Paul’s otherwise unexplained success in Iowa and New Hampshire. Therefore, in the estimations reported here, I have included solely the variable for number of non-Paul candidates on the ballot.

Next, I included a three-point variable for the extent to which Mitt Romney had clinched the Republican nomination when the primary in question was held. After February 28, it became very unlikely that Romney would lose, as Nate Silver noted here. After April 3, it became a near mathematical certainty that Romney would win. Therefore, the “clinching” variable takes on values of 0.5 for contests held after February 28 through April 3 and values of 1.0 for contests held after April 3.

Finally, I include a variable intended to capture home-state effects for active candidates. It is coded zero for all states except Massachusetts, Georgia, and Texas. For the former two, home states of Romney and Gingrich, respectively, it is coded -1, and for the last, Paul’s home state, it is coded 1. (Santorum dropped out of the race before the Pennsylvania vote, for which reason it is coded zero.)

The dependent variable is rather skewed, as the following histogram shows:

As a result, statistical analysis with this variable revealed the presence of heteroskedasticity, which violates the assumptions necessary for Ordinary Least Squares regression. Therefore, I transformed the variable using the natural log, which gave it a roughly normal distribution and eliminated heteroskedasticity in the regression analysis:

The results of the regression analysis are reported below the fold:

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Here is a quotation from a Romney-Ryan campaign e-mail that shows that Republicans are either sloppy with their language, are going to hire 12 million new government workers, or have bought into the myth that Washington can directly fix things like unemployment: “My economic plan creates 12 million new jobs.”

This is how it should have read: “My economic plan creates the conditions whereby 12 million new jobs can be added by the private sector where real economic growth occurs.”  Of course, perhaps that is too wordy — but let’s not talk down to the American people and assume they can’t understand the more sophisticated and more accurate argument (but perhaps still false) in my version.

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The beautiful writer Peggy Noonan on the DNC:

Beneath the funny hats, the sweet-faced delegates, the handsome speakers and the babies waving flags there was something disquieting. All three days were marked by a kind of soft, distracted extremism. It was unshowy and unobnoxious but also unsettling.

There was the relentless emphasis on Government as Community, as the thing that gives us spirit and makes us whole. But government isn’t what you love if you’re American, America is what you love. Government is what you have, need and hire. Its most essential duties—especially when it is bankrupt—involve defending rights and safety, not imposing views and values. We already have values. Democrats and Republicans don’t see all this the same way, and that’s fine—that’s what national politics is, the working out of this dispute in one direction or another every few years. But the Democrats convened in Charlotte seemed more extreme on the point, more accepting of the idea of government as the center of national life, than ever, at least to me.

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At Mother Jones, Adam Serwer details the Democratic Party’s platform’s ratification of the Obama Administration’s wholesale retreat on civil liberties. When stacking this sort of thing alongside the GOP’s attempt to become the Defenders of Medicare, I not only find it difficult to care who wins the next presidential election, but to understand why anyone else would.

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Interesting Facts

1.  Joel Kotkin in the Daily Beast:

Gentrifying Washington, D.C., now boasts the highest concentration of childless adult females in the nation, a mind-boggling 70 percent of all adult women.

The entire piece about Obama’s new Democratic coalition is worth reading, here.

2.  According to Bloomberg, “Food-stamp use reached a record 46.7 million in June.”  Super, 1/6th of all Americans on food welfare.

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A Real Dilemma

Would you rather have a politician working or playing during his/her time in office?  Depends on what he/she would do with that time, right?

Although I’d love for President Obama to be focused on securing America’s vital national interests in foreign policy and individual liberty here at home, his policies have frequently been destructive of those ends.  Therefore, a President at play doesn’t sound too bad since more time on the golf course is less time making mischief for the country.  Thus I had a hard time getting too upset by the revelations in the NY Times story discussed here by Forbes:

For someone dealing with the world’s weightiest matters, Mr. Obama spends surprising energy perfecting even less consequential pursuits. He has played golf 104 times since becoming president, according to Mark Knoller of CBS News, who monitors his outings, and he asks superior players for tips that have helped lower his scores. He decompresses with card games on Air Force One, but players who do not concentrate risk a reprimand (“You’re not playing, you’re just gambling,” he once told Arun Chaudhary, his former videographer).

His idea of birthday relaxation is competing in an Olympic-style athletic tournament with friends, keeping close score. The 2009 version ended with a bowling event. Guess who won, despite his history of embarrassingly low scores? The president, it turned out, had been practicing in the White House alley.

Kantor’s piece is full of examples of Obama’s odd need to (a) dominate his peers in everything from bowling, cards, golf, basketball, and golf (104 times in his presidency). Bear in mind, Obama doesn’t just robustly compete. The leader of the free world spends many hours practicing these trivial pursuits behind the scenes. [bold in the original]

Too bad that Obama couldn’t play more rounds and frames with regulators, TSA agents, and others in Washington making life more difficult for us all.  Then they wouldn’t be focused either!  Of course, this isn’t the perfect presidential use of time but maybe it isn’t so awful after all given the alternative.

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Labor Day

Observing Labor Day my usual way: by going to work.  It will be quiet there, though, since we have the day off.

And here is today’s holiday public service announcement: Be careful with soda cans that you leave in the freezer a bit too long – which I on occasion do.  Of course, this usually leads to either a mini-“explosion” in the freezer or a volcanic eruption when you open the can…or worse in this case from China.

I’m surprised the government hasn’t required soda companies to put a warning label on the can.

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I recently wrote and repeated a part serious, mostly pipe dream comment that a silver lining of a Romney-Ryan loss to Obama could perhaps be “Ryan-Paul 2016.”*  Commenter Damon Linker chided me in the comments with this offer: “I would bet a substantial amount of money that no Paul will ever make it onto a presidential ticket.”  I think he’s right that the odds don’t favor any Paul getting even a sniff of a Republican ticket.  Ryan-Rice and Ryan-Rubio are much more likely tickets.  But stranger things have happened in American politics, as I noted in response.  Few people thought Sarah Palin would be on the 2008 ticket, right?  And Paul seems committed to running in a more conservative direction than his father but is still hitting enough of his father’s themes to put together a pretty large bloc of the Republican Party (not to mention tempting independent and LP libertarians into the fold).

Apparently Dan McCarthy at the American Conservative was also thinking about Rand Paul’s future within the Republican Party.  He just penned an interesting essay on Paul’s future over at TAC.  I recommend you have a look.  Here are two paragraphs from that piece:

Senator Paul is arguably the only figure on the horizon who can make the Republican Party whole again. He has the potential to pull together the many tribes of the conservative base (leaving out the neoconservatives, who have no grassroots following) into a unified coalition, something the party hasn’t seen since 2004, when even Buchanan was on board with Bush. But there’s a complication: the very signals that help establish Rand with the biggest boomer tribes risk alienating the post-boomers. [snip]

But the next generation, while it has its own defects, hasn’t yet calcified. This is the time to teach them aright. They have a passion for knowledge: they’re drawn to Austrian economics or distributism, not just Chamber of Commerce economics; they love Kirkian conservatism, not just “culture war” animosity. They’re not merely in favor of entrenched interests and prejudices; they want a philosophy that’s reflective and open. It will have to be prudent, too, if all this is to amount to more than the boomers’ protest politics. But then, they can’t do any worse than the generation that gave us Bill O’Reilly. 

* Not that I’m sold on Ryan as the best realistic Republican standard-bearer for the future.

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Jay Nordlinger at NRO asks:

How come there aren’t right-wing protesters at Democratic conventions? Are there? The street, it seems to me, runs only one way. Odd.

Not odd at all.  Assuming he’s right, lots of plausible explanations come to mind.  Here are two (or even 2.5) that I instantly thought of.  Feel free to add your own in the comments.

One reason could be that right-wingers have a higher opportunity cost  – or better appreciate that concept and apply it in their lives.  

A second could be that right-wingers better understand that protests at conventions are relatively meaningless gestures and probably as much a consumption good as a useful political weapon – and they don’t value the consumption aspects as much as left-wingers.

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As this ESPN.com article recalls, Ross Perot once asked: “Do we want our kids to win on Friday night on the football field or do we want them to win all through their lives?” Although it can be a false dichotomy if athletics and sports fandom are pursued moderately, this was a fundamental question to ask given how much money so many school districts lavish on sports while pinching pennies (and time) on the important things.

Well, apparently his question has been answered in Allen, Texas and…surprise, surprise…football won again down in the Lone Star State (the star, I imagine, stands for the 1 school still focused on the 3 R’s – and no, I don’t mean running, receiving, and returning kicks).  Behold, the $60 million high school stadium:

For the sake of comparison, Fenway Park cost $650,000 to build in 1912.  This is only about $15 million today!  The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas was built in 1930 for the whopping price of $328,000.  In today’s dollars, that is a mere $4.5 million.  Of course, those aren’t the replacement costs for the identical structures.

So get this — The University of North Carolina-Charlotte is currently constructing a new football stadium.  Cost?  $15 million less than Allen’s!

Is it any wonder that state and local budgets are going bust and many of our children lag behind even developing countries on standardized tests?

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