Archive for October, 2012

Cowen on Catalonia

At MR, Tyler Cowen has a rather strong reaction against an economist who supports Catalan secession:

He taught me Ph.d Micro I at Harvard, so it’s too bad he wants to wreck both Spain and Europe, and for so little in return. Didn’t one of his theorems suggest this was a bad idea? It’s not as if Catalonia is treated like Tibet.

Would Tyler also say the Velvet Divorce “wrecked” the Czech Republic and Slovakia?

As an aside, if only peoples treated like Tibet are granted a moral right to secede, then in fact no one will secede permissibly, for governments that treat Tibet like Tibet don’t let Tibet secede.

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This is journalism?

This is the current headline on the front page of the New York Times online:

Mitt and Disaster Relief: Hurricane Sandy calls for a federal response. Not donated canned goods.

Sure, the Times has an editorial view and the right to speak its mind.  But, seriously?

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“Ten years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. One decade after this unprecedented experiment, drug abuse is down by half.”

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Goldberg tweets:

All I can think about is how all of this destruction will make NYC so much richer according to Paul Krugman.

How soon before some very ill-educated journalist writes a story about the economic benefits of Sandy?  I give it less than a week.

For the original argument against the broken window fallacy, see Bastiat’s classic “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen” here.

And here is a nice video from Art Carden on it:

HT: My main man on the Main Line.

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When Obamacare Really Kicks In

Most of the PPACA’s most controversial provisions were backloaded until after this election. Unless Romney wins the presidency and Republicans at least make it close enough in the Senate that they can pick off a moderate Democrat or two on a roll-call, these provisions will start to kick in next year. Avik Roy explains:

In [2013], a number of Obamacare’s tax increases will come into effect. The law will, among other things, raise taxes on investment income, itemized medical expenses, privately-sponsored retiree prescription-drug coverage, medical devices, and flexible spending accounts.


2014 is the critical year for Obamacare. It’s the year that the bulk of the law’s provisions go into effect. Notably, it’s the year that the law’s controversial individual mandate goes into effect, requiring most Americans to buy a government-sanctioned health insurance product…

In addition, 2014 is the year that Obamacare’s employer mandate begins to be enforced. That mandate requires all businesses with 50 or more workers to provide government-approved health insurance to all of their workers, or face steep fines…

2014 is also the year that Obamacare’s gusher of new spending kicks in, through its expansion of the Medicaid program and the institution of federally subsidized health insurance exchanges. Once these two programs are in place, it will become impossible to repeal Obamacare.

In 2014, Obamacare guts the laws related to consumer-driven health plans, by capping deductibles in the small-group market at $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families, down from $6,050 and $12,100 today…

Also, in 2014, Obamacare will force insurers covering small businesses and individuals to cover a set of “essential health benefits” defined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services…

In addition, the law will impose a tax on health insurance premiums, though labor unions and government-sponsored plans are exempted from the tax.

More here.

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In this piece on Celtics legend Red Auerbach, Steven Pinker makes a great point about markets that is too rarely noted (outside the Chicago School that is):

“Auerbach’s color-blindness surely came in part from principle and integrity, but it just as surely derived from one of the great virtues of the commercial spirit. Racism, because it favors color over talent, is bad for business.”

Marc Eisner made a related point here at Pileus about how capitalism is a “uniter, not a divider” during a recent trip to Jerusalem.

Other parts of Pinker’s piece on Auerbach that discuss Jews and capitalism may be more controversial.  One passage in particular reminded me of Milton Friedman’s less well-known essay “Capitalism and the Jews.”  Jerry Muller, a political theorist at Catholic University, wrote an entire book on the subject and responded to Friedman’s “paradox” claim.

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A new level of creepy

Just when you thought the Obama as Cult Figure movement couldn’t get any creepier, the Obama campaign releases a new ad with Lena Dunham talking about how special the “first time” should be.  [No, I'm not going to provide a link].

Essentially the ad is saying that voting for Obama is a sexual experience.  (And that “your first time should be with a guy who cares…whether you get birth control.”)

Yes, we live in a hyper-sexualized age with little sense of public shame or decency left.  Sure, one might expect some  comedian in a night club to do this kind of provacative routine.  But, even today, it is sort of shocking to see this kind of sexual innuendo as part of a presidential campaign.

Much less actually distributed by the President of the United States.

The Obamas seem to be quite protective of their daughters.  Now the President has produced an ad that I would doubt they would even let their girls watch.

This is how we pick the leader of the free world?



Sure, so

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From “A Thought Experiment on Freedom,” I thought these comments were worth highlighting.


Freedom is more than marginal tax rates and the monetary value of different policies. Is there a way to calculate it though? I don’t know. I think of something like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we need a hierarchy of liberty/freedom that focuses on the fundamentals. I’ve never read an argument suggesting this, but why not prioritize in the order of life, liberty, and then property. So it’s not just a list, it’s a list of goals in order of importance.


Would you feel differently if the country with the lower tax rate destroyed not human beings, but something truly commodifiable? Say, $70 million a year in randomly selected houses or automobiles. Otherwise your reluctance to embrace the “greater freedom” in the lower-tax country is nothing more than your recognition that a human life is not truly commodifiable, regardless of how it is statistically valued.


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This is the boldest statement from a serious thinker that I’ve read today (from Russell’s 1945 book The History of Western Philosophy):

Ever since his [Rousseau's] time, those who considered themselves reformers have been divided into two groups, those who followed him and those who followed Locke.  Sometimes they cooperated, and many individuals saw no incompatibility.  But gradually the incompatibility has become increasingly evident.  At the present time, Hitler is an outcome of Rousseau; Roosevelt and Churchill, of Locke.

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Conor Friedersdorf offers up some justifiably tough words in response to Obama senior adviser Robert Gibbs’ glib defense of the drone assassination of 16-year-old, Denver-born American citizen, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (essentially: “he should have chosen a different father”):

Again, note that this kid wasn’t killed in the same drone strike as his father. He was hit by a drone strike elsewhere, and by the time he was killed, his father had already been dead for two weeks. Gibbs nevertheless defends the strike, not by arguing that the kid was a threat, or that killing him was an accident, but by saying that his late father irresponsibly joined al Qaeda terrorists. Killing an American citizen without due process on that logic ought to be grounds for impeachment. Is that the real answer? Or would the Obama Administration like to clarify its reasoning? Any Congress that respected its oversight responsibilities would get to the bottom of this.

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George Will had a strange (for him) piece on the debate and the rise of the “Come home America” view on foreign policy that didn’t quite hang together and that led me and one of my wiser friends to say, “if only.”  But it did have this wonderful line: 

Romney thinks America should have “a military second to none,” which it will have until the next dozen or so largest militaries merge.

This underscores a point that few Americans seem to realize: U.S. defense spending is enormous relative to what other states are spending.  Here is a nice figure from the CFR that shows that Will actually understates the point.  U.S. defense spending is over 40% of total world defense spending!  That means we spend nearly as much as the rest of the world combined.  And most of the next top spending states Will jokes about are U.S. allies rather than serious counterbalancers.  

U.S. Military Spending, % of World

Of course, military spending discussions shouldn’t be fixated on statistics like “defense spending as a % of GDP” or even this one comparing US spending to that of the rest of the world (though that might help us get at the nature of the current threat environment).  What it should be centered on is a proper analysis of what ends the US should seek (and at what level of risk acceptance/aversion we’d be comforable with given that 100% security, for example, is impossible), the threat environment in which one is trying to meet those ends, and the best/proper/most efficient means to achieve those ends given those threats (and considering non-defense goals that are trade-offs to defense spending). 

Unfortunately, policy-makers, the BOSNYWASH foriegn policy establishment, and defense contractors don’t really want to have that discussion outside the 45 yard lines – nor are Americans really inclined to think seriously about trade-offs among ends and what such high levels of defense spending mean. 

Support the troops, a military second to none, air shows are cool, We’re #1, we have a responsibility to protect, and so on and so forth.

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My oldest child was telling me about how he is going to vote for Romney in his elementary school election.  My youngest said he was voting for O’Romney.  Of course, he was just confused about the name of the Republican candidate; he’s very young so it was an innocent mistake.  But perhaps he had a higher wisdom in mixing the two names up since it is hard to see a difference sometimes between these two candidates (see the 3rd debate) and the two major parties!

Anyway . . . I asked my oldest son if he had considered voting for Gary Johnson instead.  He said, “Who is Johnson?” despite having met the man and watched me talk with Johnson for a decent stretch at one of the Porcupine Festivals.  I’ll forgive him his short memory.  When I explained who Johnson was and noted he wanted to maximize individual freedom compared to the other candidates, he was intrigued.  However, he then informed me that he could only vote for Obama or Romney.  I asked why and he said they were the only two on the ballot.  I noted that he should ask his teacher about it but that will probably only give him his first lesson in the political duopoly in the United States.  For those who don’t like what a good friend of mine calls “the binary,” you can be further depressed about how early it gets locked in.  But then again, what would we expect in a first-past-the-post electoral system if Duverger’s Law is correct?  So, sorry son, get used to it.  

Like Reason magazine, I hope that we’ll be able to discuss our votes here in the next two weeks.  Of course, I’m more interested in peoples’ pairwise preferences between the two major party candidates than their (expressive) votes.

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Imagine two countries, each the size of the U.S. In one of them, the average tax rate is 1% (of income) lower than the other, but unlike the other it randomly selects ten innocent individuals for execution each year (perhaps ritual human sacrifice!). Assuming personal income of $12 trillion like the United States, the lower tax rate in this country allows for more freedom worth $120 billion a year, by our method. If the statistical value of a life is $7 million, however, the execution policy only costs $70 million a year in freedom. Thus, not only is the human-sacrifice state with a slightly lower tax rate “freer” by this crude metric, but it is not even close.

Which is truly the freer country, assuming they are exactly alike in all other respects? And by how much?

The first paragraph above comes from the forthcoming third edition of Freedom in the 50 States: Index of Personal and Economic Freedom.

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Liberty Fund Video

Liberty Fund has historically talked softly but carried a very, very large intellectual stick.  With its growing web presence, Liberty Fund has become much more publicly visible over the last decade.  It now has great online content at the Online Library of Liberty, The Library of Economics and Liberty, and its newer Library of Law and Liberty, not to mention its wonderful EconLog economics blog.  Of course, Liberty Fund is probably most known for its handsome, top-shelf publications as well as its academic conferences (which are really the model for small-group, serious intellectual discussion).  

Here is another example of Liberty Fund’s greater visibility to the wider world, a Reason profile with Liberty Fund President Chris Talley:

Disclosure: I’ve participated in many Liberty Fund conferences and that institution has been very good to me over the years.  Nonetheless, I think most academics who have been touched by the Liberty Fund through its books, conferences, websites, or employees would echo my positive opinion of this great American institution.

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Paging Candy Crowley

Does anyone else wish that Mitt had parried Obama’s call to check the facts by saying that the President’s friend Candy Crowley wasn’t in the room tonight to help him out?

BTW, see Sven from earlier in the week here in this excellent post.

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Dwight Eisenhower in his Farewell Address (1961):

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present

and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientifictechnological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

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John Quincy Adams, July 4, 1821:

And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the older world, the first observers of mutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to inquire, what has America done for the benefit of mankind? let our answer be this–America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, equal justice, and equal rights. She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the inde-pendence of other nations, while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama, the European World, will be contests between inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.

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From George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796):

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it – It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils. Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

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News out of Tampa, Florida is that another naked person has been shot by the police.  Unlike in the previous case of the young University of South Alabama student, this woman appears to have been “armed.”   I haven’t been able to find any more details about what that means (gun? knife? crowbar? etc).  Maybe this woman was brandishing a gun or knife and represented a serious threat to innocent life.  But the police will again look like the bad guys if she was doing anything less, especially since the use of non-deadly force would have been a real possibility in that instance. 

It would be nice if we could have more faith in law enforcement making calls like this when trying to protect public safety.  However, the gung-ho law enforcement community doesn’t give us a lot of confidence that they are using the minimal amount of force necessary to provide security and so we are rightly skeptical when we hear about cases like this one (especially after the South Alabama incident which almost certainly involved the excessive use of deadly force when other options were available at minimal extra risk).

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Given the possibility – admittedly slim – of Romney winning the popular vote but losing in the Electoral College, Republicans may not feel as sanguine about the EC today as they were following Bush-Gore in 2000.  But Republicans should not let mere partisanship sway them from their support for an institution that provides many functions, not least reminding us that states are meaningful political entities.  Here is one of the deeper Madisonian arguments as described in this new book review of the 2nd edition of Tara Ross’s Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College:

Ms. Ross opens with a basic explanation of Madisonian factionalism and the concern that an unchecked majority may tyrannize the minority. To cool the passion of a majority, the mechanisms of government would require deliberation and consensus. Support for a presidential candidate must be broad-based and national, not derived from the untempered will of a provincial majority cobbled together from “dangerous” factions of special interests. The Electoral College, Ms. Ross argues, exists to temper majority faction, because States are “safe” factions, “heterogeneous entities composed of individuals with a wide variety of interests.” Garnering majorities within States assures broad support for a candidate.

However, I wonder if 2012 will prove what Ross claims 2000 did according to the review:

So, too, did 2000 produce the right winner. Ms. Ross notes that George W. Bush earned the support of pluralities in 30 states; and he earned the support of counties containing 143 million, compared to Mr. Gore’s 127 million. She cites Mr. Bush’s broad, cross-regional support, rather than the narrower path of Mr. Gore, as, effectively, a success of the Electoral College, which buffered against regional factionalism.

In other words, would an Obama EC win really be the product of broad, cross-regional support – or at least of broader support than what Romney would achieve on the losing end?  I can see the argument in the case of Harrison vs. Cleveland, but we’ll have to see about this year.

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Early Voting

Here are some early 2012 voting numbers around the country, courtesy of the U.S. Election Project:

Total ballots cast in the United States:  3,571,075

Total ballots cast in Ohio: 502,737.  This represents 8.7% of the 2008 total vote in Ohio (which went for Obama).  

Total ballots cast in North Carolina: 387,721.  Of those, 49.4% were cast by Democrats, 32.2% by Republicans, and 18.3% by none/other. 

Total ballots cast in Virginia; 311,420.  No partisan id available.  But by sex, 55.2% were from females, 44.8% from males.

Florida requested/sent ballots:  1,758,748.  Of those, 40.4% were registered Republicans, 40.2% registered Democrats, and 19.5% none/other.

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Out of context

Remember how the President and the MSM were upset about the whole “You didn’t build that” comment was taking the President’s words out of context?  I’ve seen the larger context and hold with those who think that, even in context, Mr. Obama’s words sound pretty bad.

But apparently it is OK for the president to take his own words out of context.  If it suits him politically of course.  His administration was pushing the “blame the video” story for the Libya tragedy.  Only after many days did the Administration admit that story couldn’t hold water anymore.

Yet in the debate Obama pulls this generic quote about about “acts of terror” from the day after the attacks that was, by any measure, completely out of context.  One would have to give the President a huge benefit of the doubt in concluding that those generic words were meant to refer specifically to the Libya bombings–especially since they put so much effort into the video story for several days after that.

Apparently it is OK to quote oneself out of context.  Just get irate if others do the same.

This seemed to be the point Romney was going to make, but he got knocked off guard by Candy Crowley’s unsolicited “fact-checking.”  Tony Lee at Breitbart.com has a fascinating transcript from an exchange between Crowley and Axelrod on Sept. 30, which I quote at length below:

On September 12, the day after the attacks, Obama did say the words “acts of terror” but he was not referring to the attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. 

Crowley knew that on September 30 and she conceded it again hours after the debate when she went on CNN and said while Romney “was right in the main, but he just chose the wrong word.” But the damage had already been done. 

With Obama’s reelection on the line, Crowley seemed to have conveniently forgotten the facts she knew two weeks before when she grilled Axelrod in a way she should have Obama. 

When Axelrod tried to tell Crowley that the “president called it an act of terror the day after it happened,” Crowley rejected the spin and corrected Axelrod, telling him that Obama said the the attacks were not “planned” and was “part of this tape,” in reference to the obscure anti-Muhammad Internet video the Obama administration blamed:

CROWLEY: First, they said it was not planned, it was part of this tape. All that stuff. 

AXELROD: As the director of national intelligence said on Friday, that was the original information that that was given to us. What we don’t need is a president or an administration that shoots first and asks questions later. 

Crowley then accused the Obama administration of shooting first (not telling Americans terrorists were behind the Benghazi attacks) and asking questions later, which is what Obama accused Romney of doing when Romney released a statement 

CROWLEY: But isn’t that what happened?

AXELROD: And, you know, Governor Romney leaped out on this Libya issue on the first day, and was terribly mistaken about what he said. That is not what you want in a president of the United States. And as for Senator McCain, for whom I have great respect, he has disapproved of our approach to Libya from the beginning, including the strategy that brought Gadhafi to justice. 

Crowley then called out Axelrod’s spin again, saying the administration initially insisted the terrorist attacks were not preplanned: 

CROWLEY: But this has to do not with the approach to Libya but with the murder of four Americans in Libya. And didn’t the administration shoot first? Didn’t they come out and say, listen, as far as we can tell, this wasn’t preplanned, this was just a part of — 

AXELROD: At this point, this is what we know, and we are thoroughly investigating. And that’s exactly what you should do. That’s what the responsible thing to do is. I was kind of shocked to see Representative King attack Ambassador Rice for what she said last Sunday here and elsewhere, because she was acting on the intelligence that was given to her by the intelligence community. To say she should resign — she is one of the most remarkable, splendid public servants we have. That’s thoroughly irresponsible.

So, it seems that Mr. Obama was very aware of this previous spin attempt, as was Crowley, of course.  But apparently Romney was not (though perhaps should have been).   Given that she had earlier made pretty much exactly the same argument that Romney was trying to make and wasn’t buying the Administration spin at all, her jumping in to help Obama on this important point (right after he completely ignored her question, by the way) seems….disingenuous and unfair, at best; somewhat far more nefarious, at worst.

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Life Without Capitalism

I hope our readers will find this new video from The Fund for American Studies worth a look (see below).  It makes a good point about how life without capitalism (and the “greed” that is often associated with it) wouldn’t be as sweet as many imagine it might be.  Indeed, the benefits of capitalism are so ubiquitous in today’s world that it was probably hard to make life without capitalism look as bad as it really would be – note that the stove, frig, and cabinets in the video are actually better than they really would be absent the market system we enjoy today.  Here, for example, is an image of a kitchen in Cuba (and see others at this site that popped up when I looked for Google imagines of Cuban kitchens on the web):

Perhaps ole Grover will get a bit part in the next TFAS video so that I can show Munger how it is done (actually, Munger is pretty awesome in the 2nd Hayek-Keynes video)!

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Three quick reactions:

1.  Romney blew the Libya part of the debate.  But can anyone explain why debate moderator Candy Crowley felt the need to jump in to defend President Obama during the debate?  And didn’t she get it wrong?  Apparently Republican (and Democratic) preparation of the intellectual battlespace before the debate didn’t induce Crowley to shy away from becoming part of the story.

2.  Is Chinese currency manipulation really as important as Romney thinks it is?  At best, I’m thinking that the finger-pointing at China hides at least three fingers pointing back at us as the sources of most of our economic problems.  Of course, some of the results we see (especially in manufacturing) are due to natural market forces in a free(r) trade system (and thus not necessarily bad things).

3.  Wouldn’t it be great if someone with a more classical liberal bent got to ask one of the questions?  Someone I read on-line tonight (can’t remember) noted that the questioners seemed like typical New Yorkers — who are far even from the median national voter.  Don’t the questions seem slanted towards an activist model of government/the executive?

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British Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond have reached a deal on the upcoming Scottish independence referendum. It looks as if the SNP have gotten what they wanted in several respects:

  • 16- and 17-year-olds will be allowed to vote.
  • The referendum will be held in late 2014.
  • While the Electoral Commission will advise on the question, it will ultimately be up to the Scottish Parliament, controlled by the SNP.

The SNP have dropped plans to include a third option in the referendum, which would presumably have been “devo-max” or full fiscal autonomy with political union. As I have noted before, I think this is a missed opportunity for holding a ranked-ballot referendum and selecting the Condorcet winner. However, with no political party actually advocating the devo-max option, it was always unlikely that the referendum would include it. (And apparently the SNP was interested only as a way of splitting the anti-independence vote, i.e., not allowing ranked ballots.)

Reactions from around the UK:

  1. Guardian, “Scottish people would have voted for ‘devo-max.’ That’s why it’s not an option”
  2. Telegraph, “Alex Salmond ‘will have to defy history’ to win Scottish independence referendum”
  3. Politics.co.uk, “Scottish independence: Overconfident London could rue the day”
  4. Better Nation, “The Edinburgh Agreement”

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Ilya Somin has a detailed and thoughtful post contrasting Mitt Romney and Barack Obama from a libertarian perspective. He comes down tentatively on the side of Romney overall, but acknowledges that more pacifistic libertarians might reasonably support Obama as the lesser evil. The most informative section for me was that on judicial nominations. In particular, I’m led to question my earlier view that voting GOP for the Court is pointless, in part because I trust that Ilya has some local knowledge here that I lack. My view is that the conservatives’ federalism jurisprudence has been more symbolic than substantive. On the other hand, property rights and political speech are important policy areas where the judicial right easily trumps the judicial left, an advantage perhaps not overwhelmed by the left’s superiority on wartime executive power and the rights of criminal defendants.

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Edit: The source for the donations data is opensecrets.org; the source for the personal income data is the BEA.

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Bob Higgs has used the concept of “regime uncertainty” to explain why the Great Depression lasted so long. In brief, the argument is that FDR’s escalatingly anti-capitalist rhetoric in the mid- to late-1930s spooked investors, who were uncertain whether they would be allowed to enjoy the future fruits of their investments. Therefore, investment declined, provoking a slump in 1938 and generally prolonging the Depression.

Some have argued that the prolonged period of high unemployment and anemic growth the United States has experienced in the wake of the 2007-9 “Great Recession” is also due to regime uncertainty. They blame the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress for fostering a regulatory environment hostile to business.

But if that explanation of poor growth in 2009-10 is right, how can it explain poor growth in 2011-12, after Republicans took the House of Representatives? Under divided government, regime uncertainty is nil. The 2011-12 Congress is on pace to be the least productive since 1947 in terms of passing laws. Libertarians say gridlock is good — well, we definitely have gridlock, so where are all the benefits?

Here’s the evidence:

The chart shows inflation-corrected personal income, excluding transfers from the government. Real personal income today still stands below its level at the start of 2008. If these figures were divided by population, they would look worse still. There has been a very weak recovery.

Why should we not blame House Republicans as much as Democrats and Obama for the bad economy? (more…)

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Get Serious Sully

Andrew Sullivan can’t really honestly believe this, can he?:

And after Romney’s convincing Etch-A-Sketch, convincing because Obama was incapable of exposing it, Romney is now the centrist candidate, even as he is running to head up the most radical party in the modern era.

Given his long-standing worship, adulation, and love of Obama, Sullivan has become absolutely unhinged lately as Obama diminishes himself and his presidency before our eyes.  But Obama is still the favorite and Sullivan is a smart man.  And so it is hard to believe that this election campaign won’t take more twists and turns. And it is even harder to believe a student of political history could make this claim about a party that is still very much within the 40 yard lines of American politics led by a candidate known for RomneyCare and beating up the president for cutting Medicare!  A real radical that former governor from the Tea Party hotbed of Massachusetts. 

And couldn’t one claim that Obama, Pelosi, and the Dems are the ones who have introduced the biggest and most radical changes in our government since the Great Society? (BTW, I don’t assume that radical policy change is necessarily a bad thing)

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Sean Trende has an interesting take on the pull of “gravity” in the Presidential race.  Take home: Unless some kind of shock happens (like the 47% speech), gravity has been pulling Obama down such that the election is going to be extremely close and could even favor Romney slightly.  This would seem to be consistent with certain political science models such as this one that focus on macro variables rather than horse race events (though some of the macro models favor the President too).  His graphic on the first page suggests, though, that some kind of shock being introduced is a fairly regular event – and thus the timing of the next shock and the extent of its effect is going to be critical.

And then there is this which seems to be the only thing that matters – and which favors Obama quite a bit as things now stand:

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…Judging from the the post-debate health care stocks performance. Of course, the assumption would have to be that the GOP both retains the House and takes the Senate, also unlikely.

Context: I’ve had debates with people who say that Romney would quickly go back on that promise once elected, but I just don’t see it. He’s not going to veto a GOP Congress-led bill to repeal the PPACA.

HT: Reason.com

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Robert Farley of the University of Kentucky and Lawyers, Guns, and Money had a “diavlog” with me on bloggingheads.tv. We covered Pileus, the Conor Friedersdorf essay on why he can’t vote for Obama, libertarianism and foreign policy, and secessionism. This was my bloggingheads debut, and we hope to do more of these in the future.

(Embedding doesn’t seem to work, so here’s the link.)

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Federalist #34 – Alexander Hamilton:

To judge from the history of mankind, we shall be compelled to conclude, that the fiery and destructive passions of war reign in the human breast with much more powerful sway, than the mild and beneficent sentiments of peace; and that to model our political systems upon speculations of lasting tranquility, would be to calculate on the weaker springs of the human character.

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And remember, I’m not a big Romney fan.  But this cover says a lot without saying anything.


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Here are the key bits according to RCP: “Obama and Biden want to raise taxes by a trillion dollars. Guess what? Yes, we do,” said Biden. “That’s called fairness where I come from,” Biden added.

See it yourself in all of its class warfare taxiliciousness:

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A recently published paper by Ravi Iyer and coauthors on the “libertarian personality” has been getting a great deal of attention. To recap the findings,

Compared to self-identified liberals and conservatives, libertarians showed 1) stronger endorsement of individual liberty as their foremost guiding principle, and weaker endorsement of all other moral principles; 2) a relatively cerebral as opposed to emotional cognitive style; and 3) lower interdependence and social relatedness. As predicted by intuitionist theories concerning the origins of moral reasoning, libertarian values showed convergent relationships with libertarian emotional dispositions and social preferences.

Like conservatives, libertarians apparently tend to have little truck with moral values like compassion, while like liberals, they tend to despise values like loyalty. The only thing that matters to them, allegedly, is freedom. Furthermore, libertarians are cold utilitarians: in the “trolley problem,” they show themselves more willing than liberals and conservatives to kill an innocent person to save a larger number of people. In addition, the authors find that “libertarians were the only group to report valuing pragmatic, non-moral traits more than moral traits. Libertarians may hesitate to view traits that engender obligations to others (e.g. loyal, generous, sympathetic) as important parts of who they are because such traits imply being altruistic.”

Put it all together, and libertarians sound like a distasteful bunch. Indeed, “distasteful” is putting it rather too weakly. Libertarians look to be amoral.

Now, Ilya Somin has some trenchant criticisms of the study, which we should bear in mind. Still, if the study is unbiased — and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the findings did hold in the population of self-identified libertarians, it points to some serious problems in how libertarianism, at least popular libertarianism, conceives of itself.

As we never tire of noting here at Pileus, (more…)

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Carla Gericke, the President of the Free State Project, had this to say at the movie premiere of Atlas Shrugged, Part II:

“I’m from the Free State Project and we’re building Galt’s Gulch.”

For this and other thoughts on Rand and the film, see Matt Welch from Reason here:

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Apparently the media “spin” on the debates does according to this study by scholars from Arizona State University:

We demonstrate that the news media’s “spin” or analysis following the last presidential debate in 2004 influenced citizens’ evaluations of the candidates. The media’s “instant analyses” in the twenty-four hours following the debate was decidedly one-sided, favoring President Bush more than Senator Kerry. We show that the news media’s spin persuaded potential voters to alter their attitudes regarding the competing candidates. [GC: I must have a faulty memory or a different measuing device since I don't remember it this way] 

On how the media will spin the debate tonight, Howie Carr argues in the Boston Herald that the reaction from the MSM is basically already in:

You know what everyone on every network except Fox is going to say. Comrade Chris Matthews’ leg is going to be tingling out of control. Sgt. Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow will be breathlessly reading phony stories from the Internet about dissension in the GOP ranks.

On CNN, “Republicans” Alex Castellanos and David Gergen will compare Barack’s closing statement to the Gettysburg Address and the Sermon on the Mount. David Brooks will swoon as he notes the perfect crease in Obama’s trousers.

Naturally, he advises that we watch the debate on C-SPAN and stay away from the commentary on tv.

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Below you’ll find some interesting 2012 Presidential election data from the United States Election Project at George Mason University.*  This may surprise some readers since there has not yet been a single Presidential candidate debate, the official in-person election day is over a month away, and relevant and important data and events could be released/happen in the next 36 days. 

But why let the possibility of a domestic and/or foreign crisis that might influence your vote get in the way of voting at your convenience?

Here are the numbers so far:

Returned Ballots

A total of 44,663 ballots have been returned in all states and localities for which I [the GMU researcher] have statistics.

IOWA reports 24,304 ballots cast as of Monday morning.
MAINE reports 48 returned ballots as of Monday morning.
NORTH CAROLINA reports 13,500 returned ballots as of Monday morning. (As of Monday morning there are 7 non-reporting counties.)
OHIO 10 counties report 268 returned ballots as of Sunday morning.
SOUTH CAROLINA reports 1,753 returned ballots as of Thursday afternoon.
SOUTH DAKOTA reports 4,790 returned ballots as of Saturday morning.

* For some reason linking isn’t working on our blog platform this evening.  So here is the citation for these figures: http://elections.gmu.edu/early_vote_2012.html

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