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Archive for November, 2012

Remember the election

The post-election narrative that the media seems to have settled on is that Obama won, so the Republicans should just go along.  Given the narrow margin, they have avoided using the “mandate” word, but they still want to treat the election as if it were a mandate.  None of this is surprising.

But the Republicans members of Congress should remember two important things about this election as they move forward:

First, and most important, they were elected, too.  Every incoming Republican House member won his/her seat, and should govern in Washington in a way consistent with he/she campaigned.  In each district, the voters had an option of choosing a Democrat who would go along with the President’s agenda.  Don’t disrespect the people who just voted for you.

Second, President Obama just won an election where his only strategy was to slime his opponent at every opportunity.  The only thing Obama could ever offer as a plan was raising taxes on the rich, even though returning to Clinton-era taxes on the rich is only a drop in the revenue bucket.  Yes, this would be an anti-growth strategy in the long-run, but only modestly so (there are far more important pro-growth policies that they should concentrate on).

So, why not just let the taxes on the rich go up as Obama wants?  Then in a few months when the debt ceiling debate happens, the Republicans have a particularly strong hand.  They can say, “Gee, Mr. President, we implemented your plan.  Are you ready to level with the American people now how little consequence those tax increases on the rich have for our fiscal future?”

If they oppose the popular tax increases on the rich, they just look like obstructionists.  But giving the President what he wants in the short run reveals his rhetoric as a total sham and gives them a much stronger hand in dealing with the real problem—entitlement reform.

So, can House Republicans be true to the voters who elected them and adopt the strategy I’ve outlined?  I think so.  I think what the voters who voted for those Congressmen wanted was someone who would fight to reign in government.  Taxing people who can afford it a little more is a small price to pay for the larger reward of focusing attention on what matters most.

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The whole sickening story is here. Some quotations:

Sick children are being discharged from NHS hospitals to die at home or in hospices on controversial ‘death pathways’.

Until now, end of life regime the Liverpool Care Pathway was thought to have involved only elderly and terminally-ill adults.

But the Mail can reveal the practice of withdrawing food and fluid by tube is being used on young patients as well as severely disabled newborn babies.

The investigation, which will include child patients, will look at whether cash payments to hospitals to hit death pathway targets have influenced doctors’ decisions.

Medical critics of the LCP insist it is impossible to say when a patient will die and as a result the LCP death becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They say it is a form of euthanasia, used to clear hospital beds and save the NHS money.

Earlier this month, an un-named doctor wrote of the agony of watching the protracted deaths of babies. The doctor described one case of a baby born with ‘a lengthy list of unexpected congenital anomalies’, whose parents agreed to put it on the pathway.

The doctor wrote: ‘They wish for their child to die quickly once the feeding and fluids are stopped. They wish for pneumonia. They wish for no suffering. They wish for no visible changes to their precious baby.

‘Their wishes, however, are not consistent with my experience. Survival is often much longer than most physicians think; reflecting on my previous patients, the median time from withdrawal of hydration to death was ten days.

In a response to the article, Dr Laura de Rooy, a consultant neonatologist at St George’s Hospital NHS Trust in London writing on the BMJ website, said: ‘It is a huge supposition to think they do not feel hunger or thirst.’

‘I have also seen children die in terrible thirst because fluids are withdrawn from them until they die.

‘I witnessed a 14 year-old boy with cancer die with his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth when doctors refused to give him liquids by tube. His death was agonising for him, and for us nurses to watch. This is euthanasia by the backdoor.’

Horrific. Evil. Barbaric.

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They’re riding high in the polls, passing the Liberal Democrats in some of them, but is the United Kingdom Independence Party philosophically libertarian? Alex Massie says no. Ed West says yes.

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A casualty of “pro-consumer” financial regulation. John Stossel is on the story:

Today, Americans were told that they must close their Intrade.com accounts. That happened because the federal government agency known as the “Commodity Futures Trading Commission” (CFTC) today sued the prediction market, where people from all over the world bet about things like who will win elections.

Intrade decided all its U.S. customers must now close their accounts and withdraw their money from the site.

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Today’s election results from Catalonia are in, and the verdict is: status quo. Turnout increased dramatically from 58.8% to 69.6%, but there was little change in the overall position of pro-independence and anti-independence forces. Explicitly pro-independence parties received 74 of 135 seats, down two from the previous parliament. However, if the pro-independence referendum quasi-nationalist Catalan Greens are included, the pro-referendum forces won 87 seats, up one from the previous parliament.

The biggest shift came within each camp, as there was growing polarization along the independence-centralism dimension. The most moderate pro-independence party, CiU lost 12 seats, from 62 to 50. The more radical and left-wing ERC went from 10 to 21 seats. Meanwhile, the most radically anti-independence party, Citizens, went from 3 to 9 seats, while the most moderately anti-independence party, the Catalan Socialists, went from 28 to 20 seats.

So the bottom line is that the apparent surge in independence support we heard so much about apparently came exclusively within the camp that was already nationalist, as reflected in CiU’s adoption of independence — or more properly, “statehood,” as their objective. Moreover, while a full analysis will have to wait until exit poll details are known, it is possible that among the Catalan-born there was a shift from non-nationalist parties to nationalist parties. The reason is that in most regional elections the Catalan born participate at much higher rates than immigrants. The big increase in turnout most likely reflects mobilization by immigrants, who are overwhelmingly anti-independence. Hence the status quo result, which will be somewhat disappointing for the pro-independence side. Nevertheless, independentists did win a clear majority of seats and will easily be able to push through a bill on a referendum if they decide to do so.

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University at Buffalo, SUNY Professor Phil Arena contra the Monkey Cage’s Andrew Gelman:

Gelman’s argument is essentially that pB – c > 0 will hold for altruists even though it cannot plausibly hold for narrowly self-interested voters. (If you haven’t seen this formulation before: p is the probability that your individual vote determines the outcome of the election, B is the benefit of having your preferred candidate win, and c is the cost of voting.) He first stipulates, quite reasonably, that p is approximately 1/n, where n is the size of the electorate. A narrowly self-interested voter is very unlikely to find the cost of voting to be worth incurring because p is so small that B provides almost no off-set to c. For an altruistic voter, B is assumed to increase in direct proportion to N, where N is the total population. As N goes up, n likely goes up, and p goes down, but if B goes up too, then that’s no problem, and it’s very likely that the cost of voting is worth bearing.

My critique is essentially this: B cannot go up anywhere near as rapidly in N as Gelman says for a true altruist, because an altruist would also care about the fact that the number of people made worse off by the election of their preferred candidate is also strictly increasing in N. If B increases in N, but at a slower rate than p decreases with N, then the instrumental argument falls apart. My claim is that one must either hold implausible beliefs about the extent to which politics creates both winners and losers or must be frighteningly insensitive to the well-being of the losers in order for B to increase in N rapidly enough to offset the decrease in p. As I said, that doesn’t necessarily make one stupid, as Levitt said that voting to affect the outcome does. But it doesn’t say anything particularly flattering about you either.

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Yet More on Catalonia

I don’t think Catalan secession is an easy issue. There are good arguments on both sides (that is, to the desirability of secession, not whether Catalans should have the right to decide their future status). Precisely because it is a complex issue without easy answers, the haughty dismissal of Catalan independence from Anglo-American elites rubs me the wrong way. Here’s the latest example from The Economist:

At first blush, it is hard to object to what Catalan nationalists call the “right to decide”. In fact, there are many reasons why Catalans should not waste their energy trying to break away from Spain. Start by recalling Orwell’s definition of nationalism as “power-hunger tempered by self-deception”.

Nationalism always involves popular self-deception and power hunger from elites who cater to it. But that is just as true of status quo nationalism (Spanish nationalism) as it is of minority (Catalan) nationalism.

Under Spain’s constitution of 1978, Catalonia enjoys more self-government than almost any other corner of Europe. It runs its own schools, hospitals, police, prisons and cultural institutions. It lacks only tax-raising powers and the Ruritanian trappings of statehood, which nationalist politicians appear to be hungry for.

It runs schools, hospitals, police, jails, and museums? Why, Catalonia seems to have as much autonomy as an American township! Complete with limited tax-raising powers. Even so, Catalonia enjoys far less autonomy than, say, Appenzell Ausser-Rhoden (or an American state).

The argument that Catalans should not subsidise feckless Andalusians is a dangerous one: apply that more widely and the euro zone would fall apart.

Catalonia on net subsidizes the rest of Spain to the tune of 8% of GDP, far, far beyond what any EU member state contributes to common institutions in aggregate, let alone on net.

Indeed, far from welcoming Catalonia as an independent member, the euro zone’s leaders hardly yearn for an extra nation-state.

The “timing is bad” argument is one of the best ones against independence — but it’s hardly a trump. It all depends on your discount factor.

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A Chinese family resisting a government taking:

Surprisingly, the government hasn’t just bulldozed the place (yet).  Building a highway seems like a legitimate use of the eminent domain power of the state.  The problem in this case is that the state does not want to properly compensate the family.  The article suggests another problem in the case – but one that impacted their neighbors, not them, from the looks of things.  Namely, a lot of the takings appear to have been for a new business district rather than for public use.  Remind you of any place? 

So let’s not forget that what happened to Susette Kelo in New London, Connecticut was far worse than what the Chinese government is trying to do to this particular family.  Unfortunately, the same probably can’t be said for their neighbors and so many others in China (and elsewhere around the globe) where property rights have been violated and trampled upon by the government and their crony capitalist friends. 

Here is a great quote (one of the only?) from Sandra Day O’Connor on the subject: “The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.”

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Militarism?

While watching the Pats-Jets game last night, I noticed that the Jets’ cheerleaders were wearing olive flight suits with patches.  Another example of militarism?  You decide:

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Bad news from Israel today where there was a bus bombing in Tel Aviv that injured a number of innocent, non-combatant civilian Israelis.  What I find monstrous is that individuals in Gaza are apparently celebrating the attack.  And here is what the Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said about the incident:

“Hamas blesses the attack in Tel Aviv and sees it as a natural response to the Israeli massacres…in Gaza,” he told Reuters. “Palestinian factions will resort to all means in order to protect our Palestinian civilians in the absence of a world effort to stop the Israeli aggression.”

Another case of political actors failing to discriminate between legitimate targets of political violence (such as soldiers and other government actors) and innocent non-combatant civilians.  Attacking the former can be morally and legally acceptable; intentionally targeting the latter with physical violence is never morally acceptable since it denies that these individuals are ends in themselves whose moral dignity is worth respecting and that individuals should not be treated as mere means to the ends of others.

Although I have problems with some Israeli policies and I sympathize with the plight of regular Palestinians (and the Israelis too) in a very depressing situation, I have absolutely no tolerance for organizations that intentionally use violence against the innocent for political ends.  If Palestinian groups like Hamas have a problem with the Israeli government, it should focus its attention on that government – not on the people in Israel.  This is a case where discrimination is absolutely necessary – the discrimination at the heart of just war theory between innocent civilians and others.  And in the cases of the attacks on Hamas members in Gaza, news reports of the situation suggest that the Israelis are discriminating in their attacks (which doesn’t mean that they aren’t killing innocents, which is acceptable according to the doctrine of double effect as long as they are meeting the proportionality requirement).

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Conservatives and taxpayer groups are ready to fight the $1 trillion farm bill when it comes up for a vote in the new Congress. Agricultural subsidies, price supports, and tariffs in developed countries (the U.S., Japan, and the European Union especially) not only harm consumers at home by hitting them with higher prices, but cause severe poverty abroad by shutting exports from less developed countries (LDCs) out of developed-country markets and by dumping developed-country surpluses on LDC markets at prices below marginal cost. Since the poorest people in the world are farmers in poor countries, and over 15 million people die from hunger and disease each year due to severe poverty, rich-country agricultural subsidies are literally killing poor people on a massive scale.

Here’s just one anecdote from the IFPRI report of how this works:

Harrison Amukoyi’s farm is perched on a hillside in western Kenya. On less than two acres of land, he raises several crops and a dairy cow. To sell milk, Harrison and his neighbors must compete with industrialized countries that dump their subsidized milk on local markets, depressing prices for Kenyan farmers. This unfair contest appears in countless guises throughout the developing world, intensifying conditions of poverty.

And here are some figures from the NCPA analysis on how poor farmers would benefit if cotton subsidies alone were eliminated:

The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) estimates that ending U.S. cotton subsidies would raise world prices by 26 percent, or 11 cents per pound. The results for African countries dependent on cotton exports would be substantial:

  • Burkina Faso would gain $28 million in export revenues
  • Benin would gain $33 million in export revenues
  • Mali would gain $43 million in export revenues.

We have seen reductions in severe poverty recently. The world’s biggest reduction in severe poverty has come in China over the last three decades. It’s clear that economic reform is the critical, long-term driver of poverty reductions. But where did China’s poverty reductions start? With growing agricultural productivity. The poorest countries of the world can’t just move straight into manufacturing. They need first to generate some agricultural surplus. Making it possible for poor farmers to sell to rich consumers, or even to their own people, is necessary to making that happen.

Removing rich-country agricultural subsidies could also have political-economy benefits. Many LDCs repress their agricultural markets in favor of the urban sector. Thus, their own governments deserve some share of the blame. The typical tool for this repression is a “marketing board” monopsony. The marketing board buys produce at coercively depressed prices and then tries to export it for a profit, plowing the proceeds back into urban subsidies. Rising world prices for farm goods would increase the profits of these marketing boards, potentially allowing them to raise the prices they pay farmers at home. While some nasty governments might find the new revenue reinforces their power, the new revenues would surely build useful state capacity in just as many places. Furthermore, rising farm incomes should increase the political power of the farm bloc in LDCs, which increases the probability of domestic liberalization.

Ending the rich world’s harmful policies would not eliminate global poverty. However, it would make a significant dent and could set in motion economic and political processes that would have far-reaching effects indeed.

Still, agricultural subsidies and trade barriers survive, amounting to well over $300 billion per year in the rich countries of the OECD, dwarfing the aid sent from rich to poor countries. They survive because of the collective-action problem: poor people have no voice at all in the political systems of the rich world, and rich-world consumers barely have one. Producers organize effectively because of the clear benefits they receive from subsidies, and even ideological opposition from both the left and the right cannot effectively fight them.

The only effective way to counter the greed of the few is with the white-hot moral passion of the many. (more…)

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Catalonia Update

The Monkey Cage is carrying an interesting update on the Catalonia situation from Duke political scientist Laia Balcells. Catalonia is heading to elections, called by the premier Artur Mas, from the Convergence and Unity (CiU) party, a moderate Catalan nationalist party on the center-right. The CiU has always favored a “right to self-determination” for Catalonia, but now they favor holding a referendum on independence, unless Spain agrees to a new fiscal pact giving Catalonia broader powers.

She lays out three possible post-election scenarios:

1. A secessionist process scenario: a combination of Catalan nationalist parties (e.g. CiU ERC; CiUERC+SI) obtains a majority of the seats. Mas calls for a referendum. Despite the fact that the referendum is not likely to be recognized by Spain, it gives democratic legitimacy to the self-determination process. The medium-term outcome of this path is highly unpredictable at this point: Rajoy is not Cameron, and the PP government is making threats to deter Mas from the referendum (e.g. declaring it illegal). Some members of the Spanish military have even mentioned armed intervention in Catalonia to defend the “inviolable unity of the Spanish State”. The EU, on its end, delivers ambiguous messages regarding the permanence of Catalonia in the union if there is a breakup.

2. A fiscal pact scenario: CiU obtains a majority of the seats. Mas makes a credible threat of a self-determination referendum to Rajoy, who concedes on an agreement that improves Catalania’s fiscal capacities. CiU then renounces its secessionist demands, and ERC and other minority parties remain as the only ones asking for independence.

3. A stalemate/centralization scenario: Catalan nationalists do not obtain sufficient support in the elections and things remain at a standstill. Mas has a hard time governing given the economic and political gridlock. This scenario would probably imply asking for another bailout to the Spanish state and new attempts at centralization. (Given the results of the polls, this is however the least likely scenario)

Let’s look down the game tree to see what is likely to happen.

I think we can rule out 3 as a likely scenario, if the polls are right. Apparently 57% of poll respondents now say they would vote “yes” in an independence referendum and only 20% no. That’s a dramatic increase in secessionist sentiment even over the last few months. Catalan nationalist parties have frequently won significant majorities in the past, and I see no reason why they would not in the upcoming election with the radical turn in Catalan opinion.

So what happens after the election if nationalists win a majority? I think it likely that (more…)

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Recently finished Michael Lewis’ Boomerang.  It is a bit disappointing (compared to his other works) and slightly dated.  But it is still a valuable read for Americans who might be unconcerned about the fiscal problems we in the US face.  Although our situation is different in important ways, the European problem is a canary in a coal mine and Lewis gives us some sense of what was going on over there (and in that other foreign country, California) before and during the crisis.  And the Irish case shows how governments can exacerbate market problems such that one should think seriously about whether the solutions to market failures are really worse than the disease.

Lewis is an unabashed believer in the importance of culture (and gender) in explaining political and economic outcomes.  He is the anti-Acemoglu and Robinson.  Unfortunately, at times this leads Lewis into saying things that would be considered extremely politically incorrect were he not talking about Icelanders (for example, he compares their language to “orc shrieks” while arguing that the Icelandic people have “a feral streak in them”).

But here is an interesting – and for many a likely disturbing – point about the Euro and the European crisis:

At the bottom of this unholy mess, from the point of view of the German Finance Ministry, is the unwillingness, or inability, of the Greeks to change their behavior.  That was what the currency union always implied: entire peoples had to change their way of life.  Conceived as a tool for integrating Germany with Europe, and preventing the Germans from dominating others, the euro had become the opposite.  For better or worse, the Germans now control the financial fate of Europe.  If the rest of Europe was to continue to enjoy the benefits of what was essentially a German currency they’d need to become more German.  And so, once again, all sorts of people who would rather not think about what it means to be “German” are compelled to do so.

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Given the current controversy over stores opening on Thanksgiving, I thought I’d repost my thoughts on the issue from way back in 2010 (when we thought that the oceans would stop rising and Obama would be a one-term President).

Good Reasons to Avoid Sears on Thanksgiving

November 12, 2010

Sears is apparently going to be open on Thanksgiving for the first time in its long 85 year history of operating retail stores.  Other similar retail stores have been open on Thanksgiving for some time, including K-Mart.

I’m glad that Sears has the legal right to be open on Thanksgiving or any other day it chooses – which hasn’t always been the case in many places given the existence of “Blue Laws.”

However, I think a good argument can be made that we should avoid such stores on certain days and even express some disapprobation for those who make the choice to shop on particular holidays.  When we frequent stores on holidays, we provide an incentive for stores to remain open on those days in the future.  What that means is that many employees will have to work while preferring to be home celebrating the holiday with their families (or being incentivized to prefer work over family by the time and a half or double time pay they might receive).  I’m sure many stores essentially poll their workers to see who wants to work on holidays and who does not (and I accept that everyone may not have my – I think common – preference to spend time with family and observe certain meaningful rituals), therefore, it may not be as bad in practice as it might be in theory.  However, normalizing days like Thanksgiving will tend to undermine the ability of people to say no as these days become, like Sunday, just another date on the calendar during which King Commerce will rule.

We shouldn’t confuse more choices with a better world despite what the “choicatarian” wing of the libertarian movement thinks.  Some options are best left, like the nasty Thanksgiving cranberry in a can, on the side of the plate and uneaten.  Of course, I’m generally not opposed to greater choices and usually think those who get upset at cereal aisles full of options are pretty silly.  But let’s not assume that “markets in everything” automatically translates into human flourishing and that satisfying all individual preferences should be celebrated even if it should be legal to do so.

Given its policy of not being open on Sundays to give employees time for “family, worship, fellowship or rest,” it is unsurprising that Chick-fil-a will not be open on Thanksgiving.  Glad to see that I can’t satisfy any desire for a chicken sandwich after a long game of football with my kids…since this might mean others won’t be able to play football with theirs.  But I’ll certainly continue to frequent Chick-fil-a on those other days, especially given its proper appreciation of the non-economic needs and preferences of its employees.

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Dogs Again

We’ve posted a few times on dogs in the past.  Here is one on whether it is acceptable to eat them.  Here is another on whether you should take your dog to work.

Unfortunately, this time it is more serious.  A dog owner in Chicago was recently attacked and killed by her mastiff.

I’m not sure there is anything political to discuss in relation to this sad incident.  I do think a case could be made for why such dogs – or even any dogs – should not be allowed on public sidewalks or in public parks.  That’s political, of course.  But this case relates more to personal wisdom since the dog in question killed its owner on private property.  So I have to honestly ask why people think it is a good idea to have a horse 140 lb non-human in the house.  Live and let live, fine.  My preferences aren’t yours, fine.  But it just seems like a bad idea despite the admittedly low risk of a deadly attack.  They slobber, they shed, and they often stink.  And don’t get me started on people who have such large animals around little kids.  Most importantly, dog bites are not rare.  According to the American Humane Association, there are 4.7 million dog bites a year in the US alone and 800,000 lead to medical attention.  I, myself, have been bitten twice (once by a Rottweiler, causing me to require medical care) while my cousin was scarred on the face for life by a dog.

One thing that really drives me nuts is when people allow their dogs to run leashless in the park, on the sidewalk, or in any other public space – and often even if there is a leash law since dog owners are almost always breaking the rules and then constantly telling others that their dog doesn’t bite (as if this justifies the violation).  I often frequent a natural swimming hole in the woods that has a clear no dog rule.  Yet it is a rare occasion when there isn’t a dog there, always unleashed and always scaring children.

Here are my suggestions for dog owners:

  • Enjoy the company of your dogs at home and on your fenced private property.  Don’t allow them to bark with abandon, especially at night.
  • Don’t assume that other people like dogs as much as you do; respect their preferences just as you expect them to tolerate yours.
  • Care for your animals well and don’t leave them chained in the hot sun (as my in-laws neighbors used to do in Phoenix, AZ!) or outside in cold winters.  Don’t abandon dogs even if you do not want them or cannot afford them.  Treat animals humanely and with respect.
  • Eliminate nasty dogs from the gene pool.
  • Don’t allow your dogs to urinate and defecate on the private property of others; the fact that they are animals is no justification.  If you wouldn’t do something on another person’s property, don’t allow your dogs to do so.
  • Don’t bring your dogs to public parks and other public spaces (with the exception of specific dog parks) even with leashes.
  • Don’t allow your dog to sit on your lap while you are driving.  I see this more often than you might expect, especially among the older set.
  • Don’t bring your dog to work and impose negative externalities on your colleagues.
  • Keep your large dogs away from children – period!
  • And don’t act like your dog is a child.  It really, really bugs the heck out of the rest of us, especially if you seem to have an aversion to ACTUAL children.  It is great to love animals – but they aren’t people and there are a lot of real people around you who yearn for your attention.

Here is what the AHA recommends for dog owners:

Twenty-four percent of fatal dog attacks involved loose dogs that were off their owner’s property. Dogs that are allowed to roam loose outside the yard may perceive your entire neighborhood as their “territory” and may defend it aggressively. By obeying leash laws and taking care to properly fence your yard, you will not only be respecting the laws in your community, but you will also be helping keep your dog safe from cars, other dogs and unforeseen dangers.

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Big investment bear Marc Faber: “In a democracy, they’re not going to take the pain, they’re going to kick down the problems and they’re going to get bigger and bigger.”

Looks like we’ll get a test of the statement soon.  I’d provide this caveat: Sometimes kicking the can down the road isn’t such a bad thing.  In the case of our looming fiscal crisis, I don’t think so.

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I understand the median voter theorem.  However, interest groups, candidates, and parties don’t necessarily have to move towards the preferences of the median voter (at least in the medium to long-term) to win votes, elections, and hearts & minds.  These political actors can also attempt to pull the electorate towards their policy preferences by educating/persuading them in general or on particular issues.  Therefore, the median voter shifts (mostly) instead of the candidates and parties.  A case in point is how the gay/lesbian community (in conjunction with its allies in the media and educational institutions) successfully changed American attitudes, especially elite opinion, towards homosexuality.  The Free Trade movement in 19th century Britain did the same thing (and quickly!).

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any pundits suggesting that the Republicans attempt to actually persuade people of the merits of their positions.  Instead, we have been treated to a plethora of arguments about how the Republicans can, by  selling out changing their tune, appeal to single women, Hispanics, and other blocs of voters.

Of course, I agree that some amount of this is necessary.  The Republicans have been their own worst enemy in many cases (and I’m not talking just about the Missouri and Indiana Senate races).  Indeed, rather than calling a truce in the culture wars as Mitch Daniels suggested, they should instead raise the white flag altogether.*  But on basic philosophy and particular fiscal and regulatory issues, the Republicans should preach the good word rather than moderating their principles and learning to live and love the welfare/Nanny state.

Tell voters why occupational licensing is bad policy, especially for the poor.  Educate Americans about the dangers of a dependent citizenry.  Convince people that limited government and the rule of law will do more to return the American dream than the stimulus and crass interest group politics.

And to believers in freedom and markets, especially those who have benefited most from them, pour money into institutes and centers that educate Americans about economics and classical liberal philosophy rather than Rovian Super Pacs that only prove you can’t buy votes without winning the minds that pull the lever.  There is a battle to be won.  Let’s hit the lecture and seminar circuit and do it!

* Abortion policy would be a partial exception where Republicans should probably pivot towards a federalist position until a national majority is convinced of the moral dignity of all innocent human life.

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The Unseen Now On Display

All those wonderful government programs have costs, as we see in this piece from Las Vegas.  Of course, for statists, they have benefits too.  Now we’ll have more demand for government services and the possibility of more votes for the politicians who will “protect” those made casualties by the very people who the recipients now look to as saviors.  What a system.  Did you hear the ratchet move? 

In other news, I went to a Veterans Day event today that featured a lot of talk about our freedom.  You’ll excuse me if I had a hard time believing the majority of Americans really understand what this means (though perhaps they do and only care about protecting their ancient liberty, which is hardly cause for too much excitement).

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New Hampshire’s status as a swing state has had several negative consequences for its residents:

  • Its politics have been nationalized, and so the national political mood determines the partisan composition of the winning state legislative candidates.
  • Its residents have to put up with avalanches of political advertising and campaigning by national candidates.
  • There are controversies over voter eligibility. Some Republicans like to tell dark tales of voters being “bussed in” from Massachusetts to cast presidential votes, taking advantage of same-day registration. I don’t buy these claims — extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence — but there has indeed been a serious controversy over whether college students from other states ought to be able to vote in N.H. The only serious argument I can see against their being allowed to vote in N.H. is that they are unfamiliar with the needs and problems of the state and their town and tend therefore to cast less informed votes in N.H. than they could in their home state (absentee). That makes sense to me. When I was a college student, I voted absentee in Houston because I knew the issues, not Virginia where I was going to school. But the courts have said that college students must be allowed to vote in N.H. if they want to. Most of them do want to, because New Hampshire is a swing state.
  • The third-party vote always gets squeezed because of tactical voting.

These problems go away if New Hampshire passes a law requiring New Hampshire’s electoral votes to go to the national popular vote winner. “But New Hampshire would be ignored by the presidential candidates!” Yes — good. I can’t imagine that New Hampshire has meaningfully benefited from presidential candidates’ attention. There’s not a single program or project that I can think of that New Hampshire benefits from because of a presidential promise made to the state’s voters during a general election. New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary already gives it plenty of influence in the presidential selection process, and I don’t suggest giving that up.

The college-student problem, if it is one, goes away if New Hampshire is not a swing state. College students will vote wherever they feel they have a greater stake and better information, which is exactly as it should be. The avalanche of advertising stops, allowing voters to think harder about state and local issues and candidates. People will be more willing to vote sincerely in the presidential election, rather than for the lesser of two evils.

So why not, New Hampshire? You can take yourself off the table as an electoral college prize and regain some sanity and democratic autonomy for your state.

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One of the worst casualties of yesterday’s election was the political death of Bill O’Brien, the now former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives.  He flew high (cutting government spending substantially, including the sacred cow of higher ed funding) and had even higher aspirations (greater school choice and right to work status, for example) for New Hampshire.  Indeed, he wanted to make NH “the Hong Kong of the region” and preserve it as a bastion of limited government.  But Republicans couldn’t hold a majority of House seats and O’Brien, despite winning reelection, will not be seeking a return to the leadership of the now minority House Republicans.  Speaker O’Brien deserves a lot of praise despite the fact that he’ll come in for a lot of criticism from even his fellow Republicans.  I’d like to see him rise from the ashes of this election, but he may have to pass the baton along to a new generation of NH Republicans who dare to dream rather than follow the easy path that many flinty, conservative Yankee Republicans would like to take.

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Media are reporting the results of the Puerto Rico status referendum as if the statehood option had won. Now, it may indeed be the case that the resident commissioner will present legislation of accession to the Union in the House of Representatives, but only an oddly structured ballot devised by the pro-statehood party allowed the referendum to “succeed.” In fact, a majority of Puerto Ricans voted against statehood.

The ballot asked two questions. The first question asked voters, “Do you agree to maintain current territorial political status?” The “no” option received 54% of the vote, 934,238 votes of 1,730,245 valid votes. The second question asked voters to choose among three status options: statehood, associated free state, and independence. Statehood received 61.15% of the valid votes, 802,179 votes in all.

But note two things. First, many voters who opposed statehood in favor of, say, independence would have voted “no” on the first question. Second, 25% of the ballots on the second question were left blank, apparently out of protest at a question the pro-status quo party regarded as unfair. If you add blank ballots to the total on the second question, the statehood option received less than 45% of the vote.

This is a good example of how political leadership tries to use a cyclical majority to secure its favored alternative.

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Election Silver Linings

While a lot of folks are disappointed in last night’s most prominent election results, there are some silver linings:

  1. Colorado and Washington passed ballot initiatives legalizing possession and sale of small quantities of marijuana. This could be the thin end of the wedge that ultimately dooms the drug war, as the DEA won’t be able to prosecute everyone who engages in the marijuana business in those states. Also: citizens of Mexico rejoice.
  2. Michigan’s “Protect Our Jobs” initiative, which would have written union privileges into the state constitution, went down to defeat.
  3. California’s anti-science GMO labeling proposition was soundly defeated.
  4. Same-sex marriage was passed in Maryland and Maine. (Usual disclaimers about getting government out of the marriage licensing business altogether apply.)
  5. Several freedom-loving U.S. Reps were (re-)elected, including Thomas Massie in Kentucky and Justin Amash and Kerry Bentivolio in Michigan.
  6. In New Hampshire, Obama ran three points better than in the nation as a whole, no better than Kerry in 2004. Thus, NH’s march to the left really does seem to have halted in 2004.
  7. While Dems took the gubernatorial race and the executive council majority in New Hampshire, Republicans will keep the state senate, and the state house remains too close to call (I’ve seen differing judgments about the likely partisan majority). It looks as if GOP house reps ran slightly ahead of the top of the ticket, which is very difficult to do in this age of party-line voting. In addition, word on the street is that a dozen Free State Project participants won state house seats, the same as in 2010. It was a shame to see good, hard-working reps like Jenn Coffey and Tammy Simmons lose close races, but it was also good to see new blood come in and others return, like Democratic FSP’er Joel Winters. Also, hardcore anti-FSP statist Republican Lee Quandt was defeated. The bottom line is that NH will get a medical marijuana law in the next session and otherwise we should expect little change in policy (probably a slight spending increase and a repeal of the tobacco tax cut).

Also: it looks as if I won all three bets placed on my forecasts, for better or worse. ;-)

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I wish I had been wrong

Here is what I predicted back on January 6:

The latest job numbers heading into the November election will show unemployment at 7.8%, and Barack Obama will ride that to a very narrow victory over Mitt Romney.

Sigh.

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While I don’t think marijuana use is the best thing one could do with one’s freedom, I am glad to see two states legalize it for recreational purposes.  People should be free to engage in non-virtuous acts that don’t violate the equal rights of others (and the immorality of moderate use of marijuana is debatable at best).  More importantly, I am excited about the possibility of a political clash between states and the federal government on this issue.  And in this case, the tide of history is on the side of these states and individual freedom.  The (soft) drug war has no legs even though there are a lot of battles ahead.  Federalism might not either – but at least this gives some hope to those of us who would like to see it resuscitated.

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The Supreme Court

Aside from ObamaCare getting locked-in tonight (and helping put more nails in federalism and a government of limited and enumerated powers dedicated to securing individual liberty), the biggest potential problem with tonight’s vote is what it means for the future of the Supreme Court.  I guess we better hope (and for the religious among you, pray) that Thomas, Scalia, Alito, and Kennedy stay healthy for four more years – and I suppose That Man in the Robe too given the likely alternatives.  Romney was not going to be a savior for liberty but at least we’d have been less likely to get liberal justices.

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The Virtue of Moderation?

If the Ohio call by Fox is accurate, a moderate Republican has lost again.  Dole, McCain, and Romney – all moderate and all election losers.  If these guys can’t win (the first and third against weakened incumbents), then should we assume that more moderate Republican candidates are better than more conservative ones.  Yes, if the following counterfactual is true: More conservative candidates would have been trounced even worse in those elections.  But is that true?  If it is, then perhaps the Republic is indeed sunk.  But maybe jettisoning the war party faction would be enough to make the difference for a moderate candidate in such close elections.  Or maybe more conservative candidates would indeed be better (but hard to imagine given the median voter theorem).

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Obama Wins?

At 11:11 eastern, it appears that Obama has 257 Electoral College votes and just needs to win 13 more out of Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Florida (29), Ohio (18), and Virginia (13).  And at 11:13 as I’m writing this, Obama has been declared the winner of Ohio by Fox.  So isn’t is over?

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Still very early, but looks like Libertarian candidates for Senate in Missouri and Indiana may grab significant shares of the vote.  Of course, Akin and Mourdock ran terrible campaigns and made huge errors (both are likely to significantly underperform the Republican presidential candidate in their states).  Plus they still could lose by a bigger margin than the percentage won by the Libertarians.  But if the Republicans fall short of retaking the Senate by 1 or 2 seats, this might be yet another arrow in Randy Barnett’s quiver (especially if we assume those voters would, in the absence of the LP, vote largely for Republican candidates).  Or maybe, at least in Akin’s case, this is one of those moments that support Jason’s argument that it is good to have an option to bad Republican candidates.

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The election to replace Paul in TX CD-14 looks really close according to this source.  Hard to believe Paul’s seat could go Dem, even to a relatively conservative Dem.  Guess this guy didn’t “deliver” as many of the voters as Paul did.

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Adversity and Innovation

For my whole life people have been predicting the imminent collapse of Western civilization. Readers of this blog may recall that I myself have often gone in for some rather pessimistic fretting about the future, particularly concerning the national debt and growing international unrest.

I see the point that some of my compatriots are making that there may not be much difference between Obama and Romney, and thus that there will be difficult, enduring, and perhaps insurmountable problems to face regardless of who wins. I also see the point that, even holding everything else equal, the ACA (ObamaCare) may tip the balance in favor of Romney. Taking this second point, if Obama wins, as I predict he will—consistent with my January, 2012 prediction—the implication is that the at-least-marginally preferred candidate will lose, which should add further confidence to my already bearish outlook.

But I am going to remain optimistic, for one small but important reason. Adversity is what breeds innovation. Facing difficulty is a time, perhaps the only time, when people’s best is brought out in them.

In his 1891 essay “The Advantages of Poverty,” Andrew Carnegie argues that, as opposed to the children of the rich who enjoy all material advantages, the children of less wealthy classes “appear on the stage, athletes trained for the contest, with sinews braced, indomitable wills, resolved to do or die.” He continues that these are the people who “have always marched, and always will march, straight to the front and lead the world; they are the epoch-makers.” Not having had an easy life filled with all the advantages is sometimes itself the real advantage.

Facing adversity has a way of summoning strength and resolve like no other set of circumstances. I predict that we will face considerable adversity in the coming years—both fiscal and geopolitical. This will bring out the best in those of us who are prepared to work and who are unprepared to quit.

Do you believe that liberty is important? Do you believe that prosperity is important? Do you believe that America, or perhaps part of America, ought still to be the land of the free? Then this election is exactly the opportunity you have been waiting for.

Now is the time for us to assume the helm and captain the ship of our own destiny. You have been preparing for this for years, and now it is your time to appear on the stage with your indomitable will, ready to do or die. So stop whining, stop complaining, and above all stop despairing. You have a future to fight for—yours, your children’s, your principles’. Now get up and fight.

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The real outsiders

When all the dust settles from the election today—who knows when that will be—the mainstream media will converge on a few narratives about the election.  As usual, most of those narratives will be ill-informed and mostly shaped by the biases that govern media coverage in America today.

One narrative that will surely stick in the media’s craw is the influence of “outside groups” on the election.  At a fundamental level, the thing that irks media outlets is competition.  They are not alone in this.  Rent-seeking is a fairly bi-partisan activity, as groups use the power of the state to protect themselves from competition.  Thus, the easiest way for “the media” to thrive is to deny others the right to be considered part of the media.

This is why mainstream media outlets have for decades beaten the drum in support of campaign election regulations, particularly restrictions on what voices get to participate in the electoral process.  This noise won’t stop after the election; indeed, it will likely increase.  And, as always, the media will solicit partnerships from elected officials—after all, incumbents want protection against competition as well.

Recently the New York Times ran a “news” story with the following headline: “Mauled by Attack Ads, Incumbents Weigh Tighter Rules.”  You see, those people who threaten incumbents are the equivalent of hideous beasts, mauling the poor incumbents with attack ads.  After all, those beasts are “outsiders,” right?  Do a search on the term “outside groups” and count how many millions of hits you get.  These outside groups sound almost un-American.

But who are the real outsiders here?  The Citizens United case opened up the doors for a wide swath of groups in America to participate in press freedom—meaning the ability to communicate with a mass audience in a way that goes beyond simple freedom of speech.  The media and the candidates want to have the right to label independent political groups as outsiders while candidates’ campaigns (and their media partners) are the insiders.  Where does such a right come from?

Certainly not from the Constitution.  The Constitution has some limited ground rules for running federal elections, but is completely agnostic about campaigns, parties, and public opinion.  The government’s role is limited to holding elections and counting the votes.  One might argue that they should try to master those simple tasks before worrying about campaigns and trying to limit or shape political discourse or participation in the political process.  Alas, it is the nature of most people who have a little power to try to get more.

An independent group—be it a idealogical interest group, a corporation, a union, or any of the countless number of freely-formed associations that exist in America today—is no more an outsider to the electoral process than is a candidate or his/her campaign.  Freedom of the press insures that anyone who has the inclination and the means can engage in press activity, including running advertisements about candidates and campaigns.  No one participating in the public sphere (especially in the electoral sphere) has a right to determine which voices will get a public airing and which ones will not.  The content of one’s message, the source of one’s funds, and the method of distributing that message must not be subject to regulation by elected officials.  All those things are part of what freedom of the press means.

Some worry that the advertisements by groups independent of campaigns may drown out the messages of the candidates.  But in America, we do not protect the right to be heard, we protect the right to speak.  In the long run, the more people are allowed to gather their resources and distribute their message to the people, the healthier is our democracy.  Those who try to stop them are the real outsiders, since they are pushing an agenda outside the Constitutional protections we should all enjoy.

If candidates feel mauled by this new world, tough.  The day when a prospective lawmaker could coast into office with the support of a few media elites are over.  That is something to be thankful for on election day.

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Following Grover’s urging, I’m revealing my vote and my pairwise preference in the presidential contest. My vote in safely Democratic New York is for Libertarian Gary Johnson, but I do have a slight pairwise preference for Romney-Ryan over Obama-Biden. The reason is that while both sets of candidates are equally bad on all sorts of issues, as Marc notes below, the PPACA (Obamacare) really is a tiebreaker. It’s not just that the PPACA is bad policy, but also that it vitiates an important area of federalism. The feds have summarily executed all the state-level experiments in regulating and providing health insurance. The free-market option of permitting low-mandate, high-deductible, low-cost policies to expand coverage has forever been foreclosed. If Obama wins, the PPACA will go into effect and will never be repealed, and another chunk of American federal institutions will go down the drain forever.

Of course, the PPACA will only be repealed if Republicans take both the presidency and the Senate, the probability of which must hover around something like 3% at this stage. If I lived in a swing state, I might well cast my first-ever vote for a Republican in a presidential general election, but I don’t, so I won’t.

Randy Barnett’s argument that we shouldn’t vote Libertarian because it only encourages them to continue existing does not persuade me. The Libertarian Party provides a safe harbor for principled votes when both Democrats and Republicans are genuinely terrible (have we forgotten George W. Bush, Tommy Thompson, et al. so soon?). They also help keep the two parties, especially Republicans, aware of the possibility of being punished by libertarian voters for bad policy decisions, theoretically promoting good policies in the long run even if facilitating some short-run defeats of “lesser of two evils” candidates. Now, admittedly, this strategic role would work much better if Libertarian candidates were strategic about the races they enter (why in the world is a Libertarian running against Jeff Flake in Arizona?), but even so, I would regret very much the demise of the Libertarian Party as a national political option.

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Election Day Blues

I woke up this morning fully expecting to need a stiff drink by the end of the evening once the seemingly inevitable reelection of President Barack Obama is announced.  Since I rarely imbibe at home, I’ll probably just try to bury my head in a book or some work instead. 

Now I don’t think this is a sure thing.  Like Marc, my gut (or perhaps my heart, a very unreliable organ) is screaming that a majority of Americans can’t possibly want to lock-in ObamaCare (which when it fails to deliver will lead to a fully socialized system), return an administration full of inept bumblers, or help deliver even more unfaithful interpreters of the Constitution to the Supreme Court.  And then I remember James Buchanan’s essay “Afraid to be Free” and my heart sinks. 

A well-connected and level-headed Republican operative and friend of mine insists Romney is going to win for the very reasons Marc gives – and even argued that Michael Barone’s prediction of Romney winning over 300 Electoral votes is not far off the mark.  Of course, the state polls in the key swing states suggest otherwise.  But the gut says that the sampling is too optimistic about Democratic turnout, that independents are going to break for Romney (and not mimic 2000 when they broke for Gore), and that the trend of economic news isn’t strong or clear enough to insure what macro models tell us.  The gut also wants me to reject what the darlings of the media like Nate Silver keep saying.  He’s no Jim Cramer but his analysis feels too optimistic for his guy Barry. 

So I can imagine a Romney victory that becomes clear either after the Rust Belt votes come in or sometime later in the month after Ohio’s pathetic excuse for a reasonable election system gets sorted out.  But here is what the head tells me:

Electoral College:  Obama 284, Romney 254  (almost went with 290-248 but had a hunch on Iowa going Romney narrowly)

Popular Vote:  Obama 49.8, Romney 49.0

Senate:  52 Democrats (and Inds), 48 Republicans

House:  Republicans hold the majority

As is obvious from what I say above, my pairwise preference is for Mitt Romney.  I have no illusions that a Romney presidency would be a fully satisfying one for somebody with my philosophical commitments.  If he wins tonight (or later in the month), I’ll be moderately happy for a very short time and then the sobering thought of the RomneyCare architect being in the White House will slap the thinking bits of my brain. 

Yet I think it is very important to have a Republican (or at least not Barack Obama or any other Democrat) in the White House at this moment in history.  An Obama victory will lock-in ObamaCare and set things up for something even worse down the road.  It will also mean that the difficult budget negotiations ahead will more strongly reflect Democratic spending preferences and that the inevitable tax increases (no matter which candidate wins) will be larger relative to spending cuts than they would be under a Republican White House.  And finally, even the staunchest libertarian would be hard-pressed to argue that the chances of a friendly Supreme Court justice being nominated aren’t greater under a Republican than a Democratic President.  Look at the ObamaCare decision.  The solid partisan wall was on the left of the Court.  Yes, That Man in Robes flinched but look who wanted to toss out ObamaCare – they were all Republican nominees.  And a Republican President nominated Douglas Ginsburg to the Supreme Court and Alex Kozinski to a lower court.  For these reasons and more, I prefer Mitt Romney to Barack Obama.

I should also note that Randy Barnett makes a prudential case echoing my reasons for preferring the Republicans in the Wall Street Journal today.  I highly recommend it.  Yes Marc, the binary has problems and they both frequently call on us to wear stripes.  But the Republicans offer greater hope for liberty at this moment in time – so the best case for a libertarian preference for Obama would be a desire for the US to hit rock bottom so that we can begin anew (and an Obama victory is what a block of people in key states thinking like us would help cause if they voted for Johnson).*  The problem is that there is a lot of ruin in a nation, as Smith noted, and I’d like to see us avoid as much of that ruin as possible given the unlikely possibility of a true liberty-friendly “new order for the ages” springing up phoenix-like from that immolation.  That being said, libertarians should still push back hard when Republicans veer from the path of freedom and free-markets.  We need to fight it out in the two big parties given Duverger’s Law (and we can dream about neocons and other big government conservatives having to face this law within a libertarian Republican Party). 

* Lest readers think I’ve ignored reality, I acknowledge the irrationality of individual strategic voting in large-scale elections where the costs of voting are non-zero.  However, I hope that as a whole, lots of people do vote for my pairwise preference (especially in Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, etc).  Therefore I should probably shut up and let people believe in their noble lies that when acted upon actually matter in the aggregate (though of course we can’t control what others do by our own act of voting and therefore it is still individually strategically irrational).  Now since I live in a safe Romney state with a Republican party that needs to hear even my small voice rejecting its schizophrenic views on liberty (and again given the irrationality of individual strategic voting which I hope readers of this blog as a group will ignore!), I’m going to cast a ballot for Gary Johnson.  But if I could be the marginal voter the moment before the polls close, I’d choose Romney over Obama and then fight like hell for liberty from within.

CAVEAT: Please note that the blog posts here at Pileus discussing individual votes or noting the liberty-enhancing benefits of any particular party or candidate are solely the opinions of the individual contributors and do not reflect the views of Pileus as a whole or any supporting institution.  Pileus and its supporters do not endorse any candidate or piece of specific legislation and the purposes of this blog are strictly educational and for the entertainment of its readers.

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Beyond the Stripes

I have little to add to the debates over how the election will turn out by the time the last poll has closed and the last attorney has been paid.  My head says that Obama will eek out a narrow victory. My gut says that Romney will pull it off by the thinnest of margins.

My gut feeling reflects:

  • The enthusiasm gap (Romney’s crowds have been growing while Obama’s appear to be relatively stable and smaller than in the past)
  • The tendency of voters to reject incumbents when unemployment is high

I predict that Romney will lose Ohio, but will win PA, NH, VA, NC, FL, and WI to claim 282 electoral votes.

I have no reason to believe that on most issues there will be much difference between Romney and Obama—they agree on most issues (approaching 90 percent when Moderate Mitt appears). They seem quite close on foreign policy, the use of drones and kill lists, ongoing infringement of civil liberties in the name of national security, the war on drugs, etc. Romney claims that he will end Obamacare on his first day in office (ahem… does anyone believe this would happen with a Democratic Senate). Neither of the candidates seem serious about addressing long-term fiscal imbalances.

When I step into the poll to vote as I did this morning, I am reminded of James Bovard’s observation that asking whether one supports a Democrat or a Republican is like asking a prisoner whether he prefers horizontal or vertical stripes on his uniform. The problem, alas, is not the direction of the stripes.

So in keeping with past practices, I once again rejected the binary and voted LP where there was an option (in the past, I have happily voted Green when there was not LP candidate on the ballot). Where there was no third party option, I left the ballot blank.

Of course, Grover keeps pressing me to do a pairwise comparison of the two big contenders. With the greatest respect for Grover, all I can see are the stripes.

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Here are my prognostications for Tuesday. I agree with Alex Tabarrok that a prognostication isn’t worth much if the issuer isn’t willing to put something behind it. Therefore, I’m willing to take bets on any of these.

Probability of Obama victory: 4 to 1. Somewhere between Intrade and Nate Silver. In fact I tried to make a bet on Intrade in favor of Obama several days ago, but they wanted all sorts of private information on my identity that I wasn’t willing to give them. I will take either side of this bet at those odds.

Popular vote share: Obama 50.0, Romney 48.3, Johnson 0.7. I’m willing to take either side of these at even odds.

Electoral vote: Obama 294, Romney 244. Again, I will take either side of this bet at even odds.

Senate: 53 D (incl 2 I), 47 R. Same deal – either side, even odds.

House: Republican majority. I’ll give 13 to 1 odds against a Dem takeover.

New Hampshire Predictions

Governor: Hassan (D). I’ll take even odds against.

Executive Council majority: R. Same.

Senate majority: R. Same.

House majority: R. Same.

If you’d like to make a bet, please post in the comments and then e-mail me your contact information. My e-mail address is jsorensATbuffalo.edu (replace the “AT” with the “at” symbol). Please limit my total exposure on any one bet to $100 maximum (I’m not wealthy).

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Here is what my coauthor William Ruger and I wrote about New Hampshire in the 2011 edition of Freedom in the 50 States: Index of Personal and Economic Freedom:

New Hampshire is by our count the freest state in the country. Depending on weights, however, it really shares the slot with South Dakota. New Hampshire does much better on economic than personal freedom and on fiscal than regulatory policy. Under unified Democratic control in 2007-8, the state saw a respectable increase in freedom. A smoking ban was enacted, but so were same-sex civil unions. Taxes, spending, and fiscal decentralization remain over a standard deviation better than average, and government debt actually went down slightly.

We are going to write something very different in the 2013 edition, coming out early next year. The 2009-10 legislature, also under unified Democratic control, went on a spending and tax-hiking binge. They did this even as states like North and South Dakota were already strengthening market-friendly policies in many areas. As a result, New Hampshire will no longer be the freest state in the country — not by a long shot.

In fiscal year (FY) 2000, New Hampshire’s state and local tax burden (excluding motor fuel, severance, alcohol, and tobacco taxes) stood at 7.5% of personal income, not only the best in the country but only seriously approached by Tennessee. Government consumption and subsidies made up only 7.3% of personal income. By the end of FY 2006, with Republicans having controlled the legislature in the interim, those figures had edged up, to 7.9% and 8.1%, respectively. But by the end of FY 2010, government consumption and subsidies made up 9.1% of income, a nearly two-percentage-point increase over a decade, while the tax burden stood at 8.0% of income. State and local debt was at 18.8% of income, compared to 16.7% a decade earlier.

In the mean time, Alabama, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee have all passed New Hampshire for lower taxes. We don’t yet have the local data to measure whether FY 2012 saw a return to public thrift under the new Republican legislature elected in November 2010, but when New Hampshire voters go to the polls Tuesday, they should remember where their state was two years ago.

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Apparently NH lefties are passing around this lengthy condemnation of the Free State Project. Much of it, though, reads like something that could be put in an FSP recruiting brochure:

Free Staters in NH are generally intelligent, focused and diligent people, who are sincerely interested in promoting personal responsibility in its broadest meaning. They are committed to discussion and action on the issues and problems they see facing New Hampshire and the nation.

And:

The migration of Free Staters to New Hampshire has dramatically changed the political discussion here.

And:

Here is an alternative perspective on the FSP from the same Foster’s article, which the passage of time has shown to be more accurate than the others in it:

“Dave Corbin, a University of New Hampshire political science instructor, said the Free Staters could accomplish many of their goals even if only a fraction of the proposed 20,000 moved here. ‘Those who are analyzing the potential effects of the group on the basis of numbers alone are not looking at the situation deeply enough’, he said.

‘Let’s say only 4,000 of them move here. You wouldn’t just say ‘What’s 4,000? That’s only a drop in the electoral bucket.’ That’s not looking at the situation properly . . . When you talk about those people who are politically active in New Hampshire, you’re only talking about 5,000 people; those are the people political candidates target. If you have (only) 1,000 people (from the Free State Project) coming here to make a difference, they will,’ Corbin said.

Corbin pointed out how important activists are to any political campaign, as an index of the influence Free Staters could eventually achieve. Each individual activist represents not just one person, but all the people they will persuade. ‘Any time you have a campaign and you have an activist, you know you have 20 or 30 times the number of votes as activists,’ he said. (emphasis original)

But then there’s the scaremongering (all-bolded!) conclusion:

More New Hampshire residents need to wake up to the reality of the Free State Project.

We can’t wait for the Union Leader and NH Public Radio to fill us in on how expansive the Free State Project’s plans are for New Hampshire, – and how this plan is playing out now on the ground. We need to find out for ourselves, and we need to tell others.

We need to confront Free Staters in our towns, and at all levels of government. And then we need to force them, as proper citizens, to have endless conversations with their fellow residents about New Hampshire’s future. We cannot let them make over the State of New Hampshire in their own libertarian image.

Of course, partisan hacks (and yes, they exist on the right too) would rather resort to scare tactics than honest and open dialogue, and that attitude is always wearisome wherever one finds it, but at the same time, it is encouraging that the FSP has moved beyond the “first, they ignore you” stage to the “then they fight you” stage.

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On Nate Silver and Polls

Here is an interesting piece that challenges Nate Silver’s 538 model (which Jason has referenced before).  Challenging or supporting Silver is becoming something of a fad among election watchers this season.  This is one of the better attempts to take on Silver and comes from the perspective of a quantitative baseball analyst.  As a baseball fan and early sabermetrics user/supporter, it is pretty cool to see people like Silver and this guy crossing over into political analysis – and having something comparatively useful to add (unlike so many pundits on television).  Here is one section of the piece:

But for the Rays, the 2008 environment was not so easily repeated in subsequent years. While still a successful club with a solid defense in a pitcher’s park (and still far better defensively than in 2007) they have led the league in “Defensive Efficiency Rating” only once in the past four years. It’s what Bill James called the Law of Competitive Balance: unsuccessful teams adapt more quickly to imitate the successes of the successful teams, bringing both sides closer to parity. Trende, in his book The Lost Majority, applies the same essential lesson to political coalitions. Assuming that the 2008 turnout models, which depended heavily on unusually low Republican turnout, still apply to Obama’s current campaign ignores the extent to which multiple factors favor a balance swinging back to the Republicans. And the polls that make up the averages – averages upon which Nate Silver’s model rests – are doing just that. Nate’s model might well work in an election where the relationship between the internals and the toplines was unchanged from 2008. But because that assumption is an unreasonable one, yet almost by definition not subject to question in his model, the model is delivering a conclusion at odds with current, observable political reality.

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