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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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