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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

And there’s real money behind it, with more (hopefully) to come:

As for its goal, here is how Day put it in his news release:

“Crushing debt, unfunded entitlements, the government takeover of healthcare, overregulation, the decaying of our public schools, and massive government intrusion into our private lives are a direct assault on our liberty and individual rights.

“What if we could prove that liberty works? What if we could transform the Republican Party into a party of liberty that embraces the millennial generation? What if we could break the cycle of failed Republican candidates who support the expansion of the welfare state and position the country for a Goldwater/Reagan Republican in 2016?”

The PAC first wants to elect “the first pro-liberty, millennial governor (Andrew Hemingway)” and “win a pro-liberty majority for the Republicans in our 424 person state Legislature.”

Day is chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, which has endorsed 12 GOP candidates for the state Senate, including five who are taking on sitting GOP Senators in primaries. Hemingway is former chair of the RLCNH.

Stark360 proposes “a statewide, data-driven grassroots campaign that will endure beyond 2014 and address a fundamental structural weakness of the Republican Party,” and then “position New Hampshire to elect a Liberty Republican candidate in our crucial 2016 first-in-the-nation primary.”

“New Hampshire is the single best investment to demonstrate and spread liberty throughout the rest of the country through New Hampshire’s critical first-in-the-nation primary status,” said Philips.

“The people of New Hampshire inherently embrace liberty” and in the state, “elected officials are accountable,” he and Day said.

Quoting former Gov. John H. Sununu that, “Iowa picks corn; New Hampshire picks Presidents,” Day said that in recent primaries the state has actually picked “losing presidential candidates.”

“A small, elite group of the New Hampshire Republican establishment, corrupted by D.C. interest groups, has disenfranchised New Hampshire voters, alienated the youth vote, and manipulated party rules for personal advantage. In particular, the treatment of Ron Paul in New Hampshire and the egregious manipulation of the rules aimed at harming Ron Paul delegates in the 2012 Presidential race, needs to end now. Our data-driven grassroots infrastructure will restore the Republican Party back to the liberty loving citizens of New Hampshire and serve as a model for the rest of the nation,” Day said in a statement.

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UK Labour MP and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling and Scottish First Minister and Scottish National Party MSP Alex Salmond last night debated independence for Scotland as part of the campaign leading up to a referendum on September 18. While the “Yes” camp remains slightly behind in the polls, they have been catching over the past several months, and it is likely that the vote itself will be close.

Watch the debate here. It features many themes common to debates over secession in the Western world: risk and uncertainty, self-determination, ideological distinctiveness of the secessionist region, and economic costs and benefits of independence. It’s a sparkling and entertaining debate; Mike Smithson of politicalbetting.com called it “by far the best TV debate there’s been in the UK.”

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Marc blogged the other day about the New York Times editorial board’s endorsement of repealing federal marijuana prohibition, just months after having rejected that step. Now, this isn’t quite the same as endorsing marijuana legalization – just returning it to the states – but it is a significant step nonetheless. Still, they are well behind the rest of the country. An absolute majority of Americans favor legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana more or less like alcohol. Liberal Democrats are overwhelmingly in favor.

Fivethirtyeight recently showed how out-of-step the New York Times is by comparing their position to that of representative Americans with a similar demographic profile. Money quote:

[P]eople with this demographic profile are somewhere around 25 or 30 percentage points more supportive of marijuana legalization than the average American. That implies that back in 2000, when only about 30 percent of Americans supported legalization, perhaps 55 or 60 percent of these people did. The margin of error on this estimate is fairly high — about 10 percent — but not enough to call into question that most people like those on the Times’ editorial board have privately supported legalization for a long time. The question is why it took them so long to take such a stance publicly.

The political class everywhere, regardless of left-right ideology, has been vastly more opposed to marijuana legalization than equivalent Americans. Here in New Hampshire, Democratic governor Maggie Hassan has not only opposed and promised to veto recreational marijuana legalization, she has also opposed and threatened to veto marijuana decriminalization and even allowing terminally ill patients to grow their own medical marijuana plants. Her spineless copartisans in the state senate have gone meekly along. And is anyone really surprised that government bootlicker David Brooks opposes legalization? It’s no accident that the only two states to legalize recreational marijuana so far have been states with the popular ballot initiative. It’s also no accident that medical marijuana started in states with the popular ballot initiative. The people have had to go around the controllers and neurotics in office.

Now the Brookings Institution has come out with a study of marijuana legalization in Colorado. Their quick synopsis? (more…)

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It remains unclear where we are heading in Iraq and whether the IRS investigation will gain much traction. But this was a pretty good week for the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, SCOTUS decided unanimously that police need warrants to search cellphones. As the New York Times reported:

“While the decision will offer protection to the 12 million people arrested every year, many for minor crimes, its impact will most likely be much broader. The ruling almost certainly also applies to searches of tablet and laptop computers, and its reasoning may apply to searches of homes and businesses and of information held by third parties like phone companies.”

Andy Greenberg has a useful piece on the decision at Wired.

Thursday, SCOTUS decided unanimously that three of President Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional. The New York Times editorial board was not happy (insert look of surprise here). Neither was Justice Scalia, who wrote:

“A self-aggrandizing practice adopted by one branch well after the founding, often challenged, and never before blessed by this Court—in other words, the sort of practice on which the majority relies in this case—does not relieve us of our duty to interpret the Constitution in light of its text, structure, and original understanding,”

While Scalia would have liked more, I still rank this a win.

The fact that both of these decisions were 9-0 and both moved the ball in the correct direction should give us some pleasure as we enter the weekend.

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Want to understand the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Iraq? You can do no better than read this masterful account by Kenneth M. Pollock at Brookings. One quote:

These [ISIS and other Sunni militants] are Militias First and Foremost, Terrorists only a Distant Second. Here as well, Prime Minister Maliki and his apologists like to refer to the Sunni militants as terrorists. Too often, so too do American officials. Without getting into arcane and useless debates about what constitutes a “terrorist,” as a practical matter it is a mistake to think of these groups as being principally a bunch of terrorists.

The problem there is that that implies that what these guys mostly want to do is to blow up building or planes elsewhere around the world, and particularly American buildings and planes. While I have no doubt that there are some among the Sunni militants who want to blow up American buildings and planes right now, and many others who would like to do so later, that is not their principal motivation.

Instead, this is a traditional ethno-sectarian militia waging an intercommunal civil war. (They are also not an insurgency.) They are looking to conquer territory. They will do so using guerrilla tactics or conventional tactics—and they have been principally using conventional tactics since the seizure of Fallujah over six months ago. Their entire advance south over the past week has been a conventional, motorized light-infantry offensive; not a terrorist campaign, not a guerrilla warfare campaign. [emphasis original]

Wonder why political violence has persisted in eastern Ukraine even though public support for the rebels is extremely low? Jay Ulfelder draws on some of Fearon and Laitin’s work to explain:

Their study recently came to mind when I was watching various people on Twitter object to the idea that what’s happening in Ukraine right now could be described as civil war, or at least the possible beginnings of one. Even if some of the separatists mobilizing in eastern Ukraine really were Ukrainian nationals, they argued, the agent provocateur was Russia, so this fight is properly understood as a foreign incursion.

As Jim and David’s paper shows, though, strong foreign hands are a common and often decisive feature of the fights we call civil wars.

In Syria, for example, numerous foreign governments and other external agents are funding, training, equipping, and arming various factions in the armed conflict that’s raged for nearly three years now. Some of that support is overt, but the support we see when we read about the war in the press is surely just a fraction of what’s actually happening. Yet we continue to see the conflict described as a civil war.

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Tyler Cowen thinks Scotland should stay in the UK, and so do I. But this bit of his blog post I can’t quite agree with:

If a significant segment of the British partnership wishes to leave, and for no really good practical reason, it is a sign that something is deeply wrong with contemporary politics and with our standards for loyalties.

I find this entire prospect depressing, and although it is starting to pick up more coverage in the United States and globally, still it is an under-covered story relative to its importance.

This is a referendum on the modern nation-state, an institution that has done very well since the late 1940s but which is indeed often ethnically heterogeneous at its core. While I expect Scottish independence to be voted down, if it passes I will feel the world’s risk premium has gone up, even if the Scots manage to make independence work. (emphasis original)

The main reason why some Scots want to leave the UK is ideological. Scotland consistently votes 15-20 points to the left of the rest of the UK, and with a current center-right government and a constantly improving prospect of a Conservative victory at the next election, many left-wing Scots fear the policies they’ll face in a united Britain. If you follow the Twitter feed of Yes Scotland, you’ll see a stream of claims about new social programs an independent Scotland could implement, and explicit fears about future Tory rule.

Furthermore, Scots are discontented with devolution, wanting something more, but many of them do not trust that David Cameron will follow through on promises to enact more generous autonomy for Scotland (his party is, after all, still the Conservative and Unionist Party).

Growing state intervention in people’s lives has made ordinary ideological disagreements more salient and fundamental. As a result, ideologically polarized people in advanced democracies often wonder whether they can live in peace with “the other side.” Is this depressing or just inevitable? Anyway, I’m not sure Scottish secession would raise the world risk premium any more than Norwegian or Icelandic secession did, or than Faroese independence would. It would at least be peaceful and negotiated. Still, I reiterate that it is probably a bad idea for Scots, and unlikely to happen according to the polls.

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Public opinion has moved very quickly there against Italy:

UPDATE: I misread the poll. These numbers are consistent with what we have seen in the past: a solid majority against independence.

UPDATE 2: Italian police have also arrested 24 Venetian secessionists on charges of “terrorism,” that is, George Washington-style rebellion. Italy is one of the cases I discuss in my book as being at higher risk of secessionist violence than Scotland, Wales, Puerto Rico, the Faroes, Quebec, or Flanders, because unlike these others it has no legal means for secession.

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The Senate spent last night—all night—focusing attention on climate change and the need for new legislation. As The Hill reports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used the opportunity to attack the Koch brothers:

“It’s time to stop acting like those who ignore this crisis — the oil baron Koch brothers and their allies in Congress — have a valid point of view,” Reid said Monday evening. “But despite overwhelming scientific evidence and overwhelming public opinion, climate change deniers still exist. They exist in this country and in this Congress.”

The implication, of course, is that the “un-American” Koch brothers (and those who Senator Reid has described as “addicted to Koch”) are responsible for the failure to move forward on climate change (and all other things pure and good).

Of course, the House did pass a climate change bill (Waxman-Markey) in 2010, only to have the bill declared DOA by…Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. As the New York Times reported (July 22, 2010):

Bowing to political reality, Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, said the Senate would not take up legislation intended to reduce carbon emissions blamed as a cause of climate change, but would instead pursue a more limited measure focused on responding to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and tightening energy efficiency standards.

“We know where we are,” Mr. Reid told reporters after reviewing the state of energy legislation with Senate Democrats and administration officials. “We know that we don’t have the votes.”

(more…)

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Russia’s annexation of Crimea, de facto or de jure, is likely to spur violence in the peninsula. “Crimean Tatar representative” in Lviv, Ukraine Alim Aliyev is quoted as saying, “Tatars will launch a guerrilla war against the Russian forces if they do not pack up and leave the region.” While he could be communicating a mere bluff, I wouldn’t count on it, and I doubt Putin will either. Crimean Tatars currently have a low risk of secessionist insurgency, because they are just 12% of the region’s population, but they also see themselves as the indigenous population of the region and deny any other ethnic group’s claims to a homeland in the region. For those reasons, and because of a history of repression at the hands of Stalin, Crimean Tatars support Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea and reject the small ethnic Russian majority’s claims. If Russia effectively annexes Crimea, Tatar violence is likely to flare up. While the massive Russian military will be able to crush organized resistance, I doubt Putin wants to create another Chechnya, with the attendant risks of future terrorist attacks on Russian civilians.

Steve Saideman and Bill Ayres’ research suggests that irredentism is rarely consummated because it requires an infrequent coincidence of interests: a minority that wants to be rescued and a powerful state willing to pay costs to rescue it. Rescuing Crimea is likely to have significant long-term costs for Russia, and if Putin acts rationally, he will prefer a negotiated settlement permitting a military withdrawal from the peninsula over any kind of annexation.

In other news: the Crimean referendum will have two options: annexation by Russia and independence. Rejecting both and remaining within Ukraine is not an option for voters.

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Are libertarians and classical liberals who move to New Hampshire radical extremist anarchist colonizing subversive treasonous subhuman alien life forms?

There’s been some nasty politics in Bedford, New Hampshire, where a member of the local political establishment has been hurling epithets on his cable access show at two locals of libertarian views who moved to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project and are trying to get active in local government. There’s also been some sort of mailer or flyer going around attacking these candidates for their civic engagement.

Of course, there are anarchists in the FSP, but as far as I know these two are not anarchists at all. Even if they are, if I were a town resident, I’d like to have one or two hardcore, hard-working anarchists on the council and the school board just to keep the rest of the establishment honest. We live in a world where political leaders can smear you as an anarchist just for trying to find efficiencies in government. Don’t we want someone to turn a hard, skeptical eye toward government programs to make sure they are as lean and efficient as possible?

In other news, the FSP is also being covered again in the New Hampshire Union-Leader. A quote from UNH political scientist Dante Scala:

“I do think they have been part of the debate about the direction of the Republican Party,” Scala said.

Scala said Warden’s estimates about the number of Free Staters elected to the Legislature “sounds reasonable.”

“It’s possible even a small group could have an influence that’s out of proportion to its size if we’re talking about people who are kind of elites; by that I mean people who really want to get involved in political activism in New Hampshire,” Scala said.

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NOTA

Here and here are some brief pieces on a bill in New Hampshire to provide the option of “none of the above” (or NOTA)  on ballots.  As the sponsor (Charles Weed) explains:

“Real choice means people have to be able to withhold their consent,” Weed said. “You can’t do that with silly write-ins. Mickey Mouse is not as good as ‘none of the above.’”

If  NOTA wins, there would have to be a special election. I am assuming that this could go through multiple iterations. What would happen if NOTA continued to beat flesh-and-blood candidates? A return to the state of nature? A new social contract?

Whenever possible, I vote third party. I view it as simultaneously 1. meeting my self-induced obligation to vote, and 2. withholding my consent from the binary. Occasionally, I can actually support  a candidate who genuinely deserves my vote. The NOTA option would allow me (and many others) to send a much clearer message. It might also increase voter turnout.

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That’s the title of a very good article by Princeton political scientist Carles Boix and J.C. Major. The article provides background to the Catalan self-determination movement but also discusses recent developments and the reasons for them. One takeaway is the enormous role that the Spanish government’s response to the last Catalan autonomy statute, essentially gutting it, played in provoking the growth of the independence movement. As I noted in a piece in Electoral Studies 10 years ago, when the central government spikes decentralization, secessionists strengthen, but when a referendum on independence or autonomy fails (the failure being internal rather than external in origin), secessionists weaken. The article also contains important information on what the Catalan government plans to do if the central government forbids it to hold a referendum, as seems likely. I won’t spoil it; just read the article.

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The Government of Scotland has just released its 600-odd-page white paper on independence in advance of the September 18, 2014 referendum on the question. First Minister Alex Salmond and the rest of the pro-independence side have their work cut out, with the latest poll showing a 47-38% plurality in favor of “No.”

In part, the white paper aims to show that independence would not harm the Scottish economy. There is a debate between nationalists and the British government about whether Scotland would face a significant fiscal gap after independence. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says Scotland would face a long-run fiscal gap amounting to 1.9% of national income after independence, while the British government says Scotland would have to raise taxes 9% upon independence to fund the same benefit levels. Nationalists retort that they would change policies to save money. Nevertheless, like most political parties, they are only specific about the new benefits they plan to introduce after independence.

Still, there is good evidence that most Scots are not concerned about the fiscal issues relating to independence. After all, somewhere between 52 and 68% of Scots express support for either independence or “devo max” in polls. “Devo max” is a term used in the UK for full fiscal autonomy, under which Scots would pay no direct taxes to and receive no direct benefits from the UK government (everything would be negotiated between the Scottish and British governments). The strong support for at least devo max implies that Scots aren’t worried about suffering from a fiscal gap even when fully fiscally autonomous.

The dropoff in support from devo max to independence reflects that Scots are more worried about the foreign, monetary, and trade policy uncertainties attendant upon independence. A major bone of contention has been nationalists’ desire for a currency union. The “No” side insists that there is no guarantee the British government will accept a currency union. Salmond has said Scotland could repudiate its share of British debt if the British government didn’t accept a currency union.

The key sticking point in the currency union debate is that the nationalists desperately want Scotland to retain a say in the Bank of England’s monetary policy. Absent that desire, it would perfectly straightforward for Scotland to retain the pound. They don’t need a central bank: people, including the new independent government, could go on using the pound as usual. Indeed, a better threat than debt repudiation that Salmond could make would be for Scotland to abolish central banking, legal tender laws, deposit insurance, and financial regulation, and suck financial business out of London into Edinburgh. (A libertarian can dream, right?) But Scotland’s political culture is solidly left-wing, and any suggestion of going without a lender-of-last-resort wouldn’t fly with voters.

So as we have seen with previous referendums in Quebec, the “Yes” side will insist that all will go on as normal after independence: same treaties, same trade relations, same monetary policy. Meanwhile, the “No” side will play up the uncertainties. They won’t “talk down” Scotland, which would risk a backlash, but instead they’ll just keep saying “there are no guarantees” and attacking the nationalists’ plans as “unrealistic,” “uncosted,” and “amateur.” Steve Saideman notes that there is a tension between nationalists’ desires to “keep everything the same” and promise improvements after independence: secession is either meaningful or it isn’t!

The way to square the circle is that Scots want more left-wing policies than the British status quo on welfare rights, education, the environment, Europe, labor, and defense, but they also like the risk-pooling advantages of a larger state. They see no advantage in a new Scottish currency or a nonaligned foreign policy. Therefore, nationalists promise Scots what they want on the former set of policies while trying to assuage their doubts about the latter.

The figure below shows how Scottish nationalism has tracked left-right ideological change in the Scottish electorate, for UK general elections only. The blue line represents the vote share for secessionist candidates in Scotland: mostly Scottish National Party (SNP), but also Greens, Socialists, and some independents. The blue line represents the UK vote for center and right parties minus the Scottish vote for center and right parties (mostly Conservatives, but also UKIP, Unionists, and the like). In general the two lines correlate pretty closely; the only major exceptions are the 1979 and 1983 elections, when Scotland moved left relative to the UK as a whole, even as the SNP vote collapsed. Since then, the lines have correlated rather well. There is some reverse causation here, since the SNP is a left-wing party, but the fact that the nationalists have adopted a forthrightly left-wing platform tells us something. The bottom line is that Scotland’s move further to the left of the UK has helped promote the secessionist cause. (The spike in the 1974 elections was due to the discovery of North Sea oil, which the SNP politicized under the campaign slogan, “It’s Scotland’s Oil!”)

lefties & nats in scotland

Whether Scotland votes “yes” or “no” in the referendum will depend on how the pivotal voters trade off concern over future Conservative governance in Britain against the uncertainties of full independence. One reason why “no” appears headed for victory is that the Conservatives look set to lose the next UK election, and over the last two decades, Labour has looked like the natural party of government in Britain and has in fact moved British policy significantly to the left, at least on fiscal issues. Scottish voters have less to fear from union.

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A few days ago, I gave the theoretical logic for why the availability of the government shutdown results in growing government spending. Advocates of smaller government should advocate a default budget rule that is far milder than shutdown. Now, I have come across academic research by David Primo finding just this at the state level. States with an automatic shutdown provision actually spend on average $64 more per capita than states without such a provision.

As Tea Party Republicans approach the final denouement of their humiliating, destructive defeat on the latest budget battle, it bears thinking about how U.S. fiscal institutions essentially predestined this outcome.

HT: Matt Mitchell

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Following Marc’s great post on congressional dysfunction, I’d like to point how political science tells us that the availability of government shutdowns actually causes the growth of government spending. The analysis follows the 1979 spatial analysis of zero-based budgeting by Thomas Romer and Howard Rosenthal.

Suppose that there is one dimension of politics: the size of the federal budget. There are a fiscally conservative party and a fiscally liberal party. For simplicity, assume the median, electorally decisive American voter is somewhere between the two. We could plot the parties’ and median voters’ positions on this dimension like this, where “C” is the conservative party, “M” is the median voter, and “L” is the liberal party:

Federal budget

 0|----------------------------------|--------|-----------|------------------------------------------| 100% of GDP
                                    C        M           L

Now suppose that there is a need to pass a budget. If the budget doesn’t pass, the government partially shuts down (S). Once the government shuts down, the median voter M perceives the outcome as being more favored by the conservative party, with ideal point C. The liberal party with ideal point L can make a budget proposal that must get approval from both parties, so conservatives have the opportunity to accept or reject it – in the latter case, the government stays shut down. After the budget is approved or rejected, there is an election, and the median voter M votes for the party with the closer budget position. Parties care most about winning election, then secondarily obtaining their preferred budget.

In this example below, once the conservative party gets associated with S, causing the shutdown, then L is able to propose its ideal point (L). Conservatives accept the budget, because otherwise they would remain associated with S, and the median voter prefers L to S, so would turn conservatives out at the next election.

 0|----------|-----------------------|--------|-----------|------------------------------------------| 100% of GDP
            S                       C        M           L

The median voter will only be willing to vote for conservatives who reject a liberal budget proposal if S is closer to their ideal point than the liberal budget proposal. Knowing this, L will propose something close enough to the median voter to prevent that outcome – and conservatives will accept it. Take the following example, where P is the proposal liberals make:

 0|----------|----|-----|----------|----------------------|------------------------------------------| 100% of GDP
            S    C     M          P                      L

P is infinitesimally closer to M than S is, so M votes for the liberal party, unless the conservatives also vote for the budget.

So once a shutdown happens, a bigger budget than the median voter prefer (let alone the conservative party) looks inevitable. Knowing this, conservatives won’t want the government to shut down to begin with. But that still means liberals have a lot of bargaining power, and the budget will tend to grow.

In real life, of course, shutdowns happen very occasionally. Why? (more…)

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The federal government has been running by continuing resolutions for some time—a product of the inability of Congress to execute one of its prime constitutional functions: authorizing and appropriating funds. The textbook version of the budget process is quite simple. It is also largely irrelevant given that Congress rarely passes the twelve appropriations bills by the beginning of the fiscal year (October 1). As the Office of Management and Budget’s FY 2013 Analytical Perspectives notes (p. 127):

Since 1977, when the start of the fiscal year was established as October 1, there have been only three fiscal years (1989, 1995, and 1997) for which the Congress agreed to and enacted every regular appropriations bill by that date. When one or more appropriations bills has not been agreed to by this date, Congress usually enacts a joint resolution called a “continuing resolution,’’ (CR) which is an interim or stop-gap appropriations bill that provides authority for the affected agencies to continue operations at some specified level until a specific date or until the regular appropriations are enacted. Occasionally, a CR has funded a portion or all of the Government for the entire year.

The Congress must present these CRs to the President for approval or veto. In some cases, Presidents have rejected CRs because they contained unacceptable provisions. Left without funds, Government agencies were required by law to shut down operations—with exceptions for some limited activities—until the Congress passed a CR the President would approve. Shutdowns have lasted for periods of a day to several weeks.

This shutdown may prove more interesting than the last 17 shutdowns because of the failure to pass any appropriation bills. The House passed but 4 of the 12 appropriations bills for FY2014 while the Senate passed none at all—the norm for the Senate since fiscal year 2011 (see the record at the Library of Congress).

To state things in simple terms, if the Congress executed its constitutional responsibilities and passed the necessary appropriations bills, we would not have government by continuing resolution.  This, in turn, would eliminate the ability of any party to use the CR to promote policy goals. One might fault the House GOP’s strategy of using the CR to magnify its influence over policy outcomes, but the larger problem is the failure of Congress as an institution.

Any surprises that the approval rating for Congress has fallen to a record low of 10 percent?

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As we all know, if a continuing resolution (or CR) is not passed by the end of the day on September 30, the government will shut down. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has threatened to filibuster the House CR because if debate is suspended, the provisions defunding Obamacare will be eliminated via majority vote. If Senator Cruz is successful–or if he is not, and the House refuses to pass a revised CR–then the government will shut down. But ironically, this will have little impact on Obamacare. As Timothy Carney explains in the Washington Examiner:

But for the most part, no CR will fund Obamacare, even if Obama wrote it himself. You know what funds Obamacare? A bill called HR 3590, also known as the Affordable Care Act.

Obamacare funds Obamacare.

The reason is simple: most of the Affordable Care Act does not depend on annual appropriations. The House CR, in contrast, could defund Obamacare (“Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, no Federal funds shall be made available to carry out any of the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”). All the House GOP needs to do is convince the Senate majority and President Obama to follow its lead.

So here are the possible outcomes in the next few days:

  1. The Senate strips the defunding language from the House CR, the House approves it, the government shutdown is avoided, and Obamacare is left untouched.
  2. Senator Cruz succeeds in mounting a filibuster, the debate on the CR is not suspended, the government shuts down temporarily, and Obamacare is left largely untouched.
  3. Senator Cruz fails, the Senate strips the defunding language, the House rejects it, the government shuts down temporarily, and Obamacare is left largely untouched.
  4. The Senate accepts the House CR and with the President’s approval, Obamacare is defunded.

Does anyone think that the last is a live option? If it is not—and recall: a government shutdown will not have a significant impact Obamacare—what is the larger strategy? Is this simply a means of throwing red meat to the rubes and preventing primary contests from the Right? Or, if you are Senator Cruz, are the goals to maximize face time on the Sunday talk shows, attract donations, and build a mailing list for the 2016 presidential race?

Any insights would be appreciated.

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The German Election (update)

In yesterday’s German federal election, the Christian Democrats dramatically increased their seat share and moderately increased their vote share, while their coalition partners, the classical liberal Free Democrats, lost all their seats for the first time in party history. Since the Christian Democrats came five seats short of a majority, it looks as if they will have to form a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats, who improved slightly. A few observations:

  • The right improved their vote share, despite the FDP’s losses, because of the good performance (but not quite enough to win seats) of the moderately euroskeptic Alternative for Germany. The left lost vote share. Nevertheless, the central result of this election will be that the German government will move to the left, replacing the FDP with the SPD as the CDU/CSU’s junior partner.
  • Looking at the party list votes, 15.8% of the vote went to parties not winning seats. This is, by far, a new record.
  • The foregoing outcomes are due to the relatively high 5% threshold parties face for winning seats in the Bundestag.

As for what this means for the future of the Eurozone, I have no idea. Status quo, I suppose. But if the economy remains poor in four years’ time, I think we can expect quite a shakeup. The two biggest parties are now in the hotseat.

UPDATE: These interesting charts show that the euroskeptic AfD received almost as many votes from former supporters of left parties as from the right. That may explain why the left, overall, is down.

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Ezra Klein has an interesting piece (Wonkblog) on the collective-action problem facing the GOP with respect to Obamacare. Stated concisely:

Here’s the Republican Party’s problem, in two sentences: It would be a disaster for the party to shut down the government over Obamacare. But it’s good for every individual Republican politician to support shutting down the government over Obamacare.

These smart-for-one, dumb-for-all problems have a name: Collective-action problems.

As Klein correctly notes, ideally,  party leadership plays a critical role in managing these problems through the use of various carrots and sticks (“Threats, flattery, fundraising money, and plum committee assignments are all deployed to keep members of Congress from undermining the group in order to help themselves”). But the GOP leadership appears to lack the power to control the behavior of its members, particularly those who are aligned with the Tea Party.

It should prove interesting to watch the collective-action problem unfold in the next few weeks as Congress turns to the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling (not to mention broader issues like immigration reform). (more…)

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  1. Will May has done some really interesting analysis of roll-call voting in the New Hampshire legislature. Recently he did an analysis of where Free Stater legislators fall on the left-right spectrum as revealed by W-NOMINATE data (this procedure places legislators on a dimension of votes as revealed by correlations in voting behavior, not an “objective” standard of liberalism or conservatism) and on the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance’s Liberty Rating(*). What he found revealed that most Free Staters lie solidly to the right. The main interpretation here is that the GOP in N.H. is fairly libertarian, while the Dems are fairly statist. Yet there are subtle deviations as well. Democratic activists picked up on this work to charge Free Staters with voting as a “monolithic bloc.” On a closer look, however, the standard deviation of ideological positions among Free Stater legislators turned out be higher than for non-Free Stater Dems. Oops.
  2. Tonight the Concord City council voted to accept the BEARCAT grant on an 11-4 vote. The lure of federal money is hard to resist. Nevertheless, concerned Concord residents obtained signatures from over 1,500 residents (something like 7-8% of the adult population) in opposition to the BEARCAT. Word is that several city council members justified their votes on the grounds that the grant application had been revised to remove references to the FSP and ONH as “domestic terroris[ts].” However, it’s unclear whether the grant application has actually been so revised, or whether the police chief just claimed it had been. More on this story to follow if anything else emerges.
  3. A few days ago the FSP took the extraordinary step of expunging from its participant rolls a man who blogged that “It’s a terribly unpopular thing to say, but the answer, at some point, is to kill government agents,” and “any level of force necessary for anyone to stop any government agent from furthering said coercion [tax collection in the context of funding the salaries of all government employees] is morally justifiable…” Internet flamewars ensued. Several newbies seemed convinced that the man was expelled for believing in the right to self-defense against government aggression. Of course, murdering government employees is closer to genocide than self-defense, but who’s counting? Oh, Internet macho libertarians, I am glad none of you will ever get a whiff of actual power.

As you can see, there’s never a dull moment here.

(*)Of all the organizations in the country promoting liberty, there are few more worthy of your financial support than the NH Liberty Alliance. I don’t have a formal role in that group, but I do give them money.

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In my policy classes, I begin with a simple question: “What is public policy?” I encourage my students to view policy as a pattern of purposive public action. Public policy is what government does and one must take care to separate these patterns of action from political rhetoric.  Of course, many students seem to resist this, given that they are taught in so many other classes to focus on rhetoric, discourse and symbols (what else matters?). The distinction between rhetoric and policy may have become more difficult for students, in part, because there is so much of the former and so little of the latter in contemporary politics.

Peter Suderman had an interesting piece in  Reason which begins with the following:“Washington is in a post-policy moment. Congress passes little of substance. Few bills make it to a vote, and those that do are intended as messages, symbols, or stunts, rather than policy reforms.” In short, rhetoric has displaced policy.

While this is commonly and conveniently attributed to GOP obstructionism, Suderman argues that there is something more going on.

 This is what really lies underneath the recent policy stagnation—not obstructionism, but exhausted party agendas with nowhere left to go. The truth is that both parties have largely achieved their long-term policy goals. And neither has a strong sense of what to do now.

The GOP achieved tax reductions and high levels of defense spending; the Democrats expanded entitlements. As a result, “the task is no longer to build toward something. It’s to defend what’s already been done.”

Suderman believes that this defensive complacency may be less of a problem for the GOP:

One key difference between the two parties… is that some Republicans have realized that they are spinning their wheels, and are looking for a way to escape. Hence the various factions vying for a new path forward: Libertarian populists, conservative reformers, neocon revivalists, security-state skeptics, other right-leaning entrepreneurs all start from a shared assumption that the Republican party’s policy ammunition is largely spent. The party needs a new story, a new framework, and new ideas to drive it. (more…)

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A Story of Decline

Fellow Pileus blogger Jason Sorens (along with his collaborator William Ruger) have gained some attention with their “Freedom in the 50 States,” a project that ranks the states based on a number of indicators (see Jason’s blog entry here). Although my state of residence, Connecticut, is number 40 in the rankings, there are some long-term trends that makes one confident that it will soon be in the bottom five.   These trends are presented in Jim Powell’s article on the nutmeg state (in  Forbes) entitled  “How Did Rich Connecticut Morph Into One of America’s Worst Performing Economies.”

Readers might be surprised to learn that Connecticut has been hemorrhaging population and businesses and is currently ranked number 50 in annual economic growth. This should be no great surprise given a few facts. There have been:  dramatic increases in taxation (including a $1.8 billion increase in 2011 alone, a year when 77 tax hikes were pushed through), rapidly expanding government payrolls (between 1970 and 2000, the state payrolls grew 6 times faster than the population), growing debt ($27,540 per capita), combined debt and pension liabilities amounting to 17.1 percent of GDP (the highest of any state), a flow of new regulations, a failed probate court system, and a record of cronyism and political corruption that even shocked the New York Times.

When I moved from Wisconsin to Connecticut in 1989, there was no state income tax. I felt as if I had entered the land of the free. In 1990, however, Lowell Weicker was elected governor and the income tax was enacted as a means of addressing the state’s fiscal imbalances. As Powell explains:

The income tax failed to achieve the wonders Weicker claimed.  By siphoning more money out of the private sector, the Connecticut income tax reduced the amount of money available for private sector hiring and reduced the amount of money available for consumer spending. … Ironically, while Connecticut’s income tax generated more revenue than the state had before, it undermined efforts to control spending.  The last Connecticut annual budget before the income tax was about $7.5 billion, and state spending since then has nearly tripled – not counting all of the state’s spending on Medicaid.

As elected officials discovered that the new revenues only increased their capacity to spend and secure the support of various constituents and transfer seekers, more taxes simply led to more spending, which led to more taxes and more spending. Connecticut entered the long decline that many residents have witnessed.

Jim Powell’s piece provides some useful lessons of how a long series of bad policy decisions can carry significant ramifications for a state’s economy. Given that these same policies have been embraced in Washington DC, there is little evidence that the lessons have been learned.

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Following the defeat of his amendment that would give Congress the right to vote to verify border security as a condition of permitting the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants to go forward, Senator Rand Paul has decided to oppose the immigration reform bill.

While the immigration bill has many flaws, it is certainly a pro-liberty bill on balance (and I am not quite the open-borders absolutist that some libertarians are, but the current state of immigration control is deeply illiberal and contrary to the best American values). Moreover, the bill’s bad aspects are almost entirely the result of the demands of “border security hawks” like Paul and his fellow right-wingers. Even if Paul really is, deep down, a libertarian of sorts, it seems he is likely to stick with whatever the right wing of his party wants. That bodes poorly for any future Paul presidency. Presidents tend to adapt to the culture of the executive bureaucracy: witness Obama’s u-turns on civil liberties issues. Paul’s actions on the immigration bill suggest that he lacks the courage to buck his party even for a popular cause. As Will Wilkinson put it at economist.com,

The energetic ideological base of the Republican Party is a nationalist, identity-politics movement for relatively well-to-do older white Americans known as the “tea party”. The tea party is interested in bald eagles, American flags, the founding fathers, Jesus Christ, fighter jets, empty libertarian rhetoric, and other markers of “authentic” American identity and supremacy.

Does Rand Paul really want to go down in history as a standard-bearer for that ilk? It seems so.

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Last week I noted, with some frustration, that the revelations about the NSA were not attracting the attention of much of the public (only 33 percent of Americans over 50 and only 12 percent of those between the ages of  18 and 29 were following the coverage of the NSA actions closely).   Apparently, the Senate has received the message. Only a minority of our senators attended thursday’s closed door briefing with National Intelligence Director Clapper and NSA Director Keith Alexander.

The Hill quotes Danielle Pletka from the American Enterprise Institute:

“If members were more diligent about attending briefings they would be far better informed about what’s going on, and they would also be far more willing to challenge the intelligence community on the conclusions that they come to,” she said.

“The truth is that members always come in at the end of the game, and as a result they take as gospel the assessments that they receive from the intelligence community,” she added.

Fundraising, Father’s Day, democratic oversight of the NSA’s surveillance programs…so much to do, so little time. And to schedule such things on a Thursday (i.e., the weekend).

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There are many angles to the ongoing protests in Istanbul and throughout Turkey, as there are to Turkish politics in general, but the one thing that struck me about this story when it first broke was: In what other country in the world would a national government have the power to decide whether a park in any city would be turned into a shopping mall?

Maybe France. In the 1970s.

(And yes, I’m aware of all the ironies here. Kemal Ataturk admired Jacobin centralization and brought it to Turkey; the AK Party hates the Kemalists, and vice versa; the AK Party nevertheless has adapted Kemalist institutions to their own purposes; etc.)

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If you see corruption in the upper tiers of government as a major problem for an economy’s health in the long run (and the balance of evidence suggests that it is, at least at high levels in capitalist countries), then externally imposed austerity might be the only way to root it out. Syracuse prof Glyn Morgan passes along this story from Spain:

Rato, Castellanos and others jointly own a commercial lot near Madrid that is leased to a third party, according to Ayala’s Jan. 10 statement to the court. They also controlled a company together while Rato, 64, was running Bankia, Ayala said.

At the same time, Lazard billed Bankia 9.2 million euros ($12 million) for work either assigned or executed during Rato’s 27-month tenure at the bank, court documents show.

Their relationship exemplifies how a network of leaders from the governing People’s Party helped their associates among the financial elite to profit while the country’s savings banks, known as cajas, racked up losses. That toxic combination flourished during the boom fueled by Spain’s entry into the euro in 1999 and served to deepen the crash that resulted in a 41 billion-euro bailout of Spanish lenders, according to Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

Whether harsh spending cuts are a good idea or not for countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece depends in part on how one values the long run versus the short run. Also from the story:

“The things that we need to do to make Spain work require pulling the rug out from under the core interests of everyone” in power, Ken Dubin, a political scientist who teaches in Madrid at IE business school and Carlos III University, said in a May 22 telephone interview. “This is a political racket run for the benefit of politicians who suck the marrow out of the citizenry.”

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All 50 states ban the direct sales of motor vehicles from manufacturers to consumers. The politics of this regrettable policy are clear: auto dealers are powerful political players in every state, while only a few states actually have manufacturing facilities. Banning direct manufacturer sales benefits dealers while hurting manufacturers and consumers.

State governments continue to insert themselves into the contractual relationships between car manufacturers and dealers, typically to the ostensible benefit of the latter. The New Hampshire Senate recently passed a bill regulating the terms and conditions of dealer contracts with manufacturers, prohibiting manufacturers from requiring dealers to alter the appearance of their showrooms, for instance. (Disturbingly, the state director of Americans for Prosperity in New Hampshire supports the bill.) The bill is actually unlikely to change any “balance of power” between automakers and auto dealers. Automakers will simply respond by vetting potential dealerships far more closely and perhaps charging higher franchise fees. The onus of this response is likely to fall more on new dealerships than on incumbents. So the real losers from the bill are going to be potential entrants into the car dealer industry and, of course, consumers.

These are not the only examples of “state protectionism,” in which state governments adopt laws meant to reduce competition from out-of-state businesses for the benefit of local incumbents. Some states still prohibit certain out-of-state direct-to-consumer wine shipments. Regulatory barriers can accomplish the same ends. States have widely varying regulations on insurance products, making regulatory compliance a huge barrier for a company trying to market a standard policy in multiple states. For a long time, major life insurance companies lobbied Congress to adopt a national life insurance regulatory regime, pre-empting state laws. They were opposed by local life insurance agents, for whom knowledge of and compliance with distinctive state regulations were a significant source of competitive advantage. In the end, no national legislation materialized, but Congress authorized the formation of an interstate compact, essentially a contract among consenting states that sets up a single insurance regulator. More than 40 states have joined the Interstate Insurance Product Regulation Commission, which regulates life insurance and annuities.

Such state protectionism potentially runs afoul of the so-called “dormant commerce clause” of the U.S. Constitution. The commerce clause allows Congress to regulate trade among the several states. By implication, then, states are presumptively prohibited from burdening interstate trade, unless authorized by Congress. Unfortunately, courts have been reluctant to scrutinize state economic regulations that have an essentially protectionist character, although especially blatant discrimination against out-of-state imports has been overturned. (more…)

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The Economist has come out against race-based affirmative action in the United States, a surprising (to me) move given the magazine’s socially left-of-center outlook (e.g., for legalizing drugs and banning handguns). Indeed, the way in which affirmative action as currently practiced discriminates against Asians even more than against whites is difficult to justify. (I argued here that state-sponsored affirmative action is not inherently unjust.) Moreover, the paternalist case against affirmative action cannot be dismissed out of hand:

[After California banned affirmative action, t]he number of blacks and Hispanics enrolled fell, particularly at the flagship schools, Berkeley and UCLA.

What was more surprising was that in the entering class of 2000 a record number of black students graduated on time. Mr Sander and Mr Taylor argue that previously low black graduation rates were a result of the mismatch which occurs when a student granted preferential admission winds up at an institution for which he is not academically suited. He begins at a marked relative disadvantage and falls behind quickly. His grades get lower and lower and in the worst cases he loses confidence and fails to graduate.

Mr Sander and Mr Taylor attribute a host of bad outcomes to mismatch. For example, more black than white high-school seniors aspire to science and engineering careers, but once in college twice as many black students as white abandon those challenging fields.

Note that if you buy this argument against affirmative action, you should also oppose “legacy” preferences in affirmative action (and rational parents would not oppose the move, leaving no apparent constituency on the other side of the question).

Nevertheless, affirmative action in the United States is not as noxious as ethnic and racial preferences in many other parts of the world. In Sri Lanka, ethnic Sinhalese university applicants receive large preferences relative to ethnic Tamils. The reason seems to be nothing other than that Sinhalese are the majority in the country, and they will damned well discriminate against minorities however they please. (Such is the reality of democracy in the developing world.) In Malaysia, Malays and other bumiputera receive wide-ranging preferences in education and business. (For instance, firms must have at least 40% Malay ownership.) Chinese and Indians suffer.

So in most of the world, “affirmative action” just means that politically dominant ethnic groups get to repress the politically subordinate. But in the United States, affirmative action does not mean the translation of the ethnic majority’s political power into other spheres of social life. Blacks in the U.S. remain a small minority of the population and thus suffer from collective political disadvantage (due in part as well to their overwhelming support for one political party, which leads politicians to take their votes for granted). Eliminating all educational and economic advantages for blacks will alienate most of them. Of course, many African-Americans oppose affirmative action — but most still support it and see a role for it. The Supreme Court should be reluctant to impose a judicial solution to a sensitive political problem. A sweeping ruling constitutionally prohibiting virtually all racial preferences in all walks of life is more likely to increase racial tension than diminish it. The justices should apply the law but do so humbly, with the understanding that nine justices cannot foresee all future political contingencies.

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John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman (Politico) report (unsurprisingly) that those who brought us the Affordable Care Act are scurrying to create exemptions for Capitol Hill. The big concern: the costs of insurance on the exchanges will lead to the rapid exodus of legislative aides—a policy-induced brain drain.

The talks — which involve Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Obama administration and other top lawmakers — are extraordinarily sensitive, with both sides acutely aware of the potential for political fallout from giving carve-outs from the hugely controversial law to 535 lawmakers and thousands of their aides.

They continue:

The problem stems from whether members and aides set to enter the exchanges would have their health insurance premiums subsidized by their employer — in this case, the federal government. If not, aides and lawmakers in both parties fear that staffers — especially low-paid junior aides — could be hit with thousands of dollars in new health care costs, prompting them to seek jobs elsewhere. Older, more senior staffers could also retire or jump to the private sector rather than face a big financial penalty. Plus, lawmakers — especially those with long careers in public service and smaller bank accounts — are also concerned about the hit to their own wallets.

Nancy Pelosi famously assured her audience “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” Now that lawmakers have found out what is in it, it appears they are not too pleased.  Or should we interpret their actions differently?

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President Obama’s budget proposal supports entitlement reform, in part, through the introduction of the chained CPI (rather than the current CPI-W) for calculating cost-of-living adjustments. This change has been part of various reform proposals over the years, although it has often been discussed as part of progressive indexing (i.e., maintaining the CPI-W for low wage workers, thereby increasing their Social Security payments relative to those with higher incomes).  This proposal has usually attracted the ire of those on the left, who view it as a cut in Social Security rather than a reduction in the trajectory of growth.

You would think that the President’s proposal would attract the unified support of the GOP. After all, many Republicans have made this proposal before, seeing it as one of several reforms that could address the long-term entitlement problem. But with the 2014 midterm elections quickly approaching, some Republicans may see the short-term political benefits of blocking reform to be irresistible.  Consider National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), who has presented the chained CPI as Obama “trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors.”   A piece by Alex Roarty (National Journal provides an extended quote from Walden’s interview on CNN:

“When you’re going after seniors the way he’s already done on Obamacare, taken $700 billion out of Medicare to put into Obamacare and now coming back at seniors again, I think you’re crossing that line very quickly here in terms of denying access to seniors for health care in districts like mine certainly and around the country,” Walden said. “I think he’s going to have a lot of pushback from some of the major senior organizations on this and Republicans as well.”

Although the Club for Growth is not pleased with Walden’s critique, at least he has gained the support of the AFL-CIO, as the National Journal reports.

“Walden’s quote underscores what we knew,” said Mike Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO’s political director. “Obama’s chained CPI proposal is terrible policy that only makes political sense to Washington insiders who don’t get outside the Beltway often enough. Obama beat Romney because working people care more about jobs and fairness than the deficit, and Democrats risk losing their political edge on the issue if they stick with this Beltway gambit.”

The GOP leadership may discipline Walden. But if Walden’s comments signal the GOP’s intention of opposing reform in hopes of winning some additional seats in 2014 and undermining the Democratic Party’s claim of protecting seniors, one can predict that entitlement reform will be kicked down the road once again.

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As I argued, this is what he set out to do with his filibuster:

A year ago, as the presidential race was taking shape, The Washington Post’s pollster asked voters whether they favored the use of drones to kill terrorists or terror suspects if they were “American citizens living in other countries.” The net rating at the time was positive: 65 percent for, 26 percent against.

Today, after a month of Rand Paul-driven discussion of drone warfare, Gallup asks basically the same question: Should the U.S. “use drones to launch airstrikes in other countries against U.S. citizens living abroad who are suspected terrorists?” The new numbers: 41 percent for, 52 percent against.

The lede of the poll is even kinder to Paul, finding as high as 79 percent opposition to targeted killing in the United States. But that’s a new question. On the old question, we’ve seen a real queasy swing of public opinion.

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The media has covered Paul’s CPAC address by playing a simple sound byte: “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered. I don’t think we need to name any names here, do we?”  Yes, that is in the speech, but there is much more. You can read the full transcript here. A few selections:

On drones:

Eisenhower wrote, “How far can you go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without?” If we destroy our enemy but lose what defines our freedom in the process, have we really won? If we allow one man to charge Americans as enemy combatants and indefinitely detain or drone them, then what exactly is it our brave young men and women are fighting for?

On the future of the GOP:

The Republican Party has to change—by  going forward to the classical and timeless ideas enshrined in our Constitution. When we understand that that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then we will become the dominant national party again. It is time for us to revive Reagan’s law: For liberty to expand, government must now contract. For the economy to grow, government must get out of the way.

The address is rather casual and has the feel of a stump speech. One can only wonder if Senator Paul is getting serious about seeking the GOP nomination for 2016. If so, does he stand a fighting chance?

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Several of my progressive Facebook friends posted about Gabrielle Giffords’ testimony before Congress about gun legislation, editorializing that we/they should pay close attention because of her personal experience as a victim of violence. Now, I understand why some criminal courts allow victim-impact statements: before deciding what sort of punishment should be meted out, it’s relevant to see how the crime has had an impact on the victim. But Congress isn’t in the business of punishing particular offenders – its function is to create legislation for the good of the country. (Yes, I’m rolling my eyes too, but let’s stipulate this arguendo.) So the relevance of victim-impact statements in this context is…what? This strikes me as legislating the ad misericordiam fallacy, using raw emotion as a substitute for rational analysis. But what’s especially irritating is that the last big example of this was when the other party was in power, and the party in power always has a predictably selective memory. After 9/11, emotions were pretty raw. A lot more pain and suffering that day than after any of the recent mass shootings. What was the result? A decade-long war in Afghanistan. Rampant abuse of executive power. Indefinite detention without trial. Lost privacy rights. The TSA. Kill lists. Mass shootings are to the left what terrorist attacks are to the right: emotional outcry by the public leading to grandstanding by whichever party is in power, and increased erosion of liberty. This is what happens when you legislate based on raw emotions, and disregard both the Constitution and the very idea of rational analysis. Let’s not keep making the same mistake.

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The Second Term Begins

Today is the inauguration and the beginning of President Obama’s second term in office.

Ralph Nader, for one, isn’t impressed with inaugurations. As he noted Sunday:

“Tomorrow I’ll watch another rendition of political bulls—- by the newly reelected president, full of promises that he intends to break just like he did in 2009.”

Nader might be a bit harsh in his evaluation. I doubt that President Obama assumed office in 2009 with the intention to break his promises. More likely, he issued his promises to build a coalition and did so before he fully understood the intrinsic complexities of the issues and the limitations of the office.  In the end, there are distinct limits to what a president can achieve given our system of separate institutions sharing powers.  Certainly, President Obama seems to have had distinct difficulties with Congress, even when there was unified Democratic control (e.g., health care, Dodd-Frank, climate change). Whether this was a product of his inexperience or his management style is the subject of ongoing debate. Certainly, things have only become more difficult in the post-2010 period with the GOP in charge of the House. The sluggishness of the recovery (in part a product of public policy and regime uncertainty) has imposed its own set of constraints.

This weekend, Ed O’Keefe provided his assessment of the past four years (WaPo), comparing the campaign promises of 2008 with the performance record. His assessment:

  1. Afghanistan: partially achieved
  2. Iraq: achieved
  3. Climate change: incomplete
  4. Health care overhaul: partially achieved
  5. Guantanamo Bay: failed
  6. The economy: failed
  7. Transparency/government openness: partially achieved
  8. Making government “cool again”: incomplete
  9. United States’ standing in the world: partially achieved
  10. Financial overhaul: partially achieved
  11. Breaking the partisan logjam: failed
  12. Supreme Court appointments: achieved

I would issue a somewhat harsher evaluation of Afghanistan, climate change, transparency and the financial overhaul.  Beyond these items, I would make more of the expansive use of drones and the carnage it has created for civilian populations (apparently, we mourn only the innocent children killed within our own borders).

Looking to the future, my guess is that some of the promises of the past will be recycled. Others (gun control, immigration) will rise to the top. The constraints imposed by our fiscal problems and the economy will continue to impose limits, both in terms of new spending programs and their crowding out other items on the policy agenda.  All in all, I can’t imagine that there will be much of a legacy emerging out of the next four years.

Do any Pileus readers want to issue their own assessment of the past four years?

Any predictions of what the next four years will hold?

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An interesting new poll from Public Policy Polling shows strong support for marijuana reform in New Hampshire:

For legalization (taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, with licensed stores): 53%. Opposed: 37%.
For decriminalization (replacing criminal penalties for possession of less than an ounce with a fine): 62%. Opposed: 27%.
For medical marijuana (allowing seriously or terminally ill patients to use marijuana if their doctors recommend it): 68%. Opposed: 26%.

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In Canada, provincial parties are totally organizationally independent of federal parties and may not even have the same names. Thus, the British Columbia Liberal Party has generally been right-of-center, and British Columbia Liberals tend to vote Conservative at the federal level. Quebec Liberals have generally been more Quebec-nationalist/decentralist than the federal Liberals. Most provinces have parties named “Progressive Conservative,” even though there is no longer any federal Progressive Conservative Party. And so on.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way in the U.S. State (and even local) elections feature Republican and Democratic candidates, except in Nebraska, where state legislative elections are nonpartisan. As a result, state election results are driven by national trends. Surprisingly, political scientists had not formalized this insight until recently. Here is a paper from Steven Rogers:

State legislative elections are not referendums on state legislators’ own performance but are instead dominated by national politics. Presidential evaluations and the national economy matter much more for state legislators’ elections than state-level economic conditions,  state policy outcomes, or voters’ assessments of the legislature. Previous analyses of  state legislative elections fail to consider which party controls the state legislature and whether voters know this information. When accounting for these factors, I discover that even when the legislature performs well, misinformed voters mistakenly reward the minority party. Thus, while state legislatures wield considerable policy-making power, elections are ineffective in holding state legislative parties accountable for their own performance and lawmaking.

Tyler Cowen calls this “the problem with federalism.” But it isn’t a problem with federalism as such. It’s a problem with U.S. federalism. In Canada, you can’t send a message to the federal government by voting against the incumbent federal party at the provincial level. (In fact, provincial elections are not held on the same days as federal elections.) Changing the perverse accountability dynamic of U.S. state legislatures may require something as simple as changing the names of state parties.

State parties may even have an incentive to do this. For instance, the Republican Party in New Hampshire could change its name to something like “New Hampshire Conservative Party” or “New Hampshire Party.” By doing so, it could help to insulate itself from the partisan swings at the national level that are beyond its control.

In the last election, New Hampshire Republicans lost majorities in the state house and the executive council. The reason for this was the (more…)

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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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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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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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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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