Archive for November, 2014

“Democrats must embrace government. It’s what we believe in; it’s what unites our party; and, most importantly, it’s the only thing that’s going to get the middle class going again.”

“Even this past election — a debacle for Democrats — was not a repudiation of government,” according to Senator Schumer (D-NY) in a speech to the National Press Club.   It was a repudiation of government incompetence.

“As 2014 began, the parties were in stalemate. But, when government failed to deliver on a string of non-economic issues — the roll out of Obamacare exchanges, the mishandling of the surge in border crossers, ineptitude at the VA , the initial handling of the Ebola threat, people lost faith in the government’s ability to work, and then blamed the incumbent governing party, the Democrats, creating a Republican wave.”

Two thoughts: (1) Given that both parties embrace government, this seems like a rather limited means of distinguishing the Democratic brand from the Republican brand. (2) But taking the Senator at his word–the Democratic Party is the party that “must embrace government” –and recalling that the Democratic Party was, in fact,  in control of government, one might have hoped that the speech would have juxtaposed the list of failures with a similar list of successes. Perhaps we will have to wait for 2016.

I have not found a full transcript of the speech. But there is a good deal of coverage  (NYT , Washington Post, Roll Call, and National Journal). Senator Schumer’s reflections on Obamacare are particularly interesting.


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Catalan President Artur Mas gave a major speech tonight, which fortunately Liz Castro live-translated on Twitter. To review, here’s where we are now: Catalonia held an informal plebiscite on independence on November 9, which the Constitutional Court had suspended, and 81% of voters supported independence. The Spanish state has refused to negotiate any constitutional revision that would permit a binding referendum on independence, and the state prosecutor has filed criminal charges against Artur Mas and two other cabinet ministers for going ahead with an informal poll. And a new poll (not from CEO, the Catalan government pollster) shows significant majority support for independence among those with an opinion, including support for a unilateral declaration of independence if independentists win the next election.

Since Spain has closed off all legal means to secession, the Catalans are now looking at extralegal means. In tonight’s artur masaddress, President Mas endorsed “plebiscitary elections” to the Catalan Parliament (previously discussed here). A unified pro-independence list would run in early elections, and if and only if that list obtained a majority of votes and seats, the new Catalan Parliament would declare its intention to secede. Within 18 months, it would set up the institutions of a new state and set the framework for elections to a constituent assembly that would draft a new constitution and declare independence. Anyone who runs on the unified list in the next election would be ineligible to run for the constituent assembly in the subsequent election. Mas himself says he will step down from Parliament at the end of the 18-month term if the plebiscitary election yields a pro-independence majority.

The unified pro-independence list would include members of all pro-independence parties as well as pro-independence members of civil society. Interestingly, Mas’ own party, a federation of a pro-independence party and a much smaller pro-federalism party, looks set to break apart now. The Catalan Republican Left (ERC), the second-largest party in Parliament, wants early elections now and an immediate declaration of independence if secessionists win a majority in that election. They have not ruled out participating in a unified list, however. A small, hard-left, secessionist party, CUP, has ruled out participating in such a list.

There are likely to be several consequences of Mas’ announcement. First, (more…)

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I am pleased to be a part of a new initiative to teach moral philosophy, economics, and public policy to high schoolers and policymakers, Ethics and Economics Education of New England (E3NE). High schoolers get too little instruction in economics and usually none at all in moral philosophy, at the moment when they are first starting to try to make sense of the social and political world. We’re trying to solve that problem with Ethics & Economics Challenge, a program involving weekly discussions in schools, free books, and an end-of-year speech competition in which they can win college scholarships. We’re also bringing expert guidance on public policy to state legislators with Big Idea Conferences, focusing on issues where state policies differ widely from an expert consensus (e.g., occupational licensing, exclusionary zoning, public pension funding).

Along with myself, several people associated with Pileus are also involved in E3NE: TFAS President Roger Ream, former Pileus blogger Jim Otteson, and my sometime coauthor Will Ruger.

After Thanksgiving we will be having a fundraising campaign. We have four schools interested in starting E&E Challenge in the spring, but we need money for scholarships, books, and the costs of driving to the schools. Our Board member Matt Philips is generously funding my salary. Every little bit helps, so we appreciate your support. For now, please visit our website, and stay tuned!

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President Obama is preparing to issue an executive order on immigration—the executive action that has been promised for some time. As one might guess, the NYT editorial board is pleased. Some supporters of liberalized immigration (including a path to citizenship) are concerned over the damage that Obama’s actions will do to the rule of law. As Damon Linker (The Week) explains:

The rule of law is far more about how things are done than about what is done. If Obama does what he appears poised to do, I won’t be the least bit troubled about the government breaking up fewer families and deporting fewer immigrants. But I will be deeply troubled about how the president went about achieving this goal — by violating the letter and the spirit of federal law.

Yes, yes, yes… presidents have taken extralegal action in the past—George W. Bush’s post-9/11 war on terror is a convenient case in point. But as Linker notes: “No matter how you feel about Bush’s actions, up until now, executive transgressions of the law have been made in the name of protecting the common good from a grave threat in a time of emergency.” Where is the emergency today?

Have we really gotten to the point where the executive can ignore and even violate, on the absurdly open-ended basis of “discretion,” the express intent of a federal law he is constitutionally empowered to execute — not because of an emergency, not because of a national threat, but merely because he wants to be a nice guy?

It appears that we have. (more…)

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Historic Milestone?

The press has been a buzz about the climate agreement between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping. The agreement commits the US to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025 (2005 baseline), well ahead of current projections. China has committed to stop growth in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 at the latest, largely by increasing its reliance on renewables and nuclear energy.

Secretary of State John Kerry (New York Times) describes the agreement as an historic milestone that “can inject momentum into the global climate negotiations” and “sends an important signal that we must get this agreement done, that we can get it done, and that we will get it done.”

Stephen Stromberg (Washington Post) seems almost as excited as the Secretary of State, noting that “Obama’s accumulating accomplishments on climate change might define his legacy.”

This [agreement] sweeps away years of anxiety about whether China and the United States — responsible together for nearly half of global greenhouse gas output — would ever cooperate on climate, rather than each perpetually waiting for the other to act. It will always be tough to get many nations to move together, and keep moving together, in the same direction. But two dominant — and historically reluctant — players now are.

Perhaps, but there is much room for skepticism. The agreement is simply that—a nonbinding agreement between two leaders who will not be around long enough to ensure implementation. (more…)

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Catalan Elections Bet

We’ve been having a lively debate in the comments to these two posts about the true level of support for independence in the Catalan population. I say a plebiscite on the question would yield a clear majority in favor; others disagree. So it seems like a good opportunity for a friendly bet!

I propose the following two bets:

1. If “plebiscitary elections” are held for the Parliament of Catalonia before the end of 2015 with a “unitary list” of pro-independence forces, I win the bet if the unitary list wins an absolute majority of valid votes (excluding blank and spoiled ballots and abstentions), and you win the bet if it doesn’t. If plebiscitary elections are not held for the Parliament of Catalonia with a unitary list of pro-independence forces before the end of 2015, then this bet is void.

2. If regular elections are held for the Parliament of Catalonia before the end of 2015, I win the bet if the summed votes of CiU (or CDC if it runs separately from Unio), ERC, CUP, SI, and any other pro-independence parties exceed 50% of valid votes (excluding blank and spoiled ballots and abstentions), and you win the bet if they do not. If regular elections are not held for the Parliament of Catalonia before the end of 2015, then this bet is void.

Please notify me if you would like to take me up on either or both bets and give a proposed bet amount in a currency of your choice. I will give even odds. I will limit my total exposure on all bets to $800/€600. All payments will be made by Paypal.

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A Mandate for Meh

A week has passed since the election, and I think Ron Fournier (National Journal) has provided a decent interpretation of the results:

The winners were disgust, apathy, and a gnawing desire for a better choice – an alternative to what the two major parties currently are offering.

Rather than a mandate for anything, the results suggest a continuation of a pattern of voters casting a no confidence vote for the status quo. As Fournier concludes, the future could hold one of two possibilities:

The first is depressing, and potentially crippling: Voters continue to cast protest votes, extending the era of boom-and-bust cycles, with power shifting between two unpopular, dysfunctional parties.

The second is disruptive and uncertain, but renewing: Old political structures and habits give way to new systems that are transparent, authentic, competent and empowering in a way that appeals to the rising generation of so-called millennials.

Anyone want to place a bet on which of these outcomes is more likely?

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