Electoral Politics

What, If Anything, Will Unite Americans?

I don’t expect that Americans can ever be united in their political principles and policy preferences. But the cacophony that emanates from the present state of disunity is figuratively deafening. America would be on the verge of another civil war if the States were now as militarily strong, relative to the central government, as they were in 1861.

Because of the present imbalance of power, a “hot” civil war is unlikely. What then, if not a civil war, might put an end to America’s internal strife? Or is it America’s fate to muddle along in clangorous divisiveness?

History tells me that when the world seems headed in a particular direction, a cataclysmic exogenous event intervenes. Here are some examples:

World War I brought an end to Edwardian elegance, sparked the demise of the British class system, and stamped the United States as a world power.

The Great Depression curtailed the Jazz Age and its associated “excesses,” as they were then considered.

World War II created the economic conditions that helped put an end to the Great Depression in the United States.

Assassinations and anti-war protests rang down the curtain on “Camelot” and deference to authority figures.

The Reagan-Volcker inflation-busting shock of the early 1980’s did much to end the “malaise” that characterized the 1970s — from Watergate to the Iran hostage crisis — and fostered almost 30 years of relative prosperity.

Gorbachev’s sudden “surrender” — due in large part to Reagan’s defense buildup — put an end to the tense and costly 40-year-long Cold War.

A stock-market crash, followed closely by 9/11, ended the relative peace and prosperity of the Reagan-Clinton era.

What, if anything, could bring an end to — or at least muffle — the prevailing political cacophony? It’s impossible to say, of course. But two possibilities strike me as most likely:

– A major war in the Middle East, into which the U.S. is drawn because of oil, Israel, or both.

– A terrorist attack on the U.S. that claims many lives (far more than 9/11), cripples vital infrastructure, or both.

There is a peaceful possibility — though it doesn’t preclude the two unappealing scenarios; the possibility is de facto secession. This has begun in a small way, with State-level legalization of marijuana, which has happened in spite of the central government’s de jure power to criminalize it.

It is therefore imaginable that GOP control of the White House and Congress would embolden some GOP-controlled States to openly flout federal laws, regulations, and judicial decrees about such matters as same-sex marriage, environmental emissions, and Obamacare — to name a few obvious targets. The result, if it came to pass, would be something like the kind of federalism envisioned by the Framers of the Constitution.

But leftists would resist, loudly and demagogically. Given their need to control others, they would use every trick in the book to keep GOP-controlled States in line while giving free rein to Democrat-controlled States. In the end, the cacophony might intensify, not diminish.

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Related posts:
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Next 9/11?
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
NEVER FORGIVE, NEVER FORGET, NEVER RELENT!
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Preemptive War
Preemptive War and Iran
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Secession, Anyone?
Obamacare and Zones of Liberty
Mission Not Accomplished
Secession for All Seasons
A New Constitution for a New Republic
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
The World Turned Upside Down
Secession Made Easy
More about “Secession Made Easy”
The Culture War
Defense Spending: One More Time
A Home of One’s Own
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Romanticizing the State
Surrender? Hell No!
Social Accounting: A Tool of Social Engineering
Has America Always Been Leftist?
Let’s Make a Deal
Jerks and Demagogues
Decline
Walking the Tightrope Reluctantly
How to Eradicate the Welfare State, and How Not to Do It
The Obamacare Effect: Greater Distrust of Government
“Blue Wall” Hype
Does Obama Love America?

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The Sorta Popular Congressional GOP

One of the polls that I track is Rasmussen Report’s weekly generic congressional ballot. My log of poll results goes back more than six years, to January 2009. The following graph shows the results and compares them with the popular-vote margins in the House elections of 2010, 2012, and 2014:

GOP lead-deficit in generic congressional ballot

Rasmussen’s poll was accurate in 2010, when the nationwide tally of votes for House candidates favored the GOP by almost 7 percentage points. The poll was accurate again in 2012, when the GOP came up short by more than 1 percentage point. But the story was different in 2014, when the poll undershot the GOP’s victory margin of 6 percentage points.

Is it possible that the poll sample has become biased toward Democrats? Perhaps. It’s also possible that Barack Obama’s lingering unpopularity gave the GOP an extra boost in 2014. (See this post.)

In any event, if the generic congressional ballot means anything, it means that the GOP is still on the upswing. It’s halting and slow, to be sure, but it’s an upswing. The question is whether Boehner, McConnell, and company can capitalize on their party’s relatively good standing with voters.

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“Blue Wall” Hype

Michael Barone’s analysis of the so-called Blue Wall is must-read. Barone opens with this:

Do Republicans have a realistic chance to win the next presidential election? Some analysts suggest the answer is no. They argue that there is a 240-electoral-vote “blue wall” of 18 states and D.C. that have gone Democratic in the last six presidential elections.

A Democratic nominee needs only 30 more electoral votes to win the presidency, they note accurately. A Republican nominee, they suggest, has little chance of breaking through the blue wall. He (or she) would have to win 270 of the 298 other electoral votes.

Democrats do have an advantage in the electoral vote, because heavily Democratic clusters clinch about 170 electoral votes for them, while Republicans have a lock on only about 105. But the blue wall theory, like all political rules of thumb, is true only till it’s not. And this one could easily prove inoperative in a competitive 2016 race. [“Democrats’ ‘Blue Wall’ Not Impregnable to Republicans — If They’re Smart,” AEI.org, February 17, 2014]

Barone then demonstrates the flimsiness of the “Blue Wall.” Here’s my take:

The right GOP candidate with the right message can win some or all of the States that Obama won narrowly in 2012. In the table below, they’re the States whose electoral votes are highlighted in pale blue in the Tossup column (Florida, Ohio, and Virginia) and the States in the Swing Blue column (Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). If the GOP candidate were to hold all of the States won by Romney and take the additional Tossup and Swing Blue States, he or she would garner 347 electoral votes — a resounding victory.

Election 2012 - closeness of election, by State
Source: Derived from this table at Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections.

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Election 2014: The Outlook on E-Day

UPDATED BELOW

Here it is, the day that anti-leftists have been waiting for. The portents remain favorable for GOP control of Congress.

As of this moment, the “poll of polls” at RealClearPolitics.com has the GOP gaining 7 Senate seats, for a 52-48 majority (assuming that 3 independents caucus with Democrats), and winning at least 226 House seats (241 if the tossups divide evenly). Henry Olsen also predicts that the GOP will pick up 7 Senate seats. And he sees the GOP taking 245 House seats.

The projected outcome in the House is close to my own estimate, which doesn’t rely on polls. In any event, the GOP is certain to retain its House majority, and almost certain to increase it — perhaps winning more seats than in any election since World War II. But don’t expect to wake up tomorrow morning with a GOP Senate majority in the bag. It may not be secured until December 6, with a runoff between Mary Landrieu (D) and Bill Cassidy (R), or until January 6, with a runoff between Michelle Nunn (D) and David Perdue (R).

The GOP’s resurgence has a lot (perhaps everything) to do with the continuing unpopularity of Obama and Obamacare. Both are less popular now than they were four years ago, when the GOP gained 6 Senate seats and won 242 House seats:

Election indicators - 2014 vs 2010

The indicators are drawn from the Obama Approval Index History published at Rasmussen Reports, and Rasmussen’s sporadic polling of likely voters about Obamacare (latest report here).

The first indicator (blue lines) measures Obama’s overall rating with likely voters. This indicator is a measure of superficial support for Obama. On that score, he’s just as unpopular now as he was four years ago. A plus for the GOP.

The second indicator (black lines) measures Obama’s rating with likely voters who express strong approval or disapproval of him. Obama’s strong-approval rating remains well below the pace of four years ago. A big plus for the GOP.

The third indicator (red lines) represents Obama’s strong-approval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly approve/fraction of likely voters who approve) divided by his strong-disapproval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly disapprove/fraction of likely voters who disapprove). I call this the “enthusiasm” indicator. Higher values represent greater enthusiasm for Obama; lower values, less enthusiasm. This is perhaps the best measure of support for Obama — and it looks a lot worse (for Democrats) than it did in 2010. Another big plus for the GOP.

The green points (connected by lines) are plots of Obamacare’s standing, as measured by the ratio of strong approval to strong disapproval among likely voters. Obamacare is faring much worse in 2014 than it did in 2010. Yet another big plus for the GOP.

UPDATE (11/06/14)

The indicators were on target.

With 52 Senate seats in the bag, the Republican candidate leading the Democrat incumbent in Alaska, and a pending runoff in Louisiana that’s almost certain to result in another GOP gain, it looks like the Reppublicans will end up with 54 seats. That would be a gain of 9 seats, as against 6 in 2010.

The GOP has already won 243 House seats, and it looks like another 5 will go Republican. A total of 248 would give the GOP its largest House majority since World War II.

UPDATE (12/17/14)

The final results are in. The GOP gained 9 Senate seats, for a 54-46 majority, and 14 House seats, for a 247-188 majority. That’s a benchmark that I’ll use in future projections of congressional elections.

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Election 2014: E-Day Minus 1 Week

UPDATED HERE

As of this moment, the “poll of polls” at RealClearPolitics.com has the GOP gaining 7 Senate seats, for a 52-48 majority, and winning at least 228 House seats (240 if the tossups divide evenly). The numbers will change between now and election day, so just click on the links for the latest estimates.

The projected outcome in the House is close to my own estimate, which doesn’t rely on polls. In any event, the GOP is certain to retain its majority, and almost certain to increase it — perhaps winning more seats than in any election since World War II.

The outcome in the Senate is less certain. But I remain optimistic, given the unpopularity of Obama and Obamacare relative to their standing four years ago, when the GOP gained 6 Senate seats:

Election indicators - 2014 vs 2010

The indicators are drawn from the Obama Approval Index History published at Rasmussen Reports, and Rasmussen’s sporadic polling of likely voters about Obamacare (latest report here).

The first indicator (blue lines) measures Obama’s overall rating with likely voters. This indicator is a measure of superficial support for Obama. On that score, he’s just as unpopular now as he was four years ago. A plus for the GOP.

The second indicator (black lines) measures Obama’s rating with likely voters who express strong approval or disapproval of him. Obama’s strong-approval rating remains well below the pace of four years ago. A big plus for the GOP.

The third indicator (red lines) represents Obama’s strong-approval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly approve/fraction of likely voters who approve) divided by his strong-disapproval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly disapprove/fraction of likely voters who disapprove). I call this the “enthusiasm” indicator. Higher values represent greater enthusiasm for Obama; lower values, less enthusiasm. This is perhaps the best measure of support for Obama — and it looks a lot worse (for Democrats) than it did in 2010. Another big plus for the GOP.

The green points (connected by lines) are plots of Obamacare’s standing, as measured by the ratio of strong approval to strong disapproval among likely voters. Obamacare is faring much worse in 2014 than it did in 2010. Yet another big plus for the GOP.

Stay tuned for my final report on the morning of election day.

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Election 2014: E-Day Minus 2 Weeks

UPDATE HERE

As of today, it looks like the GOP will repeat or improve on its showing in the 2010 mid-term election. Four years ago, the GOP won 242 House seats, to retake the majority in that body, and posted a significant 6-seat gain in the Senate.

It’s almost certain that the GOP will hold a larger majority in the House when all the votes have been counted in November. Further, the smart money is on a GOP gain of at least 6 seats in the Senate — enough to recapture the majority.

Obama’s current unpopularity, compared with his unpopularity four years ago, also bodes will for Republicans. I have concocted four indicators of Obama’s unpopularity in 2014 vs. 2010. They’re plotted in the graph at the end of this post.

The first indicator (blue lines) measures Obama’s overall rating with likely voters. This indicator is a measure of superficial support for Obama. On that score, he’s doing  a bit better than he was four years ago at this time.

The second indicator (black lines) measures Obama’s rating with likely voters who express strong approval or disapproval of him. Obama’s strong-approval rating remains well below the pace of four years ago, which is a good sign for the GOP.

The third indicator (red lines) represents Obama’s strong-approval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly approve/fraction of likely voters who approve) divided by his strong-disapproval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly disapprove/fraction of likely voters who disapprove). I call this the “enthusiasm” indicator. Higher values represent greater enthusiasm for Obama; lower values, less enthusiasm. This is perhaps the best measure of support for Obama — and, despite a recent uptick, it looks a lot worse (for Democrats) than it did in 2010.

The green points (connected by lines) are plots of Obamacare’s standing, as measured by the ratio of strong approval to strong disapproval among likely voters. Obamacare is faring much worse in 2014 than it did in 2010 — another good sign for the GOP.

Election indicators - 2014 vs 2010
The indicators are drawn from the Obama Approval Index History published at Rasmussen Reports, and Rasmussen’s sporadic polling of likely voters about Obamacare (latest report here).

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Election 2014: E-Day Minus 3 Weeks

LATEST VERSION HERE

Can the GOP repeat or improve on its showing in the 2010 mid-term election? Four years ago, the GOP won 242 House seats, a gain of 64 and more than enough to retake the majority. Over in the Senate, the GOP gained 6 seats, a good rebound but not enough for a majority.

Despite the loss of 8 House seats in 2012, the GOP retained a comfortable majority. And it’s almost certain that the GOP will hold a larger majority when all the votes are counted in November.

The outlook for the Senate is less clear, though there’s good reason to expect a GOP gain of 6 seats (or more) — enough to restore GOP control of the Senate.

I base my optimism on some indicators that I’ll continue to update as election day approaches. They’re drawn from the Obama Approval Index History published at Rasmussen Reports, and Rasmussen’s sporadic polling of likely voters about Obamacare (latest report here).

Election indicators - 2014 vs 2010

The first indicator (blue lines) measures Obama’s overall rating with likely voters. This indicator is a measure of superficial support for Obama. On that score, he’s doing about as well as he was four years ago at this time.

The second indicator (black lines) measures Obama’s rating with likely voters who express strong approval or disapproval. Obama’s strong-approval rating is below the pace of four years ago, which is a good sign for the GOP.

The third indicator (red lines) represents Obama’s strong-approval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly approve/fraction of likely voters who approve) divided by his strong-disapproval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly disapprove/fraction of likely voters who disapprove). I call this the “enthusiasm” indicator. Higher values represent greater enthusiasm for Obama; lower values, less enthusiasm. This is perhaps the best measure of support for Obama — and it looks a lot worse (for Democrats) than it did in 2010.

The green points (connected by lines) are plots of Obamacare’s standing, as measured by the ratio of strong approval to strong disapproval among likely voters. Obamacare is faring much worse in 2014 than it did in 2010 — another good sign for the GOP.

Some words of caution: It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

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Another Look at Election 2014

I’ve been running a series of poll-based posts about the November election. The most recent post is here; an update is due tomorrow. The numbers, to date, suggest a re-run of the mid-term election of 2010, when the GOP won 242 House seats and gained 6 Senate seats.

As a cross-check on the polls, I ran a statistical analysis of House results for 1946-2012, that is, for all 34 elections since World War II.* I won’t bore you with the details of the analysis, but I will share the results, in graphical form:

House seats won by GOP - actual and estimated

The light gray lines represent the 95-percent confidence interval around the estimates.

The estimate for 2014 is 257 GOP seats — a number that would be a post-war record if it comes to pass. The high end of the 95-percent confidence interval is 295 seats; the low end is 218 seats. If I were a bettor, I’d put my money on 257, plus or minus 5 percent, that is, 244-270 seats.

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* I revised this post 5 hours after its initial publication, to incorporate the result of a more robust statistical analysis. The projected number of House seats won by the GOP in 2014 has been revised downward by 6, from 263 to 257.

Election 2014: E-Day Minus 5 Weeks

UPDATED VERSION HERE

Can the GOP repeat (or better) its showing in the 2010 mid-term election? In that election, the GOP candidates for the House of Representatives garnered 53.4 percent of the two-party popular vote. As a result, the GOP gained 64 House seats and returned to the majority. Over in the Senate, the GOP gained 6 seats, a good rebound but not enough for a majority.

It’s certain that the mid-term of 2014 will yield a GOP majority in the House. The present 33-seat majority might even become the 49-seat majority that resulted from the 2010 mid-term — or something larger.

The outlook for the Senate is less clear, though there’s good reason to expect a GOP gain of at least 6 seats (as in 2010). It will take a gain of 6 seats (or more) to restore GOP control of the Senate.

I base my optimism on some indicators that I’ll continue to update as election day approaches. They’re based on the Obama Approval Index History published at Rasmussen Reports, and Rasmussen’s sporadic polling of likely voters about Obamacare (latest report here).

Election indicators - 2014 vs 2010

The first indicator (blue lines) measures Obama’s overall rating with likely voters. This indicator is a measure of superficial support for Obama. On that score, he’s doing about as well as he was four years ago at this time.

The second indicator (black lines) measures Obama’s rating with likely voters who express strong approval or disapproval. Obama’s strong-approval rating is below the pace of four years ago, which is a good sign for the GOP.

The third indicator (red lines) represents Obama’s strong-approval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly approve/fraction of likely voters who approve) divided by his strong-disapproval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly disapprove/fraction of likely voters who disapprove). I call this the “enthusiasm” indicator. Higher values represent greater enthusiasm for Obama; lower values, less enthusiasm. This is perhaps the best measure of support for Obama — and it looks a lot worse (for Democrats) than it did in 2010.

The green points (connected by lines) are plots of Obamacare’s standing, as measured by the ratio of strong approval to strong disapproval among likely voters. Obamacare is faring slightly worse in 2014 than it did in 2010 — another good sign for the GOP.

Some words of caution: In the absence of bad news for Obama (e.g., more beheadings, a military fiasco in the Middle East, a new scandal, a spate of huge increases in health-insurance premiums), his unpopularity may continue to diminish, as it has in recent weeks. If that happens, he won’t be a severe drag on Democrat candidates for the House and Senate. Which means that it will take a lot of hard and effective campaigning if the GOP is to increase its House majority and regain control of the Senate.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

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Election 2014: E-Day Minus 7 Weeks

GO HERE FOR THE NEXT EDITION.

In 2010 the GOP candidates for the House of Representatives garnered 53.4 percent of the two-party popular vote. As a result, the GOP gained 64 House seats. That showing was echoed in the Senate, where the GOP gained 6 seats.

What’s the prognosis for 2014? At seven weeks to election day, it’s too soon to tell for sure. But I’ve concocted some indicators that I’ll update as election day approaches. They’re based on the Obama Approval Index History published at Rasmussen Reports, and Rasmussen’s sporadic polling of likely voters about Obamacare (latest report here).

Election indicators - 2014 vs 2010

The first indicator (blue lines) measures Obama’s overall rating with likely voters. This indicator is a measure of superficial support for Obama. On that score, he’s doing slightly better than he was four years ago at this time, though he’s still underwater. Something not shown in the graph is worth noting: Obama’s daily approval rating showed a slight bump in the wake of his non-declaration of non-war against ISIS or ISIL; the bump has been flattened.

The second indicator (black lines) measures Obama’s rating with likely voters who express strong approval or disapproval. Obama’s strong approval rating is below the pace of four years ago, which is a good sign for the GOP.

The third indicator (red lines) represents Obama’s strong-approval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly approve/fraction of likely voters who approve) divided by his strong-disapproval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly disapprove/fraction of likely voters who disapprove). I call this the “enthusiasm” indicator. Higher values represent greater enthusiasm for Obama; lower values, less enthusiasm. This is perhaps the best measure of support for Obama — and it looks a lot worse (for Democrats) than it did in 2010.

The green points (connected by lines) are plots of Obamacare’s standing, as measured by the ratio of strong approval to strong disapproval among likely voters. Obamacare is faring worse in 2014 than it did in 2010 — another good sign for the GOP.

As of now, the indicators herald a repetition of the GOP’s resounding victory in the 2010 mid-term election. Unless there’s a drastic change, one way or the other, I expect the GOP to claim a 50-seat majority in the House. The GOP should seize control of the Senate (if only by 51-49), but individual Senate races are harder to handicap than the aggregate outcome of 435 House races.

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A Case for Redistribution, Not Made

Jessica Flanigan, one of the bleeders at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, offers this excuse for ripping money out of the hands of some persons and placing it into the hands of other persons:

Lately I’ve been thinking about my reasons for endorsing a UBI [universal basic income], especially given that I also share Michael Huemer’s skepticism about political authority. Consider this case:

  • (1) Anne runs a business called PropertySystem, which manufacturers and maintains a private currency that can be traded for goods and services. The currency exists in users’ private accounts and Anne’s company provides security services for users. If someone tries to hack into the accounts she prevents them from doing so. The company also punishes users who violate the rules of PropertySystem. So if someone steals or tries to steal the currency from users, that person may have some of their currency taken away or they may even be held in one of PropertySystem’s jails. These services are financed through a yearly service fee.

This sounds fine. If everyone consented to join PropertySystem then they can’t really complain that Anne charges a fee for the services. There will be some questions about those who are not PropertySystem members, and how Anne’s company should treat them. But for the membership, consent seems to render what Anne is doing permissible. Next,

  • (2) Anne thinks that it would be morally better if she gave money to poor people. She changes the user agreement for her currency holders to increase her maintenance fee and she gives some of the money to poor people. Or, Anne decides to just print more money and mail it to people so that she doesn’t have to raise fees, even though this could decrease the value of the holdings of her richest clients.

By changing the user agreement or distribution system in this way, Anne doesn’t seem to violate anyone’s rights. And PropertySystem does some good through its currency and protection services by using the company to benefit people who are badly off. Now imagine,

  • (3) Anne decides that she doesn’t like PropertySystem competing with other providers so she compels everyone in a certain territory to use PropertySystem’s currency and protection services and to pay service fees, which she now calls taxes.

 …[T[here are moral reasons in favor of Anne’s policy changes from (1) to (2). She changed the property conventions in ways that did not violate anyone’s pre-political ownership rights while still benefiting the badly off. If Anne implemented policy (2) after she started forcing everyone to join her company (3) it would still be morally better than policy (1) despite the fact that (3) is unjust.This is the reason I favor a basic income. Such a policy balances the reasonable complaints that people may have about the effects of a property system that they never consented to join. Though redistribution cannot justify forcing everyone to join a property system, it can at least compensate people who are very badly off partly because they were forced to join that property system. Some people will do very well under a property system that nevertheless violates their rights. But it is not a further rights violation if a property system doesn’t benefit the rich as much as it possibly could.

Flanigan’s logical confusion is astounding.

To begin with, if (3) is “unjust,” implementing (2) as a subset of (3) almost certainly expands the scope of injustice. Flanigan assumes, without justification, that those who are “very badly off” in are so “partly because they were forced to join the property system.” What’s much more likely is that those who are “very badly off” would be very badly off inside or outside the property system because they lack the mental or physical wherewithal to better themselves. By the same token, most of those who are very well off under the property system — including most members of that despised straw-man class, “crony capitalists” — probably would be very well off outside the property system because they possess the wherewithal to better themselves.

Flanigan, like most leftists, wants to blame a “system” instead of looking to the ability and determination of individual persons. Blaming a “system” justifies (in the minds of Flanigan and her ilk) “fixes” that are intended to favor those whom they assume to be “victims” of the “system.”

Flanigan’s simplistic taxonomy of cases — (1), (2), and (3) — bears no resemblance to political reality, that is, to the “system” that has existed in the United States, or to the “system” that has prevailed in the world at large for eons. Reality looks more like this:

The current “system” — the U.S. under the Constitution that was ratified by some of the people in 1788 — began with the imposition of a more intrusive central government on all of the people living within the geographical area defined as the United States. The constituent jurisdictions — the States and their political subdivisions — were governed to greater and lesser degrees of intrusiveness. But, slaves and indentured servants excpted, Americans were free to move to jurisdictions that they found more congenial. The westward expansion of the United States under minimalist territorial governments made “exit” an especially attractive and viable option from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. With the end of slavery (but not of government-imposed racial discrimination), negative liberty reached an apogee (for whites, at least) during the late 1800s.

The Progressives of the late 1800s and early 1900s — a vocal and eventually powerful minority — then began to use the central government to impose their paternalistic designs on the populace as a whole. There have since been some pauses in the accretion of power by the central government, and a few reversals in selected areas (e.g., limited “deregulation” of some industries). But the centralization of power has grown steadily since the Progressive Era, and the exit option has became almost a nullity.

Plugging that bit of potted history into Flanigan’s taxonomy, I would say that with the adoption of the Constitution Americans were thrust wholesale into stage (3). Because of the opening of the frontier, however, Americans (or a goodly fraction of them) had a shot at something less onerous for a while (call it 3-minus). But with the ascendancy of D.C. over the hinterlands we’ve all been in stage (3) for several decades. And income redistribution — whether it’s called welfare, Social Security, or UBI — is (a) nothing new and (b) nothing more than one among many features of stage (3).

Nor is that the end of the story. It’s impossible to sort the winners and losers under the “system” that’s been in place since 1788 — or 1781 if you prefer to begin with the Articles of Confederation, or 1607 if you prefer to begin with the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. It would require an intricate analysis of the economic and social effects of all the laws and regulations of the the United States — or the Colonies — and their subdivisions. And it would require the allocation of those effects to every person now living.

But that wouldn’t be enough, would it? Total fairness would require an accounting of the conditions in the various lands from which persons came to the United States, or which were absorbed into the United States. How far back should the analysis go? Perhaps not as far back as the origin of life 3.5 billion to 4.5 billion years ago, but certainly as far back as the advent of homo sapiens about 200,000 years ago. After all, where human beings are concerned there’s no such thing as a pre-political state of nature. Politics is what human beings “do” to get along with each other and to dominate each other, whether the polity in question numbers two or two billion persons.

Any less-detailed accounting, such as the one suggested by Flanigan, is meant to discriminate in favor of those persons (or classes of persons) favored by bleeding hearts, at the expense of those not favored. Why so? Because bleeding hearts (i.e., “liberals”) jump to conclusions about who’s “deserving” and who’s not. Further, they jump to conclusions about groups, not about individual persons, as if every member of an arbitrarily defined group had emerged from the same background, in every particular.

Slave owners jumped to the same conclusions about African Negroes. The all-powerful state — the state that can tax  X and give the money to Y — is the moral equivalent of a slave-owner. Taxation is a form of slavery.

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Related posts:
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Bleeding-Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists
Enough with the Bleeding Hearts, Already
Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism
Liberty and Society
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Getting Liberty Wrong
Libertarianism and the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists (Redux)

Election 2014: E-Day Minus 60

UPDATED HERE.

In 2010 the GOP candidates for the House of Representatives garnered 53.4 percent of the two-party popular vote. As a result, the GOP gained 64 House seats. That showing was echoed in the Senate, where the GOP gained 6 seats.

What’s the prognosis for 2014? It’s 60 days before the election, so it’s too soon to tell for sure. But I’ve concocted some indicators that I’ll update as election day approaches. They’re based on the Obama Approval Index History published at Rasmussen Reports, and Rasmussen’s sporadic polling of likely voters about Obamacare (latest report here).

Election indicators - 2014 vs 2010

The first indicator (blue lines) measures Obama’s overall rating with likely voters. The second indicator (black lines) measures Obama’s rating with likely voters who express strong approval or disapproval. Obama’s overall approval rating for 2014 is on a par with his overall approval rating for 2010, which is a good sign for the GOP. Obama’s strong approval rating is running well below the pace of four years ago, which is a very good sign for the GOP.

The third indicator (red lines) represents Obama’s strong-approval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly approve/fraction of likely voters who approve) divided by his strong-disapproval quotient (fraction of likely voters who strongly disapprove/fraction of likely voters who disapprove). I call this the “enthusiasm” indicator. Higher values represent greater enthusiasm for Obama; lower values, less enthusiasm.

The green points (connected by lines) are plots of Obamacare’s standing, as measured by the ratio of strong approval to strong disapproval among likely voters. Obamacare is faring worse in 2014 than it did in 2010 — another good sign for the GOP.

Obama’s overall approve/disapprove ratio is about the same as it was in the runup to the 2010 election, but Obama is faring worse this time around with respect to strong approve/disapprove, enthusiasm, and Obamacare. As of now, the indicators herald a repetition of the GOP’s resounding victory in the 2010 mid-term election. As of now, I expect the GOP to claim a 50-seat majority in the House and control of the Senate (if only by 51-49).

My Claim to Prescience

On April 24, 2009, just three months after Obama ascended to the presidency, I posted “Sizing Up Obama“:

On the one hand, we have FDR II, replete with schemes for managing our lives and fortunes.

On the other hand, we have Carter-Clinton II, ready to: kowtow to those who would bury us, create the illusion that peace will reign perforce, and act on that illusion by slashing the defense budget (thereby giving aid and comfort to our enemies).

Through the haze of smoke and glare of mirrors I see a youngish president exhorting us to “fear nothing but fear itself” while proclaiming “peace for our time,” as we “follow the yellow-brick road” to impotent serfdom.

I wouldn’t change a word of it.

Case closed.

Election 2014: Food for Thought

Will the GOP make big gains in the House and Senate this year? It seems to be the conventional wisdom that big gains will be made. But I don’t think it’s going to be quite the cakewalk that many commentators — and too many Republicans — are expecting. Consider the following graph, which I’ll translate and discuss below:

Obama's daily approval ratings_26 May 2014
Derived from Rasmussen Reports, Daily Presidential Tracking Poll.

First, what do the three lines mean?

The blue line represents the number of likely voters approving Obama’s performance divided by number of likely voters disapproving Obama’s performance. A ratio of 1.00 indicates parity — equal sentiment for and against Obama. A ratio below 1.00 means that likely voters, on balance, disapprove of Obama’s performance.

The black line represents the number of voters strongly approving divided by the number of voters strongly disapproving Obama’s performance. The post-reelection bandwagon aside, Obama has been on the wrong side of this crucial ratio since June 29, 2009.

The red line represents the intensity of disapproval. It’s the ratio of strong disapproval to overall disapproval.

In the election of 2010, when the GOP gained 64 House seats and 6 Senate seats, the trends were strongly anti-Obama. His overall approval/disapproval ratio had hovered around 0.9 for months; his strong approval/disapproval ratio had hovered around 0.6 for months; and the intensity of disapproval had been rising for months.

In 2012, when the GOP lost 8 House seats and 2 Senate seats, Obama’s stock had been on the rise for 3 months. It’s true that the strong disapproval/overall disapprove ratio was rising, but I attribute that to a smaller denominator, that is, a shrinking pool of likely voters who disapproved.

Which brings us to 2014. What’s happening now? Obama’s overall approval/disapproval ratio is higher than it was before the 2010 election, which could be a bad sign for the GOP. But — praise be — Obama’s strong approval/disapproval ratio seems to be a bit lower than it was in the runup to the 2010 election. If that ratio climbs, the GOP will have a fight on its hands, unless the “enthusiasm gap” keeps a lot of Democrats home on November 4.

So, in my view, 2014 isn’t guaranteed to be another 2010. And another 2010 is what’s needed if the GOP is to control both the House and Senate. Sure, the GOP can’t come close to a veto-proof majority in the Senate (and probably not in the House, either). But with control of the Senate, the GOP could stymie Obama’s court nominees. And with control of both houses, the GOP would face less pressure to comprise on defense spending, entitlement spending, and immigration — to name three salient issues. A weakened Obama would have less leverage in any showdown over those and other issues.

But to control Congress, the GOP has to hold the House and make big gains in the Senate. And for that to happen, the GOP must win the battle of enthusiasm; that is, it must take full advantage of disenchantment with Obama and his failed policies: the disaster that is Obamacare, the failure to deal with the looming disaster in entitlement spending, the naive reliance on diplomacy to secure national interests, and the high-handed pursuit of a radical social, economic, and environmental agenda.

Governmental Perversity

People are sometimes by harmed natural events such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. Though such events may be exogenous to human activity,they are somewhat predictable, in that people can know (or learn) where and (sometimes) approximately when such events are likely to occur. That knowledge, in turn, allows people to cope with natural events in three ways:

  • Move away from or avoid areas prone to natural disasters, at least during times of heightened risk.
  • Taking physical measures to reduce the damage caused by natural events.
  • Buying insurance to help defray the costs resulting a natural disaster.

Moral hazard enters the picture when government intervenes to encourage people to live in high-risk areas by insuring risks that private insurers will not insure (e.g., floods), by underwriting certain physical measures (e.g., the installation of bulkheads and pumping systems), and by reimbursing losses sustained by persons who insist on living in high-risk areas — as if to do so were a God-given right. Through such actions, government encourages unremunerative risk-taking, and transfers most of the resulting losses to those citizens who choose not to put themselves in harm’s way.

Now, egregious as it is, the moral hazard created by government with respect to natural disasters is nothing compared with the moral hazard created by government with respect to financial disasters. The recent financial crisis-cum-deep recession is but the latest in a long string of government-caused and government-aided economic messes.

In the recent case, the Federal Reserve and pseudo-private arms of the federal government (Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae) loosened the money supply and encouraged lenders to grant loans to marginal borrowers. Financial institutions were further encouraged to take undue risks by having seen, in times past, that there were bailouts at the end of the tunnel. Not all troubled firms were bailed out during the recent financial crisis, but enough of them were to ensure that the hope of being bailed out still shines brightly. Nor were bailouts limited to financial institutions; troubled companies like General Motors, which should have been put out of their misery, were given new life, at a high cost to taxpayers.

And so, thanks to government, people and businesses continue to take undue risks at the expense of their fellow citizens. Meanwhile — through taxes and regulations — government continues to discourage privately financed risk-taking (entrepreneurship) that is essential to economic growth.

Perversity, thy name is government.

*     *     *

Related posts:
The Stagnation Thesis
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Money, Credit, and Economic Fluctuations
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
Regulation as Wishful Thinking
In Defense of the 1%
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
Economic Growth Since World War II
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
The 80-20 Rule, Illustrated
Economics: A Survey (also here)
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Spending Inhibits Economic Growth
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
Progressive Taxation Is Alive and Well in the U.S. of A.
Some Inconvenient Facts about Income Inequality
Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism

An Agenda for the GOP

Despite my pessimistic view of America’s prospects, there is some hope for a non-violent reversal of America’s long slide into despotism. The reversal could begin in the next few years, if . . .

  • Republicans take control of Congress and the White House in the elections of 2014 and 2016.
  • When they gain control, they take a page from Barack Obama’s playbook and act swiftly and boldly — not defensively and apologetically.

How boldly? Roughly in order of difficulty — from easiest to hardest — here’s an agenda for the GOP:

1. Adopt and consistently use simple, hard-hitting slogans; for example: “Free and Responsible Americans Govern Themselves”; “Liberty and Security = Less Government and a Strong Defense”; “DC Knows How to Collect Taxes, but Not How to Run a Country.”

2. Rescind executive orders issued by Obama with respect to same-sex “marriage,” the environment, so-called climate change, and anything else that undermines free institutions and free markets.

3. Institute a waiting period of at least 6 months for all legislation and regulations. Further, every regulation on a particular matter must be expressly enacted into law in separate legislation. Omnibus legislation would be expressly forbidden.

4. Repeal Obamacare. If it’s deemed politically necessary to replace it with something, the something should be such things as means-tested vouchers for medical insurance, allowing insurance companies to operate across State lines; and phasing out employer-provided insurance and replacing it with portable plans.

5. Take advantage of the no-filibuster rule to fill all judicial vacancies on district and circuit courts with nominees with a demonstrated commitment to limited government.

6. Increase the number of seats on the Supreme Court from nine to eleven by reinstating long-vacant seats (associate justiceships 5 and 7). Extend the no-filibuster rule to include the Supreme Court and quickly fill the additional seats with persons whose commitment to limited government is unquestionable.

7. Require, by law, a balanced federal budget during every 10-year span, without exceptions: “More guns” would mean “less butter”; nothing would be “off budget.”

8. Rebuild national defense, and adopt a foreign policy that consists of a commitment to the defense of Americans’ overseas economic interests through unilateral action. Maintain military alliances only with those countries that are firmly committed to the use of military force to defend their own interests (e.g., Australia, South Korea, and Japan).

9. Replace the income tax with a national sales tax, and abolish the IRS.

10. Begin a transition away from Social Security and toward self-funded retirement — as an incentive to work and save. Social Security would be replaced by means-tested income subsidies for very-low-income persons over the age of 65. Payments on a sliding scale would reduce (if not eliminate) disincentives that arise from the threshold effect of all-or-nothing subsidies.

11. Begin a similar transition away from Medicare. (Medicaid is covered by #4.)

12. Stack the Senate with Republican senators from conservative States by carving new States out of existing States and rearranging State boundaries (with the consent of the legislatures of the affected States), as authorized by Article IV, Section 3, of the Constitution. Texas is a good candidate for subdivision; for example, the counties along the Rio Grande could be split off as a Democrat enclave and the rest of Texas could be divided into three GOP-dominated States, for a net gain of four GOP seats in the Senate. The outcome of the elections of 2014 and 2016 might make it easier to rearrange other States to the benefit of the GOP (see this post for specifics).

13. Devolve power and fiscal responsibility to the States by authorizing inter-State compacts, under Article I, Section 10, of the Constitution. For example, States in the Mississippi River watershed would organize and operate their own flood-control and disaster-relief programs; States in hurricane-prone areas would organize and operate their own programs for the mitigation of damage and post-storm recovery. The idea is to place responsibility closer to where it lies: with the people who choose to live in certain areas with known dangers.

If the GOP fails to win Congress and the White House, or if it succeeds electorally but fails to enact much of what I recommend, liberty-loving Americans can wave goodbye to the tattered remnants of their liberty. Unless . . .

Facts about Presidents (Updated)

Here, with the addition of two tables. One lists presidents by order of birth; the other, by order of death.

Two decades will go unrepresented by a presidential birth: the 1810s and the 1930s. The 1950s aren’t yet represented, but that gap might be filled.

Four decades will go unrepresented by a presidential death: the 1800s, 1810s, 1950s, and 1980s. A death in the 2010s is likely, unless George Herbert Walker Bush and James Earl Carter — both pushing 90 — last another five-plus years. The current record-holder for longevity is Gerald Rudolph Ford (born Leslie Lynch King Jr.), who died at age 93.45, barely surpassing Ronald Wilson Reagan’s 93.33 years.

Ford’s post-presidential survival of 29.93 years has been surpassed only by Carter’s 33-plus years (and counting) and Herbert Clark Hoover’s 31.63 years.  Hoover’s age at death — 90.17 years — puts him in 4th place, behind Ford, Reagan, and John Adams. It seems likely, however, that both Carter and G.H.W. Bush will move ahead of Hoover on the longevity list.