Electoral Politics

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.

Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes

It seems as though everyone’s talking and writing about stagnant wages, growing income inequality, gender discrimination in pay, concentration of wealth, no/less/too-little upward mobility, shrinking middle class, foreclosure of opportunity, end of the American Dream, higher mortality rates (due to income inequality), and on and on and on. (Insert exclamation marks to heighten the sense of outrage.)

All of these complaints — which emanate from the left and resound loudly in the media — presuppose the existence of several Platonic ideals; for example: correct wage levels, correct degrees of income and wealth inequality, correct rates of upward (and downward) mobility, an actually identifiable and permanent middle class, a measurable and optimum amount of opportunity, a definition of the American Dream that is more than pablum, and on and on.

All such ideals, of course, exist only in the minds of those who complain about stagnant wages, etc. But no matter — any excuse for further government intervention in the economy will do. And further government intervention will only harm those persons whom it is meant to help, by further reducing the rate of economic growth.

But nothing daunts true believers — Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, Joseph Stiglitz, and their ilk — who always want government to “do something.” Their preachings bolster the pro-government-spending biases of most pundits and a large fraction of politicians. One aim of the true believers is to shape the fickle mood of the general public and garner support for government action.

Anyway, the various manifestations of economic hysteria listed in the opening paragraph can be met with logic and facts — and often are. (See the list of readings at the bottom of this post.) It’s unlikely that logic and facts will sway those who are emotionally committed to the exaction of redistributive justice, and who have no interest in its infeasibility, high costs, and perverse consequences. But until that lucky day when legitimate government is restored to the United States, its defenders must rely on logic and facts.

Consider income inequality. Not only is there inequality — which should be unsurprising, given inequality of ability, ambition, etc. — but there is supposedly a growing gap between America’s “haves” and “have-nots.” A do-gooder would leave it at that. Not being one of them, I’ll ask the questions that they’re unwilling/afraid/too-jejune to ask:

  1. What is a have? Is it someone/a household whose income exceeds the median for all persons/households? Is in the top 20 percent of all such incomes? The top 5 percent? The top 1 percent? The top 0.1 percent? (Pick your favorite point along the continuous curves in the graphs here.)
  2. Or is a have defined by his/her/its wealth? And, if so, how? (See preceding bullet.)
  3. Do haves “rig the game” so that they are, in effect, stealing from have-nots?
  4. If haves are clever and determined enough to do that, isn’t it likely that they’d still be haves without “rigging the game”?
  5. Is one’s economic status a permanent thing, or do people in fact move up and down the economic ladder during their lifetimes?
  6. Are the have-nots of today — who, mostly, aren’t the have-nots of yesteryear — really worse off than their predecessors, or are they really better off?
  7. Are they worse off relatively?
  8. Will tomorrow’s have-nots be better off if the haves are deprived of income/wealth through redistributive actions taken by government?
  9. Or will redistributive actions simply make haves worse off and less likely to do the things that make have-nots better off (e.g., give huge sums to charity, invest in growth-producing investments)?

Questions 1 and 2 are unanswerable; the distinction between a have and a have-not is purely arbitrary. (It has been said, with some accuracy, that a rich person is someone who has more more money than you.) The answers to the other questions are: (3) only to the extent that some of them are aided by government through perverse regulations favored by do-gooders; (4) yes; (5) not permanent, plenty of movement; (6) better-off absolutely than earlier have-nots; (7) probably about the same, relatively, but they’re mostly different people; (8) worse off; (9) yes, redistributive actions make have-nots worse off by hindering economic growth. (For more, see the list of readings, below.)

Before signing off, I want to say a bit more about haves, have-nots, rigging the game, and hypocritical politicians:

Most of the haves — given their ambition, intelligence, and particular skillswould succeed famously, even without rigging the game in their favor. In any event, government does most of the rigging — mainly to “protect” the have-nots from “ruthless” operators. For example, there’s licensing and regulatory barriers to entry to high-paying professions, such as the creation and trading of financial instruments, doctoring, lawyering, and making licensed, patented drugs. The entire left-leaning entertainment industry thrives on government-granted copyrights

In free markets, there would be no rigging, or it wouldn’t last long because the high profits generated by rigging would entice competition. So, if you want to blame rigging for the advantages enjoyed by the haves, blame their cronies in government, many of whom make a career of crying (all the way to the bank) about inequality. (Relevant aside: It is no coincidence that in 2012, five of the top-six counties in median household income were in the D.C. area.)

Isn’t is strange that most of the pissing and moaning about inequality emanates from people who are either in high-income brackets or whose political rank enables them to live as if they were? (Obama, Biden, and members of Congress, I’m looking at you.) Isn’t it evident that the pissing and moaning results mainly from economic illiteracy, guilt, and political opportunism? It should be evident, unless you’re a complete naïf of the kind who still believes in the tooth fairy and free lunches.

I must add that I have yet to meet a pro-equality “liberal” who pays more taxes than demanded of him by the IRS, opens his house to the homeless, or associates with the unwashed masses. As Victor Davis Hanson observes, there are no (true) socialists among the powerful and affluent lefties who spout egalitarian slogans.

I’ve addressed income inequality and related matters in several posts, including “The Last(?) Word about Income Inequality,” “Taxing the Rich,” “More about Taxing the Rich,” “In Defense of the 1%,” and “Progressive Taxation Is Alive and Well in the U.S. of A,” “How High Should Taxes Be?,” and “Some Inconvenient Facts about Income Inequality.” (See also the links embedded in and appended to those posts.)

There’s much more on the web. The following is a small sample of the vast trove of reasoned, fact-filled writings that leftists ignore because they prefer myths to facts.

Income inequality, wealth inequality, and economic mobility
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, “The Myth of Increasing Income Inequality,” The Manhattan Institute, Issues 2012, March 2012
James Pethokoukis, “Obama’s Fact-Challenged Inequality Speech,” AEIdeas, July 26, 2013
James Pethokoukis, “3 Charts That Show What’s Really Going On with Economic Mobility in the U.S.,” AEIdeas, December 12, 2013
James Pethokoukis, “If All You Know about Income Inequality Is This Famous Chart, You Really Don’t Know Much,” AEIdeas, December 23, 2013
Don Boudreaux, “Questions about and for Those People Obsessed with Income Inequality,” Cafe Hayek, December 24, 2013
Raj Chetty, et al., “Is the United States Still a Land of Opportunity? Recent Trends in Intergenerational Mobility,” Working Paper 19844, National Bureau of Economic Research, January 2014 (related: N. Gregory Mankiw, “How Much Income Inequality Is Explained by Varying Parental Resources?,” Greg Mankiw’s Blog, January 24, 2014)
John Goodman, “Myths about Inequality,” John Goodman’s Health Policy Blog, January 15, 2014
Thomas Sowell, “Fact-Free Liberals (parts I, II, and III),” creators.com, January 21, 2014
James Pethokoukis, “Does Obama Know That Wealth Inequality Is Lower Now Than 25 Years Ago?,” AEIdeas, January 21, 2014
Ironman, “Debunking Income Inequality Theory,” Political Calculations, January 23, 2014
David Harsanyi, “State of the Union: Maybe You’re Not As Screwed As They Think You Are,” The Federalist, January 27, 2014
David Henderson, “Why Income Mobility Is Larger in the Middle,” EconLog, February 10, 2014
Linda Gorman, “More Accurate Measures Suggest Declining Income Inequality [not that it matters, one way or the other],” John Goodman’s Health Policy Blog, March 14, 2014
Mark R. Rank, “From Rags to Riches to Rags,” The New York Times, April 18, 2014

Executive pay, the “undeserving” rich, and the “1%”
James Pethokoukis, “Stunning New Study Dismantles Obama’s ’1% vs. 99%’ Inequality Argument,” AEIdeas, August 16, 2013
James Pethokoukis, “Why Steven Kaplan Says Brad DeLong Is Wrong about CEO Pay, the Superstar Theory, and Income Inequality,” AEIdeas, August 19, 2013
James Pethokoukis, “Why the Much-Hyped Oxfam Study on Global Inequality Is Misleading,” AEIdeas, January 21, 2014
Don Boudreaux, “Deidre McClosky on Oxfam’s Calculation of World Wealth ‘Distribution’,” Cafe Hayek, January 27, 2014
Walter E. Williams, “Politics of Hate and Envy,” creators.com, January 29, 2014
Robert J. Samuelson, “Myth-Making about Economic Inequality,” RealClearPolitics, February 3, 2014
N. Gregory Mankiw, “Yes, the Wealthy Can Be Deserving,” The New York Times, February 15, 2014
N. Gregory Mankiw, “CEO’s Are Paid for Performance,” Greg Mankiw’s Blog, February 17, 2014
Mark J. Perry, “‘Rich America Is Not the ‘Idle Rich’, but rather a Working America, an Educated America, and a Married America,” Carpe Diem, February 19, 2014

Rigging the system: “our” government at work
Bruce Yandle, “Bootleggers and Baptists,” Regulation, May/June 1983
Bruce Yandle “Bootleggers and Baptists in Retrospect,” Regulation, Fall 1999
Richard K. Vedder, “Federal Government Has Declared War on Work,” Commentary Articles, The Independent Institute, January 20, 2014

The effect of assortative mating on household income
Henry Harpending, “Class, Caste, and Genes,” West Hunter, January 13, 2012
Henry Harpending and Gregory Cochran, “Assortative Mating, Class, and Caste,” manuscript, December 1, 2013
Jeremy Greenwood et al., “Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating and Income Inequality,” Population Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania, January 12, 2014
Ironman, “In Which We’re Vindicated. Again.,” Political Calculations, January 28, 2014

The non-war on the middle class, women, and blacks
Mark J. Perry, “Yes, the Middle Class Has Been Disappearing, but They Haven’t Fallen into the Lower Class, They’ve Risen into the Upper Class,” Carpe Diem, July 12, 2013
Steve Sailer, “Breakthrough Study: Poor Blacks Tend to Stay Poor, Black,” Vdare.com, July 24, 2013
John B. Taylor, “The Weak Recovery Explains Rising Inequality, Not Vice Versa,” WSJ.com, September 9, 2013
John B. Taylor, “My Take on the Middle-Out View,” Economics One, September 9, 2013
James Bessen, “No, Technology Isn’t Going to Destroy the Middle Class,” The Washington Post, October 21, 2013
Bryan Caplan, “Is Average Over? Two Equivocal Graphs,” EconLog, January 4, 2014
N. Gregory Mankiw, “Does Income Inequality Increase Mortality?,” Greg Mankiw’s Blog, January 29, 2014
Christina Hoff Sommers, “No, Women Don’t Make Less Money Than Men,” The Daily Beast, February 1, 2014

The Fall and Rise of American Empire

Most Americans don’t like the idea of empire. It smacks of power, which is comforting and enriching when you have it, though few like to admit it. In short, empire can be a good thing. Lawrence W. Reed opens “The Fall of the Republic” with this:

For nearly five centuries, Res Publica Romana—the Roman Republic—bestowed upon the world a previously unseen degree of respect for individual rights and the rule of law. When the republic expired, the world would not see those wondrous achievements again on a comparable scale for a thousand years.

Reed summarizes the decline and fall of Rome:

The Roman Republic died a death of a thousand cuts. Or, to borrow from another, well-known parable: The heat below the pot in which the proverbial frog was boiled started out as a mere flicker of a flame, then rose gradually until it was too late for the frog to escape. Indeed, for a brief time, he enjoyed a nice warm bath….

Writers from the first centuries B.C. and A.D. offered useful insights to the decline. Polybius predicted that politicians would pander to the masses, leading to the mob rule of an unrestrained democracy. The constitution, he surmised, could not survive when that happened. Sallust bemoaned the erosion of morals and character and the rise of personal power lust. Livy, Plutarch, and Cato expressed similar sentiments. To the moment of his assassination, Cicero defended the Republic against the assaults of the early dictators because he knew they would transform Rome into a tyrannical despotism.

Ultimately, the collapse of the political order of republican Rome has its origins in three developments that took root in the second century B.C., then blossomed by the end of the first. One was foreign adventure. The second was the welfare state. The third was a sacrifice of constitutional norms and the rule of law to the demands of the other two.

The American equivalent of the Roman Republic didn’t last nearly as long — only about a century, from the Spanish-American War of 1898 through 1991, which marked the end of the Cold War and victory in the Gulf War. The relative peace and prosperity of the next several years masked America’s underlying decline, which has since became evident in the military, political, and economic events of the 21st century.

The causes and symptoms of America’s decline bear a strong resemblance to the decline of Rome. Let’s start with foreign adventure. By the end of 1991, America’s influence in the world seemed assured, given collapse of the USSR and the easy victory over Iraq in response to Saddam Hussein’s grab of Kuwait. But those two events proved to be the American Empire’s last gasp.

The dust had barely settled on the Gulf War when Somalia joined the list of post-World War II military misadventures, namely, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the lame response to the bombing of Marine barracks in Lebanon, and the jurisprudential reaction to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. (Some would argue that America’s entry into World War I was also a misadventure because of the imperial origins and tragic aftermath of the peace, namely, the rise of totalitarianism. But, at least, World War I ended decisively and in a clear-cut victory for America’s side — a victory that wouldn’t have been possible without the intervention of American forces.) The seeming disinclination of American leaders to stay the course and to wreak vengeance was duly noted in Osama bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa against the United States. As if to endorse that view, the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa were met with ineffectual missile strikes.

And then came 9/11, and in its wake the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both were cast in the mold of Korea and Vietnam: not enough firepower, not enough willpower. Barack Obama’s subsequent foreign policy misadventures and general retreat from effective leadership have only cemented America’s place as a declining, feckless, no-longer-fearsome power. Whence Obama’s fecklessness? Some argue that it is evidence of a deliberate effort to debase the United States.

So much for military misadventures. Let us turn to the growth of the welfare state and the sacrifice of constitutional norms. These go hand-in-hand, and both began before America’s military misadventures after World War II.

Consider the judicial betrayal of the constitutional scheme of limited government, and of order and traditional morality. There is no way, in the course of a blog post, to assess the full scope of the betrayal, in which the U.S. Supreme Court was a willing co-conspirator. Some examples will have to do:

Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell (1933) allowed governmental suspension of creditors’ remedies (i.e., foreclosure), thus undermining contractual relationships.

National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation (1937) validated the Wagner Act, which vastly expanded the ability of labor unions to extort employers, to restrict commerce, and to fatten the paychecks of union members at the expense of everyone else.

Helvering v. Davis (1937) found Social Security to be constitutional, despite the plain words of Article I, Section 8 (the enumerated powers of Congress).

Wickard v. Filburn (1942) gave Congress unlimited power to regulate anything remotely connected with interstate commerce.

Miranda v. Arizona (1966) stigmatized and hindered the efforts of police to protect the public. On the basis of “intuitive empiricism” (i.e., judicial guesswork), Miranda imposed an overly broad interpretation of the Fifth Amendment. (A subsequent empirical analysis suggests that Miranda was unwisely decided.)

Griggs v. Duke Power Company (1971) enshrined disparate impact as evidence of racial discrimination, and put the burden of proof on the accused employer.

Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) gave judges an easy way (the “Lemon test”) to rule against any government action that might incidentally benefit religion.

Roe v. Wade (1973) authorized murder in the name of privacy.

Goss v. Lopez (1975) made it more difficult for school authorities to discipline disruptive and destructive behavior, and (in my view) established — beyond hope of reversal — the interference of the central government in matters that ought to be handled and disposed of locally.

Coker v. Georgia (1977) outlawed the death penalty in cases of rape, thus contributing to the erosion of the death penalty as a serious deterrent to the commission of heinous crimes and a just penalty for same.

Tennessee Valley authority v. Hill (1978) gave the snail darter — and as a result, all kinds of critters — precedence over human beings, under the Endangered Species Act.

Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. (1984) vastly increased the power of regulatory agencies by decreeing “deference” toward rules made in the absence of specific congressional authorization, as long as the rules are “reasonable.”

Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority (1985) confirmed the hollowness of the Tenth Amendment and the States’ ability to exercise any power without the permission of the central government.

Kelo v. City of New London (2005) affirmed the right of any government in the United States to seize anyone’s property, at any time, for any use — even non-governmental.

National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012) granted the federal government power to tax anyone for any purpose, even for not doing something.

Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013) left standing a federal district court judge’s self-serving declaration that California’s duly adopted ban on same-sex “marriage” was unconstitutional, thus opening the door to similar holdings by other federal judges about other States’ duly adopted bans on same-sex “marriage.”

The judiciary didn’t instigate the vast expansion of the regulatory-welfare state and the overthrow of social norms, but the judiciary abetted them.

What does the regulatory-welfare state amount to? Huge federal welfare schemes, including but not limited to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; the addition of nine cabinet-level departments to the executive branch in the preceding 100 years; the creation of the cabinet-level Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); the delegation of legislative power to the EPA and other federal agencies, and ensuing accretion of rules made and enforced by those agencies; and the pervasive centralization of power in Washington, “thanks” to judicial misfeasance of the kinds listed above, and to political sleight-of-hand (e.g., “cooperative” federal-State programs like Medicare, and grants of “federal” money — i.e., taxpayers’ money — to State and local governments).

As for constitutional norms, the courts of the United States have become perversely “libertarian.” They seem driven to overturn long-standing, time-tested behavioral norms that guide individuals toward peaceful, constructive coexistence with their compatriots. Thus the “right” to an abortion in the first trimester, based on a non-existent general right of privacy, has become the right to kill a nearly born and newly born child. The “right” to practice sodomy has become an obligation to purvey goods and services to those who practice sodomy, regardless of one’s personal views about the practice. The “right” of a male student of confused gender to use the girl’s bathroom in a Maine school threatens to evolve into the “right” to walk into any damn bathroom at any time, regardless of one’s actual gender. And on and on, down the slippery slope and into unreason, barbarity, and oppression.

Where stands the Empire today? Clearly, America has less influence in the world than it had just after World War II and even after the Gulf War. What a joke it is when the American president must be rescued from the consequences of his own (possibly deliberate) haplessness by Russia’s leader, when Iran plays rope-a-dope with Obama in the matter of nuclear weapons, and when China flexes its new-found and growing military muscle without drawing a serious response from the U.S.

American power abroad could be restored in fairly short order, given the will to do so. But the hollowing out of America’s liberty and prosperity – which began in earnest with the New Deal — threatens to be permanent, given the decades-long transformation of the nation’s legal and bureaucratic infrastructure. Government — mainly the central government — now exerts financial control over 40 percent of the economy (here, see first graph), and arguably exerts regulatory control over almost all of it.

That control has long since passed from the elected “representatives” of the people to technocrats who are bent on dictating how Americans’ conduct their lives and earn their livelihoods. Thus:

In an FDA office building in suburban Maryland, the bureaucrats gather over coffee to draft rules meant to squeeze the trans fat out of snack foods.

Four blocks from the White House, in an EPA conference room: more bureaucrats, more meetings, more drafting of rules, these aimed at forcing industrialists to spend billions cutting carbon to fend off global warming.

Congress? Who needs Congress?

Americans heard President Barack Obama declare this week that he intends to bypass the gridlocked Hill to get things done on his own. What they didn’t hear: just how far he’s actually pushing his executive authority.

An in-depth examination of the administration’s actions and plans, agency by agency, regulation by regulation, reveals an executive power play that’s broad and bold — and intensely ambitious. Far more than he let on in the State of the Union, the president has marshaled the tools of his office to advance policies, many unabashedly liberal, that push deep into everyday life for tens of millions of Americans.

He wants to change how power plants operate. And what we buy for lunch. How we travel to work. And how our kids learn math. How our gasoline is formulated. How we light our aquariums.

Already, the president’s team has enacted 300 economically significant regulations, far more than Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan did in comparable periods. Some of those rules are driven by the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank banking reform, the two big laws Obama pushed through Congress early in his first term, when he had Democratic majorities in both houses. But there is far more.

Follow the link and read the rest, if you have the stomach for it.

The Empire lives, but it’s a different Empire than the one that enjoyed its last hurrah in the early 1990s. The Empire now exists not to make Americans safe and prosperous, but to dominate Americans in the name of overblown and non-existent threats (e.g., sexism, racism, endangered species, global warming), out of ersatz compassion, and with the aim of attaining the impossible: equality for all. Well, equality for all but that minority of minorities — the hard-working, tax-paying, straight, white person of European or Asian descent who minds his own business and not everyone else’s. If you are one of those, and religious as well, you are a particular object of persecution and prosecution.

In sum, a new Empire has arisen on America’s shores. If it had a motto, it would be* “trillions for the regulatory-welfare state and its clients, but not enough for defense.”

*     *     *

Related reading:
Bill Gertz, “Putin’s July 4th Message,” The Washington Free Beacon, July 6, 2012
Dean Cheng, “South China Sea: China Drops a Bombshell,” The Foundry, July 7, 2012
Walter Russell Mead and staff, “Putin Tells His Ambassadors: The West Is All Washed Up,” The American Interest, July 9, 2012
Erica Ritz, “Troubling? Putin Oversees Largest Nuclear Tests since the Cold War,” The Blaze, October 20, 2012
Norman Podhoretz, “Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” WSJ.com, September 8, 2013
Melanie Phillips, “Putin Checkmates America,” Melanie’s Blog, September 15, 2013
Walter Russell Mead (and staff), “Mixed Messages from Washington Confuse Allies,” The American Interest, December 3, 2013
Lawrence W. Reed, “The Fall of the Republic,” The Freeman, January 8, 2014
doriangrey1, “The Iranian Rope-a-Dope,” The Wilderness of Mirrors, January 20, 2014
Bill Vallicella, “The Decline of the West: How Long Can We Last?,” Maverick Philosopher, January 21, 2014
Adam Garfinkle, “Obama’s Middle East Recessional” in four parts (here, here, here, here), The American Interest, January 21, 2014
Victor Davis Hanson, “Obama’s Recessional,” RealClearPolitics, January 22, 2014
Elise Cooper, “Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy: An Utter Failure,” American Thinker, January 26, 2014
Dan Roberts, “White House Warns Obama Ready to ‘Bypass on 2014 Agenda,” The Guardian, January 26, 2014
Alexander Boltin, “Cruz: Putin Plays Chess, Obama Plays Checkers on Foreign Policy,” The Hill, January 28, 2014
Stephanie Simon, “Obama’s Power Play,” Politico, January 31, 2014
Tom Blumer, “Is It Over and We Just Don’t Know It? Have We Lost Our Founders’ Government?,” PJ Media, February 10, 2014
Victor Davis Hanson, “An Orwellian Nation of Obamathink,” Jewish World Review, February 13, 2014
Angelo M. Codevilla, “Do We Deserve the Constitution of 2014?,” Library of Law and Liberty, February 16, 2014
Richard Winchester, “Left-Wing Totalitarianism in America,” American Thinker, February 17, 2014

Related posts:
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
The Left
Our Enemy, the State
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Well-Founded Pessimism
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
America: Past, Present, and Future
The Barbarians within and the State of the Union
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Spending Inhibits Economic Growth
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
The World Turned Upside Down
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
Defense Spending: One More Time
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
__________
* A mockery of the words of Robert Goodloe Harper, who as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1797, said “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.” The remark was occasioned by a demand from France for tribute (a bribe) in exchange for the release of American ships that had been seized by the French.

Facts about Presidents

I’ve added a new page, “Facts about Presidents.” It’s meant to be a handy source for readers who are interested in such things as the age of a president upon taking office, the length of time lived after leaving office, place of birth, religious affiliation, and more.

There you will find the birth names of the presidents, many of which differ from the names by which they are known. For example, no president to date has been known as a “Junior,” yet nine were and are a “Junior” (in fact if not in name) and two others — Obams and Clinton — are entitled to letter suffixes: II and III, respectively. In sum, 11 of the 43 men who served as president were named after their fathers, which suggests that a key source of political ambition is a felt need to “prove” oneself. There is further evidence for that hypothesis: Three presidents not entitled to a post-nominal suffix also felt the need to at least equal the achievements of their fathers and grandfather: John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams; Benjamin Harrison, grandson of William Henry Harrison; and George W. Bush, son of George H.W. Bush.

Did you know that John F. Kennedy — who became president on January 20, 1961 — was 26.62 years younger than his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower? That’s the largest age drop on record, and you’ll find the numbers in the second part of the three-part table of facts. Another factoid from the same part of the table: The largest age jump occurred on January 20, 1981, when James E. Carter was replaced by Ronald W. Reagan, who was 13.65 older than Carter.

Name changes? Several. Grant and Eisenhower ended up with different first and middle names than the ones they were born with. Adoptees Ford and Clinton ended up with different last names, and Ford’s was changed completely. Cleveland, Wilson, and Coolidge didn’t go by the first names given them at birth, preferring their more distinctive — and now old-fashioned — middle names.

Speaking of middle names, the first eight presidents had none. Theodore Roosevelt (president 1901-9) was the last president to lack one, though Harry Truman’s was just letter S.

There’s much more. Enjoy!

Another Obama Lie, and a Rant

From a CBS News story about the latest Obamacare fiasco:

President Obama on Thursday announced an administrative policy change that will let people keep their existing health insurance for another year, but the plan is already facing pushback from Republicans, some Democrats and the insurance industry….

…Mr. Obama predicted Thursday, “There’s gonna be some state-by-state evaluation on how this is handled.”

He added, however, that the “key point” is that it’s no longer the Affordable Care Act that’s responsible for plans being dropped….

What a whopper. Of course the ACA is responsible. Insurance companies were diligently complying with the ACA. And that didn’t happen overnight; they began to gear up for compliance as soon as ACA became law.

Now, one of Obama’s minions issues — by unconstitutional fiat — a “fix” that can’t easily be implemented, even if allowed by the insurance commissioners of some States. It’s a blatant and cynical PR move.

Here’s the rant — mine, not Obama’s (he can rant on his own time):

Left-wing amateur hour has dragged on 4-10/12 years too long. As the bumper sticker says, don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for him.

Did I foresee this particular fiasco? Of course not, but I foresaw that Obama would try to use government in ways that would harm most hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding Americans. Well, thanks to Obamacare, tax increases, racial politics, and various regulatory edicts he’s met my expectations. He’s also doing a good job of turning the U.S. into a second-rate power, unable to defend Americans’ far-flung overseas interests against the Russian and Chinese power grabs that are almost certainly in the works.

Even if Obama had succeeded in “bringing the country together” (or something to that effect), it would be a country that millions of us want no part of. On Thursday, November 28, if I give thanks for anything, it will be for a divided nation in which there is still principled and vigorous resistance to the likes of Barack Obama.
*     *     *
Related posts: Just about everything here.

Government Failure Comes as a Shock to Liberals

Richard Cohen of WaPo shares his disappointment in the god the failed:

Where is Casey Stengel when we need him? In 1962, as the manager of the brand new and determinedly hapless New York Mets — 40 wins, 120 losses — he looked up and down his bench one dismal day and wondered, “Can’t anybody here play this game?” That phrase kept coming at me recently as I watched the impressively inept performance of the Obama administration in both foreign and domestic policy. On a given day, this administration makes the ’62 Mets look good….

[Obama] has lately so mishandled both domestic and foreign policy that he is in mortal peril of altering his image. This unsettling and uncharacteristic incompetence became shockingly clear when Obama failed to come to grips with the Syrian civil war….

The debacle of the Affordable Care Act’s Web site raised similar questions about confidence….

Something went wrong. People could not sign up. Why? Not sure. Who’s at fault? Apparently no one. An act of God….

Poor Richard. He doesn’t get it. The problem isn’t just Barack Obama, it’s government. What Cohen is witnessing is government failure. It’s pervasive and inevitable — though its ill effects often go unremarked. (For example, the significant reduction of economic growth that has resulted from the growth of government spending and regulation.)

When government failure assumes spectacular proportions and can’t be ignored or explained away, it gets attention because it explodes the Nirvana fallacy about government that infects so many politicos, mediacrats, and real people (but not Americans on the whole).

What’s most striking about Cohen’s piece and similar outpourings from the media is that the target is a Democrat. I would say that a new dawn of realism is breaking, but that would be to indulge in the Nirvana fallacy.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Undermining the Free Society
Government vs. Community
Government Failure: An Example
Bootleggers, Baptists, and Pornography
The Public-School Swindle
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
Externalities and Statism
Society and the State
David Brooks, Useful Idiot for the Left
Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do
How Not to Cope with Government Failure
Well-Founded Pessimism
America: Past, Present, and Future
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
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
The World Turned Upside Down
“We the People” and Big Government: Part I
“We the People” and Big Government: Part I (continued)
“We the People” and Big Government: Part 2 (first installment)

Obama and Obamacare, Back in the Dumps

Were it not for the fickleness of voters, we would be rid of Obama and Obamacare. Rasmussen’s latest poll results yield a net rating of -22 for Obama and a net rating of -27 for Obamacare. Compare those numbers with the ratings that prevailed from mid-2009 until late summer of 2012; contrast those numbers with Obama’s pre-election surge and short-lived post-election honeymoon:
Obama and Obamacare_approval-disapproval ratings
Sources: Rasmussen Reports, Obama Approval Index History and Health Care Law. Obama’s net disapproval rating measures the percentage of respondents who strongly approve of his performance, minus the percentage of respondents who strongly disapprove of his performance. The ratings for Obamacare are constructed as follows: For the period before Obamacare was signed into law on March 23, 2010, the numbers represent the percentage of respondents who strongly favored the passage of Obamacare, less the percentage of respondents who strongly opposed the passage of Obamacare. From the enactment of Obamacare to the present, the numbers represent the percentage of respondents who have strongly opposed the repeal of Obamacare, minus the percentage of respondents who have strongly favored the repeal of Obamacare.

The Fourth Stage of Grief

My absence from blogging (except for a few brief notes) approaches two month. Why the absence? My self-diagnosis is that I am in the fourth stage of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

I am, of course, grieving about the re-election of Barack Obama, the failure of Republicans to gain control of the Senate, and the resurgence of Obama’s popularity in the wake of his re-election. All of this bodes ill for the nation’s political and economic future — higher taxes, more spending, more regulation, quasi-socialized medicine, and on and on.

My denial came just before the election, when I clung to the hope — despite polling evidence to the contrary — that Obama would lose and the GOP would gain at least a tie in the Senate.

My anger was evident in my first post-election offering: “Secession for All Seasons.”

Bargaining followed, as I began writing about how to arrange a division of the United States between “Reds” and “Blues,” so that those of us who love liberty might be able to have it.

Depression (of a kind) overcame me, however, and I have been unable to muster the energy required to lay out a workable plan for division.

But whatever happens — even if I never post again — I will not advance to the stage of acceptance. Never, never, never. If I must revert to anger, I will, and happily.

Well-Founded Pessimism

I have never been more pessimistic than I am now about the future of the United States. Not even in the aftermath of 9/11, when the enemy was without and could be defeated, with persistence and resolve.

Patrick Buchanan observes that

Americans are already seceding from one another—ethnically, culturally, politically. Middle-class folks flee high-tax California, as Third World immigrants, legal and illegal, pour in to partake of the cornucopia of social welfare benefits the Golden Land dispenses.

High-tax states like New York now send tens of thousands of pension checks to Empire State retirees in tax-free Florida. Communities of seniors are rising that look like replicas of the suburbs of the 1950s. People gravitate toward their own kind. Call it divorce, American-style.

What author William Bishop called “The Big Sort”—the sorting out of people by political beliefs—proceeds. Eighteen states have gone Democratic in six straight presidential elections. A similar number have gone Republican.

“Can we all just get along?” asked Rodney King during the Los Angeles riot of 1992. Well, if we can’t, we can at least dwell apart.

After all, it’s a big country.

Buchanan has it right — until he counsels voluntary segregation as an antidote to statism. Liberty lovers cannot escape the dictatorial grip of the central government simply by living in a Red locale in a Red State. Big Brother is everywhere: carting off chunks of our income; dictating the manufacture of products that we use; dictating the wages and benefits that must be paid to the employees of companies that we patronize; driving up the cost of the health care that we need while driving providers and insurers out of the market for health care; subsidizing the follies of State and local governments through grants of “federal” (taxpayer) money; setting standards for education at local public schools; undermining the quality of the products and services we buy, locally and on the web, by dictating the racial and gender composition of workforces; driving the economy into stagnation (if not outright decline) through profligate spending on “entitlements”; and on an on.

The country is not big enough — not by a long shot — for voluntary segregation to work. Something has to give, and give soon, or those of us who prefer liberty to slavery will never escape the serfdom into which our “leaders” are marching us. What has to give, of course, is our attachment to the union that was preserved by the force of arms in 1865. As long as we cling to that union we remain subject to its now-irreversible statist commitments. At best, the election of conservative presidents and legislators will slow our descent into total statism, but it will not halt that descent.

Finally (for now), I am rightly pessimistic about the willingness of the left to allow a return to the true federalism that was supposed to have been ensured by the Constitution. The left’s mantra is control, control, control — and it will not relinquish its control of the machinery of government. The left’s idea of liberty is the “liberty” to follow its dictates. I will continue to point out the follies and fallacies of leftist policies, but I will not waste my time by dissecting the left’s specious arguments for its policies. Enough!

More to come.

A Contrarian View of Universal Suffrage

Timothy Sandefur, in the course of a commentary about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, quotes the man himself:

The doctrine of self government is right–absolutely and eternally right–but it has no just application, as here attempted. Or perhaps I should rather say that whether it has such just application depends upon whether a negro is not or is a man. If he is not a man, why in that case, he who is a man may, as a matter of self-government, do just as he pleases with him. But if the negro is a man, is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government–that is despotism. If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal;’ and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another…. I say this is the leading principle–the sheet anchor of American republicanism. [Peoria, Illinois: October 16, 1854]

But there is a good case to be made that the votes of American blacks are responsible for the growth of oppressive government. Take the elections of 2008 and 2012, for example, which enabled the birth of Obamacare, and quite possibly its continued existence.

According to a report issued by the Census Bureau, about 16 million blacks voted in 2008. There is no similar report for 2012, but it is reasonable to assume that about the same number of blacks voted this year, with a somewhat lower voting rate being offset by somewhat larger numbers of voting-age blacks. Of the 16 million or so black votes in each election, 95 percent went to  Obama in 2008 and 93 percent went to Obama in 2012 (according to The New York Times exit polls).

Given the preceding information, and armed with a Census Bureau tally of the distribution of blacks by State, I estimated:

  • the number of votes in each State for the Democrat and Republican candidates in 2008 and 2012, had blacks not voted, and
  • the resulting distribution of electoral votes (EVs) in each election.

Obama might have edged out McCain in 2008, despite losing the popular vote by 54 million to 59 million. Nevertheless, McCain almost certainly would have gained the District of Columbia (yes!), with 3 EVs, Florida (27), Indiana (11), North Carolina (15), Ohio (20), and Virgina (13). Those wins would have brought McCain’s total to 266 — just 3 EVs short of a tie.

There is no doubt that Romney would have won in 2012 but for the black vote. With the addition of DC (3), Florida (29), Michigan (16), Nevada (6), Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20), and Virginia (13), Romney would have taken a total of 311 EVs. Also, he would have won the popular vote by 59 million to 49 million.

So, I beg to differ with Sandefur and Lincoln. To paraphrase Lincoln, when the black man governs himself and also governs whites by voting almost exclusively for the Democrat-welfare state, that is despotism.

Economists and Voting

It is the time of year when economists like to remind the unwashed that voting is a waste of time. A classic of the genre appeared seven years ago, in the form of  “Why Vote?,” by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt (of Freakonomics fame). Here are some relevant passages:

The odds that your vote will actually affect the outcome of a given election are very, very, very slim. This was documented by the economists Casey Mulligan and Charles Hunter, who analyzed more than 56,000 Congressional and state-legislative elections since 1898. For all the attention paid in the media to close elections, it turns out that they are exceedingly rare. The median margin of victory in the Congressional elections was 22 percent; in the state-legislature elections, it was 25 percent. Even in the closest elections, it is almost never the case that a single vote is pivotal. Of the more than 40,000 elections for state legislator that Mulligan and Hunter analyzed, comprising nearly 1 billion votes, only 7 elections were decided by a single vote, with 2 others tied. Of the more than 16,000 Congressional elections, in which many more people vote, only one election in the past 100 years – a 1910 race in Buffalo – was decided by a single vote….

Still, people do continue to vote, in the millions. Why? Here are three possibilities:

1. Perhaps we are just not very bright and therefore wrongly believe that our votes will affect the outcome.

2. Perhaps we vote in the same spirit in which we buy lottery tickets. After all, your chances of winning a lottery and of affecting an election are pretty similar. From a financial perspective, playing the lottery is a bad investment. But it’s fun and relatively cheap: for the price of a ticket, you buy the right to fantasize how you’d spend the winnings – much as you get to fantasize that your vote will have some impact on policy.

3. Perhaps we have been socialized into the voting-as-civic-duty idea, believing that it’s a good thing for society if people vote, even if it’s not particularly good for the individual. And thus we feel guilty for not voting. [The New York Times Magazine, November 6, 2005]

In true economistic fashion, Dubner and Levitt omit a key reason for voting: It makes a person feel good. Even if one’s vote will not change the outcome of an election, one attains a degree of satisfaction from taking an official (even if secret) stand in favor of or in opposition to a certain candidate, bond issue, or other item on a ballot.

Dubner and Levitt (and their ilk) seem to inhabit a world in which a thing is not worth doing unless the payoff can be measured with some precision and compared with other, similarly quantifiable, uses of one’s time and money. I doubt they govern their own lives accordingly. If they do, they must be missing out on a lot of life’s pleasures: sex and ice cream, to name only two.

Their article continues on a different tack:

But wait a minute, you say. If everyone thought about voting the way economists do, we might have no elections at all. No voter goes to the polls actually believing that her single vote will affect the outcome, does she? And isn’t it cruel to even suggest that her vote is not worth casting?

This is indeed a slippery slope – the seemingly meaningless behavior of an individual, which, in aggregate, becomes quite meaningful. Here’s a similar example in reverse. Imagine that you and your 8-year-old daughter are taking a walk through a botanical garden when she suddenly pulls a bright blossom off a tree.

“You shouldn’t do that,” you find yourself saying.

“Why not?” she asks.

“Well,” you reason, “because if everyone picked one, there wouldn’t be any flowers left at all.”

“Yeah, but everybody isn’t picking them,” she says with a look. “Only me.”

Clever, what? Too clever by half. This argument overlooks the powerful effect of exemplary behavior — where “exemplary,” as used here, does not imply “laudable.” By Dubner and Levitt’s account, allowing a vandal to deface a public building would not encourage other vandals to do the same thing, and would not lead to the widespread defacement of buildings and other anti-social acts. (I refer, of course, to James Q. Wilson’s widely accepted Broken Windows Theory, which Levitt and Dubner tried to cast doubt on in Freakonomics. They wrongly suggested that the onset of legalized abortion was instrumental in the reduction of crime rates.)

Dubner and Levitt’s argument also overlooks the key fact that when economists preach against voting, they are not just preaching to themselves. Dubner and Levitt’s sermon appeared in the pages of one of the country’s most widely read and influential publications. It was not addressed to an individual, but to thousands and thousands of individuals. And I doubt that they would have objected if the article had appeared in every newspaper and magazine in the country. In effect, the Dubner-Levitt argument is not just an argument that the marginal vote makes little difference — it is advice to millions of Americans that they should abstain from voting.

In that respect, Levitt and Dubner are guilty of paternalism as well as economism. Thus the many links to posts about paternalism in the following list of related posts:
The Rationality Fallacy
Libertarian Paternalism
A Libertarian Paternalist’s Dream World
The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, Parentalism, and Choice
Another Thought about Libertarian Paternalism
Back-Door Paternalism
Another Voice Against the New Paternalism
Slippery Paternalists
A Further Note about “Libertarian” Paternalism
Apropos Paternalism
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Externalities and Statism
Extreme Economism
Irrational Rationality
Not-So-Random Thoughts (III) (third item)
Obesity and Statism

“Redness,” Unemployment, and the Election

“Redder” is better, generally speaking. For many reasons, including economic health. Using Bush’s average margin of loss or victory in 2004 and 2008 as an index of “redness” (and disregarding the anomalous 2008 race), here is the relationship between unemployment and a State’s degree of “redness”:


Derived from Bureau of Labor Statistics, Unemployment Rates for States (preliminary September estimates, issued 10/19/12), and official tabulations of popular votes by State. The correlation, though not strong, is statistically significant (less than 1-percent probability of occurring by chance).

The “outlier” on the left is the District of Columbia. DC, despite its predominantly black population, does not have an exceedingly high unemployment rate because the federal government and its contractors are havens of patronage and reverse discrimination. In any event, the omission of DC would strengthen the correlation, and would yield a more pronounced negative relationship between “redness” and unemployment: y = -0.0386x + 7.6566; R² = 0.1434.

I have seen some “news” stories which suggest that lower unemployment in swing States will help Obama. Such speculation strikes me as wishful thinking by left-biased media. In fact, of the  four States that seem to have swung to Romney — Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia — the first three experienced better-than-average improvements in unemployment from a year earlier. A possible reason for this apparent anomaly is that voters know that there has been little change in the real rate of unemployment. Further, they also know that unless Obama is kicked out, things will not get better very soon, if ever.

Making a Worse “Mess”

Obama and his pet grinning baboon VP like to claim that the economy is still in bad shape because of the “horrific mess” that they inherited from Bush. That the mess wasn’t Bush’s is lie number 1. That Obama’s policies would have “worked” but for Republican intransigence is lie number 2. There are many more lies lying around the Obama White House, but a distaste for nausea prevents me from detailing them.

I will give Obama the benefit of the doubt by measuring the effectiveness of his “stimulus” not by the current state of the economy, but by how far it has advanced the economy since the depth of the Great Recession. As it happens, the Great Recession bottomed in the second quarter of 2009. The latest estimates of real GDP, 12 quarters later, indicate real growth since the bottom of 2.2 percent a year. How does that stack up against previous post-WWII recessions? Here’s how:

Even the short-lived recoveries from the 1958 and 1980 recessions were more robust than the Obama recovery of 2009-2012. Enough said.

Related posts:
Economic Growth Since World War II
The Economy Slogs Along
The Obama Effect: Disguised Unemployment
Obama’s Economic Record in Perspective
Where We Are, Economically
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause

The Name Game

With the Social Security baby-name database, one can find the popularity* of a newborn’s name in any year from 1880 through 2011. Armed with the database, I set out to determine whether the relative popularity of presidential candidates’ names had any bearing on the outcome of the 33 elections of 1880-2008. Here is what I learned from an analysis of the names of the two leading candidates** in each of the 33 elections:

  • The candidate with the more popular name — in the year of the election — won only 15 times out of 33.
  • Ten of the winners with the more popular name were Republicans.
  • Ten of the 18 winners with the less popular name were Democrats.
  • The Democrat had the less popular name in 20 of the 33 elections.

The moral of the story: It is a slight disadvantage to have a popular name. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to have weird names. This latter tendency confers a slight advantage on Democrat candidates.

What about 2012? Willard (Mitt Romney’s first name) has not been in the top 1,000 since 1989, but it was in the top 1,000 in every year before that — ranking as high as 58th in 1915. Barack, needless to say, has never been in the top 1,000. It seems likely that Willard is somewhat more popular than Barack, even now.***

But Mitt — like Grover, Woodrow, and Calvin — is the name in the political arena. And I have no reason to believe that Mitt is any more popular than Barack. If Barack is the less-popular name, that might count as an advantage for Obama. But a less-than-dismal performance in a debate would do him more good than his weird name.

__________
* Restricted to the top 1,000 boys’ names and the top 1,000 girls’ names in each year.

** All of them Republicans and Democrats, except in 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt ran on the Progressive ticket and was the runner-up to Woodrow Wilson.

*** It does not seem that presidents’ first names become more popular during their time in office. The rank of Grover (Cleveland) went from 20 in 1884 (when Cleveland was first elected) to 47 in 1892 (the year of Cleveland’s second victory). Benjamin (Harrison) dropped from 25 in 1888 to 42 in 1892. Woodrow (Wilson) barely budged, going from 192 in 1912 to 190th in 1916. Herbert (Hoover) was 25 in 1928 and 44 in 1932 (another victim of the Great Depression, no doubt). Franklin (Roosevelt) went from 66 to 65 to 87 to 112 (in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944, respectively). Dwight (Eisenhower) was 123 in 1952 and 139 in 1956. (And, lest you think that Dwight should have been a Democrat, remember that his opponent was the more weirdly named Adlai — or Adelaide, as some wags called him.) Richard (Nixon) fell from 8 in 1968 to 14 in 1972 (and, unsurprisingly, kept falling steadily thereafter, to 127 in 2010-2011). Ronald (Reagan) went from 58 in 1980 to 67 in 1984. George (Bush I and II) declined from 78 (1988) to 95 (1992) to 130 (2000) to 146 (2004). George has come a long way (down) since Washington was first in the hearts of his countrymen.

Obama’s Big Lie

I was too easy on Barack Obama in “Barack Channels Princess SummerFall WinterSpring.” It’s not that I gave him a pass for denigrating the accomplishments of successful businesspersons. Far from it. But the Obama piñata deserves another good beating.

This beating is prompted by Jason Brennan’s tone-deaf post, “On Quoting Out of Context and the Right-Wing Smear Machine,” at Bleeding Heart Libertarians. Referring to Obama’s remarks in Roanoke, Virginia, on July 13. Brennan writes:

Obama said:

If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own…

If you are successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet, so then all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that, when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

The right-wing smear machine quotes this out of context, as follows:

If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

Wow, notice how quoting out of context changes the apparent meaning of those two sentences. In context, the sentences mean: If you own a business, you relied upon background institutions, infrastructure, and help from others to build that business. Your success depended upon many of the rest of us and on government. You didn’t create everything from scratch. The bolded “that” refers to “this unbelievable American System” and “roads and bridges”. This is what Obama actually said.

Out of context, the sentences seem to mean: You didn’t build your business; someone else did. Quoting him out of context makes it seem like the bolded “that” refers to your business.

Well, as it happens, the only way to interpret Obama’s statement — in or out of context — is to read it exactly as the so-called right-wing smear machine interprets it.  To help Brennan understand that, I hereby reproduce the paragraph from the official White House source:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

Note that the official source places an em-dash where Brennan places a comma. I will come to the em-dash in a moment.

The pronoun “that” in the fourth sentence unambiguously refers to “business,” which (in context) is the antecedent of “that.” And the em-dash that sets off the clause “you didn’t build that” makes it all the clearer that “that” refers to “business.” For it is the task of an emphatic clause set off by an em-dash to make an additional or clarifying statement about what immediately precedes the clause.

Further, having introduced the “that” in the fourth sentence, Obama repeats it in the next sentence. So, what Obama says in the fourth and fifth sentence of the paragraph is this:

If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that [business].  Somebody else made that [business] happen.

One doesn’t have to be a right-winger to see through Obama’s rhetoric.

It may be legitimate to say that (almost) nothing is accomplished (these days) by individuals working on their own. But Obama is trying, not so subtly, to denigrate those who are successful in business (e.g., Mitt Romney) and to make a case for redistributionism. The latter rests on Obama’s (barely concealed) premise that the fruits of a collective enterprise should be shared on some basis other than market valuations of individual contributions. (Brennan seems to share that view, so perhaps he is not altogether unsympathetic to Obama’s aims.)

It is (or should be) obvious that Obama’s agenda is the advancement of collectivist statism. I will credit Obama for the sincerity of his belief in collectivist statism, but his sincerity only underscores and how dangerous he is. (Note to Jason Brennan: “his” and “he” refer to “Obama.”)

Related reading:
Thomas Sowell, “Obama’s Rhetoric,” Townhall.com, July 19, 2012
Thomas Sowell, “Trashing Achievements,” JWR Insight, July 19, 2012
Mark J. Perry, “Milton Friedman Responds to Obama’s Claim That There Is No Such Thing As Individual Achievement,” Carpe Diem, July 20, 2012
Mark Steyn, “Golden Gateway to Dependency,” National Review Online, July 21, 2012

Related posts:
The Causes of Economic Growth
A Short Course in Economics
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
The Price of Government
The Price of Government Redux
The Mega-Depression
The Real Burden of Government
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given
Say’s Law, Government, and Unemployment
The Real Multiplier
Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
The Commandeered Economy
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
In Defense of the 1%
The Real Multiplier (II)
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
The Burden of Government
Economic Growth Since World War II
More Evidence for the Rahn Curve
“Big SIS”: A Review
Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do
Barack Channels Princess SummerFall WinterSpring
Progressive Taxation Is Alive and Well in The U.S. of A.
The Economy Slogs Along