Trumpelstiltskin and the yahoo vote

April 10, 2016

UnknownI will vote for Kasich, reason, and decency, in the New York primary. But this may be the first state giving Trump over 50%. Shame on New York.

He says Kasich should quit the race. That would help Trump . . . how? Does he think Kasich voters would switch to him? That he’d do better in a two-man race? Polls show over half of Republicans, nationwide, despise him.

For all his ostensible success, Trump actually has no political sense. As in his recent comment about punishing women who have abortions. Columnist Michael Gerson has suggested that what Trump is trying to do is to say things he imagines hard-right voters like. Yet Trump has not been politically engaged enough to know what conservatives actually think. His playbook is a caricature of conservatism (one largely created by its critics).

Unknown-1Of course he isn’t getting the conservative vote. He’s getting the yahoo vote. His campaign is not brilliant. Yahoos are a minority.

Insulting people isn’t normally my style. But, as The Economist quoted one observer, Trump voters “have dirt for brains.” Wanting an outsider, a savvy entrepreneur, who tells the truth, and would shake up the system, is fine. I’d vote for her. But Trump is a crass ass who does not tell it like it is, he is a compulsive serial liar; his business history is a string of scams and failures; he has no serious program; what he advocates is un-American and based on big lies too; and he enflames people’s worst instincts. He is unfit to be the leader of a great nation. His supporters disgrace their citizenship. (That means you, Christie, and Giuliani. I’m taking names.)

It remains unclear that Trump will get the delegates needed for nomination. The winner-take-all California primary will likely be decisive. Meantime we hear the trope that whoever has the most delegates, even if not a majority, should be nominated. F**k that.

images-2In fact, even if Trump does secure the 1,237 delegates, there are whispers of a GOP Plan B. The convention (to be chaired by Paul Ryan) could vote to change the rules, to require a supermajority on the first ballot.*

And here’s a key detail: winning a state’s delegates doesn’t mean a candidate gets to name them. Many are picked by state party organizations. UnknownSo a lot of delegates bound to Trump on the first ballot actually don’t like him. They could vote for the rules change. And on a second ballot Trump’s majority would melt away like a snowman in Spring.

Trump and his yahoos will scream bloody murder. But winning all these primaries with 35-40% of the vote does not entitle Trump to the nomination. A majority of primary voters (bar New York) are rejecting him. Honoring their will would be legitimate.

Would Republicans have the balls for this? It would save the party. Not only would Trump suffer a monumental November defeat, he is wrecking the Republican brand with his toxic caricature of what the party stands for.

Unknown-2And if we have an open convention, who would wind up nominated? Delegates might pull a rabbit out of a hat (like Garfield in 1880, who began with one vote). Paul Ryan would be great.

Could a fresh candidate like that win? Yes. Bernie will not be nominated, but his strength spotlights Hillary’s weakness. In November, voters will choose between two candidates, and how one got nominated won’t matter much.

I am sick to death of Trump and his vileness. I don’t want to see his vile face, hear his vile voice, or have to talk about this any more. I want it to be over.

*Not unprecedented: until 1936, Democrats required a two-thirds majority.

What America needs: more competition

April 5, 2016

imagesUnfashionably, I am an unrepentant advocate for free market capitalism. Vocal “progressive” and populist critics assail the system as rotten, rigged against ordinary people, aggravating inequality. Their cure: more regulation and government intervention, protectionism, curbing free trade, forcing wages higher, and banning corporate money from politics.

Unknown-1Well, the system is indeed rigged. Corporate money does suborn government. And, as a recent piece in The Economist explains, not only have overall profits been strong,* but particularly profitable companies have, in this century, been able to sustain their dominance. That’s contrary to economic theory, which says fat profits in a sector will soon attract competitors, driving prices down and squeezing profits.

However, the cited “progressive” agenda would actually make things worse. Indeed, a lot of it is already part of the problem. The true problem is insufficient competition. And everything “progressives” seek would lessen competition.

When I wrote my Rational Optimism book in 2009, the airline industry was Exhibit A for the virtue of competitive free markets. Now it exemplifies what’s gone wrong. The industry once was pervasively regulated and government-cosseted, but in the 1970s Alfred Kahn (my former leader at the NY PSC) heroically swept all that aside. Unknown-2The resultant flowering of new small airlines and open competition slashed fares so much that flying was no longer for the rich alone. The skies opened to millions of travelers, a vast public boon. And, as of 2009, the industry’s cumulative profits, over its entire history, were approximately zero. In other words, all the benefits of airline investment were captured by consumers, with nothing for the “greedy capitalists” who made it possible!

But then a wave of consolidations and mergers drastically reduced airline competition. Carriers now have far more pricing power, becoming very profitable indeed. Their fuel costs recently collapsed – in competition’s heyday, that would have triggered huge fare cuts – but now airlines get to keep the windfall.

images-1So, as The Economist argued, what we need is not the anti-competitive “progressive” agenda but, rather, lower barriers to competition. One example they cited is the proliferation of licensing requirements, afflicting a host of trades from hairdressing to interior decorating. Supposed consumer protection masks the real purpose: squelching competitors to existing businesses. A hair salon can charge a lot more if there’s not another nearby. Likewise, incumbent taxi firms and hotels try to get government regulators to shield them from Uber and Airbnb.

Protectionism is the same story: protecting businesses against competition, so they can charge more. Sure, free trade means some job losses. They’re very visible, like when Carrier moves a factory to Mexico. Less visible is the benefit to consumers, of lower prices, adding trillions to their wallets – whose spending means vast job creation, making up for those lost. Protectionists ignore this.

Unknown-3I’ve written before how government regulation hurts competition. Coping with massively complex regulatory regimes like Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley is doable for huge corporations with armies of lawyers and accountants. For small start-up firms, not so much. This has caused a big decline in our rate of new business creation.

Higher minimum wages too impede competition. Governor Cuomo’s $15 plan has brought forth a parade of small businesses explaining how it will hurt their viability, for self-evident reasons. “Progressives” dismiss such concerns, as if the money will just come out of fat profits, as if all business earn fat profits. Most in fact don’t. And driving some out of business, reducing competition, will make big ones even stronger, harming consumers.

I’ve recognized how campaign cash corrupts government to favor some businesses over others, again undermining competition. But opposing Citizens United is anti-competitive on the part of the political class itself. Government regulation of political campaigns will always be an incumbent-protection scheme, stifling electoral competition. I’ve advocated instead a tax credit for political donations, to unleash a flood of citizen contributions, freeing politicians from servitude to big money donors. The savings from reduced corporate welfare would dwarf the cost, to the Treasury, of the tax credit.

images-3Competition makes people better, do better, and live better.

 

 

The truth about immigration

March 30, 2016

My local community is having a celebration of immigrants. It’s timely, given our national panic attack over immigration. Unknown-1Forgetting Ronald Reagan’s “Tear down this wall,” now a presidential candidate wants to build a new one.

Do immigrants take jobs from Americans? Many think there are only so many jobs to go around, and anyone hired means someone else unemployed. Economists call this the “lump of labor fallacy.” It assumes a static, unchanging economy, whereas the reality is constant dynamic change.* Add productive capability, and uses for it will be found.

Immigrants do add to such capability, thus making our nation economically stronger, not weaker. Especially since they have more drive than the pre-existing population’s average. Countries like Mexico are not sending us “wretched refuse.” To the contrary, anyone willing to face all the hazards of emigrating is among the most courageous, ambitious, enterprising, resourceful, capable of people. We need them. They come here to get ahead, not to get hand-outs.

images-1In fact, we have a huge problem with a growing imbalance between our rising elderly population, collecting benefits, and those working and paying taxes to fund those benefits. Young work-hungry immigrants help redress that imbalance. Thusly replenishing our work force is a key factor making America’s economy stronger than Europe’s (actually more anti-immigrant than we are).

America believes in freedom. A fundamental freedom is to live where you want. Should we then let everybody in? It’s not a crazy idea. Economists have estimated – get this – worldwide free movement of people would double global GDP. Because migrants would multiply their earning power by going to where their work is more productive (often because of better technology). Most poor people are poor because they’re trapped where their productive potential is vastly underutilized. Remedying that, through freer movement, would go far toward eradicating poverty. And the resulting more efficient production of goods and services, globally, would make everyone richer.

Some fear immigrants will degrade our culture.

Learn English or get out

Learn English or get out

But successive waves of immigrants have enriched U.S. culture, continuously rejuvenating it; our polyglot diversity is what makes our culture the world’s most vibrant and attractive. Ironically, those who fear this cultural flux are not themselves paragons of cultural refinement. No, it’s not immigrants who threaten America with cultural degradation – it’s the immigrant-haters, who would hand the presidency to a braying, bragging brute.

Real Americans love apostrophes!

Apostrophes belong to Americans too!

*Automation is a similar jobs bugbear. So far employment has always actually expanded. But is technological progress finally leading to all production needs met without jobs for all? Ever fewer people are employed making stuff — but more in services. Unskilled work is disappearing, hurting the less educated. Our challenge is to make everyone productive.

Morocco: open for business

March 25, 2016

UnknownSince our daughter had a gap between jobs in Jordan and Afghanistan, we met up for a hastily booked Morocco tour.

We had been to this North African country before, a brief side excursion. I remember exiting the tourist bus in Tetouan and saying, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more” – it was like stepping back in time a thousand years. But that was not representative of Morocco, whose modernity, this time, surprised me.

photo by Elizabeth Robinson

photo by Elizabeth Robinson

It’s overwhelmingly Muslim, with two main ethnic groups, the indigenous Berbers, and Arabs who came later. Ethnic tensions seem minimal. I asked our tour guide about this, in light of sectarian strife in other Islamic lands. “Those people aren’t Muslims,” he said, “they’re fanatics.”

Moroccans are bilingual, equally using Arabic and French (this was a French colony, 1912-56). The distinctive Berber script is seen occasionally; and of course there’s Globalspeak (English).

Berber script

Berber script

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, not what you’d call a free country; but while the King, Mohammad VI (since 1999), is really still the boss, he’s done a fair bit to modernize, liberalize and democratize Morocco.

Volubilis - photo by Elizabeth Robinson

Volubilis – photo by Elizabeth Robinson

It was part of the ancient kingdom of Mauretania; later, of the Roman Empire. A nice surprise was visiting the extensive ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis – off my radar screen because (unlike the typical ancient city), Volubilis issued virtually no coinage.

We spent quite a few hours in the “medina” (old city) of Fes – a vast labyrinth of narrow streets. Here, and elsewhere, one finds an incredible profusion of little stores and seller stalls; the country is like one gigantic flea market, offering every sort of edible, wearable, or useable. One stall might have nothing but a mountain of peanuts; others with pyramids of dates, or cookies, or spices, etc. Even bathtubs! People mostly do their shopping, and many earn their living, through these markets.

My wife wanted to try a sizable disk-shaped bread loaf. The quoted price was Two Dirhems – about 20 cents. But for that we actually received two loaves.

I wondered aloud how they all could sell enough to stay in business. But my daughter pointed out the obvious: they wouldn’t be there otherwise.

Then we went to Marrakech, where the souk (marketplace) was orders of magnitude larger, with the profusion of goods bordering on unbelievable: mountains of shoes, foodstuffs, handbags, electronics, souvenirs, jewelry, handicrafts (one entire section, for example, with stall after stall selling brasswork); a lot of the production was being done on site too, making for quite a humming scene.

imagesI had fantasized finding a pile of those cool cast 19th century Moroccan coins, but didn’t see any. At the end I asked our local guide, and he took me back to one gnarled ancient fellow who came forth with a bagful of about 30. But his price was way high. Then our guide knocked on a closed door, which opened into an antique shop, with a bucketful of silver coins. I bought a few Moroccan ones in unusually choice condition – and a 1929 Italian 10 Lire – good date! – and a steal. Meantime my daughter bought a handbag and some boots, proving herself better than me at haggling.

Photo by Elizabeth Robinson

Photo by Elizabeth Robinson

We also had the obligatory tourist visit to a carpet emporium. Once on a similar excursion in Turkey, I made the mistake of agreeing to sign in with my phone number. I couldn’t believe how often those carpet pushers called me in subsequent years, despite my increasingly angry brush-offs.

The overall impression of Morocco was one of basic prosperity. There were, admittedly, a fair number of beggars. But many looked no scruffier than a typical seller in the souk. I suppose that holding one’s hand out is actually a more effective way of getting passersby to part with cash.

UnknownBut Marrakech is also a very modern city, whose main drags might be hardly distinguishable from, say, Lille, or Dusseldorf. We visited one glitzy shopping mall, very different from the chaotic souk, with beautiful Moroccan décor, and the poshest brands. I remarked to my wife, “I must be the shabbiest looking person in this mall.”

And the Moroccan economy is not all souk sellers flogging kitsch. Everywhere you looked it was evident that every sort of modern business was thriving. The roads were jammed with vans and trucks displaying a profusion of their logos. If not politically free, this is manifestly a very open, free economy. I am always energized visiting countries like this. It’s part of a worldwide phenomenon, of recent decades, which many people fail to grasp amid all the gloom and doom talk. Economic openness, free enterprise, and trade, are transforming, for the better, the lives of billions of people.

I couldn’t help pondering the contrast with a country like Venezuela, where folks stand in line for hours outside the few stores, hoping for a rare chance to buy some meager necessities – thanks to their “21st century socialism.”

Splitting the GOP

March 20, 2016

images-1I’ve been writing a lot about politics lately. Every four years we’re told “this election is critical;” it’s a cliché. But this time really is different – reshaping our political landscape.

For a long time, the Republican party prospered as a marriage between a principled segment – supporting limited government, free market economics, fiscal and personal responsibility, free trade, and global engagement – and a working class segment actuated by cultural primitivism, nativism, xenophobia, and bigotry. The former milked the latter for votes without actually delivering much for them. Now they’re rebelling and the marriage is coming apart.

Much punditry says we should understand Trump supporters as moved by legitimate economic concerns. That’s part of it, but not the main thing. The economy could be better but is not in crisis. a-holesThis is more about attitude than economics. It’s people feeling personally alienated from what the American mainstream is becoming; disconnected from the ruling elite. In America 2.0, they’re still stuck in America 1.0. They embrace Trump not in spite of his crudeness, but proudly because of it, which embodies their own. For all his billions, he’s the first presidential candidate with whom they culturally identify. This is not a revolt of the lower class, but of the no-class. That’s why attacking Trump for his various transgressions doesn’t dissuade his voters.

Trump claims he’s uniting the GOP. Yeah, right. Orthodox Republicans, the “establishment,” are freaking out. I’ve heard radio commentary saying it’s because they can’t “control” Trump. That just plays to his appeal. No — Republicans still compos mentis see Trump as turning the party into a grotesquerie, headed for electoral obliteration.

Yet a party schism does not really seem to be happening either. At the February 29 GOP debate, three candidates vilified the fourth as unfit to be president, yet all said they’d support the eventual nominee. That reluctance to break a political taboo is understandable, but it makes it harder for other Republicans to repudiate Trump, and indeed, very few so far have done so. Instead, most seem likely to fall into line behind him because they lack the political imagination to do otherwise.

Unknown-2As a lifelong Republican, if Trump is nominated, I would like to see a party split – as in 1860, 1912 or 1948 – with a rump of delegates walking out to hold their own convention, naming a “True Republican” candidate on a platform of the party’s traditional values.* Yes, that would assure Hillary’s election. But she’s likely to crush the white trash candidate anyway. At least some integrity would be preserved, as a basis for reconstituting, from the wreckage, a Republican party worthy of support.

However, this might also be seen as destroying our two-party system, leaving us with a 1-1/2 party system. Maybe at least that might break the 50-50 partisan gridlock that has paralyzed Washington. But such a settlement could not be lasting, since half the nation (me included) would still be in deep disaffection.

Politics is very tribal; the us-versus-them mentality explains a lot of the partisan bitterness we’ve seen. But this election is exposing the nation’s real division not between two tribes, but more like three (at least) – the Democratic party, increasingly left-wing, in coalition with minorities, unions, and other interest groups – the traditionally conservative, market-economics Republicans – and the disaffected primitivists who really have no ideological affinity with true conservativism. If that three-way split congeals, the first tribe will always outvote the other two.

Trump’s nomination is far from certain. He still needs to win over half the delegates in the remaining primaries; though it’s very possible, most being (stupidly, unlike on the Dem side) winner-take-all (including California, likely to be make-or-break). But Trump is nobody’s second choice; a majority of Republicans still find him repellent. And Cruz is very much the sort of candidate who appeals to the GOP’s traditional base – a quasi-outsider, with religion on his sleeve and a purist right-wing ideology.** So we may well have an open convention, no candidate going in with a majority. What happens then? Who knows?

imagesTrump says there’ll be riots if he’s not nominated. So go riot. America is governed by voting, not rioting. The party is not obliged to nominate a candidate rejected by a majority of primary voters.

Finally, if you think campaigns have been nasty before, just wait for this fall. The attacks will be savage. UnknownSadly, a lot will be justified. Hillary should win, but then we’ll have four more years of bitter partisan divisiveness.

Well, we’re used to that. At least we won’t have an American Putin.

*Actually, to get on the ballot in most states, this would have to be organized much sooner.

**Lindsey Graham once said the choice of Cruz or Trump is like being poisoned or shot. But now he says he’s ready to take the poison.

Supreme Court nomination – the stupid party again

March 18, 2016

images-2Republicans control the Senate. They could have simply gone through the motions of considering President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, holding hearings, but letting him dangle in the wind without a vote. Or, ultimately, just vote him down. They have the votes.

But no. Instead they insist on making themselves look terrible, partisan, and obstructionist, by refusing to even allow the process to occur.

Mitch McConnell’s speech, after the nomination announcement, made no sense. With a straight face, he accused the president of politicizing the matter, just by submitting a name. But the Constitution says that’s what the president shall do. It isn’t an arguable point.

These Republicans act as though they’re confident of winning the presidency and then naming Scalia’s replacement. images-3What planet are they living on? Have they noticed who their likely presidential nominee is? An ideological wild card, whom they detest? Whose own supreme court pick they might also detest? Who will likely lose the election anyway, and may even lose them control of the Senate besides?

Then Hillary picks Scalia’s replacement. Meantime, Obama has offered a relatively moderate nominee, who is 63 and thus would not be on the court forever. Republicans should grab that deal while they can.

I consider myself a Republican; I expect Republican senators to be partisan. But not stupidly suicidal.

Islamically correct rape

March 17, 2016

UnknownHow often we’re told morality comes from religion.

The Islamic State trumpets a pure, strict Muslim faith. Which, they say, prohibits sex with a pregnant woman. Very fastidious.

However, buying and selling women as sex slaves, and raping them — that’s Islamically okay. So long as you’re sure they’re not pregnant.

Unknown-1So ISIS guys buying captured women to rape, The New York Times reports, force them to swallow birth control pills. That too is Islamically okay. As is forcing abortions, likewise so the women can be cleared for rape.

Isn’t religion great?

Well, I’ve never raped anyone, but I have had sex with a pregnant woman, so I guess I’m a heathen.

The blame for Trumpism

March 13, 2016

I’ve written that the Trump phenomenon is a dive to a lower, baser level of civic discourse. Who can we blame?

UnknownOf course there’s a lot involved. But I’ve long argued that demonization of opponents has been poisoning our politics: thinking the other guy is not merely wrong but wicked, actuated by bad motives. And left-leaners do it the most.

I often criticize their politics but believe they sincerely aim for human betterment. Unfortunately that’s not reciprocated. Typical is one blog commenter repeatedly labeling me a heartless ignorant bigot. A local columnist spews strings of vile epithets about those he disagrees with. One “progressive” I know loves calling others “regressives.” Unknown-2And Alan Chartock, ubiquitous head of WAMC, the local NPR station*, constantly calls people “bad.” After Justice Scalia’s death, Chartock made a point of labeling him a “bad man.”

How does this relate to Trump? As I’ve said, such hate speech has poisoned our politics – and a toxic candidate is a natural result. Trump’s shtick plays to a loss of confidence in our governing institutions and the officials comprising them. And if you keep talking about bad people with bad motives, pretty soon voters will believe it, feeding the idea that all politicians are rotten scoundrels. With Chartock repeatedly insisting even Supreme Court Justices (well, those who decide “wrong”) act corruptly and are “bought and paid for” – should he be surprised by the popularity of a candidate who assaults our governing institutions?

Unknown-1True, government hasn’t been performing well lately, and it’s not crazy to seek some break-out. But here again, a key reason for government dysfunction is our hyper-partisan scorched earth politics. When the other guys are demonized as bad people, how can you compromise and work with them?

Many voters feel betrayed by promises not kept. But can we blame the politicians who told them what they wanted to hear? Or the voters who wanted to hear it, and continually rewarded impossible promises with their votes? We have continually voted for expanding government profligacy, awarding ourselves a shower of goodies, with nary a thought of paying for it. That’s why the promises really cannot be kept. And it will only get worse as the fiscal imbalance ineluctably widens.

So we do need to break out of this paradigm. But unfortunately electing an ignoramus blowhard is not the way.

But meantime, even if he doesn’t win in November, Trump is showing how successful tearing up the old rule book can be. And meantime Hillary personifies all the political divisiveness I’ve written about; her presidency will just be more dysfunctional scorched earth political combat. imagesAnd after four more years of that unproductive dismalness, the next Trump-like candidate may make Trump look like an angel.

* Chartock also constantly trumpets his support for Sanders. He insists that doesn’t constitute an endorsement by WAMC. But WAMC is thoroughly Chartock’s creature; and such open political partisanship is completely inappropriate for a “public” radio station receiving taxpayer funding. (Click here.)

“Our Kids” and the real inequality

March 5, 2016

imagesInequality is a big issue. But focusing on the 99%-versus-1% is misguided. The idea that if the 1% had less the 99% would have more is incorrect.*

unknown3America’s real inequality problem is addressed in Robert Putnam’s recent book, Our Kids: the growing divide between two very different cultures, and decreasing mobility between them. It’s not the 1%-versus-99% but, roughly speaking, the top third versus the lower third.

Putnam’s departure point is the 1950s Ohio town where he grew up, where the phrase “our kids” was used by both rich and poor talking about all the town’s kids. Because they really all lived in a unified community. That kind of social solidarity is a bygone, sundered by a wall of separation.

Affluent well-educated people tend to marry well-educated mates and provide their kids with a stable, nurturing, well-resourced path for repeating the process.unknown-31 The other culture comprises those who don’t go to college and consequently earn much less. The divide is widening because the workplace value of education is increasing. It’s not some conspiracy by the rich to keep down the rest. Rather, it’s a raw economic reality that in today’s world unskilled work just isn’t worth what it used to be.

But the problem isn’t just money. Today’s lower income Americans actually have more income (when you count government benefits) than in Putnam’s 1950s town. And way more than in the Depression and before. Yet those poorer people nevertheless mostly managed to maintain stable, nurturing family structures. Today’s do not.

UnknownThis is the heart of Putnam’s book. In contrast to the Ozzie-and-Harriet child-supportive marriages of the educated class, today’s less educated tend to have more chaotic family situations, often without marriage at all, in which children don’t get comparable nurturing and support. And those kids are similarly set up to repeat the picture; it’s extremely hard to break out of that culture to obtain the education and personality traits needed for rising into the affluent class.

Drilling down into the reasons, Putnam sees parenting styles as crucial. For the affluent, the social norm has shifted from the relaxed Doctor Spock approach to “intensive parenting,” influenced by well-publicized research revealing the importance of early parent-child interactions in personality development.** Less educated parents haven’t gotten this memo, or else aren’t able to follow it, due to financial and other stresses in their own lives. images-1Compared to the affluent, their parenting is more restrictive and punitive – less hugging and more spanking.

One researcher contrasts the affluent’s “promotive” parenting strategies, aimed at encouraging children’s talents, with poorer parents hewing toward “preventive” strategies to cope with the dangers of a rough environment. Further, affluent parents not only speak vastly more words to their kids, but the vast majority are encouragements, whereas for parents on welfare the great majority are discouragements.

Not surprisingly, all these parenting differences have been shown to affect children’s brain and personality development. (See my post on the marshmallow test.) That’s how poor families get stuck reprising their trajectories.

What is to be done? Good schooling might ideally compensate for parenting disparities; but for a cat’s cradle of reasons, which Putnam explores, schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods tend to exacerbate rather than rectify cultural disparities. For example, because their environment is more stressful, good teachers flee them.

Putnam does conclude with a list of suggested fixes, but basically it’s all doing more of the well-intentioned things that are already done, generally inadequately. Unknown-1But here’s a more radical thought. It’s also clear from the book that less affluent kids do badly partly because they live in bad neighborhoods. Let’s move families to better neighborhoods. This has actually been tried and shown to produce good results.

* The mistake is thinking there’s a fixed amount of wealth to go around, so anyone’s gain is another’s loss. Wrong. Steve Jobs got rich selling gizmos for more than they cost to make, to people who valued them more than they paid. That’s how societal wealth is increased. Buyers of his products would not have been richer had Jobs not gained wealth, they’d have been poorer.

 ** Putnam acknowledges that “helicopter parenting” has its own problems; but still insists they’re dwarfed by the problems he documents in lower class families.

Campaign finance: government hands off!

February 29, 2016

imagesHillary loves pointing out that the notorious Citizens United case was about her: an anti-Hillary film that ran afoul of federal regulation. But the Supreme Court ruled that, under the First Amendment, the government can’t stop anyone from producing and distributing a political film. I think that was right.

Critics complain this opened the door to unrestrained campaign spending, allowing elections to be bought. UnknownYet repeatedly big spenders lose elections. If they could be bought, Jeb Bush, who raised the most money, would be the GOP nominee.

Were the spending all one sided, that would be a problem. But it can never happen in this big diverse country. By and large the two parties are fairly matched in fund-raising ability; and a candidate with substantial public support can always raise the sums needed to be competitive (as Bernie Sanders has done).

But our political spending regime is an opaque mess, dominated by unaccountable “Super PACs” (“political action committees’). The problem is not Citizens United but, rather, the whole Federal Elections schema set up by Congress (in the 2002 McCain-Feingold law) to regulate campaign spending. Jeb Bush himself called it “ridiculous.”

images-1Specifically, while one can spend unlimited amounts on one’s own campaign, others are limited to contributing $2700. That causes larger sums to route instead through PACs, which theoretically are not allowed to coordinate with candidates.

This is the system Bush criticized. Instead, he said, there should be no restrictions on spending for political advocacy – and it should be allowed to go directly to candidates, who’d be accountable for it – with full disclosure required (which is not true for PACs).

Now, can you imagine if Congress furthermore made it illegal for an advocacy organization to run ads criticizing a legislator within 60 days of an election? In America? Maybe in Russia. Yet Congress did exactly that, as part of the aforementioned federal election regime. It’s a blatant incumbent protection scheme that strikes the First Amendment in its gut.

Unknown-1Corruption is a real concern – public officials beholden to special interests that finance their costly campaigns. It’s bribery in all but name. However, I don’t think the answer is to restrict political participation but, rather, to broaden it. I have long advocated a tax credit for political contributions (up to a limit). A credit (not deduction) would mean the money effectively comes from the Treasury rather than the donor’s pocket. Thus it would be a form of public campaign finance, but far preferable to existing systems, because individual citizens would determine which candidates get what. And it would inspire such an outpouring of citizen-directed donations that politicians would no longer be reliant on special interest money.

In a free, democratic country, I think government has no business regulating, at all, the landscape of political advocacy. Government itself is not disinterested, and certainly the elected officials who run it are not. This is a power inviting abuse. Remember the Alien and Sedition laws, that made it a crime to criticize the government?

In a democracy, all interests, that have a legitimate concern with what government does, should have an unrestricted right to advocate for their viewpoints in the forum of public opinion. That includes TV ads. And it includes corporations. They too are legitimate parts of our society and should have the right to make their voices heard in public debate. Unknown-2You may not like them – but surely you don’t believe in silencing those you dislike or disagree with?*

Democracy is threatened far less by free campaign spending than by government measures to suppress it.

 

* Well – left wingers tend to believe exactly that.


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