11 November 2010

A few thoughts on the elections

There's been a lot of interesting analysis, and here are some useful bits:

My first impression is that the tea partiers may improve things if they push for smaller government, decentralization and greater individual responsibility. OTOH, they may turn into beasts with a bottomless appetite for telling us what to do, what to say and who to sleep with, spending our money in the process.

Disclosure: I didn't vote, mostly because the Registrar of Voters was unable to catch up with me.

  • 50 of 51 incumbent California representatives were re-elected (two seats had no incumbents). I cannot wait for apolitical redistricting and real competition in elections (yay Prop 20). How bad is it? One incumbent state senator was re-elected even though she was dead. [see comments] I didn't keep the link, but most directors of water districts are re-elected at similar rates.

  • Elections cost over $4 billion nationwide (ads only?). Big oil outspent clean energy 10:1, with $70 million for their favorites. Grinzo has a good rant on many republicans' opposition to restricting energy use. Not only are they NOT being conservative (with resources), but they only care about corporate profits, not real scientific debate on climate change (good news: climate scientists are fighting back with public rebuttals to climate change deniers). OTOH, Michael G. has an excellent piece decrying subsidies to "clean" energy that may never be economical. As usual, I would prefer a nice clean tax on carbon (and other pollutants) and no subsidies. Let market incentives work. [The Economist has a useful update on geo-engineering, which is still too dangerous for me. REDD first, please.]

  • In a semi-related note, read how government regulators are covering up the adverse impacts of BP's dispersants on marine life. Why? Because their bosses told them to.*

  • How bad are earmarks? Academics calculated that politicians who became chairs of various congressional committees directed a huge amount of money to their home states. Why is that bad? Because private investment fell as it was crowded out by pork-spending. Rand Paul, btw, has already flip-flopped, saying that he supports earmarks "for Kentucky." On a similar note, Gasson denunces water clusters that governments open with fanfare and canapes but rarely get anything useful done. Why? Because governments are TERRIBLE at innovation.

  • Looking for waste in California's government? Take a look at this list of state agencies and pick two or three to shut down. Lost jobs sure, but lower taxes and -- very likely -- less interference from politicians and regulators in the real economy. (I'd start with the California Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation, and California Bureau of Naturopathic Medicine, but there are MANY OTHERS.) The best place to shrink government is where it is doing something that private industry can do. Schools and hospitals (but not subsidies for education or health), power plants, housing, transport -- none of these activities need the dead hand of government. (The Dutch postal service is privatized. Fewer deliveries and fewer post offices but VERY efficient and no subsidies.)

  • Rachael Maddow has a great segment on the lies and agit/prop at Fox -- just the thing that Jon Stewart denounced at the Rally for Sanity.

  • Good news: economists are smart. Bad news: they cannot teach economics to people who are not smart. Worse news: there are about 1 million 100,000 economists the world, which means that votes are not likely to reflect the knowledge of economics (gains from trade, etc.).
Bottom Line: Special interest money buys propaganda that wins elections that increases government interference in our lives and economies that makes most of us worse off.

* For more on regulators, compare this:

to this (with backstory) .

Recall that I said that the BP spill was regulators' fault.

10 comments:

  1. As I recall, Enron was in bankruptcy by the end of 2001. The California power market problems were in 2000 and early 2001. Enron failed due to fraudulent accounting, and the market reaction to fraud, which was especially swift and harsh for a highly leveraged company.

    Also, because of publicity and political pressure, BP has declined to take advantage of the limited liability cap that US law currently offers to offshore drillers.

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  2. Election result: You can not govern a center-right country from the left.

    The Dem's need to go back to the Hubert H. Humphrey party and leave behind the extreme left.

    Would postulate:

    (1) that the current democrat party is a coalition of fragments.

    (2) many of the fragments are one issue groups on a crusade.

    (3) these one issue groups existed in the past as independent advocacy/lobby groups.

    (4) these groups perceive that they are not getting any traction with the Dem's.

    (5) same groups are alienating the electorate in regards to the electorate's perception of the Dem's.

    (6) these groups are very likely to return to their independent advocacy/lobby groups status and the current coalition ends with Dem's morphing back to Hubert H. Humphrey.

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  3. I am a global warming skeptic but I can, in theory, get behind a revenue neutral carbon tax. The problem with something like that (or cap and trade for that matter) is that it's extremely difficult to accurately assess the carbon footprint of any particular endeavor (http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/biofuel-plan-will-cause-rise-in-carbon-emissions-2129773.html for example). How do you tax what you can't accurately count? What's wrong with a simple BTU tax?

    We could even employ some of the same strategies that you've proposed for water to energy in general and encourage real efficiency.

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  4. Government failure is ultimately a leadership failure. I don't think I buy the idea that less government is a solution to government failure any more than fewer parents is a solution to parenting failure.

    Government has an important regulatory role and "big business" would love to convince people that "big government" is the cause of market woes.

    Business also has an important role in society, and somewhere in a parallel universe (or 100 years ago) "big government" is trying to convince people that "big business" is to blame.

    They're both right. I think it's reasonable to object to individual policies, and I can't take extreme views on either side seriously...which is perhaps why they're relegated to political cartoons and their parodies.

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  5. ...oh, and of course FOX news and KY, PA, WI, UT and FL politicians.

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  6. I interviewed State Senator Jenny Oropeza many times while she lived; she almost always was moved to tears talking about her voiceless constituents. She fought harder and more sincerely than almost anyone in Sacramento for strong public health laws. Her work directly improved the lives and health of the people she represented.

    The re-election of Senator Oropeza, who died just a few days before her certain victory, is not a sign of how "bad" things are. It was an organized and conscious demonstration of our commitment to her legacy. Her posthumous victory will force a special election in this progressive district, which would otherwise have simply defaulted to a Republican.

    It's a silly and ill-considered remark you made, and it was bizarre that you held our electoral choice up for ridicule, using it to bolster your argument about re-districting.

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  7. @JL -- Thank you for the clarification on Sen. Oropeza. I agree that it was better to elect her to bring about a special election. The original article did not provide the context that you did.

    That said, I am not comfortable with a universal approval of "voter wishes" when many contests are distorted by gerrymandered district lines and asymmetric incumbent advantages.

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  8. F.A. Hayek wrote that once central planning schemes fail to bring abundance, the central government authorities and central planning authorities must legitimize their existence. The next step after failure to bring abundance through central planning, according to Hayek, is for the state and central planners to trumpet policies of equitable income distribution as the explanation for the failure of central planning to achieve abundance.

    It will be interesting to see how Hayek’s theory pans out now that central planning has failed (Obama and Dem's policies). That is, will equitable income distribution become the next policy obsession of the Dem's?

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  9. decrying subsidies to "clean" energy that may never be economical

    Never?

    How about "as long as pollution and waste-handling costs for fossil fuel and nuclear energy continue to be externalized"

    I think we agree that the economics of utility grid power are currently distorted, making it not-so-simple to dismiss "clean" energy sources as uneconomic. How much will global warming cost?

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  10. @WEH - "will equitable income distribution become the next policy obsession of the Dem's?"

    Dunno bout the Dems, I doubt it tho - their (actual) constituencies also include lots of rich people. But there is already a growing obsession among disgruntled Americans, possibly even including some (nominal) Republicans, about the extreme inequality of income in America. The bailouts and their aftermath really brought that into focus, and I sense that more and more people are realizing just how bad the situation is. For example, read the comments to David Brooks' op-ed, A National Greatness Agenda, in the NYT. We have a real problem.

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