11 Nov 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.