2020-10-28

Me on USAnian politics

PXL_20201026_101945221 Well, there's an election coming up - you may have noticed - so it is Time to Opine, thereby fixing my words in stone for posterity to hold against me. Just like last time the presidential choice is unappealling. Trump is, obviously, horrible: personally, and in many but not all policies. By contrast Biden is a nice enough std.pol, or at least projects that as an image, but it is hard to get enthused over his policies. Given his opponent I hope he wins; and given a choice I'd hold my nose and vote for him2; and in the remainder I'll assume he wins, as that seems quite likely3.

Perhaps a place to start is The Economist's The pragmatist: Joe Biden would not remake America’s economy: He would improve its fortunes, though. It isn't anything very complimentary, mostly a discussion of a list of special cases, because Biden - as far as I can tell - doesn't have much in the way of principlesthat you could derive general policies from, and so would govern by a series of ad-hoc decisions. Not as badly as Trump, though, since Trump often seems to be either genuinely malicious or shamelessly self-centered. A quote: having rejected its signature policies and outmanoeuvred its star figures, Mr Biden might try to placate the left of his party by giving it lots of jobs in the regulatory apparatus where they would emit a cacophony of left-sounding signals.

Another place might be my WATN: Trump from 2018, wherein I defend my assessment of him overall as "minor"5. Given all the outrage that might seem perverse, but - as the Economist notes - while Biden might be nicer than Trump there are quite a few dumb Trump policies, most obviously tariffs on China, that Biden isn't in any hurry to revoke, at least judging him by public utterances. And yet, conversely, if those hadn't been in place I doubt he'd have added them. So he seems rather a let-things-be kinda guy. While this is an improvement on Trumps do-random-dumb-things, it doesn't seem terribly glorious or inspiring or principled.

What would I like to see him say that he hasn't? That he'd drop the protectionism (he won't say this, but might slowly edge that way, quietly); that he'd push for voting reform such as prohibiting gerrymandering; that he'd continue Trump's people's deregulationary intent (obviously, no hope there); that he'd like a carbon tax. That's he'd back away from the Google-bashing Trump has started so strangely. And so on.

SCOTUS

The Evil Repubs have pushed through Amy Coney Barrett, thereby demonstrating conclusively that they are not gentlemen; the Dems, alas, had no real principle with which to oppose this: their pathetically weak argument was that the Repubs had said, four years ago, that they wouldn't do this kind of thing. Suppose the Dems are in any position to do anything about this (which I take to mean controlling the presidency and the senate) what should they do? Astonishingly, Biden's plan - a special commission to suggest supreme court reforms - makes sense to me. Despite all the angst, ACB will probably turn out much less exciting than feared4; and the threat of court-packing will probably constrain the court. And if you did want to "rebalance" as Brian does, adding two seats to a 6-3 split isn't really going to help; you'd need to be bold and add 4, which would probably be regarded as Well Over The Top.

Repubs post Trump

Shirley it is not too much to hope that, if Trump is defeated, the Repubs will come to their senses? I like Steve Landsburg's My fantasy outcome for next week’s election is for Trump to lose every state by a wide margin while mainstream Republicans take over both houses of Congress and revert to their better selves.

Refs

* America’s election: Why it has to be Biden: Donald Trump has desecrated the values that make America a beacon to the world - the Economist:  THE COUNTRY that elected Donald Trump in 2016 was unhappy and divided. The country he is asking to re-elect him is more unhappy and more divided. After almost four years of his leadership, politics is even angrier than it was and partisanship even less constrained. Daily life is consumed by a pandemic that has registered almost 230,000 deaths amid bickering, buck-passing and lies. Much of that is Mr Trump’s doing, and his victory on November 3rd would endorse it all. Joe Biden is not a miracle cure for what ails America. But he is a good man who would restore steadiness and civility to the White House. He is equipped to begin the long, difficult task of putting a fractured country back together again. That is why, if we had a vote, it would go to Joe. And then quite interestingly Mr Trump has fallen short less in his role as the head of America’s government than as the head of state. He and his administration can claim their share of political wins and losses, just like administrations before them. But as the guardian of America’s values, the conscience of the nation and America’s voice in the world, he has dismally failed to measure up to the task.

The moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican Party?

The Volokh Conspiracy: Why Biden is a Lesser Evil than Trump by ILYA SOMIN.

Trump no more: Joe Biden is set to capture the White House: After a hard electoral battle the Democrats have almost certainly won the presidency, but they have done less well than they had hoped - the Economist.

Why a Vast Election Fraud is Highly Implausible by Pierre Lemieux 
America changes course, while remaining very much the same - the Economist: in other words, this race ended up looking very much like what would occur if a generic Republican ran against a generic Democrat in a year when not much of note took place.

Elections Are Neither a Ruler's Toy Nor a Sacred Panacea

* Theses on Trump (SSC, from before). Also SSC: plebs like Trump because although wealthy, he is clearly a pleb himself.

Notes

1. Distinguish "doesn't have much in the way of principles" as in not really having anything that would guide your political course from "is unprincipled" meaning "a bad person; untrustworthy".


2. For anyone uncertain, I'm in the UK, so I don't have a vote. Elections like this, with candidates like these, are a great advert for the idea of "negative voting"; I'd vote "not Trump", if I could, in preference to "for Biden".


3. With the appropriate genuflections to the gods for the impiety of being hopeful out loud.


4. This is my SCOTUS prediction. That, and to note that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh haven't done anything outrageous yet.

5. Clear evidence of this is found in Counterfactuals: What If Clinton Had Won in 2016? by Pierre Lemieux.

51 comments:

David Appell said...

Trump is a sociopath. A psychopath. Both. Literally. He lacks empathy. It is a psychological disorder, extremely dangerous for a national leader. He is tearing the US apart. I'm not joking.

This election isn't about policies. It's not about the economy. It's about holding the US together. It really isn't clear the US can deal with four more years of Trump. He has to lose; the bigger the loss the better.

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

3. With the appropriate genuflections to the gods for the impiety of being hopeful out loud.

WC has invited teh Wrath by fisking a recent incarnation of Poseidon:


THE CLIMATE WARS said...

https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2020/10/wuwt-climate-skeptics-decry-disbelief.html

Phil said...

The problem isn't just Trump.

Trump didn't come from nowhere, and have no relationship with the rest of the USA. He is just the most visible of a trend that started decades ago. A broad trend.

I've got relatives that supported and still support Trump. They scare me. I still listen to what they say...

Mainstream Republicans are mostly out of office. The crowd in office isn't mainstream.

Recent Republican Court packing: "Be bold and add 4" isn't needed. Roberts appears to be sane. Mainstream. I've got no problem with him being the swing vote.

William M. Connolley said...

> Trump is a sociopath

Maybe; but there are always sociopaths. The problem is that in 2016 the USA decided to vote for one.

> a recent incarnation of Poseidon

Ah, but no-one really cared :-(

> Trump didn't come from nowhere

Indeed. I like SL's I blame Donald Trump of course, but Trump did not create the people who voted for him, or those across the aisle who voted for his doppelganger Bernie Sanders. In 2016, about 40% of each party voted for candidates with little to offer other than the message that everything wrong in your life is someone else’s fault, that it’s important to hate those people, and that it’s perfectly okay to invent whatever facts are necessary to justify that narrative. If the horror were confined to a single party, it would be easier to envision it burning itself out. The fact that it’s so evenly distributed is a big part of why it’s so scary.

Phil said...

Equating Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is a not very funny joke at best. Bernie is honest, Trump lies every chance he gets. Bernie has experience running governments, Trump has a small fortune, having started with a large one.

Or it is whataboutism.

Or you are pushing the old fascist line that the alternative is horrible communist.

Which, by the way?

Bernie was a mayor once. Read about his little league baseball teams. Tell me, could you ever picture Donald Trump doing that? First duckduckgo hit, which doesn't cover baseball all that much but would give you a better understanding who Bernie is:

https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-01-26/presidential-candidate-bernie-sanders-burlington-vermont-hometown

I would prefer not Bernie, but he would not be a disaster like Trump has been.

William M. Connolley said...

"doppelganger" is clearly wrong; "mirror" might be better; but "In 2016, about 40% of each party voted for candidates with little to offer other than the message that everything wrong in your life is someone else’s fault" certainly seems reasonable. In that context, honesty isn't the point at issue. BS is honestly devoted to doing the wrong thing as hard as he can.

Phil said...

Really? Really? Sounds more like a fascist talking point than a realistic observation.

Making sure the potholes are filled, and the snow removed?

And all the other things a good mayor needs to do?

Exactly how does Bernie's history like this "mirror" Trump's history of bad behavior?

William M. Connolley said...

History? That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about, errm, the bit I'm talking about: "Trump ... Bernie Sanders. In 2016, about 40% of each party voted for candidates with little to offer other than the message that everything wrong in your life is someone else’s fault...".

Phil said...

Some things that are wrong with peoples live's are not their fault.

Potholes that don't fixed in your neighborhood as you are in a poor neighborhood, for example.

Maintaining streets is an example of Socialism. I'm sure you can find fault in it.

Bernie isn't evil, unlike Trump.

Anonymous said...

Not impressed with the Pierre Lemieux link. He starts by assuming that Clinton would raised the deficit just like Trump. While Clinton might have _wanted_ to spend more money, the Republican Congress wouldn't have let her, and unlike Trump, she wouldn't have passed a tax cut. That's a couple hundred billion dollars a year right there. In terms of the Supreme Court, I don't think that the Republican Senate could have stalled indefinitely on Merrick Garland, and I imagine that a RBG retirement would have also led to nomination of a moderate who would eventually have gotten a vote. (McConnell is also evil and sociopathic, but I really hope there are limits). He also discounts any role for competence in terms of pandemic response.

I do agree that many things would not be better, because any improvement in the presidency would lead to the electorate moving the other way for other elections. There probably wouldn't have been a huge blue wave in 2018 or 2020 (though maybe Clinton could have gotten credit for the improving economy that for some reason people didn't notice under Obama). The improvement in competency in the Presidency for the COVID response could have been partially countered with a stronger pushback from the Republicans at the state level.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Principles? I can see that you are no Popperian. We Popperians believe in piecemeal social engineering.

William M. Connolley said...

We do. But that is guided by principles. You need to read beyond chapter 1.

Mark Arnest said...

"Shirley it is not too much to hope that, if Trump is defeated, the Repubs will come to their senses?"

I come to your blog to read hard-headed analyses that often open my eyes to things I'd rather not believe. So today I will return the favor: No, there is no chance of this at all, and to imagine it is wishful thinking of a very high order. Today's Republican party is rotten to the core. QAnon supporters are running as Republicans at every level, including the Colorado house district adjacent to mine. And my local paper - once-Libertarian, now whatever the party wants - has endorsed her. The Republicans have gone too far for any kind of rapid change of course.

Today's Republican party is in the situation of a bad restaurant: Fewer and fewer people want its crummy food, but it can't improve its menu without alienating its regular customers. That's why the current Republican electoral strategy is almost entirely centered on voter suppression.

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

Really, Phil
Would you characterize Bernies remarks about Stalin's bright side as premature antifascist talking points?

Phil said...

Would you characterize a chef's worst stories as the definition of his cooking?

Or even his worst soufflé?

Or would it be fair to try to judge people as whole things, rather than snip here and snip there? Trying to find just the right sound bite to destroy someone in a tweet?

Bernie isn't perfect, and I didn't support him for President.

Bernie isn't insane, cruel, self centered, and a threat to the Republic, and Trump is all of those things.

Equating the two isn't correct.

Bernie was a good mayor, and a fair Senator. I think he wouldn't be a good President. But to discuss this rationally, you need to turn off the "other tribe BAD BAD BAD" circuit in your brain.

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

" Bernie isn't insane, cruel, self centered, and a threat to the Republic.... was a good mayor, and a fair Senator...to discuss this rationally, you need to turn off the "other tribe BAD BAD BAD" circuit in your brain.

Calm down, Phil !
Nobody said Bernie was that man , that very fat man, who waters the workers beer.
Please just explain his cheerleading on Uncle Joe's behalf.

We'll all feel better when you do.

Phil said...

I hear you have been cheerleading for Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus.
Please explain.

We'll all feel better when you do.

Phil said...

Oh, BTW: Barbarians on Netflix in the original languages Latin/German

THE CLIMATE WARS said...


Phil Republicans customarily cheer our Republic,

While there are two sides to every border wall, and Bernie's free to hail the dubious achievements of socialist dictatorships from Cuba to Venezuela , his cheerleading has not stemmed the tide of refugees fleeing them for our Trump benighted shores.

Phil said...

So how did the Limes Germanicus work out for the Romans? Sometimes walls don't make the best borders...

The Republic will be dead unless Trump and Trumpism is defeated.

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

Not too badly-- the Antonines ha the good sense and gravitas to deploy those limes on the very far side of a mass of Germanii happily Romanized for centuries. The perps in the serious sacking of Rome ( Gesarix and all that) arrived from the Ukraine after two generation grand tour spanning Dacia, Rhaetia, Gaul Iberia and Carthage

William M. Connolley said...

> Today's Republican party is rotten to the core

I find myself doubtful of this; even if it may appear so, locally. And I doubt it applies to R voters in general. But, hopefully we'll get the chance to find out.

Phil said...

> Limes Germanicus

Tactical success, strategic disaster. Yet there is something to be said for Pax Romana. Actually, quite a lot.

Nathan said...


"While there are two sides to every border wall, and Bernie's free to hail the dubious achievements of socialist dictatorships from Cuba to Venezuela , his cheerleading has not stemmed the tide of refugees fleeing them for our Trump benighted shores."

People flee to the US from all over, not just crappy dictatorships.


Just putting it out there, before the election, that whatever the result the US electoral system is pretty terrible. Why they can't run a simple thing like an election without constant referral to courts, and with constant doubt cast of the validity of votes is remarkable. These antics rarely happen in other countries, most Western Democracies are capable and able of running free and fair elections.

It's really poor.

William M. Connolley said...

> Why they can't run a simple thing like an election without constant referral to courts

Largely because of the oft-repeated issue that there are 50 different election systems, by design. Partly because they actually have a written meaningful constitution to judge election law against. But partly because they are being so nice. For example, counting votes received after election day. You won't get bending-over-backwards stuff like that in the UK; over here, you can damn well get your vote in by the day or lose it.

Nathan said...

If they have to constantly refer to the courts, then it's a poor system.



"For example, counting votes received after election day." - This happens in Australia and it's done by volunteers

"you can damn well get your vote in by the day or lose it." - well this is also poor.

Nathan said...

Other poor aspects include that votes have very low value.
They lose value immediately in most areas; no value fro Republicans in California, no value for Democrats in the Dakotas...

Nathan said...


This is not how you run a successful election:
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-03/300-lawsuits-already-have-been-filed-over-the-us-election/12842852

If thousands of votes were not accepted in Australia we would run the election again

Tom said...

Speaking just briefly about immigration to the U.S., I get the impression some people think that immigrants come here all starry eyed and full of hope for their future. That's not really the case for most...
The U.S.is a place where you can earn enough money to survive and if you do it for 25 years you can send your kids to college. That's what most immigrants realize.

My question for other countries is why can't they clear such a low bar? Immigrants are such a clear public good that all countries should be bidding for them.

William M. Connolley said...

Re immigrants, I largely agree, with possible quibbles (see also Open Borders: The Case). In particular, our ridiculous habit of prohibiting them from working is absurd. But this is much like protectionism, which all economists think stupid but the general public tends to support, and pols to near universally support.

Tom said...

I think it's the Peruvian economist Hernando DeSoto (confusingly, there are two Hispanic economists named DeSoto that cover the same territory) that made the case much more clearly than I ever could.

William M. Connolley said...

I don't know either but I have read Doctor De Soto. I wonder if there is any connection?

Nathan said...

What a great election...

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

I wish George Church would leave off wolly mammoth rewilding for a moment and turn his hand to cloning President Eisenhower.

Phil said...

I like Ike, but Ike wouldn't fit into today's Republican Party.

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

NeoIke would be warmly welcomed into the Big Tent of the Boiling Frog Party


https://www.benningtonbanner.com/opinion/columnists/gary-swing-boiling-frog-party-hops-into-vermont-politics/article_f57c971d-4dba-50dc-aade-26fda6a747c5.html

Mark Arnest said...

>> Today's Republican party is rotten to the core

> I find myself doubtful of this; even if it may appear so, locally. And I doubt it applies to R voters in general. But, hopefully we'll get the chance to find out.

A week ago I would have conceded that this one sentence in my comment may have verged on hyperbole, but as of November 10 it seems accurate, as the party - despite the absence of credible evidence - gradually congeals behind the idea of election fraud. I never claimed that my statement applied to the typical R voter. But the party's actions are reprehensible and unprecedented, and a significant percentage of R voters are going to go along with it.

William M. Connolley said...

This is a good place to write down my brilliant prediction: that Trump and the Repubs will fold. They almost have, already: while they are nominally complaining of fraud, they aren't doing so nearly as loudly or enthusiastically as they need to; they are just dumbly refusing to cooperate. I expect that when the various undeclared states do actually declare, that will shift the bulk of the party.

Phil said...

The Republicans have already long ago folded. Ex President Bush, Senator Mitt Romney, and others.

Notice that the media "declaring" a State for one candidate or another has no legal meaning. Popular votes only have meaning under current State laws. The official vote is Monday December 14, 2020, and Wednesday January 6, 2021 is when Congress counts and certifies the electoral votes. Anything before that is mostly noise. While the popular vote in a State normally selects the Electors, the State Legislatures could change the laws and pick Electors by other means as the Constitution allows.

As could the military by pointing guns at people.

BTW: I really really hope you are correct. But frankly you don't have a clue.

Phil said...

And now for something completely different.

Why has trust and cooperation been declining in the USA?

http://peterturchin.com/cliodynamica/strange-disappearance/

William M. Connolley said...

That's an odd post. It makes the assertion that general well being has changed, but overall has no trend, since 1800. This is clearly wrong by any measures such as wealth (i.e. ability to do things), health, life expectancy and so on. Similarly, presenting P+S as though it was undisputed fact doesn't incline me to trust it. But leaving all that aside, the post still doesn't really go anywhere.

Phil said...

Bill Gates walks into a bar. The average wealth explodes, so the bartender raises prices and adds fancy dishes and drinks to the menu. How exactly does this help Fred and Jane in the corner table?

Life expectancy in the USA has been falling since about 2014.

Average wealth has been increasing. Median wealth has been falling since about 2007.

Don't get me started on the American Health Care "System". A CF, at best.

Somewhere to go:
"In these articles I argue that general well-being (and high levels of social cooperation) tends to move in the opposite direction from inequality. During the ‘disintegrative phases’ inequality is high while well-being and cooperation are low. During the ‘integrative phases’ inequality is low, while well-being and cooperation are high."


Do you think Fred and Jane voted for Trump?

William M. Connolley said...

Your fable doesn't work (was that the point? I struggle to see the point). If BG walks in, the bartender does nothing other than serve him a drink, since the bartender knows full well that his other customers are no richer. And if he is foolish enough to think otherwise, he will soon discover his error.

> Median wealth has been falling since about 2007.

That is not true: https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/01/09/trends-in-income-and-wealth-inequality/

Phil said...

Bill Gates probably has more spendable cash than the rest of the customers. If BG just walks in once, you are correct, however, as wouldn't provide a regular income. If he is a regular customer, the bartender maximizes profit by catering to him, not to the poor riffraff with less total spendable cash.

Your source says median wealth in 2001 was $144,600 and in 2016 was $115,000, looks like a decline to me.

"Upper-income families were the only income tier able to build on their wealth from 2001 to 2016, adding 33% at the median. On the other hand, middle-income families saw their median net worth shrink by 20% and lower-income families experienced a loss of 45%."

William M. Connolley said...

Your fable makes no sense, in that the world doesn't work that way. The way the world works is that people make profits by catering to people's needs. If some rich people move into an area, then some businesses will change to cater to them, and some will spring up new. But that doesn't remove the needs of the existing folk; and some will continue to cater to them, making profits even though their clients are poor relative to BG. And indeed we see this in real life: there are a range of supermarkets in the UK, from yer Waitrose to yer Lidl (is Lidl the bottom? I don't know. I never go there, of course).

Phil said...

Your retort shows you are in denial about how the world is working. Sure, a single bar isn't a good model for the economy.

The rich people are getting richer, big gains in both wealth and income. The median person is working for similar income and has less wealth.

"Yer Waitrose" has customers with far more to spend. Expand the stores, offer new products, life is good. Life is very good.

The middle market has fewer customers and both the customers and the stores are getting squeezed. Stores going out of business.. Sears is more complex than this, but they focused the middle of the market. That was twice the size of the high end market in 1970. It's now smaller than the high end market.

https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/01/09/trends-in-income-and-wealth-inequality/screen-shot-2020-01-08-at-5-06-47-pm/

Where did the middle go? Down market, of course. So "yer Lidl" has more customers trying to spend less per person. I'm sure that they are all very very happy... Very much so. The happiest. A good thing you never go there.

William M. Connolley said...

I doubt this is going anywhere; especially if you won't drop the D-rhetoric.

I don't believe your assertions re income. For example, https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/01/09/trends-in-income-and-wealth-inequality/ doesn't show a decline; it shows "now" aka end-of-graph as the highest ever. I don't believe your overall thesis either; but you'll find that kind of discussion all over and I have nothing special to add.

Phil said...

D-rhetoric?

Denial? Democratic?

The USA has gone in my lifetime from one of the most egalitarian countries in the world to one of the least. Why would anyone expect that this would have not political impacts?

Phil said...

Oh, and if you want to avoid Democratic, view from Alpha Centauri

http://peterturchin.com/cliodynamica/america-in-november-2020-a-structural-demographic-view-from-alpha-centauri/

"Structural trends undermining social resilience in the United States have been building up for decades. It became clear to me 10 years ago (see my 2010 forecast) and has become obvious to most everybody in the last few years. These structural forces are: increasing popular immiseration (declining incomes, falling life expectancies, growing social pessimism and despair), elite overproduction and intra-elite conflict, and failing state (growing state debt and collapsing trust in state institutions). The Covid-19 pandemic put even more pressure on the system, especially exacerbating immiseration."

Resilience and efficiency are both important. Optimizing for _only_ efficiency (aka "Free Market" for everything) breaks resilience.

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

"Structural trends undermining social resilience in the United States have been building up for decades. It became clear to me 10 years ago (see my 2010 forecast) and has become obvious to most everybody in the last few years. These structural forces are: increasing popular immiseration (declining incomes, falling life expectancies, growing social pessimism and despair), elite overproduction and intra-elite conflict, and failing state (growing state debt and collapsing trust in state institutions). The Covid-19 pandemic put even more pressure on the system, especially exacerbating immiseration.""

Thank you, Phil, for again reminding us of the consequences of the rise of cant in the service of intersectional critical theory.

I for one do not welcome our new structuralist masters.