Voting Rights Schmoting Rights

I.

“If you don’t feel like voting, don’t bother. It won’t matter. The statistical odds of your vote making any difference at all are infinitesimal.” These are the words of Megan McArdle in a sad, but amusing, piece telling you not to vote. And she’s right: your vote, at least in federal elections, is pretty worthless. Even in smaller House elections, over 80% of incumbents win.

But she’s not the only person that’s been talking about voting recently. The Left has been quite upset over new voter ID laws being implemented around the country. John Oliver even did a long segment on it.

I like John Oliver as a political commentator (and in Community). His sharp wit combines biting commentary with excellent humor, and the format of his show allows a deep dive on interesting issues. I try to watch as many of those segments as possible (they are available for free on YouTube) despite the vast differences in the way he and I view the world.  Oliver’s analysis provides great starting points for discussion, and he helps me understand many critiques of issues that I would never have thought of.

While I don’t really disagree with him on the basic issue of voter ID laws, I feel like he’s missed the more profound problem about American democracy: voting is just a gimmick.

How can this be? Voting is a fundamental right!  America was founded as a grand experiment in democracy! Yes, voting is very important to Americans, but why?  In fact, what is a voting right? Continue reading Voting Rights Schmoting Rights

The Iowa Caucuses

Republican

Ted Cruz has won Iowa, and it looks like Donald Trump and Marco Rubio are essentially tied for second place. This is good news for Cruz and Rubio, and bad news for Trump. Trump was leading in most of the polls leading up to Iowa, and Trump has marketed his high polling numbers as his claim to relevance.  It seems, at least in Iowa, those polling numbers aren’t as powerful as we thought.  This could be due to the fact that caucuses are bad for Trump’s less educated constituency, or it could be evidence of deeper issues that his constituency will have a hard time showing up in many primaries.  Rand Paul, for what it’s worth, did better than expected, but was a distant 5th.

What does this mean?  Well, as I’ve referenced before, Trump’s lead may be due to disproportionate media coverage. This may fade as there is more focus on Cruz this week. Before tonight, I would have expected Trump to win in New Hampshire, but after tonight, his chances will be a bit slimmer.  Referencing my own predictions, I had Trump at 20% on December 31, and I personally had him at a 30% chance of winning the nomination yesterday. I’d bump him down to at most 25% now, perhaps less.  You have to also figure Rubio’s chances have increased.  Iowa is not somewhere he would be expected to do very well, yet he essentially tied for second. I’m not sure where I’d put Rubio’s chances to be the Republican nominee, but perhaps around 40%. Cruz would probably be around 30%.

How do I feel about this?  Well my preferences are certainly Rubio > Cruz > Trump, so I’m glad Trump lost. There’s the destructive argument that if Trump wins the nomination, it might help third parties out as conservatives voters cast about for another candidate, but even then it would be tough for libertarians to get the 5% needed for public financing or the 15% needed to get into the debates. We’ll have to see how the rest of the primaries go, but I severely hope Trump continues to do poorly.

Democratic

This was very close, and though I still don’t know who officially won, an outcome this close has clear ramifications: Clinton underperformed and Sanders beat expectations.  Sanders was already likely to win New Hampshire, and I’d bet that 538 will give him above an 80% chance to win for the rest of the week.  He is still likely to lose South Carolina.

What does this mean? In December, I gave Hillary a 90% chance to be the Democratic nominee (and Bernie a 10% chance). Before tonight, I think I would have given Bernie a 15-20% chance. After tonight, I think I’d be closer to 20%. Maybe. The problem for Sanders is just that Iowa plays to his strengths; he’ll do well in NH as it also plays to his strengths, but in big states and in more diverse states, I predict he will lose.  This will be one of Bernie’s best showings–and it was essentially a tie.  In all the other areas: funding, endorsements, connections…Hillary wins very handily.

How do I feel about this?  I vaguely prefer Sanders as I know exactly where he stands and what problems I have with him. Moreover, the president controls foreign policy, and I agree with Sanders much more than Clinton on foreign policy. But on his domestic agenda, Bernie has disastrous ideas.  I haven’t focused on them much this cycle because I gave Bernie a very low chance of winning the nomination. It may be worth writing about his policy flaws while people are still interested in discussing his policies.

However, that’s not the whole story, because there is some strategy involved as well. Even though in my last post, isidewith.com recommended Bernie over many other candidates, I’m not nearly so excited about him in my own preferences. I think in reality, I might prefer a Rubio presidency to a Sanders one, although both would be bad. Rubio just seems less extreme, and some of his compromises might be very beneficial, such as on immigration. So here’s the point: if Sanders was the nominee, it would doubtless lead to a GOP victory. This is bad if it’s Trump, but probably good if it’s Rubio (and I’m not sure about Cruz). And so this gives me another incentive to cheer for Sanders, as long as Trump does poorly.

So overall, it’s good Trump missed expectations, good Rubio beat expectations, and probably good Bernie beat expectations as well, but I doubt it’ll last.

And as for my last prediction I’ll bring up; in December, I gave myself a 70% chance I’d vote for the libertarian candidate in November.  An important reason I wouldn’t vote for the libertarian candidate would be if a situation arose where my vote would help decide the outcome of the state I live in, and if I feared for the outcome of the election. Overall, if I’m not voting for the libertarian candidate, bad things are probably happening. Luckily I’d say my prediction remains unchanged as of right now.

 

 

Picture credits: both by Gage Skidmore, licensed under CC-BY-SA.

 

Election 2016: Little To Look Forward To

In November, The Economist wrote “If the Republican campaign is to return to normality, it will do so in South Carolina” due to the state’s ability to filter out the unserious candidates.  We are now a month out from the South Carolina primary, and a lot could still happen, but if you’re one of the people who think the government should do less spying on citizens, less intervening in the market, and less mindless spending on the DoD procurement program, you’re in a for bad time: Trump is at 49% chance of winning, Cruz 18%, and Rubio 13%.

Continue reading Election 2016: Little To Look Forward To

Legalize Organ Markets

In 1996, Hurricane Fran hit Raleigh, knocking out power and trees. Duke Political Science Professor Michael Munger describes the response of several citizens from a neighboring town who decided to exploit the situation.  These budding opportunist entrepreneurs rented some refrigerated trucks, filled them with ice and drove to Raleigh, where they sold the bags of ice for about $8 each.  Raleigh police eventually arrived, arrested them for price gouging, and allowed the ice to melt with virtually none distributed to the locals.

Continue reading Legalize Organ Markets

Answering Obama’s 4 Big Questions from the State of the Union Address

President Obama finished his State of the Union address a few hours ago. In this address, he presented 4 major questions that he believes we must answer as we move on to the future. Here is my answer to those questions.

1. How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?

Giving everyone a fair shot in the economy is easy if you are okay with redistributing income equally and severely restricting consumer choices. Everyone has a set amount of money, and no one can make a mistake too large. What makes this question a challenge is giving everyone a fair shot within the confines of our basic liberties.

To do this, regulations must be repealed. Massive regulatory agencies like the FDA and the CPSC don’t protect those in need, they tax them by limiting their options to those more expensive. Regulations on businesses stifle competition that would otherwise drive prices down, and the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world drives work away from the country.

Furthermore, in-kind benefits need to be replaced with in-cash ones. Federal grants and loans for higher education encourage universities to spend more on student services, as they no longer must cut costs for low-income students. Food stamps restrict voluntary exchange for the poor, preventing them from budgeting the benefit according to their needs and interests. In-cash benefits reduce administrative costs, increase pro-consumer market mechanisms, and gives the poor more consumer power.

2. How do we make technology work for us, and not against us, particularly for urgent challenges such as climate change.

President Obama seems to believe that the best way to make technology work for us is to put the government to the task. However, this overlooks the fact that innovation almost entirely derives from private entrepreneurs. Governments are tied to what the majority population knows or believes, putting the possibilities for innovative ideas in chains. This leads to rent-seeking, an enormous waste of resources that often results in failure

Again, the first solution is to remove regulations that slow innovators down. A 10-15 year drug approval process keeps tons of potential life saving treatments off the shelves. Ridiculous regulations on car sales have limited Tesla Motors’ ability to sell electric cars to consumers.

In regards to climate change in particular, emissions trading is a pseudo-market mechanism that can create a “market need” that would promote private innovation in that area.

3. How do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policemen?

This one is simple. Use the military for its actual purpose: to defend the rights of Americans. If we feel that ISIS is a threat to our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then there is justification for war. Going beyond that has not made us safer or better leaders, but has instead caused decades-long instability in countries like Iran and Chile.

When we aren’t threatened, our place is as a leader in diplomacy. We should tout our success as a free nation as an example of what other nations can be, and do our best to become even better. For example, we can work to move our culture past racism and sexism, whilst maintaining the 1st amendment for all.

4. How can we make our politics reflect the best of us, not the worst?

Respect is key for this final question. As the President stated, we must understand that, despite ideological differences, most people have the country’s best interests in mind. As citizens, we should do our best to avoid toxic rhetoric about other sides, promote a discussion that fosters learning, and vote for candidates who do the same.

We must also refine our election system. The electoral college and unfair primary system should be scrapped for one that that gives every citizen an equal vote. Corporate influence over political candidates must be reduced without infringing on the right to free expression. I like Rand Paul’s idea of restricting Congressional access for large campaign donors.

As the President said in his address, we are in changing times, and we must make the right choices to promote liberty and prosperity.