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I wrote something long on Medium, so you should probably Instapaper it and plan to read it on a future flight or something.
For months now, observers have been wondering why the Republican Party has been failing to rally around one seemingly-obvious candidate in particular. Young, new to the United States Senate, he is smart, well-spoken, represents a large and diverse state, and would be the first Latino nominee of a major party. Despite some bumpiness in his tenure, his positions on most issues are conventional, and he is likely to have similar priorities to a Republican Congress. Even though he’s rubbed some of his colleagues the wrong way, the media has been pretty unified over the last few months in wondering:
“Why won’t the Republican elite rally around Ted Cruz?”
Ha ha ha, just kidding, nobody’s been asking that. Instead, they’ve been asking that about Marco Rubio, get it, he also meets that description. The problem with Rubio, though, is that he’s irrevocably tied to being on the wrong side of what has becoming the defining issue in the primary for nakedly cynical reasons and more generally that he’s an empty suit and even more generally that voters don’t seem to actually, you know, like him or want to vote for him.
But Ted Cruz doesn’t have that problem! He won Iowa! He placed third in New Hampshire despite it being an exceptionally weak state for him, behind the overwhelming winner and the guy who had banked 100% of everything on ekeing out second place, but ahead of Rubio and Jeb! He’s right there! What’s going on?
Ha ha ha, just kidding, we all know what’s going on. The problem with Ted Cruz is that literally ever person who has spent more than a few seconds in his physical presence apparently loathes him. Major publications are practically building out entire verticals devoted solely to aggregating quotes from public figures about the fingernails-on-the-chalkboard-of-the-soul experience that is interacting with Ted Cruz. And, yeah, he definitely hijacked the Senate that one time to shut down the government, putting his interests ahead of the party.
But you know what? It worked! It demonstrated an ability to understand and interact with a complex network of institutions to achieve his goals. It showed savvy. It was entrepenuerial. And unlike Marco Rubio’s immigration SNAFU, it showed he had, and has, his fingers much more squarely on the pulse of key portions of the GOP primary electorate.
Let me be clear – a Ted Cruz presidency would be terrible. And, as the Republican nominee, he would probably lose. He is very conservative! He would probably rub a lot of voters the wrong way because, truly, being a successful politician who nonetheless rubs people the wrong way, deeply, in their bones, is Ted Cruz’s unique gift in life.
But he is decidedly not Donald Trump. Donald Trump is scary. Donald Trump is accountable to nobody. Donald Trump is a monster. A Ted Cruz candidacy would most likely be a Goldwater- or McGovern-esque loss; a Donald Trump’s candidacy has an equal chance of either accelerating centrifugal forces in the Republican Party and coalition past the point of no return, or of being something much, much worse for the future of American democracy itself.
Any long-term thinking on the part of the Republican elite should, at this point, realize that the collective odds of Bush, Kasich, and Rubio securing the nomination are slim; the contest, at this point, may very quickly become an effective two-man race if Trump and Cruz 1-2 South Carolina and Nevada. The long-term viability of the Republican Party is, frankly, in doubt no matter what happens this year, but it is in much better shape if it loses in a large but ultimately controlled and predictable way than if it puts all its chips on…whatever it is we will one day call Trumpism. The GOP and its elite, to put it bluntly, should prefer to “Lose with Cruz” (now there’s a campaign slogan) than to grab the toupeed tiger by the tail and ride it into the dark unknown.
The fact that this decision seems gobsmackingly obvious from anyone outside the group of, at most, a few thousand people who constitute the core of the GOP elite, yet so repulsive to those few thousand people themselves, is a little scary in what is says about the inability of high-level political actors to put the political ahead of the personal. Shoot, just before the Rubio bubble had its brief moment, just before the Rubio bubble had its brief moment, just be[whack], there was a crazy spate of stories about how the Republican elite might actually prefer Trump to Cruz because Cruz is a galaxy-class asshole. How those stories will play out now that Trump is winning primaries and Rubio may have dispelled himself once and for all remains to be seen. But it would be a collective gamble of reckless, amoral, cynical, myopic abandon unlike any in recent American history for a major party’s elites to even acquiesce to the nomination of someone like Trump; it would be staggering if a perfectly viable and much more predictable and conventional, if not exactly promising, alternative were discarded simply because the person inhabiting that alternative has all the charisma of microwaved fish.
Because it’s New Hampshire Primary Day and because I haven’t blogged in a while – time to apply a facile analogy to party politics! For a limited time only, clickbait post title included, no additional charge.
If there is a thing that distinguishes the amorphous categories of “tech” companies from other companies, it’s that the structure of expected returns relative to time is different from non-“tech” companies. Unlike more conventional, competitive companies with consistent margins reliant on either extensive or intensive growth to grow in value, tech companies leverage scale to hopefully strike at a focal position in an existing or emerging network with a combination of quality and timing that allows them to seize that position, a position from which monumental rents can be generated.
This creates a disjuncture between a tech company’s present and future. By many conventional metrics, most tech company’s presents look a lot like a conventional company’s death throes. Tech companies generally spend most of their early life bleeding fantastic sums of money, in the hope that if their gamble pays off, they will reap future sums orders of magnitude larger. In that sense, the better analogy for the tech company is a political one than an economic one; tech companies are like Roman generals who ventured all-or-nothing gambles on seizing the capital, with death or imperial power as binary outcomes.
The Democratic Party, today, is in something analogous to that position. There seems to be a consensus that, should demographic voting patterns not substantially shift, the Democratic Party will have a hammerlock on governing the United States within the next decade or two, as its core coalition quickly approaching majority status in the electorate.
At the same time, the Democratic Party of the present looks for all the world like a failing political party. They face structural obstacles to achieving majority status in either house of Congress; they have a minority position on the Supreme Court, though this is a more complex and mixed situation; and hold unified control of only seven states to Republicans’ 25. Given the power this gives to Republicans to gerrymander, it is entirely possible for many facets of this dismal state to persist even if demographic harvests prove as bountiful as predicted for the Democrats.
Indeed, the only plus side is that, on the most federalized level, those demographic tailwinds have already lead to a deceptively definitive structural advantage in presidential elections; barring the discombobulation a credible third-party or independent candidate would wreak, Republicans would need to win either an unprecedented share of the nonwhite vote or an unprecedented share of the white vote in order to crack 2016, neither of which seems terribly likely at present.
Therefore, the Democratic Party stands in an odd situation; presently, its goal is to cling to the Presidency and a few key states for dear life, whereas in the future it hopes to assert a position of unprecedented dominance that could only be toppled by some combination of vast leftward movement on the part of the Republican Party (an equal ideological, if not political, windfall for ideologically-motivated activists) and an unforeseeable reshaping of the political landscape.
This disjuncture has both manifestation and exacerbation in the present Clinton/Sanders divide. It is clear that the frankly stunning demographic divides within the Democratic Party signal that a politics and platform substantially to the left of the status quo is the future of the Democratic Party; just as the Democrats expect to reap the windfall of future demographics, the left expects to reap the windfall of seizing the Democratic Party as it comes into its dominance.
But that future is not yet here, and the high odds that a Democrat will sit in the Oval Office next year are the inverse of the odds of Democratic control of either house of Congress. Therefore, no matter who the nominee is, the actual job of the next Democratic POTUS will be twofold – on the one hand, succeed in getting four budgets and as many appointees and judges through a hostile Congress as possible; and on the other hand, give back as little of the legislative and regulatory gains of the Obama administration as possible. That many within the Democratic Party itself are coming to see those gains as inadequate only exacerbates the tensions that come from high expectations of near-future political transformations clashing with a present politics largely predicated on holding patterns and defense.
This is an inadequate guide to who the Democrats should nominate; while Sanders’ politics are the future of the Democratic Party, it’s clear that 74-year-old Sanders himself, and old white men in general, are certainly not; Democrats looking solely at filling the job of President for the next four years have to balance ideology, willingness-to-compromise, and, yes, electability in making what is frankly a non-obvious decision. But of course politics is rarely about careful consideration of filling a job, and Democratic voters are casting ballots, today and for months to come, for reasons well beyond a calculating and decidedly uninspirational assessment of loss minimization. In the past, revolutions were followed by bitter infighting about its meaning, implications, and future; the oddity of the Democratic Party today is that the order has been inverted. The 2016 primary, more than anything, is a fight over not just who controls the future, but when the future will happen.
Elections are basically extended reminders to partisans about why they hate the other party. By the end, most everyone heads back to their respective corners…And so long as they stay away from this kind of brinksmanship going forward they probably wrapped this episode up early enough that it won’t be worth much a year from now.
This is probably true – already in February it seems as though the shutdown, all-consuming in its moment, has fast faded behind 100 daily news cycles.
But I think it’s also beside the point. Most Americans have a partisan affiliation, or at least a very strong preference, whether they’re willing to admit it or not, and median voter theory and economic fluctuations turn out to do a fairly decent job of projecting election outcomes over the short term. The interesting question for me, though, is why people develop the partisan affiliations they do?
One thing we do know is that partisan affiliations developed in youth harden and are hard to shake even over a lifetime. And what shapes those initial affiliations? Without trying to be overly definitive, it is hard not to believe that events and circumstances prevailing at the time that a young person is developing their civic awareness do not have a substantial effect. And it’s hard to imagine the epic failfest that was last October’s shutdown not being that kind of event, even if in the short-to-medium term its electoral effect is negligible.
What I’m saying is, when middle-aged millennials turn out in droves for Fluke in ’40 we can thank Ted Cruz for that.
Xavier Marquez – and if you’re not reading his blog, why the heck are you reading mine? – wrote an amazing and deeply insightful post about Francisco Franco earlier this month. Analogizing to Padgett and Ansell’s theory of Cosimo Medici, Marquez posits that Franco was so successful at retaining power in Spain for so long, not through bold, decisive, clearly-directed leadership, but instead by being the indecipherable cipher at the center of a diverse and incoherent coalition, a coalition whose individual components were dependent on Franco, and all of whom Franco indulged and foiled in equal measure, never committing.
This focus on “robust action,” action that more about an inability to be countered than expeditiously or effectively accomplishing a single goal, is rooted in the “multi-vocality” of one’s coalition. Essentially, Franco had the Church, the fascists, the monarchists, and the military all in his camp, and basically the only thing they had in common was anti-socialism; otherwise, their projects were contradictory. Yet by being the ambiguous lynchpin, Franco ensured that none of these sub-networks could break off and succeed in achieving more power without him, thus binding them all to him without committing to any of them, ensuring his longevity. His words and actions, when they came, could be interpreted by many different factions in different ways; his inaction and silence – he was “‘the man who keeps quiet best in all Spain” – allowed him to defer potentially fractious commitment, retain strategic flexibility, and maintain centralized control. (He also cannily use non-ideological means to enforce loyalty and control while also ensuring the incoherence of his own coalition). Talking about Medici now, Padgett and Ansell and then Marquez say:
…“[t]he result was an awesomely centralized patrimonial machine, capable of great discipline and “top down” control because the Medici themselves were the only bridge holding this contradictory agglomeration together” (p. 1307). By contrast, the coalition of Medici opponents was both far more “coherent” and narrow in terms of the interests it represented (and hence more predictable in its actions) and less susceptible to centralized control (and hence less effective and disciplined).
Perhaps the most interesting finding is that users who have a large number of Facebook friends are less likely to talk about politics and gay rights issues on Facebook despite having access to increasing human and information resources.
Cowen calls this finding “depressing,” and speculates:
…one possibility is that popular people do not want to endanger their popularity with controversial discussions. Another is that non-controversial people are simply more popular to begin with.
I’d posit a different hypothesis – sufficiently large and diverse networks and/or coalitions require hubs. A popular person might have liberal and conservative friends, religious and secular friends; were they to strongly express political views, some of those friends might be alienated. Some people do in fact express their opinions strongly, and have a louder voice within a smaller, more coherent subnetwork/subcoalition. But all these smaller, narrower groups are linked/bound at the hub points of people who can maintain pleasing ambiguity to a wide diversity of people, and this increases the maximum size, reach, and potential of networks. These people can be friends with everybody by being firm allies of nobody; what they can offer is non-ideological but nonetheless vital.
Josh Inglett is a college student in Wisconsin. He is a smart, amiable, pleasant-looking achiever. He is a Republican. And he was publicly appointed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, also a Republican, to sit on the state Board of Regents, the public university oversight committee – until it was revealed that he signed the recall petition to support a vote to remove Walker from office. Inglett’s nomination was spiked, and indeed, across Wisconsin intra-Republican purges are taking place based solely on whether someone signed the petition. A quarter of Wisconsin’s registered voters signed it.
Galaxy Trucker is a deliriously fun board game. In it, you have to build a spaceship very quickly, then send it off to face absurd obstacles and hope it doesn’t explode. A key challenge to Galaxy Trucker is connecting your ship – often times, a single central “hub” piece will be holding the whole ship together, and if that hub is destroyed, the ship will fly apart into multiple segments.
Mistermix, riffing off House of Cards, wrote the following a few days ago – I think it accurately captures both the facts and the spirit of the state of the Republican caucus:
Without giving away spoilers, perhaps the most unreal aspect of this piece of fiction, other than Frank’s electoral status, is the notion that the House Whip has power over his caucus. The centerpiece of Frank’s office is a whip count board that has color-coded magnetic pieces representing each member of his caucus. If Kevin McCarthy’s version of this board isn’t already in storage, can you imagine the layer of dust that has collected on each of his member’s names?
In a world where a functioning party has factions amenable to compromises that are brokered by party leadership, being the Majority Whip can be a seat of power and an interesting job. But what’s the point of being the Republican whip in the current Congress? I imagine it has all the job satisfaction of being the manager of the worst chain restaurant in the country, except that even a Red Lobster manager can comp a dessert. The Republican Whip is just a impotent spectator to Boehner’s excuse making, Cantor’s comically transparent scheming, and Ted Cruz’ Bieber-like hold over a bunch of white middle-aged dimwits.
If it’s not yet obvious, the dynamics identified above seem to capture quite aptly the differing natures of America’s two political parties today. The Democrats are a diverse and perhaps incoherent coalition – public sector employees, labor unions, blacks, Hispanics, Jews, (recently) Asian-Americans, gays, women, urban-dwellers, youth, and other creative sector and socially liberal types – all of whom have different and perhaps contradictory interests or beliefs in many fields but none of whom can act except through the Democratic party. Conversely, the Republican party is ideologically, demographically, and spiritually unified – while there are some differences, especially between the small elite of the party and the vast grassroots base, the party is much more unified than it was even a decade or so ago, with opposition to the President catalyzing the wholesale adoption of social conservatism by economic conservatives and vice-versa.
And thus, you’ve seen a Republican party that is constantly auto-purging, purifying its ranks but unable to be led or act coherently; conversely, the Democratic party has become very able to act centrally, but succeeds politically best when it can defer action. On immigration reform, where Republican obstruction is arguably superior politically to passage; on Keystone XL, where the decision to approve or reject the pipeline has been endlessly deferred; on gay marriage, where the President was “evolving” for years until his cover was blown by Biden – in many cases, at least, it seems as though the Democratic party binds its coalition via inaction as often as action, and no faction can act except through the party’s center, in this case Obama, Reid, and Pelosi.
What this means for America’s future, I will leave to you, with this message:
I’ve been musing for a little while on this really quite brilliant post from Matt Yglesias really deconstruction, brick by brick, the self-righteous illusions of a certain set of holier-than-thou critics of, like, the system, man. While musing, my wife asked me, essentially, what was up with this Glenn Greenwald dude, and it led me to try and think what was going on here, and while I was tempted for a while to just repost the greatest blog post of all time and call it a day, I do actually think I have a nugget of insight here I might as well share.
The way I got here is basically to wonder “why is nobody on the right like this?” And by “on the right” I am excluding Conor Friedersdorf and other genuinely-libertarian people who think the security state is a bigger threat to liberty than higher marginal tax rates on the ultra-rich and focusing on the bulk of what we might call the conservative movement which, over the last half-century, has managed to move from “fringe group excised from polite society, itself excising its fringe from polite society” to “totally dominating one of America’s two major parties and itself being dominated by its fringe.” In contrast, the American left as a movement has never really had that kind of power in American society even at its apex, mostly relying on a handful of well-timed crusaders, half-measures, lucky breaks, and incremental patchwork progress despite being roughly even in numbers or close enough to the parallel “core” of the conservative movement.
The simple answer, though, which is “conservatives have basically become increasingly skilled at using existing institutions, like primaries, to enforce their will” is only the next turtle down. It’s not like progressives haven’t tried – and sometimes succeeded! – to use primaries to challenge, pressure, or replace conservative Democrats. But systematically they haven’t embedded the fear of their wrath deep into the firmware of Democratic officeholders the way the conservative movement has done with Republican officeholders. So why is that?
I have a guess, and it has to do with the ideological nature of these movements. Conservatives, fundamentally, see themselves as restorative (the more pejorative word might be reactionary). They believe that there was once a past where things were as they should be, but somehow things have become polluted and corrupted, and so we need to purge those elements and restore what once was. Now, exactly when that ideal era was seems up for debate (the 1950s? The 1850s? The 0050s?) and there’s a lot of selective remembering and historical fudging going on, not to mention some conflicts between the hypernationalist element of the ideology and the bemoaning-the-fallenness-of-our-current-state element of the ideology (hence why Colbert’s subtitle “re-becoming the greatness we never weren’t” is so ingenious), but that’s the impetus, and it is extremely compatible with working within the system. The system is not the problem; it’s all those viruses and bacteria, and conservatives are the antibodies. The body politic is sick, but it can be cured (even if it requires the equivalent of the Milwaukee Protocol).
Progressives, on the other hand, were rather aptly summed up by various brothers Kennedy riffing off George Bernard Shaw and each other: “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’” Progressives believe that, even if the path is not linear and progress intermittent, that history has been a process of improvement for a destination not yet arrived at, and that things could always get better, could always be better, and should always be better. To the extent that they look to the past, it is less often (though not always) because things were better than but for lessons for how to make things better in the future. They are often prone towards utopianism and revolutionary fervor, and their lack of attachment to the status quo and their lack of anchor to some past glory means they are not only much more willing to discard existing aspects of the system they don’t like but they are much more willing to discard the system altogether and even refuse to have nothing to do with it for fear of infection or corruption. The body politic is sick; it must be quarantined to contain the disease.
Here’s another metaphor – progressives are Jews, still waiting for the Messiah to show up, and conservatives are Christians, waiting for him to come back.
And this has huge consequences. It’s why conservatives, no matter how many rejections, failures, SNAFUs, and embarrassments they’ve suffered in their quest to take full control of the American system of government, have never relented, whereas progressives have failed to do exactly that. The key is organizational resiliency – look at the way progressives reacted to the 1972 election and the way conservatives reacted to the 2012 election. In fact, the immediate reaction was the same; but with conservatives it lasted a couple months and with progressives it lasted three decades. That was a long time when the Democratic coalition was basically reduced to internecine squabbling between constituencies and insidious takeover-by-concern-trolling of mushy privatist centrists.
The meta point is that politics has ideological roots that can’t really be disentangled from its economic, policy, and interest group components. This is why I never really buy into the simplest models of median voter theory or election results being purely driven by economic variables (Jonathan Bernstein was hinting at that a little, here, but I’m say humbug to his subtlety and break out the giant magic hammer). It’s also why I tend to scoff at public choice theory, which Matt Yglesias ingeniously summarized last week as the “tedious formula of …[taking] “political economy” [scholarship] when done by a political conservative …[and] acting as if the exposé that the politicians and regulators behind some given move weren’t pure as the snow itself constitutes a policy argument.” Certainly many politicians and regulators have motives and incentives that economics as a discipline is well-equipped to explain and expose. But they have many that don’t. Egypt’s first elected government collapsed, in part, because they inherited a civil service that was a mix of mismanaged, neglectful, and actively hostile. Yet when George W. Bush sat down in the Oval Office after one of the mostly controversial elections in American history the bureaucracy kept on ticking like nothing had changed because they believed in doing their jobs. That’s not to say they’re immune to incentives, just that ideology is an incentive structure all its own and one that is difficult to model in the nice simple arithmetical way that material incentives are.
The estimable Keith Humphreys has made what I believe to be a misguided attack, at least in the general case, on the critics of Jim Messina’s Tory turn. I think he is being a too credulous of Messina and a little naïve about politics.
Great Britain is largely ruled by 2.5 (2.25?) political parties, the primary two of which are the Tories on the right and Labour on the left. Now, Humphreys is correct to argue that, were the American Republican Party to adopt wholesale the Tory platform, they would on many major issues find themselves in agreement or even to the left of the Democratic party and the center American politics would shift very far to the left.
But that’s not what Messina is doing or trying to accomplish. What he is trying to accomplish is doing his level best to ensure that Tories, rather than Labour, governs the United Kingdom. This suggests that, if you model politics purely as a hyper-rational act of selecting a set of optimal policies and supporting the political coalition that most closely reflects that set, that Messina’s policy set is delicately balanced to the left of the GOP but to the right of Labour. This is entirely possible! But I’m going to venture that it’s quite unlikely, and it’s more likely that Messina doesn’t have policy views this well-developed.
There is another way to look at politics – as a struggle between groups over rights, privileges, wealth, and power in society. In this view, for example, you could look at politics everywhere as a struggle between “workers/labor” and “business/capital” and believe that direction takes precedence over position and therefore endorse the pro-worker/labor party in general with substantial (if not total) disregard for whether workers in one country are better or worse off than those in another.
Now, I’ll admit to not being terribly well-versed on what, at this very moment, are the key differences between Labour and the Tories going into the next UK election. But what I do know is if you asked me this question:
“Will British workers be better off 50 years from now if Labour wins the majority of elections between now and then or if the Tories win the majority of elections between now and then?”
I could rather confidently answer that question with “Labour.” There are indeed certain situations where the leftist party in certain countries is endorsing foul or noxious platforms, is corrupt or has engaged in substantial misconduct, or is simply nomination odious leaders, that one might considering wavering from this heuristic (let’s call it “solidarity” for old-times sake) but these are still exceptions. In this case, it is entirely possible that Messina has strong personal feelings about David Cameron or Ed Milliband or some item in Labour’s platform or simply believes in maintaining a certain balance-of-power between labor and capital but I’m going to go ahead and say that the Tories wrote him a big check and he’s cashing it with little regard for the substance of the politics, and lacking a clear reason to the contrary it is perfectly acceptable for American progressives to reflexively support Labour and question a Democratic Party figure who would support the Tories.
So Wal-Mart is threatening to cancel its plans to open three stores in DC if the Council goes forward and passes the “Large Retailer Accountability Act,” which raises the minimum wage from $8.25 to $12.50 only for businesses that occupy more than 75,000 square feet. This showdown has no good potential outcome, is a large embarrassment, was completely predictable, and yet still has a very simple solution.
DC needs work, and it needs groceries and other goods and services easily available to lower-class residents at affordable prices. This is why District officials were wooing Wal-Mart for so long in the first place.
But Wal-Mart is a terribly and notoriously nasty employer and a fiercely spiteful institutional player, one that prizes itself on its willingness to abuse, fire, and sabotage the careers and sanity of its workforce, and its willingness to play chicken and act the bully with political officials. So it’s no surprise that Wal-Mart is reacting to legislation that is all but a bill of attainder with bluster and threats.
So what is a DC Council to do? If they vote for this bill (which they already passed once, 8-5), Wal-Mart may in fact leave, which would be both a short-term setback for living conditions among the District’s worst-off but also a longer-term setback that could prove some of the worst stereotypes about the DC Council true – why would any other non-Wal-Mart business invest in DC if they thought they would wooed until the point of no return, then have the rules changed on them? On the other hand, if the Council fails the bill, it will prove itself powerless in the face of Wal-Mart’s tantrum, leaving itself nakedly toothless for the world to see.
But it’s not quiiiite a no-win situation – the Council does have a winning play, the same play they should have played all along – raise the minimum wage for everybody. Frankly, there is no policy or moral justification for why Wal-Mart and other large retailers should have to pay higher wages than any other business, and the obviousness of this attempt to target Wal-Mart is doubly embarrassing for all the years the District spent wooing the Bully of Bentonville in the first place. Raise the minimum wage for everyone, and the playing field is even, and Wal-Mart suddenly loses either way – if they pull out, they’ve proved their problem is with paying living wages and not with being singled out, and it also shows that all the businesses small and large that will continue to thrive (and they will) prove that Wal-Mart’s protestations of inability to pay living wages are spurious; if they stay, then they’re creating lots of jobs that pay $12.50/hr! And even better, every other minimum wage employee in DC gets a raise.
Daniel Kuehn writes elegantly about the inability of libertarianism to hide behind public choice economics. I personally think that the net value added of public choice to our understanding of political economy is sort of scattershot at best but nonetheless I want to bounce off Kuehn’s post to sort of summarize and extend his challenge to libertarianism this way:
“Assuming the following statements are true – 1) public choice economics is, generally speaking, on the money; and 2) that’s why we can’t have nice things, defined here as libertarian…if not utopia, then whatever is a notch or two down from utopia (goodtopia?) – then what is the actual political project of libertarianism?”
This, I think, is a question most libertarians can’t answer or won’t answer, and with good reason. A lot of people, using some sort of parallel but functionally-equivalent axiom in place of the first statement above, use that question to essentially reason themselves to progressivism/liberalism/social democracy. This is what can be really frustrating about engaging with libertarians, because they tend to presume that progressives have some sort of axiomatic or intrinsic preference for state action as a form of problem-solving. There is a more complex discussion to have about this, of course, but the short version is that that if you genuinely convince most progressive people that, in the actual real world, you adopted more libertarian-ish solutions to public policy problems then outcomes would improve then you would find progressives adopt those libertarian-ish solutions. And in fact you see that all the time, everywhere.
The doubly-frustrating thing about this is that, if more libertarians genuinely asked themselves that question you’d have vastly more room for compromise (at least in an cross-ideological sense as opposed to actual political solutions which don’t necessarily follow) that everyone would probably agree would increase utility. The principle of the second-best suggests that libertarians who think that libertarianism for whatever reason, public choice-y or otherwise, is ideal but unstable/unsustainable should be willing to make pretty substantial trade-offs in some areas of public policy to state intervention in order to secure more libertarianism in others. For example, libertarians could genuinely support universal health insurance as the price to be paid for more libertarian labor markets, and I’m sure there are a lot of progressives just waiting to sign that deal. This is the impetus that led to Denmark’s “flexicurity” which hasn’t been perfect – what is? – but which works pretty darn well as a compromise in which stronger tax-and-transfer programs, from a libertarian perspective, are traded for much less regulated labor markets then you tend to see in other European countries.
As a concluding note, it’s worth observing that almost every country with developed-world levels of GDP/capita tends to have political and economic systems that are pretty similar to each other and remarkably so given the diversity of systems of political and economic organization humans have devised over time and still persist to this day. There are some chicken/egg issues but largely it’s probably some of both and people who propose radical changes to the political and economic order should probably spend more time considering why it is the way it is right now.
Really, really, really not in the mood to discuss that thing re: Israel that everyone wants to talk about when they talk about Israel but want to note this comment by Bibi:
“Don’t adopt Israel’s system of government,” he implored the laughing crowd.
I disagree! The main difference between Israel’s government and ours in terms of the issue at hand – coalition formation and structure – is whether the majority coalition is built pre- or post-election. In Israel it is formed post-election by smaller, more homogenous parties, whereas in the US we are essentially forced to form two heterogenous parties and one wins and one loses. Israel’s system is better! This is largely because in a first-past-the-post system the transactions costs of coalition reshuffling are just too high so you get very arbitrary yet very rigid permanent coalitions in the US that periodically explode in a punctuated equilibrium kind of mess. Israel, on the other hand, forms coalitions suited to the needs of the moment based on issue salience and relative position support. That’s a way better idea!
Frankly, I just really like imagining the US Congress with at least a dozen ideological, regional, religious, and socio-ethnic parties embroiled in coalition negotiations.