GOTV Always Favors Democrats

Get Out the VoteAlex Roarty wrote a really interesting article over at National Journal, The GOP’s Talent Gap. It’s about how the Republican Party has too many chiefs and not enough braves. All the people working on Republican campaigns are doing it only as a stepping stone to those high paid pundit gigs in the Breitbart empire. To their credit, may people in the Republican Party are worried about this. But it isn’t a problem that is easily fixed. The Republicans have a culture of “looking out for number one” and they rebel against calls to work for the common good.

The article doesn’t go into this, but this is actually quite a recent development in the Republican Party. At one time, conservatives believed that the government should not force people to work for the greater good by, for example, making them pay taxes. But working for a common good of one’s choosing was perfectly fine. It is not anymore. This is a direct result of the dominance of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. By it, people are expected to be selfish because that does the greatest good. As I’ve discussed before, Rand created a great loophole in the form of enlightened self-interest. This is the idea that you shouldn’t just do whatever feels good; you should look at your whole life and see the best way to maximize your happiness. But among modern conservatives, I don’t see much “enlightened” in their self-interest.

This year, the Democratic Party is trying something new. They are trying to push back against the off-year election problem where Democratic leaning voters don’t come out to the polls. The idea is to focus on get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. I’m on board with that. For years, I’ve argued that since people are very consistent in their voting patterns, we should stop trying to shape our message and put all of our work into getting the people who think like we do to vote. That’s the great thing about being a Democrat: most people agree with us.

The Republicans have no such advantage. And I think this is more important in explaining why the Republican Party has been so slow to focus on GOTV. They simply don’t have as much to gain from it. The base of the Republican Party is made up of older and richer voters. These are people who already vote in very high numbers. Reminding them or providing them with rides will not make them more likely to vote. So given there isn’t as much to gain, it isn’t surprising that GOTV efforts are not a high priority at any level inside the Republican Party.

Just the same, the Republicans do need to do it if they are going to stay competitive. But even with people who understand the issue, it must be disconcerting. The Democrats will always win at this game because they will always have a much larger group from which to draw. And so the Republican number cruncher will sit in front of his computer, not giving 100% because part of him is is bitching that his work will at best limit the vote margin bleeding, and another part of him is fantasizing about writing for Breitbart.

Terry and Arthur

Terry EagletonOn this day in 1732, the first US president George Washington was born. The less said about him, the better.

Arthur Schopenhauer was born in 1788. He is probably my favorite philosopher. Not surprisingly, he was a proponent of philosophical pessimism, which is “a worldview or ethic that seeks to face up to the distasteful realities of the world and eliminate irrational hopes and expectations.” I think that puts rather too rosy a gloss on what Schopenhauer wrote. I don’t actually accept his idea in The World as Will and Representation, but I nonetheless think he is onto something profound. The will is what keeps us living even though life is nothing so much as a sequence of painful events. As Wikipedia describes the will as it applies to ontology, “Schopenhauer presents a pessimistic picture on which unfulfilled desires are painful, and pleasure is merely the sensation experienced at the instant one such pain is removed. However, most desires are never fulfilled, and those that are fulfilled are instantly replaced by more unfulfilled ones.” On the other hand, if you look at those photos of him as an old man, I think you can tell that he saw humor in the absurdities of life. Ultimately, I think that is our only hope. Because life does not make sense and continuing through all of this pain makes no sense. If it gets better, it will only be temporary.

The tallest man in human history, Robert Wadlow was born in 1918. He was 8 feet 11 inches tall—three feet taller than his father. When I was a kid, I thought he was amazing. Now I look at him and I am filled with sadness. How can people look at him and think that there is a loving god. The man lived in pain most of his life and if he had lived longer, he certainly would have reached the point where he couldn’t walk. What a mess.

Other birthdays: the great Romantic period composer Frederic Chopin (1810); poet James Russell Lowell (1819); astronomer Pierre Janssen (1824); physicists Heinrich Hertz (1857); the great chess writer Savielly Tartakower (1887); the great film director Luis Bunuel (1900); actor John Mills (1908); announcer Don Pardo (96); film director David Greene (1921); actor Paul Dooley (86); statesman Ted Kennedy (1932); film director Jonathan Demme (70); actor Julie Walters (64); actor Kyle MacLachlan (55); and actor Drew Barrymore (39).

The day, however, belongs to the great Shakespearean scholar Terry Eagleton who is 71 today. But the truth is that I don’t know much about his work. I have one of his books, William Shakespeare. It was my first exposure to him where he wrote, “To any unprejudiced reader—which would seem to exclude Shakespeare himself, his contemporary audiences and almost all literary critics—it is surely clear that positive vlue in Macbeth lies with the three witches.” He goes on to discuss how the witches are democratic whereas the Scots are hierarchical and so on. How can you not love a man who would write such a thing?

Since then, I have read a number of Eagleton’s book. He writes these very insightful short books on philosophy such as Reason, Faith, and Revolution and On Evil. I especially like him because intellectually he is an outsider. Just as I am an atheist who offends all other atheists, he is a Christian who offends all other Christians. This is pretty much because my form of atheism is the same as his form of Christianity. Regardless, he is always worth reading because he always has something interesting to say, unlike most intellectuals.

Happy birthday Terry Eagleton!

Absurdity of Neoliberal Policy

Bad SamaritansI have a six-year-old son. His name is Jin-Gyu. He lives off me, yet he is quite capable of making a living. I pay for his lodging, food, education and health care. But millions of children of his age already have jobs. Daniel Defoe, in the 18th century, thought that children could earn a living from the age of four.

Moreover, working might do Jin-Gyu’s character a world of good. Right now he lives in an economic bubble with no sense of the value of money. He has zero appreciation of the efforts his mother and I make on his behalf, subsidizing his idle existence and cocooning him from harsh reality. He is over-protected and needs to be exposed to competition, so that he can become a more productive person. Thinking about it, the more competition he is exposed to and the sooner this is done, the better it will be for his future development. It will whip him into a mentality that is ready for hard work. I should make him quit school and get a job. Perhaps I could move to a country where child labor is still tolerated, if not legal, to give him more choice in employment.

I can hear you say I must be mad. Myopic. Cruel. You tell me that I need to protect and nurture the child. If I drive Jin-Gyu into the labor market at the age of six, he may become a savvy shoeshine boy or even a prosperous street hawker, but he will never become a brain surgeon or a nuclear physicist—that would require at least another dozen years of my protection and investment. You argue that, even from a purely materialistic viewpoint, I would be wise to invest in my son’s education than gloat over the money I save by not sending him to school. After all, if I were right, Oliver Twist would have been better off pick-pocketing for Fagin, rather than being rescued by the misguided Good Samaritan Mr Brownlow, who deprived the boy of his chance to remain competitive in the labor market.

Yet this absurd line of argument is in essence how free-trade economists justify rapid, large-scale trade liberalization in developing countries. They claim that developing country producers need to be exposed to as much competition as possible right now, so that they have the incentive to raise their productivity in order to survive. Protection, by contrast, only creates complacency and sloth. The earlier the exposure, the argument goes, the better it is for economic development.

Incentives, however, are only half the story. The other is capability. Even if Jin-Gyu were to be offered a £20m reward or, alternatively, threateded with a bullet in his head, he would not be able to rise to the challenge of brain surgery had he quit school at the age of six. Likewise, industries in developing countries will not survive if they are exposed to international competition too early. They need time to improve their capabilities by mastering advanced technologies and building effective organizations. This is the essence of the infant industry argument…

—Ha-Joon Chang
Bad Samaritans

Ne Me Quitte Pas

Jacques BrelGood morning. I thought we would start with this nice video by French Rescue of Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” As they note, the English translation is meant to be accurate and not poetic. For example, they translate the refrain “Don’t leave me.” They do, however, mention (on the YouTube page) that Dieter Kaiser wrote a more poetic translation with “Don’t forsake me now.” Personally, given the music, I think it works better to translate it, “Do not leave me now.”

I don’t think the lyrics really matter. The listener gets the meaning clearly. Brel’s performance is what really does it. He’s more an actor than a singer. That’s always been the problem when his songs are performed here by pop singers. All the depth and subtlety are ripped out of them. As in this song, I can’t really imagine an American male showing this level of vulnerability. Sure, there’s a lot of faux vulnerability—always with a wink to the audience. But then, Brel was a real man, not one of these pretend American men who are too worried that someone might think they are gay to ever be genuine.

Regardless, Brel is the real deal: