Daily Archives: 04 Nov 2014

General Election Sorta Live Blogging

9:49 pm — One final thing. As far as I can tell, there does look like there was an overall polling tilt of roughly 3%. It is just that it was in the Democrats’ favor. I’m sure there will be more on that tomorrow. But I’m hoping to write mostly about film tomorrow.

8:47 pm — Well, it looks like things are going down exactly as I predicted, except that the Democrats didn’t even manage to get North Carolina. Thom Tillis has beat Kay Hagan decisively. I don’t think you can call this a wave election, but the Republicans did perhaps a bit better than the fundamentals would indicate. So much for the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote campaign and the Bannock Street Project. I have to say, I am so sick of moderate Democrats telling me that I’m all wrong and the party’s constant move to the right is absolutely the correct thing to do. I don’t see how Democrats could do any worse with actual liberals. The ultimate Democratic candidate is now Charlie Crist: a former Republican with absolutely no charisma. That’s the modern Democratic Party! I’ve even got a slogan, “Not as evil as the Republicans! And not as interesting either!” Go team.

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Rep Control of Congress Will Not Rebrand Them

Mitch McConnellJonathan Cohn made an excellent point over at New Republic yesterday, Why Passing Legislation Might Not Solve the GOP’s Image Problem. There has been much talk about how if the Republicans control both chambers of Congress, they will be in a position to pass all kinds of legislation. As Mitt Romney recently said on Fox News about how Obama will be forced to veto bills, “I think at that point, we’ll find out who really is the party of no.” Cohn mentions three reasons why this isn’t likely to be the case.

First, the laws that the Republican Congress passes will almost certainly be unpopular. There is, as always, talk about immigration reform. But the Senate already passed a bill with a 13 year pathway to citizenship. This couldn’t even get a vote in the House. The Republicans there changed the bill so that the pathway was 18 years, I think. Yet even that was not acceptable. The truth is that any immigration “reform” that the Republicans pass will be something that does nothing but offend Latinos. And as I’ve discussed before, the Republican plan for immigration reform was always that it would be, “This one thing we are doing for you people!” That is not very useful in a rebranding campaign.

Other than this, I see the Republicans amending Obamacare to remove the medical device tax. I’ve heard a number of Republican politicians claim that the American people want this. The fact is the American people don’t even know that the tax exists. But I can well see the reaction of the Republican base to this bill, “You mean that’s the difference between freedom and tyranny?!” If the American people had an attention span longer than that of a gnat, all we would need to do to get them to vote for Democrats is to allow the Republicans to govern for a couple of months.

Cohn’s second reason why the Republican Congress isn’t likely to improve its brand is that the Senate Republicans are not going to stop saying “No!” to President Obama’s executive and judicial nominations. This is something I hadn’t thought about. There is zero chance that Republicans are going to be more reasonable about nominations simply because they have more power. There is a decades long trend that shows that Republicans in the Senate maximize whatever power they have. So don’t expect to see them move an inch in the direction of reasonableness.

But the biggest reason in Cohn’s opinion is that very soon the 2016 primary will start and the Republicans trying to become president will drown out everything else. And what will they be doing? Exactly what they did last time. They will be battling it out to see who is the most conservative. One will offer, “I think we should build a 50 foot wall on the border with Mexico!” And another will counter, “I guess you don’t care about illegals bringing Ebola into the country. If you did, you would support my idea to nuke Mexico so that the border is a radioactive wasteland where nothing can live!” And so on.

I think the real reason that Republicans will not be able to rebrand themselves is because they have no ideas other than “Tax cuts!” and “Drill, baby, drill!” This goes back to Cohn’s first point that the bills they will pass will be unpopular. I discussed this yesterday, The People Don’t Care About Gridlock. People want Washington to get things done in theory. But in practice, they would rather Washington not get things done than get things done that they don’t like.

So will the Republicans manage to pass a personhood bill? Very possibly. They might be able to pass Romney’s millionaire’s tax cut. They might be able to pass legislation that will take healthcare away from millions. But all of these will just reinforce the common (and correct) perception of Republicans: they can’t get much done and what they can get done is bad.

Economics as Postmodern Analysis

Simon Wren-LewisLet’s talk about helicopter money. The idea here is that the Federal Reserve could print bank notes (let’s just call it money for clarity’s sake) and drop it out of helicopters where people could pick it up and spend it, thus stimulating the economy. It sounds like a crazy idea. But in our current economic environment, it would not lead to inflation. It would simply put unused workers and resources into service. On the other hand, if the economy were already working at full capacity, throwing money out of helicopters would create inflation.

I don’t pretend to understand money. I think it is a deeply mysterious thing. Economists would generally agree with that. It does have a large psychological component to it where money is worth what we all delude ourselves into thinking it means. The only thing that really ties it down is that we can pay our taxes with it. And that is a big deal. But it still leaves the value of money in a largely mythical land of shared delusion.

The reason I’ve brought this up is because over the weekend, Simon Wren-Lewis wrote, Fighting the Last War. The title is a reference to the old adage that generals are always fighting the last war. His point is not a new one. The truth is that much of the economics profession has never gotten over the success of explaining stagflation. This led to people jettisoning Keynesian theory as though it didn’t even have relevance to situations like the Great Depression, which it was mostly a reaction to.

What’s interesting about this is that it shows that economics really isn’t a science. In physics, both relativity theory and quantum mechanics reduce to Newtonian mechanics for normal (slow, macro-scale) motion. The embrace of Friedman and company and the rejection of Keynes just shows that economics acts more like ideology than science. How is it that rational expectations models don’t reduce to Keynesian models when applied to depressed economies? If I were an economist, I’d be ashamed.

But the practical question is how can economists and policy makers continue to hold onto their doctrines that worked for stagflation but not for depressions (or “secular stagnation” if you prefer). And I think the answer is now as always that it is all about ideology. In general, economists don’t like the government. Even pretty liberal people like Paul Krugman believe in a fairly limited role of government in the economy. So you end up with a situation where the most liberal economists are for fiscal stimulus, the moderates believe in monetary stimulus, and the conservatives think that even monetary policy is dangerous.

Note how skewed that is. The liberal economists are where the general public is. So we end up with a government where only monetary policy is acceptable — and even it not very much. Wren-Lewis suggests that the reason that we are stuck with this way of thinking is that we have the narrative of stagflation all wrong. It didn’t come from government profligacy but rather economic shocks. But I would counter that and say that it is looking for a rational explanation for irrational behavior.

Remember that Greg Mankiw was for government stimulus under Bush the Younger. Then, when Obama proposed it, he was against it. And then, after he became a consultant for Romney and it looked like Romney might be the next president, Mankiw again changed and was much more open to stimulus. There is no doubt that Mankiw is a brilliant economist. But he isn’t just looking at the facts. In fact, I would say he is never looking at the fact and moving forward. He makes a decision and works the facts backward.

Milton Friedman didn’t really revolutionize economic thinking. He was just an especially talented propagandist for a libertarian world view. That’s what he added to economics: a binding conclusion on economic thinking. But that makes Friedman like Roland Barthes and economics like postmodern analysis. And that’s fine! I think Barthes was brilliant. But no one ever made government policy based upon his analysis of soap detergent advertisements.

Jim Mowrer on Steve King

Jim MowrerThe nuts and bolts of it is that he’s wrong about the issues. That’s part of the equation. But the other part is that he’s been terrible for the district. He’s been in Congress for 12-and-a-half years. He’s never passed any legislation. He’s never brought anything back to Iowa. And, if he had any standing with the House leadership, he’d be the next chairman of the [House] agriculture committee, because he’s got the most seniority. But he’s not. It’s going to be Representative [Michael] Conaway from Texas. They’re not going to give the gavel to him because the Republican leadership doesn’t like him. They think he’s dangerous. John Boehner has said that Steve King doesn’t speak for the Republican party. If he were going to be the next chair of the Agriculture committee, that would be huge for Iowa. Instead, he has a selfish, Tea Party agenda. So, instead, they’re going to give the chairmanship to a representative who’s against the renewable fuel standard. Do you think that’s good for Iowa? It’s not.

—Jim Mowrer
Steve King Country Showdown

Hope in One Hand: Governorships 2014

Election DayI will try not to write about the election all day long. It really isn’t all that interesting regardless. But I wrote about the Senate races yesterday, so I figured I should write about the governorships today. They have the advantage of looking a lot better for the Democrats. But it is important to remember why this is so. It isn’t because the voters are schizophrenic. The Senate is horrible because it is six years after the 2008 Democratic wave election. The governorships are good because it is four years after the 2010 Republican wave. In the end, fundamentals trump everything.

It isn’t great for the Democrats, regardless. In fact, Daily Kos sees the governorships as standing pat. But FiveThirtyEight sees us as gaining three seats. Well, two Democrats and one independent. And the independent, Bill Walker of Alaska, is not exactly a liberal, even if he is running with a Democrat.

Maine

The most interesting thing is what is happening in Maine. In the footnote to my discussion of the Senate yesterday, I gave Eliot Cutler some grief for being a spoiler in Maine who was giving Paul LePage the governorship for another four years. But it looks like Cutler is trying to minimize the damage. He has told his supporters that it is okay to vote for someone else and he canceled some of his advertising campaign — weak tea, but helpful. Also, Angus King is now backing the Democratic candidate, Mike Michaud.

Currently, Daily Kos gives Michaud a 52% chance of winning the race. FiveThirtyEight gives him a 57% chance. So clearly, it isn’t a done deal. If Cutler had just dropped out of the race, things would be different. So if Maine is cursed with LePage for another four years, I think we all know who to blame.

Florida

It seems that Florida voters are very unhappy with both Charlie Crist and Rick Scott. Both have negative approval ratings. But as Donald Rumsfeld would say, you vote for the candidates you have, not the candidates you wish you had. I’ve always wondered about Crist. I understand leaving the Republican Party for the Democratic Party. It just makes sense as the Republican Party gets crazier minute by minute. Just the same, couldn’t the Florida Democratic Party come up with a better candidate?

Daily Kos actually sees Crist losing. He is very slightly down in the polls, so they give him a 47% chance of winning. But FiveThirtyEight gives Crist a 60% chance of winning. Unfortunately, they don’t give any reason for thinking this.

Kansas

Sam Brownback is likely to lose, but not as likely as his performance as governor would indicate. Davis is up in the polls by a single percentage point. Daily Kos gives him a 60% chance of winning. FiveThirtyEight puts the chance at 82%. It says something very bad about our political system that people like Brownback can actively hurt their states and large majorities of their people and yet still reliably get roughly half the vote. Thomas Frank is right: there really is something the matter with Kansas.

Bad News

The Democrats are also losing some races that ought to be slam dunks. In particular, Martha Coakley is going down in flames. It would seem that Massachusetts is just not willing to elect her to a statewide post. I hope the Democrats don’t nominate her again. It’s getting to be like the Swamp King. She is currently down by 4.2 percentage points. Daily Kos gives her a 15% chance of winning. FiveThirtyEight gives her a 14% chance. It’s pathetic. I want to bang my head against the wall.

In Connecticut, Dan Malloy is up by 1.2 percentage points. Daily Kos gives him a 61% chance of winning. FiveThirtyEight gives him a 56% chance of winning. Anything could happen. And that goes for Rhode Island and Colorado as well. In the latter case, the people are angry that John Hickenlooper is against the death penalty. Never was there a more pernicious issue than the death penalty. It is such an easy way to get people to vote against their interests, all in the name of a strange kind of blood lust.

Where We Are

If the polls are even a little skewed toward the Democrats, the Republicans could easily pick up governorships. Too many states have Democrats winning by razor thin margins. On the other hand, if the polls are skewed toward the Republicans, maybe we can get rid of some people like Scott Walker who currently look quite safe. To be honest, I’m really not looking forward to this evening.

Janaki Ammal

Janaki AmmalWell kiddos, it is election day. Even if you think, as I do, that in many ways we no longer live in a democracy, you should still vote. It is the most public expression of civil pride. It takes nothing to put a bumper sticker on your car. But voting takes a bit of work. But the country deserves it. If we are ever to fulfill the promise of American democracy, we must vote. So get out there and have your say!

On this day in 1897, Janaki Ammal was born. She was a botanist who did work on the chromosomes of different plant species as well as their geographic distribution. She is rare in her focus on medicinal plants, which I find especially interesting. She also co-authored The Chromosome Atlas of Cultivated Plants.

Happy birthday Janaki Ammal!