My Election Take

1. There is little else to write about today.

2. It was a Seinfeld election. Mitch McConnell said that he did not want to tip his hand before the election by articulating an agenda. Does anyone think he has a hand to tip? The only reason he runs for the Senate is because he loves hanging out there.

3. Conventional wisdom is that, relatively speaking, Democrats have a structural advantage in Presidential elections, because those elections attract more turnout. In other words, they do much better among disengaged voters. One could spin this positively for the Democrats, saying that they get support from the weaker segments of society. One could spin this negatively and say that they rely on a segment of the electorate that is poorly informed and easily bamboozled, which I believe is the case. The counter to that would be that Republicans also rely on a segment of the electorate that is poorly informed and easily bamboozled, which I also believe is the case. I really do not understand why people think that democracy is so great. Its chief advantage is that it provides for peaceful transitions of power. I continue to believe that markets, imperfect as they often are, produce better outcomes than voting.

4. One problem with the Democratic “brand” at the moment is that it is associated with incompetence. How will they remedy that in 2016? Would nominating Cuomo do the trick?

5. Another problem is that in the ethnic/gender wars, the Democrats came off as more strident than the Republicans in 2014. They may have reached the point where their tactics are alienating more voters (many white males and also some white females) than they are attracting. Of course, such tactics may be better suited to a Presidential election with more turnout.

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21 Responses to My Election Take

  1. Foseti says:

    “Its chief advantage is that it provides for peaceful transitions of power.”

    There’s no meaningful transition of power after such an election. This “chief advantage” should really be:

    It’s chief advantage is that it provides for the appearance of an actual transition of power, while keeping the electorate safely away from exercising any form of mob-sovereignty.

    • Handle says:

      Right.

      One can define legitimacy in terms of social psychology – “For any particular population and jurisdiction, it is the most prevalently believed set of ideas about what constitutes a valid claim to rightfully wield governmental power which one ought to respect.”

      This translates into a situation such that the attitude of most people upset with current and expected policies and conditions will rarely exceed a state of grudging resignation and acquiescence. And any organized effort at usurpation cannot hope to succeed without at least paying lip service to acting in the name of these ideals.

      History has seen plenty of theories of legitimacy. Some metaphysical – like Tianming (‘Mandate of Heaven’, ancient China) or the Divine Right of Kings – and others more mundane and pragmatic, like judgments based on economic performance (Modern China?) or overall competence and integrity (Singapore?).

      Things become somewhat unstable when various theories of legitimacy are in open competition for the hearts and minds of a subject population.

      And it seems Democracy and the whole modern apparatus of social influence is the greatest, most competitively seductive, legitimacy-manufacturing machine known to mankind. At least at present, when the most powerful nations and highest-status people constantly and loudly proclaim their adherence to it and their conviction in both its righteousness and superiority.

      And this despite the fact that there is a long track record of atrocious catastrophes that follow in the wake of the sudden implantation of Democracy in cultures lacking a certain core set of requisite social conditions, attitudes, and arrangements.

      One way it does this is to create a false sense of hope. The existence of elections keeps dangling a carrot in from the of the donkey, and keeps putting the football in front of Charlie Brown, who will always try to give it another kick in the hope that this time things are different.

      But as one might expect, many theories of legitimacy are idealistic and so they must obscure some of the ugly practical reality of how things really work and who really has real power and influence and makes the real decisions.

      You can fool plenty of fools into voting for a particular side, sure. But one could just as justifiably say that the segment of the electorate that is poorly informed and easily bamboozled is really just the whole electorate who enthusiastically believe and participate in the system despite the charade.

      • Rick Hull says:

        Legitimacy and tyranny are two sides of the same coin. Contracts obviously provide perfect legitimacy at the expense of expediency and efficiency (in the face of transaction cost). Might-makes-right or divinity seem to hold the opposite side of the spectrum. The “social contract” is somewhere in between.

        Democracy is the greatest bulwark against tyranny I am aware of, and I willingly suffer its consequences for this benefit, agreeing fully that liberal institutions, culture, and mindset are prerequisites.

  2. Georg Thomas says:

    Arnold you write:

    “[1] I really do not understand why people think that democracy is so great. [2] Its chief advantage is that it provides for peaceful transitions of power. [3] I continue to believe that markets, imperfect as they often are, produce better outcomes than voting.”

    Three sentences containing three major errors in the thinking of liberals (European meaning):

    As for [1]: Try the absence of democracy. Liberals ought to be committed defenders of democracy. After all, a free society is one that allows, indeed, promotes political competition and diversity more than any other social arrangement. Liberals should be at the forefront of institutional change and design to improve the democratic processes of political competition.

    As for [3]: At the bottom of anti-democratic tendencies in liberals is the fallacious notion that markets can do the job of the political system. Markets are incapable of creating their own precondition, and the latter are of a political nature. Markets are not capable of resolving the problems of political scarcity [the paucity of unanimity on issues considered vital by large numbers of people]. It is an illusion to think that markets create peaceful reciprocity; they presuppose a political order that does well at managing political scarcity. Democratic structures are good at managing political scarcity – see “As for [1]”.

    Put differently: A market transaction presupposes that there is no conflict between the transacting parties, and that both have recognised a mutually advantageous trading opportunity. A market transaction does not create concordance between the trading parties, rather it presupposes the compatibility of their respective interests. Market transactions are not a means to overcoming conflict, instead they are engaged in to take advantage of mutually complementary benefits already present.

    As for [2]: Once one has formed a preconception of democracy as being an ineffective oddity or indeed a systematic threat to liberty, one is not likely to look at the phenomenon with the requisite patience and precision, falling prey to a naive and one-sided take of democracy.

    Democracy is a complicated set of institutions, cultural rites and preferences with more than just one set of functions: it fulfils an intricate symbolic function and is a discovery procedure no less than a free market, yet adapted to issues that markets cannot cope with. Democracy is a way of discovering good practices and ideas about how to live together peacefully and on a high level of productivity in extremely large human communities. Its function is to signal and thus ensure enough trust among total strangers so that most people are most of the time protected against lethal distrust by others.

    • MikeP says:

      You seem to be confusing democracy with government, as everything you ascribe to democracy applies to any modestly competent state that allows markets to function.

      See, for instance, colonial Hong Kong or even present day China. Democracy is not required for either peace or trade.

      • Georg Thomas says:

        The most basic point I am insinuating is that liberty will tend to engender democracy: “After all, a free society is one that allows, indeed, promotes political competition and diversity more than any other social arrangement.” I don’t think we have yet chanced on a better set of games than democracy to reconcile “personal freedom” and “political scarcity”.

    • Rick Hull says:

      For [1], see MikeP’s comment above. You start with democracy but then switch to “free society”. We all want a free society and its benefits, but you simply assume that only democracy allows it.

      For [3], you simply ignore e.g. ancap political theory. Your view of market preconditions is limited, conventional, non-universal, and thus not as obviously correct as you imply. I don’t think Arnold is an ancap, and so he is not arguing for the abolition of the political sphere but rather a reduction of its scope. Your objection oddly assumes an ancap position while ignoring the ancap argument.

      • Pithlord says:

        Why shouldn’t Georg ignore “ancap political theory”? It doesn’t make any a priori sense for reasons Robert Nozick convincingly set out in Anarchy, State and Utopia (a “protection agency” will inevitably be a state). And, of course, it doesn’t have any empirical track record.

        I don’t think Georg “assumed” that a free society required democracy. He actually said that democracy requires a certain level of freedom (since there has to be a meaningful possibility of transfer of political power). He also observed that markets presuppose some level of political order and cannot themselves guarantee it. These seem like sound points to me.

  3. Frank A says:

    Arnold, you stated “I continue to believe that markets, imperfect as they often are, produce better outcomes than voting.” Do political contributions count as a market? I’m not sure political contributions change outcomes but would be interested in your take on this with respect to voting. I agree that politics doesn’t really change much…

  4. MikeP says:

    I really do not understand why people think that democracy is so great. Its chief advantage is that it provides for peaceful transitions of power.

    I’d rather say that democracy’s chief advantage is that it provides for peaceful overthrow of despotically bad leaders, and thus constrains leaders not to be depots. Indeed, if the leadership is good, then there is no need for transition of power at all, hence that is not a necessary advantage of democracy. See Singapore.

    I continue to believe that markets, imperfect as they often are, produce better outcomes than voting.

    Is the matter-of-fact tone here supposed to be sarcastic?

    • Rick Hull says:

      There is a spectrum of thought regarding allocation and distribution of scarce resources. Some advocate for political means: e.g. let’s vote to release the strategic petroleum reserve to voters; Arnold prefers a market and pricing system which might even preclude a strategic reserve as unnecessary.

      Perhaps you think this goes without saying. I think he was underlining his stance for clarity’s sake. No sarcasm detected.

      • MikeP says:

        I think it goes without saying. It’s just such a patently obvious stance to anyone who has thought about it that to see it stated so boldly is striking.

    • Rick Hull says:

      Bad leadership is not an *if* but a *when*. We have no better system than democracy, unfortunately, for minimizing catastrophic political outcomes.

  5. david s says:

    “nominating Cuomo….”

    That made my day. Thank you very much.

  6. Lord says:

    Careful. It may be the marginal voter is more informed in presidential elections and that is why they vote.

  7. djf says:

    “One problem with the Democratic ‘brand’ at the moment is that it is associated with incompetence. How will they remedy that in 2016? Would nominating Cuomo do the trick?”

    The last sentence of the above quoted paragraph is the most bizarre statement I have ever seen in a post on this blog. Whence the implied association between competence and Andrew Cuomo? As far as I can tell, the man is a less amusing version of Joe Biden.

    If this was intended sarcastically, it is pretty funny.

    • Arnold Kling says:

      I meant the comment to be half-serious, half-sarcastic. It seems that if you want to claim the mantle of competence in Presidential politics, you must be a big-name governor, and the Democrats are rather lacking that department. The only names that came to mind when I was writing the post were Cuomo and Pat Jerry Brown.

  8. Slocum says:

    Democracy is great for decisions that must be made collectively. But collective decision-making where it is not necessary sucks (and in such cases, the tyranny of the majority is only a marginal improvement of plain old tyraanny). If you’re in a permanent minority, how much happier are you are being controlled and ordered about by an elected vs unelected bureaucrat? The democracy version may even be worse. An unelected tyrant may be deposed, but a majority of your fellow citizens can’t be.

  9. R Richard Schweitzer says:

    Arnold says:
    ” I really do not understand why people think that democracy is so great.”

    Perhaps it is not “deep thought” but some innate sense of having some individual significance in the vast impersonal social order by even a minimal participation in one of its processes.

    That perception may be why the “voters” (including those who could but don’t) are becoming the least effective participants in U S Politics.

    Some reflection and observation should lead to an understanding of the greater significance of the other “agents” who now dominate how our politics function.
    The other agents:

    1. The unelected “staff” and other administrators (bureaucrats) to whom the elected have devolved the authority to legislate by regulation and “policy.”

    2. The extensive “lobby” system operatives, especially those for particular interests (that includes social policy objectives as well as economic objectives). These people “write” the laws, modify the regs and “capture” the regulators.

    3. The Principals (politicians within groups such as workers, teachers and scientists) who use the numerical or reputational significance of groups they purport to “stand” for or whose members they purport to represent – so called “leaders;” subsidiary politicians.

    4. The money-hungry media and its wordsmiths whose constant efforts are to “wage influence,” not to inform. They are the reason money is so effective in politics. Less so, with the growing importance of “ground games” (get out the vote).

    There are others at cycles.

    So, the “people” hang on to what is left of the potential of the democratic process for determining “representative” government – which it may very well be doing.

    • Georg Thomas says:

      You put your case well; still, I have reservations one may subsume under the term “the public choice syndrome.”

      Valuable as many of the insights typically delivered by public choice thinkers are, their approach is highly problematic. It reminds me of advertising a book on “The Elephant”, when, in fact, the book is entirely about “Elephant Diseases”.

      Your four points represent generic categories: (a) “(executive) delegation”, (b) “lobbyism”, (c) “group/identity building”, and (d) “media”.

      Any desirable political system would have to provide services subsumed under the above four categories, and the US political system does achieve precisely that – in large enough a measure to make the USA one of the politically most stable and freest countries in the world.

      For a realistic picture of politics, it is not helpful, to conceive of these categories exclusively in terms of abuse.

      My fellow-libertarians are rather good at detecting violations of freedom, unfortunately they are not equally good at knowing freedom when they see freedom.

      Freedom (= life in civil society) is as non-clear-cut, messy, and intricate as politics; you must search hard to find the good in the mess, yet the good does exists, and its operative existence is vital.

      As a result of an overly rash presumption against politics and the state, libertarians don’t look carefully enough at politics as an unrenounceable condition of freedom, preferring to constantly hibernate in a (to a significant extent) self-made winter of discontent, producing little to better understand the difficult business of surviving peacefully and productively in a world in which politics is indispensable.

  10. Massimo says:

    “I really do not understand why people think that democracy is so great… I continue to believe that markets, imperfect as they often are, produce better outcomes than voting.”

    Democracy, as a form of government is a market for votes. Capitalist markets, are fundamentally democratic in that they let people vote with their own buying/selling behaviors.

    Pointing out flaws in the Democratic government model is an old chestnut. It’s true, but it’s a stale idea. And I haven’t seen an overwhelmingly better model of governance.

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