Saturday, September 22, 2012

Good News, Bad News

The bad news is that it looks as though Obama is going to win. The good news is that it looks as though Romney is going to lose.

As I commented a few elections back, the problem with electing a Republican is that he does about the same bad things the Democrat would have done, with about the same bad consequences—for which we, people who believe in the free markets he pretends to believe in, get blamed.

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35 Comments:

At 10:52 AM, September 22, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also: another 4 years of liberals ignoring egregious civil liberty violations. With Romney in office, as with Bush, they would attack them with aplomb.

 
At 11:11 AM, September 22, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really do not understand republicans. What is it about Obama that they find so objectionable? Calling him a socialist just proves that they don't have the faintest idea of what a real socialist is. I should know, I come from a country destroyed by socialists. On top of that you have Republican governments being the ones that have ignored completely any notion of fiscal responsibility, that they profess to champion. Maybe I am missing something. Can someone explain it to me?

 
At 11:29 AM, September 22, 2012, Blogger P.S. Huff said...

While I take your point, the future of the Supreme Court should not be forgotten. On that one score, Romney and Obama really are different.

 
At 11:33 AM, September 22, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

Objectionable things about Obama (and I'm not a Republican):

1. Sharply increased government spending.

2. Ran an enormous deficit--for a while, almost fifty cents of every dollar spent was borrowed.

3. Makes heavy and routinely dishonest use of rich vs poor rhetoric, implying that rich pay federal income tax at a lower rate than others when in fact they pay at a higher rate.

4. Said his people would leave medical marijuana providers alone, and has been trying harder than his predecessors to suppress them.

5. Objected to various civil liberties offenses by Bush, and has not merely continued but expanded them.

Will that do for a start?

 
At 12:13 PM, September 22, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your answer Prof. Friedman. Let me add some comments regarding each of your points.

1. Sharply increased government spending.

As he was advised to do by prominent economists like Lawrence Summers, although resisting however calls to increase spending even more as demanded by other prominent economists like Christima Romer and Paul Krugman.

2. Ran an enormous deficit--for a while, almost fifty cents of every dollar spent was borrowed.

That would not be such a big concern especially during an unprecedented economic crisis, if national debt had not been irresponsibly increased by Bush II.

3. Makes heavy and routinely dishonest use of rich vs poor rhetoric, implying that rich pay federal income tax at a lower rate than others when in fact they pay at a higher rate.

Cannot judge.

4 and 5

Agree.

 
At 12:47 PM, September 22, 2012, Anonymous Nathan said...

"That would not be such a big concern especially during an unprecedented economic crisis, if national debt had not been irresponsibly increased by Bush II"

When Bush borrows too much money it's irresponsible, but when Obama does it it's not such a big concern?

 
At 1:22 PM, September 22, 2012, OpenID Richard Allan said...

Nathan, people still believe in "Depression Economics", despite the fact that there's no evidence for it (and no, saying "The Great Depression" doesn't count as evidence). Even though it's a reversal of the burden of proof, I present this paper:

http://ideas.repec.org/p/fip/fedmsr/328.html

 
At 3:01 PM, September 22, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My understanding is that the majority of economists believe in "depression economics" by which I guess it is meant the use of monetary and fiscal policy to stabilize the cycle. It is true that there are some economists, like Chari and the so called Minnesota school, that adopt a more skeptical position, but they are far from representing a widespread consensus. Actually the consensus is closer to the position of the so called New Keynesians.

 
At 4:46 PM, September 22, 2012, Blogger Benjamin. said...

Would you go so far as to say that both candidates behave in essentially the same way, just giving different speeches? It seems that way.

I want a real election. How can we get real elections?

 
At 9:14 PM, September 22, 2012, Blogger jimbino said...

Just after he took office, Obama took his family for a visit to Yellowstone, making his family the only Black faces seen in any of our national parks and forests in the past four years!

 
At 7:20 AM, September 23, 2012, Anonymous Daublin said...

David, democrats do it to a worse degree. As a simple example, look at spending levels. Yes, Bush spent a lot, as did Reagan. However, Obama has put them to shame.

Do you really think that, for example, Obama will spend no more than Romney?

I know it must be overwhelming in academia to come up with some sort of truce with your liberal colleagues. However, maybe a better way to do that is to press on academic freedom. Ask them if they want to be in an organization that is rallying for the Democrats, or instead in an organization that follows the truth even when it leads to unpopular conclusions.

 
At 8:30 AM, September 23, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This discussion is taking place in an atmosphere of despair. Unfortunately, our concept of democracy basically doesn't work, and "the people" are dragging the whole system down the rat hole. Still, Romney seems better to me. I'm reminded of Herman Kahn's tragic -- but distinguishable! -- alternatives. You should really only give up on the system if you have nothing more to lose. But you always have something more to lose. Even if you are currently suffering, your suffering could always be worse. With Obama, things will probably be worse than with Romney.

 
At 8:49 AM, September 23, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

"As a simple example, look at spending levels. Yes, Bush spent a lot, as did Reagan. However, Obama has put them to shame."

But then, Bush, by the same standard, put Clinton's spending to shame.

 
At 11:03 AM, September 23, 2012, Blogger andyweintraub said...

Your intellectual purity is to be admired. At the same time, when it comes to policy or politics, there is an old saying which I know you've heard many times over the course of your life: "The good should not be the enemy of the best."

Romney may not live up to our libertarian ideal, but he's a helluva lot closer than his opponent.

 
At 11:13 AM, September 23, 2012, Anonymous Simon Andersson said...

Democrats spend too much and Republicans spend too much. So the question is: which party is easier to improve?

The Democrats depend on public section unions for much of their funding and hard-core lefties for many of their votes. To some of us, this suggests that the Democrats would be harder to improve.

I think this is the tea party intuition: The establishment of both parties may be rotten, but at least on the Republican side, most constituents oppose expansive goverment. So there is a possiblity of improving the Republican party.

 
At 11:23 AM, September 23, 2012, Anonymous Simon Andersson said...

should be 'public sector unions'

 
At 11:39 AM, September 23, 2012, Anonymous Justin said...

So well put, so succinct. Just another reason to simply not bother with voting at all this time around.

 
At 11:47 AM, September 23, 2012, Anonymous RKN said...

I’m 52 and I’ve been libertarian for as long as I can remember. However, suspending for a second the argument from principle, it’s occurred to me that as a “selfish agent” I should favor government policies that are most likely to benefit me personally in the next (hopefully) quarter century of my life and beyond.

For example, social security, which I’ve been forced to contribute to for the past 35 years and the next 10-15 while I remain employed. Once I retire the government will begin sending me checks once a month. Also, medicare, which unless some pretty radical changes occur soon (unlikely), I will be forced to declare as my primary health care provider when I become 65. To the extent democrats are more likely to sustain these programs, why shouldn’t I vote for them?

Being childless, I don’t care about reducing the nation’s debt burden for fear that my children will be saddled with it. In fact, selfishly speaking, I should want to maintain the status quo -- I want everybody else’s children to continue working hard and paying payroll taxes to support my social security checks.

As for personal liberty, the democrats are arguably equally as bad as republicans have been, so that’s kind of a wash. As I get older, it will become increasingly difficult to care about which candidate(s) more closely adhere to free market ideas.

I’d vote for a libertarian presidential candidate but to the extent he (or a republican) would reduce or eliminate programs that are likely to benefit me personally in the upcoming years, I’d be acting against my own self-interest, no?

 
At 10:36 PM, September 23, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

^But if you are primarily concerned with outcomes, rather than "warm glow", in that sense voting for your most-preferred candidate may be against your interest if it splits the vote, maybe strategic voting for another candidate is strictly better.

Or not voting at all (probability of being pivotal is small), esp. while convincing many people (on the internet) to vote for whichever your strategic choice is.

 
At 2:10 AM, September 24, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

I like the original post. A plague on both their houses. Fortunately, not being American, I'm not invited to vote for either of them.

 
At 6:56 AM, September 24, 2012, Anonymous Simon said...

Bonus point if Romney wins: the media formerly known as 'mainstream' will be humiliated :-)

 
At 9:07 AM, September 25, 2012, Blogger Unknown said...

I'm always amazed by claims that "Romney may not be your libertarian ideal, but he's a lot closer than Obama." The speaker either doesn't understand libertarianism, or doesn't understand Romney.

In rhetoric, Romney may be slightly closer to libertarianism, but upon examining his record it is clear he doesn't have a principled bone in his body and only cares about acquiring power -- which makes him pretty much the same as Obama.

 
At 9:22 AM, September 25, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember reading somewhere the statement from David that "socialist" is not a fruitful accusation since the term is not accademic but rather amounts to an insult. But doesn't that interpretation insult those who call themselves Socialists? I would probably likewise dismiss anyone who calls Obama a socialist, but so would self-procliamed Socialists who say "I am a Socialist, and Obama is no Socialist!". While the latter dismissal denies Obama is a socialist, the former doesn't even acknoweldge the terms. Since the pro-Socilaists probably do not know what they mean either, I would dismiss them both. Whether "socialist" is used as the ultimate compliment or the ultimate insult, it has little value in serious discussion.

 
At 10:44 AM, September 25, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another basis for voting which is rarely discussed is to vote in order to bring the consensus closer to the appearance of "random". This involves predicting who will win and voting for the other candidate. If you are part of a voting group, you may not want to be associated with the implications of a landslide victory, which are: (1) you think you know who the better candidate is (2) one candidate is actually better than the other (3) the election is of extreme importance. In other words, those conclusions could be drawn from a landslide victory. If they are not the case however, you would want to try to vote out the preference and eliminate those appearences. This would present yourself and the rest of the voting public as fitting a closer image of reality and perhaps being more intelligent or humble than they might actually be.

 
At 10:59 AM, September 25, 2012, Anonymous Simon said...

And now there is this to consider: Madonna says she will strip naked if Obama wins. Is this an argument for or against reelecting Obama?

 
At 3:59 PM, September 25, 2012, Blogger Ryan said...

When it comes to the size of government neither party has a good track record. On the other hand, I haven't quite bought into the argument that it doesn't matter much who is elected. Certainly it matters on the margins correct? It seems like improving things on the margins is the best small-government types can hope for, at least in the short run. I think Romney will be, although not ideal, a definite improvement. For example, I doubt under a President Romney we will get another 800 billion dollar stimulus bill.

Additionally, politicians deserve blame for many things, but is it really Republicans' fault that their policy failings are blamed on the free market? On average, I would say Republicans themselves don't usually blame the markets. It seems to me like we should should fault the opinion makers who blame the markets, not the Republicans who, while not always principled free-market supporters, are more free-market oriented than the alternative. This is an area where it seems to me like Libertarians allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

 
At 5:08 PM, September 25, 2012, Blogger Eitan said...

@Ryan. It's not so much perfect being the enemy of the good. Romney's record is bad. Obama's record may be worse, but there are strategic reasons, if one concludes that the difference isn't large, to not vote or to vote for Gary Johnson. First, Republican congresses with Democratic presidents have historically kept spending lower than any other combination. Second, if Republicans lose the presidential election and the narrative is that it is because they ignored the Tea Party and libertarian wings by running an establishment candidate, then out of their political self-interest, the party will drift in our direction. Even if that were some kind of short term loss for small government it could be a long term gain.

 
At 8:06 AM, September 26, 2012, Blogger neil craig said...

Beyond ideology there is competence.

One is a guy whose total achievement, apart from being elected, is blowing several billions on stimulii, windmills and a badly thought out health programme & keeping Ameica in recession while the rest of the world is growing at an average of 6% a year.

The other is a VERY successful entrepreneur, with a record of making money losing organisations profitable, who made his state solvent, the country's best educated and produce a relarively effective health programme.

If America goes for the former what does that say?

 
At 8:56 PM, September 29, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Additionally, politicians deserve blame for many things, but is it really Republicans' fault that their policy failings are blamed on the free market?"

It is when they use free market rhetoric, as Republicans routinely do, but don't actually act on free market principles.

 
At 5:51 AM, October 02, 2012, Anonymous Simon said...

How about breaking the Romney vs. Obama question down into best case, expected case, and worst case scenarios. Maybe the expected case is somewhat similar for both candidates and close to the status quo.

But what about the worst case? With Obama, the appetite for government expansion and nonchalant attitude to human rights is pretty frightening. With Romney, the worst case is probably closer to the status quo.

Best case? With Obama, the status quo. With Romney, under tea party pressure, some semblance of reform.

 
At 5:03 AM, October 03, 2012, Blogger dreamsinger poems said...

exactly! But that is because the real "president" will still be a group of monopolies, whoever is elected, ad the fundamentalUs PopulUsts will still be trying to impose their religion on us.
CiNdy

 
At 7:07 AM, October 11, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Christian, I try very hard to follow the words of Christ.

As I look to the two, I ask myself: which would behave "toward the least of these" more like Christ would?

Romney doesn't see them, care about them.

So I must vote for Obama.

 
At 4:28 AM, October 14, 2012, Anonymous miniclip said...

Being childless, I don’t care about reducing the nation’s debt burden for fear that my children will be saddled with it. In fact, selfishly speaking, I should want to maintain the status quo -- I want everybody else’s children to continue working hard and paying payroll taxes to support my social security checks.

 
At 6:55 AM, October 14, 2012, Blogger neil craig said...

And if they decide not to .....

 
At 6:23 AM, October 18, 2012, Anonymous Dick White said...

While there is a lot of nuance in the individual policy decisions that constitute "Republican policy" and "Democratic policy", I'll ignore them for this discussion and just focus on Romney v. Obama. It seems to me that if one focuses on the expected policy on the margin, as it were, one would think the Romney policies, on margin, would be preferable for most readers of this blog. Consider not only what Obama successfully achieved but also what he failed to achieve and one gets an insight as to his marginal instinct. Romney is more difficult since there is only the MA governorship as public policy. However, his business career does provide evidence at least as to his instincts and those seem to favor subsidiarity type initiatives. Of course, if one doesn't approved of such policy initiatives, then Obama would be preferable. But David's basic premise---"the bad news, good news" may be inaccurate in this case. I'm reminded of a paper by an excellent economist faced with suboptimizing alternatives that he dealt with and labeled the paper at "The Least Bad Solution."

 

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