Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Clinton, Obama, Older voters and Gerontocracy

"Another might be to create societies dominated by the attitudes of the old: bossy, cautious, conservative."

(From a discussion in my forthcoming Future Imperfect of possible effects of solving the aging problem)

In Pennsylvania as elsewhere, Hilary Clinton does much better than Barack Obama among older voters. Obama's tentative explanation is that "they've got a track record of voting for not just Sen. Clinton but also her husband."

I have a different theory, one that also helps explain the mirror image problem—the reason so many people dislike Hilary. To me, at least, she comes across as bossy, cautious, conservative, someone who knows what is good for other people and will firmly make them do it, whether or not they want to. The feel, the gestalt, fits my description above of the old. So it isn't surprising if she appeals to many older people.

Obama appeals to young people. Part of the reason may be the impression that he is willing to take risks, to bet on luck and human goodness—the sort of political risks that might heal some of the rifts in modern American society and, in the process, establish a long term Democratic majority. The sort of risks that, if something goes seriously wrong, might snatch electoral defeat from the jaws of victory in what should be a Democratic year.

I am, by the relevant measure, old, but also an optimist. Which may be part of why I find Obama appealing, despite the small detail that he is a liberal Democrat and I an extreme libertarian, and Hilary anything but appealing.


Anonymous said...

That strikes me as plausible speculation. You and I are of comparable ages, I believe (I was born in 1949); and like you, I find Obama preferable to Clinton. And I tend to feel more at home with people a generation younger than I am than with a lot of my contemporaries. I've had some very interesting political conversations with a young woman half my age who is an Obama supporter.

A few months ago I thought of a phrase that exactly captures, for me, what Clinton's approach is like and why I dislike it: "authoritarian liberal." It shows up, for example, in her consistent advocacy of mandated health insurance. "We've decided that this approach to health care would be best for everybody, so we're going to force you to take part, even if you don't like it or can't afford it, and penalize you if you don't." (Though she's naturally been evasive about exactly how she's going to punish people who don't get health insurance.) Whereas Obama's approach has been "We'll enable you to purchase health insurance at a price you can afford." That's still a socialist program, of course, and indirectly authoritarian in that it relies on the power of the state to regulate health insurance companies and to tax and subsidize, but it doesn't rely on grabbing every single individual by the collar and dragging them into health insurance—or on fining those who don't comply, garnishing their wages, or forcing them to sign up before they can receive any hospital care, the three ideas I've seen suggested for enforcement (the first of which is currently in force in Massachusetts, and presenting younger workers with some painful choices). So it's at least a softer authoritarianism. Clinton is almost a personification of the British term "nanny state" in its most virulent form.

Ironically, I'd really prefer to see McCain's ideas on health care implemented, especially his proposal to do away with the tax-exempt status of health benefits and establish tax parity between employer-purchased health insurance and other ways of obtaining health care. It's McCain's positions on military policy, civil rights, and abortion, and his newfound willingness to embrace the religious wing of his party, that make him an unattractive choice for me.

There has been ongoing speculation for a few years about the disaffection of libertarians from an increasingly statist Republican Party, and about the existence of a small-l "libertarian" tendency in, specifically, the voters of Western states. It might be significant that Obama has done very well in those states, at least in the primaries. Perhaps they are being captured, not by a third party, but by a new political tendency within one of the established two parties—the one that hasn't been actively moving to alienate them lately. It also strikes me that some of the demographic groups that support Obama could be taken as proxies for the "creative class" that Richard K. Florida wrote about a few years ago—Democrats and independent voters with incomes of $75,000 and up, or with college education or better, and (most recently) the people in a Pennsylvania survey who identified their religion as "other" (than Christian or Jewish) or "none", who went overwhelmingly for Obama. This group is not ideologically libertarian—usually they're mild socialists—but they tend to value tolerance and diversity, which libertarians also value, or at least the kind of libertarians I prefer. These people may account for a fair part of the new voters Obama is drawing into the Democratic Party. And, if so, there could be interesting long-term effects on that party itself. Obama compared himself, a few months ago, to Ronald Reagan, looking at Reagan's success in recruiting the evangelicals and fundamentalists as a new group of Republican voters, and the Republican Party has been radically changed by adopting that constituency; if the Democratic Party acquires a new constituency as a result of an Obama candidacy, it might be faced with an equal need to change itself in order to market itself to them.

Anonymous said...

I posted this somewhere else, but it seems relevant here so I have resurrected it. dave.s.

I squandered a LOT of time reading science fiction. And got some useful ideas, mental furniture, though not at as good a rate as I would have had I done some other things I ought have been doing.
Anyway, one story I read concerned humans in some far future contacting other sentient races, most all had life spans like ours. But one had a life span of four hundred years. And they never advanced beyond where we were in the 1950s, really. The suggestion in the story was, there were too many guys who had ideas, and were immovable, and they were in place.
So think about it: you are a doc, and Semmelweis is still in practice. Or the guys who treated Washington with leeches. Senator Bilbo still represents Mississippi. The people who try and claim the Founding Fathers would support their point of view if they could but be asked - so, go ahead, ask them! Mozart is nearing the end of his career, and writing the music for the Harry Potter movies. Agassiz is still at Harvard, still tenured, and still fighting against the Darwinist doctrine.
It’s not much of a recipe for human progress. “Lead, follow, or get out of the way” kind of depends on our getting out of the way.

Anonymous said...

This just in:

"I want to initiate a windfall profits tax to go after the oil companies so we can get some rebates for people who actually need help," said Sen. Obama, warning "the truth is prices aren't going to go down over the long term that much" because of soaring demand in countries like China and India. -- WSJ, 27-Apr-2008.

This tells us several things:

* Obama does not tax people, he taxes companies.

* Obama does not believe in a system of uniform taxation, but thinks the tax system should be used to punish the enemy du jour.

* Obama's core promise: Redistribution of income to buy votes.

* Obama thinks interfering with petroleum production in U.S., through taxes specifically aimed at that industry, will improve things.

* Obama will hit you with an arbitrary tax if you invest in the wrong industry.

* If you want in to invest in oil & gas, buy the stocks of foreign companies.

* Obama's appeal is your standard, crude populism.

* The only thing that is new is that he says it's new.

Anonymous said...

Then there's the obvious: Clinton is c. fifteen years older than Obama. The question remains, why are those fifteen years so significant?

I started trying to address this here, then decided it was getting long so I should move it to my own blog.

Anonymous said...

* Obama does not believe in a system of uniform taxation, but thinks the tax system should be used to punish the enemy du jour.

* Obama's core promise: Redistribution of income to buy votes.

Yes, that did strike me as sorta pandering. But all political candidates say what the audience in front of them at the moment wants to hear.

* Obama thinks interfering with petroleum production in U.S., through taxes specifically aimed at that industry, will improve things.

Imagine a limited resource whose price is guaranteed to go up for the next century or so until it disappears completely. Does it make sense to use up your own reserves as fast as possible first? Or does it make more economic sense to hoard your own as long as possible and live on other countries' reserves?

Taxing the domestic oil industry will raise oil prices and start reducing demand, thus starting to un-do the damage we've done to ourselves with decades of Federal subsidies (and the occasional oil war) to keep oil prices artificially low. Of course, Obama can't say in public "the great thing about this is it will raise your gasoline bill even higher...." :-)

Anonymous said...

<< Taxing the domestic oil industry will raise oil prices >>

It's not necessarily the case. Oil has a single price around the world. Someone said the image you should have in your mind is that all producers dump their oil into a big bathtub, and all consumers take from that bathtub (at a single price). New taxes on US production would raise the world price slightly, but the main effect would probably be to reduce domestic production and increase imports.
As you say, we would conserve a resource, which would be available later when prices were higher. But who would benefit? If the oil is not confiscated via taxation, presumably the same oil companies (i.e., their shareholders) would win big. In such a case, the government has intervened to help oil companies achieve greater profitability. Perhaps the government is a smarter manager than the oil executives. The oil companies themselves have been holding back on new exploration. At least Exxon has been criticized for this. Perhaps they have the same idea about future prices of oil. Or, it could be they're holding back because they fear increasing levels of taxation. In any case, the oil companies, too, have an incentive to look out into the future when deciding how much to produce now -- stock prices discount the distant future.

Andrew said...

"windfall profits tax to go after the oil companies"

Good, it'll balance out some of the subsidies we give them, such as fighting a trillion+ dollar war on their behalf.

Mark said...

I am a libertarian who likes the idea of oil taxes. Is that an oxymoron? I don't think so. Until someone figures out a way to prevent the oil that you burn from getting into my lungs and giving me all kinds of health problems, I don't think letting the free market rip is an option. Unlike Obama, though, I would like gas taxes to go up at the pump, not at the corporate level (though he did reject the politically popular "summer gas tax holiday" that Clinton and McCain support).

Anonymous said...

New taxes on US production would raise the world price slightly, but the main effect would probably be to reduce domestic production and increase imports.
As you say, we would conserve a resource, which would be available later when prices were higher. But who would benefit?

At some point in the future, the U.S. will run out of domestic oil reserves. If our economy is still heavily oil-dependent at that time, the U.S. government will be completely in thrall to whatever countries do still have oil; if they say "jump", the President of the U.S. will ask "how high?" Either that, or we'll invade those countries to take their oil by force. But we won't have much oil to run the invasion, so it'll have to be a Blitzkrieg, possibly using nukes.

If increasing oil imports and decreasing domestic extraction (the word "production" is misleading) serves to delay that day long enough to wean our economy off oil, I think we all benefit.