Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Why I am a Republican: Part I

The current issue of The Journal of Economic Perspectives (run out and buy your copy now! - impress your friends and neighbors)has an economic test of the Moneyball hypothesis, put forward by Michael Lewis, that there were inefficiencies in the baseball labor market that enabled Billy Beane, the GM of the A’s, to exploit the inefficiencies and put a winning team on the field at a fraction of the price required from others to do the same. They confirm the hypothesis, but also say that the market has learned, and the inefficiencies have disappeared. In their introduction, discussing other similar literature using sports to test for market behavior, they reference research showing that the behavior of soccer players in penalty kick situations parallels what would be predicted by game theory, and in addition that soccer players, when playing laboratory games, act strategically in manners consistent with theory, whereas non-soccer players tended not to.

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A hilarious column by Mark Steyn last week detailed the arrest of a Turkish man in his 30s at airport security in Chicago who, when asked about a certain item in his carry-on luggage that he’d prefer his mother (traveling with) not be aware of, blurted out that it was a bomb. He faces three years in prison. The item – a penis pump. I don’t know what one is, but I’m damn sure not going to ever Google it to find out. Some things are better left unknown. And, I think he made the right choice in taking the three years.

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As election time rolls around, I’ve been contemplating the question of why I’m a Republican. The simple answer of course is that I prefer their policies to that of the next most likely holders of office, the Democrats. But why?

Taking just one area of policy for the mill today, consider domestic social policy, by which I mean the economic safety net provided by various forms of welfare, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, and policies affecting things like abortion, gambling, smoking, etc. These policy issues fall into two broad categories: they either deal with whether or not a citizen is given autonomy over certain decisions that are primarily personal (but arguably have a public dimension); or they deal with providing assistance in cases where people have, in some cases, made disastrous decisions given their sphere of autonomy. The two categories are obviously connected.

It is a curious fact that many people who classify themselves as libertarians tend to vote Democratic – Pbryon being one that comes to mind. I think that they tend to focus their libertarian instincts on the first component – the desire to give individuals autonomy over certain decisions - rather than on the second. Arguably, on issues like abortion, the Democrats offer greater individual autonomy. The same is also true from a cultural standpoint for issues like gay marriage, where there is more sympathy for extending the marriage choice on the side of the Democrats (although they ran far away from it in 2004 while pointing out that Cheney’s daughter – WHO IS A LESBIAN – might want it). On other issues, like having a smoke, they are quite paternalistic. And on gambling, with Bill Bennett on our side, we got ‘em licked. And hunting. And being able to own a gun to defend yourself and your family.

But that’s not my point – if you think it is true that Dems extend personal choice into more domains than Republicans, you can only be thinking that from the “what is permitted” side of the equation. But there is another side that needs to be considered, and that is what we do when what we have permitted leads to really bad consequences for some. To the extent that we bail people out of the consequences of their own decisions via redistribution policies, although we are not reducing the theoretical sphere of autonomy for those taxed for that purpose, in reality we are reducing their practical sphere of autonomy by limiting their ability to afford decisions that they have every right to make. A libertarian cannot be for permitting everyone to do as they please in the knowledge that someone else will pick up the bill. So it seems to me that some paternalism on the front-end is justified if it is expected on the back-end. A libertarian Democrat of this stripe is fundamentally confused, in that he

Clearly, I am in favor of some of the paternalism offered by Republicans, especially with respect to abortion; where I see the paternalism of Democrats on offer, especially as regards their Puritanism over smoking, it strikes me as somewhat ridiculous. But in general, I favor paternalism on the front-side, with little preference for it on the backside. If we tell you smoking is bad for you, don’t expect strangers to bail you out when you ignore us. If we tell you male homosexual sex is particularly risky, don’t expect strangers to bail you out on the backside. If we tell you to save for retirement and you don’t, don’t expect strangers to bail you out on the backside, etc. etc.

Now obviously we haven’t always known to tell people these things, but once we do, and we make a minimal investment in prevention education, it’s up to people to care for themselves and those in their families and communities.

Is this a particularly anti-Christian attitude? Only if you believe: 1) that the presence of the net does not affect the need for it; and 2) that the government is otherwise the right and proper conduit and authority over charity. To the extent you keep the safety net there for people, their actions as a direct response to that net being there on the front-end contribute to their need for it. And, even if this is not true, there is a fairly convincing argument that government can only be in the charity business in order to over-supply it and/or to re-direct it away from where the money would flow under private charity (and via compulsion - maybe the outcome is Christian, but the means are not, and that matters).

For example, when there was no effective treatment for HIV, the sexual behavior of male gays was altered significantly to reduce the risk, but not to zero; now that there is an effective treatment, many have gone back to their old ways, and they can afford to do so without increasing their risk relative to where it was pre-treatment. Arguably, then, much of the federal research dollars that have poured into the field served as a subsidy to more promiscuous behavior for the at-risk population. (You could argue that this was a side effect that, even if known as a potential benefit in advance, didn’t contribute at all to the political demand for such research. But presumably a portion of the preference for such research on the part of someone outside of the at-risk population stemmed from the expectation that effective treatments would definitively reduce the risks faced by the at-risk population, rather that be offset by a few extra trips to the bath house.)

So, in short – educate and take away some of the net – and I truly believe that the lot of the disadvantaged would improve over time relative to the status quo. Part of the safety net is insurance against risk, so there is some sensibility in it, but I think that Republicans are more sensitive to the trade-offs inherent in public insurance (stemming from moral hazard) than are Democrats.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Hans said...

For discreet info on your penis pump fetish - you can always refer to the Austin Powers movies - yeah baby!

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think PBryon is pretty cool...

The trade offs and costs associated with paternalism are well laid out in this issue. The Dems do well by cashing in on the fact that this analysis eludes the majority of voters.

Does part II involve defense of Bush or neocon foreign policy? That'd be a substantial challenge.

9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Republican because the chicks are hotter.

4:39 AM  
Blogger pbryon said...

At least anonymous thinks I'm cool.

From the Libertarian Party FAQ:
Libertarians believe that you have the right to live your life as you wish, without the government interfering -- as long as you don’t violate the rights of others. Politically, this means Libertarians favor rolling back the size and cost of government, and eliminating laws that stifle the economy and control people’s personal choices.

I think my endorsement of anti-smoking legislation fits with my generally libertarian beliefs. People can smoke all they want--but those exposed to secondary smoke do have the right to breathe clean air. I think this latter right trumps the former right, mainly by sheer volume of individuals impacted.

I also think prostitution and some currently illegal drugs should be legalized, but that's another story.

I think your analogy on AIDS research and behavior is misguided, but it is consistent with your positions on intelligent design, and other things. It seems comes down to "as long as we tell you its bad, we really don't have to explain anything else about it."

In many ways, this surprises me, because its the drive to answer these things--about AIDS, about evolution, about the ways the world works--that lead to the scientific and technological advances that drive our nation's and world's economy.

But back to the education....who determines what the education "talking points" are? I know plenty of folks at CDC and other state health departments who are quite ticked and frustrated at websites and other education materials being scrubbed when it comes to things like condom use to prevent STDs and HIV. In my opinion at least, those things should be free of political pressure.

Anonymous, I hope I'm still pretty cool.

5:45 AM  

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