Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Who Can I Give Sh8^ Away To?

For those of you who are new to the list receiving the post updates, I suppose it will come as some shock that I have been a closet blogger, and perhaps the worst kind of all - a rightwing blogger.  Although you will no doubt find coded messages of racism in my posts, so cryptic in their coding that I am even unaware that I am sending them, I mix these in with occasional stories of fuzzy bunnies so as to appear relatively innocuous.  If you are one of "them" - i.e. a liberal - there have long been liberal subscribers who have enjoyed the blog, making favorable comments like "go to hell," "you have the brain of a marsupial", and "you are a tool of the Zionist plot."  Anyway, welcome! 

This week the Nobel prize in economics was awarded, which makes it timely for me to talk about a book about decision making authored by a psychologist who was a prior recipient of the Nobel in economics - Daniel Kahneman.  The book is called "Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow" - it is endlessly fascinating, and it has some connections to my prior post about intelligence that have some relevance to the matter at hand - i.e. the current election.

One of the themes of the book is that using reason and deliberative thought requires effort, and our minds our inherently lazy, so we more often than not rely on some form of intuition.  When asked a difficult question, for example, rather than consider and answer that question, we substitute a different question that we can answer without thinking.  For example, if we are asked which of the two presidential candidates has a better grasp on the nuances of foreign policy, answering that is hard.  First, we need to have some knowledge of the subject itself, and secondly, we need to form an opinion about how each guy approaches the subject.  Hard work.  So rather than wave our hands and say we don't really know, we ask the easier question: Which guy is taller? or Who has better hair?  Unfortunately for us, in 2008, people did not ask "Which guy has ears less remiscint of Dumbo?"

Anyone who has been conducting an interview, asking pointed questions, probably believes that they are objectively assessing the likely job performance skills of the various candidates, but in truth that is an extremely difficult thing to do in a 30 minute interview - most people substitute the likability question, which is much easier to answer.  This is why polling questions on likability matter. 

The inherent laziness of the mind, regardless of intelligence, is why ideology and party identification matter so much in assessing a presidential candidate.  I honestly do not believe that Obama is intelligent enought to understand the complexity of the economy.  (Back prior to the 2008 election, when the financial meltdown occurred, he was quoted as basically asking economic advisors - tell me the right policy, and I'll sell it to the American people.  He was a salesman, not a guy who knew what policy to sell.)  However, even if he were that intelligent, the demands of the job are such that there is no way to stay on top of arcane economic arguments in favor of this policy or that.  So Obama substitutes an easier question that he can answer without thought: "Can I give shit away to people who will vote for me?"  Cash for clunkers, overhauling student loans, the extension of unemployment benefits, all the subsidies to pie in the sky wind or solar power companies that haven't a clue or a prayer, Obamacare, mortgage relief, the distribution of stimulus funds for shovel-ready donors projects , cell phones, the forced subsidization of birth control for women in law schools who like to pretend someone wants to have sex with them, etc. 

The flip side is: "Can I take shit away from the people who won't vote for me?"  Drilling moraturiums in the gulf, excessive regulation in the energy industry in general, cuts to the military, and the argument now that it is the patriotic duty for the top 1 percent to increase their share of the total income tax burden from its current level (hovering between 35 and 40 percent).

Even his much hyped "saving" of GM was a giveaway to a bloated union at the expense of its bondholders; you might think the bondholders are the Wall Street evil guys, but many of them were simple pensioners.  The world is filled with companies that survived bankruptcy - in most cases, bankruptcy does not lead to the liquidation of assets and the discontinuation of business operations, and in the case of GM there is no reason why that would have occured.  In most cases, what happens is the obligations of the company to its creditors are converted to equity claims, and things go on.  Even if liquidated, someone free from the bloated union contracts could have purchased the assets and made a profitable go of the business.  The unintended consequence: Screwing over normal bankruptcy proceedings at the expense of the lenders makes lenders reluctant in the future, making it more difficult to finance new investments.  Fool me once ...

Now of course, some clever commentator is going to point out that Romney's substitute questions would be the same, and only the answers would differ.  But here is where the essential difference in ideology matters.  To Obama, the government should circumvent the market wherever possible to achieve a desired outcome, in his case the answers to the above questions.  People don't carry on as usual in the face of such policies - they try to avoid activities (like investing and working) that make them subjec to increased taxation, and try to seek some handout to their own group or industry, diverting their labor and capital from productive enterprise.  (I for one have diverted from productive work to writing a damn blog due to his policies). 

To Romney, the market should take precedence wherever possible (I hope that is what he thinks anyway); in that case, while such policies (or lack thereof) may in effect reward "his" people, they do so only via the free choices of people in the marketplace.  The difference for our current economic situation is that no one with money trusts Obama.  And without that trust, there is a deep reluctance to make risky investments when the payoff for such investments may end up just getting funnelled to a favored victim group.  Put Romney in, and those with the money sitting on the sidelines breathe a collective sigh of relief, and get back to business.

I happen to believe, and I think the evidence supports this belief, that more free market policies reward not only the investors, but workers and consumers as well.  Moreover, the investors get the smallest share of the benefits of such investments.  That is, while nominally you might view pro-investment policies as benefitting the rich, in truth they benefit all of us with most of the benefit coming to us.  In contrast, more intrusive government generally leads to the flight of capital and talent, sclerotic growth, reduced job opportunities, and increased government dependence - trickle up poverty.  We are lurching closer to the policies of European countries, and the comparative record of historical growth rates makes it clear this is not a trade that benefits us in any way.  But the real reason I am voting for Romney is clearly the fact that he has better hair.


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