Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Beyonce's Political Philosophy? and The Myth of Bi-Partisanship

What’s the Super Bowl halftime show good for if it doesn’t distract the narrative away from overpaid steroid-riddled athletes to self-indulgent “artistes” paid to mimic strippers while delivering an apparently much needed dose of unasked for uninformed political commentary?  Thanks Beyonce!  I for one can say I wasn’t at all offended by what many are saying was an anti-police message, because I couldn’t hear a word she was screaming.  I do not know if it’s an evolutionary inspired impairment to certain senses, but when a woman starts gyrating on an imaginary stripper pole, my sense of hearing isn’t exactly taking precedence over other senses.  And as for the Black Panther inspired outfits, how did anyone take the Black Panthers seriously if they strutted around in stockings and leotards?  “Oohh, you guys are baaaad asssss!  Where’d you get those sheer stockings?  Aren’t you afraid to get a snag in em when your robbing banks and sheet?”

I’ve said it many times since the famous Janet Jackson halftime performance – our whole culture is now a wardrobe malfunction.  Adele seems to be the only self-respecting female singer these days.  All of the others have bought into the false narrative that making your music and performance primarily about titillating teen age boys (and men who wish they still were) shows you are an edgy risk-taker who demands to be taken seriously; in fact, any claim you have to being taken seriously goes out the window when your “dance” moves are intended primarily to imitate one half of the beast with two backs.  I won’t even get into Beyonce’s politics on this one, or the hilarious “down with the struggle” courage it takes a billionaire with no talent to trumpet the cause.  It’s laughable that Beyonce thinks we want our politics and titillation from the same person.  You generally don’t see guys lining up at strip joints to seek advice on who to vote for in the primary.


Crumudgeon rant over.  Or maybe not - is it ever really?  Now it’s time to educate the people with some funky economics.  Here’s a basic primer in the economics of understanding presidential campaigns and the empty rhetoric of the need for bipartisanship. Economists use the term “Pareto Improvement” in reference to a change from the status quo that could improve the lot of some in the polis without hurting anyone else.  There are generally two potential tacks in campaigning for president, although they are not mutually exclusive: 1) pretend there are all these Pareto improving policies out there that could make everyone better off without harming anyone; or 2) pick a side you want to back in policies that clearly are not Pareto improvements, which favor some people at the expense of others.  Today I am going to focus on the second.

When your politics is more or less dominated by fights over redistribution (whether you want more or less), you are never talking about a Pareto Improvement that you want to make as president – you are talking about changes in policies that make some people worse off, and others better off.  And so your campaign will be focused on defining those who would win under your policies as deserving, and defining the losers from your policy as anti-American leeches.  If your Bernie Sanders calling for more people on the dole, or a more comfortable dole, this is only right given the damage done by Wall Street speculators, who are the true enemy.  If you are a conservative trying to re-instill work for welfare (ended by Obama), it is only right to limit the extent to which welfare queens can live off of the hard work of the middle class.  You get the picture.

Redistribution is broader than just welfare programs; the distribution of taxes also obviously effects what everyone has in their pockets after the government takes its protection money.  If I want to redistribute $10 from Peter to Paul, one simple way to do so is to increase Peter’s taxes by $10 and lower Paul’s by an equal amount.  There is no welfare payment going to Paul per se, but the effect is no different than if Paul’s taxes staid the same, but he received a check from the government for the extra $10 it collected from Peter.  So fights over tax policies are also principally fights over redistribution of income. 

So here’s the thing – there is no change to tax policy or welfare policy in any direction that does not involve both winners and losers versus the status quo.  (This really isn’t true, as I will discuss in my next blog, but let’s just pretend for now it is).  As such, there is no change in these policies that could possibly be expected to engender bi-partisan support.  If one party’s primary constituency is favored by such a change, it is often the case that the other party’s constituency is harmed.  And this is no mere coincidence – each party will obviously try to advocate for the interests of its core constituencies; because the interests of those core constituencies are often adverse to each other, the parties will clash. 

There is generally no such thing as a bi-partisan solution in any issue involving redistribution; there is only a one-sided capitulation, if only partial, to the demands of the other side.  And compromise should not be confused with bi-partisanship.  If the Democrats seek to double welfare benefits, and Republicans seek to maintain the status quo, a policy change that gets the support of Republicans and increases welfare benefits by 50% is not a bi-partisan measure relative to the status quo – it’s a partial capitulation for Republicans, a loss for their constituent group, and a clear gain for the constituency of the Democrats.

I remember in a 2012 election debate Joe Biden trumpeting his bi-partisanship in the Senate; my memory is a little foggy here, but if I recall it consisted of a vote that was joined by both sides to limit the trafficking of pornography via the internet that featured small puppies in rescue shelters who are clearly not of the age of legal consent, or something very similar.  Such is the scope for genuine bi-partisanship – it is limited to issues that are obvious no-brainers, and which probably do not address any real problem.  Both sides can agree to run the risk of losing the votes of the rescue shelter internet puppy pornographers lobby, rather than take their chances of losing every other voter by backing that lobby.

Once you understand that redistribution is about both welfare and tax policy, you can understand the comparative strategies of the two parties – in both cases it could be crudely considered an attempt to favor the respective ends of the income distribution by bribing the middle class to join them.  Republicans are primarily focused upon claiming all taxpayers as their constituency, as opposed to people on the dole.  So the strategy is to say that we can and should cut all of your taxes at the expense of the shiftless people on the dole, and middle class people will reap the benefits.  You work hard; they don’t – end of story.  Democrats want to pit certain taxpayers against others, and keep the conversation as far away from welfare policy as they can; hence the rich are not paying their fair share.  The message – hey middle class guy drinking Miller High Life after a long day in the mill, we can cut your taxes if we get the fat cats who are on their yachts smoking illegal Cuban cigars hand-crafted by five-year old kids enslaved by the commies (oh wait, they’re legal now) to pay their fair share, and never mind about that welfare.  

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