Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cain Endorses! (Nobody Cares)

A while ago I wrote that it was smart of Gingrich to do friendly one-on-one debates with implausible GOP candidates like Herman Cain, because their fans would think well of him. Turns out that he managed to get Cain's endorsement out of it too.

This won't matter for the current race, as Romney's pulling ahead in Florida. And after Cain's disgraceful fall, I doubt that his endorsement moves anybody at this point. But it's the kind of strategy that future presidential candidates might do well to look into.

The Pentagon Is Shrinking

And by Pentagon I don't mean some five-sided regular polygon somewhere -- I mean the US defense budget. Add this to the list of good things you wouldn't have seen under a McCain administration.

I don't have a great sense of how dynamics between the President and the armed forces go. I have the sense that Obama really doesn't want generals retiring and then deciding to go ballistic on his administration, and he's willing to sacrifice a lot to keep that from happening. But long-term defense cuts seem to be a genuine administration priority. If Leon Panetta's job is to ease the military through defense cuts, I'm happy to see him succeeding.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Go Ben Go!

Good news from the Fed -- Ben Bernanke is going to set an inflation target (2%, of course I wanted higher, but given the state of expectations this is a move in the right direction). And he's going to buy more bonds. Bank people are saying things like "My expectation is that we are going to get quantitative easing three in April." My expectation is that Ben Bernanke and Mario Draghi are going to keep the recovery going into an Obama second term.

I don't know how good this is long term, though -- as a supporter of higher inflation, I'd rather Paul Volcker had set a 5% inflation target back in the bad old double-digit days, and people's expectations had stuck with that. Now we're going up to a low target rather than down to a high one.

Monday, January 23, 2012

2012 South Carolina Republican Primary Results Map

People liked these maps last time, so let's do them again. I find it quite frustrating that most election results maps don't do some sort of color coding to give everyone a sense of the magnitude of a candidate's victory in different parts of the country. In the case of South Carolina, we can see that the Appalachian foothills in the northwest corner of the state, as well as the counties surrounding Columbia, were somewhat more friendly to Mitt Romney than the rural areas in the rest of the state. Those light-brown ring counties don't seem to have any clear differences from the rural areas; they're roughly in line with the statewide levels of income, education, and African-American population.

Compared to 2008, the big difference was Romney's inability to hold any ground in the corridor between Columbia and Charleston, as well as smaller margins of victory for Romney in the less rural parts of the state. McCain did quite well in this part of the state, for reasons that aren't immediately clear to me.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ezekiel Emanuel, Supposed Health Care Expert, Doesn't Know What's In Health Care Reform

Ezekiel Emanuel's article claiming that liberals "need to care about controlling health care costs every bit as much as conservatives do" may raise the cost of straw quite a bit. Emanuel seems to have depleted the global straw supply by packing so much of it into the gigantic straw man that is his article. Not one liberal who doesn't care about controlling health care costs is quoted.

If Emanuel wants to understand what liberals think about health care costs, he could look at the health care reform law that just passed Congress, and which all the liberal Democrats in the House and Senate voted for. It implements a wide range of cost controls. It would've had more if the public option hadn't been sacrificed to non-liberal Joe Lieberman, and if the end-of-life planning measures hadn't been demonized as "death panels" by liberal-hating Sarah Palin. The way Emanuel sets up the debate makes you wonder whether he doesn't know what's in health care reform, or if he's just ignoring it so that he can mischaracterize what liberals have been supporting in Congress. I'm not sure which reading is more charitable.

Florida Looks Like SC

Newt Gingrich has cause for optimism about Florida after winning South Carolina. Polling in the states looks pretty similar -- Gingrich had huge leads in late November and early December, but Romney stepped ahead after the big ad blitz that sunk Gingrich in Iowa. (I don't know if the Romney SuperPACs' anti-Gingrich ads were ever on the air in either of those states -- as far as I know it was just the spillover of media effects from Iowa that brought Gingrich's numbers back down.) So Gingrich's ability to come back in SC seems bodes well for his ability to come back in Florida. He had the debates as a source of good free media in SC, and he'll have that victory as a source of good free media in Florida to push him forward.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

South Carolina Primary Results in One Picture

This is my takeaway from the Republican primary. The voters who voted tonight aren't interested in Newt's proposal for 21 hours of debate with Barack Obama. They just want someone who's going to kick people in the balls. Which is how Newt has made his bones since the early Clinton Administration.

He kicked Bill Clinton in the balls as long as he was in the House of Representatives, beginning with attempts to detonate any sort of compromise health care bill and ending with impeaching Clinton even after the impeachment message had lost his party seats in the house. He kicked Juan Williams in the balls when he dared to suggested that referring to Obama as a "food stamp presidency" might offend African Americans. He kicked John in the balls when he had the temerity to suggest that someone who is a total jackass to both his first and second wives while sanctimoniously going on and on about Bill Clinton's moral turpitude might be the kind of person that some voters might not want as President. Essentially, Newt's campaign was telling voters that a vote for me is a vote to kick some other in the balls. It might be Barack Obama. It might be "the liberal media" or "the elite". It might be African-Americans. But basically, you could vote for Newt, and Newt would find whoever the closest person was who's different from you in some way, and then kick them in the balls.

The exit polls are a little odd. In certain respects, Newt fared better among voters that are closer to the median voter than the typical Republican; he did better downscale voters both in terms of income and education. But/ Romney did better in other respects; he lost by smaller margins among women, among people who identify as moderate, and urban voters (although none of the metro areas in South Carolina are particularly large). I'll have some observations about the exits and the county-level results tomorrow.

South Carolina Repubican Primary Benchmarks

This is what the map looked like on election night in 2008. Romney was mostly a non-factor, with John McCain's strong challenge emerging from Mike Huckabee. Most likely,  Romney has absorbed most McCain's voters, while Gingrich will pick up Huckabee's voters. Polls close in a few hours, so we'll know soon.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Ideas Want To Be Free (As In Beer)

A couple months ago, I discovered that a book I'd co-edited, and on which I was eligible to receive royalties, was downloadable for free on the internet. I was happy about this! What advances my career isn't people paying money for my book -- it's people reading it and being aware of my contributions to philosophical debates. It's why I was eager to submit the paper I mentioned in the previous post to an open-access online philosophy journal.

So I'm happy to see that Senator Jeff Merkley (to whom I just made another big Leadership PAC contribution) has come out against SOPA and PIPA. I once commented to one of his staffers that they should make sure there aren't any health risks associated with being on the right side of too many issues, because if there are, he might hurt himself.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ricardian Equivalence And Unequal Vividness

It's not that often that my research directly addresses a major issue of the day, but I had a little footnote on Ricardian equivalence in "The Humean Theory of Practical Irrationality," just out in the Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy. So I'll say something about that.

The paper tries to solve a problem for those who accept both of two popular theses about desire and action. First, people do whatever they believe will get them what they want. This is a psychological thesis about how people actually act. Second, it's rational for people to do whatever they believe will get them what they want. This is a normative thesis about what the right choice is. It's only about the right choice in the sense of being rational -- in the sense where it's right for the assassin to load his gun before trying to shoot -- not in the sense of being the morally right thing to do or anything like that.

Here's the problem with the two theses: since what we do and what it's rational to do are defined in exactly the same way, it seems that we can never act irrationally. And that's trouble, because it's pretty clear that people do act irrationally sometimes.

In the paper, I argue that "desire" in the psychological theory should be understood as the immediate motivational force that desires exert on you right when you act. Meanwhile, "desire" in the normative theory should be understood in terms of the dispositional strength of desires. We usually describe a sleeping person as desiring various things, even though no immediate motivational forces are operating then. Similarly, we can say that someone desires to marry his girlfriend even if he's on a roller coaster or something and he's not thinking of his girlfriend at the moment. This is the dispositional sense of desire -- it treats our desires as disposition rather than as immediately active forces.

Setting up the theories that way leaves just the right amount of room for human irrationality. Usually, we pursue what we desire more in the dispositional sense. But if we're presented with much more vivid images of the thing we desire less in the dispositional sense, we may pursue it anyway, because vivid images of something make the desire for it more forceful. Someone who's trying to quit smoking will find it easier to give into temptation and smoke again in a smoky bar than while jogging, because the representations of the pleasures of smoking will be much more vivid there.

What is Ricardian equivalence, and what does this all have to do with it? It's the hypothesis that fiscal stimulus can't actually get the economy going, because any money you spend now will have to be paid back in the future, and people will just save the money you give them to pay taxes towards future debts. Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong have been criticizing this idea lately on grounds that there's no reason people would just save the whole amount of the stimulus immediately.

The commonsense psychological point I'd like to add (it's in footnote 20) is that people have a natural tendency to satisfy desires whose objects are vividly represented before them at the moment. So when someone at the bar chooses between buying another drink and saving to pay future taxes, the drink is going to have a pretty big advantage. Our desires are stimulated by the things right in front of us, not the tax burden 30 years in the future.

I kind of wonder if some economist could make a career out of re-running economic models involving how people plan for the future under psychological assumptions that actually fit how people make decisions.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Hampshire Primary Meaningless Speculation Thread

Dave Weigel has the final Suffolk poll, which I'll rearrange to make it easier to read:
  • 37% Mitt Romney
  • 18% Ron Paul
  • 16% Jon Huntsman
  • 11% Rick Santorum
  • 09% Newt Gingrich
  • 06% Buddy Roemer
  • 05% Rick Perry
Note: figures may add up to more than 100% due to rounding.

With the exception of the brief Newt boomlet, Romney has lead wire to wire here. Meanwhile Huntsman seems to be "hoping he experiences the Santorum effect", which is really something that ought to be kept between Huntsman and Santorum rather than shared with the rest of the world. But indeed it seems to be happening, and given that both Paul and Santorum seem to be falling while Huntsman is on the rise, he just might finish second.

My totally meaningless prediction is that the lower-tier candidates will collapse, Romney tops 40%, and Huntsman squeezes ahead of Paul by a percentage point or two. What this means going forward, I have no clue whatsoever.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Anwar Acquitted Of Sodomy

Good news in Malaysia, as opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is acquitted of sodomy charges. The ruling party's strategy in responding to Anwar's political rise, both in 2008 and in the late 1990s, was to make highly implausible sodomy accusations against him. Many Malaysians realized that the charges were nonsense, but prosecutions went forward anyway. In 2000 he was convicted and sentenced to 9 years in prison before being freed on appeal in 2004. So if you wanted some news from the other side of the world to go along with your Santorum-related speculation, there you go.

If you want to see how utterly insane Malaysian politics can be (the deal with the Mongolian actress and model getting blown up with C4 is one of the craziest things I've ever heard) you can take a look at this post from 2008.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Rick Santorum Photos as New Yorker Cartoons

You may have seen the meme of Buzzfeed, where New Yorker cartoons are re-captioned using Rick Santorum quotes.

I'm intrigued by the possibilities of the reverse. What happens if you take photos of Rick Santorum and caption them with "Christ, what an asshole."?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Good News From The ECB

The cause of more pro-growth policies from the European Central Bank seems to have scored another victory, as new bank chief Mario Draghi has appointed Peter Praet, described as a pragmatist on inflation issues, to head up the Economics division. Praet replaces stereotypically inflation-obsessed German J├╝rgen Stark, who objected to the ECB's bond-buying program.

With American economic numbers ticking slightly upward, one major danger is that collapse in Europe will bring everything back down. Democrats hoping to do well in the 2012 election should be rooting for pro-growth forces in Europe to defeat the people who want to use recession to fight inflation, with no concern for jobs. Replacing Jean-Claude Trichet with Mario Draghi seems to have been a positive step in that regard, and we can hope that Draghi keeps the good news coming.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

No Senators In The GOP Primary

One odd feature of the Republican presidential primary is that there aren't any sitting Senators. This hardly ever happens. The Republicans had McCain and Brownback in 2008, McCain and Hatch in 2000, Bob Dole, Gramm, Specter and Lugar in 1996, and Bob Dole and Laxalt in 1988. On the Democratic side, we had Obama-Clinton-Dodd-Biden in 2008, Kerry-Edwards-Lieberman-Graham in 2004, Bradley as the sole Gore-alternative in 2000, Kerrey and Harkin in 1992, and Gore-Simon-Biden in 1988.

Why did this happen? I guess part of the reason is that Democrats did really well in the 2006 and 2008 Senate elections, clearing out lots of possible candidates. Rick Santorum would've been able to run from the Senate, and George Allen might've been in the race if he hadn't already run in 2008. Even so, the fact that 0 out of the 40 GOP Senators in office during 2009 ran is pretty unusual for a time when the weak economy made Obama look vulnerable. (My expectation early on was that Jim DeMint would run and win, but he decided not to get in for reasons that are his own.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Santorum Comes From Behind, but Can't Top Romney

Sadly, the final results show Romney ahead by 8 votes. But Rick Santorum (yes, that Rick Santorum) had a remarkable showing in the Iowa caucuses. I still think Gingrich is the most viable NotRomney—if he can finish ahead of Santorum in New Hampshire, and win South Carolina, there's still a path to victory for him—but even then it's a very tough road ahead, and Gingrich obviously doesn't provide the same opportunities for hilarious headlines.

The best news to come out of Iowa is that instead of Nate Silver just sort of guessing what's going to happen next, we have some actual data! It's muddled, because Iowa is a Caucus, and because five candidates contested the state with serious resources, but at the very least, we can say that Romney's voters look more like the median voter in some respects (more female in particular) but don't in others (richer, more educated). And that people who self-identify as Republicans seem very uninterested in voting for Romney.

Use the comment thread to make your best Santorum-related, double-entendre-filled headline.