Sunday, May 31, 2015

Why Democrats fight dirty to defend the status quo.

One country, two parties. One party is defending the Blue Model; the “Blue Beast” -- government and those who benefit from outsized government control. The other party wants more freedom, more pluralism, less government. But it doesn’t control government, the media, the culture, the upper reaches of crony capitalism. It lacks the power of the state.

We have frequently quoted Cornell economist and author of Luxury Fever Robert Frank, "Animals will fight viciously to protect territory that they hold, but they won't fight nearly as hard to extend their territory."  

“fight viciously.”

Frank has explained the dynamic of America’s current two-party system. In a report for the BBC, correspondent Jonny Dymond informed us that:
we are hard-wired to be more concerned about losing something we have than we are enthused about gaining something in the future. Behavioural psychologists call it the "endowment effect" or "status quo bias". And campaign strategists exploit it to the full.
Dymond had learned from a June 19, 2008 article in the Economist that introduced readers to the “endowment effect”:
once someone owns something, he places a higher value on it than he did when he acquired it—an observation first called “the endowment effect” [in 1980] by Richard Thaler, who these days works at the University of Chicago. . .
[The] neoclassical economists[’] assumption [is] that individuals act to maximise their welfare (the defining characteristic of economic man, or Homo economicus). The value someone puts on something should not, therefore, depend on whether he actually owns it. But the endowment effect has been seen in hundreds of experiments, the most famous of which found that students were surprisingly reluctant to trade a coffee mug they had been given for a bar of chocolate, even though they did not prefer coffee mugs to chocolate when given a straight choice between the two.
Brian Knutson of Stanford University describes a brain-scanning study he carried out recently. The pattern and location of the activity he observed suggests the endowment effect works by enhancing the salience of possible loss.
what is going on? Owen Jones, a professor of law and biology at Vanderbilt University, and Sarah Brosnan, a primatologist at Georgia State University, suspect the answer is that, in the evolutionary past, giving things up, even when an apparently fair exchange seemed to be on offer, was just too risky.
The [endowment effect] complicates the negotiation of contracts, as people demand more to give up standard provisions than they would have been willing to pay had they bargained anew.
In “Bloomberg,” Michael Lewis reports on parellel findings made by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, psychologists at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  Tversky and Kahneman concluded that:
human beings were not just occasionally irrational, but systematically irrational.  They had predictable biases -- for instance, they were inclined to draw radical conclusions from tiny amounts of information.   .   . most significantly, people responded very differently when a choice was framed as a loss than when it was framed as a gain. Tell a person that he had a 95% chance of surviving some medical procedure and he was far more likely to submit to it than if you told him he had a 5% chance of dying.
Looking at the worst of politics in my lifetime -- Southern segregationist violence against civil rights protesters in the early 1960’s, the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention police riot, shooting student protesters at Kent State in 1970, Nixon’s Watergate in 1972, Lee Atwater’s crypto-racist Willie Horton ads used to extend the Reagan-Bush era in 1988, the systematic, personal attacks on Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, Henry Hyde, and Ken Starr, justified by the Atwater model and used to defend Bill Clinton in the late 1990s, and the systematic, personal attacks on John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and especially Mitt Romney in 2012 -- all occurring when the party in power is on the losing side of the issues, shows me the viciousness of status quo defenders holding onto what they have.

The endowment effect.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Hillary, Electing a President We Trust to be Bad

From Tom Bevan, the conservative boss of “RealClearPolitics”:
A Quinnipiac poll showed Hillary Clinton running a substantial deficit [on] honest[y] and trustworth[iness]. Only 39% of voters said yes, while 53% said no. Among the crucial voting bloc of Independents, the gap expands to 31% yes and 61% no. . . [emphasis added] Yet the same poll showed Clinton leading all of her potential Republican rivals in head-to-head general election match-ups. So [polls] support Democrats’ contention that the relentless stream of unseemly stories about the Clinton Foundation is merely “a distraction” that is unimportant to voters.
Puzzled conservatives are beginning to explain how we could elect as president an unambiguously corrupt person. Here’s the view of Heather Wilhelm on why Hillary moves smoothly from scandal to scandal:
very few Hillary fans are Hillary fans because they see her, first and foremost, as “uncorrupted.” The issue of corruption, in fact, is barely a blip on their radar screens. Many hard-core Clintonites are just fine with growing, interconnected, technocratic, managerial government and the quiet crony capitalism that naturally accompanies it. Clinton’s campaign, being a business of sorts, knows and understands this, embracing its candidate’s core competency and ultimate projected image: the “connected,” well-known grandmother queen who “knows the ropes” and can help us all.
and can help us all.” Wilhelm has “got it.”

We are a divided nation between those who see government as a force for good, and those who believe government is the problem. Those closet to government know how corrupt and inefficient it is. It’s good and bad, but overall, it’s working for “me.” It draws taxes from those who can afford to pay, and it pays salaries or awards contracts to millions who in their own small to big ways, work angles to hold onto and expand what they have. It works because it pays off outsiders at the top who have accommodated to the system, and it helps millions below -- the victims of life -- who see government in terms of benefits received, and in return provide Democrats the votes that keep the government party in power.

The government base needs a leader who will preserve -- at any cost -- a system that works, in some fashion, in its corrupt way to be sure, for them. Right now, that person is HIllary.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Inner Cities: Personal Responsibility and Single Parents

Baltimore, April 2015
Catholic Ross Douthat, the New York Times house conservative, must walk a fine line between pushing his personal views and alienating his liberal audience. In the following statement, he is quietly defending traditional marriage. . . very quietly:
What a society believes and teaches about the link between sex, marriage and procreation has major implications for how, when and whether people couple, marry and raise children, which in turn has implications for every other societal arrangement.
Douthat means we’re better off with one father and one mother, bonded by marriage vows, raising their own children. That’s it. He’s not condemning anything.

In the same article, Douthat names abortion and hints at a problem:
In the . . .early ’70s, the pro-choice side of the abortion debate frequently predicted that legal abortion would reduce single parenthood and make marriages more stable, while the pro-life side made the allegedly-counterintuitive claim that it would have roughly the opposite effect; overall, it’s fair to say that post-Roe trends were considerably kinder to Roe’s critics than to the “every child a wanted child” conceit.
Douthat is making a very important point. The birth choice upper class parents believe is best for everyone isn’t working at the class level where choice means government subsidies and freedom from “marriage-first” morality.

African-American Columbia University professor John McWhorter, writing in the liberal “Daily Beast,” is much clearer than Douthat about how liberal good intentions have damaged urban America. McWhorter asserts that three key dynamics since the Civil Rights era began 50 years ago have generated the “inner-city misery” we see today:
First, the Black Power ideology that proliferated in the 1960s and ’70s discouraged black communities from maintaining the old-time mantra that adversity meant that blacks have to try twice as hard. The wise insight was that after centuries in the United States, the persistent double standard was demeaning, and while that made basic sense, it changed black America’s orientation towards individual initiative. That helps explain, for example, why only in the ’60s did it become common for poor blacks to burn their own neighborhoods in protest. Even amidst Jim Crow, black people did not do this.
Second, in the late ’60s, partly in response to the riots of the Long Hot Summers, welfare was transformed from a time-limited program intended for widows to an open-ended program that didn’t care whether recipients ever got jobs. This had the unintended consequence of discouraging marriage, and made it easier for women to raise kids without the father around. This, a story too little told, decisively impacted the black experience nationwide.
Finally, the War on Drugs created a black market alternative to legal work for poor black men underserved by bad schools. Frankly, “The Wire” explained this dynamic better than any academic analysis.
That’s 1) victimization replacing individual initiative, 2) family collapse, and 3) drugs. 1-2-3.

Michael Barone, in the conservative Washington Examiner, notes that liberals and conservatives now share a similar concern, even if their solutions differ:
Our kids, at least many of them, are not doing very well. The reason, writes [liberal] Harvard professor Robert Putnam in his just-published Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, is the "two-tier pattern of family structure" that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. . . Starting in the late 1960s, rates of divorce, unmarried births and single parenthood rose sharply among all segments of society. About a decade later, they fell and leveled off among the college-educated.
Among the bottom third of Americans in education and income, however, the negative trend accelerated. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was alarmed that 26% of black births were to unmarried children. The rate is about twice that for the least educated third of Americans of all races today. [emphasis added]
This shouldn't come as a surprise. Charles Murray's 2012 book Coming Apart describes the same phenomenon among white Americans. Curiously, Putnam [ignores] Murray's work. But Putnam agrees with Murray (perhaps grudgingly) that this is bad for the kids involved.
Like most high-education Americans, [Putnam] doesn't want to denounce people for breaking old moral rules even when that hurts their kids. The libertarian Murray doubts that government can do much. But he thinks that high-education elites, with their strong family structures, can. They need to "preach what they practice." Bloomberg's Megan McArdle, agreeing, nominates Hollywood for a lead role. Midcentury America's universal media -- radio, movies, television -- celebrated the old rules.
Hollywood preaching sound morality? So last century; so gone by the ‘60s.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Clintons’ stuck in “yesterday” (reprise).

Quotation without comment.

From Jonah Goldberg, Chicago Tribune Content Agency:

Denise Rich with Friends Bill and Hill
Marc Rich [was] a shady billionaire indicted for tax evasion and defying trade sanctions with Iran during the U.S. hostage crisis. Rich fled to Switzerland to escape prosecution.

[When] Bill Clinton pardoned Rich[, t]he ensuing scandal was enormous. . . It was widely believed that Rich had bought his pardon. Denise Rich, his ex-wife, had made huge donations to the Democratic party, including $100,000 to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign and $450,000 to the foundation building Bill Clinton’s presidential library.

Liberals were infuriated. “You let me down,” wrote the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen. “It’s a pie in the face of anyone who ever defended you. You may look bad, Bill, but we look just plain stupid.”

“It was a real betrayal by Bill Clinton of all who had been strongly supportive of him to do something this unjustified,” exclaimed then-Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.). “It was contemptuous.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) chastised, “It was inexcusable.” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd suggested Clinton had “traded a constitutional power for personal benefit.” Jimmy Carter all but called it bribery and said it was “disgraceful.”