Democracy In Primaries

This morning in the after-handball discussions we agreed with Jay Cost about the problems of primaries.  We identified the challenges of voting in Alabama today and then agreed that the final three in the presidential primaries were thoroughly unimpressive.  We didn’t know that Jay Cost (at NRO) had said about the same thing:

In my judgment, the top three finishers in 2016 among the two parties — Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders — were manifestly unfit characters to serve as commander in chief.

Jay can be an honorary handball player.  He then says it would be nice to have a solution to this problem we have seen in several presidential primaries and many senate primaries:

It is advisable instead to find some wise, virtuous, and public-spirited intermediate body that will channel the interests of the people into a slate of candidates who can represent the true welfare of the nation.

Yes it would be advisable.  He goes on to say:

It is advisable instead to find some wise, virtuous, and public-spirited intermediate body that will channel the interests of the people into a slate of candidates who can represent the true welfare of the nation.

Perhaps Madison and Jefferson are looking for a new gig.  If not, we will offer our services to both parties.  We share Jay’s concerns about democracy but we don’t see asking smaller groups to make the initial decisions will be any better.  In fact one of the presidential problems is the initial primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Our only solution is equally utopian.  We need a serious, diverse press that helps inform folks making those decisions.  We expect to see weak nominees continue at the state and national level because we don’t see a solution.


Understanding Jonah

We almost skipped Jonah Goldberg’s Newsletter because the title was “Don’t Choose The Lesser Of Two Evils.”  A simpler title would be don’t vote.  Voting is almost always a matter of voting for the lesser evil.  In Wisconsin we have had the opportunity (twice!) to vote for Ron Johnson against Russ Feingold and have the special joy of Ron winning both times.  That and Reagan in ’84 sums up the votes of almost 50 years that were not the lesser of two evils.  We suspect that our total of three is higher than average.  For example, if you are a conservative and live in NY and weren’t old enough to vote for James Buckley in 1970, there haven’t been many opportunities since then.

Sidebar: The Donald didn’t make our list.  We have said before that he was a dominant choice over Herself meaning that he was at least as good everywhere as her.  The problem is that they both have hideous character problems and are both anti-trade.  A dominant choice can still be the lesser evil.  End Sidebar.

Jonah’s newsletter confirmed our opinion and helped us to understand our differences.  Here is his argument against the obvious:

Tully Borland, a philosophy professor (!), writes, “Never voting for a lesser evil means never voting.” This is morally poisonous sophistry and casuistry.

Tully is overstating the case but just barely.  Jonah is, well, wrong.  It is not morally poisonous.  It is not sophistry (subtly deceptive).  It is not casuistry (specious [having deceptive allure] argument).  It is exactly the relevant argument.  We don’t know why Jonah thinks de Tocqueville would call something that is true a clear but false idea.  We are willing to accept that Doug Jones might be a better choice than Roy Moore but Jonah needs to tell us why.

Later he tells us we never recovered from declining moral consensus of the 60s and Bill Clinton.   He is exactly right when he says:

That moral consensus, for good and ill, started to break down in the 1960s. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton shattered it among liberal elites, who scrambled to find reasons to celebrate the president’s European sophistication as evidenced by his willingness to diddle the interns.

Yup, although there was consensus it was harder to get caught so we have only heard about all sorts of behavior, like JFK’s, that would have outraged the moral consensus then but wasn’t available on a timely basis.  Jonah concludes:

What we need — again — are universal standards of moral conduct.

We couldn’t agree more.  It isn’t gonna happen because it is difficult and there needs to be exceptions.  In regards to sexual harassment we think zero tolerance, any accusation is disqualifying, is a terrible idea.  Although it might be possible to create a grading rubric for sexual harassment it is quite a challenge.  Somebody at Powerline tried to start one, mostly in jest if we remember.

Folks in Alabama need to decide how to vote in the Senate race.  We don’t do this full-time so we don’t have an opinion on who is the lesser evil.  We will find out what Alabama thinks.  The Senate has passed the GOP tax bill but Congress critters need to agree on the conference bill that can be passed by both houses.  Here we are strongly in favor of the tax bill because it is a great deal less evil than the existing code.  Binary choices are often hard.  It is why, in general, we like governors for President.  Philosophy informs but rarely answers practical problems.

Tax Nonsense

Andrew Stuttaford has a long nonsense post at the NRO Corner.  Fortunately he explains why in the first paragraph so you don’t have to read anymore.  Here is Andrew’s first paragraph.  We have comments in brackets.

True tax reform  [no other improvements are relevant] should aim to satisfy four main ‘fiscal’ principles: It should aim at a tax system that is flatter (with lower nominal rates), broader (as many people as possible should have skin in the game) [only relevant for individuals], simpler and, even allowing—as I would –for some supply side magic, it should be fiscally responsible.  As that final goal is extremely difficult to reconcile with those earlier principles without either truly brutal [nope, but likely to be portrayed as such] claw-backs in entitlements (not something I would favor [something we very much favor]) or (my very clear preference [us too]) some sort of federal VAT/GST/Sales tax, both political impossibilities for now [agree], the best that can be hoped for is that any change in the tax regime should not worsen the country’s (unattractive) long term financial condition by too much.

Then Andrew says the plan does great things by reducing corporate rates and eliminating AMT but he sadly informs us that it is not true tax reform.  If you are wiling to accept less than the full MWG plan,

Sidebar: The full MWG plan starts with the Graetz plan and reduces or eliminates a variety of taxes including corporate taxes, AMT, tariffs, and gas tax while adding VAT and carbon taxes.  We are not holding our breath.  End Sidebar.

as we are, then the question is does it improve the current system?  The answer, as Andrew seems to admit is yes it does improve the country’s long term financial condition by improving the business side.  We too would like more improvements on the individual side but it is unlikely to happen.  At some point there will be a binary choice.  As long as the GOP proposal includes “true” business tax reform we are going to support it.  Andrew could have just said that he was waiting for true tax reform from a true Scotsman and we would have understood it in one sentence.

The Tax Bill 11/12/17

Well, there isn’t a tax bill at this time.  There are two: one in the Senate and the other in the House.  It isn’t a binary choice yet and there will be changes.  Although there could be some improvements it seems unlikely that there will be major changes.  We think that the crucial area for improvement at this time is in business taxes and both the proposals deliver that.  We are in agreement with Laurence Kotlikoff at WSJ:

But the new tax plan, while far from what I and other tax specialists would design, will boost the economy, generate more revenue, maintain fairness, and raise Americans’ living standards. It’s imperfect but worth passing.

Let’s find some other conservative opinions.  Edward Lazear at the WSJ likes the basic frame work but doesn’t like that the full expensing is temporary and has a solution to make it permanent:

One way to offset that would be to use a more targeted approach to reducing the taxes paid by small and midsize businesses.

We care about rates and not full expensing because most businesses are not manufacturing.  We don’t want targeted solutions.  We want lower rates for businesses.  We will count Edward are leaning towards passage.  The Editors at the WSJ have a different ruse, eliminating the Obamacare tax, in mind:

While the penalty raised $3 billion in revenue in 2015, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton points out that abolishing the mandate would actually be a revenue gusher under the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring rules. Last December CBO projected that repealing the mandate would save $416 billion over 10 years because fewer people would sign up for Medicaid or receive subsidies on the exchanges. Fewer workers might also enroll in employer-sponsored plans, which could result in more taxable compensation.

Being who they are we are pretty sure they will have a hard time supporting tax reform without reductions in individual rates.  We will count them as undecided.  George Will has an entirely different idea.  He is concerned that less people will pay income taxes.  He finds that payroll taxes are different from income taxes.  We are not sure why he thinks that.  He wants to repeal and replace the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) starting with repeal:

This year’s best tax bill, which Representative Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) has introduced six times since 2006, is four pages long and contains fewer words (411) than the new Republican bill has pages. It could be titled “The ‘What You Wished For, Mitch Daniels’ Act.” It is titled, with almost unprecedented accuracy, the “Tax Code Termination Act.” It would nullify the existing 4 million-word code as of Dec. 31, 2021, and require that by July 4 of that year it must be replaced by a new one, which would necessarily be one designed on purpose.

We are 100% with George but we don’t see why we can’t improve it now.  Kevin Williamson at NRO is taking aim at Catherine Rampell’s analysis of the Republican tax proposal in the Washington Post.  Kevin has been distracted by The Donald but he has great fun in this article although he really ought to pick on an equal.  You should read it all.  He starts off:

The Republican tax plan may be kind of dumb, but if it were three times as dumb as it is, it would only be half as dumb as the Washington Post’s analysis of it.

So Kevin, like us, supports a zero corporate tax rate and seems to support eliminating the death tax.  We would like a different tax reform but we are willing to vote for this one.  Kevin and George don’t seem to be getting enough reform.  It seems likely that they will get the status quo.

Our take is that we think the bill is a big improvement on the status quo on business taxation and that is the crucial area for reform.  We think that because many conservative pundits have a low option of The Donald they will argue for great solutions and that means it is less likely that we will get a good solution.  At some point it will become a binary choice.  We hope that everyone makes the right choice when it does.

Bjorn For Something

Bjorn Lomborg is back at the WSJ telling us to be rational about climate change.  It is a timely message given what happens when a hurricane or two hits the US.  Steven Hayward has a great hurricane chart.  Here is an example of Bjorn being rational:

In this case, the science is unambiguous. Rising temperatures mean that malaria-carrying mosquitoes can become endemic in more places.

But looking mainly to global-warming policies means missing the most important levers of tackling malaria. Malaria is a consequence of poverty: The worst affected are those poorer households in rural areas with less ability to purchase mosquito nets and treatment. Focusing on what we could achieve in the future through global-warming policies takes our attention away from what we could accomplish today.

Do read the whole thing.  If you meet a zealot send him to see Bjorn.  Bjorn is a climate change believer but he recognizes economics too.  See his website.

One topic we like to discuss is binary choices.  You can see that Bjorn uses binary choices as argument.  As he explains in more detail after the quote above, you can fight malaria by fighting climate change or by malaria prevention.  Malaria prevention is much cheaper and much more effective at saving lives.  Bjorn doesn’t mention it but malaria prevention is much more certain to be effective and much more timely than trying to address malaria by addressing climate change.

Unfortunately, Bjorn doesn’t appear to be a US citizen so he would need to be appointed to any government post.  Fortunately, he is making sense.

Enough Never Trump

We love Kevin Williamson, Jonah Goldberg is often entertaining, and David French writes but the NRO Never Trump Brigade needs to find a new song.  Today it is Kevin’s turn to salt the soil:

Some of the smarter right-wing talking mouths on cable news have already developed aggressive amnesia regarding their own complicity in Trump’s rise, and it is likely that many will follow. The line of argument will be: “Hey, I was a big Ted Cruz supporter, really, but, after the primary, it was Trump or Hillary.” Some people will need reminding of what they said and did.

To be fair to Kevin, he is against impeaching The Donald.  To be fair to us, we were for anyone but The Donald in the primary.  Like many, we were not a big Ted Cruz supporter but we voted for him in the primary because he was better than The Donald.  In the general election our first choice was Mitt’s second term but that wasn’t on the ballot.  The choice, and it was a binary one, was between The Donald and Herself.  We, and the country, made the right choice and voted for The Donald.

NRO deserves some credit for The Donald’s rise.  They were steadfastly against The Donald but tried to beat somebody (The Donald) with nobody for most of the primary season.  They, like many others, underestimated The Donald until it was too late and then nothing worked.

Many of The Donald’s supporters main concern was illegal immigration.  There has not been a legislative solution but there has been a change:

Illegal immigration across the southwest border is down more than 60 percent so far under President Trump, officials revealed Tuesday, even before the first new agent is hired or the first mile of his promised border wall is constructed.

Those supporters have gotten what they wanted.

It was a binary choice in November.  There were many folks that reluctantly supported The Donald.  It was the right choice.  If the Never Trump Brigade didn’t support The Donald in November then they were wrong.  They don’t need to admit it but the Never Trump Brigade needs to stop emulating The Donald.  Write less silly stuff.  Instead let us talk of serious things.

Binary Still

The Morning Jolt is discussing Conrad Black’s polemic when Jim says:

Maybe you saw Election Day 2016 as that strict binary choice. But we’re past Election Day. It’s time to stop measuring Trump merely as an alternative to Hillary and to start measuring him on his own merits. [Emphasis added]

Maybe?  The 2016 presidential election was a binary choice.  It still is.

Sidebar: Has Conrad ever written something that is not a polemic?  We enjoy him but  he can’t help recycle the same material: Nixon and FDR were great presidents and the US justice system.  This time Conrad says the Never Trump group has defected from being conservative Republicans.  It is a wonderful turn of phrase designed to infuriate his friends.  End Sidebar.

Moreover, comparisons, this time not binary, are how we measure presidents.  Reagan isn’t a great president because he batted 1.000.  He didn’t and no president is anywhere close to that mark.  Instead we compare presidents.  We need to criticize The Donald when appropriate but recognize the road ahead.

The 2020 presidential race is not yet a binary choice. If The Donald runs for the GOP next time is there anyone in the current crop of Democrats that you prefer?  We are not suggesting that you become a shill for The Donald but that you remember that there will be binary choices in the future.  So, yes, The Donald is still the [superior] alternative to Herself.