You’ve heard it a million times by now… Trump and Hillary have record-breaking negative favorability ratings. They are both facing significant opposition from forces within their own parties who solemnly vow that they will never support them. One is facing a civil trial for allegedly defrauding customers in a huckster sales-pitch “educational” program, the other is fearing a potential federal indictment for mishandling classified information.
Surely this is it – the moment we’ve all been waiting for. With such unpopular mainstream candidates, this is finally the chance for a third-party, if not to win the election, then at least to steal a significant share of the vote, make a real impact, and signal to disenfranchised citizens across the country that they are no longer beholden to a corrupt two-party system. The libertarian party is especially well-positioned to cash-in, as it has some awareness and credibility (particularly among young people) and is the only third party to have ballot access in all 50 states. Gary Johnson is already polling at ten percent! How could we ever have a better opportunity than this? It’s everything we could possibly have hoped for!
Too bad there’s no chance it’s going to amount to anything.
I am officially predicting that the Gary Johnson (recently selected as the libertarian nominee) will receive less than 2% of the popular vote in November. (As a frame of reference, he got 0.99% of the vote in 2012).
There are several reasons why the libertarian party generally and Johnson specifically are doomed to failure-as-usual. First, let’s deal with the “likeability” factor. Polls on favorability are generally treated as a proxy for how much the candidate is personally liked by voters – not necessarily a measure of “how much do you agree with the candidate’s positions.” Given that Hillary essentially admits she wants “more of the same” from the Obama days, and that many of Trump’s “extreme” positions (preventing immigration through physical barriers, using torture, targeting non-combatants in military strikes, granting preferred immigration status to certain groups over certain other groups) are in fact already current policy (even if people don’t realize it), it would seem that negative judgments about the candidates are rooted mainly in personality and/or character – rather than on their stated policies. In other words, people hate Trump and Hillary personally, but they don’t particularly hate the policies that either candidate advocates for.
But what about the #NeverTrump conservatives and the BernieBros? They have spelled out detailed objections to the actual policies advocated by the candidates of the party with which they normally identify. The neocons attack Trump for not being a “real conservative”. They hate that he isn’t sufficiently pro-war, pro-life, or pro-gender exclusive bathrooms. Meanwhile, the main policy objection to Hillary from Bernie supporters is that she is a puppet of establishment interests headquartered on Wall Street. She doesn’t want to raise the minimum wage high enough, she doesn’t want to raise taxes high enough, and she isn’t going to create enough new entitlement programs. Basically, conservatives hate Trump for not being conservative enough, and liberals hate Hillary for not being liberal enough.
Enter the libertarian! Fiscally conservative and socially liberal! Something for everyone to love, right? Maybe – but more importantly, also something for everyone to hate. Why would a social conservative who hates Trump for being too liberal support someone who is pro-choice, pro-drug legalization, and was ahead of even Obama on the gay marriage bandwagon? Why would young millennial socialists support a candidate who, last time around, campaigned on the basis of having vetoed countless bills for new spending programs and who advocates a fair tax system (aka, tax cuts for the rich, tax increases for the poor)? In both cases, voting for Johnson would require them to compromise on some of their most deeply held principles… and if they were willing to do that, they’d go ahead and just vote for Trump or Hillary. The whole point of a third-party protest vote is that you don’t have to compromise your core beliefs.
Let’s also address the polls supposedly so favorable to Johnson. As far as I can tell, the polls where Johnson does as well as ten percent are “three way match-up” polls where respondents are presented three choices and three choices only: Hillary, Trump, and Johnson. Unfortunately, no actual voter will be presented with this choice come November. Technically speaking, they will be presented with two choices. The first choice is whether to even bother voting at all. Given the spectacular failure of third parties (leading to the popular notion that voting for one is “throwing your vote away”) – the most logical decision for someone who hates both Trump and Hillary is to stay home entirely and just pass on voting altogether. But even those who value the act of voting and desire to “make their voice heard,” will be presented with a different set of options. The ballot they actually see will include Trump, Hillary, Johnson, numerous other third party candidates (likely to include candidates from the Green Party and Constitution Party who will be much more in line with the beliefs and preferences of socialists and neocons), and a write-in spot. If you want to vote for someone other than Trump or Hillary, you will have several options in addition to Johnson. It would seem as if ten percent represents his absolute ceiling in the most favorable of conditions: that all of the people who really hate Trump/Hillary actually show up to vote, and that he wins nearly 100% of those votes. Call me crazy, but I just don’t see that as terribly realistic.
While on a superficial level conditions may appear right for this to be the election where a third-party challenger finally shows legitimacy, further analysis indicates the opposite. Most of the claimed justifications for libertarian success are simply hollow and fail to stand up to serious scrutiny. Not only is Johnson a terrible representative for the ideas of libertarianism in general, but he will be a failure as a candidate as well. Don’t believe the hype.
A male-only club at Harvard is being pressured to admit female members. They don’t want to do this. One of the justifications they give for keeping the club gender-exclusive is that it might lead to increased sexual assaults. The left strongly rejects this sentiment, characterizes it as victim-blaming, and states that separating the genders is “at odds with the aspirations of the 21st-century society.”
A former Uber driver is launching a competing service – it’s just like Uber, only it caters to women only. It will only employ female drivers and will only accept female customers. The justification provided is that it enhances the safety and privacy of women and decreases the chances they will be sexually assaulted. Their lawyer is quoted as saying “we are confident that our hiring of women drivers constitutes a bona fide occupational qualification, where doing so is necessary to uphold the privacy, safety and security of our drivers and riders.” The left is applauding this service for providing much-needed relief from the obvious dangers of co-ed taxi cabs.
So which is it, people? Is the mixing of genders inherently dangerous, or isn’t it? It’s almost as if there’s an obvious double standard in play, such that women should be allowed to have their own gender-exclusive clubs, businesses, and services, but men should not. That excluding women from a male only gathering is sexist and wrong, but excluding men from a female only gathering is progressive and in the best interests of public safety. But no, that couldn’t possibly be the case – after all, the only thing these people want is gender equality, right?
Typically when I read a book that is relevant to the interests of this blog, I simply write a brief mini-review in the “Reading List” section and call it a day. But this book was so fascinating to me that I thought it deserved a post of its own. It should be required reading for anyone who is interested in communism generally or the Soviet Union specifically.
The book is essentially a collection of the observations and musings of John Scott, an American of socialist leanings who, in the 1930s, confronted with the great depression in America and hearing so much about the wonderful revolution taking place in Russia, decided to learn a trade (welding) and emigrate to the Soviet Union. He ended up assigned to Magnitogorsk, formerly a barren wasteland hardly suited to grazing the animals of nomadic tribes, destined to be converted to a center of production and industry by sheer force of brute manpower due to Stalin’s desire to have industrial production located far away from the western border (so that invading armies wouldn’t be able to disrupt industry).
What makes the story particularly interesting is how refreshingly honest and objective it is. Scott obviously supports the ideals of socialism, and even seems to have a certain fondness for Stalin himself. And yet, this doesn’t prevent him from describing the situation exactly as it was. He details the astoundingly low standard of living faced by most of the workers. He acknowledges how unfair and counterproductive it was for the communists to disenfranchise the kulaks (formerly wealthy peasants who were stripped of their possessions and treated essentially as prisoners following the revolution). He details the chilling effect of the political purges of the late 1930s and the overall callous disregard for the value of human life.
But following these descriptions, there is usually something of an afterthought. A hint of justification for the crimes and misdeeds of the Soviet regime. Scott discusses how despite all of the hardship, there was a certain sense of accomplishment and camaraderie among the workers. He describes returning to America and being astounded by the significantly higher standard of living, but still feeling a bit sad for his friends and family who seemed to fear losing it all at a moment’s notice (as opposed to the Russian worker, who had little to fear because they had already been through so much hardship). While my instinct is to castigate the author whenever he goes in to one of his “Yes it was bad, but think of the difficulty of what they had to accomplish!” sections, I hesitate to do so, because I think his story and his analysis speak to a deeper part of the human psyche that is often left unexplored.
Generally speaking, I believe that human beings are incredibly flexible and mentally adaptable to their circumstances. Despite how most of us read of various terrible historical scenarios and say to ourselves, “I could never stand something like that!” I’m quite certain that if we were forced into such an environment, the vast majority of us would eventually adapt and get along well enough. We would accept our circumstances for what they are, and learn to do the best we could within them, finding success and happiness where we can, savoring the “little things” in life, etc. This adaptability of the human spirit has potentially broad significance towards political theory in terms of just how much the government can get away with. The Soviet experiment (along with other oppressive regimes around the globe) was a giant test of exactly this sort of theory. Even though their daily life included things that to us seem like unimaginable hardships, the average Russian was essentially a normal person, just wanting to work, make some money, raise a family, and enjoy life. Scott’s book goes a long way towards emphasizing and reminding us of the universal humanity we all possess.
We’ve seen this logic invoked before when Obama has talked about gun control, and as a result, gun sales have risen and the share price of gun maker stocks have gone up. Something about it has always rubbed me the wrong way, but I didn’t really put it all together until today.
The core premise is that when Obama threatens gun control, it causes people to hurriedly buy guns out of fear that, in the near future, they might have difficulty buying said guns. Therefore, sales spike, and since sales are up, shares in the companies who make the guns go up. But there is a fundamental problem in this analysis – the increased sales are not additional sales. No new demand is created. These are people who planned, at some point, on buying guns anyway – they just have to do it sooner rather than later.
In economics, this is known as “demand shifting.” The most famous example of government policy leading to demand shifting is probably the much lauded “cash for clunkers” program, which it turned out didn’t really help the economy in the long-term at all. It didn’t cause people who weren’t going to buy cars at all to buy them – rather it just caused people who were going to buy a car anyway to do so sooner than they otherwise would have. So a particular company, let’s say Ford, sells more cars than they would have today, but it comes at the cost of selling fewer cars than they otherwise would have in some future period.
But let’s leave cars behind and return to gun stocks. I don’t want to get too into the weeds of your intro college finance course, but let’s review some of the basic concepts involved here. A stock is essentially a certificate that entitles you to a share of a company’s future profits. The price of a stock is, essentially, an estimate of what a company’s future profits will be, divided by the total amount of shares that exist.
If all that’s going on here is demand shifting, it doesn’t make any sense that stock prices for gun companies would rise by a significant amount. While it’s true that “money today” is better than “money in the future,” interest rates are near zero and time preference doesn’t go nearly far enough to explain why the stocks would rise by so much. Wall Street analysts are very smart people who research stocks in detail and forecast for the long-term. So what’s going on here?
My theory is that Wall Street analysts are approaching this situation with the theory that any new gun control regulations will benefit the large gun companies. This runs contrary to the typical news media coverage of government regulation which stipulates that big business hates regulation and favors small government.
This is completely untrue. Most regulation of industry is lobbied for by the biggest companies in a particular industry. Typically, representatives of the largest companies serve on the regulatory commissions and often literally write the regulations in question. Generally speaking, big companies like regulation because they will control it, and they are so large that it will be easy for them to comply with it. But smaller competitors (and hypothetical future competitors that do not yet exist) will not have such direct involvement in defining the regulations, and the burden that regulations represent will be much more difficult for them to overcome.
This phenomenon is known as “regulatory capture” and is the process by which large companies use the government to help them eliminate competition and make higher profits than they otherwise would have.
My guess is that this is exactly what Wall Street expects to happen regarding gun control regulations. Large players like Smith & Wesson and Ruger will be able to influence gun regulations and will be able to easily adapt to them. But smaller companies will not, and the increased burden of regulation will make the industry less attractive to entrepreneurs, thus discouraging new entrants from competing.
So beware the media narrative that Obama and the big gun companies are bitter enemies, and don’t buy into the incredibly short-sighted analysis that short-term demand shifts leading to sales spikes are influencing stock prices in a major way. Something else is going on here, and it’s the same story we’ve seen again and again throughout history. The government is embarking on a massive scheme that will reduce competition and benefit a few large companies at the expense of everyone else. Rather than heroically resisting the encroaching tyranny of the federal government, the gun companies are hoping to wield government force as a weapon against their competitors. If you think they will succeed, these stocks are probably a good buy. Otherwise, it’s a massive overreaction that will surely spell disaster for investors.
How very odd that, for the second time in the public arena, Hillary Clinton has immediately jumped to the conclusion that Muslims will react to criticism with acts of violence and terrorism. Note that this is the same reasoning she used when initially (and incorrectly) blaming the Benghazi attacks on a Youtube video – that criticizing or marginalizing Islam in any way will necessarily result in increased recruitment of Muslims into terrorist organizations, and will incite said organizations to carry out more attacks. It’s worth noting that Hillary was not alone in following this line of reasoning – several other GOP candidates echoed similar thoughts at the most recent debate, suggesting that “security experts” have claimed that Trump’s proposals “make America less safe” (but unlike Hillary, they left it at that and refused to outline just how or why it would do so).
Yet somehow, despite using this determinist sort of logic, she is portrayed as the enlightened one, while Trump is an evil racist for suggesting that Muslim immigration be temporarily halted. But let’s outline the logic of Trump’s plan as opposed to Hillary’s. As far as I can tell, Trump’s logic is as follows:
Now you can dispute any one of those three points if you’d like, but IF each of those three points are correct, then Trump’s logic is sound and is not racist in any way. He is fully acknowledging that many Muslims are not terrorists, and puts the blame mainly on inadequate screening processes.
On the other hand, Hillary’s logic seems to be missing a step:
But what could it be that fits in there to #2? Why, nothing more than a bigoted assumption that some relevant percentage of Muslims react to criticism with violence. While that might seem like a reasonable assumption (depending on how you define the “relevant percentage”), it seems odd that Hillary (and the rest of the left) do not apply this same standard to any other group they dislike and/or consider dangerous.
Let’s leave Hillary behind for a moment and go back to Point #1 in Trump’s logic – that the majority of attacks are committed by Muslims. There happen to be many on the left who dispute this point. In fact, here is one of many articles on Salon suggesting that the “real” danger in America is white, male, extremists. The author states “This is why we must begin to understand whiteness as a kind of violent fundamentalism…” This sort of opinion is not rare among the far left – it is repeated on a daily basis at Salon and other such websites.
And yet, nobody, on the left or on the right, criticizes Salon for saying things like this. Somehow, the logic that Hillary invoked above in regards to Muslims – that saying unkind things about them will necessarily lead to more violence, is never applied to the supposedly more dangerous “right-wing extremists.” I challenge any reader to link me to a single piece of writing that strongly criticizes anyone who has insulted white males under the logic that it will cause additional violence from said white males. It may be out there somewhere, but I’ve never seen it. As dangerous as Salon says right-wingers are, they don’t seem to actually believe it. Where is the fear that articles on Salon about “white fundamentalism” will be used as recruitment material for the KKK? Where are the security experts insisting that criticism of pro-lifers “makes us less safe?”
Salon and the radical left can rant and rave all they want about how Muslims are kind and peace-loving and how social conservatives are the real threat – but their behavior indicates a completely opposite position. To conservative white males, they admit a certain degree of agency, rationality, and moral culpability. They don’t seem to believe that white males will inevitably respond to criticism with increased violence (or if they do believe it, they don’t believe the effect is significant enough to dissuade them from engaging in such criticism). But this agency, rationality, and culpability is not granted to brown people living in the middle east. They are treated as mindless drones, who react to certain stimuli with a degree of inevitability – and as such, it is our responsibility to not provide the stimuli, rather than to expect them to behave like civilized and enlightened individuals.
Which gets me back to my headline. In regards to how they treat Muslims, Hillary is a bigger racist than Trump and it’s not even close. Trump’s plan deals with an operational problem – we can’t tell the terrorists from the non-terrorists, therefore it’s better to error on the side of caution. You can dispute this if you’d like, but the logic itself is not inherently racist. Hillary, the left, and the neo-cons, present the problem as one of religious and/or racial determinism – echoing the sentiments of 19th century slaveowners. They insist that given X, Muslims will do Y, but fail to apply that same reasoning to any other group, even groups they seemingly dislike just as much (if not more). This is textbook bigotry, and should be called out as such.
I do not fear that Trump’s statements or policy proposals will make us less safe – because I view Muslims the same way I view everyone else: as rational, intelligent, moral human beings who choose to be violent or non-violent for a wide variety of factors. I believe that acts of violence and terror should be denounced – regardless of where they exist or what color people are committing them. I apply this standard equally to radical jihadists, neo-nazis, and black lives matter protestors. Can Hillary Clinton and Salon say the same?
My favorite moment of the last GOP debate was when Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, after some good-natured ribbing back and forth, engaged in a low-five near the podium. It was a really humanizing moment for both of them and got me to thinking “What if these two actually teamed up?” At first I dismissed it as crazy, but after thinking about it for a while, I legitimately think that selecting Jeb Bush as his running mate is one of the smartest things Trump could possibly do. Here are about 6.5 reasons why.
There have already been several occasions where Trump has been challenged on his individual lack of knowledge about specific topics, or specific steps he will take to implement his policies. His response is usually something like, “Look, I’m going to get a team full of really smart people, and they’ll be the best team and the smartest people, and we’re going to figure it out together.” While the media typically spins this as a cop-out and a non-answer, anyone who has spent any time in business can tell you it’s actually a pretty accurate representation of how things generally work. The CEO of a company isn’t expected to know every single detail of every single department. His main task is that of team builder. He isn’t Iron Man, he’s Nick Fury. His main job is to put the right people in place and let them do their thing. As a (relatively) successful businessperson, Trump almost certainly has decades of experience doing this, and in the long run, this is probably a more useful skill to have than “has successfully memorized the names of every cabinet minister in Tajikistan.”
This is somewhat related to #1, but with a slightly different spin. Trump also regularly faces criticism that his views differ from “expert consensus.” This typically rears its face in scientific (vaccine-related arguments) or economic (immigration arguments) issues. But Trump has also conceded that he is open to changing his mind if new evidence is introduced. He could help hammer this point home by appointing as his top advisor someone who disagrees with him on many issues, but is generally accepted as an expert politician if nothing else. Trump can easily spin this as “I’m an expert on making deals and negotiating, Jeb is an expert on the overall political environment, and together, we’ll be unstoppable!”
Which leads us right into the “inexperienced” criticism. This is probably the most obvious benefit, as it has been very typical in recent elections for tickets to include one person who casts themselves as the independent outsider, and the other person who casts themselves as the steady, experienced, political veteran. This is exactly why Obama was willing to saddle himself with the idiotic serial-creepazoid that is Joe Biden. The one thing Biden brought was the ability to say “I’ve been around politics for fucking ever,” which seemed to satisfy all the “EXPERIENCE IS THE BEST THING TO HAVE” people well enough. Scott Adams (who was way early to the “Trump is going to win” bandwagon) has suggested that Trump should pick someone like Mark Cuban, but what good does that do? Trump already has more than the necessary amount of outsider credentials and status. He needs to balance that out with a boring party hack. And they don’t get much boringer or hackier than Jeb Bush…
Which means that not only can Trump balance out his ticket with an experienced person, but he can also balance it out with a “nice guy.” Traditionally, the candidate ends up playing the role of the civilized, calm, collected, intellectual while the VP plays the role of attack dog (think Obama/McCain and Biden/Palin). But let’s be real – there’s no way Trump is ever going to be civilized and dignified. Nor should he be, as that isn’t his strength. Once Jeb is signed up, he can have a full-time job going around the country and “clarifying” (basically apologizing but without officially saying so) any “gaffes” Trump commits. Trump could continue to wander the country saying really outlandish things, and Jeb can begin every one of his interviews with “Look, Donald is a really passionate and energetic guy who knows how to connect with the American people. I think the issue that we’re really trying to get at here is… *insert 30 minutes of sleep-inducing policy analysis that people who work for the Washington Post will find really interesting here*”
So far, there have been many occasions where Trump has come across as a bully and an asshole. This helps him a lot with certain people, but undoubtedly hurts him with others (is it sexist if I say this is probably mostly women?) But Jeb has been his biggest rival thus far. To end up offering something of an olive branch to someone who he was once viciously insulting shows that Trump isn’t really a mean guy – that it was only business. It shows that he can work together with someone he disagrees with for the purpose of achieving a common goal. This plays in VERY well with his entire businessman persona and presents him as someone who is brash, but can compromise when he needs to.
Let’s be honest – the GOP still doesn’t like this guy and is desperately pouring all of their resources into Carly Fiorina in the hopes that she can do something, anything, to get him out of the picture. While Trump has already signed the “GOP loyalty pledge” (a move that I don’t think helps him much at all), he probably still needs to do a little more to win over the GOP faithful, and I’m not just talking about the big donors and the other politicians here. There are a decent amount of GOP voters out there who actually do listen to Sean Hannity every day and are fiercely loyal to the GOP itself, period, full stop. Selecting one of “their” guys would be a nice bit of outreach that those people would probably appreciate, and would help “unite the party” such as it is…
Bonus. It bolsters the “Bush legacy.”
OK, this isn’t so much a reason for why Trump should select Bush, but why Bush should accept. Let’s think about the Bush family presidential legacy for a quick second. Bush 1 was Reagan’s goofy, nerdy, sidekick who had one job and failed massively at it. Bush 2 was seen as a bumbling idiot who was the straight man to Dick Cheney’s evil overlord pulling the strings behind the curtain. But in comparison to Trump, Jeb would be seen as the genius. He would be the smartest guy in the room. Surely that would be a welcome change for the family image, would it not?
DISCLAIMER: I don’t really care about politics that much at all, and I don’t plan on voting in the primaries or in the general. I’m following this stuff for entertainment value only, and wrote this piece primarily because I think it’s a good idea that I haven’t really heard anyone else advocate just yet.