Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Why I bemoan Tuesday

On Tuesday, November 4, the United States held its presidential and congressional elections. As I am sure most of my readers know by now, the outcome was to elect the Democratic nominee, Obama, as well as increase Democratic gains in the House and Senate (although probably not filibuster-proof). To many, this news was greeted with elation; I do not count myself as one of those people. Let me explain why.

First and foremost, I dislike the results because the United States missed out on an opportune time to make up for its polarization. A Republican presidential victory would leave the government divided, a prospect I feel would be ideal for the government. In lieu of a true multiparty system, we have two major parties who will, by necessary of definition, tend to stake opposite sides of issues and, furthermore, stake them at opposite ends of the spectrum. Giving the entire government solely to one party—actually more, giving it to one with strong enough majorities to evade some mild dissenters—would have the effect of hindering debate.

During the Constitutional Convention, one issue that the drafters considered was the tyranny of the majority. One of the Federalist papers, No. 10, dealt with this topic, mostly by the argument that a larger region would have more diverse parties. However, the two-party system (among other factors) tends to dilute the power of size; another mechanism should be present.

This second mechanism is the tortuous process of law creation. A common criticism of Congress is that it is slow to act. Yet why should lack of speed of action be a bad thing? If one wishes to expedite a bill, one has to cut something out. Almost all of the time it takes to pass a bill is spent on debate. So improving Congress's reaction time would mean that one has to debate less and therefore rely on the bill being correct as it is. We don't regret any rushed actions, do we?

A divided government would force moderation as the Democrats would not have enough votes to override a Republican veto, so a bill would have to amenable to both (and therefore moderate in effect) to pass. With a Democratic president, the extreme positions could show up in laws more easily without general discourse. The large gains in Congress give the Democrats more ability to cut off dissent; thankfully, though, the Senate looks to not be filibuster-proof.

I have discussed enough on the theory of divided government; I also support the Republican candidate on several issues. On social issues I vary between whether or not I agree with McCain, but I do not base my decision on these. Chiefly this is because I think the president has no real power to enforce these opinions on a national level or even be able to have one of these opinions enter into law.

The primary issues I concern myself are more economic in nature. I am an ardent supporter of free trades and no economic subsidies (especially agricultural ones). In terms of policies such as energy, I opine that the government should not favor one alternative over another in terms of, say, research funding, as history has shown the government to be bad at picking winners.

A more generalized position I hold is that I am not in favor of socializing certain fields. One such field is health care; the issue I have here is not one of universal versus non-universal health care but one of privatized versus socialized health care. I am skeptical of claims that socialized (as opposed to privatized) health care would control costs or make health care more efficient. All studies I have seen compare across countries without accounting for factors that would vary between countries.

Another problem with socialization is that government needs restraint. Historically, governments have shown much delight in stealing from funds to pay for general costs, such as Argentina's pension system. Indeed, the United States is quite guilty of this, as our budgetary deficits are partially ameliorated by taking funds from the Social Security Trust.

The final issue I am concerned about is that of regulation. The recent economic and financial crisis has renewed a call for increased regulation. Lack of regulation played little part in the causes of this crisis. In fact, the entire mess started with the mortgage industry, which is the most regulated financial industry. Similarly, calls for caps on executive wages and windfall taxes have increased, both of which are known to discourage innovation. Note how many major oil producers with nationalized oil companies (like Venezuela) are facing problems maintaining output.

On all of this issues, Obama's policies are in clash with my views. He has called to renegotiate NAFTA, create a single-payer health system, enact windfall taxes, and, naturally, called McCain out on supporting deregulation. At least McCain is candid that the economy is his weak point.

And, most importantly of all, he would likely be able to rush his ideas to completion with less discussion. Oh well, we won't get another National Recovery Administration… I hope.


Anonymous said...

What is it with conversative and FDR? The guy took over a country on the brink and left it as history's first superpower. Why would you want to tear down that accomplishment?

Sheppy said...


I totally agree with you. I've never been a big fan of the times when one party held both the executive and legislative branches; it bypasses the system of checks and balances established by the Constitution.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you as well. Lets just HOPE that Obama makes good on the campaign promises.

Anonymous said...

> The guy took over a country on the
> brink and left it as history's
> first superpower.

1) It's not clear that this wouldn't have happened without him.

2) He did this at the cost of tossing away pretty much all that remained of the original 1789 constitution (though not on paper, of course; just in reality). It's not clear that this was a price worth paying, and we're still reaping the harvest that was then sowed when the US Govt engages in surveillance of its citizens.

Anonymous said...

"we have two major parties who will, by necessary of definition, tend to stake opposite sides of issues and, furthermore, stake them at opposite ends of the spectrum."

That is absolute rubbish. You have two parties, both of which want the vote of the majority of the population, and will hence have to adopt the positions held by the majority of the population (or that majority is going to vote for 'the other guy'). Which is why, just to give an example, both McCain and Obama want same-sex unions with equal rights, but don't want to call it marriage: because that is the point of view that can count on the most support among people.

The two party system is the prime reason that the diversity in the political spectrum in the US is so severely limited compared to other countries. To claim that they should somehow oppose each other on every single issue is ridiculous.

That, and of course, you're assuming this election was about issues, when the media coverage in the US clearly wasn't about issues, but about the candidates, their relationships (vague or not-so-vague) to other people, their "patriotism", etc.

nixar said...

"A more generalized position I hold is that I am not in favor of socializing certain fields. One such field is health care;"

Hi from France.

According to the WHO, we have the best health care system in the world, as measured by quality, access and equality.
Health care here is not, contrary to what you might believe, completely "socialized." Doctors have private practices. Many hospitals are privately owned. What is mostly socialized is basic health insurance. And it works very well that way. The insurance system is as a result WAY more efficient than the US's. The economies of scale of having one system to manage claims and collect dues are enormous.
For example on a typical trip to the doctor, there are not a single form to fill in. He just inserts your insurance smart card in the reader; you pay him the cost of the visit, and a week later 70% of the cost is wired to your account. If you have complementary insurance, the rest is wired automatically too. If you got a prescription, you just go to the pharmacist, who again inserts your card in the reader, and you only have to disburse the co-pay or nothing at all with the optional complementary insurance. No time wasted dealing with stupid insurance papers.
Additionally, there are strong regulations. Just like every other developed country BUT the US (and maybe another one I forgot), advertising for prescription drugs is illegal (except in professional journals).
The insurance system negotiate prices with health providers on a national basis. This keeps prices down. Providers can opt out if they so choose, but they do not get covered as a result. Pfizer, for example, didn't ask coverage for Viagra®, so that they could sell it at a premium. Complementary insurance providers can of course provide coverage for those if they want.
So enough with the red-baiting. "Socialism" is not a bad word outside of the US, and the results are clear: cheaper, better healthcare. Higher life expectancy. Lower infant mortality.
And remember: when the uninsured paupers get TB, they can infect the rich, too.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you largely.
We have socialized healthcare here in Austria and though our health standards are good, we know that much more money is getting lost in administration than necessary, which is a general problem with socialized systems. Additionally, we created another two-class medicine with it, as people get treated better if they have additional private healthcare plans.
Also, I'm glad I see someone else who agrees that the current financial crisis is not a matter of regulation.
The interesting thing is that right now, my hope lies in those who I usually despise - Washington lobbies. While I would have trusted McCain to reduce their influence (which I'd have cheered for), I'm pretty sure Obama has very close ties to them and will follow them a lot (ever wondered where he got all that campaign money from and why McCain had much more problems raising money there?) - and the lobbies don't want too revolutionary changes. I just don't feel good when trusting people I dislike for their practices to actually keep stability...

Al said...

Why am I reading this on I (and most others) keep our politics off of planet and only send Mozilla stuff to it. Please consider doing the same so I and others are tempted to post our left wing thoughts to it for you to read.

guanxi said...

I think the point about divided government is a good one, though IMHO it's outweighed by other considerations. Some of the facts in the post may not be entirely on the money:

"the government should not favor one alternative over another in terms of, say, research funding, as history has shown the government to be bad at picking winners."

I don't know the numbers, but a huge amount of research, from which you benefit, is funded by the federal government, for example through the National Science Foundation. Probably no country in the history of the world has done better research. 1) The gov't seems to be doing a pretty good job; 2) Who else will pay for things like HIV and cancer research?

"the issue I have here is not one of universal versus non-universal health care but one of privatized versus socialized health care."

I'm not sure what you mean by "socialized" exactly, but privatized, universal care is difficult. Private businesses don't want to take on high-risk customers (e.g., with a genetic heart problem). The insurer that does will attract more high-risk customers and lose money. Customers who are too poor to pay are another problem. The money must come from someplace.

"I am skeptical of claims that socialized (as opposed to privatized) health care would control costs or make health care more efficient."

You may be surprised to know that the US gov't spends more on health care than any other country (IIRC). Medicare costs over $400 billion per year; Medicaid costs over $300 billion per year.

In fact, Americans as a whole, including the privately insured, spend 3 times as much on health care than Western Europeans -- those with nationalized health care or insurance-- and get the same or worse results. It's not like we live longer or healthier, and the lack of medical insurance for 40 million citizens is embarrassing, leaving us with high infant mortality rates, among other things.

So we already have huge government programs, we spend far more than everyone else, and we are getting terrible results.

Anonymous said...

Socialized (as opposed to privatized) health care would control costs or make health care more efficient...All studies I have seen compare across countries without accounting for factors that would vary between countries.

Here's my simple and highly accurate model of international health care costs amongst ALL first world countries:

base_cost = $3000

If (countryname contains "USA") then
cost = base_cost * 2
bureaucracy = 30% * cost

There are other factors that matter a little, of course, but they pale into insignificance compared to "USA-ness."

American exceptionalism is a disastrous ideology. It should really be quite embarrassing how it has blinded Americans to massive market inefficiency.

P.S. Government-run health care within the USA (in particular Veterans Affairs hospitals) already provides good care with efficiency similar to other countries. There's really nothing about America that mandates unique solutions.

Jeff Walden said...

In response to the very first comment, I would suggest 1) that alternative methods not involving drastic expansions of government quite possibly might have returned it to health much faster and at least cost, and 2) that much of that rise occurred at the expense of a ballooning national debt and devastation throughout many parts of the world, most notably Germany and Japan. I do not believe FDR deserves much of the credit he is generally accorded for seeing the nation through the Depression.

Al, planet is the people of Mozilla and what they do, both in and out of Mozilla-related affairs, and content is rightly unrestricted except at the posters' discretion. Try reading GNOME's planet sometime; you'll have a thicker skin from doing so.

Also, why is it these complaints never seem to make it on the left-leaning posts on planet.m.o in recent days? It seemed like every other post I made back when I was hiking the A.T. the last several months (I'm finished now but haven't posted about it, nor have I finished any more posts going further south than VT) had at least one comment from someone complaining about off-topicness, but I haven't noticed any on the recent leftward posts. I think there's something of a double standard here, although since all such comments I received were pseudonymous it's impossible to tell.

Again, as I say every time this comes up: Next and Delete are easy to use.

Martijn said...

Well, that's what you get with a two party system. The risk that one party gets all the power is much greater, that way.

Al said...

Great, Jeff. I'll start funneling all of my political posts to planet since it is what Mozilla people do. If you look at my blog directly, you'll see that there have been several recently that never made it.

For most of us, we engage in discretion in what goes to planet. If it is technical or related to Mozilla in some way, it obviously goes. It if is something that we think might be especially interesting to the Mozilla community, it goes. Generally speaking, religious and political posts do not go because they are divisive or partisan. Obviously, you think that people in the community want to read your politics. I'd be quite surprised if that was true but you'll do as you wish anyway.

Al said...

I'll point out, by the way, that even John Lilly, the CEO of Mozilla, doesn't send his political posts to planet but restricts them to his blog directly.

Joshua Cranmer said...

As this is my post over all, let me respond to some of these comments. Before I begin, I would like to ask people to at least put a name (or handle) instead of anonymous to make responding to posts a little easier.

#1: FDR's presidency was not clear and dry. Study up on the court-packing scheme or the Japanese internment camps for example. Also note that his famed achievement was bring the US out of the depression: Hitler (sorry, Godwin) did the same thing for Germany and most people probably don't remember him as a great leader.

#2 (sheppy): :-)

#3: Some of them I could stand without... like renegotiating NAFTA.

#4: <nothing to add>

#5: Elections might not be decided on issues, but the candidates certainly treat it as if they were elected on the basis of their platforms. It doesn't matter what candidates say they do during election cycles; it matters what they actually do when in office.

#6 (nixar): A comment I will repeat often: I'm trying to isolate socialization per se; your comparisons didn't isolate the issue (to be fair, I haven't seen one that fairly isolates it). I also have, at theoretical levels, objections to why socialization per se fails to decrease health care costs, which I'll be happy to share in a better medium if you wish.

#7 (KaiRo): Nice point about the health care. Re the lobbying points: the public view of lobbying is more of a Congressional issue (only Congress can set Congress's rules); if you're referring to lobbying of federal agencies, I don't know how big a deal that turns out to be in practice. So though it is an issue I recognize, I don't know how having a more anti-lobbying president would help.

#8 (al): I chose to let this migrate to planet because I noticed a few pro-Obama posts there and nothing of the other side, so I wanted to balance it out a bit. Note that I purposely posted after the election and also that political discourse on my blog is rare; indeed, it will probably be over a year before I consider another political post.

#9 (guanxi): I should have clarified a bit more. I referred to specific laws picking specifics, e.g. requiring certain amounts of fuel from ethanol as opposed to certain amounts of energy derived from renewable, non-polluting sources. Government in this entry is supposed to be read as more limited to "Congress + President" as opposed to "all agencies employed in the public sector."

Again, there is a repetition of statistics that have confounding variables.

#10: Once again, you have statistics which are failing to isolate the issue that I was trying to discuss.

#11 (Waldo): Thanks for the help :-).

#12 (martijn): Well, some multi-party systems seem to have problems, but I'm not even going to try to compare when there are confounding factors that make comparing health care statistics look reasonable.

#13 + 14 (al): Realize that November 4 was a day in politics that happens (depending on your viewpoint) only once every two or four years, and a highly unusual one of these rare occurrences. Suffer a few posts on politics on planet and you won't see them for a long while.

Al said...

All right.

By other side, I must assume you mean "Republican" since the dualism makes no sense otherwise. :-)

I'm not a party member but I still think people should keep religion and politics off of planet or expect it from everyone. I'll drop this thread now though.

Jeff Walden said...

A rather belated reply, got distracted by any number of other things, but better late than never...

Al, if we ever reach a point where someone's political posts are endemic, we can act then. A post here and there that's political isn't going to hurt anyone.

As for whether I think anyone wants to read them, I expect at least a few people do -- we're big enough that we're going to encompass everyone. However, that's not the point; I am who I am, and p.m.o is a collection of people who are who they are (or who they choose to be).

I think we can agree John Lilly is a bit of a special case. Nobody reputable would seriously believe any of my posts which happen to touch upon politics represent any sort of Mozilla stance, but that mistake might be made for a post by the MoCo CEO.