Should You Vote Third-Party?

JohnsonSteinIn short, no. That is, unless you’re truly fine with either a Trump or a Clinton Presidency. Here’s why.

The appeal of a third-party vote is understandable. Neither Trump or Clinton are particularly compelling candidates. But it’s important to recognize that while voting for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein may feel good, and may be dutifully registering your protest, at the end of the day, either Trump or Clinton will still be President. This is not just a matter of resignation, but a matter of the structure of American government. Our winner-take-all approach to elections assures there will never be more than two major parties. Who those parties are may change. After all, before Republicans we had Whigs. What those parties represent may change. I’m pretty sure Lincoln’s GOP wouldn’t recognize today’s platform as the same party in anything but name. But in a twist on The Highlander, “There can be only two.” It’s fundamental to the design laid out in the Constitution. Short of changing that document, we are not, and will not be, a multi-party system like the Parliamentary forms of government found in Canada, Australia, and most of Europe.

Further, bear in mind that the best possible outcome of having a popular third-party candidate is that no one gets 270 electoral votes in November. But this means that the House now gets to elect the President from among the top three finishers. The House is presently controlled by the GOP. You do the math.

So if you believe neither party represents you, work to change one of them, or even to supplant one. But supplanting a party doesn’t start at the top. Electing a Green Party or Libertarian President provides no support for that party’s platform in the other branches of government. The Congress, the courts, the states are still all controlled by Democrats or Republicans. So even if they were to win, for Stein or Johnson to actually accomplish anything, they’d need to align with one party or other and settle for nudging that party’s platform a wee bit in their direction.  Otherwise, they’d just sit out their term tilting at windmills. Until we start seeing Libertarian, Green, or other party controlled states electing that party’s people to Congress, a third-party Presidential candidate is just a show pony. It’s a target for your protest vote and nothing more.

The reality, like it or not, is there will be a President Clinton or a President Trump in January, 2017. You may have very well-founded reasons why you can’t stand either of them, but it boarders on inconceivable that you would be equally content with either outcome. There couldn’t be more daylight between the positions these two and their parties are taking in this election.  If you’re truly ambivalent, then you are either too ill-informed or too apathetic to bother voting at all.

It may well be that you only care who doesn’t become President. But you care. Post your protests on Facebook and Twitter, but when you walk into that voting booth in November, make a useful decision. Suck it up. You don’t need to admit it to anyone else. It’s a secret you can take to your grave. But make a difference. Make your vote count. The stakes have never been higher.

Conservatives Evolutionists vs Progressive Intelligent Designers

TLS-ColbertSmall “c” conservatives are, by definition, ideologically committed to preventing or slowing the rate of change. The essential premise is that things are better the way they are, or maybe even the way they were, but definitely not the way they are going. Bill O’Reilly asserted the futility of this last night on The Late Show when saying to Stephen Colbert that conservatives believe they are losing the culture war to progressives. In response, Colbert noted that conservatism is always a losing battle because the culture always changes.

In a similar vein, Vox’s Matt Yglesias penned an interesting article about small conservative communities desperate to preserve the status quo. They are often resistant to new industry and new development coming to town for fear of what outside elements might come along with it. He noted the brutal truth that change was going to happen to these towns either way. By resisting the influx of outside influences, they were instead suffering the withering death of attrition as their young people went off to college and never came home.

In both cases, the conservative path is to ultimately have change thrust upon them by outside forces they don’t control and didn’t influence. In this way, conservatives are embracing a sort of cultural evolution. After all, in the natural world, evolution is simply the change induced by random events. It’s not directed. It’s not controlled. It’s not inherently good or bad. It just happens.

In contrast, small “p” progressives not only accept that change will happen, they advocate for it. They try to control and direct it. This doesn’t mean all progressive changes are good, but it at least means they were thought out and intended. They are open for debate, refinement, and improvement. Ironically, this puts progressives in the position of advocating for cultural intelligent design.

Go figure…

Left vs. Right – A Clash of Worldviews

left-vs-right-politicsThis editorial piece by author William Voegeli in The Daily Signal is somewhat ineptly titled, “MSNBC Shrill Is No Accident. It’s How Liberals Really Think.” It’s intended as a take-down of liberals and liberalism as a danger to America. In that regard, it’s kind of standard political blather.

However, in the last two paragraphs (feel free to skip straight there), Voegeli offers up some interesting contrasting perspectives on liberals vs. conservatives that at least to my mind don’t shine as favorably on conservatives as I think he intended. To wit:

Liberalism exists to solve problems, and liberals regard every source of dissatisfaction or discord as a problem, not an aspect of the human condition that we must always contend with but can never sanely hope to eradicate.

It seems what he’s saying here is that conservatives have bonded with the reality that human misery, misfortune, and suffering are just things we have to live with, and since we can never hope to eliminate them, it’s insane to try.  He goes on to say:

…the conservative belief that constraining human wickedness through stern disincentives is plausible, but solving it therapeutically through social work is deluded […] Liberal disdain for the wary view of human nature, which is conservatism’s foundation, turns out to be of one piece with the “idealism” and “compassion” that culminates in governmental malpractice […]

This would seem to say that conservatism is all about sticks, while liberalism is all about carrots.

This reads to me like an assertion that conservative ideology stems from a recognition that, at their core, people are mean-spirited self-indulgent asshats. Conservatism is all about tamping down, containing, and punishing those inherent aspects of this “wary” human nature. Meanwhile, liberals are just nice people who want the world to be a nicer place, and liberalism proceeds from an assumption that people are worth investing in.

Given the intent of the article, it’s understandable that Voegeli would create a caricature of the left as close-minded, silly, and naive. But for the same reason, we assume he’s trying to paint the right in the best possible light, which is more than a little disconcerting. He’s painted the right as believing that giving hungry people food is misguided and destructive. The proper course is a zero-tolerance policy on bread theft so the miscreants are motivated to teach themselves to read and then go get a job before they starve to death.

It’s hard to read this article and imagine coming away as proud to be a conservative. But apparently that’s not a problem everyone in my social media circle is experiencing.

Minimum Wage, Maher, and Math

CORRECTION: The original article contained an assumption of 25m people currently at minimum wage. That number is incorrect in that it actually represents the number of workers below $11.50/hr that would be impacted by a new $10.10 minimum wage. This did, in fact make the math wrong. The article below has been changed to include more accurate numbers.

Maher-MinWageThe ongoing political battle over minimum wage too often seems to lose site of the larger goal each side is trying to achieve. And further, I’m increasingly understanding that the stated goals are not too far apart. This leads me to believe that someone has an actual goal different from their professed goal, or that my math is just way the hell off.

As Bill Maher alludes to in the depicted quote, the right is frequently on record as having a desire to reduce or eliminate safety net programs. This is also a goal of the left. The difference being that the right seems to want to eliminate the net on the premise the need will then go away, whereas the left wants to eliminate the need for the net so it can die of natural causes.

Let me start by asserting something I hope everyone can agree on. As a society, we will not simply remove the safety net and let any significant portion of the population wallow in abject poverty. While some may see this as an obvious humanitarian position, even the most pure-blood capitalist has to recognize that, historically, having a large, persistent, impoverished, and increasingly desperate economic underclass never ends very well for those who control the wealth and resources. To that end, there is an inherent balance between the government subsidizing low-skill workers through safety net programs and having private industry pay full freight for the labor they are using. Someone is going to pay for these folks.

My second assertion is that there is no ideological reason to keep the minimum wage at the current $7.25 rate. If you accept minimum wage as adding value to the economy and to society, then it should represent a living wage that would allow a worker to live without government supplements. If you fall on the side of free market capitalism, then there should be no minimum wage and the market should set the rate at whatever it will bear.

Third, let’s assume that the current minimum wage, in addition to current safety net supplements, are minimal but sufficient compensation for low-skill workers. Finally, let’s assume the CBO report (PDF) on the impact of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 is a reasonable predictor of the outcome.

Given these constraints, the cases to consider are an increased minimum wage at which workers’ dependence on the safety net would be lessened or eliminated, verses a natural wage floor that if lower than the current minimum wage would require an increase in safety net benefits just to keep workers even with where they are today.

Now for the math: the CBO says there are 17m low wage workers (currently making below $10.10/hr), and as a result of raising the minimum to $10.10/hr, 500k (3%) would lose their jobs and the remainder would get a raise. As seen in the worksheet below, assuming the lost jobs are all at the current minimum wage end, the newly unemployed represent a $7.25b loss of wages.

In the other case, I think we can agree that given the current unemployment rate for low-skill workers that there is an excess of supply. This means the $7.25 minimum wage is holding the wage floor artificially high. Market forces should seek a lower wage, and I think we can say with confidence that absent a minimum wage law, the wages of the majority of low-skill workers would fall.  For the model below, I somewhat generously assumed that 20% of workers currently at the minimum wage would retain that wage because their value to their employers warranted it. I also assumed that the actual wage for the remaining 80% would fall by only $0.30/hr, which is almost certainly a low number. Still, the resultant wage losses for the group amount to $7.92b.

In addition, the CBO estimates that 8m workers who are currently above the $10.10/hr rate would see a net positive gain from the ripple effect of a higher minimum wage. While not stated, presumably this group would be negatively effected by the ripple of the wage floor falling. (None of the 8m were included in this corrected analysis.)


In either case, we’ve assumed the government is on the hook to provide some form of substitute compensation to make up the loss for the effected workers. Clearly, it’s cheaper for the government to wholly pay for the unemployed 3% than to offset the loss of the 97%.

Further, the minimum wage increase should lessen the dependence on the safety net for the workers who get raises. Assuming workers only reduce their dependence by $600/yr, the result is a $7.92b savings that more than offsets the payments to the 3%. Given that Food Stamp benefits alone are about $1600/yr/person and EITC ranges from $500 to over $6k, recovering $600/employee seems pretty conservative. This is backed up by the CBO report that concludes for the raised minimum wage case that the impact on the federal budget would be a wash.

There is no obvious offsetting revenue stream for letting the market set the wage floor unless we assume a rise in corporate profits and increased revenue from corporate taxes. If this new tax revenue offsets the incremental safety net cost, then why not have the companies pay the money directly to their workers through wages rather than paying it in taxes and having the government redistribute it to those same workers?

All bleeding heart issues aside, I can’t see how raising the minimum wage is not a net economic benefit to society as a whole. Certainly it’s not a disaster as federal minimum wages have been around since 1938—a period during which the USA rose to be the preeminent economic power in the world. This does not prove causation, but does prove that prosperity is very possible with a minimum wage in place.

Further, economically speaking, having the government set a minimum wage is not different than a union or other collective bargaining organization setting a wage-price above what the natural unregulated non-unionized worker price would be.

It seems that advocating for the alternative to a living minimum wage necessarily admits some hidden ideological agenda. Perhaps the motivation is really to benefit individual companies rather than society. Perhaps the assumption that we wouldn’t financially marginalize chunks of our population is not valid. But it’s unclear how it can be rationalized to be about macroeconomic benefit to the country. Or maybe my math really (still?) is whacked. I’m happy to have the error in my ways pointed out, because I’m clearly missing something here.

Six Degrees of Adolf Hitler

HitlerKevin Bacon is so yesterday. If you’re an aspiring political pundit, Hitler is the game. Former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire, Judd Gregg, is the latest to step into the ring.

Writing in The Hill this morning, Gregg draws a wobbly late-night drunkard’s path from “Progressives” to “Wealth Redistribution”, makes a beeline to “Socialism”, a word that appears in the “National Socialism Movement” in Germany that was later shortened to “Nazism”, and by golly, there’s your “Hitler”. A perfect six hops, proving conclusively that Progressives are as bad as Hitler.

What more is there to say? I mean, you can’t argue with that sort of air-tight deductive power, can you? Surely, Sherlock Holmes himself (assuming he was smoking some seriously good shit in that bad-ass pipe of his) would concur.

I’m arguably a bit manic about this at the moment because it’s the second “slippery slope” argument I’ve seen in the last 48 hours. The other was John Goodman’s essay defending inequality. In Goodman’s case, he had the good sense to avoid Hitler, but he did manage to wend his way from a rise in the capital gains tax rate to 28% all the way to full on communism.

Fer cryin’ in yer beer, do these guys apply this sort of convoluted logic to their everyday lives? Do they really think if they don’t get rid of cable their house will explode?

The crime is that there should be a serious debate here. There are solid arguments for and against various plans to modify the tax code. There are pros and cons to changing the minimum wage. And there are pluses and minuses to socializing various functions and services in society. Further, these are complex interwoven policies. You can’t address them in a vacuum. Rather they need to be considered holistically with other policies to further specific goals.

But silly arguments like these do not advance the discourse. Life is lived in the grey, not at the extremes. If you want to model your world using ideological purity rather than data and reason; if you want your emotions to swell at the sound of soaring rhetoric and nationalist pride; if you want to rationalize the “other” as the root of your plight; then maybe you should be following… HITLER. {FTW}