Thursday, October 13, 2016

Voting and Econ Lesson

One of the best pieces I’ve read recently is Mike Rowe, theDirty Jobs guy’s response to someone who encouraged him to use his platform to encourage voting—to Get Out the Vote.

Mike Rowe
image from here

I wrote a piece about whether to GOTV just before the 2012 election, which seems even more necessary this year. I’m in agreement with Mike Rowe. Here is part of his response:

Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it. I also share your concern for our country, and agree wholeheartedly that every vote counts. However, I’m afraid I can’t encourage millions of people whom I’ve never met to just run out and cast a ballot, simply because they have the right to vote. That would be like encouraging everyone to buy an AR-15, simply because they have the right to bear arms. I would need to know a few things about them before offering that kind of encouragement. For instance, do they know how to care for a weapon? Can they afford the cost of the weapon? Do they have a history of violence? Are they mentally stable? In short, are they responsible citizens?
And he continues:

Voting is a right, not a duty, and not a moral obligation. Like all rights, the right to vote comes with some responsibilities, but let’s face it—the bar is not set very high. If you believe aliens from another planet walk among us, you are welcome at the polls. If you believe the world is flat, and the moon landing was completely staged, you are invited to cast a ballot. Astrologists, racists, ghost-hunters, sexists, and people who rely upon a Magic 8 Ball to determine their daily wardrobe are all allowed to participate. In fact, and to your point, they’re encouraged.
The undeniable reality is this: our right to vote does not require any understanding of current events, or any awareness of how our government works. So, when a celebrity reminds the country that “everybody’s vote counts,” they are absolutely correct. But when they tell us that “everybody in the country should get out there and vote,” regardless of what they think or believe, I gotta wonder what they’re smoking.
What we need are better voters, so we don’t get the intolerable choices we got stuck with this election. He suggests:

I can’t personally encourage everyone in the country to run out and vote. I wouldn’t do it, even if I thought it would benefit my personal choice. Because the truth is, the country doesn’t need voters who have to be cajoled, enticed, or persuaded to cast a ballot. We need voters who wish to participate in the process. So if you really want me to say something political, how about this—read more.
Spend a few hours every week studying American history, human nature, and economic theory. Start with Economics in One Lesson. Then try Keynes. Then Hayek. Then Marx. Then Hegel. Develop a worldview that you can articulate as well as defend. Test your theory with people who disagree with you. Debate. Argue. Adjust your philosophy as necessary. Then, when the next election comes around, cast a vote for the candidate whose worldview seems most in line with your own.
He continues with a couple of paragraphs about the right and responsibility of informed voting. And then he concludes with this:

In the meantime, dig into Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt. It sounds like a snooze but it really is a page turner, and you can download it for free.
So, thank you, Mike Rowe, for using your celebrity to share wisdom, yet again.

That’s two mentions, in one short piece of Economics in One Lesson, which I happened to start th anniversary edition from 1996. The original was written in 1946. It’s amazing that words written 70 years ago seem so current today.
reading a couple of days earlier. I’m only a few chapters into it yet, but he’s right that it is quite readable, and under 200 pages. It has been on my list of stuff to read for several years—and actually on my shelf, waiting to be read for a few months. I have a used paperback, 50

There’s a premise the book makes early on, explaining why so many economic efforts go awry. This is from page 1:

In addition to these endless pleadings of self-interest, there is a second main factor that spawns new economic fallacies every day. This is the persistent tendency of men to see only the immediate effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.
In this lies the whole difference between good economics and bad. The bad economist sees only what immediately strikes the eye; the good economist also looks beyond. The bad economist sees only the direct consequences of a proposed course; the good economist looks also at the longer and indirect consequences. The bad economist sees only what the effect of a given policy has been or will be on one particular group; the good economist inquires also what the effect of the policy will be on all groups.
Here at the Spherical Model we have a similar saying about unintended consequences:

Whenever government attempts something beyond the proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property), it causes unintended consequences—usually exactly opposite to the stated goals of the interference.
I’m sure I’ll want to refer to Hazlitt’s book more as I read to the end, but I think this is going to be a main theme. And I want to quickly apply it to one example: Obamacare, or the inaptly named Affordable Care Act.

When the Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments about whether the government had the power to compel citizens to buy a product or service, there was discussion about how healthy young people were getting away with lower costs, or going without insurance, which was unfair to older or chronically ill people. The only way to lower their costs was to bring in a lot of healthy people who would not need the coverage, to even out the risks, and the costs. There was an assumption that the government ought to have the power to even out life’s unfairness.

But, just as Hazlitt suggests, the group that needed lower cost insurance because they would make more use of it is only one group. If you focus only on the goal of solving their issue, you might end up doing harm to other—maybe every other—groups in society.

If there is a time for a person to choose to pay for health care out of pocket, it might be when that person is young and healthy. Such a person might still want catastrophic coverage, or might want to risk not having it. But if this young person is at the beginning of a career, and making only $15 an hour, he is probably not going to appreciate being forced to pay $1000 a month for coverage he doesn’t want or need, just because some older (and probably wealthier) person wants his coverage subsidized.

And, of course, as it turned out, you don’t get to keep your doctor; you don’t get to keep your coverage; and costs have skyrocketed—even for the group government was targeting to help in that SCOTUS conversation. (Michelle Malkin offer her personal experience in this piece.)

How did we get here? By electing leaders who get the attention of various factions by promising them things—and by voters who fall for it.

So, I’m with Mike Rowe: go vote, if you know what you’re doing. If you don’t know what you’re doing, stay away from the polls. If you want to get ready for future elections, read. Start with Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson.

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