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Sunday, February 07, 2010

"Why Politics Is Stuck in the Middle"

Tyler Cowen:

Why Politics Is Stuck in the Middle, by Tyler Cowen, Commentary, NY Times: Market competition, under the proper circumstances, has the power to make a business better serve its customers. ... Political competition, though no less vigorous, is conducted on very different terms — and often ends up stifling innovation instead of encouraging it. ...
Economists approach political competition with a simple but potent hypothesis called the “median voter theorem.” ... Essentially, the idea is this: Any politician who strays too far from voters at the philosophical center will soon be out of office. ... When it comes to the big issues, voters at the midpoint usually get the policies, if not always the exact outcomes, they want. ...
Upon his election, President Obama stepped into a world already full of political constraints. ... Correctly or not, most Americans have failed to embrace the Democratic health care plans. ... It now appears that much of the initial support was thin. Senate Democrats, for instance, could overcome a Republican filibuster through a parliamentary process known as reconciliation, but they are waiting, evidently out of fear that voters aren’t with them on this issue.
Many people are increasingly worried about deficits. That may have led Mr. Obama to announce a freeze on nonmilitary discretionary spending, and yet this freeze refuses to target major, popular budget items like Social Security. The public seems to want the self-image of being tough on spending without giving up the goodies. President Obama may well know better, but he is doing his best to oblige, if only to prevent a Republican landslide this November.
The point here is not to belittle or praise the president, but to point out that his hands are tied. ...
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling on campaign spending also comes into clearer focus through the median voter theorem. The court ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. ...
For all the anecdotal evidence, it’s hard to show statistically that money has a large and systematic influence on political outcomes. That is partly because politicians cannot stray too far from public opinion. ... It is quite possible that the court’s decision won’t affect election results very much. ...
The median voter theorem doesn’t predict that the legacy of the Obama administration will be a wash. But it does imply that we might find the most important achievements in areas that don’t always linger on the front page. For instance, the president’s ideas on education, which involve accountability and charter schools and pay for performance, may please the American public and thus make their way into policy. And because education transforms the knowledge and interests of the median voter for generations to come, such acceptance could make for a lot of other improvements.
If you’re looking for change to believe in, and change that will last, the odds are best when political competition is pushing the world in your direction.

[Short on time, so I'll depend upon comments to provide the appropriate reaction.]

    Posted by on Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (57)


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