Are political parties obsolete?

There’s been a lot of punditry emitted in the wake of Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special election to replace Teddy Kennedy. All of it that I’ve seen is aimed at making some partisan point in the Democratic vs. Republican tug of war. But the facts of the Brown victory seem to me to suggest something different and more radical: that political parties as we have known them for the last 200 years may be obsolete, or at least well on their way to becoming so.

Here are the two facts that have given me seriously to think about this:

1. More than 50% of the Massachusetts electorate is registered independent.

2. In the last week of the campaign, Scott Brown was able to raise over a million dollars by going direct to potential supporters via the Internet.

These data strike at the heart of the two essential functions of the political party: getting out the vote, and raising campaign funds for its candidates. Scott Brown proved that he could succeed, in a traditionally Democratic state and without significant backing from the national Republican party, pretty purely on grassroots enthusiasm and the leverage provided by Internet social media.

Nationally, the percentage of voters refusing to affiliate with a party isn’t over 50% yet, but it’s been heading steadily upwards. Straight-ticket voting has been in decline for decades.

Furthermore, both major parties are showing signs of disintegration as factions near their edges grow increasingly restive and (in part) bolt to form separate movements.

This is clearest on the Republican side. The Tea Party movement has an ambiguous relationship with the national Republicans, sometimes behaving like a fiscal-conservative party faction but often proclaiming itself a separate movement and opposing party-backed Republican candidates.

On the Democratic side, the “netroots” around sites like Daily Kos and Democratic Underground are putting increasing distance between themselves and the national Democrats. The left-wing revolt against the Pelosi/Reid/Obama health-care reform bill is a leading indicator here.

What the netroots and the Tea Partiers have in common, of course, is that they’re both virtual organizations that rely on the Internet for the reductions in internal coordination costs they would normally get from having offices and org charts.

Glen Reynolds and a few others have noticed this; there’s been some muttering in the blogosphere about “disintermediation”, but nobody until now seems to have thought seriously about the medium-to-long-term effects on the major parties.

The major parties have anyway been looking both battered and sclerotic for a while now. On the Democratic side, the party has had to rely increasingly on the personal charisma of adventurers (the Clintons, Obama) to draw voters who no longer have any loyalty to the party’s platform or history. On the Republican side, that party is so bereft of leadership that it has in effect outsourced that function to conservative talk-radio hosts.

Now, the political parties increasingly find that they have to compete with the Internet-mediated political networks — and the parties are losing.

174 thoughts on “Are political parties obsolete?

  1. I’ve long believed the two-party system is a direct result of our primate hindbrain’s desire to classify the world in terms of “us” vs “them”. If I’m right about that, then what could explain the growing number of independent voters?

  2. I’d agree with you, except for finances. Independents and the parties other than the big two have a very difficult time raising funds, because of the various campaign finance laws on the books:

    1) the parties in power get matching funds from the government
    2) limits on how much can be donated by a single person hurt smaller organizations more than big national parties that have lots and lots of doners
    3) insane amounts of regulation that goes into campaign finance collection is costly. It winds up costing the smaller parties much more, percentage-wise. The big two, with their large budgets, can afford full-time accounting staff to handle things more effectively
    4) the big two parties get their candidates on ballots automatically in most cases. In most states, smaller parties have to run difficult and costly petition drives.

    In other words, the cards are stacked against the smaller parties. The reason the Tea Parties are having some success is because they’re trying to sabotage the local GOP from within.

  3. I think the bigger problem is that there’s less and less distinction between the parties–that is, they’re making themselves irrelevant. Right now the Dems are becoming socialist progressives, and the Repubs’ only remaining values are pro-life and pro-defense. The fight in the GOP right now is to determine if it will continue to be socialist-lite or return to its small-government core.

  4. > I’ve long believed the two-party system is a direct result of our primate hindbrain’s desire to classify the world in terms of “us” vs “them”.

    While that may play some role, I think it is more a direct result of the inherent nature of voting systems and their optimal strategies. Almost always, the “best” strategy is to vote for either the strongest or second-strongest candidate with closer views to your own. Runoff and approval voting just masks the (purely rationally) inevitable choice of a “lesser of two evils” (unless you actually agree with one of the two strongest candidates the most). Voting for a weaker candidate is essentially an abstaining vote, and is best justified superrationally.

    In any case, the “Tea Party” movement is largely an outgrowth of anger at McCain and Obama’s shared corporatist policies. The backers and leadership of the movement are mostly social conservatives, so I could see it displacing the Republican party rather than obsoleting the current political process itself. Or it could just run out of steam past the midterms; explicitly populist movements don’t have that great of a track record in America.

  5. Well, all systems with geographic districts where the largest vote total wins devolve to two parties for reasons that have nothing to do with communication systems. It’s some sort of really reliable law in political science. You have to have a majority coalition to win. Proportional electoral systems develop coalitions of parties. Geographic districts develop coalitions within parties.

    Yours,
    Tom

  6. Two-party systems are largely an artifact of “first-past-the-post” voting in single-member districts: there’s an extensive literature on the subject which is easy enough to find.

    That being said, there are also legal and structural impediments to effective third parties. If I had my druthers, I’d prefer the system I grew up in New York: for whatever reason, NY is practically the only state to allow “fusion” tickets–where two or more parties may carry the same candidate, and all the votes that are cast for that candidate are added together. “Fusion” has a long pedigree in NY and there is also an extensive literature on it.

    The problem with trying to eliminate major parties (or cheering at their increased weakness) is that they serve a useful function: party labels, in particular, help mitigate the problem of “strategic ignorance”, where most of the electorate hasn’t the faintest idea who is who.

    In any event, if the major parties were to go out of existence tomorrow, they’d be replaced by something at least structurally similar. I assume it’s safe to suggest that you probably don’t want every elected official to be completely and totally dependent on PAC money, organization, and support.

    As to where this is all going, I expect we are merely seeing another party realignment in progress. There have already been at least six party systems going back to the Federalist era (Federalist, Jacksonian, “Free-Soil” Republican, “Industrial” Republican, New Deal, and Reaganite).

    The Reaganite party system is rapidly approaching its sell-by date: what is to follow is not yet clear. This isn’t the first time we’ve had an anti-government revolt: last time, it was harnessed by Ross The Cross Boss and then by Newt and the “Contract With America”. So I would look for a well-heeled, self-financed third-party guy, or for the GOP to persuasively embrace the idea (if only, right?).

  7. While the parties may be obsolete at a local level, once you get to the state and federal legislatures, if you’re not willing to pick a party (and stick with it) you’re effectively a eunuch: independents don’t get committee assignments, and they don’t get laws passed (or repealed). When it comes time for the next election, independents have little if anything in the way of accomplishments to show the voters, and promptly get replaced. While I wish it were otherwise, I don’t see this changing without a major scandal affecting the majority of both parties.

  8. > Or it could just run out of steam past the midterms; explicitly populist movements don’t have that great of a track record in America.

    Maybe. The last big third party swell was probably Perot’s “Reform Party.” But I think there are some important differences. From what I recall, Perot’s didn’t ascend to lead a self-organizing grassroots movement, but rather descended (as though from the heavens, hahah) to provide a warchest for a loose affiliation of anti-NAFTA populists and deficit hawks. In other words, there didn’t seem to be much organic about his candidacy. He was the movement’s number one “donor”, and so it was fait accompli that he would be their candidate. If he wasn’t, well he’d take his ball and go home.

    There seems to be a big difference both in the organization and the tactics of these Tea Partiers. Also, they seem bound more by overriding political philosophy rather then stapled together from a scattershot of individual “reform” issues. Also, more and more they seem interested in fielding “their own” candidates. It’s fairly clear that, despite his Republican brand, the Tea Party considers Brown their exclusive product. Whether he is or not remains to be seen. And they would have to pull this off a few more time before I’d be willing to concede that they were something more than a powerful new Republican interest group. But whatever they are, this doesn’t feel like Ross Perot with his loopy charts.

  9. If this is indeed happening, it could mean that the American/British/French kind of election system, which I always thought has major failures, might prove to be the better one.

    My problem with these systems is that there is no such thing as voting directly for a party, you must always vote on an an invididual representative. You must give your vote to a name, you cannot give your vote directly to a party. Given that a vote given for any candidate but one of the two most popular ones is very unlikely to succeed, people in such systems tend to look which of the two candidates they hate more and vote for the lesser evil. And given that people are more interested in parties or ideologies or “sides” than in individual qualities, this tends to leed to a two-party system, which it did in the aforementioned three countries that use it. And of course there are big problems with a two-party system, I think it’s unnecessary to elaborate.

    There is another kind of election system which I think is better. This other kind is mostly practiced in Central Europe, AFAIK. In this system 50% of the representatives are elected directly, by giving your vote to a person. This works as the previously described one. Another 50% are elected not directly, but indirectly, by giving your vote to a party and not to a person, to a name. The votes will be summed up and the other 50% of the seat distributed to the representatives nominated by these parties in proportion to the votes winned, although there is usually a minimum, 3-4-5%, to avoid too much fragmentation in the house. In such a system you can safely give this second kind of your votes to a party that has 6-8% popularity because your vote will not be lost, your party will have a few representatives. This leads to more-than-two-party systems like the 4-party system in Germany. The disadvantage is that representatives elected by these second 50% of votes will have no loyalty to their voters but only to the party who nominated them: their interest is not in serving their voters but in getting a high position on a party list that will ensure they will get a mandate. So the problem here is that the first, say, 50 politicians in a party of 30% popularity are SURE to get a mandate. Having good relations with the big dogs in a popular party will surely win them a mandate. Thus this system is not directly representative, these 50% of the representatives aren’t actually representing anyone, one could even say it’s not really democratic, and probably the main reason America, Britain and France are not having such a mixed system is that in they have older and much deeper heartfelt democratic traditions where non-representative representatives elected by a system that’s only superficially democratic and has get-a-mandate-no-matter-what positions would sound like an abomination. But there is an advantage: it does not lead to two-party systems.

    And that I consider a more important advantage than the not-quite-democratic disadvantages of this system. More parties are better than fewer ones.

    However no parties at all are even better, and it’s clear that if the scenarion ESR described works, then it turns around: the American/British/French system is the one that can implement a no-party-system and these mixed systems will be stuck by what will by it’s very nature always be an at least 50% party system, even though a multiple-party one.

  10. In a first-past-the-post system, any vote not for one of the top two candidates does not affect the margin of victory, and is thereby “wasted”. Proportional representation without a minimum list threshold would allow for parties to become far more numerous.

    That’s just the way it is. In states that provide for runoff elections, third party votes aren’t seen as “wasted”, so they get statistically-significant returns far more often than those that do not.

    In GA a while back, the Democrat had 49%, the Republican 48, and the Libertarian 3%. A FPTP scheme would have elected the Dem, but with the runoff, the Republican got virtually all of the Libertarian votes and won the seat.

  11. Parties maybe on the decline as more and more people are calling themselves independent, but I think it is a bit of a stretch to say they are obsolete.

    For presidential elections there are going to be two serious parties, and a bunch of flaky ones. No independent is going to make a credible run for the white house.

    And God I hope we don’t move to some European style system with lots of parties, that would just be an annoying mess.

    Like it or not, the 2 party system is here for a reason.

  12. So the problem here is that the first, say, 50 politicians in a party of 30% popularity are SURE to get a mandate.

    There’s an easy way around that. Instead of voting for the list, let the voter choose one name on the list. It’s still a vote for the whole list, but it’s also used to rank the candidates on the list itself, so that the candidate who got the most votes goes to the top and has the first shot at a mandate.

    That takes it out of the hands of the party bosses.

  13. Darrencardinal said:
    > No independent is going to make a credible run for the white house.

    Teddy Roosevelt was very credible in 1912 running on the Bull Moose ticket. Perot was credible, too. Crazy, maybe, but credible. Given the I can certainly see the rise of Internet political and social networks, it is entirely possible for a 3rd party national candidate to forge a credible or even a winning bloc. It’s certainly possible for them to do better than Perot’s 18%.

  14. “Given the rise of Internet political and social networks, it is entirely possible for a 3rd party national candidate to forge a credible or even a winning bloc. It’s certainly possible for them to do better than Perot’s 18%.”

  15. esr: I’m pretty confident you already know about the results that David is talking about; any comment on the issue?

    While the results are robust, it could be that there are hidden assumptions that may not hold true.

    Personally, though, I’m not sure we’re necessarily seeing anything that can’t be explained by standard party drift. In particular, fiscal conservatives have been left with no party to call their own, and that’s too large a segment of the US to just be left dangling. I’m not sure the tumult we’re currently seeing can’t be explained as that situation righting itself.

    (Why were the fiscal conservatives the ones that got abandoned? On social issues you can swing either way, there’s always enough support for either side. But it’s way more fun to spend other people’s money than to fight other people spending other people’s money. And part of what I mean by “fun” are also the political implications of being able to buy votes and such.)

    Which would imply that of the two parties, it’s the Republican party that is in the greatest danger. Democrats can live without fiscal conservatives at all, but the Republican party minus the much-abused fiscal conservatives is not a political force. If they don’t work out what’s going on in time they are the ones who will get whacked. Given the extreme unlikelihood of the Democrats figuring out how to stop pissing the fiscal conservatives off, they just might get the momentum for a third-party run in 2012. (This new swing towards “focusing on the economy” can pretty much only manifest in “more stimulus”; conventional wisdom is the Democrats need to focus on the economy but I’m extremely unconvinced it will do anything to save their poll numbers, unless they figure out very quickly how to solve a problem in a way other than throwing trillions of other people’s dollars at every problem.)

  16. >While the results are robust, it could be that there are hidden assumptions that may not hold true.

    That’s what I’m thinking. It’s all very well to cite “laws” of political science, and the arguments linking two-party systems to first-past-the-post voting aren’t implausible. But reality is not cooperating with the theory; neither Scott Brown nor 51% of the Massachusetts electorate are behaving like they need the two-party system.

  17. Even first-past-the-post systems do sometimes end up with a party killed and a new one formed. Perhaps history will someday record Scott as the first Tea Party winner, presaging the end of the Republicans. That might not fit the theory in the mathematical sense but it’s clearly a possibility in the real world.

    But I’m certainly sympathetic to “the facts aren’t fitting the theory, so something is wrong with the theory”… it’s a rather better argument than the ever-popular “there must be something wrong with the facts”….

  18. jrok says:

    >>> Teddy Roosevelt was very credible in 1912 running on the Bull Moose ticket. Perot was credible, too. Crazy, maybe, but credible. Given the I can certainly see the rise of Internet political and social networks, it is entirely possible for a 3rd party national candidate to forge a credible or even a winning bloc. It’s certainly possible for them to do better than Perot’s 18%.

    I myself am a conservative, and one thing I learned the hard way is not to get caught up in third party nonsense. I regret to admit that I was one of those Perot voters back in 1992. By trying to “send a message,” we just wound up making Bill Clinton (shudder) president.

    Having said that, I have a ton of sympathy for the Tea Party movement. The Tea partiers told the RNC to support Brown, and they did. If the people lead the pols will follow. But Brown ran as a Republican, not an independent or anything else.

  19. >That’s what I’m thinking. It’s all very well to cite “laws” of political science, and the arguments linking two-party systems to first-past-the-post voting aren’t implausible. But reality is not cooperating with the theory; neither Scott Brown nor 51% of the Massachusetts electorate are behaving like they need the two-party system.

    Brown (R), 51%
    Coakley (D), 47%
    Kennedy (I), 1%

    FPP means a two-horse race. Selection by one of the 2 major parties signals to the voters that a candidate is one of those two horses.

  20. Darrencardinal said:
    > I myself am a conservative, and one thing I learned the hard way is not to get caught up in third party nonsense. I regret to admit that I was one of those Perot voters back in 1992. By trying to “send a message,” we just wound up making Bill Clinton (shudder) president.

    Perot was a different animal, as far as I was concerned. Structurally, his “third party” was as agile and efficient as the new net-blocs have the potential to be.

    That said, it is mostly “potential” at this stage. I think Eric’s point was more about the usefulness of political parties as central funding and voter-drive apparatuses, not as political “brand symbols” or caucus rallying points. I think they will continue to function well as the latter for quite long after their utility as the former has gone the way of the dodo.

  21. “Structurally, his “third party” *wasn’t* as agile and efficient as the new net-blocs have the potential to be.

  22. … By the way, I also believe that a winning third national party already exists, but it just hasn’t fully emerged with a unified “brand” yet. This is a party of free market fiscal conservatives who are socially “liberal” (in that the typical moral wedge issues of abortion and gay marriage are either handed back to the state legislatures or abandoned from the agenda entirely.) This comprises a winning ticket, as it actually describes most Americans. Lefty weenies, multicultural eunuchs, racial hucksters, welfare statists and holy rollin’ bible thumpers need not apply.

  23. What was Perot’s third party? I don’t remember there really being one. It was just Perot, and once he lost the thing was kaput.

    But good point about the internet making it possible for an attractive candidate to raise a ton of money quickly. At one point Brown was raising a million bucks a day. Not bad. This is quite different from the days when Ronald Reagan had to raise money via snail mail, and you had to pay people to open the envelopes, collect the checks and take them to the bank, etc.

  24. > What was Perot’s third party? I don’t remember there really being one. It was just Perot, and once he lost the thing was kaput.

    It was (and if I recall correctly, still is) “The Reform Party.” See, you voted for a third party and you didn’t even know it! That’s because it wasn’t much of a cohesive party… more of a protest write-in vote, except instead of a few folks pulling for “Donald Duck” you had several millions pulling for Ross “Lookit This Here Chart” Perot.

  25. > The only reliable law in political, or social, sciences is Lazarus Long’s “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.

    If that’s a consistent axiom, we can derive consistent theorems from it.

  26. In the last week of the campaign, Scott Brown was able to raise over a million dollars by going direct to potential supporters via the Internet.

    HIs fundraising was even more astonishing than that. Once it became clear he had a chance of winning (self-fullfilling prophecy, blah blah), he had a one-day fundraising push aimed at raising $500,000 for the stretch run, about a week before the election.

    It brought it $1,300,000.

    The next day he *also* pulled in $1,000,000. And nearly as much the day after that!

    Apparently, he couldn’t spend all the money (or was wise not to try). By reports I’m reading, he’s sitting ready for his 2012 re-election campaign with a $4 MILLION warchest at the ready!

    Obviously a special case, but interesting. Honestly, I’m not sure the message was more than “Throw the rascals out!”, though…

  27. I worked for a local Reform Party candidate. I think she would have been a good candidate running as either a Democrat or (more likely in Kansas) as a Republican, because she did well for a third party candidate, but as a Reformer she didn’t stand a chance to win.

    I am against laws which favor the two parties – such as the laws which prohibit a candidate being nominated by multiple parties. That’s one way NY is better than KS! The structural factors which causes two parties to arise out of geographical districts where you vote for the man, not the party, is sufficient. I suspect that this political law would be bourne out by a relatively simple application of game theory.

    I like preferential voting, especially instant runoff voting as a way to increase voter choice, promote third parties, and increase the information we voters can put into the system. But I’m afraid with geographic districts and votes for candidates, not parties, that you still end up with two main parties, even if you don’t have first past the post voting.

    That doesn’t mean that third parties don’t have a function in our system. They do. They function as a way to let the major parties know that they aren’t serving important constituencies. That’s why I’m against regulatory supression of third parties.

    Yours,
    Tom

  28. I’ve always thought a parliamentary system is better than what we have here. If you get 5% of the vote, you get 5% of the seats. Plus, governments can fall without waiting for elections. Such systems also give third parties a much better chance.

    The Populist Party of the 1890′s is instructive. At their peak, they controlled a few states and had a senator. They split over whether to try to work with the Democratic Party and ended up getting backstabbed by them.

    Peter Camejo’s ‘Avocado Declaration’ (http://www.greens.org/s-r/34/34-14.html), written in 2004, details how a major role of the Democratic Party is to channel genuine dissent into the party where it it then diffused and rendered harmless.

  29. Parlimentary systems typically don’t have checks and balances. I like checks and balances. Here is a brain-storm style idea for a new check and balance:

    If you voted for / signed a law and it’s declared unconstitutional, you are thrown out of office immediately and can’t run for any office for two years. A bureaucrat who writes a regulation that is declared unconstitutional is laid off immediately and can’t work for the government for two years. Anyone who voted against / vetoed / is a lower level bureaucrat who objected to a new law /regulation has standing to sue to have it overturned.

    Clearly brain-storm quality, but perhaps at least discussable.

    Yours,
    Tom

  30. It is interesting that Brown appears to have been elected specifically because he is NOT ‘blessed’ by the Party (a la Scozzafava). Last year there was an interesting article in ‘The American’ entitled ‘The Coming of the Fourth American Republic’ by James DeLong.
    “The Special Interest State that has shaped American life for 70 years is dying. What comes next is uncertain, but there are grounds for optimism.”

    http://www.american.com/archive/2009/april-2009/the-coming-of-the-fourth-american-republic/

    Brown’s election is a reaction to the pork-barrel, special interest state. Serendipity in action, the Supreme Court this week gutted the FEC, and the McCain-Feingold campaign finance controls, in the Citizens United case.
    I foresee more candidates like Brown, who are seem to have an integrity not otherwise seen in the present rent-seekers. I also foresee strong attempts to pass Prof. Barnett’s Constitutional Amendments, or at the least, term limits, sunset laws and regulatory disentanglement. I foresee candidates being asked to pledge to seek these changes.

  31. Sorry Eric, I think you are entirely wrong about this. Political parties are a shortcut, nothing more. The cost of actually finding out what are the right public policies is very high and the benefit small (since your vote has negligible effect.) Political parties offer a shortcut, a quick way to decide “I am a Democrat, therefore I vote for Barak Obama”, “I am a Republican, so I vote for John McCain.” Which is to say “my views roughly correspond with the left wing ideology, or the right wing ideology.”

    Where I live there is an election coming up, and there are about two dozen different races on the ballot. Is it prudent for my to expend a lot of my time to find out about this judge or that parks commissioner, or Dave the dog catcher? I think not, and I am interested in politics anyway. However, political parties offer me a quick way to decide, and recognize that that candidate is going to be in the general arena of my views, without actually finding out much about them. This is also one of the reasons that primaries have much lower turnouts, partly because they are less immediately important, but also because you have to actually make a decision on your own.

    All this might sound pejorative, but it is not meant to be so. It is an entirely rational trade off: your vote matters little, so you should invest very little in deciding what it should be. For those more interested in politics, who want to have their efforts have more effect, the political party makes a structure available within which they can work. Why vote at all? Because voting prevents tyranny when a substantial number of people do it, so I think it is a charitable duty to your fellow man to do so.

    That is why I have become less favorably inclined to the Libertarian party. I think it is an ineffective anomaly from the way the system works. What libertarians need to do is insert their candidates into the primary process of one of the two main parties and work them up that way. (That won’t work, I hear you cry. Yeah, because the LP has really been making big inroads instead, right?)

    As always, the real problem is not the political parties, or the political system, it is that politicians have way too much power, and matter way more than they should.

  32. What Jessica said.

    Obama/ McCain and Brown/Coakley were both Good Candidate/ Crap Candidate.

    Don’t overthink this.

    Republicans walked out of McCain speeches saying, ‘Do we HAVE to vote for this Rino?’
    Dems walked out of Obama speeches chanting ‘Yes We CAN!’ Coakley managed to insult a local sports team and refused to go around shaking hands- her past included a fake child-abuse witch-hunt against daycare operators.

    Plus, McCain and Coakley are ugly. Brown and Obama clean up good.

  33. Jessica Boxer said:
    > Sorry Eric, I think you are entirely wrong about this. Political parties are a shortcut, nothing more. The cost of actually finding out what are the right public policies is very high and the benefit small (since your vote has negligible effect.) Political parties offer a shortcut, a quick way to decide “I am a Democrat, therefore I vote for Barak Obama”, “I am a Republican, so I vote for John McCain.” Which is to say “my views roughly correspond with the left wing ideology, or the right wing ideology.”<

    I hate to say it, but this is slave talk. The world may sometimes seem like a rat trap of mechanical interests and binary paths, but it really is composed of people and polities. Sweeping changes (whether good or ill) have always and will always happen. And the communication explosion (a million little Gutenbergs) guarantees that they will be even bigger and more sweeping than ever before.

  34. The Reform Party isn’t entirely dead. Its descendant in Minnesota, the Independence Party, elected a governor a decade ago by the name of Jesse Ventura, and it has credible candidates in several state legislature races.

    With that said, I am one of those who refuses to throw his vote away on third-party candidates who have no chance of winning. So what if that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy? Results matter.

  35. Actually the RNC did step in, they just tried to hide it so as not to change Brown’s outsider image. Jessica, I think you get this one wrong: there’s no reason one can’t have internet groups that provide the same information you ascribe to political parties, only much more customized for the voter. I imagine that I’ll be able to say that I want a fiscally conservative, pro-privatization, anti-regulation candidate someday and my computer will give me a short list of the candidates who qualify, or at least those who come closest. The point is the economics of information gathering and search have fundamentally changed: that destroys the kind of information good you ascribe to political parties. As for the libertarian party, I think it’s a great way to signal to candidates what your real preference is. In the last election, I voted for some joke of a libertarian candidate for congress because I knew the Democrat was guaranteed to win in that district. I do that anytime the polls favor one of the major candidates heavily, voting for Bob Barr for President even though I preferred McCain, simply because I knew Obama had already won California. Agreed that the political system is the real problem but short of seasteading (which I hope takes off and that I can contribute to it someday), the only way to change that is to get more libertarian candidates in office. I think the way this will start happening is similarly to MA, the large independent middle starts organizing online to swing elections, slowly squeezing out the partisan extremes, and I imagine that large independent group will have a significant libertarian component.

  36. bruce says:

    >>> Republicans walked out of McCain speeches saying, ‘Do we HAVE to vote for this Rino?’
    Dems walked out of Obama speeches chanting ‘Yes We CAN!’ Coakley managed to insult a local sports team and refused to go around shaking hands- her past included a fake child-abuse witch-hunt against daycare operators.

    Plus, McCain and Coakley are ugly. Brown and Obama clean up good.

    Boy is this true. True conservatives like me were not inspired by McCain, but democrats really did seem to feel that Obama was a combination of Moses, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King. And whatever one thinks of Obama, he does look good in a suit, like a GQ model.

    We republicans can win and win big when we put forth a truly conservative candidate who will articulate our principles of limited government, low taxes and a strong defense intelligently and without apology, and with a sunny optimism, in much the way Ronald Reagan did. (Someone like Barry Goldwater was little too grouchy.)

    This is why many of us on the right are fired up about Sarah Palin. The presidency is hers for the taking.

  37. # Darrencardinal Says:
    > We republicans can win and win big when we put forth a truly
    > conservative candidate who will articulate our principles of limited
    > government, low taxes and a strong defense intelligently and
    > without apology,

    Will you also put forward the “limited government” principle of stop interfering with people’s decisions on what drugs to take for medical or recreational purposes? Will you also put forward the “limited government” principle of minding your own business of who marries whom? Or will you advocate with me the “limited government” principle of not enforcing a brutal system of monopoly via the patent law? Will you advocate for eliminating campaign finance laws, or eliminating mandatory, tax payer funded schools? Do you advocate the “limited government” principle of getting rid of medicare, which is nothing short of socialism, funding the rich by taxing the poor?

    Or are you only in favor of limiting government in the ways you want it limited?

  38. Darren, I’m not sure I agree. I like Sarah Palin, and for all of the carping from the Left and the MSM, she’s still the only one of the four candidates from the major parties (President/VP) who had any executive experience.

    Still, anyone who has over 70% of the American public wishing she won’t run is going to have a hard time winning, and, above all, the Republican Party MUST nominate someone this time around who can win.

    Ronald Reagan’s brilliance was that he could weld the social and fiscal conservatives together into an unstoppable coalition. We can’t throw either group under the bus. We’ve seen what happens when we throw fiscal conservatives under the bus. The results won’t be much different should the social conservatives suffer the same fate.

    I, for one, am not at all sure that a third party concentrating on smaller government and fiscal responsibility can peel off enough from the less-leftist end of the Democrat party to make up for the loss of the social conservatives, even if it were explicitly to repudiate the social conservative positions on such things as gay marriage and abortion. I don’t believe the next election is the time to try, either, unless there’s no alternative; getting rid of the Obamessiah is simply too important to experiment.

  39. > This is why many of us on the right are fired up about Sarah Palin. The presidency is hers for the taking.

    Palin is a dead dog. She’s a conservative, but she’s also a quitter. That’s the narrative she won’t be able to escape, and it will doom her in any general elex. She would probably be more helpful in an Oprah sort of role, interviewing folks for the job.

  40. > The results won’t be much different should the social conservatives suffer the same fate.

    The “social conservatives” are going to become unwelcome baggage soon enough, if social conservative equals “the religious right.” Their most attractive qualities up until now has been the fact that they are self-organizing and reliably turn out at the polls. That’s all well and good, but not if it turns off otherwise like-minded souls. There is a large bloc out there who would leave both the content of their neighbor’s soul and wallet alone, as long as their neighbor returned the favor. There are “social” left-leaners and right-leaners who can unite for common goals. Hell, even my own marriage is proof of that.

  41. Sarah Palin has a good record as the mayor of a town, and then later as the governor of Alaska. Obama’s record was embarrassingly thin in comparison.

    She took on corruption in her own party, and put a couple of guys in prison where they belong.

    She brokered a deal between the oil companies and the state, which was the biggest of it’s kind ever.

    When she took office, she sold the governor’s plane on Ebay as she thought it was a waste of taxpayer money. Contrast that with the all-hogs-to-the-trough spending that has gone on with this president. She really cares about not blowing taxpayer money on flub-dubs. She has been a commercial fisherman, she has lived in the real world of business, unlike Obama who seemed to spend his whole life in non-economic activities (in the classroom and community organizing.)

    If Obama was qualified to be president, then how can anyone honestly say that she is not qualified to run?

    And can you imagine the media circus a Palin vs. Obama campaign would be? It would be worth it for the sheer entertainment value. And jrok don’t kid yourself: she is not a quitter.

  42. Darrencardinal:
    > If Obama was qualified to be president, then how can anyone honestly say that she is not qualified to run?

    I never said President Obama was “qualified to run.” He is though, literally speaking. So am I, since I am more than 34 years of age. Palin is also “qualified.” She’s damaged goods, though, and will carry the quitter label for many years to come.

    Darrencardinal:
    > And can you imagine the media circus a Palin vs. Obama campaign would be? It would be worth it for the sheer entertainment value.

    I don’t care about entertainment value in government. As a matter of fact, the less “entertaining” they are the better. If I want clowns I go to the circus. Or Albany.

  43. I think I fall into Jessica Boxer’s camp on this one. Most people don’t really care about politics, and look for quick and dirty first approximations, because true solutions take more time than they’re willing to invest. It’s all well and good to say that’s “slave talk”, but really, when the average person spends about seven minutes a week on politics(and that’s an actual result, not an estimate, though i don’t have the cite handy), “good enough” is the order of the day. They’d rather watch football and raise their kids than try to figure out whether they should vote for the scoundrel or the jackass in a year’s time.

  44. Oh c’mon jrok surely you must see the entertainment value in politics?

    Sometimes there is nothing funnier. I mean, at times, stuff goes on in politics that you just cannot make up.

    There is a reason that the late night comics always use politics for fodder; it is just irresistible.

    Although they have not made fun of Obama as much as they have past presidents.

  45. Sarah Palin may not be the most harmful candidate on her own, but one has to consider the other side of the political process. If Palin gets the 2012 nomination, the Democrats will (yet again) be able to run entirely on the “anybody but opposition candidate x” platform, and they will stifle any opportunity to build a larger third-party constituency.

    The worst part is you can’t simply stop that threat by “voting against” it. Palin has to be removed from the process by extrapolitical means in order to minimize damage, and most methods in that realm are ethically dubious at best.

    By the way, support for Sarah Palin here strikes me as a bit odd, considering her pastor would literally burn Eric at the stake if he had the chance.

  46. Darrencardinal:
    > It’s all well and good to say that’s “slave talk”, but really, when the average person spends about seven minutes a week on politics(and that’s an actual result, not an estimate, though i don’t have the cite handy), “good enough” is the order of the day.

    It’s not “all well and good” to say it’s slave talk. I believe I said that I hated to say it, and I still do. But that is what it is. Slave speak in terms of what is least harmful or inconvenient to them, rather then how to attain the maximum benefit from a social arrangement.

    I live in New York City, where many, many ancestral citizens thought that the rule of the British crown was “good enough,” to the chagrin of free patriots. I like football too. But I don’t think its too much to ask of a countryman to actively engage the society you and I are contracted to live in together.

  47. uh jrok I did not make the “slave talk” comment.

    And Dallas Haugh:

    what does sarah Palin’s pastor have to do with this?

    Obama’s pastor was a hate filled niutjob, and it did not seem to hold him back a bit.

    And I think it will be more a case of anybody but Obama rather than the other way around.

    This is one reason I love Sarah Palin: I love the unhinged reactions she produces in certain people. People you thought were relatively sane and normal go batshit crazy when her name comes up.

  48. Yes, Alsadius said “all well and good.” Sorry.

    And it’s neither well or good. It is what it is: a slave mentality.

  49. >This is one reason I love Sarah Palin: I love the unhinged reactions she produces in certain people. People you thought were relatively sane and normal go batshit crazy when her name comes up.

    I find that quality rather attractive myself. It’s not just that she makes heads explode, it’s that she explodes heads that richly deserve it. I disagree with most of her issue positions, but the amount of gibbering rage she excites in ninnies and fools is almost enough that I’d vote for her anyway.

  50. I don’t think that the GOP can co-opt the Teabaggers, who are after all burrowing from within; they’re scarfing up precinct captain positions as behooves true believers. Me, I don’t see much distinction between the platforms of the GOP and the Constitution Party nowadays; I just pass the popcorn. Then again, Lenin infamously reduced politics to “Kto, kogo” (i.e. who [does what] to whom), so in regard to politics as a spectator sport it becomes a question of who passes the popcorn to whom…

  51. I love the unhinged reactions she produces in certain people.

    …the amount of gibbering rage she excites in ninnies and fools is almost enough that I’d vote for her anyway.

    That was the only part of the last election that was fun for me. Likewise, I don’t agree with her all the time, but when she was in attack mode the Democrats seemed too stunned to respond.

    I wonder about that… Were the Democrats simply unable to imagine a woman who disagreed with them on so many issues? Democrats seem to assume every member of every minority (as defined by their own political correctness doctrine) will automatically agree with them. That’s not always the case, but the party acts as though it was. Or were they unable to imagine anyone who looks that good could be against their hip young marketing image/machine/target demographic(s)? Did they assume everyone with Palin’s background wouldn’t be able to roll with the punches? To sum up: Were they just not prepared for even the possibility of Sarah Palin?

  52. Palin has no shot, the recent 60 Minutes piece about the 2008 campaign had Schmidt, McCain’s campaign manager, stuffing her in a body bag as even the Republican strategists don’t care for her (an interesting subtext of that piece was the inept female candidates, with Hillary’s horribly botched campaign and Palin’s ignorance). Her only shot was as the second coming of Dan Quayle, a securely conservative VP to shore up and excite the base unsure about a more centrist presidential candidate. The only reason she’s still trotted out is so that they can keep that crowd happy, just like they trotted out Elizabeth Dole or Joe Lieberman before.

  53. Palin has no shot because 60 minutes did a hatchet job on her. Also the loser Rino’s loser handlers badmouth her. Ewww, the party faithful love her- what a crappy politician.

    I’d never heard of Duverger’s Law- thanks.

  54. Boy is this true. True conservatives like me were not inspired by McCain, but democrats really did seem to feel that Obama was a combination of Moses, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King. And whatever one thinks of Obama, he does look good in a suit, like a GQ model.

    Naomi Klein wrote about this. She’s right, in this instance.

  55. I think what you’re seeing is more likely a fundamental realignment of the two major parties into a minarchist party and an explicitely social democratic/progressive party with the progressives moving over to the Greens. The standard split between the Republicans and Democrats makes little sense today and their bases have significant internal conflicts, most notably the big government social conservatives vs the minarchists and libertarians in the GOP, and the 3-way battle between the minority blocks, the progressive/labour faction and the social libertians in the democratic party. The reality is that the minority blocks should be most comfortable with the GOP’s big government social conservatives (since they’re already near indistinguishable on most non-racial issues), the social libertarians and the minarchist/fiscal libertarians are quite compatible and the progressive/labour faction is fundamentally incompatible with the other two blocks.

  56. Yeah, they are becoming obsolete. The process began back in February when the first Tea Parties occured, and solidified over the NY-23 election revolt.

    “This is clearest on the Republican side. ”

    But it may be just as (or even more) profound among among the Democrats.

    Firedoglake coming out against Coakley in the last few days was pretty telling as far as where this is headed. Democratic party factions (greens, blacks, gays, union members) have little in common and Obama’s inability to satisfy them all is leading to a split.

  57. “Will you advocate for eliminating campaign finance laws, or eliminating mandatory, tax payer funded schools?”

    Thanks to Republican appointed SCotUS judges, the first is now largely moot, and as for the second, certainly any Republican candidate will be much more homeschooling-friendly than the teachers-union backed Dem alternative, which isn’t too radical but at least a start.

    I believe the Internet will make the current public education paradigm obsolete soon enough anyway. It’s all too easy to open source curicula, educational materials and teacher training.

  58. >>> I believe the Internet will make the current public education paradigm obsolete soon enough anyway. It’s all too easy to open source curricula, educational materials and teacher training.

    You know this sounds good in theory. One can see the potential of the internet and how it could be used in education.

    But in a school I used to attend, they offered some online courses and it was widely known among the students that they were crap. You were much better off doing it the old fashioned way. Sometimes you really need a flesh and blood teacher.

    Personally I love the idea of vouchers, were students and their parents could pick the school they thought was best, just like people pick the restaurant they would like to eat at, rather than being railroaded into a school in their district which might be terrible. (Can you imagine how awful public government funded restaurants would be?)

    But the president recently shut down a voucher program in Washington DC. Thus poor black kids in the nations capital have no choice but to attend the failing public schools there, instead of, say, Sidwell Friends.

  59. techtech,

    “I’ve long believed the two-party system is a direct result of our primate hindbrain’s desire to classify the world in terms of “us” vs “them”. If I’m right about that, then what could explain the growing number of independent voters?”

    Hmmm… maybe it can explained by the growth of another kind “us” and “them”: “the people” vs. “the entrenched political elite as a whole who on a whole are increasing looking like a failure”. I mean something similar to what ESR wrote in: http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=1551 It’s not just a phenomenon linkable to certain temporary circumstances in America. It’s a largely global phenomenon, of more and more people refusing to vote or voting for extremist parties, showing a “systemic distrust”.

    Basically… the XX. century has to end sooner or later, doesn’t it? Parties organized the same way and sticking to largely similar ideologies and slogans as in 1960 in the very different world of 2010 inevitable go the way of dinosaurs, the question is only when. Even the Left-Right separation might end or might be changed into a very different form and shape, because it’s not really a law of nature that it always has to be this way.

    For example in economic opinons all over the Internet there is a clear trend of people being disillusioned both with omnipotent government and with that understanding of the market that sees it merely as a free playground for corporations. It’s more or less predictable new ideologies will appear that will not be nearly as statist as the XX. century Left nor will worship the profit motive and the invisible hand, but will try something entirely different, not quite fitting into the usual Left-Right clichés, such as, regulating corporations not from the above but from below, by boycotts and by FairTrade-style private uncoercive initatives, (even though FairTrade is probably a bad idea but it’s just the beta version of regulation from below, so to speak, newer ideas can be better), or by inviting small entrepreneurs into co-operatives of the Mondragón or Taiwanese style (http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2009/06/the-economics-of-distributism-v-the-practice-of-distributism/).

    Another new trend is the growth of a menu card-style approach to politics: instead of “buying” a Progressive, Conservative or Libertarian “package” of opinions “wholesale”, people pick and choose, and one person might be pro-marihuana but anti-abortion or the other way around, low-taxes but strong regulations, or the other way around etc. etc.

    I say by 2010 it’s time the XXI. century started. I’m not sure it will be in all aspects better than the XX. but it certainly will be interesting – and one aspect of its interestingness will be entirely new approaches to politics, outside the XX. century “labels” – or parties.

  60. # JB Says:
    > Thanks to Republican appointed SCotUS judges, [campaign finance law] is now largely moot,

    Hardly, the court struck down some of the most outrageous parts of the law, but there is plenty to be offended about left in there. For example, I can’t contribute whatever I want to whichever candidate I want, and I certainly can’t do it anonymously. Why is that important you ask? Ask some of the guys who lost their job for contributing to the “Yes on proposition 8″ campaign in California last cycle.

    > certainly any Republican candidate will be much more homeschooling
    > -friendly than the teachers-union backed Dem alternative, which isn’t
    > too radical but at least a start.

    Shame no one is advocating for a real transformation of the schooling system. Government managed schooling should be deeply troubling to anyone who cares about liberty. Is it any surprise that government funded schools produce pro government graduates?

    > I believe the Internet will make the current public education paradigm
    > obsolete soon enough anyway. It’s all too easy to open source curicula,
    > educational materials and teacher training.

    Education is a lot more than books and curricula. Teachers are unbelievably important to the success of students and consequently to the future of the world. The fact that they are unionized and under the thumb of the government is deeply disturbing to me. Anyone who looks at education, and compares, for example, a little boy learning his multiplication tables, and compares that to the same kid learning the next level of Sonic or Halo, knows that there is something deeply broken about the way kids learn in school. However, what would you expect when the school system is given gratis to each and all, with no competitive pressures, and no incentive to do better? What would you expect when even the idea of measuring performance is met with a hissy fits and cynical laughter. What would you expect when the consumers of education (or their parents at least) have no choices and no control? Fact is that homeschoolers are regular winners of the big scholastic competitions, and I say that as someone who is not a big fan of homeschooling. Imagine what our school system would be like if every school had to compete for the educational dollars of every kid? Would we have ghetto schools? I think not.

  61. All I can say is it’s about time.

    This country’s current system is like the democratic planet ruled by lizards in So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish!. The people hate the lizards but keep voting for them because who else are they going to vote for?

    Oddly enough, a couple days ago in the Metro (which tends to have liberal political commentary) I found an editorial stating pretty much the same thing: that the country is increasingly being directed by the “Militant Middle”, who have no party affiliation and are sick of the political shenanigans of both Democratic and Republican party men.

  62. > For example, I can’t contribute whatever I want to whichever candidate I want,
    > and I certainly can’t do it anonymously.

    Because there is nothing as wonderful and uncorruptible as a political system in which one can secretly own a candidate lock stock and barrel.

  63. Jessica,

    “Anyone who looks at education, and compares, for example, a little boy learning his multiplication tables, and compares that to the same kid learning the next level of Sonic or Halo, knows that there is something deeply broken about the way kids learn in school.”

    I agree with the rest of your comment, particularly the incentive analysis – incentive analysis is the No. 1 skill everybody talking about politics should learn – but not with this particular sentence. Even the best-inventived, wholly-privatized and whatnot school system could not bridge the gap existing between things kids find interesting and kids need to learn. What it would achieve is parents deciding what a given kid needs to learn and not someone else. The best possible outcome is parents applying coercion to kids with love and with understanding of the requirements and realities of the particular situation, not an external person without love and with only a very generalized statistical understanding, ignorant of the particular situation at hand. But a truly coercion-free education system, free from even coercion by parents is unthinkable, because at the end of the day 9 kid out of 10 would choose Halo over the multiplication table still, and that’s not a particularly useful skill.

  64. # Shenpen Says:
    > But a truly coercion-free education system, free from even coercion
    > by parents is unthinkable, because at the end of the day 9 kid out of
    > 10 would choose Halo over the multiplication table still, and that’s not
    > a particularly useful skill.

    If moving to the next level of halo required remembering that 7*8 = 56, even in a in your face “this is education” type of way, I assure you every little boy in America would have mastery of their seven times table.

    Let me offer a specific example. The Rosetta Stone software enables people to very quickly gain working knowledge of a language. I have not used it myself, but I have seen people gain working fluency in six weeks using this software (that is to say, they can operate effectively in a country that uses that language.) Traditional language teachers require you to learn by rote your declensions and conjugations along with massive vocabulary lists. Not so Rosetta Stone. Which is the reason why most people in America take four years of Spanish in school, and can’t even order a beer on their vacation in Acapulco.

  65. “The Rosetta Stone software enables people to very quickly gain working knowledge of a language. I have not used it myself, but I have seen people gain working fluency in six weeks using this software (that is to say, they can operate effectively in a country that uses that language.) Traditional language teachers require you to learn by rote your declensions and conjugations along with massive vocabulary lists. Not so Rosetta Stone. Which is the reason why most people in America take four years of Spanish in school, and can’t even order a beer on their vacation in Acapulco.”

    Actually that or something like that I can subscribe to. I decided to move to Austria in last February. Until may I watched 10 movies with subtitles. Then I quit my job and spent 5 hours a day reading German/Austria newspapers with a dictionary at first and then without it, plus watching some more movies, plus seeing a teacher three times a week but making it clear I want to talk and not to be “taught” – fluency for me is more important than correctness and therefore he is only to correct me if I make the same mistake 5 times in a row. In August I took a one-month course in Vienna, was assigned to Level 5 out of 8, and found, to my surprise, that the other students there who wasted 4-8 years in learning the language could not talk with me at all. They were afraid of saying something wrongly and therefore talked slow and hesitantly, while my strategy was talking at normal speed even if often quite wrongly and trusting the intelligence of other people to figure out what I really mean to say. I knew well enough body language and tone goes a long way etc. I upgraded to Level 6 out of boredom, got a certificate, and got a job in Vienna in November without any problems at all. These students, who knew all the grammatical tables but just didn’t know how to _use_ a language were from all over the world, Americans, Brits, Spanish, Turkish (many), Russians, Japanese, which led me to the conclusion that there aren’t just local problems about language teaching but they accepted way it is taught everywhere doesn’t worth jack shit at all because it’s not a working, practical knowledge they teach but “geometrical” correctness. Teachers lack even that little bit of common sense that foreign languages should be taught the same way as you learned your own native one and not as a “science”. (One could say at this point I became another bit more “anti-intellectual” :-) )

  66. If moving to the next level of halo required remembering that 7*8 = 56, even in a in your face “this is education” type of way, I assure you every little boy in America would have mastery of their seven times table.

    If moving to the next level of Halo required schoolwork, Halo would cease to be cool, kids would lose interest in it, and you’d be right back where you started. In order to do this right, you’ve got to appeal to kids on their own level. Think Dungeons & Dragons, Pokémon (card game), and other such games with complicated rules. Kids love these things, and they have to do math (and read!) all the time in order to play them.

    What you describe is pretty much the concept behind LeapFrog toys and other such garbage. I think the people at LeapFrog hate kids. They clearly aren’t marketing toward kids. They’re marketing to their parents, who want to buy something fun but make sure that “my child is learning as he has fun.” Result: condescending, simplistic games that run at 5 FPS and feature math puzzles and the like. About as fun as Christian video games, even when they have licensed characters like Sonic.

  67. Jeff Read Says:
    > If moving to the next level of Halo required schoolwork, Halo
    > would cease to be cool, kids would lose interest in it,

    Sure, that is why there are no books about Halo, and no fan web sites. Because Halo players are not willing to do any offline study to improve their Halo skills.

    > What you describe is pretty much the concept behind
    > LeapFrog toys and other such garbage.

    I don’t know much about LeapFrog, but I see kids playing it all the time, totally engrossed. I don’t know what the educational effectiveness is, and I don’t really know what the games are, though I remember a rule about the 90% of everything. However, I am not proposing a specification for educational software here at all. All I am saying is that kids have a remarkable capacity to remember complex, often abstract information if sufficiently motivated. School has done a horrible job at tapping this capacity, as is evidenced by their dismal results. But why should they? Pathetic results are perfectly fine when schools are run for the benefit of teachers rather than parents and children. Especially so, when you are not even allowed to measure results in the first place.

    Let me offer a non computer example. Joanne Rowling has probably done more for middle school literacy than any other educational expert in the past 50 years. Why? Because she wrote a compelling story that did not patronize kids with a weak vocabulary. Are teachers putting aside Hemingway for Rowling? I think not. (Why the heck do they assign Hemingway anyway. He was one screwed up dude with a truly disturbing view of life.) And yes, I am well aware of the literary shortcomings of Harry Potter too. However, I really enjoyed reading it when I was a kid, and I don’t doubt it expanded my vocabulary. Before her I never even knew what a Muggle was.

  68. I think you may be right about this one. All of the arguments like JessicaBoxer’s comment about the two-party system being a necessary shortcut, or some of the others about a two-party system being a result of the first-past-the-post voting are nothing but hooey invented to explain the horror that is the two-party system.

    And as other have pointed out, not matter what the inputs, the outputs were essentially the same — it became a two-horse race with each of the major parties backing a particular candidate.

    I do think, however, that if we examine recent presidential elections, it’s clear that we’ve become a “vote for the guy you hate the least” society. There’s a certain number of loyal Democrats who vote a more or less straight party ticket; likewise for the Republicans. Those straight-partiers are pretty evenly divided between Dems and Reps, too. In the end, as we all know, it’s the nebulous group of people — that is evermore growing — known as the “swing voters” who decide presidential elections. And those swing voters, by and large, have the most influence in huge numbers in certain key states — Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, etc. These are the “swing” states.

    Notice, though, that in the last two elections, states that were traditionally red went blue and vice-versa. This, I think, is indicative of the increasing influence and migration of the “swing voters” into those states.

  69. # morgan greywolf Says:
    > the two-party system being a necessary shortcut, are nothing but hooey
    > invented to explain the horror that is the two-party system.

    Sorry, but calling an argument hooey doesn’t count as a repudiation. Let me ask you this: when you go into the voting booth and have to decide whether to vote for Judge Susan Hopkins (D) or Judge Bill Andrews(R), who are you voting for? What do you know about them? You know D and R, that is it, so that is the way you vote.

    Let me also point out that the US electoral system is no more a two party system than the NFL is a two team league. Sure, only two teams play in the superbowl, but lots of other teams play for the right to play in the superbowl. If I remember right for the last presidential election there were well over a dozen candidates for president from Huckabee to Kucinich, and that is not even counting the third party candidates. That is a pretty broad range of candidates if you ask me.

    There is plenty wrong with the electoral system in the United States, but choice is certainly not lacking. (The FEC is far more effective at protecting incumbents, for example.)

    > we’ve become a “vote for the guy you hate the least” society.

    What do you mean “we’ve become”, when were we every any different? There were lots and lots of people who voted for President Obama because they adored him, not because he was the guy they hated the least. See here is the problem Morgan. If you are the sort of person who wants to become a politician, you are probably a pretty hateful person anyway. So your position isn’t all that surprising.

    > known as the “swing voters” who decide presidential elections.

    That is only one of the two competing theories. There are, according to the people who do this for a living, two ways to win. There is the Karl Rove way, witness Bush 2004, which is to get out the vote — that is to say, make sure more of the people who would vote for you actually do so. Then there is the triangulation, or Dick Morris way, which is compromise your ideas to make more people on the margin fall in your camp (Clinton 1996 was an example of this.) When voter turnout is below 50%, then there is a lot more gold to mine in the first camp than the second camp.

    > Notice, though, that in the last two elections, states that were traditionally
    > red went blue and vice-versa.

    Again, this is common. California was solid Republican fifty years ago.

  70. When I was 5, my dad bought me one of these. It wasn’t as big, fast, noisy, or expensive as a grown-up’s computer, but it spoke the same language: BASIC. You could do anything with it: the POKE command was your magic wand and could create wonderment or disaster, depending on how careful you were. (My VIC got fried once and in retrospect it could have been due to my poking around…)

    Here is what today’s “tech savvy” soccer moms are buying their kids. Hideous, isn’t it? That’s the least of its crimes: its entire usage has been defined and circumscribed by focus groups and grown-ups with MBAs far, far away from the kid. Internet reviews of the thing gush about how it’s the best “mom-tested” toy. WTF?
    We already know better than to foist this garbage on kids in developing nations (though it seems we still haven’t shaken the notion that kids just love the color #00FF00). The Wikipedia article for this LeapFrog piece of crap states that the built-in software allows for free typing, but still censors swear words. Because back in the Dark Ages before we knew how to properly control every little bit of what kids were exposed to via computers, every 8-year-old’s first BASIC program was this:

    10 PRINT “BALLS”
    20 GOTO 10

    I’m not advocating that kids be exposed to or use dirty language, but the giggling at the word “BALLS” filling the screen is temporary. What’s lasting is that the computer comprises a system that is a) discoverable; b) bound by rules, but not arbitrary rules; c) a place where their intentions have meaning. So is the Dungeons and Dragons game. So is a bucket of LEGO brand bricks. So is just about any martial art. Heck, even things like the Star Trek or Harry Potter universes fulfill such a function for the likes of teenage fanfic writers. The same goes for Halo and World of Warcraft. This is precisely the distinction when Alan Kay talks about “learning to play guitar” vs. “learning to play Guitar Hero“. When we see kids retreat into those instead of “doing what they should be doing” and “participating in the real world”, we should stop to consider that what we are teaching them is that the real world is not discoverable, is bounded by rules which are often arbitrary, and is a place where their intentions often have very little meaning.

    This comes from the attitude of the parents, not the fact that a school is government-run. We do a lot of get-off-my-lawn talk about kids’ sense of entitlement these days, but the parents feel just as entitled. They feel that they are entitled to kids who will grow up to become perfect Harvard-educated lawyers or football stars or whatever. They treat their kids like bonsai trees, thinking that if only they could play the part of perfect program manager in their child’s lives, selecting only the best things to expose them to starting with Mozart in the womb, then the child will turn out a genius and it just isn’t so. Seymour Papert’s key contribution to the field of education was this insight: kids are people. In the future our descendants will look back on this benighted era as a barbaric age when we didn’t treat children with the respect they deserved, but as trophies to be shown off alongside our McMansions and yachts, and they will laugh at the ugly, puppy-shaped computers and hideous Dora the Explorer toys we gave our kids for Christmas. They will wonder how any kid could possibly have survived a school with “No Child Left Behind” in place, and think of it much as we think of the plight of children in sweatshops before child-labor laws. (Of course, the sweatshop kids had the slight advantage of doing something productive for their families; kids in schools today grind away for no reason at all save marks on paper.) And their kids will have impossibly cool toys that teach them without being a schoolmarm about it. By that time it won’t be Lego bricks or even laptops, but robot puppies built out of nanomachines or something. (Can you imagine a robot puppy that flashed multiplication problems at you, and wouldn’t bark or wag its tail till you got them right? Nonsense!)

    The government-run school systems in the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, etc. all do much better than American schools in terms of producing competent learners. Of course those things tend to have something American schools lack: the schools in those countries compete for government money, and kids compete to get into the good schools. There’s prestige associated with getting into a good school, and graduates of even fair-to-middling secondary schools in Germany come out with the equivalent of a baccalaureate degree’s worth of education, in American terms. 100% taxpayer funded, zero additional cost to all comers.

  71. Why the heck do they assign Hemingway anyway. He was one screwed up dude with a truly disturbing view of life.

    Because I think the people who decide which novels are great are screwed up with truly disturbing views of life. I think having a disturbing view of life is a prerequisite for Great Literature. If you celebrate life and the nobility of man, if you write about great characters doing great things, then you an utterly hopeless naïf with nothing meaningful to say and will be relegated to dimestore status. No, in order for your writing to be meaningful you have to hold up a mirror to man and show his pettiness, his wretchedness, his susceptibility to fear, envy, hatred, and illusion. Rowling escaped this judgement by targeting kids.

  72. Sure, that is why there are no books about Halo, and no fan web sites. Because Halo players are not willing to do any offline study to improve their Halo skills.

    Completely different phenomenon. Books and fan web sites allow people to be immersed in Halo. A hypothetical “edutainment” Halo that would flash times table problems on the screen before kids could proceed would suck the cool right out of the franchise. I was a kid back in those days; I played all those insipid MECC Apple II games.

    I’ve never seen a kid engrossed in a LeapFrog toy. If you see them, how many of those kids own that and a Nintendo DS? I’d wager very few. Once again the analogy to Christian video games: these things are marketed as substitutes for mainstream video games, which are considered bad precisely because they are fun and engrossing.

  73. I wish we could identify the mental defect that keeps millions of people smothered by the narcotic illegitimacy of ‘government’…and get to work finding a fix for it pharmaceutically.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know…I know ;)

  74. …if you write about great characters doing great things, then you an utterly hopeless naïf with nothing meaningful to say and will be relegated to dimestore status.

    Sweet fuckery duckery, you’re a mess.

  75. # Jeff Read Says:
    > Because I think the people who decide which novels are
    > great are screwed up with truly disturbing views of life.

    Yes you are probably right. Cynicism does seem very chic. However, do our school boards have to follow them to hell?

    > I think having a disturbing view of life is a prerequisite for
    > Great Literature.

    I am sure you will not be surprised to hear that I disagree with you.

    > If you celebrate life and the nobility of man, if you write about great
    > characters doing great things, then you an utterly hopeless naïf with
    > nothing meaningful to say and will be relegated to dimestore status.

    Really? Isn’t one of the purposes of art to inspire? There are plenty of inspiring characters in Shakespeare or Twain or Dickens. Often it is the contrast between the better person and the pettiness that makes for the great novel. It is the contrast between Portia and Shylock, or the juxtaposition of Nancy and Bill Sykes, or the unrefined but decent Huck, contrasted with a polite but deeply prejudiced society that offers much of the flavor for these novels. However, if your head is buried in Hemingway or Dostoevsky, then there is nothing good under the Sun.

    > Rowling escaped this judgement by targeting kids.

    FWIW, I didn’t mean to classify Rowling as great literature. It isn’t. But it is a great story. Shame they made such a terrible movie.

  76. # Jeff Read Says:
    > A hypothetical “edutainment” Halo that would flash times table
    > problems on the screen before kids could proceed would suck
    > the cool right out of the franchise.

    Who the heck suggested that? I only said that they need to know 7*8, I did not suggest a pop quiz. There are plenty of ways to incorporate that without looking like a dork.

    > I’ve never seen a kid engrossed in a LeapFrog toy. If you see them,
    > how many of those kids own that and a Nintendo DS?

    Couldn’t answer that question. Don’t know. However, the comparison I am making is not between LeapFrog and Nintendo, it is between LeapFrog and Mrs. Paladius’ third grade lecture on long division. Are you going to wager who wins that one?

    > Once again the analogy to Christian video games: these things are
    > marketed as substitutes for mainstream video games, which are
    > considered bad precisely because they are fun and engrossing.

    Nonsense. These games exist because parents fear that it is not a good idea to expose young minds to games involved blowing people’s brains out, hiring hookers, or driving too fast. I’m with the nutty Christian parents on that subject. (Though it would be nice if they didn’t try to indoctrinate the kids with damaging “God killed Grandma and will send you to hell if you don’t finish your broccoli” meme.)

  77. Sweet fuckery duckery, you’re a mess.

    Way to miss the point.

    Really? Isn’t one of the purposes of art to inspire? There are plenty of inspiring characters in Shakespeare or Twain or Dickens. Often it is the contrast between the better person and the pettiness that makes for the great novel. It is the contrast between Portia and Shylock, or the juxtaposition of Nancy and Bill Sykes, or the unrefined but decent Huck, contrasted with a polite but deeply prejudiced society that offers much of the flavor for these novels. However, if your head is buried in Hemingway or Dostoevsky, then there is nothing good under the Sun.

    You also obviously didn’t perceive my sarcasm in the above. I don’t feel that way about great literature, but the sort of person who fawns over Norman Mailer, which sort is in a controlling position in literary criticism these days, does.

  78. Why do they even need to know 7*8? Frankly I don’t see much use for math beyond counting for 99.999% of the population, use your cell phone for everything else (hell, your cell phone/tablet will probably take care of counting someday too ;) ). That will be one of the main ingredients of how online learning will destroy the current education system, by removing all the outdated lessons that have been forced into students’ minds for decades. One great advantage of video games that I never see anyone talk about, and that I know firsthand because I grew up on them, is how they create a logical, structured environment for kids to experiment in. It really is their first introduction to science: you try various approaches to beat the big boss until something works out, then that becomes a set method which is repeatable and even can be generalized into a principle, like a scientific theorem. Of course, the real world is much more disorganized and complex, but in training kids to view the world in such a logical, organized way, there are many benefits. This is a far better introduction to the scientific method than the rote memorization of most schools.

  79. > Why do they even need to know 7*8?

    Because the effort involved in learning this arguably useless single fact nevertheless trains the mind. That this is no longer learned by 99.44% of schoolchildren is evidenced every day by the fumbling at every cash register in the nation and the mind-blowing innumeracy of the multitudes. The VOTING multitudes.

  80. From an outsiders viewpoint the “tea party” battle for the Pubs reminds me of the “civil war” that occurred within the UK labour party when they cleaned out the ultra left factions. Scott Brown is seen as a “true” candidate rather than the RINO version the the DC elite wanted.

  81. Jessica Boxer says:

    >>> Really? Isn’t one of the purposes of art to inspire? There are plenty of inspiring characters in Shakespeare or Twain or Dickens. Often it is the contrast between the better person and the pettiness that makes for the great novel. It is the contrast between Portia and Shylock, or the juxtaposition of Nancy and Bill Sykes, or the unrefined but decent Huck, contrasted with a polite but deeply prejudiced society that offers much of the flavor for these novels. However, if your head is buried in Hemingway or Dostoevsky, then there is nothing good under the Sun.

    Yes there is much that is inspiring in classical art and literature. But too many of our modern artist think their number one goal should be to shock us rubes in flyover country. Thus we have “artists” who smear their own shit on a pant canvass and call it art, or who put a crucifix in a jar of urine. And receive a subsidy to boot.

    This stuff may seem shocking at first but it very quickly becomes stale and boring.

  82. Knowing your multiplication tables by heart is a pre-requisite to being able to do algebra without getting bogged down on the mere calculations. The mere calculations are necessary but if those are burning your brain, you aren’t actually learning algebra. Learning algebra is one of the necessary stepping stones to learning about math in general. (Other theoretically-possible paths exist, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with starting there.) Learning about math is the best way to learn logical thought and the general process of starting with small axioms and building up into larger, more useful, yet still rigorous systems. Knowing how to think logically and rigorously is a prerequisite for science, engineering, and I would argue for proper humanities and art as well. (If you dig into the minds of the truly great artists, you will usually find they function quite well in this manner, even if they don’t talk about it much.)

    And part of the reason so few people make it to the end of that sequence can be laid straight at the feet of people not ever actually learning their multiplication tables. Most of the rest can be accounted to teaching algebra as rote procedures and sucking all the math out of them, even if the student is not choking on the mere calculation. For the want of a nail, a mind is lost.

  83. SourceForge.net > Error
    403 Error – Forbidden

    ARE IRANIAN USERS BAN TO DOWNLOAD FREE SOFTWARES FROM SOURCEFORGE.NET ??? YES

  84. Way to miss the point.

    Whatever your point was, I’m glad to read this :)

    It’s so awful to think that there really are losers that toxic out there…..

  85. Darrencardinal said:
    > Yes there is much that is inspiring in classical art and literature. But too many of our modern artist think their number one goal should be to shock us rubes in flyover country.

    It’s far worse than that. Look, as someone married to an art historian, I tend to get thrown into a lot of these sort of discussions, and I always more or lss say the same thing: Marcel Duchamp destroyed “art” about one hundred years ago. He dropped the bomb by luring humans to (among other things) gather in a public space to comtemplate a urinal. The bomb was a joke, but the audience didn’t get it, and for the next 90 years the art world has been dying from fallout sickness. By 1972 it was so weak that it was co-opted by the world of politics, and has held hostage ever since. Anyone looking for great art these days will have to do it the traditional way: wait fifty years for the few anoymous, important artists to die, then recover it from the wreckage like carrion.

    In the meantime, anyone looking to the NEA for “great art” won’t be disapointed. Not because the art is Great, but because the seekers are have stilted souls.

  86. “The parties are losing!” is the sort of dot.bomb boosterism I’ve been hearing for decades now.

    The fact is, the Democrats are the party of the State. They’re hanging around as long as the State supports them, which will be as long as this State lasts. They’re the figurative Communists of the USSR. Some of them, like Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd, supported the actual Communists of the USSR. There will be internal dustups, but the Democratic Party will remain, with a new set of crooks and hacks.

    Of those not in the Party, or at least not paid off by the Party, we’ve basically got white people who aren’t government employees. Some of them are brave enough to declare themselves Republicans.

  87. I don’t talk politics much, but what I heard from black folks about Obama wasn’t ‘Thank you Jesus for returning’. it was ‘when I was four I sat with my sisters watching a cross burn on my grandma’s lawn; they ran us out. Maybe he’ll lose, but I’m happy already. Just him getting nominated means America isn’t entirely racist any more’.

    It was ‘my daddy liked to hit on white girls with white boys watching. He died in an ‘unsolved hit and run’ in a small town in Indiana’.

    The murder of a father, the theft of a patrimony. That’s a solid voting block. Do Libertarians have that?

    And that ‘happy already’? In blogs, two weeks ago- ‘Probably Brown will lose, but it’s great to have a shot at Kennedy’s seat’. That’s what any candidate has to have behind him. Libertarian, Hamiltonian-minarchist, Seasteaders United Against Political Unity- you need people who know it will go bad but are happy just to have a shot.

  88. I don’t talk politics much, but what I heard from black folks about Obama wasn’t ‘Thank you Jesus for returning’. it was ‘when I was four I sat with my sisters watching a cross burn on my grandma’s lawn; they ran us out. Maybe he’ll lose, but I’m happy already. Just him getting nominated means America isn’t entirely racist any more’.

    “Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Barack could run.”

  89. Umm, no, let me quote you some MLK, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Obama was most assuredly not chosen for the content of his character, you can’t judge that because he said nothing of content. He was chosen by many for the color of his skin: blacks who wanted one of their own in charge, whites who felt guilty or wanted to make a racial statement or didn’t mind someone who was half-white. It is an understandable reaction to the racism of the past, but let’s not confuse it for more than what it was. Now that he’s shown himself to be a weak stuffed shirt who just goes along with the political winds, which admittedly describes most politicians but he’s particularly egregious because he followed the extremists with this medical reform bill, people are ready to throw him out. That’s what the NJ, VA, and MA elections were about and what the upcoming congressional elections will be about, reining him in just like they did Clinton in 1994. A significant portion of that discontent is all the morons who think the President is a king who controls the economy like a puppet and then blame him for the current recession, but he stepped in that doo by claiming credit like every other dumb, power-hungry politician.

  90. “Barack ran so Brown could trip? Brown tripped so Pelosi could fall?” Singsonging nonsense aside, Obama isn’t so much “black” as he is a “Harvard lawyer.” The country isn’t “racist.” That canard was played out twenty years ago. Race-obsessed ninnies can dwell on The Narrative of Obama as much as they want, but It’s the Deficit Stupid. The president and his cabinet can either continue on this course to cut all of our throats, or he can turn the wheel and avoid the iceberg.

  91. Political parties have evolved considerably in the last 50 years. There is far less involvement of part-time volunteers. GOTV requires manpower, but it’s been reduced to shotgun surges at election time.

    An old-time party organization had a worker in each precinct who called on every household, and reported the political alignments. Those voters who were known committed to the party would be pushed hard to vote on election day – including assistance as necessary. Your lumbago is acting up and you can’t walk to the polling place, Mr Snigglefritz? A car will pick you up in half an hour. What’s that. Mrs. Biggles? You can’t leave the children? You know Mrs. Jobson’s daughter, Tina? She’ll watch your kids while you vote. Etc. But that kind of organization requires far more labor than any party can generate today. Instead they get a lot of volunteers to call everyone on computer-generated lists of hopefuls.

    The end of the mass party organization has left three groups:voters, who show up only on election day, donors, who vote and occasionally give money, and full-time political workers. There’s a gap between them. The political workers are not all party employees: some are employees of “independent” groups, including the political arms of labor unions and NGOs.

    As the parties have contracted in this way, they have also manipulated the landscape to secure their control of the field. Running for office as an independent is difficult unless one is independently wealthy. (Even if the campaign can raise funds, a candidate with a full-time day job is crippled.)

    The parties themselves remain, IMO, a necessity. Suppose there’s a lot of people who want X: a faction. The faction cannot get anywhere unless they agree on a program, even if it’s only to pick candidates for offices. There has to be some label for the faction to work under, and some process by which they agree on their program, and the steps to achieve it. A party is the obvious method, and I don’t see any replacement coming.

  92. It seems to me that political parties are one of the phenomena that we invented in days gone by as a communication mechanism, like trading floors, newspapers, broadcast networks, and the electoral college, which the internet may render obsolete.

    The two brands of the Ruling Party were used to operating their monopoly on power by carefully limiting the scope of debate. Certain ideas (like confining the federal government to the powers granted to it in the constitution) were simply ignored by the broadcast media and academia. With the advent of the web though, mass communication became a two way channel.

    I don’t think it’s an accident that the Federal Reserve is suddenly facing a huge popular demand for an audit. Ron Paul’s been introducing the same oversight bill for as long as he’s been a congressman, but now he doesn’t have to rely on the TV networks to get the message to the people.

    The Tea Party phenomenon is another example of mass communication outside of the traditional media. Likewise, the exposure of the Hockey Team was made possible by the web; the MSM tried to ignore it, but eventually they were dragged, kicking and screaming, into reporting on it.

  93. However, if your head is buried in Hemingway or Dostoevsky, then there is nothing good under the Sun.

    I will never forgive Hemmingway for The Old Man and the Sea, nor any of the English teachers who inflicted it on me no less than four times when I was in school. As for Dostoyevsky, writing that turgid pile of despair was a crime, and reading it was a punishment.

  94. SourceForge.net > Error
    403 Error – Forbidden

    ARE IRANIAN USERS BAN TO DOWNLOAD FREE SOFTWARES FROM SOURCEFORGE.NET ??? YES

    Depending on what you want to download, there are usually other sites that carry the code. For example, Ubuntu’s source and binary repositories have almost everything you could ever want from Sourceforge; on Windows (bleh!), try installing Cygwin; on Macs there are the fink repositories. If you can’t download what you want from those, you can probably get someone to mirror the program for you somewhere else.

  95. @JessicaBoxer:

    Sorry, but calling an argument hooey doesn’t count as a repudiation. Let me ask you this: when you go into the voting booth and have to decide whether to vote for Judge Susan Hopkins (D) or Judge Bill Andrews(R), who are you voting for? What do you know about them? You know D and R, that is it, so that is the way you vote.

    Assuming I haven’t done any research due to lack of time? I simply don’t vote in that category. You’re not required to vote in all the elections, you know.

    That is only one of the two competing theories. There are, according to the people who do this for a living, two ways to win. There is the Karl Rove way, witness Bush 2004, which is to get out the vote — that is to say, make sure more of the people who would vote for you actually do so. Then there is the triangulation, or Dick Morris way, which is compromise your ideas to make more people on the margin fall in your camp (Clinton 1996 was an example of this.) When voter turnout is below 50%, then there is a lot more gold to mine in the first camp than the second camp.

    Bush in 2004 can easily be explained by the Dick Morris way as well. The Bush 2004 campaign very effectively used the issue of gay marriage to swing Christian Democrats to vote for Bush.

    However, if your head is buried in Hemingway or Dostoevsky, then there is nothing good under the Sun.

    I checked under the Sun and all I found was bunch of dust bunnies. Maybe I should under some of the other machines as well…

  96. morgan greywolf Says:
    > Assuming I haven’t done any research due to lack of time? I
    > simply don’t vote in that category.

    “You” was meant to be a generic “you”, not necessarily Morgan “I’m a obsessive compulsive news and politics junkie” Greywolf. (I would be right there with you on that of course.) Most people don’t have the time to research the top of the ticket, never mind the bottom, and, as I said earlier, given the cost benefit calculation in doing so they are correct in making that judgment. (Unless there is an additional benefit of actually enjoying the process.)

    > You’re not required to vote
    > in all the elections, you know.

    Are you required to vote at all? Do you think you have an obligation to pull the lever (or punch the touchscreen) for President? Aren’t judges important? This really is the whole point of R vs D. I have to choose between two, most likely I won’t like either of them. However, given that I am choosing between bad and worse, I choose bad since not choosing is also a choice, generally a vote for the incumbent. And R and D are about as good a one letter summary of people’s positions that you are going to get. (BTW, it also offers you the opportunity to vote out Judge Jane Doe who you hear on the news was soft on child molesters. Something that tends to override the R/D summary.)

  97. And R and D are about as good a one letter summary of people’s positions that you are going to get.

    But increasingly, they’re not accurate at all. Scott Brown is a good example; on abortion, he seeks to regulate, but ultimately thinks the choice is between a woman and her doctor. On gay marriage, Brown thinks that states should be free to pass their own laws. Does he sound like a “regular” Republican to you? Or, if we want to look at more known quantity, how about Barack Obama? His stance at election time, and his actual actions regarding the war in Iraq do not differ greatly at all from what McCain proposed at election time.

    Ultimately, Democrats and Republicans are just two different sides of the same coin, anyway: They’re both statists, just with slightly differing agendas.

  98. This whole Halo/Sonic argument is moronic. I play these games (I practically grew up on Sonic, and I own Halo 1 & 2), and they do not require much higher-order thought and are based primarily on fast reactions. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s just the way most games work these days. Even thinking games not based on reflexes, like Starcraft are based primarily on rote-learning of quantities and responses rather than the formulation of novel strategies. World of Warcraft is mostly about activation of particular key-bindings in response to particular situations (again, I play this game, so I know). You simply cannot wrap up tertiary level education in a game, and your suggestion of wrapping things up in a game deprives children of the opportunity to focus on things that are not enjoyable.


  99. Even thinking games not based on reflexes, like Starcraft are based primarily on rote-learning of quantities and responses rather than the formulation of novel strategies.

    Geez you could have picked a game that had no claim to a reflexive basis like any of the total war series. Starcraft is all about the click spam, the faster you click the sooner you get your N-sized zerg horde inside their base killing their dudes. WoW is, however, a better example. Reflexes with 1s latency are kind of pointless. Having said that though the lack of anything resembling novel strategy (at least up to BC. Jumping the spaceship != being true to your own lore) is what turned me off of WoW.

    You simply cannot wrap up tertiary level education in a game, and your suggestion of wrapping things up in a game deprives children of the opportunity to focus on things that are not enjoyable.

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting you should wrap tertiary level education in a game. I’ve never come across Leapfrog but it sounds like the traditional mid-late primary “edutainment” product. There’s no inherent reason why you couldn’t wrap up a kind of Mathematics into a game product (and I specifically mean the Mathematicians Lament kind of math) but it would require an interesting design process and probably have to be optional (even if it is optimal).

    For example, some form of piloting game (battle robots/fighters/cars/space ships etc…) where you can “tune” your vehicle. Ultimately the tuning “mini-game” should be mostly zero sum but there are “sweet spots” that allow for some min-maxing as well as the possibility of min/maxing through specialisation.

    Another example would be the game M.U.L.E. which gave a very beginners guide to Economics in the guise of a settler game including some dumbed down concepts of Economies of Scale, Learning Curve Theory, supply and demand, and Diminishing Returns. Ok it’s not a maths example but it’s a similar point. The “education” part is a subtle hanger on to the “entertainment” part. If this isn’t the case then your game is not going to be considered “fun”. (Heck even Mule was generally considered only a cult classic. Its sales were relatively lackluster).

  100. Tony Johnson Says:
    > This whole Halo/Sonic argument is moronic.

    I suggest you learn to make your case without being so rude. Let me put it this way: just because you lack the imagination as to how the attractive qualities of video games can be leveraged to help kids learn important lessons, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. On the contrary, it has been done, though various forces are push against the demand that might drive it more firmly to completion.

  101. Jessica Boxer said:
    > On the contrary, it has been done, though various forces are push against the demand that might drive it more firmly to completion.

    Yes. The U.S. military has actually leveraged several video game engines with their officer training programs, including real-time immersive language sims and urban tactical training.

    Tony is a moral and mental infant who expends energy arguing for post-birth “abortions” and other silly tripe. I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for make a polite, dignified case about anything.

  102. >I suggest you learn to make your case without being so rude. Let me put it this way: just because you lack the imagination as to how the attractive qualities of video games can be leveraged to help kids learn important lessons, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. On the contrary, it has been done, though various forces are push against the demand that might drive it more firmly to completion.

    I suggest you don’t talk about things you don’t know anything about. Important lessons like what? If Halo required multiplication, kids would use a calculator (duh). Furthermore, kids taught using your games system would not learn to exercise the discipline required to learn things without novelties, and would be fucked when they had to learn anything difficult. This is the usual reductionist argument we’ve come to expect from Jessica Boxer, where if we just implement some dumb scheme the inherent difficulties of education will disappear.

  103. I suggest you don’t talk about things you don’t know anything about. Important lessons like what?

    If you followed your own advice, you’d never post.

    I could, for instance, imagine a video game replacing dissection in a high school biology class. It would make the process much more palatable, along with giving you the option of seeing the internal organs of the species being ‘dissected’ in live action and doing things like demonstrating the functionality of the digestive system or the circulatory system, complete with motion and other visualization aids. For all I know, this is has already been done; but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in use in classrooms in the very near future if it hasn’t already.

    Google Earth, which is not really a video game, but incorporates a lot of the ideas found in video games, is already being used in classrooms to teach kids about geography. Does anybody remember the Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego games? I could imagine one of these being integrated into Google Earth via KML and whatnot.

  104. If you followed your own advice, you’d never post.

    Oh, Tony knows plenty. He may not know how to post in a persuasive or even an attractive way. His basic point is correct though. There are many things we need to teach which we don’t know how to teach except through hard, not-fun discipline. I suspect, for example, the utterly important mindset of military discipline, which keeps our soldiers, sailors and airmen alive during combat, must be taught through hard, not-fun, absolutely break-you discipline.

    His particular example is probably wrong. Teaching the times tables through a fun video game is relatively simple and kids (all three of mine) like it.

    Yours,
    Tom

  105. > I suspect, for example, the utterly important mindset of military discipline, which keeps our soldiers, sailors and airmen alive during combat, must be taught through hard, not-fun, absolutely break-you discipline.

    Actually, think military education is the poor example here. The military is one institution in which instructional games has always flourished, from grand 19th century Kriegspiels to our modern era of immersive computer simulations for both combat and non-combat exercises and officer education.

    I was able to demo one such application at a convention two years, which used a fully rendered urban Iraqi theatre to instruct officers in Iraqi verbal and non-verbal language, behavioral norms and cultural context, so they could effectively communicate with the local populace and more effectively assess threats. The feedback on the active program has been universally positive, and I’m not surprised. It was indeed very impressive.

  106. Virginia Pournelle’s reading program has a game in each lesson (I think: getting this from Pournelle’s site).

    Of course, there’s fun, and then there’s hard fun. Having the DI state ‘You did THAT fine! You been fakin’ the funk on me, soldier?’ after you excell at something for a change: hard fun.

  107. jrok,

    First of all, everything I know about the military I learning by reading, so I am essentially an ivory-tower academic on the subject, without the ivory tower or the academy. Keep salt handy.

    I don’t disagree that the military is one institution in which instructional games have always flourished. See the Olympics. However, to teach the mindset of military discipline in particular every decent military institutes, not an instructional game, but a boot camp. With hard-ass drill sergeants, who are not playing games, and real punishments up to jail time and maybe in some cases execution.

    A boot camp is rather the opposite of fun. It’s, as I said, hard, not-fun, absolutely break-you discipline.

    Military discipline as instilled by a boot camp (and regular rituals which are like a return to boot camp) seems to be useful in keeping soldiers alive and preventing PTSDs.

    Perhaps you are right and we can substitute a video game to teach military discipline. But I’d like to see an existence proof.

    Yours,
    Tom

  108. I just read bruce’s comment more carefully.

    Of course, there’s fun, and then there’s hard fun. Having the DI state ‘You did THAT fine! You been fakin’ the funk on me, soldier?’ after you excell at something for a change: hard fun.

    For some people hard fun = washout, but too many washouts = too small military, so we seem to be able to keep it under control.

    There are a lot of children who never learn to have hard fun. I never did.

    Yours,
    Tom

  109. Tom DeGisi said:
    > Perhaps you are right and we can substitute a video game to teach military discipline. But I’d like to see an existence proof.

    I’m not talking about “discipline.” I’m talking about skills, up to and including higher reasoning and strategic ability. Basic Training is exactly what it sounds like: Basic. It’s not so much about education as it is about acclimating you to the regimen and the culture of command.

    Wargames (and their increasing number of non-combat sim brethren) are not about discipline. They are about observation, logic, creativity, strategic planning and information retention/analysis. They aren’t easy, and they’re not necessarily “fun” either… although we all have a different sense of what’s “fun.”

  110. # Tony Johnson Says:
    > Furthermore, kids taught using your games system
    > would not learn to exercise the discipline required to
    > learn things without novelties, …

    Since I never made a recommendation that even resembles your characterization, this would be a strawman.

    > This is the usual reductionist argument we’ve come to expect from Jessica Boxer,

    I don’t recall having met you, or having debated you in the past, so I am not entirely sure how you come to this conclusion, but if you want to convince me to be less simplistic, you might want to make the case as to why my moronic nostrums do not meet with your approval.

  111. >First of all, everything I know about the military I learning by reading, so I am essentially an ivory-tower academic on the subject, without the ivory tower or the academy. Keep salt handy.
    Yeah, that was a bit obvious.

    >A boot camp is rather the opposite of fun. It’s, as I said, hard, not-fun, absolutely break-you discipline.
    You’d be advised to stop using movies via NetFlix or whatever to gain an insight into “boot camp.”

    “Break-you discipline?” “A boot camp is rather the opposite of fun?”
    That would be those movies I mentioned. Personally I actually had a good time. “Break-you discipline?” Not the intent. Only in movies.

    I’d pontificate on the mating habits of European Socialist Goths but, like your concepts of military training, I’d pretty much have to just make it all up or regurgitate bad movies.

    Don’t mean to harsh you really, just pointing out that you really have no idea on what you’re going on about.

  112. >There are a lot of children who never learn to have hard fun. I never did.

    “Hard fun”. Good term for it. Most martial artists know what that’s like, when you push yourself to your limit and then beyond it.

  113. I’m not talking about “discipline.”

    I can see you aren’t. I am. I think “discipline” can be learned, and I think basic training is one way to learn it. Maybe I’m wrong.

    “Hard fun”. Good term for it. Most martial artists know what that’s like, when you push yourself to your limit and then beyond it.

    Yes. Lots of athletic training, particularly when you really want to get good could be descibed as “hard fun”. Perhaps the Wii Fit products are a video game which sucessfully encourages “hard fun”.

    Yours,
    Tom

  114. >“Break-you discipline?” Not the intent. Only in movies.

    Huh? Of course they want to break you. Break you of being a civilian who won’t kill and won’t obey orders that will put him in jeopardy. Recruits have to be re-socialized to obey their officers and feel loyalty to their squadmates before they’re any good as soldiers — this is one of the most basic axioms of military psychology. DIs alternate abuse with intermittent reinforcement because they need to reshape boots into functional parts of the military machine and those tactics are a time-tested way to do it.

    This isn’t to say military training has to be brutal or degrading. In fact, brutalizing and degrading boots is a bad idea, inefficient because it produce whipped dogs rather than good troops. It can be fun. The best military trainers build up the recruit’s self-discipline, sense of accomplishment and self-worth, tying these benefits to the functional responses the military requires.

    Troops trained this way are more capable and resilient than troops who have merely been terrorized or conditioned into following orders. In fact, one of the principal military advantages civilized nations have over thugocracies (like, say, Iraq under Saddam Hussein) is that our troops act with flexibility and initiative; they don’t fear being punished for behaving with anything other than blind and literal obedience.

    Still. There is no denying that the initial phase of boot training involves pounding the boot into a state of psychological plasticity so the new imprints can take.

  115. >”Of course they want to break you. Break you of being a civilian who won’t kill and won’t obey orders that will put him in jeopardy”
    There is a huge difference between this.

    >”In fact, brutalizing and degrading boots is a bad idea, inefficient because it produce whipped dogs rather than good troops. It can be fun. The best military trainers build up the recruit’s self-discipline, sense of accomplishment and self-worth, tying these benefits to the functional responses the military requires.”
    and this.

    Tom’s concept is the latter. Consider this (which was part of his post):
    >”With hard-ass drill sergeants, who are not playing games, and real punishments up to jail time and maybe in some cases execution.”
    During boot camp, if you really mess up they don’t give you “real punishments up to jail time and maybe in some cases execution.” They send you home. First 6 months of service are something akin to “probation.” No “dishonorable” discharges are given. Outside of criminal behavior. They give you an “administrative discharge.” When I was in boot camp all discharges for the first 6 months were “administrative.” If you couldn’t adapt they sent you home.

    The USMC, known for tough discipline, used to have what they called a “baby cruise” before WW2. A very short enlistment to ensure the Marine would adapt.

    So no, not the kind of “break you” that is bandied about in movies. What’s important isn’t trying to beat you down. It’s to ensure you can work with others and “keep your military bearing.” Which is shorthand for keep your own council.

  116. Actually, I take it all back.

    American students were at the top of the heap in mathematics when they were taught math through drill and repetition. They only started slipping once “new math” came to take hold, and now this constructivist stuff has math scores in the dumper in Seattle. Meanwhile, Saxon Math, a drill-based program, is getting results.

    Skill in math is important, and if boring-ass drills are what get kids numerate, then boring-ass drills are what we should use. It looks like that’s the case.

  117. I was thinking of desertion during wartime and people who actually violate the UCMJ (which includes crimes that apply only to military personnel), and also militaries in other times and other countries. I understand that being a Russian private can be a pretty awful experience, which is one reason the Russian army is not up to Western standards. See Eric’s comments about brutality and degradation. In addition, a dishonorable discharge is not a good thing. But actually I am in general agreement with Eric and SomeDude.

    There is no denying that the initial phase of boot training involves pounding the boot into a state of psychological plasticity so the new imprints can take.

    Yes. I understand that many boots go through a period where they aren’t sure if they are going to make it. That’s because what they are experiencing is hard / difficult and not fun, not because it is brutal or degrading.

    Yours,
    Tom DeGisi

  118. I disagree that the two party system is becoming obsolete because there is no overt interjection of 3rd parties or independents. Instead the 2 party system is becoming more ingrained as an explanation for how the system works, even if its less relevant to the actual function.

    By analogy, let me say that the two party system is becoming more like a professional sports league. The NFL, for example, really doesn’t care which team wins the super bowl, so long as everyone else cares. All they need to do is sell the game. Likewise, the players themselves, while playing for a particular team this year, have no emotional or honor-bound allegiance to that team. When their contract ends, they’ll play for whoever offers them the best deal.

    The Scott Brown victory is interpreted by reporting agencies as a referendum on the Obama presidency, a decry of national health insurance, backlash against the press for pre-determining the results, the result of a poorly run democratic campaign, and on and on. There was, however, no exit polling and we truthfully do not know why the voters chose Scott Brown. This lack of data has not stopped speculation however. The “news” agencies truthfully cares little for who wins the election or the reasons for it. They care only that we are interested. This interest is piqued by introducing a story of epic conflict between two parties. In this fashion, they are playing the role of the league organizers – positioning the players on one team or another to create a narrative full of conflict and drama.

    In this, the media and other sources are creating much stronger parties than truly exist. These parties may be fiction, but historical fiction easily becomes history in the absence of other analysis. In other words, the literal power of the parties is not what determines their relevance, their relevance is determined by the significance we place on them, and we (led by the media) are giving conservative vs. democrat and liberal vs. republican a great deal of intellectual capital to explain the behavior of our government and the voters. A person’s political affiliation (real or imagined) seems to have taken on a greater, more polarizing, weight than previously. The perception of this reality seems, to me, more powerful than the actual facts.

  119. Jason Ledtke: I seem to recall putting it in similar terms back when I was a conservative, except in terms of pro wrestling; though I’ve changed my political opinions since then I think the analogy applies. What is Obama but a face? What is McCain but a heel? Opponents for the fans and the cameras, their moves are still dictated by the league, WWE, etc. In such a way can the polity be easily, easily manipulated. And when you account for opposition to the dominant paradigm, said opposition can be easily manipulated as well, like the rebels on Mallorca from This Perfect Day (or Zion from The Matrix). That is why Obama won: he provided a much-needed symbolic outlet for the opponents of the dominant corporatist model, and hence decreased the chances of real social change taking place.

  120. # Jason Ledtke Says:
    > A person’s political affiliation (real or imagined) seems to have taken on a
    > greater, more polarizing, weight than previously.

    I think people greatly overestimate how bad, in historical terms, our elections actually are. In the Election of 1832 Van Buren’s people falsely accused Jackson’s mother of being a prostitute for the British forces during the revolutionary war, for example. Elections are probably much more polite today than they have ever been. However, on the other hand, I think there is a growth in polarization too. But I think that is because government is much more involved in your life. 100 years ago, you could live your life without an encounter with the federal government. Today you can barely go a day without such an encounter. Since they have agrandized themselves, and stuck their nose more forcefully into our lives, they matter more, and so politics matters more.

    Not that that is likely to change, since politicians love nothing more than being important.

  121. > I seem to recall putting it in similar terms back when I was a conservative

    Read, may I say it terrifies me to imagine what it is you once considered to be your “conservative” bona-fides.

    :)

  122. Read, may I say it terrifies me to imagine what it is you once considered to be your “conservative” bona-fides.

    It’s terrifying all right. I was a supporter of Shrub and the War on Terra.

  123. > It’s terrifying all right. I was a supporter of Shrub and the War on Terra.

    Ah, *way* back in the day, then? A full nine years ago! And “conservatism” as a function of a single war! The ghosts of JFK and FDR are laughing… and so am I!

  124. Jeff Read> That is why Obama won: he provided a much-needed symbolic outlet for the opponents of the dominant corporatist model

    I also feel Obama won because his election presented the best narrative. His election “story” was more compelling even than Hillary’s. That’s not to belittle it all, his narrative buys the US a great deal of credibility in the world at a time when our credibility is lacking… if that’s purely an accident of the election process or if there is some guiding hand at play I cannot say. That being said, I can’t imagine the kind of person I would want to be president ever winning, because they would never run. The type of person who is willing to do things necessary to win an election is not the kind of person who would qualify as my ideal candidate. Never the less, votes will be cast and we will have a presidential election every 4 years.

    Jessica Boxer: I don’t want to confuse political parties with government. As ESR points out, some of the “grass roots” organizations (radio talk show hosts, consumer advocates, and documentary film makers) are not a part of government at all, though they do inform political parties. I simply think that people and ideas are being boxed into parties, and those assigned categorizations are being used to create an explanation and narrative for current events. As such, party affiliation (real and imagined) is gaining credence, not losing it. No event can take place without it being “republican” or “democrat”, and every person in office is being assigned “red” or “blue”. How can the 2 party system be dying if everyone must be assigned a badge? Also, while government may be playing a larger role in our daily life, that does not necessitate by itself a two party system. The government could play a large role and there could be 3, 4, 99, or 0 parties. There are more than 2 sides to almost every issue, yet not only do we label every side as falling into one of two categories, we also lump all the issues together into these same buckets. It’s gross oversimplification that only leads to dogmatic argument instead of constructive debate… and dogmatic clashes make compelling “news”.

  125. Jason Ledtke: The kind of person most suited for political power is the kind of person who doesn’t want to get into politics in the first place. A quandary worthy of Groucho Marx: “I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have me as a member.”

  126. Jess, I think you mean Adams, Van Buren was Jackson’s VP. And there used to be riots around election time back then, so I don’t think there’s anything new under the sun with polarization either.

    Regarding discipline from education, that’s the last refuge of shitty teachers. We don’t make students memorize their textbooks because it’s a useless skill, despite such cramming potentially being great for “discipline.” It’s important that students learn what’s useful and get discipline by learning that, not to impart discipline by stuffing in useless subjects. The fact is anything beyond counting is basically useless in the age of computers for everybody but the handful of engineers who write the code. It is useless to memorize dates or locations in geography or history because they’re always 5 secs away, from your computer or smartphone (actually that was always fairly useless). The current education system will collapse in a paroxysm of creative destruction precisely because they’re too stupid to make these and many other changes, which new online learning businesses will implement.

  127. Ah, *way* back in the day, then? A full nine years ago! And “conservatism” as a function of a single war! The ghosts of JFK and FDR are laughing… and so am I!

    Actually I turned around just a few years ago — as I began to read the extent of Bush’s crimes and the degree to which Martin Luther King’s “giant triplets” of racism, militarism, and materialism are ingrained into conservative politics.

    But yeah, I was also a “get the government out of education, healthcare, environmental stewardship and nearly everything else” type of conservative. Then I grew up. Wilkinson and Pickett have driven the final nail in the coffin of laissez-faire wishful-thinking, much like Jefferson did for the divine right of kings. Their book The Spirit Level shows that for wealthy nations, people are happier, healthier, live longer and with less stress or animosity towards their fellow man when the social structures are in place to promote material equality: not just equality of opportunity but of outcome as well.

  128. Jeff Read> people are happier, healthier, live longer and with less stress or animosity towards their fellow man when the social structures are in place to promote material equality

    While this alone is convincing reason enough, I would also argue that there is an economic benefit to society as well. Imagine two scenarios. In scenario A I give $1M to a very educated person and give them 1 month to spend it. In scenario B I give $10,000 to 100 different people (no particular criteria) and give them 1 month to spend it. In both cases $1M is being spent, but I believe scenario B will result in more economic activity. The group will spend more time per $ dollar making purchasing decisions, and what they lack in any particular qualification they make up for with more effort per dollar. I don’t know a name for this phenomena, but I believe it exists. If you distribute wealth more evenly, it is used to greater effect. It’s like the “ask the audience” phenomena where you are most likely to get the correct answer asking a large group of people and taking the most popular choice as opposed to asking a single “genius” for the answer…. Hmm… am I talking about open source/bazaar here?

  129. Haha, I had never heard of this book, with good reason it would appear, so I googled it and just read this doozy, “Economic growth, for so long the great engine of progress, has, in the rich countries, largely finished its work. Not only have measures of wellbeing and happiness ceased to rise with economic growth but, as affluent societies have grown richer, there have been long-term rises in rates of anxiety, depression and numerous other social problems. The populations of the rich countries have got to the end of a long historical journey.” Anyone who could put forth such a profoundly dumb thesis has no idea what they’re talking about. Growth this century will dwarf the last, because we now have computing machines to help us do intellectual work, that will help us do far more than the industrial machines of the 20th century that were devoted to physical work. As for equality of outcomes, I see, so we’d all be better off if we had a nanny watching over us, making sure that we each win a participation trophy? Such tripe would be hilarious :), if it weren’t so tragically common. If you want to live in such a world, feel free to move to Sweden or Massachusetts or some such stagnant hole, just stop trying to force your delusions of paradise on the rest of us through federal taxes and medical “reform.”

    Jason, your scenario as stated makes no sense: if both groups are forced to spend it all within a month, you provide no explanation for why a 100 people spending the same total on Buicks and TVs is better than one person’s Ferrari and home theater. In fact, broadening it out so that they don’t have to “spend” the money at all within a set time limit, but can invest it over the longer term too, and switching the “educated” person with a rich person, the rich person is much more likely to invest in something worthwhile than whatever the average 100 spend it on. This is why we’re better off with more rich people around, they’re exactly the sort of people- the Warren Buffetts and Andreas Bechtolsheims of the world- who have proven themselves savvier at making good investments. The market/bazaar plays a role in winnowing the winners from the losers but there’s no substitute for individual initiative.

  130. Ajay> If both groups are forced to spend it all within a month, you provide no explanation for why a 100 people spending the same total on Buicks and TVs is better than one person’s Ferrari and home theater.

    Sorry I glossed over this. I agree it isn’t obvious.

    First, one must need to realize that measuring economy by dollars is not really about dollars, it’s about measuring the total value of goods produced. By way of example, consider a casino. If a person went to the casino and “made” $1M or “made” $10,000, they wouldn’t have produced any meaningful goods in either situation. Or to put it another way, if everyone in the country worked at a casino, we’d produce nothing of tangible economic value. The simple act of moving money from one persons pocket to another does not create wealth.

    Luxury goods tend to have very high profit margins… and profit is simply moving “extra” money from the hands of the buyer to that of the seller. The more “extra” money that is exchanged, the fewer tangible goods and services are created. The fewer concrete goods, the smaller the total wealth created.

    Let me explain another way. If the person in scenario A went to a high end electronics store to buy their home theatre, my premise is that this home theatre would be sold at a higher profit margin. If I went to Costco or some discount store and bought the SAME home theatre at a lower same price, then my money would go farther and I would accumulate more goods – greater wealth. If only 1 home theatre was purchased, even if it was at twice the price, the economic value of the transaction is still just 1 home theatre. But if 2 were purchased at the same total price, then there is twice the economic value – even if the dollar amount on the transactions were identical. In other words, it’s not the dollars that matter, it’s the “true” value of the goods and services that counts as wealth. Simply moving money doesn’t create wealth, but encouraging the production of goods does.

    Many people, will smaller dollar amounts and more concern per dollar will be more efficient with their purchases, and therefore produce more economic value.

    Ajay> As for equality of outcomes, I see, so we’d all be better off if we had a nanny watching over us, making sure that we each win a participation trophy?

    There are two sides to this problem. Many people who object to the idea of equitable wealth distribution see it as you do: as a “bottom up” problem. Where money is “given” to the most disadvantaged to bring them in line with others. I see it as a “top down” problem… we need to create disincentives for excessive aggregation and pooling of wealth into a few sources. Our nation’s capital is a valuable asset, and it is unwise and counter productive to pool that asset into the hands of just a very few.

    Ajay> This is why we’re better off with more rich people around, they’re exactly the sort of people- the Warren Buffetts and Andreas Bechtolsheims of the world- who have proven themselves savvier at making good investments

    I see, and how about the leadership at GM, Citibank, Goldman Sacs, etc? For every person you name who is allegedly “savvier” there are dozens of examples of failure. Further, there are many individuals that are extremely savvy, who are not incredibly wealthy. In short, I reject the notion that wealth is an accurate indicator of “savviness”. The system is not meritocratic.

    Let me explain further with another example… education. Education is a valuable resource that we are currently providing to about 46M students in the US. This comes at great expense. [sarcasm]Why should we waste so much educating everyone? Wouldn’t it be wiser to just identify the top 1% and only educate those? They are the only ones who will have good ideas anyhow. We could save TONs by just giving 1% a premier education, then rely on them to provide leadership and direction for the rest of the country. We could identify that top 1% based on wealth, since wealthy people are obviously smarter and “savvier” than everyone else, right? [/sarcasm] Of course this idea is ridiculous. We know intuitively that trusting a small group to make decisions that are in the best interest of the rest is a recipe for disaster. And yet, when you concentrate 80% of the nations wealth in just 1% of the population that is exactly what you are doing. You are giving a very small group of people all the power to make economic decisions… they decide where our industrial and economic effort is spent. The criteria by which these individuals are chosen is arbitrary – largely based on the wealth of their friends and family. And evidence shows these people are not looking out for the other 99%, they are spending a great deal of their effort on further distilling wealth into just their own pockets.

    The poverty cycle isn’t what needs to be broken, the wealth cycle is.

  131. [sarcasm]Why should we waste so much educating everyone? Wouldn’t it be wiser to just identify the top 1% and only educate those? They are the only ones who will have good ideas anyhow. We could save TONs by just giving 1% a premier education, then rely on them to provide leadership and direction for the rest of the country. We could identify that top 1% based on wealth, since wealthy people are obviously smarter and “savvier” than everyone else, right? [/sarcasm]

    Read you some Gatto for great good. Read about the history of the Prussian system, which is still practiced here. That’s exactly how our education system is oriented.

    Meanwhile, in actual Germany, progress has been made.

  132. Ajay said:
    “Haha, I had never heard of this book, with good reason it would appear, so I googled it and just read this doozy, “Economic growth, for so long the great engine of progress, has, in the rich countries, largely finished its work. Not only have measures of wellbeing and happiness ceased to rise with economic growth but, as affluent societies have grown richer, there have been long-term rises in rates of anxiety, depression and numerous other social problems. The populations of the rich countries have got to the end of a long historical journey.””

    Haha, indeed. Yes these wizards have appeared to blow the lid off of meritocracy, free markets and other hollow conservative fallacies. O! I die, Horatio.

    Jeff Read said:
    Meanwhile, in actual Germany, progress has been made…

    I personally love it when the newly united Germany is bandied about as model socialist utopia. It is rich, considering what the last version of a “united Germany” looked like. It is a particularly delicious irony given that everything we see there – from their hideously deformed version of “justice without retribution” to their experiments with welfare statism – is so obviously a overreaction steered by personal guilt and the broad suspicions wrought by their modern history of oppression and genocide.

    I have no doubt that Germany’s experiments with “post-human social justice” will fail; fatally, and sooner rather than later. But as they continue to reconstruct their civilization from the ashes (No! twenty years is not enough time!), I wonder if Jeff Read prescribes as similar “cure” for America… utter self-destruction so that we may reconstruct longstanding concepts of justice and freedom from a tabula rasa.

  133. # Jason Ledtke Says:
    > First, one must need to realize that measuring economy
    > by dollars is not really about dollars, it’s about measuring
    > the total value of goods produced.

    You are mistaken. The measure of the economy is about the total amount of goods and SERVICES created. A minor distinction, but at the core of your mistaken analysis. Also, just as important is that when you measure anything you need a stable measure. For, for example, if SI reduced the standard length of a meter by 1% every year, we would no doubt hear press stories about how kids are getting taller and taller on average. SI makes kids more healthy, hooray! So too, if you measure the economy by dollars in an environment when the value of the dollar is constantly being deflated by the Feds, you are not comparing apples with oranges. (And that has been happening since the day the Federal Reserve was created.) But that is an aside.

    > By way of example, consider a casino. If a person
    > went to the casino and “made” $1M or “made”
    > $10,000, they wouldn’t have produced any meaningful
    > goods in either situation.

    You analysis is incorrect. Certainly the winner did not do anything to deserve the money, but the money came from a bunch of people who exchanged it for the enjoyment of playing the various games, and perhaps the excitement of the possibility of winning. Additionally, the casino received a percentage of that in exchange for providing the environment and facilities to do so. People willingly go there, in fact, people pay big money to go there, so apparently everyone (with a few sad exceptions) is happy with the deal. What’s wrong with that. Buying the service of entertainment seems perfectly reasonable to me, concrete good or not.

    > if everyone in the country worked at a casino, we’d
    > produce nothing of tangible economic value.

    This is straw man. If everyone worked at a concrete company, we’d still be in big trouble. The greatness of an economy comes from diversity, specialization and comparative advantage.

    > Luxury goods tend to have very high profit
    > margins… and profit is simply moving “extra”
    > money from the hands of the buyer to that of
    > the seller.

    And what exactly do you think this fat cat seller does with the money? Burns it in his back yard? Sticks it under the mattress? No, he does or of two things: either he buys stuff for himself, which means he is causing goods and services to be created, or he saves or invests it, which also causes goods and services to be created via capital formation.

    Profit for rich people is very beneficial to poor people. It gives them jobs.

    > Many people, will smaller dollar amounts
    > and more concern per dollar will be more
    > efficient with their purchases, and therefore
    > produce more economic value.

    This is exactly wrong. The sand in the machinery of an economy is transaction costs, which is to say the money wasted in getting a buyer and seller together and facilitating the trade. The more transactions (generally speaking) the more the total transaction cost. So you are almost certainly wrong here.

    > Let me explain further with another example
    > … education.

    But I thought only concrete goods and services counted?

    > Why should we waste so much educating
    > everyone?

    Why should “we” decide that at all? Parents are responsible for making these sorts of decisions for their children. Insofar as they are not absolutely inadequate parents, what business is it of mine what you do with your children?

    > We know intuitively that trusting a small
    > group to make decisions that are in the
    > best interest of the rest is a recipe for
    > disaster.

    Curious. But apparently you think that the small number of people who run our government can make decisions about how to distribute the wealth in the country. Truth is that a small number of people are bad at making decisions for others, and good at making decisions for themselves. The capitalist system places people’s destinies in their own hands. If I work for GM, the president of General Motors does not control what I do with my paycheck, the President of the United States does. If the president of GM gets to be a pain in my butt, I can go get another job without convincing half the workers at GM, if the President of the USA becomes a pain in my butt, it is far harder for me to leave him.

    Rich people don’t control poor people in a free market system. Only powerful politicians control poor people.

    And as for your contention that the choice of the people who run our great industries is capricious, I can only assume that you say that because you haven’t worked in such a company. The fact is that the people at the top of these companies are generally the people who worked the smartest and hardest, the people who took risks that paid off, the people who made things happen. Of course there are some aberrations, but most CEOs and other executives deserve to be in the general vicinity of their position.

  134. Only powerful politicians control poor people.

    Guess who control the politicians…

  135. You know the other really funny thing about the comment that “progress is being made in Germany” is this: it’s sort of true! Over the course of the Merkel administration, socialist measures continue to be rolled back, as Germans came out to vote in droves against some of the more suicidal ones. Germany is actually beginning to wake up… as Jeff Read and Jason Ledtke snore.

  136. Jessica Boxer> The measure of the economy is about the total amount of goods and SERVICES created

    I agree. The scenario was simplified for purposes of explanation, but the premise still holds. A larger group with greater concern per dollar will be more efficient in their purchases – leading to greater total wealth.

    As for the value of services… you need to distinguish between “entertainment” the maintainance of capital. You argue that the enjoyment of gambling has economic value because it provides joy. As Jeff Read originally alluded, “wealth” may not be the best measure by which to judge the success of a society. Certainly the “happiness” of the population should be considered somehow. While I personally value happiness, economic measures do not… hence the distinction between types of services. This is an economic perspective, not a humanistic one… which was my point. Jeff Read suggested that more equitable distribution of resources lead to greater happiness, I suggested that it might also lead to a greater total economic benefit as well.

    Purchasing an overpriced home theatre and shifting money to another bank account has not created new capital at all. You are simply arguing that shifting wealth alone creates jobs… Surely you must realize that before that wealth was shifted it was already sitting in a bank “funding capital”. It strikes me as myopic to argue that money transferred to a new bank account has somehow created new capital and jobs. Using wealth to spur the creation of new concrete goods or to maintain existing capital, however, does produce real economic value. You do seem to understand that moving money is not the same as moving wealth, as you intimate at this when you recognize the effects of inflation, and yet you do not apply this concept universally in your own analysis.

    Services that maintain capital and productivity – health care, trash pickup, home maintenance, etc. produce economic value. Services that provide “entertainment” *can* produce wealth, so long as they inspire increases in productivity in other areas. As such, there is a meaningful economic difference between the two. A nation full of gamblers has no asset to trade for food, medicine, or other necessities. A nation full of only potato farmers has a good they can trade. These examples are extreme, but they illustrate the concept very concretely. I agree that the most powerful economy is diverse… but that is irrelevant to my purpose of creating an example that explains the principle at work.

    Surely you must recognize that a person with excess wealth spends their “portfolio” of wealth differently than someone who has little. In general, people first insure their fundamental needs are met – housing, food, shelter, medicine, etc. – before pursuing entertainment. The necessities are concrete and more easily monetized as economic “wealth” than entertainment services are. Through the extreme concentration of wealth, we are creating an economic demand portfolio that is not optimal as a driver to our cumulative economy. A more equitable distribution would, I believe, be a more powerful driver leading to a greater cumulative economy.

    Jessica Boxer> The sand in the machinery of an economy is transaction costs, which is to say the money wasted in getting a buyer and seller together and facilitating the trade. The more transactions (generally speaking) the more the total transaction cost. So you are almost certainly wrong here.

    You do not seriously suggest that the major cost of most purchases is facilitating the transaction? That is fallacious. By your reasoning anything that simplifies the matching of buyers and sellers would have tremendous price reducing effects. Ebay and Craigs list should, by your logic, result in a tumultuous reduction in prices since the cost of matching buyers and sellers would be greatly reduced. They have not. The suggestion is so implausible that I won’t continue to berate it for fear that it is simply a troll.

    > small number of people who run our government can make decisions about how to distribute the wealth in the country

    Ah, you assume that the people in government are the ones actually making the decisions. I do not make this assumption… this goes back to my suggestion that parties are more important than ever because they provide the explanatory and narrative “cover” for the real decision making process. I do agree that there is a relatively small number of people making macro level decisions for the nation, but I do not agree that they are always elected government officials. I am not implying an overt conspiracy when I say this.

    > the president of General Motors does not control what I do with my paycheck, the President of the United States does … … Rich people don’t control poor people in a free market system. Only powerful politicians control poor people.

    I never said, nor did I mean to imply, that there is any “controlling” going on. Manipulation? Yes… and it’s a willing manipulation that is widely accepted… but not overt control. Not by the president, not by the government, not by captains of industry, not by media. I recognize that you may feel controlled, but I do not. I will not deny your feelings, but that doesn’t mean I accept them as valid argument.

    > I can only assume that you say that because you haven’t worked in such a company

    You would be incorrect. I worked for a dozen years as a consultant. For the last 5 years of which I primarily interacted with directors, VPs, and very occasionally c-level executives at major insurance companies, hospitals, and (oddly) airlines.

    > most CEOs and other executives deserve to be in the general vicinity of their position

    I’ve never said, nor did I mean to imply, that people in these positions do not work hard, nor that they are less capable than anyone else. Instead, the primary thrust of my logic is that as a society we are overcompensating people in leadership positions. Their performance is not so remarkable that they deserve the compensation they receive. In other words, I’m not begrudging the job they do or their leadership role, I’m regretting that as a society we over value it at the expense of so many who are not in these roles. The pay for leadership is disproportionate to their capability and productivity when compared to the capability and productivity of people in other roles.

  137. You do not seriously suggest that the major cost of most purchases is facilitating the transaction? That is fallacious. By your reasoning anything that simplifies the matching of buyers and sellers would have tremendous price reducing effects. Ebay and Craigs list should, by your logic, result in a tumultuous reduction in prices since the cost of matching buyers and sellers would be greatly reduced. They have not. The suggestion is so implausible that I won’t continue to berate it for fear that it is simply a troll.

    Um, it depends on what you mean by ‘facilitating the transaction’. If you mean it in a very narrow sense, you’re probably right. If you mean it in a broader sense, consider what goes into bringing buyers and sellers together. There are costs associated with advertising and other forms of marketing; and there are overhead costs such the costs of owning, keeping or leasing a brick-and-motar building, indirect labor, other capital expenses, etc. When it comes down to it, for most businesses, direct costs (or the Cost of Goods and Services) might be somewhere between 30 and 50% of the final sale price and indirect costs might be between 30 and 50%, with generally somewhere around 15% as net profit. These numbers vary considerably from business to business and industry to industry, but if we consider all indirect costs to be ‘facilitating the transaction’ then one of the biggest factors in any purchase transaction would be ‘facilitiating the transaction’.

    eBay does quite a bit more than simply ‘facilitating the transaction’. They provide marketing services, they provide transaction processing (PayPal), and they provide, of course, a means for buyers and sellers to get together. If we conduct our business in the brick-and-mortar world, we might have to have that building, and we’ll have to have some sort of marketing (Yellow Pages, signage, TV and radio advertising, cold calls, door-to-door sales, etc.) eBay is a substitute for all of those things.

    Also eBay and Craigslist do generally cause a significant reduction in prices in their respective markets. Many people (myself included) shop on eBay because they can often get goods at a price that is often significantly lower than other forms of buying, both offline and online. Another reason is because they can find goods that they can normally have a hard time finding; this also reduces costs for both the buyer and the seller. Tumultuous, no. Significant, yes.

  138. # Jason Ledtke Says:
    > You argue that the enjoyment of gambling
    > has economic value because it provides joy.

    Your distinction is bogus. When you buy a big house, you are doing so to enhance your “joy”, when you eat at Chez Henri rather than Chez McDonalds, you do so to increase your joy. Unless you consider economic goods to be the bare minimum to keep yourself alive, nearly everything has some degree of entertainment or “joy” built into it. Ultimately the purpose of all goods and services is to enhance the life of the purchaser in some way. So I really don’t know why you think this distinction makes the slightest bit of a difference.

    > Jeff Read suggested that more equitable
    > distribution of resources lead to greater
    > happiness,

    I don’t think that is true. But I have not read the book Jeff referred to, and Jeff has not outlined the argument made there to allow discussion, so I don’t know what more can be said on that.

    > Purchasing an overpriced home theatre
    > and shifting money to another bank
    > account has not created new capital at all.

    This purchase does a number of things: first of all it creates lots of jobs. Second, it brings enjoyment to the person who buys it (and he might even work some overtime, or sell some unused goods to pay for it), third it creates, presumably, a profit. That profit comes from combining goods with labor with investment capital, and the result is a non zero sum game. That is to say, take the various raw materials, add labor, add the power of people’s existing wealth in capital, and your outputs are more than your inputs. So you are mistaken, purchasing the TV does create new capital. The evidence for that? The history of the world, where we went from dirt poor cavemen to richer than kings modern people. If no capital was created, by this process of economy, where did it all come from?

    It is not shifting money around between bank accounts, it is the actions that are taken by various people to facilitate this shifting around that matters.

    > You are simply arguing that shifting wealth
    > alone creates jobs…

    Of course it does! Lets take a trivial example. My grandma dies, and while cleaning out her house, I find a box full of money, $10,000! I take the money, and hire some unemployed people to build a new sun room on the back of my house. There you go. I just shifted money around and created some jobs. Next, I am a big investor in a company. That company is performing very poorly, loosing money all over the place. I shut the company down, sell the assets, and take the money to start a new company. This one performs much better, and employs twice as many people. Once again, I have shifted money around and created new jobs.

    > A nation full of gamblers has no asset to trade for
    > food, medicine, or other necessities. A nation full
    > of only potato farmers has a good they can trade.

    This is a unfair comparison. Gamblers are consumers, potato farmers are producers. Compare casino owners to potato farmers, and you are good to do. (BTW, the region of China, formerly the nation of Macau, does exactly that with casinos. It is almost the only thing they produce, and it is one of the wealthiest areas of China as a result.) Or compare gamblers to potato eaters, also fair. However, a nation of potato eaters is no more useful than a nation of gamblers.

    > Through the extreme concentration of wealth,
    > we are creating an economic demand portfolio
    > that is not optimal as a driver to our cumulative
    > economy.

    Says who? Define “optimum” in your statement above.

    Jessica Boxer> The sand in the machinery of an economy is transaction costs,
    > You do not seriously suggest that the major cost of most purchases is facilitating the transaction?

    Firstly, I never said anything like that. Regardless of the percentage, if you have a lot more transaction costs to pay, no matter how small, you have a lot more wasted cost.

    Secondly, you greatly underestimate how large transaction costs really are. If you have ever tried to sell an item via bricks and mortar retail, you will find that what it is sold at is usually twice, and often three times what the manufacturer charges the retailer. This is mostly transaction cost. In non retail it is certainly lower, but transaction costs are often HUGE, depending on what you include under the banner. (One hidden transaction cost for example, is the legal requirement to use government issued money, which is constantly being deflated, and has a significant processing cost.)

    Heck, just to use a credit card to process the transaction costs 3% or more!

    > Ebay and Craigs list should, by your logic,
    > result in a tumultuous reduction in prices

    Ehh, isn’t that why eBay and Craigslist exist? Isn’t what you describe exactly what happens? Of course, the comparison is a little skewed, since eBay and Craigslist have actually competitively squeezed down transaction costs out of their competitors. But, yes, the disintermediation of these web sites has done exactly what you suggest. FWIW, remember that the transaction cost on eBay is about 10% if I am not mistaken (I’m not an eBay person, so I don’t know exactly.)

    > I’m regretting that as a society we over value
    > it at the expense of so many who are not in these
    > roles.

    Gosh, you are so zero sum! The people who run these companies are responsible for managing the flow of capital and labor to make sure that the people who work for them have jobs and opportunities to utilize their abilities. So, if in your opinion we over value them, then we do so to the benefit, not the expense of those not in these roles.

    Consider this: pour gasoline in a pool and set it on fire. It generates lots of heat that is wasted. Pour gasoline in an car engine and allow the management systems of the engine to control the fire, and you get lots of useful work. Management is necessary to make energy productive.

  139. > Their performance is not so remarkable that they deserve the compensation they receive.

    Says who? Compensation is a negotiation between employers and employees at every level. Even collective bargaining more or less conforms to this rule.

    > In other words, I’m not begrudging the job they do or their leadership role, I’m regretting that as a society we over value it at the expense of so many who are not in these roles.

    Who is “we?” What makes any one of us (or tens of thousands of us, or even millions) competent to determine what a certain company should spend on quality leadership? This is just the standard, old-time Marxist dreck. The every shifting “we.”

  140. Morgan Greywolf> it depends on what you mean by ‘facilitating the transaction’

    Jessica Boxer> the money wasted in getting a buyer and seller together and facilitating the trade. The more transactions (generally speaking) the more the total transaction cost.

    Morgan Greywolf> indirect costs might be between 30 and 50%,

    I considered the problem of definition, but I don’t see a scenerio where increasing the number of transactions for the same goods results in increased overhead costs. Indeed, you’ve provided evidence I thought was obvious in refuting such argument.

    Morgan, according to you the cost of ‘facilitating a transaction’ is typically a percentage of the cost of the transaction. If it’s a percentage, then the number of transactions has little relevance as the total cost will be a relatively stable percentage of the amount spent. So whether you buy two home theaters at $1000 each, or one home theater at $2000, a 30% indirect cost is the same $600 in either case. You seem to indicate that you are disputing my point, when in fact you actually provide evidence that supports it. Jessica’s argument that increasing the number of transactions results economic inefficiency is fallacious. According to your analysis the number of transactions is not relevant.

    There may be economies of scale, but that would only work in favor of my point by reducing the costs per transaction and therefore reducing the overall percentage.

    Further, value shopping typically involves trying to minimize indirect costs, such as advertising (off brands) and packaging (bulk)… which is so obvious I assumed she could only mean what she literally said: “money wasted in getting a buyer and seller together”… which also seems easily refuted.

    It’s so wrong-headed I can’t help but think it was meant as a troll.

  141. > It’s so wrong-headed I can’t help but think it was meant as a troll.

    This seems like a ludicrous accusation, given that you been making so many simple mistakes, such as when you said:

    > Purchasing an overpriced home theatre
    > and shifting money to another bank
    > account has not created new capital at all.

    Do overpriced home theatres not require designers, manufacturers, marketers, advertisers, shipping personnel, retailers and stock boys to pile them onto the shelves? Or do they just fall out of the sky, imagined into existence by some benevolent comisaar of Home Theatre Entertainment? :)

  142. # Jason Ledtke Says:
    > It’s so wrong-headed I can’t help but think it was meant as a troll.

    Lets take a specific example then. Lets say we have $1,000 to spend. I want a fancy watch and buy one for $1,000. You are feeling generous, so you buy $10 watches for 100 people. Unfortunately, you forgot that crucial transaction cost of shipping and handling which costs $5 per watch. In the first case the total transaction cost is $5, in the second case it is $500.

    Lets say instead that the 100 people buy their watch own $10 with a credit card. Typically, credit cards charge fee structures like 3% plus $1 per transaction. In the first case the total transaction cost for the credit card company is $31, in the second case it is $130.

    So taking these two specific transaction costs, the first case has a transaction cost of 3.6%, the second has a transaction cost of 63%.

    So no, not a troll.

  143. Sorry, I got my words mixed up, let me try that again…

    # Jason Ledtke Says:
    > It’s so wrong-headed I can’t help but think it was meant as a troll.

    Lets take a specific example then. Lets say we have $1,000 to spend. I want a fancy watch and buy one for $1,000. You are feeling generous, so you buy $10 watches for 100 people. Unfortunately, you forgot that crucial transaction cost of shipping and handling which costs $5 per watch. In the first case the total transaction cost is $5, in the second case it is $500.

    Lets say instead that the 100 people buy their own $10 with a credit card. Typically, credit cards’ fee structures is something like 3% plus $1 per transaction. In the first case the total transaction cost for the credit card company is $31, in the second case it is $130.

    So taking these two specific transaction costs, the first case has a transaction cost of 3.6%, the second has a transaction cost of 63%.

    So no, not a troll.

  144. Once again, I screwed up. That should be:

    Lets say instead that the 100 people buy their own $10 watches with a credit card.

    Since this is my third transaction posting this, and you have all had to read it three times for me to get it right, I think I have only further proved my point. :-)

  145. Jessica Boxer> When you buy a big house, you are doing so to enhance your “joy”

    Not necessarily. It may be that I simply have a large family and need the large house. If I buy a large house to increase my “joy” then it is because I have extra to spend. I’m not disputing that people spend wealth on “joy”. And I’m not saying that all extra wealth goes to economic transactions that are pointless. I am saying that the more wealth you have the less thrifty you are with it. Further, thrift is very effective at generating wealth in the economy.

    Me> You are simply arguing that shifting wealth alone creates jobs…
    Jessica Boxer> Of course it does!

    Doesn’t. Gifting money back and forth, regardless of the terms, does not create wealth in the long term, as illustrated by the nation of gamblers example. Your myopic example of finding your grandmother’s secret stash is not an example of creating wealth. She extracted that wealth years ago, and you are re-injecting it into the economy now. Your argument is akin to me saying that if I took a can of vegetables out of my cupboard and hid it for a year, that a year later when my wife finds it she has “created” a can of vegetables! It’s simply not true… the vegetables (wealth) was created the year before and set aside. She didn’t create anything that hadn’t previously existed, and neither are you when you find your grandmother’s stash, regardless how much time has passed since it was tucked away.

    Jessica Boxer> Gamblers are consumers, potato farmers are producers

    I agree. Being a nation of consumers is not sustainable.

    Jessica Boxer> You have a lot more transaction costs to pay

    You’ve provided no evidence that the cost of a transaction, as a percentage of total cost, increases as the number transactions increase. If anything, increasing the number of transactions reduces overhead costs per transaction. This is simple economies of scale.

    > The people who run these companies are responsible for managing the flow of capital and labor to make sure that the people who work for them have jobs and opportunities to utilize their abilities

    LOL… you think that’s why they go to work every day? Sure, that may be the politically washed job description, but it’s only true in some Utopia. In the real world their motives are the same as the motives of the rest of the population. For the most part they are looking out for their own interests… the interest of the company and that of the workers comes second to personal interests in the vast majority of cases. Don’t you agree? If so, why would you argue otherwise?

    I’m sorry Jessica, but I feel your posts are trolls. I don’t believe they are intended for serious consideration as the analysis is so incomplete.

    As Jrok points out, salary is negotiated. Unfortunately, at the highest corporate levels, this negotiation is occurring between “friends” and the typical shareholder is neither privy nor influential to that process. It is unfortunate that “we” (meaning dominant American culture) accepts these condition on (nearly) blind faith… I believe we are getting ripped off.

    Let me be clear, I’m not talking about middle management here. I’m talking about the top 1%. In America that means either $460k or $640k per year (I forget which number is the cutoff for the top 1%).

    I feel like this is getting a little off track. Again, I reiterate my primary thesis: a more even distribution of wealth and resources results not only in more “joy” (per Jeff Read), but also in a more efficient (and therefore productive) economic engine. This is because the additional consideration spent per dollar is more practical/productive than the “savviness” of wealthy individuals.

  146. Jessica Boxer> Lets take a specific example then. Lets say we have $1,000 to spend. I want a fancy watch and buy one for $1,000. You are feeling generous, so you buy $10 watches for 100 people. Unfortunately, you forgot that crucial transaction cost of shipping and handling which costs $5 per watch. In the first case the total transaction cost is $5, in the second case it is $500.

    This scenario would only exist in your mind. I can’t believe it would ever occur in the real world. Further, it does not serve to illustrate a real world idea. I prefer to concern myself with the real world as opposed to the ones you imagine.

    First, I don’t know a seller that wouldn’t aggregate my 100 watches into 1 shipment.

    Second, if I bought 100 watches it wouldn’t be because they are actually $50 watches and I’m getting a great price. (Remember, this is about total value)

    Third, why would I pay shipping at all? If I can drive to the store and get the items I need, my “shipping” is now the fixed cost of my transportation – which is now spread over 100 items as opposed to just 1 – reducing my per-item transaction costs.

    Fourth, the premise you originally objected to was that increasing the number of transactions for the same item (home theatre) would somehow increase transaction costs – and you’ve broken that premise by comparing dissimilar items. (Unless you want to concede that it’s all the same watch and you are paying $1000 for 1 and I’m pay $10 for 100 of the same item. – but in that case I don’t see how you can argue against my point that this situation results in greater economic activitye – i.e. more watches.)

    Clearly, this is a troll.

  147. # Jason Ledtke Says:
    > This scenario would only exist in your mind.

    Really? It seemed pretty realistic to me. I am not 100% sure what the question is, but let me attempt to frame it. Is the percentage transaction cost higher when buying one expensive item, compared to many less expensive items? The example I gave seems perfectly analogous to the point at hand.

    > First, I don’t know a seller that wouldn’t aggregate
    > my 100 watches into 1 shipment.

    They are going to 100 different addresses Jason.

    > Second, if I bought 100 watches it wouldn’t be
    > because they are actually $50 watches and I’m
    > getting a great price. (Remember, this is about
    > total value)

    I don’t know why you make this assumption at all. You offer no proof that this is true.

    > Third, why would I pay shipping at all? If I can
    > drive to the store and get the items I need,

    Get serious Jason. Do I really need to explain that? The store is in another state, and the 100 people are distributed over the country. This is a fatuous objection.

    > Fourth, the premise you originally objected to
    > was that increasing the number of transactions
    > for the same item (home theatre)

    This doesn’t seem to make any sense to me, hence I tried to frame the question more clearly about.

    > Clearly, this is a troll.

    I am rubber, you are glue.

  148. me> Purchasing an overpriced home theatre and shifting money to another bank account has not created new capital at all.

    jrok> Do overpriced home theatres not require designers, manufacturers, marketers, advertisers, shipping personnel, retailers and stock boys to pile them onto the shelves? Or do they just fall out of the sky, imagined into existence by some benevolent comisaar of Home Theatre Entertainment? :)

    Please allow me to direct you to the original post again…

    me> If I went to Costco or some discount store and bought the SAME home theatre

    I thought when I put it in caps originally it would be clear, but apparently it isn’t since at least two people are not following the example. I am speaking about the SAME home theater bought at two different price points. If you ignore this aspect, then I agree the argument is nonsensical, but I was very clear about it in the first place. Distortion of the original point does not invalidate it.

  149. > Unfortunately, at the highest corporate levels, this negotiation is occurring between “friends” and the typical shareholder is neither privy nor influential to that process.

    This strikes as a puerile, completely unfalsiafiable statement. This is a soapbox slogan for the bearded and be-sandaled , not sound economic reasoning. Perhaps it is “a troll.”

    Beside, it’s not even a strudy anecdote. As we all, the twirly mustachioed Robber Baron runs out of friends rather quickly, once the ship starts sinking. The highways are slick with the blood of top execs thrown under buses to quell shareholder anger.

  150. me> Fourth, the premise you originally objected to was that increasing the number of transactions for the same item (home theatre)

    Jessica Boxer> This doesn’t seem to make any sense to me, hence I tried to frame the question more clearly about.

    It doesn’t make any sense to you that different items have different transaction costs? If I buy a 100lb bag of dog food of course I expect the shipping costs to be different than say a box of checks. In this case, you are comparing dissimilar items. Sure they may both be watches, but they are not the same watch… that breaks the premise of your original argument… where you suggested simply changing the number of transactions increases transaction cost. In your example you’ve not only changed the number of transactions, you’ve ALSO changed the items being transacted. That is a clear violation of the original premise. Further, you are also changing the terms of the purchase! It’s no longer a 1:1 transaction between a buyer and a seller, it’s a 101:1 transaction between 100+1 effective buyers and 1 seller. If you change all the parameters without regard to the original premise you are arguing nothing… and simply trolling.

  151. # Jason Ledtke Says:
    > I am saying that the more wealth you have the
    > less thrifty you are with it.

    I don’t think that is necessarily true at all. On the contrary, I have seen many profligate poor people. As a percentage of course.

    > Further, thrift is very effective at generating wealth in the economy.

    Is it? I though spending generated wealth in the economy. If everybody lived like Scrooge, the economy would grow much more slowly.

    > Doesn’t. Gifting money back and forth,
    > regardless of the terms,

    It isn’t about gifting. It is about moving capital to where it can be used more efficiently. There are no more atoms in the world than there were when cavemen scratched the earth, however, the atoms are arranged rather more profitably, and wealth has been generated as a consequence. There are other causes beside capital formation, but efficient use of capital is one of the cornerstones of modern wealth for everybody.

    If I park the wealth in a shoebox under the bed, it is not creating new wealth. If I leave my money in a poorly performing company, it is not making new wealth. On the flip side, if I put the money to more efficient use, it does create new wealth. For example, if two college roommates borrow one million dollars, and use it to pay for their bills and some computers, they can create out of nothing a search engine company worth tens of billions of dollars. Did they create wealth by shifting money around? Yes they did, they provided people a much better means to access information on the web.

    > In the real world [management staff's] motives
    > are the same as the motives of the rest of the
    > population. For the most part they are looking
    > out for their own interests

    “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. “, Adam Smith.

    > As Jrok points out, salary is negotiated. Unfortunately,
    > at the highest corporate levels, this negotiation is
    > occurring between “friends”

    This is just plain nonsense. How come CEOs get fired all the time then? Just because you believe these great conspiracy theories does not make them true.

  152. > If I went to Costco or some discount store and bought the SAME home theatre…
    > I am speaking about the SAME home theater bought at two different price points.

    Your point is completely without merit. Indeed, it sounds very deeply confused! Costco (like Walmart) is able to charge less because of free market based strategies that, among other things, make them more attractive to their suppliers, more agile in discovering buying trends and other volatile and regional variables.

    You seem to presume that these models could conform to some centrally managed efficiency model, but history has already showed us that it cannot. Income redistribution and central planning schemes has failed in spectacular ways wherever it has been attempted. Just as the highways are slick with the blood of failed execs, the waters are logged with the corpses of economies that crush free enterprise.

  153. > As Jrok points out, salary is negotiated. Unfortunately,
    > at the highest corporate levels, this negotiation is
    > occurring between “friends”

    >> This is just plain nonsense. How come CEOs get fired all the time then?
    >> Just because you believe these great conspiracy theories does not make them true.

    Jessica, he may be unaware of this undeniable maxim of business. I am guessing WSJ, Forbes and Bloomberg are not on the top of his reading list.

  154. me> Unfortunately, at the highest corporate levels, this negotiation is occurring between “friends” and the typical shareholder is neither privy nor influential to that process.

    jrok> This strikes as a puerile, completely unfalsiafiable statement.

    It would be difficult to disprove, but it’s not central to the question at hand. I injected it as a personal viewpoint… as indicated when I said, “I believe we are getting ripped off”… the key phrase being “I believe”.

    I would think personal commentary would be ok by you, since you refer to some German policies as “suicidal”… which I think was intended as a reflection of personal opinion and not as a consequential point of for debate.

  155. jrok> You seem to presume that these models could conform to some centrally managed efficiency model

    OMG never! I would never suggest such a thing. I am in favor free markets – properly regulated to protect public interests and personal rights.

    Projecting false beliefs based on conjecture is hardly the basis of good debate. Don’t guess what my opinions are, ask them… or is it that you feel the need to pigeon hole me as a conservative, or a liberal, or some other affiliation per the original discussion?

  156. > OMG never! I would never suggest such a thing. I am in favor free markets

    Oh, okay!

    > – properly regulated to protect public interests and personal rights.

    Whoops! The road to Hell is paved with such slippery concrete.

    I will admit to sometimes skimming your above posts, because they were sprinkled with so many gems that I had to assume whatever came around them to be worthless. One such gem:

    > Surely you must recognize that a person with excess wealth spends their “portfolio”
    > of wealth differently than someone who has little. In general, people first insure
    > their fundamental needs are met – housing, food, shelter, medicine, etc. – before
    > pursuing entertainment. The necessities are concrete and more easily monetized
    > as economic “wealth” than entertainment services are.

    This is literally so wrong-headed that it would serve to negate whatever thesis preceded it, and whatever conclusions it served. It almost seem ludicrous to have to construct an elaborate metaphor to defeat it. It is literally so off the wall and full of social science vagaries, it needs to be defended (by you), not assailed. Jessica is a trooper for wading through some of these old tropes you have dug up. It sort of like batting at ghosts.

    The Cubans just completed their latest lime harvest. I heard it was a pretty successful one! I do wonder what they will do with all wealth…

  157. Jessica Boxer> This is just plain nonsense. How come CEOs get fired all the time then? Just because you believe these great conspiracy theories does not make them true.

    Second things first, I’ve already clearly stated that I do not believe there is a conspiracy… are you trolling again?

    First things second… you presume getting fired is a bad thing. I tell you what, if my job had a $10M golden parachute for getting fired… and getting fired would result in the value of my stock going up… well… please fire me! Can I fire myself? Because I’d do it. And do you believe these fired execs don’t land new high paying jobs? Your blue-collar thinking about employment isn’t applicable to those situations.

    > Of I put the money to more efficient use, it does create new wealth

    Yes, I agree with you on this point… organizing resources efficiently does create wealth. What I disagree is that this is best accomplished by trusting a few allegedly “savvy” people.

    In the first place, I don’t think the current system is effective in identifying those who are “savvy” from those who are not… as illustrated by the fact that the best predictor of your SES (socio-economic status – primarily wealth) is the SES of your parents. If there was a biological basis for “savvy” then this wouldn’t hold true for adopted children, but it does. A reasonable explanation then, is that aggregation of wealth is a social construct that is not meritocratic… that being wealthy is not an indication of “savvy”. So the premise we should give wealth to those who already have it because they must have some skill managing it is based on a fiction.

    Second, even if we could identify those who are “savvy”, the masses would still outperform them simply because the overwhelming amounts of effort they’d apply would result in more productivity than the productivity gained by the efficiency being “savvy”. In other words, 100 motors running at 20 percent efficiency still produce more power than 1 motor running at 90 percent efficiency. Further, markets tend toward efficiency when they are large. Concentrating wealth into fewer hands necessarily shrinks the size of markets – at the very least in the sense that are fewer participants.

    Indeed, in some ways this thesis is central to open source development… this ERS’s blog after all. Maybe you should re-read cathedral and the bazaar. Democratization of complex problems is effective and efficient… and concentration of power into a few “geniuses” has been shown as an inferior approach.

  158. jrok> This is literally so wrong-headed that it would serve to negate whatever thesis preceded it, and whatever conclusions it served. It almost seem ludicrous to have to construct an elaborate metaphor to defeat it. It is literally so off the wall and full of social science vagaries, it needs to be defended (by you), not assailed.

    Really? You disagree that people with large amounts of money spend their money differently (by proportion) than people who have little? You think that assertion is wrong-headed? So much so that you refuse to refute a single portion of it?

    -1 Troll.

  159. jrok> Whoops! The road to Hell is paved with such slippery concrete.

    I wouldn’t presume to be familiar with this path. You claim knowledge?

    (Yes, this is a troll)

  160. Jrok> Jessica, he may be unaware of this undeniable maxim of business. I am guessing WSJ, Forbes and Bloomberg are not on the top of his reading list.

    Correct. They are not… though I must confess to reading Forbes simply because it’s in the bathroom at my office. In general I don’t prefer lifestyle magazines and instead prefer reading with some substance. I might suggest you investigate Harvard Business Review – I often find articles in there that have merit and/or relevance.

    Now that we’ve compared reading lists should we also measure our penis?

    (Yes, this is also a troll – just returning the favor)

  161. Jason, your reasoning is similar to suggesting that we should all buy Model Ts- or Ford Tauruses today I suppose, no Mercedes allowed- because of “economies of scale” or some such dumb argument. The rich buy new products like tablets or DLP TVs or gourmet food that then become commoditized and useful for all, whereas you focus on the past by insisting on buying more of the currently low-priced goods, typical of leftist myopia. You construct an extremely artificial example of being forced to spend money and then assume that the rich person would buy the exact same good at twice the cost, obviously not the case. It is fascinating how leftists will decry materialism out of one corner of their mouth, while calling for such middle-class consumption out of the other. Your call for disincentives for income inequality is meaningless without concrete proposals. I claim the internet is about to greatly bring down income inequality through market processes (Katie Couric will be replaced by a 100 rocketbooms who charge much less, Microsoft by 30 desktop OS companies), so whatever proposal you give is likely not to matter anyway. I agree that we shouldn’t pool capital with a very few dummies, that’s why we need to get rid of govt and the 500 morons in Congress who decide where trillions of our money goes every year. GM and Citibank operate in highly regulated markets, where the stupid 500 again stepped in to do their damage. Goldman Sachs has done very well by comparison, not sure what you fault them for. Of course there are rich failures, that’s the great thing about the market: you can always fail. Unlike Barney Frank, who can argue for Freddie and Fannie expansion for years and then when they collapse disastrously gets even more power to decide what to do next.

    Who is savvy but not wealthy? Since you provide no reasoning for why wealth isn’t meritocratic, I’ll take that claim for the fluff that it obviously is. I will agree that there are many overpaid CEOs right now but like I said, the internet is about to change that and if you really believe they were so greatly overpaid, you should have been chomping at the bit to create a competitor and put them out of business. While it may be true that Larry Ellison is only really worth $5 billion and not $25 billion, there is an easy way to test that proposition: create your own database software company and charge less, because you’re not overpaying your top executives, and see how well you do. The fact that this rarely happens proves those top executives are likely making closer to what they deserve than you would like to imagine. The only reason education comes at great expense is because public education is currently built to pay off education unions for their votes, not for teaching students. Online learning is about to kill off this parasite after decades of feasting on the public. I’m not sure what your strawman about educating the top 1% has to do with anything, far more people will learn much more in a free market for education than they do with public education. You say that “trusting a small group to make decisions that are in the best interest of the rest is a recipe for disaster” and yet YOU are the one who wants to hire nannies to smooth out the income distribution. Ultimately, there is always going to be a small group of elites that has disproportionate power (perhaps you disagree with even that and believe we’re all basically equal, flying even farther into fantasy?). The only question is whether those elites should have to work for their power and prove their savvy through making many good choices in a market or whether they should be voted that power by a bunch of dummies in an election. You’re not really against inequality: you’re against market-based inequality, as inequality is a fact of life and any proposal you make is merely going to switch useful capitalist elites with useless political elites.

    Jess, you make some comments about the Fed being responsible for inflation but Hummel and Henderson have argued persuasively that Greenspan essentially froze the monetary base and that whatever inflation we’ve seen over the last couple decades was created by private banks choosing to increase their reserve ratios and hold less paper dollars. Since 70-99% of all “dollars” are privately issued in a fractional reserve banking system, the Fed gets far too much attention and are basically irrelevant most of the time, except in crises where they do make some marginally important lender of last resort decisions or in their currently unprecedented role of buying up a trillion in mortgage-backed and other securities. The real problem is the federal govt shitting away trillions of dollars EVERY year and I worry that people’s ignorant recent focus on the Fed distracts from the main problem.

  162. Ajay says:
    > Since 70-99% of all “dollars” are privately issued
    > in a fractional reserve banking system, the Fed
    > gets far too much attention

    Yes, you make a very good point Ajay. However, I think of the fractional reserve banking system as basically an extension of the Federal Reserve, their allowable ratios are basically set by the Fed, so it amounts to the same thing by proxy.

  163. > In general I don’t prefer lifestyle magazines and instead prefer
    > reading with some substance. I might suggest you investigate
    > Harvard Business Review – I often find articles in there that have
    > merit and/or relevance.

    Does it contain news of hirings/firings of executives from Fortune 500 companies? Because that seems to be the dimension of the real, nails-and-hammers business that you are unaware of. The shareholders chant for “blood, blood, blood” and the hatchet falls. That’s a very old story.

    > Really? You disagree that people with large amounts of
    > money spend their money differently (by proportion) than
    > people who have little? You think that assertion is wrong-headed?
    > So much so that you refuse to refute a single portion of it?

    Interesting that you replanted your toothpicks in the soil, but forgot to reconstruct your giant edifice upon it. You left out the chief canard ( as I suspected you might) that: “The necessities are concrete and more easily monetized as economic “wealth” than entertainment services are.” Ho, ho, ho.

    In any case, I’ve noticed these canards are trundled back out every 20 years or so, probably in time with each successive class of socialist professors gaining tenure. They release their young ducklings into the harsh world, where they stumble around quacking for a few years until they learn (sometimes by study, but more often by force of nature) the difference between micro and macro economies, the inescapable entropy of overregulated markets, etc.

    No need to measure appendages, Jason. I assume from what I’ve read thus far that you may not be a true lunatic, but rather a bit callow (the repeated “troll” this and that is a fairly good indicator, actually). Given a few years to cook, I assume you’ll see the folly inherent in the statement “the necessities are concrete and more easily monetized as economic wealth than entertainment services are,” and maybe even have a good laugh about it! I know I have found some of your statements here very entertaining… and I didn’t have to pay one red cent for it! Alas, some forms of entertainment do not create wealth at all! ;-)

  164. Oh and, lest I be labeled a despiccable “troll” again, allow me to rebut the statement: “The necessities are concrete and more easily monetized as economic wealth than entertainment services are.”

    1 + 1 != 3

    Alas, no matter how often this lie is propped up, it always sinks back into the marsh. No, Ledtke, one hundred people buying 10 cent rolls of toilet paper does not “create more wealth” then a single buyer purchasing a $2500 home entertainment system.

    Or perhaps, in some neighborhoods of socialism, toilet paper is not a “necessity” but rather a “luxury good.” After all, we could simply scrape our behinds along the sidewalks. If it’s good enough for dogs, it should be good enough for the “common man.”

  165. Jason Ledtke,

    Please stop calling a pair of the most capable commenters around trolls. And when I say a pair of the most capable commenters around, I don’t just mean on this site, I mean on any of the sites I frequent.

    People shouting past each other, again.

    Yours,
    Tom

  166. The real problem is the federal govt shitting away trillions of dollars EVERY year and I worry that people’s ignorant recent focus on the Fed distracts from the main problem.

    Why, yes, yes it does. What makes you think this isn’t by design? Ever watch one of those hucksters playing the ol’ shell game? (Yes, they still do this and yes, people still fall for it, especially gullible tourists) Pay closer attention to what you see in the media, and you’ll realize that this is exactly the game our elected officials play on a daily basis.

  167. The weakness of the party system has been a recurring theme on the horse race blog for a couple of years. I couldn’t find a post there that directly addressed it, but I recall reading one in the 2008 election cycle… maybe even earlier.

    As a Tea Partier, I think the term “Tea Party Movement” is very misleading. I think it’s better to refer to it as the “Tea Party Movements” with the emphasis on the plural. Within a thirty mile radius of St. Louis, I know of dozens of tea parties. Some large–hundreds of people–some with membership only in the single digits. Some tea parties have been co-opted by the GOP while others are trying to co-opt the GOP. It’s weird and wonderful!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>