Browsing the blog archives for September, 2016.

Lester Holt’s Opening Question

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Issues related to economics and business were front and center during the first presidential debate. There is a lot I could discuss, but Lester Holt’s opening question is enough for this post:

There are two economic realities in America today. There’s been a record six straight years of job growth, and new census numbers show incomes have increased at a record rate after years of stagnation. However, income inequality remains significant, and nearly half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Beginning with you, Secretary Clinton, why are you a better choice than your opponent to create the kinds of jobs that will put more money into the pockets of American workers?

First, Holt’s question is far too generous to President Obama’s record on the economy. The “job growth” he mentioned is expected in a lackluster economy, so “six straight years” is no accomplishment. The income increase he referenced only appeared in the most recent data and does not negate the rest of Obama’s tenure as president. Holt also overlooked the extremely low labor participation rates, especially among youth and minorities.

Second, Holt’s question legitimizes the 2004 “two Americas” argument by former Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards. Of course, versions of the haves and have-nots argument have been bantered around politically since the days of Marx and Engels.

Third, Holt assumes that it’s the role of the President and/or federal government to “put more money in the pockets of American workers.” It’s not. The government’s role is to protect liberty so we can achieve on our own. Instead of opening the discussion on how much government intervention is best, Holt framed the debate as one over which type of intervention is best.

Finally, Holt made Hillary Clinton’s most difficult argument for her. Secretary Clinton needs to stay close enough to Obama to leverage his strength with certain voter groups, but far enough away to combat Trump on trade and other vulnerable issues. By establishing the pretext that Obama has advanced the economy but more intervention is necessary, he set the stage for Clinton’s narrative.

Holt’s opening question introduced a subtle bias that was present throughout the evening and set the stage for the debate. Hillary Clinton was ready for the softball he tossed her, responding as if on cue with all of the predictable clichés—“trickle down economics,” the need to “help families,” and making the “wealthy pay their fair share.”

If you’re upset about the bias, get used to it.

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Dog Whistles & Donald Trump

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I recently reread Paul Krugman’s bestseller, Conscience of a Liberal. My respect for Krugman has waned over the years, but I still try to give him the benefit of the doubt when I can. There are some decent economists on the left, but most of them just can’t put the pieces of the puzzle in the right places. Otherwise smart people reach wrong conclusions and promote bad policy.

Nonetheless, Krugman’s book is an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the intellectual basis of the left. Most conservatives and liberals agree that the gap between the political left and right has widened considerably in the past several decades. Conservatives argue that socialists and other statists pulled the Democrat party to the far left. Liberals like Krugman tell a different story, maintaining that “movement conservatives” pulled the Republicans to the far right. Krugman’s argument is flawed in a number of ways, but I want to focus on one of his key themes.

Conservatives—which include most Republicans—have held their own at the ballot box by blowing “dog whistles” to ill-informed, racist southern voters who are unable to see that their interests are really represented by Democrats. This point is not merely a side comment in his book, but a major crux of Krugman’s political philosophy. When Hillary Clinton claimed that half of Trump’s supporters are deplorables of some kind—“racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic”—she wasn’t just getting caught up in a political speech. She was parroting the core argument of modern statists like Krugman.

The problem with the Krugman/Clinton argument is that it lacks a factual basis. Bigots vote too and are probably split between Clinton and Trump, but this does not make either candidate a bigot. The notion that a large percentage of Americans fall into one of Clinton’s hate categories is hard to support, but that is not what is so problematic about her statement. Clinton’s contention that Trump voters are either haters or confused suggests that she simply does not understand the intellectual arguments for liberty and limited government. Put another way, she argues for a more intrusive government because she does not see any alternative.

It’s impossible to have a meaningful conversation with someone who believes that their view is the only legitimate one. If you’re in this camp, please understand the following. There IS a rational argument for strong borders that is not based in racism, isolationism, or xenophobia. There IS a rational argument for traditional family values that does not condone mistreatment of the LGBT community. There IS a rational argument that Islamic thought is a key issue with ISIS and other terrorists. There IS a rational argument for “law and order” that respects individual liberty and seeks to treat all Americans fairly.

If you’re on the left, know that the dog whistle argument is a non-starter and offends thoughtful Americans who don’t see things your way. If you want to have a productive conversation, dispense with the allegations of hatred and political correctness. You might find more common ground than you think.

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