Friday, April 22, 2016

It can't happen here

Peggy Noonan comments on the 2016 presidential campaign in the WSJ, She is quite unhappy, as are many people. "That Moment When 2016 Hits You ... Because too much is being lost. Because the great choice in a nation of 320 million may come down to Crazy Man versus Criminal."

Many people will have many questions. Is this where the electorate goes after eight years of an administration bent on being transformational? Is this where the electorate goes in the age of twitter? Is this where the electorate goes after years of political correctness encroaching on school curricula? Someday there will be dissertations and books.

Those are hard questions. What are we to do with economists' models of the (mythical) "median" voter?  That model has often been applied to the choices that voters make in local elections. William Fischel writes about "homevoters". In suburban areas where most residents are owners rather than renters, they are keenly interested in how local public policy issues might impact the value of their home, their primary financial asset. As such, we expect their votes to be "rational" from their point of view. If, for example, they expect local schools to be improved by a proposed measure and if they see the link between home value and local school quality, they will compare the tax-price (to them) of the proposal with the expected home value appreciation and vote accordingly.

But can this type of economic voter rationality be seen anywhere else? "Rational" is complex and has to be defined in narrowly -- which works in the case of the homevoter example. But looking around (as does Peggy Noonan), what is before us is much more complex. We have seen voters (the public) lose their minds in other countries. We kept saying "it can't happen here."