Thursday, July 28, 2016

Two thoughts for this political season

First, I cannot imagine more enjoyable economic history than by Deirdre McCloskey. I just finished Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions Enriched the World.  The old questions: How did we get so rich? Why for those in some places and not others? Why all the great improvements since 1800? She cites "the bourgeois deal" -- how commerce and "economic betterment" became respectable after about 1800, especially in the UK and Holland. It's not simply "good institutions" but the right culture. I cannot place who asked, "How do we get a better culture?" The brisk answer was "Get a better history."

Along the way, McCloskey cites Peter Boettke's thought that "the economy involves a continuing struggle among the Three Ss: Stupidity, Schumpeter and Smith." (p. 205). Smithian gains from trade and Schumpeterian inventiveness suggest that economic growth is the natural condition unless stupidity manages to choke it off. Pass more laws, enact more edicts and regulations.

Looking at what the major political parties are up to (I only tuned in for a few minutes to see cheering crowds in Philadelphia moved to tears of joy in response to idiotic banalities from the stage) it may be that stupidity is now in the saddle.  Bourgeois Equality suggests that the first two Ss had been ahead (by a nose?) since 1890. But post-1980?

Second, the WSJ offers this helpful electoral college scenarios cartogram gadget. Campaign managers will play these until the eve of the election. One not crazy scenario shows a Clinton majority by just one electoral vote. Both major party candidates are "high-negatives-with-more skeletons-in-the-closet". This means that as the skeletons tumble out, a very close outcome is certainly possible. This also means that a serious run by Libertarian Gary Johnson, whereby if he wins just one small state, could foreclose an electoral college majority -- and therefore the choice goes to the House of Representatives -- where it is possible that they may actually select someone who does not scare (terrify) people. As I keep saying, many ifs.


Arnold Kling on voting Libertarian this year.