Category: Politics

Religious shareholder activist group As You Sow released its 2016 Proxy Preview last week, and it’s a doozy. Tellingly, AYS has dropped religious faith as a rationale for its climate-change and anti-lobbying efforts. From the accompanying press release:

More 2016 shareholder proposals than ever before address climate change — 94 compared with 82 in 2015. Of the resolutions, 22 ask energy extractors and suppliers to detail how the warming planet will affect their operations and how they will respond if governments follow through with commitments made in the Paris climate treaty in December to keep fossil fuel assets in the ground to prevent damaging temperature increases. A further 18 resolutions focus on the risks from using hydraulic fracturing to extract energy from shale deposits, including 12 seeking methane reduction targets. Nineteen resolutions ask companies to set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. The climate slate is rounded out by another 11 proposals that include a push to change energy reserves accounting at two companies and one suggesting executive bonuses should be linked to fossil fuel reserves accounting changes.

Political activity accounts for another 99 resolutions, including some drawing connections between government inaction on climate change and corporations’ lobbying and election spending. Proposals on lobbying (55) exceed those about election spending (40). Nine companies face resolutions seeking oversight and disclosure of both election and lobbying expenditures.

Hoo boy. Where to begin unpacking all the mischief hinted at above? Suffice it to write that the proxy resolutions in the 2016 Proxy Preview demand individual scrutiny in order to identify the wrongheadedness of it all. This despite the self-congratulatory back-patting and progressive smugness displayed above and below: (more…)

mass-incarcerationWith the 2010 publication of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander, the conversation about America’s exploding prison population singularly became focused on the intersection of race, poverty, and the War on Drugs. According to the narrative, the drug war disproportionately targets blacks in lower income communities as a means of social control via the criminal justice system similarly to the way Jim Crow controlled blacks in the early 20th-century.

The one problem with mass incarceration-as-Jim-Crow thesis is that it does not fit the empirical data. The drug war is not the reason that today we have nearly 2.5 million people incarcerated in this country. In the mid-1970s the U.S. prison population grew from about 300,000 to 1.6 million inmates, and the incarceration rate from 100 per 100,000 to over 500 per 100,000 largely due to violent crime, property crime, and rogue prosecutors. Drug policy changes would, therefore, have little effect on prison population rolls.

The first significant challenge to the Alexander thesis came from Yale Law School professor James Forman, Jr. In a 2012 article, “Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow,” Forman observes that drug offenders constitute only a quarter of our nation’s prisoners, while the violent offenders make-up about one-half. While sympathetic to the ways in which those living in poor black communities are more likely to end up incarcerated than those in middle-class black communities, it is simply not true that drug policy, targeted at blacks, is driving prison numbers.

trump-handsThe phenomenon that is Donald Trump and his presidential campaign can only truly be understood when you recognize his basic appeal: he’s bringing a brand of folk Marxism to an entirely new audience.

Before we unpack what this means, we must first understand what it does not mean. Folk Marxism is not Classical Marxism, much less communism. Marxism has so many varieties that even Karl Marx once said, “what is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist.” Folk Marxism is no different, and in America it manifest in different forms among divergent political groups.

Folk Marxism differs from academic forms of Marxism in the same way most folk beliefs differ from scholarly beliefs. As economist Arnold Kling explains, “Ordinary people and scholars may treat the same ideas differently. In terms of influence, it is the folk beliefs of ordinary people that matter, not the beliefs of scholars.”

A decade ago, when it was still a belief system found mostly on the political left, Kling outlined the basics of folk Marxism:

Folk Marxism looks at political economy as a struggle pitting the oppressors against the oppressed. Of course, for Marx, the oppressors were the owners of capital and the oppressed were the workers. But folk Marxism is not limited by this economic classification scheme. All sorts of other issues are viewed through the lens of oppressors and oppressed. Folk Marxists see Israelis as oppressors and Palestinians as oppressed. They see white males as oppressors and minorities and females as oppressed. They see corporations as oppressors and individuals as oppressed. They see America as on oppressor and other countries as oppressed.

I believe that folk Marxism helps to explain the pride and joy that many people felt when Maryland passed its anti-Walmart law. They think of Walmart as an oppressor, and they think of other businesses and Walmart workers as the oppressed. The mainstream media share this folk Marxism, as they reported the Maryland law as a “victory for labor.”

This brand of folk Marxism has been popular on the left for more than a century and continues to grow in influence (see: Bernie Sanders). But Donald Trump has tapped into a strain of folk Marxism that has cross-ideological appeal and extends across the political spectrum.

Here are some of the defining characteristics of Trump-style folk Marxism:

anti-establishment-bernie-sanders-donald-trumpWith Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders outperforming all expectations in the current election cycle, much has been said and written about the widespread dissatisfaction with the so-called “establishment.”

“We’re tired of typical politicians,” they say. “It’s time for real change and real solutions. It’s time to shake up the system!”

Yet, as Jeffrey Tucker points out, blind opposition to the status quo, no matter how bad it may be, is not the same as supporting liberty.

The state power we oppose is not identical to the establishment we reject. You can overthrow the establishment and still be left with a gigantic machinery of legalized exploitation. All the agencies, laws, regulations, and powers are still in place. And now you have a problem: someone else is in charge of the state itself. You might call it a new establishment. It could be even more wicked than the one you swept away.

Indeed, it usually is. Maybe always.

Or, as Peggy Noonan recently wrote, considering the prospect of a completely dismembered GOP: “Something important is ending. It is hard to believe what replaces it will be better.” (more…)

voting-2-27How are presidential candidates chosen?

Political parties are independent organizations that choose who will be their candidate at a presidential nominating convention. (For the purpose of simplicity, this article will focus mainly on the two major U.S. political parties, the Democrats and Republicans).  While many different types of people attend the conventions, they are formally a gathering of “delegates” — political party members chosen as representatives. The delegates (collectively known as the “delegation”) vote on who should be the party’s candidate.

For example, the GOP convention this year will have 2,472 official delegates. To win the nomination a candidate needs to have the votes of 1,237 (50 percent + 1) delegates.

How are delegates chosen?

Each party has two types of delegates, pledged and unpledged (non-binding). Pledged delegates are representatives of the individual state’s political parties and must cast a vote at the convention for a particular candidate, while unpledged can vote for any candidate.

What is a “Superdelegate”?

720x405-AP_846250441282Every election season politicians are asked how they will fix our ever-growing budget crisis. And every season at least one politician gives the same trite answer: By cutting “fraud, waste, and abuse.”

Politicians love the answer because it doesn’t offend any specific constituency. After all, there are no groups lobbying for more fraud, waste, and abuse (at least not directly). And voters love the answer because it fits with both the conservative perception that government is mostly wasteful and should be fixed and the liberal perception that government is mostly efficient and can be made even more so.
Neither the politicians nor the voters are completely wrong. Fraud, waste, and abuse is indeed a perennial problem, which is why the government has thousands of auditors, evaluators, and inspectors constantly trying to root it out. But would eliminating all fraud, waste, and abuse truly save the taxpayers that much money?

Donald Trump seems to think so. In the latest Republican presidential debate he claimed that he could fix the current budget deficit simply by cutting out the “waste, fraud, and abuse”:

BLITZER: Mr. Trump — Mr. Trump. If you eliminate completely the Department of Education, as you have proposed, that’s about $68 billion. If you eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, that’s about $8 billion. That’s about $76 billion for those two agencies.

The current deficit this year is $544 billion. Where are you going to come up with the money?

TRUMP: Waste, fraud and abuse all over the place. Waste, fraud and abuse.

You look at what’s happening with Social Security, you look — look at what’s happening with every agency — waste, fraud and abuse. We will cut so much, your head will spin.

Let’s take Mr. Trump at his word and consider how much we’d need to cut to “make our head spin.”

The headline at CNN was surprising: “Under Sanders, income and jobs would soar, economist says”; the opening paragraph of their article even more so:

Median income would soar by more than $22,000. Nearly 26 million jobs would be created. The unemployment rate would fall to 3.8%.

Those are just a few of the things that would happen if Bernie Sanders became president and his ambitious economic program were put into effect, according to an analysis given exclusively to CNNMoney. The first comprehensive look at the impact of all of Sanders’ spending and tax proposals on the economy was done by Gerald Friedman, a University of Massachusetts Amherst economics professor.

Like Sanders, Friedman believes in democratic socialism. He also believes an unlikely series of events could happen: Sanders becomes president (very unlikely), President Sanders is able to push his plan through a GOP-controlled Congress (politically impossible), and then median household income magically rises to $82,200 by 2026 (the current projection by the Congressional Budget Office is that it’ll be around $59,300).

You would expect Republicans and conservatives to mock this type of wishful thinking. But some of the strongest criticism has come from a seemingly unlikely source: liberal economists who once chaired the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Alan Krueger of Princeton University, Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago Booth School, and Christina Romer of the University of California at Berkeley all chaired President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers at different times during his administration, while Laura D’Andrea Tyson of the University of California’s Haas School of Business was the chair under President Clinton. The four published a rather scathing open letter to both Sanders and Friedman. Here is the full text of the letter: