Sunday, February 24, 2008

Blowin' in the wind

Tyler Cowen has been very very good to me. We've been friends for 18 years. He convinced me to try traveling outside the USA, he was the matchmaker for my marriage to Mrs. Angus, he turned me on the genius of Antoine Oleyant, he occasionally links to KPC and quadruples our daily volume. So I pretty much try to stay on his good side.

But, in Tyler's most recent NY Times column, he announced, to blogospheric acclaim, that the upcoming US elections probably won't amount to a hill of beans: "This election is certainly important. But based on the historical record, it isn’t likely to result in a major swing in economic policy."

I beg to differ.

Our current status quo is a fairly liberal / populist-ish Democratic Majority in both houses, being held somewhat in check by a witless, right-ish, hawk-ish President whose main weapon is the veto and a large enough minority to block overrides. If Barack Obama is our next president, it seems to me we will have a President to the left of the median in either chamber of Congress and the only restraining influence would be the filibuster threat in the Senate. I am no George Tsebelis (but then again, who is?) but given that McCain would probably be kind of a more sentient and honorable Bush, a President Obama, given the current Congress (which isn't going to move to the right in the election) would make for a big change in where the veto players are located.

I would predict potentially large changes in our trade policies, in tax rates for business and higher earning individuals (isn't Obama in favor of letting Bush cuts expire and also lifting the income cap on FICA taxes?), a large increase in government "green" initiatives with our lovely ethanol policy as a guidepost. I'd also predict a potentially large change in our security policy and our methods of diplomacy, which to be fair Tyler also acknowledges.

Now you may like all or most of that. Cool. Vote for Barack. You may not. Cool. Vote for McCain. But I think saying that there isn't that much at stake here is incorrect.

Maybe I'm wrong, either in the differences in positions between Obama and McCain, or in the weakness of just the filibuster without the veto threat as a restraint on the Congress.

I guess Tyler's position must be that, on the economy, there won't be much difference in positions between McCain or Obama. Since he foresees big changes in foreign policy outcomes, he probably does agree that swinging the executive from the right of a liberal congress to the left of a liberal congress can make for big policy swings, but either thinks Obama is more conservative than I do, or that McCain is more big government than I do (or both!!).

I see real differences. I don't see McCain lifting the cap on FICA earnings. I don't see McCain going for publicly created "green jobs". I do see both of them "fixing" the AMT. I don't see McCain as so anti-trade as Obama.

I see parallels to 1992 when a much less liberal than Obama Bill Clinton came into office, hiked taxes, turned Hillary loose on health care and promptly got slapped with a Republican congress in the midterm elections.


Anonymous said...

"Our current status quo is a fairly liberal / populist-ish Democratic Majority in both houses, being held somewhat in check by a witless, right-ish, hawk-ish President whose main weapon is the veto and a large enough minority to block overrides."

I take a bit of a different view. Our current status quo Congress checks a lousy president with advisors that have brought the country deep into debt through poor spending decisions, tax cuts, etc. If McCain gets elected, this will continue. If Obama gets elected, can fiscal sanity reign much like it did during the Clinton years?

But your general point is well taken. This is an important election.

Tommy, maybe I'll get my absentee ballot, the Englishman

Anonymous said...

1. Congress Rules.
2. Narrow Interests Rule Congress.

Why do you think presidents spend so much time on foreign policy, anyway?

Anonymous said...

I almost registered 8 years ago to vote for my man Johnny, but he was outta there before the Okie primary. Breaks my heart that I am going to have to register this time around to vote against him. Gotta go with a peacenik, even if he sells my grandkids down the river.

Shawn said..., wouldn't someone be able to fairly say, for any election, that this one is special? that it's this one that really matters, while the ones in the past didn't?

I mean...I'm new to this whole 'voting's not worth it' party, but I can remember times in the past feeling like this was a 'make or break' moment. Ah, yummily relaxing public choice....

Anonymous said...

Did you really need to be _convinced_ to travel outside the US?

Angus said...


Anonymous said...

I think there could be a great post where you talk about this.