Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Difference Between the Activism of Judges and the Activism of Legislators in Our Constitutional Democracy: a Tutorial for our Political Class

From time to time it is the fashion among politicians to accuse judges of "judicial activism" as if that were a bad thing. But in our system of government it is axiomatic that both legislatures and judges are "active" in creating law. But they are not "active" in the same way.

During oral argument on Obergefell v. Hodges (the case that said all states must recognize gay marriage), Elena Kagan noted that "we don't live in a democracy, we live in a constitutional democracy." What this means is that the constitution imposes limits on what legislatures can do, and the courts identify where those limits are.

The four dissenters in Obergefell pretended like they'd never heard of this concept, and that the majority was somehow usurping the democratic process. See my earlier post here. The decision "usurps the constitutional right of the people to decide whether to keep or alter the traditional understanding of marriage,” said Justice Alito; "who do we think we are" said Chief Justice Roberts; and "today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court,” added justice Scalia.  [Scalia has an acerbic sense of humor; his formulation is funny, if you go for that kind of thing, because we all know that Scalia thinks that outside the four corners of the constitution his "Ruler" is God and not the American people]  And, of course, politicians routinely talk smack about "activist judges."

But it's the role of the courts to protect constitutional rights and to draw lines around those rights that legislatures may not cross. It's true that the Supreme Court arrogated that role to itself without express constitutional authority in Marbury v. Madison (1803), but that was 212 years ago and the court has been doing it ever since.  Get over it!

And the fact that judges are active in creating new law independent of the democratic process is with us not just when courts are policing the lines of our constitutional democracy, but also when they carry forward the common law tradition.

The American legal system is based on English common law. This means that many of the rules that govern private conduct are judge made rules from the get go. What is a contract, what is trespass, what is a nuisance, what is an assault? What are remedies for harm caused by accidents, barroom brawls, defective products, breach of contract, or fraud? All of these are questions historically decided by judges in our legal system. These judge made rules date back, if we want to draw a line, to William the Conqueror and the Norman invasion of England in 1066 A.D.  Judges in our system of jurisprudence have been active in making and shaping law ever since.

Legislatures are active in legislating statutes. Judges are active in carrying the legal tradition forward.  So how are they different?

Legislatures take their cue from voters, from lobbyists, or from their own notions in order to address what they perceive as a problem, or to advance what they perceive to be a good.  Legislators are free to propose laws as they see fit. They can move forwards, backwards, sideways, up, or down, in big steps or small as they, their constituents, their lobbyists, or their campaign contributors deem beneficial or advantageous. They can be partisan, they can take sides, they can be petty or grand. They can be careful or not. They don't have to be objective in their fact gathering. They can be arbitrary and capricious. All they have to do is convince a majority to go along, or be sneaky in slipping a provision into a larger bill where it won't be noticed.

Judges do not make new law the same way legislatures make law. Judges can not address problems as they see fit: they can only address problems that are brought to them in a justiciable form.  Judges cannot move forwards, backwards, sideways, up, or down as they wish: they are constrained by what has gone before; they are constrained by the facts of the dispute. Judges must be impartial, fair, and just: they cannot act like legislators doing the bidding of campaign donors. Judges have to be careful and reasoned. Their reasoning is in writing and subject to scrutiny.

Judges are constrained by tradition. Ronald Dworkin had a metaphor for the constraint legal tradition puts on judges. They are engaged in a process that is like writing a chain novel, in which "every writer but the first has the dual responsibilities of interpreting and creating because each must read all that has gone before in order to establish, in the interpretivist sense, what the novel so far created is." This novel must make sense. A novel written by legislation does not need to make sense.

I got this from Roberta Kwall's bookThe Myth of the Cultural Jew, and she goes on to quote (p. 26) the legal scholar Paul Berman:
In an insightful explanation, Berman notes that 'Dworkin's model requires the interpreter to treat herself as a 'partner' in the endeavor being analyzed.' Under this framework, the interpreter must understand the essence of the prior endeavor so she can generate new interpretations that are within the boundaries of the enterprise. Such an interoperation differs from a "suspicious" reading of the tradition because it does not seek to undermine the tradition or ignore its meaning and relevance. 
Legislatures are free to ignore the meaning and relevance of tradition, judges are not. Therein lies the difference. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Picture that Tells a Thousand Words: the Plight of North Korea

In 1392 A.D., a century before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the Joseans established a Confucian dynasty that ruled over the Korean peninsula for 500 years.

This ended at the end of the 19th century when the French, the British, the Japanese, and even the Americans were exerting colonial pressures on the peninsula. Japan fought two successful wars with China (1894-1895) and Russia (1904-1905) which resulted in  Japan effectively annexing Korea in 1910. Japan ruled the peninsula with a harsh colonial hand for the next 35 years.

Roosevelt and Stalin agreed not to advance
beyond the 38th parallell.
At the Yalta Conference in February 1945 (eight weeks before Roosevelt's death) Stalin and Roosevelt agreed to maintain the integrity of Korea; they also agreed that neither side would venture beyond the 38th parallel. Stalin honored this agreement as Soviet troops entered the Korean peninsula from Manchuria a few days prior to Japan's surrender in August 1945.

"The Crimean Conference ought to spell the end of a system of unilateral action," said Roosevelt upon his return from Yalta. "We propose to substitute ... a universal organization in which all peace-loving nations will finally have a chance to join." The United Nations was formed on October 24, 1945, but it failed to do away with unilateral action. 

United Nations efforts to form a unified government in Korea foundered on the rocks of a budding cold war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.  Between June 1950 and July 1953 there followed a bloody civil war that killed ten percent of the population, with direct involvement by U.S., British, Chinese, and Russian troops. The United States bombed  every substantial building in North Korea to rubble. At the end the parties were left where they started, separated by the 38th parallel. 

Since then, of course, North and South Korea have taken dramatically different paths. 

Here's a picture that tells a thousand words. 

NASA photo 2014
Electricity consumption in the two parts of the peninsula were substantially similar as recently as1980: 32 billion kWh for South Korea versus 20 billion kWh for North Korea. Thirty-five years later North Korea's electricity consumption has declined in absolute terms (15.2 billion kWh/2012), while South Korea's electricity consumption has increased more than tenfold (32 billion kWh/2012).

You can follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Hillary Will be Alright

Yes, I can accept this woman as the Democratic party nominee for President in 2016. And as Paul Krugman explained last April, if she's the nominee, you've got to vote for her. On the issues "the differences between the parties are so clear and dramatic that it’s hard to see how anyone who has been paying attention could be undecided even now" as to which party should hold the office.

Brad DeLong has been on board from the beginning. :
[Hillary Clinton] has been a successful Secretary of State, ran an almost-good-enough presidential nomination campaign, and been an effective Senator. And she was an ineffective policy-development presidential assistant back in 1993-1994. That's more experience in more different roles with more success than Barack Obama had had, than George W. Bush had had, than Ronald Reagan had had, than Jimmy Carter had had, and than John F. Kennedy had had when they faced the electorate. That's successful experience in more different roles than Bill Clinton had had. And it's about equal in variety--and greater in success--than George H.W. Bush had had. And it's vastly more than the Republican candidate will have, whoever he [and now we need to add, "or she" ed.]  may be.
DeLong covered Hillary's economic policy speech on July 13, 2015 and was struck by how thorough and reflective of serious work her stated policies are:
"The policies enumerated, listed, and referred to have had serious work done on them: their likely effects have been estimated, and estimated honestly. Their potential implementation paths have been mapped out. [She] knows what she would do come January 2017. ....If you care about competence in government — or even about whether your government sets any form of technocratic competence as even one of its goals — you must vastly prefer Hillary Rodham Clinton to J.E.B. Bush.
That was back when one could still think that Jeb Bush would be the anointed Republican candidate. No more, of course. According to the latest Pew Research polling, Donald Trump (25%) and Ben Carson (16%) continue on top of the Republican heap, followed by Rubio (8%), Fiorina (8%), and Cruz (6%).  None of these are an improvement on Bush when it comes to "being Presidential."

Have you checked out Trump's statement on the issues? It's a caricature of a campaign website to rival his hair. Carson's statement isn't much better.

Here is Hillary Rodham Clinton on economic issues in July 2015; its worth a read (De Long's editing, my numbering and headings):
1.  No More Tax Cuts for the Wealthy: Every candidate talks about the middle class and the American Dream. The question is: how do we do it?... All of the Republicans running for President believe the answer can be found in what they used to call trickle down or supply-side economics.... Cut taxes for those at the top, loosen rules on the financial industry, roll back protections for workers and consumers, and reduce most public investments. Republicans have argued for decades that these steps will create more wealth at the top that will then trickle down to everyone else. And for decades they've been wrong. Their policies contributed to the financial crash that wrecked our economy, turned surpluses into deficits, and led to an unprecedented concentration of wealth and power for those who already have a lot of both.... 
2. Increase Investment in Research, Infrastructure, Clean Energy with Less Red Tape. Today is not 1992, before the Internet Revolution, or 2000, when we had not yet faced the full force of globalization.... Today is not 2008 or even 2012.... We're not yet running the way America should.... You may have heard Governor Bush say last week that Americans just need to work longer hours. Well, he must not have met very many American workers. Let him tell that to the nurse who stands on her feet all day or the trucker who drives all night. Let him tell that to the fast food workers marching in the streets for better pay. They don’t need a lecture--they need a raise.... 
Today I am proposing a different path.... 
If we can get closer to full employment, employers will have to compete with each other to hire workers....We need to... dramatically increase investments in the engines of growth... funding scientific and medical research... establishing an infrastructure bank... investing in faster broadband networks... making America the word's clean energy superpower... cutting unnecessary red tape... reviving the Export-Import Bank...
3. Preventing Exploitation by Monopolies; Making College Affordable. [P]reventing bigger businesses from exploiting market concentration and political influence... mak[ing] college more affordable and accessible... break[ing] down barriers so more Americans can join the workforce--especially women....

4. Quality Day Care. Nearly half of all working parents with young children in this country have passed up a job because it conflicted with family obligations. They also show that the expansion of family-friendly policies in other countries, including paid leave, explains nearly one-third of our comparative decline in women's labor force participation. We can't afford to leave talent on the sidelines, but that's exactly what we're doing. So it's time to make quality, affordable childcare more available to families... earned sick days and fair scheduling.... 
5. Promote Fairer Growth. Beyond stronger growth, we also need fairer growth.... The reason everyday Americans aren't being rewarded the way they should isn't because they aren't working hard enough or long enough.... Expanded profit sharing would put more money directly into the pockets of workers, boost bottom lines, and give everyone a stake in the company's success.... We also have to raise the minimum wage and implement President Obama's new rules on overtime. Crack down on wage theft and misclassification.... 
Senior executives or hedge-fund managers shouldn't ever pay a lower tax rate than any nurse or a teacher... closing the carried interest loophole... support[ing] the so-called Buffett Rule... strengthening the hand of employees to organize and bargain collectively.... Republicans like Scott Walker and Chris Christie have made their names stomping on workers' rights... I'll fight back against these mean-spirited, misguided attacks, and defend Americans' right to organize.... 
6. Reward Long Term Investment. Too much of our economy has become focused on making a quick buck instead of building real value. You actually hear this from a lot of frustrated CEOs... desperate to escape the tyranny of the quarterly earnings report.... I will propose a plan to reform capital gains taxes to reward longer-term investments that create jobs rather than short-term trading.... Companies like Trader Joe's and QuikTrip have prospered by paying higher wages that yield higher productivity and better service....

7. Tackle Financial Reform. Nowhere will the shift from short-term to long-term be more important than on Wall Street.... Republicans in Congress... have slipped deregulatory provisions into must-pass bills, allowing the biggest banks once again to engage in risky activities with complex financial instruments. And they have committed to defunding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.... As President, I will fight back against these attacks and defend the reforms we've made.... Too many financial institutions are still too big, too complex, and too risky. And the problems aren't limited to the big banks that get all the headlines.... 
8. Tackle Rising Health Care Costs. I will propose ways that we can get rising health costs under control, which is one of the key drivers of our long-term deficits, so that our fiscal outlook is sustainable...
So she gets it on the economy. There is the matter of implementing policy, which is easier said than done. Just ask Obama. But (1) no more tax cuts for the rich--as the Republican candidates are advocating--is doable with a veto; (2) increased investment in infrastructure, basic research, and clean energy is a sustained ongoing task, but a president who can forcefully and clearly articulate the issues, is well connected, and has lots of experience, will be in the best position to push Congress in the right direction; I'll put my money on Hillary for this; (3) fighting monopoly power and making college affordable requires Congress and Hillary can put pressure on Congress for this as well as anyone; (4) quality and affordable child care will need Congress to act, but Hillary is as  good a champion on this as we'll find; (5) promoting fairer growth is not something a President can snap her fingers and get done, but I think Hillary gets the importance of it; give her a grass roots movement and she can run with it; (6) changing tax rules to reward longer term investing is another issue that requires a grass roots movement to motivate Congress; if we can build that movement, I think Hillary will help; (7) same with financial reform; I see no other candidate who would be more effective carrying this issue forward; (8) Hillary has been around the block on health care: as an unsuccessful presidential advisor, as a senator, and from inside the Obama administration; she has more experience  how best to keep Congress working to improve our healthcare system than anyone.

Hillary makes me nervous on foreign policy. I think her instincts are too hawkish as reflected in her vote in support of the second Iraq war, and her advocacy of more forceful action in Syria. Conor Friedensdorf, writing in the Atlantic, wonders whether Clinton's sharp rhetoric on foreign policy is primarily a difference in verbal temperament, or a harbinger of more unpleasant, destrucive, and expensive foreign entanglements if she becomes president.

There is no doubt, however, that Hillary is far more experienced (and knowledgeable) on foreign policy than anyone else running for president. She seems to believe that the U.S. is an indispensable nation to the world order, but unlike the neoconservatives of the George W. Bush administration, she does believe in diplomacy.

I'm betting Hillary Clinton will be alright. She has my support.

You can Read DeLong's explanation HERE. You can follow me on Twitter HERE.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Optimism and the Successful Battle Against Big Soda

The Moor is of a free and open nature,
That thinks men honest but that seem to be so,              
And will as tenderly be led by th'nose
As asses are.

                                                                                  --Othello, Act I, Scene 3. 

Is that true of voters? The common man lacks all conviction, we say, while the moneyed one percent and multi-national corporations are full of passionate intensity for their causes. And in our stupor, they lead us around by our noses as they choose.  Citizens United has destroyed our politics forever; the hold of the 1% and big banks over Congress means we can never regulate banks or successfully enlist Congress to act for the good of the many.

So goes the refrain.

We look at Scott Wiener's campaign (San Francisco supervisor) to impose a two cents per can soda tax last November.  His campaign was shot down in flames by Big Soda.

But take a look at these statistics in the NYT Upshot article on October 2, 2015 (reproduced in slightly different format from Vox here):

Big Soda may not be winning. Consumption of sweetened soda has declined significantly in the past 15 years.  Sales of full calorie sodas have been cut by 25%. Soda consumption is undergoing a substantial and sustained decline. As a result the obesity epidemic is waning. Soda companies are forced to search for healthier alternatives. With public education and the help of local actors like school boards we've been able to combat the worst effects of Big Soda. The work is far from done, but there is room for optimism that a concerted public health campaign can have a positive effect.

We saw it with tobacco too.

If we can educate people not to smoke and not to drink sweetened sodas, who says we can't educate people to stop voting for tax cuts for the rich, or to vote for policies that affirmatively protect the environment, or effect positive changes in health care coverage, or vote for Congressmen and women who will impose sensible banking regulations?

Never lose hope. Not every play ends in tragedy.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Kevin McCarthy: Least Experienced Speaker in 100 years?

Kevin McCarthy would be the least experienced Speaker of the House since 1891, says Philip Bump in the Washington Post. McCarthy (b. 1/26/65) has been in Congress just eight years and it shows.

McCarthy was born in Bakersfield CA and is a fourth generation native of Kern County. He obtained a B.S. in marketing from the local college (Cal State Bakersfield) in 1989, and an M.B.A. from the same college in 1994.

His parents were Democrats, but McCarthy set his sights to rise in the Republican party. It's where the action's at in Bakersfield. In 1995 he became chairman of the California Young Republicans. According to Wiki, California Young Republicans is open to registered members of the Republican party between the ages of 18 and 40.  Local chapters have strong independence; they sponsor various social events and networking events and assist Republican political candidates and causes.

McCarthy made the most of his CAYR chairmanship. In 1999 he was elected chairman of the Young Republican National federation. He's been a sterling Republican team player. At the same time, in the late 1990's until 2000, he also acted as a district director for House of Representative Member Bill Thomas (R-CA).

McCarthy was elected as Kern County Community College District trustee in 2000, and elected to the California State Assembly in 2002. He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006 and has been substantially unopposed in his district since.

McCarthy, in short, has been a professional politician, a striver who has gained success in an extremely narrow bubble of Republican politics during the last 20 years.  He lacks any meaningful life experience outside of this Republican political bubble.

McCarthy has been a protege of John Boehner.  In 2008 Boehner appointed him to chair of the Republican platform committee.  "The Republican Party is the party of opportunity," says the preamble to the final 2012 Republican platform. And so it has been for Kevin McCarthy.

Here are some notable items in the 2008 Republican platform overseen by McCarthy:
  • "[T]he achieving of peace — should never be micromanaged in a party platform, or on the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives for that matter."  What happened, we might ask, to this principle during the recent Iran treaty negotiation?
  • "The gravest threat we face — nuclear terrorism — demands a comprehensive strategy for reducing the world's nuclear stockpiles and preventing proliferation." One might ask today, isn't that what the Iran deal was about? 
  • "Returning veterans must have access to education benefits, job training, and a wide variety of employment options."  We might ask, what have Republicans done to advance education benefits, job training, and employment options for veterans in the past seven years? See Daily Kos report (2013) on actual Republican actions. 
  • "To be successful international leaders, we must uphold international law, including the laws of war, and update them when necessary." We might ask, how did the Bush administration uphold these values in invading Iraq in violation of international law, killing more than 160,000 civilians in an illegal war? 
  • "Our success in Iraq will deny al Qaeda a safe haven, limit Iranian influence in the Middle East, strengthen moderate forces there, and give us a strategic ally in the struggle against extremism." What success, we might ask. Is it not our illegal war in Iraq that has directly lead to the rise of ISIS?  
  • "Short-term politics overshadow the long-term interests of the nation." We might ask, what has the Republican party done in the last seven years to improve that situation? Res Ipsa Loquitor.
  • "We pledge a business-like, cost-effective approach for infrastructure spending, always mindful of the special needs of both rural and urban communities." We might ask what have Republicans done to put the Highway Trust fund on a business-like, cost effective basis? What have Republicans done in the past seven years to fund infrastructure, let alone to fund it in a business-like cost effective manner?
  • "We believe government should tax only to raise money for its essential functions." Right: no progressive taxation to redistribute income or to fund "non-essential" things like parks, free higher education, etc.
  • "We believe that real reform is about improving your access to a health care provider, your control over care, and your ability to afford that care. We will continue to advocate for simplification of the system and the empowerment of patients." We might ask, what have Republicans done to promote patient control over care, or to make care more affordable for individuals in the last seven years?
  • "To empower families, we must make insurance more affordable and more secure, and give employees the option of owning coverage that is not tied to their job." We might ask, has Obamacare not given employees the option of owning coverage not tied to their job?
  • "Individuals with pre-existing conditions must be protected."  We might ask, is this not what Obamacare has accomplished? 
Inexperienced and emerging from a Republican political bubble may account for McCarthy's gaffe to Sean Hannity on Fox last night. Inexperience and living in a Republican bubble is what leads someone to say to Sean Hannity on FOX the following: 
McCarthy:  The question I think you want to ask me is "How am I going to be different (than Boehner)? ... What you're going to see is a conservative Speaker, it takes a conservative Congress, it puts (sic) a strategy to fight and win. And let me give you one example.  Everyone thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's untrustworthy, but noone would have know any of that had happened had we not fought and (inaudible). 
The first give away here, the part that Democrats have jumped all over, is that McCarthy is defending his leadership as "strategic" because he and the Republican leadership instigated the Benghazi investigation in order to take down Hillary Clinton in the polls.  That sounds like an abuse of office on the Republican leadership's part.

The second give away, equally telling, is his claim that "noone would have known any of that" but for the hearings. But, in fact, the hearings have revealed absolutely NOTHING SIGNIFICANT  WHATSOEVER. The fact that nothing came from the hearings--contrary to McCarthy's misleading assertion--of course, simply highlights that the Benghazi investigation is purely politically motivated.

Sean Hannity may have a net worth of $80 million, but last I checked he is not elected to make public policy of the country. So why is he sounding like he's dictating public policy to Kevin McCarthy? Hannity, at 10:00 in the video here, laments that Boehner has not been taking his calls for the past couple of years. Good for John Boehner. McCarthy looks like a wimp kowtowing to Hannity and the far right Republican wing to get the Speakership.  It does not bode well.

"You don't know me, but you don't like me, 
How many of you who judge me, ever walked the streets of Bakersfield"

Monday, September 28, 2015

On Why we Support a Large Welfare State: Separating the Factual from the Moral Arguments

Why do we support a large welfare state? Why do we want to broadly redistribute wealth in our society? This morning, Brad DeLong sent us to Matthew Yglesias at Vox who notes:
So the Pope, amongst other things, has a bunch of left-wing anti-capitalist views. Lots of people on the right have decided that they want to argue with the Pope about this and the general line that they take is that the Pope is wrong and capitalism is good because you can see that well-functioning market economies actually do a great deal to raise living standards broadly.
Capitalism raises living standards broadly.  That's a factual argument, and across the political spectrum we accept it.  Yglesias says "that's true, but it does not raise living standards as broadly as capitalism plus a large welfare state."

Republicans say we should shrink the welfare state (we should have minimal regulation, low taxation, and less redistribution) because this will raise living standards broadly. And that is factually incorrect.  A small-government-low-taxation-low regulation state does not raise living standards broadly--it results in great disparities in income and wealth.  In addition, of course, it results in a degraded environment, less safe working environments, inadequate health care for large portions of the population, and a degraded social safety net. Truth is, although capitalism raises living standards broadly, it does so a lot less broadly than capitalism plus a large welfare state. Yglesias claims that "thoughtful opponents of the welfare state" agree with this.

[T]houghtful opponents of the welfare state have generally avoided making the (factual, ed.) argument that capitalism is good because it promotes human well-being. Since capitalism does promote human well-being, "capitalism promotes human well-being" sounds like a good argument in its favor. But it turns out that capitalism plus a large welfare state promotes human well-being even more. So you either need to embrace the welfare state (the correct answer) or come up with another justification of capitalism.
I'm not sure who these "thoughtful opponents of the welfare state" are. It seems to me that Republican politicians running for office are routinely asking low level service employees, secretaries, janitors, construction workers, factory workers, and the unemployed to vote Republican because, they claim, unregulated capitalism, with low taxation, will raise living standards broadly; and, they claim, capitalism plus a large welfare state will kill jobs, create debt, and result in broadly lower living standards.

Thoughtful right wing economists, like Harvard's Greg Mankiew, says Yglesias, don't actually believe that argument. They have avoided making the factual argument that capitalism (with only a minimal welfare state) promotes human well being. The real argument, says Yglesias, is over whether we should adopt redistributive policies at all:
"the really big thing we argue over is whether people with high market incomes should be taxed in order to provide 'free stuff' to the poor and the middle class."
And as Pope Francis points out, that is a moral argument. The fact that well implemented redistributive policies, part of a large welfare state, raises living standards more broadly than capitalism with a minimal welfare state and low taxation is factually beyond question, says Yglesias:
"the evidence is pretty overwhelming that you can design a growth-friendly tax code that still raises a ton of money and then improve living standards by giving people some free stuff."
"Thoughtful opponents of the welfare state" like Mankiew, suggests Yglesias, don't dispute this. Instead, they argue we should not redistribute wealth for moral reasons.

In practice, of course, politicians do their best to muddle and obscure the factual and moral questions. The factual question gets mixed up with Republican pseudo-moral rationales for dismantling the welfare state:
One (moral argument, ed.) that frequently arises is what Greg Mankiw has referred to as the "just deserts" perspective in which "people should receive compensation congruent with their contributions" and we should aim for a society in which public policy ought to ensure that "every individual would earn the value of his or her own marginal product."
So if, for example, you are blind and inability to see makes it hard for you to earn a living in an unregulated market that's too bad for you. Your vision impairment means your ability to contribute to market production is limited, and therefore it is morally appropriate that your living standards be limited as well. By the same token, if a combination of genetics and childhood living conditions have left you with an IQ that is 2 standard deviations below average (this is about five percent of people) then, again, it's just the case that you deserve to have a much lower standard of living than society could provide for you if it were willing to do more redistribution.
Mankiw's moralized capitalism seems bone-chilling to me but I don't really think I can prove him wrong. It is, however, pretty trivial to see that Mankiwism isn't a Christian worldview. Jesus didn't preach "blessed are those with high marginal products, for they shall inherit incomes proportionate to their contributions." The practical benefits of capitalism are something that maybe a Christian should care about, but the practical benefits of capitalism-plus-welfare-state are bigger. To justify the tax cutter policy agenda, you need some thicker ethical theory and it ends up being a distinctly non-Christian one.
And to that we can say, Amen.

So why do we have a large welfare state with redistributive policies? Because we are with Yglesias and Mankiew that pro-growth redistributive policies are possible and can be effective; because we are with Pope Francis that it seems like the morally right thing to do; because it is the only way to raise living standards broadly; because we should help the disadvantaged among us; because we want to protect and preserve our environment; because we want to raise the quality of life most broadly. In short, the ongoing Republican argument that we should substantially retrench the welfare state "because this will broadly promote human well being" is factually incorrect and morally bankrupt.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Resignation of John Boehner and the Election for Speaker

On Friday, September 25, 2015, the Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) announced he will relinquish his Speakership and retire from Congress, effective October 30, 2015.

John Boehner came by his Republican credentials honestly. He was born in Reading, Ohio (north of Cincinnati), the second of twelve children. The family lived in a two bedroom house where the parents slept on a pull-out sofa in the living room. As a boy of eight he started working in his father's bar, a business started by his grandfather in 1938.

John attended Xavier University in Cincinnati, supporting himself with several jobs. He was the first of his family to attend college. He graduated college in 1977 and took a job with a plastics packing company, steadily rising to president of the firm. He did not resign until after he was elected to Congress.

He has lived in Southwest Ohio all his life (and Washington DC since 1991, of course); most of his siblings live in the area still and are working in blue collar jobs.

Boehner entered politics in 1981, serving three years as a Trustee of Union Township, followed by five years in the Ohio legislature. He was elected to the House in 1990 from the Ohio 8th Congressional District, which starts on the northern outskirts of Cincinnati and runs along the Indiana border and juts east to include Springfield.

Boehner was one of the engineers of Newt Gingrich's Contract with America, which sparked the heightened partisan divide we have seen in Congress the last 20 years. Following Tom DeLay's (R Texas) resignation as Republican House leader (DeLay was indicted for money laundering and campaign finance violations) Boehner was elected leader of the Republican Party in the House in 2006 and Speaker of the House in 2011. He was most recently elected to his House seat last November.

John Boehner has talked the talk and walked the walk for Republicans. They will miss him... even if we won't miss the partisan divisive era he helped spark and presided over. For now, it looks like the divisiveness may ratchet up another notch with his departure.

In his announcement Boehner said that he had planned to retire at the end of the year, but that he decided impulsively after the Pope's address to Congress to move up his departure. He says he did it to "protect the institution," apparently because Tea Party Republicans were plotting another palace coup. It shows how badly the Republicans are in disarray, says Nancy Pelosi.

The Speaker of the House is the presiding officer of the House of Representatives, and second in line for the Presidency after the vice-President. Crucially, the Speaker decides which legislation is assigned to which committee, and which legislation will be brought to the floor for a vote. The Speaker also coordinates the legislative agenda with leaders of the House and the Senate and the President. He or she swears in members of the House,  keeps order in the chamber, recognizing members to speak on the House floor, and making rulings about House procedures. The Speaker gets to appoint committee members, including a majority of members to the Rules Committee.

A new Speaker will now have to be elected, and it might be a battle. Each of the 435 members in the House will get a vote. The front runner is currently the Republican majority leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy from California. He's no shoo-in, says Breitbart. The most conservative wing of the party wants one of its own, potentially setting up a leadership fight.

In order to be elected, the next Speaker will require 218 votes. There are 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats in the House, so the next speaker will certainly be a Republican (although Nancy Pelosi will be offered up as a nominee by the Democrats). With a pitched battle for the speakership, potentially Democratic votes will play a role.  In 1856 it took two months and 133 ballots to elect Nathaniel Banks as Speaker.  It might be interesting.

Nathaniel Banks 1856
first elected Republican House Speaker

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