Heritage Foundation, Economic Freedom, and Greece P

 

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

What country cut government spending the most in 2011?

Most people would generally agree that the answer is Greece. Smack in the middle of a debt crisis, Greece’s government has been forced to take an axe to government spending. Month after month has been marked by budget cut after budget cut.

The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank which publishes a ranking of economic freedom according to each country. These rankings are based on conservative economic values, such as low government spending. According to the Heritage Foundation, the less your government spends, the more economically free your country is.

So, after three years of cutting government spending to the bone, how’s Greece doing on the Heritage Foundation’s ranking of economic freedom?

Pretty Poorly.

In fact, the Heritage Foundation states that Greece has recorded the “largest score decline in the 2012 Index.” Why is this? Well:

Greece’s economic freedom score is 55.4, making its economy the 119th freest in the 2012 Index. Its score is 4.9 points lower than last year, reflecting declines in six of the 10 economic freedoms with particularly acute problems in labor freedom, monetary freedom, and the control of government spending.

This pattern is not only limited to Greece. The four other Eurozone countries in trouble (Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain) have all been slashing their budgets to the bone. Austerity and cuts in government spending have been the main preoccupation of their governments and will continue to be for probably all of next year.

Unfortunately, all of these countries have also suffered corresponding declines in the Heritage Foundation’s rank of economic freedom. Here is Ireland:

Here is Ireland.

Italy.

Portugal.

And Spain.

Why has this happened?

Well, the answer is kind of ironic. Here’s what the Heritage Foundation says:

Ireland’s economic freedom score is 76.9, making its economy the 9th freest in the 2012 Index. Its score has decreased by 1.8 points from last year, reflecting poorer management of government spending and reduced monetary freedom.

Italy’s economic freedom score is 58.8, making its economy the 92nd freest in the 2012 Index. Its overall score is 1.5 points lower than last year, with significant declines in freedom from corruption and the control of government spending.

Portugal’s economic freedom score is 63.0, making its economy the 68th freest in the 2012 Index. Its score is 1.0 point worse than last year, mainly due to deterioration in the management of government spending, labor freedom, and fiscal freedom.

Spain’s economic freedom score is 69.1, making its economy the 36th freest in the 2012 Index. Its score is 1.1 points lower than last year, with a significant deterioration in the management of government spending overwhelming a modest gain in business freedom.

After cutting government spending by enormous amounts, the scores of these five European countries have gotten worse…because they can’t control government spending.

Indeed, the vast majority of the decline in economic freedom of Italy, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain occurs due to lower scores on government spending. Here’s a table that specifically shows how much worse their scores on government spending have gotten since 2011:

Score Changes Since 2011 Country Government Spending Greece -18.1 Ireland -16.7 Italy -9.2 Portugal -10.7 Spain -12.2

It’s pretty undeniable that these countries have been cutting government spending. And yet their scores on the control of government spending keep on getting worse. What gives?

Well, it has to do with the way that Heritage Foundation measures government spending. Specifically it uses government spending as a percentage of GDP; as a government spends more relative to GDP, its score gets exponentially worse.

What’s happening with these five European countries is that while they have indeed cut government spending, their economies have fallen into recession (coincidence?). So government spending, while numerically less, ends up composing a larger percentage of their GDP (which is declining even faster than spending).

Poor Greece. It cuts government spending to the bone for three years, falls into a depression that will be remembered for one hundred years, only to default on its debt anyways. And worst of all, its score on the conservative Heritage Foundation’s economic freedom ranking falls more than any other country because – wait for it – Greece has failed to control government spending adequately.

 

America – A Very Young Country

 

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

I recently had the opportunity to talk with a foreigner about American history. He asked how long America had been independent.

That’s a complicated question. There are a lot of years that could be used to answer the question. 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed? Perhaps 1783, when Great Britain admitted defeat? 1787, when the Constitution was written? Or perhaps 1789, when George Washington was inaugurated as president?

In any case, I said, America is a very young country. It’s only been independent for around three hundred years.

I decided to actually double-check that figure. 2012 minus 1776, which seems to be the year most people use for American independence.

It turns out that America has been an independent nation for only 236 years! That is not a lot of time. Think about it this way: one really really old person theoretically could have lived for more than half of the history of this nation. That’s pretty amazing.

There’s an interesting bit of historical context that goes along with this. Most great powers throughout history tend to last for a remarkably uniform amount of time: around 200 years. There are empires, of course, which fall apart the moment their founder dies. Other powers last for milllenia. But even with these powers one can see the two-century cycle: two centuries of dominance and hegemony, followed by a time of decay and chaos, followed by another two centuries of strength, followed by another time of decline, and so on.

The United States has been a great power roughly since 1898, when it won the Spanish-American War. That’s 114 years. Following the simple logic above, America has roughly 86 years of greatness left before it falls into chaos. (Of course, good leadership and strong institutions can shorten or lengthen that period of time.)

 

The Demographics of America’s Governors: Age

 

This post will look at the demographics of America’s governors by age, as of February 2012. All in all, this series on the demographics of America’s governors examines:

  • Age

 

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

America’s governors generally have a pretty wide range in age. The youngest governor, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, was less than forty years old when elected. The oldest, Jerry Brown of California, was actually governor of California decades before many Americans were born.

Here's a more detailed look.

This is a truly random map. There’s essentially no relationship that one can see between the age of a state’s governor and, well, anything. States with young governors, like Nevada or South Carolina, are located right next to states with old governors, such as California or Georgia.

Let’s try to add political party to this analysis.

First, we'll take a look at the age of Democratic governors:

Naturally the Democratic Party governs fewer states after its losses in the 2010 midterm election. Interestingly, it seems that Democrats still hold a lot of the “Clinton belt” – the Appalachian region which went strongly for Bill Clinton and has since then turned decisively Republican on a presidential level.

Now let's look at Republicans.

It does seem that Republican governors are, in general, a younger bunch. There are several possible reasons behind this. Firstly, it should be expected for Republican governors to be younger given that they won most of the most recent midterm elections. Secondly, it could be just mere chance: given enough elections, eventually you’ll get one in which one party’s governors are younger than the other party’s. Finally, there’s the possibility that something about the Republican Party and American politics tends to make Republican governors younger.

All in all, there’s not that much to see here. Unlike other demographic dividers, age does not arouse great passions. This is because everybody has the opportunity to reach the age most American governors tend to be. I didn’t expect to find anything extremely interesting when writing this post, and I didn’t find anything. Which is not a big problem; not everything provides a piercing insight into the current state of politics.

--inoljt

 

Things the United States Makes

 

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

One of the time-honored American political traditions is to complain about how America no-longer makes things. This is not quite true, however. America still makes plenty of things. In fact, America manufactures more stuff than any other country in the world.

Why, then, do so many Americans think that nothing is made in America anymore? Well, let’s take a look at four things that America makes:

Cars – This is perhaps the least surprising thing on this list. The world’s biggest car company is American. American car companies, however, have plenty of competition. German, Japanese, and South Korean companies all sell many cars inside the United States (strangely, France and Italy are home to some very prestigious automobile companies which have failed to penetrate the American market).

Commercial Airplanes – Remember the last time you bought a commercial airplane? Well, it was probably made in America. Boeing is the world’s dominant manufacturer of commercial airplanes. The only other company that can compete is Airbus, located primarily in France and Germany (Russia also makes commercial airplanes, but nobody buys them).

Construction Equipment – When you look at any construction site, you’ll almost certainly see a bunch of heavy yellow machines with the letters CAT stamped on them. Those machines were made in America. The industry of building machines which build buildings is dominated by one American firm: Caterpillar. The main other company that seems to also be in the business is Komatsu Limited, a Japanese firm with one-fourth as many employees as Caterpillar.

Tanks – It’s hard to tell, naturally, what country makes the world’s best tanks. Nevertheless, America does make a lot of tanks – and it’s probably safe-to-say that the quality of American tanks is amongst the best in the world (the cost, on the other hand…). It seems that the major “competitors” in this field are Germany, Great Britain, and perhaps Russia.

Conclusions

There are several things which are easily noted about this list. First of all, the items listed above are very difficult to make. These items require extensive expertise with lots and lots of parts that have to be put together just right (making those parts is usually a multibillion dollar industry itself). There is generally no room for failure. This is not like making a T-shirt (although America also does do that).

Secondly, America’s major “competitors” in manufacturing are not the countries most people accuse of stealing jobs. Third World countries do not manufacture the same things that America manufactures. Rather, America “competes” with France, Germany, Great Britain, and Japan.

Finally, to answer the question above: Why, then, do so many Americans think that nothing is made in America anymore? Well, the answer is that America tends not to make consumer goods that people buy every day. Rather, it makes things like cars, commercial airplanes, heavy construction equipment, and tanks. But if you ever decide to buy a commercial airliner for your next vacation, or some heavy construction equipment for your house…that commercial airliner or heavy construction equipment is probably going to be made in America.

 

 

Why Didn’t Britain Ever Give Democracy to Hong Kong?

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Great Britain is a democracy and a country dedicated to helping spread liberty around the world.

At least today. There used to be a time when Great Britain was not a friend to democracy. Indeed, there used to be a very undemocratic thing called the British Empire.

One of the last great British colonies was a city called Hong Kong. Hong Kong stayed under British control for far longer than its other colonies, and Hong Kong was still painted in the pink of the British Empire long after the rest of the empire was gone. Indeed, Hong Kong was still British long after the idea of empire began to be thought of as something very negative.

But there is something very strange about what the British did with Hong Kong, or rather what the British did not do. That is, for the longest time Great Britain never attempted to introduce democracy to Hong Kong. In the end, Hong Kong never did become a democracy under Great Britain. It is not a democracy today.

Now, this would be more easily explained if it happened before the Second World War. Before World War II, of course, it just wasn’t the European way to give democracy to their colonies. But Wikipedia’s page on Democratic development in Hong Kong doesn’t start until the 1980s. This was long after decolonization and the idea that empires were good. Indeed, the first elements of local autonomy in Hong Kong were introduced with the agreement to give back sovereignty of Hong Kong to China.

Why did Great Britain never make Hong Kong a democracy? Why didn’t it do this in the 1960s or 1970s? Why did it continue appointing bland British bureaucrats, who had never lived there and knew nothing about the place, to run Hong Kong? It seems that this failure has something to with the continuing British nostalgia of empire.

In America today people are not proud of America’s colonies. They’d rather forget it. You can talk to an American for a lifetime, and the subject of the Philippines will never come up. Indeed, the last time I actually talked with an American about American colonization escapes me. But talk with a British person long enough, and eventually the subject of the British Empire will always come up. Probably they’ll even speak in a half-nostalgic tone about the days of Britain’s glory. They’d do it again if they could.

Hong Kong’s political system today is a strange thing. People in Hong Kong vote in free and fair elections, they can protest and assembly, but the rules are bent so that ultimately only the Chinese government’s candidate can win. Yet, ironically, Hong Kong today is more democratic than it was during the vast majority (perhaps the totality) of its time under British rule. This is doubly ironic, because Great Britain is a democracy and China is not.

If Great Britain had had the option of ruling Hong Kong as long as it pleased, would Hong Kong today be a full democracy? Maybe not. Probably not.

Would Hong Kong even be as democratic as the not-really democracy it is today?

Probably so. But perhaps not. Even the “perhaps” is quite disturbing.

 

 

A Case Study of the Perils Facing Third-Party Candidates: Taiwan

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

In an important world event that far too few Americans knew or probably cared about, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou was recently re-elected with 51.6% of the vote.

The election itself was quite interesting; there are several fascinating patterns that occur in Taiwanese politics. But this post will focus mainly on the travails of third-party candidate James Soong Chu-yu.

In America third-party candidates generally do terribly. Amazingly, there is not a single Congressman in the House of Representatives who is not a member of either the Democratic or Republican Party.

There is a very simple reason for this: American politics is based on a first-past-the-post system, rather than a proportional parliamentary system. Whoever gets the most votes wins.

This represents a tremendous hurdle to third-party candidates in the United States. Since the supporters of a third party would otherwise vote disproportionately for another major party candidate, third party candidates are constantly accused of “stealing” votes. A vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for George W. Bush, or so the saying goes (and, as it turned out, a vote for Ralph Nader was indeed a vote for George W. Bush). This is why a third-party candidate has never won a presidential election in the history of the United States.

In Taiwan, whoever gets the most votes also becomes president. Third party candidate James Soong Chu-yu’s positions generally leaned towards the Kuomintang. He was unsurprisingly accused of siphoning votes away from the Kuomintang candidate Ma Ying-jeou. Soong thus faced the same hurdle that all third-party presidential candidates in the United States have failed to overcome.

So how did James Soong Chu-yu do? Well, in the earliest summer 2011 polls Soong generally pulled in low double-digits, sometimes breaking the 15% barrier but never falling below 10% of the electorate’s support. As the campaign season wore on, however, his support steadily leaked away. The polls document this drip, drip, drip of support fleeing him quite well. By October Soong was dipping into the single-digits. By November he was struggling to break into the double-digits at all. The last five polls on Wikipedia’s list gave him 7%, 5.8%, 7.2%, 6%, and 6.8% of the vote. Due to Taiwanese laws, polling then ceased during the ten days prior to the election.

On election day James Soong Chu-yu got 2.8% of the vote.

In other words, a candidate who started regularly polling above 15% ended up with less than a million actual votes. James Soong Chu-yu essentially turned into a non-entity; as the possibility of him splitting the Pan-Blue coalition vote came closer and closer to reality, his support plummeted.

All in all, this result is a fascinating application of an electoral principle being applied to a country outside the United States (or outside of the Western world for that matter). When electorates in the United States and Taiwan are presented with the same situation, they react in the exact same way. This reveals that the effect of a first-past-the-post system is quite universal: the system destroys third party candidacies. Whether the third-party candidate is Ralph Nader or James Soong Chu-yu, the result is the same.

 

 

Ron Paul Is Lying

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Libertarian Ron Paul is doing quite well in the 2012 Republican primaries; he has taken third place in Iowa and second place in New Hampshire. Perhaps the greatest controversy that Ron Paul has run into is a series of newsletters published under his name. These newsletters are written in a racist and hateful tone.

Ron Paul has defended himself by saying that he never wrote or even read the newsletters. Here is one fairly typical interview of this  defense.

In this interview, the media has tended to emphasize the fact that Ron Paul abruptly walked away from the interview, although it seemed to be ending anyways.

What is much more interesting is to watch the parts of the video in which Paul specifically denies having read or written any of the newsletters. Specifically, look at 7:20. At 7:20, Paul says:

You know what the answer is, I — I didn’t read — write them. I didn’t read them at the time. And I disavow them. That is the answer.

Look at Paul’s body language when he’s saying these words. It’s fascinating. He refuses to meet Gloria Borger’s eyes. Rather, Paul looks at the floor. This is in contrast to the rest of the interview, when Paul does confidently meet the reporter’s eyes.

Ron Paul is lying.

 

Looking at Romney’s Voting Coalition

The primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire have recently concluded, with Mitt Romney winning both. It’s quite probable now that Romney will be the person facing Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election.

Both Iowa and New Hampshire have provided detailed exit polls of the Republican electorate. These paint a good picture of the coalition that Romney is assembling.

Of course, exit polls are notoriously unreliable. If exit polls were trustworthy, President John Kerry would just be completing his second term right now. Any exit poll thus ought to be taken with an enormous grain of salt.

Nevertheless, there are some patterns that are appearing pretty consistently in the exit polls of the Republican primaries. These are large enough to be of some note.

 

  • Romney’s support increases steadily as a voter’s age increases.
  •  

  • Similarly, support for Romney increases steadily as income increases.
  •  

  • Very conservative voters are not fans of Romney.
  •  

  • Neither are born-again Christians. Which is not to say that their support is nonexistent; plenty of born-again Christians are still voting for Romney.
  •  

  • Those with college degrees appear slightly more disposed to voting for Romney.
  •  

  • Similarly, so are Catholics.
  • There is one final pattern which the exit polls don’t show, but which also appears consistently in the results: rural voters do not like Romney. He has done the worst in the rural parts of Iowa and New Hampshire. It will be of interest to note whether this pattern prevails in South Carolina.

    Not all of these patterns occurred in the last 2008 Republican primaries. During 2008, for instance, very conservative voters gradually became the strongest supporters of Romney. In fact, while there are great similarities between the voters Romney is winning now and those he won in 2004, there are also substantial differences. These are fascinating enough to be the subject of another, much more detailed, post.

    Nor should one expect all these patterns to hold throughout the primary season. This is particularly true with respect to religion. In 2008 Catholics were more likely than Protestants to vote for Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire. In later states such as California and Florida, however, Protestants were more favorable to Romney than Catholics (this was true even counting only white Catholics and white Protestants). Why this is so is somewhat of a mystery.

    There is one very important consideration which has not appeared yet: race. So far, the voters in the 2012 Republican primary have been overwhelmingly white. Asians and blacks do not vote in Republican primaries in numbers large enough to be counted by exit polls. Hispanics, however, do. In 2008 Romney won 14% of the Hispanic vote in Florida, compared to the 31% he took statewide; he failed to break single digits amongst Cubans. It will be very revealing to see whether Romney can do better than that this year.

    Implications for the General Election

    Romney appears to do best in the more traditional wing of the Republican Party. His support is concentrated amongst the wealthier, more urbane voters in the party – the part of the party that is commonly represented by the sophisticated businessman. This, I know, will come as a shock to everybody who has been following politics these past few years.

    During the general election, Romney will probably do well in places filled with people of the above description. These include areas such as suburban Philadelphia and the northern exurbs of Atlanta. He may struggle to raise much excitement amongst the rural evangelical crowd, the red-hot conservatives who in bygone days voted loyally Democratic. Unfortunately for the president, these voters probably loathe Obama more than any other segment of the electorate.

    Probably most useful for a political analyst is the fact that Romney’s support increases in proportion to a voter’s wealth, age, and closeness to a major urban center. These are things about Romney’s coalition which political analysts haven’t known about before (especially the facts about voter income and age).

    It will be interesting to see if Romney’s coalition remains the same throughout the next few primaries, or whether it changes. Indeed, Romney’s coalition is actually somewhat different from the one he assembled in the 2008 Republican primaries. The next few posts will compare the exit polls from those primaries and those from the current primaries.

    They will examine:

    Iowa

    --inoljt

     

    Why Barack Obama Will Lose the 2012 Presidential Debates

     

    By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

    The presidential debates are a storied tradition in America’s presidential elections. They tend to be more serious than the often superficial primary debates (which have escalated to a new low in this year’s Republican primary). The last presidential election featured Barack Obama debating John McCain. There were none of the game-changing fireworks that occurred in previous debates, and indeed the vice presidential debate caught more interest. Nevertheless, the general consensus was that Obama won. He did this not by landing a devastating blow on McCain, but merely by appearing more presidential and dignified.

    Obama will probably not win the 2012 presidential debates. There are several reasons why this will happen. These reasons are neither complex nor convoluted; they’re just restating some common-sense principles.

    Reason #1: The Republican candidates have much more practice debating than Obama does. Obama’s last debate occurred more than three years ago, during the fall of 2008. On the other hand, the Republican candidates have been debating for months now, often with one debate every week. That’s a lot of practice for the fall 2012 debates, and they’ve gotten pretty good. Much has been made about how Mitt Romney is now quite a skilled debater after the grueling schedule he’s just gone through. Newt Gingrich is no slouch either; his campaign revival is almost singlehandedly due to strong debate performances.

    Reason #2: Obama is not a great debater. This is something that tends to be forgotten, but Obama struggled repeatedly in his debates against Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s strong performances were responsible for her summer lead in 2007 against Obama, and they helped her win Ohio and Texas when her campaign desperately needed to. Many undecided voters watched Clinton and Obama debate before crucial primaries; Obama’s consistent weaker performances probably cost him a lot of strength with those voters.

    All this is not to say that Obama will actually lose the presidential election itself. John Kerry, after all, did much better than George W. Bush in 2004; he still lost. Walter Mondale’s strong debate performances against Ronald Reagan gave him absolutely no help. Debate winners do not necessarily become presidents.

    But mark this prediction for the calendar: Obama will lose the 2012 presidential debates.

     

     

    North Korea: A Very Rational Country

     

    By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

    It’s popular amongst the media to characterize North Korea as an irrational state run by a madman. North Korea continuously provokes the West, it is said, for no apparent reason. Proof that it’s an unpredictable, irrational actor that could do anything.

    There are in fact very few states in history that could actually can be said to have behaved irrationally. I can only think of one state in the twentieth century which fits the description above. That was Germany just before and during the Second World War.

    North Korea has in fact behaved quite rationally throughout the past few years. As a pariah state with only one ally, a very weak economy, and the enmity of the world’s superpower – the government of North Korea has to realize a way to protect itself. This is especially true given that said superpower has repeatedly used its military to strike down dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi who have earned its hostility.

    Muammar Gaddafi is an extremely telling example. One unfortunate side-effect of the successful American intervention there is that the intervention has probably permanently ruined any possibility of North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons. Just look at Muammar Gaddafi to see what happens when countries hostile to America give up their nuclear weapons. And in fact, North Korea has done just this. The rational, logical conclusion: the only sure deterrence is nuclear weapons, especially with Seoul and Tokyo as hostages located so conveniently close to North Korea.

    The death of Kim Jong-il also explains a lot of North Korea’s recent aggressiveness during the past couple of years. North Korea’s leaders knew that Kim Jong-il’s health was in dire straits after his stroke, and that he was probably going to die very soon. They were thus preparing hastily for his succession. The new leader needed a military accomplishment to add to his belt before entering power. Thus the artillery bombardment of a South Korean island, repeated nuclear tests, and the sinking of a South Korean ship. These were designed to be just enough for the new leader to boast about without actually getting North Korea in any danger of being seriously attacked.

    North Korea is not another Nazi Germany. It’s just a very weak, very poor country whose government is trying its best to survive against the might of the world’s superpower.

     

     

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