Monthly Archives: November 2012

TOS Blog Update: Mars, Carbon Tax, Hostess, and More

Here I link to my recent blog entries for The Objective Standard. See my TOS category for a complete listing of my work for TOS.

November 7, 2012
If Republicans Want to Win, They Must Embrace Individual Rights

November 10, 2012
Virginians Vote to Defend Property Rights

November 12, 2012
IJ’s McNamara Defends Rights of Cab Companies to do Business

November 20, 2012
Rights-Violating Union Laws Threaten to Kill Hostess

November 23, 2012
The Crucial Distinction Between Subsidies and Tax Cuts

November 25, 2012
Does Reason Support a Carbon Tax?

November 27, 2012
Stem Cell Research Offers New Hope for Repairing Brain Damage

November 29, 2012
SpaceX Founder Musk Envisions Mars Colony: Potential Value is Immense

Denver Post Publishes Bologne About Food Stamps

It’s a little discouraging that,  after I conducted two separate “food stamp diets”—spending less on food than is available from food stamps—the Denver Post is still publishing nonsense about food stamps.

A coule days ago the Post published the following commentary:

[Newark Mayor Cory] Booker suggested they both [he and a critic] live on food stamps for a short time and see how they fare. The woman, known as TwitWit, reportedly has agreed.

Given that the average monthly food stamp benefit per person in New Jersey is somewhere around $133 a month, they’ll have their work cut out for them.

We see a lot of ramen noodles in their near future.

However, as I wrote back in 2007, the “average” figure is NOT the amount of funds available for food.

The current information is as follows. Perhaps this time the Denver Post will actually attend to the relevant facts:

SNAP [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] expects families receiving benefits to spend 30 percent of their net income on food. Families with no net income receive the maximum benefit, which equals the cost of the USDA Thrifty Food Plan (a diet plan intended to provide adequate nutrition at a minimal cost). For all other households, the monthly SNAP benefit equals the maximum benefit for that household size minus the household’s expected contribution.

The maximum amount available for a single person is $200 per month, or $6.67 per day.

Now, whether the government should actually provide food stamps is a much broader debate. That it provides food stamps to 42.4 million Americans is a disquieting reminder that the American economy remains weak as the welfare state expands.

Colorado’s “Personhood” Candidates Take a Beating

In the previous two election cycles, Colorado voters defeated so-called “personhood” measures—intended to outlaw all abortion from the moment of conception and also restrict birth control and in vitro fertility treatments—by overwhelming margins. In 2010 the measure went down 71-29; in 2008 it lost 73-27. If failed to make the ballot this year, but it was still very much a live issue in the 2012 elections. Democrats used the issue effectively to push its allegations that the GOP wages a “war on women.”

Paul Ryan took continual heat for his support for “personhood”; for but one example see an article by Colorado Pols. And Democrats hammered down-ticket Republicans relentlessly on the issue.

Joe Coors, who challenged incumbent Democrat Ed Perlmutter, got badly beat, 53-41 percent. Now, I don’t think Coors would have won even had the “personhood” issue not been on the table, and elsewhere Mike Coffman won despite his support for “personhood.” Nevertheless, the Democratic Party distributed the following mailer knowing it would move votes:

In my state house district, the Democratic challenger trounced the incumbent, Robert Ramirez, 51-43 percent. The left hit Ramirez with a relentless onslaught of mailers hammering him for supporting “personhood,” of which the following, distributed by an outfit called Fight Back Colorado, is an example:

There is no doubt that “personhood” shifted votes to Democrats up and down the ticket in Colorado, though of course it’s hard to say if that one issue made the difference in any given race.

Democrats honed this campaign strategy in 2010, when it defeated Ken Buck in the U.S. Senate race by attacking his abortion-banning stance.

As I’ve been pointing out for some time, Colorado demographically tends to be the type of place where people want government out of our wallets and out of our bedrooms. Unfortunately, the Republican Party in this state is dominated by a religious right that wants to outlaw all abortion and discriminate against gays—and that explains to a large degree why Democrats now control the entire state government, again.

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TOS Blog Update: Sandy, Smears of Rand, Social Security

Here I link to my recent blog entries for The Objective Standard. See my TOS category for a complete listing of my work for TOS.

October 30, 2012
Does a Big Storm Require Big Government?
Reply to the New York Times.

October 31, 2012
HuffPo’s Sanghoee Uses Tragedy of Sandy to Smear Ayn Rand
Another day, another smear against Ayn Rand.

November 3, 2012
The Moral Integrity of Condemning Social Security While Collecting It
Taking the examples of Social Security, a tax-funded stadium, and a government-backed loan, I explain, “The victims of right-violating government programs should proudly and righteously condemn those programs—and seek to minimize the injustice of the programs by recouping whatever value they can from them.”

Notes on Money in Politics

This evening I’m scheduled to talk about money in politics with a local college class. As I’m looking up some articles for this purpose, I thought I might as well provide some links and discussion here.

The main point of this evening’s discussion is to debate Amendment 65, about which I have written and spoken at length. Please see my collected commentary and links. However, my hope is to take the conversation in a broader direction tonight. The main question I want to examine here is how much “big money” actually influences politics. Of course, this issue represents only a small slice of the discussion, but a relevant one.

The main thesis in this regard is a simple one: People have brains. We are not mindless automatons, zombies passively influenced by whatever advertisements impinge on our senses. Rather, we have the capacity for reason, for thinking critically about the messages we see. When we’re talking about money in politics, we’re talking about people spending resources in an effort to persuade others (voters) to behave in a certain way. Because people have reasoning minds, the impact of money in politics is necessarily limited.

Let’s begin with some comments from Steve Simpson (shown in the photo), whom I interviewed this summer:

There are too many examples of expensive advertising flops or rich candidates who lost elections to take seriously the claim that money buys elections. Ross Perot, Michael Huffington, Meg Whitman, Jon Corzine—the list of candidates who have spent huge amounts of money and lost goes on and on. A certain amount of money is necessary to be a contender in an election. Beyond that, candidates win or lose because they have messages and support policies that the voters like.

To take a Colorado example, last year, Colorado voters rejected Prop. 103, a school tax measure, by a margin of 63 to 37 percent—an overwhelming defeat by any measure. And yet, as the Denver Post reported, “Supporters raised more than $600,000 in the effort to pass 103, while opponents raised less than a tenth of that.”

In 2003, Colorado voters rejected Referendum A, concerning water bonds, by even bigger margins: 67 to 33 percent.

A Denver Post article from November 5, 2003 (“Colorado In ‘No’ Mood,” by Joey Bunch) reviews:

Referendum A appeared headed for easy passage. Owens put his campaign aces on Referendum A and helped raise more than $750,000 to promote its passage.

He collected huge donations from corporations and residential developers.

The opposition group Vote No on A raised less than half that. High-profile opponents included Attorney General Ken Salazar and former governors Dick Lamm, Roy Romer and John Vanderhoof.

Moving to broader studies, Stephen Dubner summarizes a paper by his Freakonomics coauthor Steve Livitt finding that a candidate can double or halve campaign spending and impact the outcome only by a point in either direction.

Dubner continues:

What Levitt’s study suggests is that money doesn’t necessarily cause a candidate to win—but, rather, that the kind of candidate who’s attractive to voters also ends up attracting a lot of money. So winning an election and raising money do go together, just as rain and umbrellas go together. But umbrellas don’t cause the rain. And it doesn’t seem as if money really causes electoral victories either, at least not nearly to the extent that the conventional wisdom says. For every well-funded candidate who seems to confirm that money buys elections (paging Michael Bloomberg), you can find counterexamples like Meg Whitman, Linda McMahon, Steve Forbes, and Tom Golisano.

Dubner also rounds up the views of other economists, including Jeff Milyo, who writes:

[L]arge shocks to campaign spending from changes in campaign finance regulations do not produce concomitant impacts on electoral success, nor do candidates with vast personal wealth to spend on their campaigns fare better than other candidates.

These findings may be surprising at first blush, but the intuition isn’t that hard to grasp. After all, how many people do you know who ever change their minds on something important like their political beliefs (well, other than liberal Republicans who find themselves running for national office)? People just aren’t that malleable; and for that reason, campaign spending is far less important in determining election outcomes than many people believe (or fear).

But what of the left’s endless incantation, “Corporations aren’t people!” Besides the obvious fact that corporations are composed of individual people, each of whom with rights, it just ain’t true that corporate spending dominates politics.

Steve Chapman writes for Reason: “Of the $96 million donated to these political operations [Super PACs], 86 percent has come from individuals and less than 1 percent from publicly traded corporations. Major companies almost unanimously have concluded that they have more to lose than gain by wading into polarizing political campaigns.”

“But what about the rich people?!” The advocates of Amendment 65 explicitly call for the censorship of “the rich”—so apparently the wealthy aren’t people, either.

The problem of money in politics is not much of problem. But the “solution” of censoring political speech is extraordinarily dangerous. Liberty can survive stupid campaign ads. It cannot survive censorship.

Related:

Image of Steve Simpson: Institute for Justice