#Election2016: And then we came to the end

Our Election 2016 blog, active since last January, has featured our authors discussing everything from oration styles, to the particulars of populist rhetoric, to the politics of motherhood. And now, gratefully, for many an exhausted blogger and policy wonk, it’s a wrap. Time to get to the polls! If you’ve forgotten the location of your polling place, you can find it on Vote411 by entering your address.

 

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Jason Brennan: The right to vote should be restricted to those with knowledge

BrennanWho should hold power: the few or the many? Concentrating power in the hands of a few – in monarchy, dictatorship or oligarchy – tends to result in power for personal benefit at the expense of others. Yet in spreading power among the many – as in a democracy – individual votes no longer matter, and so most voters remain ignorant, biased and misinformed.

We have a dilemma.

Republican, representative democracy tries to split the difference. Checks and balances, judicial reviews, bills of rights and elected representatives are all designed to hold leaders accountable to the people while also constraining the foolishness of the ignorant masses. Overall, these institutions work well: in general, people in democracies have the highest standards of living. But what if we could do better?

Consider an alternative political system called epistocracy. Epistocracies retain the same institutions as representative democracies, including imposing liberal constitutional limits on power, bills of rights, checks and balances, elected representatives and judicial review. But while democracies give every citizen an equal right to vote, epistocracies apportion political power, by law, according to knowledge or competence.

The idea here is not that knowledgeable people deserve to rule – of course they don’t – but that the rest of us deserve not to be subjected to incompetently made political decisions. Political decisions are high stakes, and democracies entrust some of these high-stakes decisions to the ignorant and incompetent. Democracies tend to pass laws and policies that appeal to the median voter, yet the median voter would fail Econ, History, Sociology, and Poli Sci 101. Empirical work generally shows that voters would support different policies if they were better informed.

Voters tend to mean well, but voting well takes more than a kind heart. It requires tremendous social scientific knowledge: knowledge that most citizens lack. Most voters know nothing, but some know a great deal, and some know less than nothing. The goal of liberal republican epistocracy is to protect against democracy’s downsides, by reducing the power of the least-informed voters, or increasing the power of better-informed ones.

There are many ways of instituting epistocracy, some of which would work better than others. For instance, an epistocracy might deny citizens the franchise unless they can pass a test of basic political knowledge. They might give every citizen one vote, but grant additional votes to citizens who pass certain tests or obtain certain credentials. They might pass all laws through normal democratic means, but then permit bands of experts to veto badly designed legislation. For instance, a board of economic advisors might have the right to veto rent-control laws, just as the Supreme Court can veto laws that violate the Constitution.

Or, an epistocracy might allow every citizen to vote at the same time as requiring them to take a test of basic political knowledge and submit their demographic information. With such data, any statistician could calculate the public’s ‘enlightened preferences’, that is, what a demographically identical voting population would support if only it were better informed. An epistocracy might then instantiate the public’s enlightened preferences rather than their actual, unenlightened preferences.

A major question is what counts (and who decides what counts) as political competence, or basic political knowledge. We don’t want self-interested politicians rigging a political competence exam in their own favour. One might use widely accepted pre-existing tests; the Unites States citizenship test, for example, or the same questions that the American National Election Studies have used for 60 years. These questions – who is the current president? Which item is the largest part of the federal budget? – are easily verifiable and uncontroversial, plus an ability to answer them correctly is strongly correlated with the kind of political knowledge that does matter in an election.

One common objection to epistocracy – at least among political philosophers – is that democracy is essential to expressing the idea that everyone is equal. On its face, this is a strange claim. Democracy is a political system, not a poem or a painting. Yet people treat the right to vote like a certificate of commendation, meant to show that society regards you as a full member of the national club. (That’s one reason we disenfranchise felons.) But we could instead view the franchise as no more significant than a plumbing or medical licence. The US government denies me such licences, but I don’t regard that as expressing I’m inferior, all things considered, to others.

Others object that the equal right to vote is essential to make government respond to our interests. But the math doesn’t check out. In most major elections, I have as much chance of making a difference as I do of winning the lottery. How we vote matters, but how any one of us votes, or even whether one votes, makes no difference. It might be a disaster if Donald Trump wins the presidency, but it’s not a disaster for me to vote for him. As the political theorist Ben Saunders says: in a democracy, each person’s power is so small that insisting on equality is like arguing over the crumbs of a cake rather than an equal slice.

On the other hand, it’s true (at least right now) that certain demographic groups (such as rich white men) are more likely to pass a basic political knowledge test than others (such as poor black women). Hence the worry that epistocracies will favour the interests of some groups over others. But this worry might be overstated. Political scientists routinely find that so long as individual voters have a low chance of being decisive, they vote for what they perceive to be the common good rather than their self-interest. Further, it might well be that excluding or reducing the power of the least knowledgeable 75 per cent of white people produces better results for poor black women than democracy does.

Of course, any epistocratic system would face abuse. It’s easy to imagine all the things that might go wrong. But that’s also true of democracy. The more interesting question is which system, warts and all, would work best. In the end, it’s a mistake to picture epistocracy as being the rule of an elite band of technocrats or ‘philosopher kings’. Rather, the idea is: do what democracy does, but better. Democracy and epistocracy both spread power among the many, but epistocracy tries to make sure the informed many are not drowned out by the ignorant or misinformed many.Aeon counter – do not remove

Jason Brennan is the Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. He is the author of The Ethics of Voting (Princeton), Why Not Capitalism?, Libertarianism and most recently, Against Democracy. He is the coauthor of Markets without Limits, Compulsory Voting, and A Brief History of Liberty. He writes regularly for Bleeding Heart Libertarians, a blog.

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

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Luke Mayville: Is money-making an art or a mania?

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by Luke Mayville

“I don’t do it for the money,” reads the opening line of Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal. “I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully…or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals.”

Contrary to the efforts of Elizabeth Warren and others to castigate Trump as a money-grubber—someone monomaniacally obsessed with accumulating wealth—the Trump campaign has sought to present him less as a money-maker than as an artisan and a master-builder whose greatness lies not in his wealth but in the structures he has built.

“In our business,” proclaimed Ivanka Trump in her speech at the RNC, “you’re not a builder unless you’ve got a building to show for it, or in my father’s case, city skylines.” Donald Trump’s ruling desire, the story goes, is not merely to accumulate but to build and create—jobs, skylines, deals.

This persona is in keeping with a story that Americans have long told about private ambition and the desire to get rich. Consider Ayn Rand, a writer who is idolized by Fortune 500 CEOs and who may be peerless in her influence on American culture. The heroes of Rand’s novels are not maniacal money-grubbers but rather inventors and architects. Howard Roark, the heroic protagonist of The Fountainhead (and a character whom, by the way, Donald Trump strives to emulate), is described by Rand not as a greedy egoist but as a man who “struggles for the integrity of his creative work against every form of social opposition.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke for an American tradition when he insisted that the pursuit of wealth was driven by something much nobler than greed, ostentation, or a lust for power. “Men of sense,” wrote Emerson, “esteem wealth to be the assimilation of nature to themselves, the converting of the sap and juices of the planet to the incarnation and nutriment of their design.”

Emerson’s suggestion is that the Donald Trumps of the world should be recognized as master craftsman who repurpose the raw stuff of nature into ingenious works of art.

But as we learned in July, Trump’s Art of the Deal was ghostwritten. The real Trump, according to ghostwriter Tony Schwartz, is motivated not by the passion of the craftsman but by an insatiable desire for “money, praise, and celebrity.” What Schwartz revealed is that the career of Donald Trump does not fit the mold of America’s romantic ideal of money-making. Instead, Trump’s character and motives are better explained by an alternative strain of American commentary.

John Adams, who was the second President of the United States and also a shrewd critic of America’s emerging commercial culture, believed that the pursuit of wealth was driven by a raging passion for social distinction. The desire for riches was akin to political ambition, which Adams described as a motive that “strengthens at every advance, and at last takes possession of the whole soul so absolutely, that a man seeks nothing in the world of importance to others or himself, but in his object.” The desire for riches, which was merely one variety of the desire for praise and distinction, was maniacal because it was ultimately insatiable. “The love of gold,” wrote Adams, “grows faster than the heap of acquisition; the love of praise increases by every gratification, till it stings like an adder, and bites like a serpent; till the man is miserable every moment when he does not snuff the incense.”

Martin Luther King Jr. echoed Adams when he described Americans’ love of money as a variety of the “drum-major instinct,” a desire “to be out front … to lead the parade … to be first.” The desire to stand out was not a bad thing in itself. In fact, King believed that the instinct should be harnessed to motivate service to humanity. But much more common was the case of the avaricious man who, moved by the drum major instinct, buys a fancier car and builds a bigger house than the next man, all in an effort to out-do the Joneses.

Among the revelations of Trump’s ghostwriter was that the depiction of Trump as a passionate artisan—someone who crafts real estate deals in the same way that a poet writes poetry—was merely a cover-up used to hide his true ruling passion: to get rich and, beyond that, to prove “I’m richer than you”—to be distinguished and celebrated for his wealth.

Surely, not all money-making is driven by such self-absorption. Riches have often been the reward of the bourgeois virtues of thrift, saving, timeliness, and industriousness. Much of America’s wealth can in fact be traced to extraordinary feats of invention and ingenuity. But the phenomenon of Donald Trump reminds us that the idea of money-making as craftsmanship—even if it contains a substantial part of the truth—is also readily deployable as a self-serving myth. And the problem is not just that the myth excuses the greed of those billionaire politicians who wish to govern us. It also flatters the pervasive yearning for riches among the broader public, the same yearning that motivated droves of Americans to buy The Art of the Deal.

MayvilleLuke Mayville is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for American Studies at Columbia University. He is a contributor to Commonweal and the author of John Adams and the Fear of American Oligarchy.

Pennsylvania Senate Election 2016: Pragmatism and Intraparty Conflict

Wendy Schiller & Cory Manento

This piece appears concurrently on the Brown University website.

electing the senate schiller jacketWith Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton each vying to win Pennsylvania in November, all eyes are on that state in terms of the presidency.  But there is a contested Senate race in 2016 this year pitting Pat Toomey, a 1st term conservative Republican incumbent against Katie McGinty, a well-connected Democratic Party challenger; at the moment they are locked in a virtual tie.  What is striking about this year’s Senate race in Pennsylvania is how much it shares in common with a Senate election held more than 100 years ago, when U.S. Senators were elected in state legislatures. It was not until 1913, with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, that voters got the opportunity to directly elect their U.S. Senators.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Pennsylvania politics was dominated by the statewide Republican Party; for that entire period, every politician seeking higher office had to pass through the party filter in order to be successful.[1] Modern Pennsylvania politics is much more competitive however, with Democrats often winning statewide office and Congressional races. This fact, along with the advent of the direct election of U.S. Senators, has changed the political calculus of senators from the Keystone State who now must appeal to a broader constituency rather than a single dominant party. In the discussion that follows, Cory Manento and I analyze incumbent Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey’s electoral career as it compares to one of Pennsylvania’s most famous U.S. Senators from the past, Matthew Quay. Even though more than 100 years separates these two U.S. Senators, they each overcame political defeat, intraparty conflict, and managed to establish a reputation for serving their states albeit in very different ways.

Pat Toomey – a political newcomer

Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey (R) had almost zero political experience when he ran successfully for the House of Representatives in 1998, but it was his passion for fiscal conservatism and the “watershed” 1994 elections that inspired him to enter politics.[2] One might expect Toomey to be a Democrat based on his background – he was born to union-worker Democratic parents in Providence, Rhode Island – but rather than being shaped by his childhood, his political ideology was shaped by his career as a Wall Street investment banker, which he began soon after graduating from Harvard.[3] It was in the banking industry that Toomey learned to oppose government regulations on the private sector and support an unfettered free market with low taxes. In 1990, Toomey moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania and opened up a restaurant with his siblings. He decided to enter politics in 1994 and served on the local Government Study Commission, leaving his mark by making it more difficult to raise local taxes.[4]

Sensing an opportunity, Toomey set his eyes on the open House of Representatives seat in his district in 1998. The seat, in Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District, was previously held by Democrat Paul McHale. By running on an anti-regulation agenda Toomey was able to win the support of the business community, which provided perhaps the decisive assistance his campaign required to win the six-candidate Republican House primary.[5] He went on to win the general election easily, and served three terms in the House. During his House tenure, Toomey (unsurprisingly) developed a reputation for fiscal conservatism. He served from 1999 to January 2005, making good on his campaign pledge to serve only three terms.[6]

But serving three terms did not mean the end of Toomey’s political aspirations. While still a House member, but knowing he would be leaving, Toomey challenged long-serving moderate Republican U.S. Senator Arlen Specter in the 2004 Republican Senate primary. Considered by many a long-shot candidate, Toomey cast Specter as too liberal and surprised observers by coming within two percentage points of unseating the senator.[7] Toomey’s 2004 primary bid was seen by some as a prelude to the conservative Tea Party – a faction within the Republican Party – and its electoral success in 2010.

Indeed, when Specter was again up for reelection in 2010, another Toomey challenge loomed. Rather than risk losing by again being portrayed as a liberal Republican, Specter decided to change parties. He eventually lost the Democratic primary anyway, while Toomey handily won the Republican primary. In the general election, Toomey was one of the most visible candidates in the Tea Party movement, railing against deficit spending, calling for extending the Bush Tax Cuts, and bemoaning the size of the national debt.[8] He again won support from the business community and fiscally conservative political action committees (PACs), including the Club for Growth, which he led from 2005 to 2009.[9] Toomey defeated Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak with 51 percent of the vote.

Prior to becoming a U.S. Senator, Toomey relished his “outsider” status and used it to his advantage as he criticized – and defeated – the “establishment.” But Senator Toomey has undoubtedly shifted away from his outsider status and revealed a pragmatic understanding of his electoral prospects. He did not join the Senate Republicans’ Tea Party Caucus in 2011 despite running as a Tea Party candidate, for instance. He also has proven to be a moderate on some social issues like LGBT rights, and has pushed for expanded background checks for gun sales.[10]

Toomey’s sharp criticism of U.S. fiscal policy during his 2010 campaign and his experience working in the financial services industry did not go unnoticed by Senate Republican leadership who put him on key committees in that issue area: the Finance Committee; the Committee on the Budget, and the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Additionally, he is chairman of the Finance Subcommittee on Health Care and the Banking Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection. Through these committees and subcommittees, Toomey takes credit for his efforts and says he “fights for fiscal responsibility as well as for ending the overspending, higher taxes, and excessive red tape coming out of Washington.”[11]

One particularly revealing way to illustrate Toomey’s pragmatism is to compare measures of his voting record in the House of Representatives to his voting record in the Senate. In the 108th Congress (2003-2005), Toomey was in the 94th percentile for conservatism among House Republicans. When he became a senator, he dropped to the 57th percentile for conservatism among Senate Republicans.[12] This reflects Toomey’s understanding of his constituency. He was able to be a more conservative Republican in the House because his constituency was more narrow and homogenous. His district was also relatively “safe,” as he won his three elections by 10, 8, and 14 percentage points, respectively.[13] Pennsylvania, however, is considered a swing state that has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1988, and its other senator is Democrat Bob Casey Jr. So it is clear that Toomey has needed to be pragmatic and broaden his appeal to voters that might not be as conservative as the voters that elected him to the House.

In order to distance himself from the Republican brand in the wake of factionalism within the party, Toomey’s strategy thus far has decidedly been to run on what he has done individually as a senator for Pennsylvania. The bipartisan JOBS Act of 2012, of which Toomey was a primary author, passed through the Senate’s Banking Committee with Toomey’s vote before being approved by Congress and signed by President Obama. The bill remains one of Toomey’s most prominent legislative achievements and is one of his central campaign talking points.[14] Moreover, an examination of his sponsored bills reveals a legislative agenda tailored to his constituency: Pennsylvania ranks fourth nationwide in veteran population, and Toomey has sponsored several bills aimed at serving war veterans.[15] He has also sponsored a large number of bills related to crime and law enforcement, and touts his ability to “keep Pennsylvania’s children and families safe.”[16]

Toomey’s challenger, Democrat Katie McGinty, is doing her best to associate him with the national Republican Party. McGinty is a former state and federal environmental official who was the Democratic establishment’s choice to challenge Toomey. In the Democratic Senate primary, she defeated second-time Senate candidate Joe Sestak and other rivals with the help of millions in funding from the party and endorsements from President Obama and other Democrats.[17]  In the general election, McGinty has tried to cast Toomey as another national Republican who is out of step with most Americans on issues like health care and guns.[18] Toomey has raised a significant amount of money in an attempt to counter that image. So far in the 2016 campaign, Toomey has raised nearly $23 million, while spending $15 million of that total, leaving about $8 million remaining in cash on hand.[19] His top contributor (as it was in 2010) is the Club for Growth, and the vast majority of contributors to his campaign are financial institutions. Katie McGinty has raised $6.7 million and spent $4.3 million to date.  Toomey has outspent McGinty by more than three to one thus far but is currently tied with her (within the margin of error) according to recent polls.[20]

Despite Toomey’s best efforts, intraparty factionalism could potentially hurt him in the general election, especially as it relates the 2016 presidential election. Undoubtedly aware of Donald Trump’s poor favorability ratings with general election voters, Toomey has publicly distanced himself from the Republican presidential nominee, did not attend the Republican Party nominating convention in Cleveland, and refrained from offering a clear endorsement. Instead, he only seems willing to say that he is “inclined” to support Trump, but at the same time lamented that Trump’s “vulgarity, particularly toward women, is appalling.”[21] While his 2010 campaign and his Senate career have thus far shown his ability to appeal to both conservative and moderate voters, Toomey risks alienating Trump supporters after Trump handily won the Pennsylvania Presidential primary in April. This factionalism within the Republican Party makes the general election doubly difficult on Toomey, as he must find a way to unite Republicans behind him in his effort to defeat Katie McGinty.

Matthew Quay: The Art of the Machine

Pennsylvania Republican Matthew Quay entered politics prior to the Civil War, serving as a state representative. After fighting in the war, Quay reentered state politics and began to make a name for himself in the state’s dominant Republican Party. From 1872 to 1882, Quay served as U.S. Senator Simon Cameron’s political lieutenant.[22] Cameron had built the Pennsylvania Republican political machine through political patronage, guaranteeing loyal party activists jobs in return for political support, and Quay was widely regarded as his heir apparent.

As a leader of the Republican machine and eventually as Senator, Quay was forced to contend with factionalism within his own party. One of his tasks as a party leader was to organize support for the machine’s preferred candidates in the U.S. Senate elections which were decided by state legislatures. In the 1881 U.S. Senate election, Quay’s job was to coalesce support behind the Republican machine’s preferred candidate, William Wallace. Republicans from the northern and western parts of the state, known as “bolters,” instead threw their support behind two other Republican candidates.

Under the indirect system of elections, each chamber of the state legislature met separately at the beginning of their legislative session to vote for senator; a candidate who received a majority in each chamber was declared the winner. If no candidate received a majority, the two chambers would meet jointly and vote until a winner was chosen or they adjourned for the year. In this case, the election lasted from January 19 to February 23, and took thirty-five joint session ballots to resolve.[23] On February 22, a subset of elite Republicans from both factions met and agreed to coalesce behind a compromise candidate, John Mitchell, and he was elected the next day. Later that week, an article in the New York Times revealed that Mitchell had closer ties to the Cameron machine than had been previously thought. Although Quay was unable to build a winning coalition for William Wallace, he was ultimately able to keep the seat in Republican hands with an alternate member of the Cameron machine.

Quay’s role in the party machine had continued to grow after the 1881 standoff, and he soon came to be recognized as its leader. A prolific fundraiser, Quay is credited with saying that politics was “the art of taking money from the few and votes from the many under the pretext of protecting the one from the other.”[24] Quay himself won election to the U.S. Senate in 1887 and served while maintaining a position of power in the statewide machine.

At the end of his second term, party factionalism returned to haunt Quay in his 1899 bid for reelection. Controversy emerged when the People’s Bank of Pennsylvania revealed that state monies invested in the bank were paying their interest directly to Quay, not to the state. Quay was arrested and put on trial almost at the same moment that the state legislature convened to elect a U.S. Senator.[25] Anti-Quay forces saw the scandal as an opportunity to unseat the incumbent senator. Gridlock ensued, however, when the strength of partisan loyalty expressed itself: not enough Republicans were going to abandon their party’s incumbent Senate candidate, and too few Democrats were willing to cross the aisle to deny Quay’s reelection if it simply meant the election of another Republican in his stead. After an incredible 79 ballots, the legislative session expired and the election ended in a deadlock. See https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:352207/ for the actual ballots in the Pennsylvania Senate election.

The day after the legislature adjourned, Governor William A. Stone appointed Quay to fill the vacancy in the Senate caused by the deadlocked election. The U.S. Senate, however, quickly voted to deny Quay the seat due to the obviously dubious circumstances of his appointment. However, just as Pat Toomey ran for Senate again after losing to Specter in the primary, Quay returned in 1901 to run for the Senate seat that had been vacant since 1899. This time he successfully overcame party factionalism and won the election; Quay served as senator until his death in 1904.

It is clear, though, that Toomey and Quay share a different kind of electoral pragmatism. In the age of indirect elections and party machines, politicians needed to have party ties to wield power (which Quay clearly did) in order to be successful. In the modern age of direct elections, partisan polarization runs very deep, but 2016 is showing that individual senators must still be responsive to voter preferences and constituent interests in their home state. Even with the political differences between then and now, Republican Party factionalism still threatens the reelection of a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania just as it did over 100 years ago. Though it bears remembering that the factionalism surrounding Quay was partly the result of his own corrupt actions, the circumstances surrounding Quay and Toomey serve as a reminder that party cohesiveness can be just as important to maintaining power as the institutional arrangement of elections.

Wendy J. Schiller is associate professor of political science and public policy at Brown University and author of Electing the Senate, along with Charles Stewart III. Stewart is the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


[1] Wendy J. Schiller and Charles Stewart III, Electing the Senate: Indirect Democracy before the Seventeenth Amendment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 80.

[2] CSPAN, “Representative-Elect Pat Toomey” 1998 Washington Journal. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4421922/rep-elect-pat-toomey.

[3] Patrick Kerkstra, “Pat Toomey is Surprisingly Moderate,” Philadelphia Magazine, July 26, 2012. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://www.phillymag.com/articles/surprisingly-moderate-pat-toomey/?all=1.

[4] Gregory Lewis McNamee, “Pat Toomey: United States Senator,” Encyclopedia Brittanica. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://www.britannica.com/biography/Pat-Toomey.

[5] Brooks Jackson and Stuart Rothenberg, “Toomey takes Pennsylvania’s 15th District for GOP,” CNN, November 3, 1998. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/stories/1998/11/03/election/house/pennsylvania.cd15/.  

[6] Manu Raju, “Specter’s Future Rests with Toomey,” Politico, December 10, 2008. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://www.politico.com/story/2008/12/specters-future-rests-with-toomey-016387.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Thomas Fitzgerald, “How Pat Toomey Outpaced Joe Sestak – and his own Campaign’s Expectations,” Philadelphia Inquirer, November 4, 2010. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://articles.philly.com/2010-11-04/news/24953233_1_toomey-campaign-manager-pat-toomey-democratic-victories.

[9] “Club for Growth” Accessed on June 28, 2016 at https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/recips.php?id=D000000763&type=P&state=&sort=A&cycle=2010. Toomey received more than twice as many funds from the Club for Growth than any other Senate or House candidate in the 2010 cycle.

[10] John Baer, “Toomey’s Trouble isn’t Guns” Philadelphia Inquirer June 21, 2016. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://articles.philly.com/2016-06-21/news/73903763_1_pat-toomey-mass-shootings-guns.

[11] Toomey for Senate, Senator Toomey – A Record of Leadership. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at https://www.toomeyforsenate.com/about_pat .

[12] Harry Enten, “Conservatives in the House, then Moderates in the Senate,” FiveThirtyEight January 9, 2015. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/conservatives-in-the-house-then-moderates-in-the-senate/.

[14] Toomey for Senate, Senator Toomey – A Record of Leadership. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at https://www.toomeyforsenate.com/about_pat .

[16] Toomey for Senate, Senator Toomey – Issues. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at https://www.toomeyforsenate.com/issues .

[17] Marc Levy, “Pennsylvania Democrats Pick Establishment’s Senate Candidate,” Associated Press, April 26, 2016. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://bigstory.ap.org/article/96ff050fe71a4f93991bc1fefa7fb236/pennsylvania-democrats-pick-establishments-senate-candidate.

[18] Katie McGinty for Senate  – Issues. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://katiemcginty.com/issues/.

[19] Opensecrets, “Sen. Pat Toomey – Summary.” Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?cycle=2016&cid=N00001489&type=I.

[20] Opensecrets, “Summary Data: 2016 Race: Pennsylvania Senate.” Accessed on August 4, 2016 at http://www.opensecrets.org/races/summary.php?id=PAS1&cycle=2016; Laura Olson and J. Dale Shoemaker. “Pat Toomey walks ‘tightrope’ when it comes to responding to Trump’s remarks.” The Morning Call.  August 4, 2016.  Accessed at http://www.mcall.com/news/local/elections/mc-pa-toomey-trump-20160802-story.html.

[21] John Baer, “Sen. Toomey Straddles Fence on Trump Endorsement,” The Morning Call, May 11, 2016. Accessed on June 28, 2016 at http://www.mcall.com/opinion/mc-donald-trump-pat-toomey-yv-0512-20160511-story.html.

[22] Schiller and Stewart, Electing the Senate, 81.

[23] Ibid

[24] James A. Kehl, Boss Rule in the Gilded Age: Matt Quay of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981), xiii.

[25] Schiller and Stewart, Electing the Senate, 84.

 

Jason Brennan: Justice isn’t “whatever democracy decides”

brennanThree cheers for democracy! Not so fast, says Jason Brennan, who argues that justice isn’t necessarily ‘whatever democracy decides’, and that participation in the political process all too often fails to produce citizens who are smarter, nobler, and more considerate of others. In his new book, Against Democracy, Brennan says democracy isn’t the only path to moral justice, and that it’s time to experiment with a new form of government called epistocracy. Recently, Brennan took the time to answer a few questions about his new book:

Your book is a response to a view you call “democratic triumphalism.” What is that view and what’s wrong with it?

JB: Triumphalism—a widely accepted set of conclusions—holds that democracy deserves three cheers. Cheer one: Political participation is good for us, makes us smarter, and produces fellow-feeling. Cheer two: We have a basic right to an equal share of political power. Cheer three: Democracy is a uniquely just form of politics.

I think democracy doesn’t deserve the first two cheers, and probably doesn’t deserve the latter. Politics is bad for us and we’re bad at politics.

Empirical work generally shows that participating in politics makes us worse: meaner, more biased, more angry. Ideally, I argue, we’d want to minimize our degree of political participation. Further, I examine about twelve major arguments for the claim that we’re owed the right to vote, and find them all lacking. In the end, the right to vote isn’t so much about giving individuals power over themselves, but power over others. The problem is that because individuals matter so little, most individuals use what little power they have unwisely. As a result, democracies tend to make bad decisions. Against the third chair, I suggest that epistocracy—a constitutional, republican form of government in which political power is to some degree, by law, apportioned according to competence—may outperform democracy.

What kind of value does democracy have, then?

JB: The best places to live right now are almost all liberal democracies. So, the point isn’t to argue that democracy is a disaster. But it’s not the end of history either. In my view, democracy has the same kind of value a hammer has. It’s an instrument for producing just and efficient outcomes, according to procedure-independent standards of justice. If we can find a better hammer, we should feel free to use it.

Some people deny there are procedure-independent standards of justice. Justice, they say, is whatever a democracy decides. But on reflection, I doubt anyone would accept that. Suppose the US has a referendum and unanimously votes to nuke Tuvalu. Or suppose 70 percent of voters decide to enact protectionist policies simply because they don’t understand economics. I don’t see either move as just.

We tend to treat the right to vote as a badge of honor, as a way of saying, “You’re a valuable member of our national club.” I think that’s a mistake. We should view the right to vote the way we view a fishing or plumbing license. We should view the president not as a majestic leader but as the chief public goods administrator. We need to downgrade the “status” we attach to political participation and power. If we did that, then differences in voting rights would carry no further stigma than the stigma I face for lacking a plumbing license.

You claim people have a “right to competent government.” What does that mean, and why think that?

JB: Political decisions are high stakes. They decide matters of life and death, peace and prosperity. Our decisions can deprive innocent people of life, liberty, and their rights, or greatly harm them.

Most of us think a jury owes the defendant (or owes the rest of us) a competent decision. They should decide a criminal trial by 1) being aware of the relevant facts, 2) processing those facts in a rational way, and 3) deciding on good faith rather than out of prejudice, malice, or bias. Similarly, I argue, any group that wields political power must act out competently and in good faith. Just as it would be unjust to enforce a jury decision if the jurors paid no attention to the fact and decided on whim, it would be unjust to enforce a vote made out of ignorance, misinformation, or whimsy.

Are democracies competent?

JB: Sixty years of empirical work show that mean, median, and modal levels of political knowledge among the electorate are low. In fact, voters aren’t just ignorant, but systematically misinformed about many issues, including simple issues like what the unemployment rate is, and complicated issues like basic economic theory. Further, empirical work shows that voters would have different policy preferences if they were better informed. In a world where every voter has high information, we’d never have an election between Trump and Clinton. We’d have better candidates.

That said, democracies do tend to have pretty good policies compared to, say, monarchies and oligarchies. But part of the reason for that is that democracies don’t just do what the people want. Instead, elites, parties, bureaucrats, and others have significant discretion to act against the will of the people.

Some political theorists have advanced ambitious arguments trying to claim that democratic electorates are highly competent as a whole even though most voters are ignorant. These arguments, however, are usually based on mathematical theorems that, while correct in principle, bear no resemblance to the reality of democratic behavior. For instance, Hélène Landemore’s book Democratic Reason (PUP 2012) isn’t a defense of any actual existing  or likely to exist democracy, but instead at most an argument about why democracies would be smart if only voters behaved in radically different ways.

Throughout the book, you talk about three species of voters: hobbits, hooligans, and Vulcans. What are these?

 JB: I use these as terms of art to describe three classes of voters. In the Lord of the Rings, Hobbits are simply folk who don’t care much about the outside world, and just want to eat, drink, and be merry. The political analogue would be a person who doesn’t care much about politics, doesn’t have strong opinions, doesn’t know much, and doesn’t participate much. Roughly half of Americans are political hobbits. Think the typical non-voter.

Hooligans are the rabid sports fans of politics. Consider: Soccer hooligans are pretty well informed about soccer, but they are biased and mean. They tend to be nasty toward fans from other teams. They only accept information that makes their team look good. Political hooligans are like that about Team Republican or Team Democrat. They have more information, and they participate frequently. But they are biased, and only accept evidence that confirms their own pre-existing views. They tend to think anyone who disagrees with them is mean or stupid. Roughly half of Americans are political hooligans. Think your typical activist or party member.

Vulcans are dispassionate, scientific thinkers. They have high knowledge, but are also aware of what they don’t know. They change their minds when the evidence calls for it. In the US, hardly anyone is a Vulcan.

Most political theories that defend democracy inadvertently do so by imagining how democracy would work if only we were all Vulcans (or on our way to becoming Vulcans). But we’re not Vulcans; we’re hobbits and hooligans. And so many proposals for making democracy better actually make it worse. For example, democratic deliberation not only fails to deliver the results political theorist say it would, but backfires.

 Your view is often criticized as elitist. What’s your response?

JB: We don’t say it’s elitist to think a plumber knows more about pipes than I do. We don’t think it’s elitist to say a truck driver knows more about driving than I do. But for some reason it seems elitist to say that I know more about economics than the average truck driver or plumber. Why? The issue here is that we treat truck driving and plumbing as low status, and political power as high status. But, I think, we should change that attitude. We should upgrade the status of non-political activities and downgrade the status of political activity. Once we do that, we can freely say something that’s, to be blunt, obviously true: The electorate doesn’t know what it’s doing, and putting so much power in the hands of a body that doesn’t know what it’s doing is dangerous.

Jason Brennan is the Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Policy at the McDonough School of Business in Georgetown University. He is the author of  The Ethics of VotingWhy Not Capitalism? and Libertarianism.

Along with these books, Brennan is the co-author of Markets Without Limits, Compulsory Voting, and A Brief History of Liberty. He is a regular writer for the blog, Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

 

 

Ethicist Jason Brennan: Brexit, Democracy, and Epistocracy

By Jason Brennan

The Washington Post reports that there is a sharp uptick today in the number of Britons Googling basic questions about what the European Union is and what the implications of leaving are. This is a bit like deciding to study after you’ve already taken the final exam.

Technically, the Brexit referendum is not binding. Parliament could decide to hold their own vote on whether to leave the European Union. Perhaps they should. Perhaps the UK’s leaders owe it to the people to thwart their expressed will.

Leaving the EU is no small affair. It probably will have enormous effects on the UK, Europe, and much of the rest of the world. But just what these effects will be is unclear. To have even a rudimentary sense of the pros and cons of Brexit, a person would need to possess tremendous social scientific knowledge. One would need to know about the economics and sociology of trade and immigration, the politics of centralized regulation, and the history of nationalist movements. But there is no reason to think even a tenth of the UK’s population has a basic grasp of the social science needed to evaluate Brexit.

Political scientists have been studying voter knowledge for the past 60 years. The results are uniformly depressing. Most voters in most countries are systematically ignorant of even the most basic political facts, let alone more the social scientific theories needed to make sense of these facts.

This brings us to the central injustice of democracy, and why holding a referendum was a bad idea. Imagine, as an analogy, that you are sick. You go to a doctor. But suppose your “doctor” doesn’t study the facts, doesn’t know any medicine, and makes her decisions about how to treat you on a whim, on the basis of prejudice or wishful thinking. Imagine the doctor not only prescribes you a course of treatment, but literally forces you, at gunpoint, to accept the treatment.

We’d find this behavior intolerable. Your doctor owes you a duty of care. She owes it to you to deliver an expert opinion on the basis of good information, a strong background knowledge of medicine, and only after considering the facts in a rational and scientific way. To force you to follow the decisions incompetent and bad faith doctor is unjust.

But this is roughly what happens in democracy. Most voters are ignorant of both basic political facts and the background social scientific theories needed to evaluate the facts. They process what little information they have in highly biased and irrational ways. They decided largely on whim. And, worse, we’re each stuck having to put up with the group’s decision. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who has the right and means to emigrate, you’re forced to accept your democracy’s poorly chosen decisions.

There’s a big dilemma in the design of political institutions. Should we be ruled by the few or the many? What this amounts to is the choice between being ruled by the smart but selfish or dumb but nice. When only a small number of people hold power, they tend to use this power for their own ends at the expense of everyone else. If a king holds all the power, his decisions matter. He will likely use that power in a smart way, but smart for himself, rather than smart for everybody. Suppose instead we give everyone power. In doing so, we largely remove the incentive and ability for people to use power in self-serving ways at the expense of everyone else. But, at the same time, we remove the incentive for people to use power wisely. Since individual votes count for so little, individual voters have no incentive to become well-informed or to process information with any degree of care. Democracy incentivizes voters to be dumb.

Going back to the doctor analogy, here’s the dilemma: Suppose you could choose between two doctors. The first doctor prescribes you medicine based on what’s good for her, not you. The second is a complete fool who prescribes you medicine on whim and fancy, without reference to the facts. Roughly, with some exaggeration, that’s what the choice between monarchy or democracy amounts to. Neither is appealing.

What if there were a third way, though? In my forthcoming book, Against Democracy, I explore a way of splitting the difference. The trick is to find a political system that both 1) spreads power out enough to prevent people from using power selfishly and 2) weeds out or at least reduces the power of incompetent decision-makers.

In some sense, republican democracy, with checks and balances, was meant to do just that. And to a significant degree it succeeds. But perhaps a new system, epistocracy, could do even better.

In an epistocracy, political power is to some degree apportioned according to knowledge. An epistocracy might retain the major institutions we see in republican democracy, such as parties, mass elections, constitutional review, and the like. But in an epistocracy, not everyone has equal basic political power. An epistocracy might grant some people additional voting power, or might restrict the right to vote only to those that could pass a very basic test of political knowledge. Any such system will be subject to abuse, and will suffer from significant government failures. But that’s true of democracy too. The interesting question is whether epistocracy, warts and all, would perform better than democracy, warts and all.

All across the West, we’re seeing the rise of angry, resentful, nationalist, xenophobic and racist movements, movements made up mostly of low-information voters. Perhaps it’s time to put aside the childish and magical theory that democracy is intrinsically just, and start asking the serious question of whether there are better alternatives. The stakes are high.

brennanJason Brennan is the Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. He is the author of The Ethics of Voting (Princeton), Why Not Capitalism?, and Libertarianism. He is the coauthor of Markets without Limits, Compulsory Voting, and A Brief History of Liberty. His new book, Against Democracy, is out this August. He writes regularly for Bleeding Heart Libertarians, a blog.

Paula S. Fass: How will young Americans vote?

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By Paula S. Fass

As the primary process comes to an end, and the unexpected youth magnet Bernie Sanders now finds himself with practically zero chance to win the Democratic nomination, it will be interesting to see where America’s youth turn their attention. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump are youngsters – both are in their late 60s. Since neither explicitly articulates (at least not so far) the economic needs of millennials or Generation Xers, it might be worth thinking about what kinds of cultural issues could affect younger Americans and bring them to the polls. Three factors seem especially important – race, sex and sexuality, and media savvy. These are pulse points for young Americans and the candidates posture (more even than their positions) and the vibes they emit may provide young Americans with a reason to vote.

A reality TV star with the “in your face” attitude that young people have come to expect and to admire on television (even from liberal figures like Ellen DeGeneres and Jon Stewart), Trump’s ability to control the 24-hour news cycle and his short attention span on issues is both a product of a life lived in the media and one that attracts it. Trump uses the same biting and nasty attacks as reality stars whose insults are at once demeaning and funny. Hillary Clinton’s much more deliberate, thoughtful and well prepared approach to issues may be persuasive to people her age (like me) but can seem uncool and inhibited to young people. I don’t think Hillary should or could change this and no number of changes in hair styles and makeup can compensate for this lack of media friendly self-presentation (indeed it may have the opposite effect), but it may hurt her in turning out young Americans.

Donald Trump prides himself on exploiting the latent racial antagonism in America that some intellectuals and pundits believed had been largely quelled by the Obama election. Deep-lying historical patterns are not so easily overcome and some reaction might have been expected. Hillary manifestly reaches out to ethnic and racial minorities and this may mean that young Latinos as aspirants to full American cultural importance, especially, and African Americans will come out in large numbers where it matters most in states like Florida and Michigan. At the same time, Hillary does not have Bill Clinton’s natural appeal to African Americans (despite his recent missteps on his sentencing legislation) and for various reasons Hillary may be reluctant to bring Bill into the campaign in a maximal way (see below). Young African Americans, men especially, may find Hillary’s style uninviting and unless she begins to offer some real remedies for the problems experienced by black youth in the economy she may find that their appearance at the polls is not a sure thing.

On sex and sexuality (rather than gender), the picture is very fuzzy. Clearly Hillary’s strong pro-choice posture should appeal to young women whose ability to act as full sexual beings (something most of them take for granted today but was not true in the past) is made possible by the contraceptive and abortion revolution of the last half century. At the same time, young women today are haunted by rape and sexual harassment. Since Hillary trails Bill Clinton’s misdeeds (and her own complicit acceptance of his behavior) behind her, the sexual issue is by no means a certain win for Hillary. Trump has just begun his overt references to these matters. There is more to come. Even if Bill never raped anyone as Trump contends, Trump will make the most of how the first Clinton’s presidency was soiled by a man who could not control his sexual appetites and preyed on a young intern. This was a very public scandal, and unlike Trump’s escapades, it took place while Bill Clinton held the highest office in the land and in the White House. Trump, of course, has been married three times and in each case to someone who is or who resembles a model. That can be viewed even by young people as one of the prerogatives of great wealth. The president of the United States, however, is not like the king of France in the ancient régime, someone to whom all women in court were available.

Trump talks about women as bimbos or as disgusting and this is hardly the language of a potential president. This frat boy attitude may wear very thin as the campaign progresses and be viewed less as an expression of Trump’s anti-political correctness temperament than as a real threat to the safety of women. Rape is a real problem and the increasing attention given to it in the media and the growing publicity about sexual harassment in college sports (as well as among professional athletes) suggests that Trump may find that young women will go to the polls in droves to express their fears and signal their anger at being made to feel unsafe and under attack.

What their brothers will do is less clear. While sexism seems to have declined as young women and men become colleagues and share group experiences in adolescence, the growing sexual threats to women (even by friends and colleagues) indicate that something besides a new equality is being signaled. Perhaps it is the result of the latent hostility that has resulted from the real competition women offer as they assume the same jobs and roles as men. This competition and its economic consequences may well make Trump a far more attractive candidate to young men than we expect.

All elections are unpredictable; this one more than most. With Hillary still fighting off Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump gaining in the polls against her, observers should keep a keen eye on the inclinations of young Americans. Their votes may make all the difference.

FassPaula S. Fass is professor of Graduate School and the Margaret Byrne Professor of History Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of of Kidnapped and Children of a New World and editor of The Routledge History of Childhood in the Western World. Fass currently resides in Berkeley, California. Her latest book is The End of American Childhood: A History of of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child.

Jason Stanley: How free market ideology perverts the vocabulary of democracy

Election_Blog_Series_Banner2[1]By Jason Stanley

This essay appears simultaneously in Aeon Magazine and is republished with permission in our Election 2016 series

Citizens of the United States are quite taken with the vocabulary of liberal democracy, with words such as ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, which conjure key democratic values and distance the nation from the Old World taint of oligarchy and aristocracy. It is much less clear, however, that Americans are guided by democratic ideals. Or that ideology and propaganda play a crucial role in concealing the large gap between rhetoric and reality.

In truth, the Old World systems have proved extremely difficult to shrug off. In their 2014 paper, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page argue that, as in an oligarchy, ordinary US citizens have no ‘substantial power over policy decisions [and] little or no independent influence on policy at all’.

Moreover, the US regularly subscribes to a form of managerial aristocracy. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder successfully replaced the mayors and city councils of several cities with ‘emergency managers’ supposedly able to negotiate financial emergencies better than elected officials. In the current presidential race, Hillary Clinton advertises her managerial expertise via the language of policy, while Donald Trump parades his via the language of business. Neither language is democratic. Neither invites self-governance.

Why is there no outcry about these oligarchical and aristocratic methods? Is it because plutocrats have power over the mechanisms of representation and repression? Is it, in short, about power? In my view, power can’t explain why voters are so enthusiastically voting for the very people who promise the least democratic outcomes. Nor are Americans knowingly rejecting democratic ideals. Instead, I see an anti-democratic ideology at work, inverting the meaning of democratic vocabulary and transforming it into propaganda.

Consider the example of mass incarceration in the US. Black Americans make up around 13 per cent of the population, but around 40 per cent of country’s ballooning prison population. Even if we assume, falsely, that black American crime rates justify this disparity, why is the state so punitive? Shouldn’t citizens instead be motivated to address the underlying socio-economic conditions that lead to such dramatic differences in behaviour between equals?

In The New Jim Crow (2010), Michelle Alexander argues that a national rhetoric of law and order has long justified mass incarceration. President Richard Nixon used it to crack down on black Americans under the cover of an epidemic of heroin use; this continued in the 1980s, as a merciless ‘war on drugs’ whose victims were all too often black men. In the US, the ideology of anti-black racism takes the view that blacks are violent and lazy, thereby masking the misapplication of the ideals of law and order.

Compare the ‘war on drugs’ to the current heroin crisis among middle-class white Americans, which has led to a national discussion of the socio-economic distress facing this class. Law and order doesn’t come into it. ‘The new face of heroin’ is new because, unlike the old face, it calls out for an empathetic response, rather than a punitive one. Now that heroin is ravaging white communities not black ones, the language of law and order (deemed appropriate to keep blacks in their place) has been retired. More significant still is that while the ideals of law and order preclude their unequal application, the propaganda of law and order does not: Americans were thus prevented from seeing the disguised gradient of law and order by racist ideology.

But what is the flawed ideology masking the misapplication of democratic ideals? Let’s bring it out by exploring the most cherished US democratic ideal, the ideal of freedom – popularly embodied in attacks on ‘big government’. Voters are repeatedly told that ‘big government’ is the primary source of coercion that limits freedom, which it certainly sometimes does, as the Patriot Act reminds us. But corporations also limit civic freedom in significant ways.

For example, corporations are leading direct attacks on the freedom to collectively bargain. Via outsourcing, free trade agreements allow corporations to move jobs to countries where labour is cheap; meanwhile, as a result of pressure from the conservative non-profit Citizens United, corporations can fund political candidates, thereby increasing corporate control of government. The weaker a government is, the more power corporations have over it. Across the political spectrum, there is anger that government is too influenced by industry lobbyists.

Voters concerned about government – as opposed to corporate – constraints on freedom are under the grip of what I will call a free market ideology. According to that ideology, the world of capital is by its nature free. All other substantial freedoms, including political freedom and personal freedom, are made possible by the freedom of markets.

Why do citizens who cherish freedom as an ideal vote to constrain their own freedoms by increasing the power of corporations? It’s because free market ideology masks the ways in which corporations deploy undemocratic modes of coercion. When a corporation bans employees from expressing, outside of work, opinions it disapproves of, this is seen as a legitimate protection of its economic interests. If workers have to sign non-disclosure contracts that silence them after they are employed elsewhere, it’s accepted as the cost of doing business.

The contradictions here are telling. If our most basic freedoms are self-expression and choiceful action, then corporations frequently limit our most basic freedoms. In liberal democratic theory, it is government that is regarded as the protector of such rights. But it’s precisely because government is attacked in the name of freedom that corporations have vastly greater power to constrain and shape it.

Free market ideology uses democratic vocabulary as propaganda, obscuring a non-democratic reality. Take education. In a liberal democracy, education equips citizens with the tools and confidence to weigh in on policy decisions and play a role in their own self-governance. Hence, democratic education is at the very centre of democratic political philosophy, as the philosophies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, W E B Du Bois, John Dewey and Elizabeth Cady Stanton attest. But the US rhetoric surrounding education is explicitly anti-democratic. Citizens prefer ‘efficient’ education systems that train children to perform vocational tasks, rather than education that fosters community, autonomy and civic participation.

The rhetoric politicians use when running for office is usually explicitly anti-democratic. Managerial culture is paradigmatically undemocratic: a CEO is like a feudal lord. But if markets are zones of freedom, then CEOs ought to be its representatives. Free market ideology also explains why, when politicians with great wealth run for office, voters are not put off by the threat of oligarchy: wealth is acquired in markets – which are the source of freedom. Finally, free market ideology explains why voters so easily give up their right to hold institutions accountable to experts who promise ‘efficiency’. Efficiency is the ideal of business, and business is the engine of the market – again the source of freedom.

Free market ideology has perverted democratic vocabulary, transforming it into propaganda that, in turn, obscures an anti-democratic reality. Yet there’s hope that voters have wised up to this and begun to challenge party elites. Such moments of awareness feel dangerous but offer great opportunities. Voters are using the proper tool – elections – to make their concerns heard. Will anyone listen?

Stanley jacketJason Stanley is the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. He is the author of Knowledge and Practical Interests, Language in Context, and Know How. His latest book is How Propaganda Works, recently released by Princeton University Press.

Amy Binder: The Provocative Politics of the Republican Party

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by Amy Binder

Not so long ago, you might have been surprised to learn that conservative college students held events specifically designed to provoke, not illuminate, their liberal and moderate peers, faculty, and administrators. During Catch an Illegal Alien Day, students who pose as undocumented immigrants are imprisoned when caught by other students posing as border guards. At the Global Warming Beach Party, students mock the science of climate change with suntan oil and beer. At Affirmative Action Bake Sales, conservative student organizers charge white customers more for their cookies and cupcakes than they do black or Latino students—a fitting analogy, according to event organizers, of the harms visited upon white students by affirmative action policies.

But organize these events conservative students did, with the financial assistance and play-by-play handbooks produced by the Young America’s Foundation, a well-funded conservative organization that supports right-leaning students. The “provocative style” of these events that I and my co-author Kate Wood wrote about in our PUP book Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives is not meant to reach out to liberals and moderates or to persuade them of conservative positions on immigration, environmental degradation, or race. Rather, the style is meant to enrage liberals on their campus, prod them into aggresively confronting event organizers, and then accuse the liberals who have been inflamed of being biased and intolerant toward them. We found that the provocative style is much less likely to take hold on campuses where there is a palpable sense of closeness and community (such as at a private elite university) and much more likely to be used at larger institutions where students are more anonymous to one another and their professors.

While you might have been surprised to learn about this campus style in years past, the only surprising thing about the provocative style today is that eight years ago it was students who were engaging in it, not the Republican party’s rank and file and torch bearers. In the time since we collected our data, this coarsening style has come to dominate the GOP. Shortly after the election of Barack Obama, members of the Tea Party ridiculed the president as a jungle bunny, witch doctor, and Muslim Marxist. In 2013, Congressional Republicans shut down the government trying to defund the president’s Affordable Care Act and, in 2016, most Senate Republicans refuse to even meet with Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court.

This year’s election cycle is the apotheosis of provocation. Donald Trump calls Mexican immigrants “rapists,” Syrian refugees “terrorists,” and has successfully drawn his opponents into slugfests about everything from penis size to the attractiveness of their wives. Even while Mitt Romney, the Koch brothers, and other establishment leaders and funders bemoan the fallen state of their party, voters turn out in droves to hear Trump rail on his opponents and their “stupid,” “loser” policies. Today, we are witnessing the ability of the provocative style—sometimes merely obstructionist, sometimes purely aggressive—to drown out deliberative policy discourse. This has been happening for years—not just this election season, as the Romneys of the world would have us believe—and it begs us to see what lessons we can learn from college campuses.

First, we can see that style, not substance, is mainly what is at issue here. In this primary season, unprecedented provocation is driving huge numbers of die-hard Trump supporters to back him no matter what he says, substantively. They love how he says what he says, not what he says which, after all, can change from speech to speech. Many observers have also noted that when you strip away variances in style, the stated policy differences between Trump and his Republican detractors are not so vast—such as on abortion, climate change, and immigration. But Trump’s voters prefer Trump’s style over Cruz’s and the other competitors who have since left the race. All of this is to say that we have under-estimated the power of style vs. substance in politics for far too long. We saw this on college campuses 8 years ago.

Second, it’s important to think about the links between college-age politics and the way people will participate in electoral and institutional politics later in life. I don’t have the longitudinal data to make causal claims about the students we interviewed in our book, but if campuses are incubators for political action, as our study shows, university leaders would do well to minimize provocation today to save politics tomorrow. Creating organizational structures that help students feel connected to the campus, and part of a community, would be a smart move, no matter how large the institution. If colleges and universities can create campus cultures that attempt to strengthen a sense of civic community among students, faculty, and administrators; and which foster a tolerance for ideological pluralism, then perhaps we have at least one means for crafting a more respectful national political discourse in the future.

becoming right jacket binderAmy J. Binder is professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools (Princeton). She is also the author of Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives.

Leah Wright Rigueur: Rand Paul’s failed appeal to black voters

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Racial Blunders and Disappointment Surround
Rand Paul

By Leah Wright Rigueur

Rand Paul was supposed to be different.

But now, with news of Paul suspending his struggling campaign in the face of disappointing Iowa caucus results, an uncomfortable question looms large: what happened?

There are many well-documented reasons for Paul’s political disappointments – namely Republican voters’ rejection of the Kentucky senator’s brand of libertarianism. But aside from his tea-party-ish approach to politics, Paul’s appeal was also supposed to be rooted in his two-year effort to broaden the Republican tent.

The “unconventional” Republican candidate, pundits and scholars alike touted Paul as the politician that would finally bring black voters into the GOP fold. African Americans, Paul often argued, were an integral part of his strategy to reach the White House. Since 2013, he has publicly courted black voters, using his policy positions on mass incarceration, criminal justice reform and the militarization of the police as entryways into broader conversations with black communities. He’s been outspoken about the Republican Party’s need to court racial minorities, criticizing the GOP’s repeated failure to speak and listen to black voters.

But “Big Tent” rhetoric is nothing new; calculated GOP strategists have been endorsing minority outreach since 1936, when Republicans first lost the black vote. Embracing this trend in 2013, the Republican National Committee’s autopsy report observed that the party had to perform better among racial minorities, or it risk losing future presidential elections. When pressed, most of the Republican presidential candidates will admit as much, even when their policies and talking points undermine their claims. As ridiculous as it may sound, Donald Trump’s campaign, for example, has declared that he intends to win “100% of the black vote.”

These are relatively superficial endeavors, however. In contrast, Paul has emerged as different for two reasons: first, his willingness to play the long game – he’s been actively pursuing the black vote for over two years. Second, he’s gone beyond shallow rhetoric by sponsoring actual policies like the REDEEM Act, which he co-introduced with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Paul’s work in this regard has drawn praise from a diverse cross-section of black communities, from grassroots activists to political elites. The NAACP, which once challenged Paul to a debate over his controversial comments over the 1964 Civil Rights Act, applauded Paul’s outreach efforts and met with him in Ferguson, Missouri in late 2014. Less than two months ago, Paul grabbed headlines for an on-the-ground meeting with black clergy, chief among them Rev. Jamal Bryant of Empowerment Temple AME in Baltimore. Paul, Bryant has repeatedly declared, is a politician that “gets it” (the other candidate to earn high praise from Bryant? Bernie Sanders).

And to some extent, black voters seem to be far more receptive to Paul than they once were. Take for instance, a spring 2014 poll from Kentucky: 29 percent of black respondents indicated that they would support Paul over Hillary Clinton if he were the Republican presidential nominee. But local politics – especially in one’s home state – is a far cry from the national stage where polls tell a very different story. One national survey from spring 2014 found that only 17 percent of black respondents viewed Paul favorably, while 44 percent held unfavorable views. More than a third had never heard of him. Another poll, this one from 2015, seemed to suggest that Paul would gain a mere 3 percent of the black vote if pitted against Hillary Clinton. Polls are notoriously fickle and there may be many reasons for this perplexing information. For one, few pollsters actually asked black voters about Paul; another explanation may be that black voters – like the rest of the country – simply couldn’t imagine Paul as president.

But I’m more convinced that Paul’s inability to translate outreach into tangible black support has to do with his actual programs and policies, beyond criminal justice reform. Among black voters who know of Paul, there’s an obvious wariness. Most of the black people who praise Paul’s outreach are also quick to list the areas where they disagree with him: abortion, gun control, vaccines, minimum wage, voter ID, taxes, healthcare, discrimination law, and much, much more. According to PEW, 78 percent of African Americans believe the federal government should play an active role in reducing poverty – a position directly at odds with Paul’s limited government approach. In this respect, Paul is not unlike his father, Ron Paul; in 1978, a black Republican consulting firm shied away from helping the elder Paul, privately railing that his “positions on the welfare system, minimum wage, and health care were too far to the right to offer the type of sensitivity Black voters were looking for.”

And though Paul has clearly distanced himself from his father’s abhorrent racial history, the younger politician continues to have his share of public racial gaffes; the Baltimore comment in April, the Cliven Bundy meeting in June, and the “All Lives Matter” moment in August are just a few of the recent incidents that come to mind. These are not insignificant incidents; for many African Americans, moments such as these make Paul’s previous outreach efforts appear insincere. Racial blunders add a layer of mistrust and confirm pre-existing skepticism. Whenever Paul stumbled, it was easy for critics to suggest that his behavior was part of a long pattern of anti-black hostility. Or in other words, to accuse Paul of being just another “typical Republican.”

Therein lies the central dilemma: in order to win over black voters, Paul would have had to fully transcend black suspicion and cynicism about the modern Republican Party. That’s a herculean task, not only because of the party and Paul’s history, but also because of the GOP’s present-day antagonisms on matters of race. But this is a marathon, not a sprint, and Paul still has time – and opportunity – to rehabilitate his image and strengthen his relationship with black voters. He is, after all, an active candidate in the Kentucky senatorial race, where black voters will surely play an important role.

The Loneliness of the Black RepublicanLeah Wright Rigueur is assistant professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She is the author of The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power.

Vote, or else? Jason Brennan on why moral obligations shouldn’t be enforced

Jason BrennanEthicist Jason Brennan is writing a series of posts for the PUP blog offering unique perspectives on ethics, voting, not voting, democracy, public policy and strategy. He is currently Flanagan Family Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, and is writing Against Politics, under contract with Princeton University Press. You can read his first post on “why smart politicians say dumb things” here–PUP Blog Editor

Turnout in American elections is low compared to some other advanced democracies. Should we force people to vote?

Brookings Institute analyst William Galston thinks so. In a recently published Op-Ed at Newsweek, Galston offers a host of arguments on behalf of compulsory voting.[1] None of the arguments are very good.

Galston’s right about one thing: Compulsory voting works. It’s clear that compulsory voting does in fact get more people to vote. But everyone agrees that alone isn’t enough to justify compulsory voting. A basic tenet of liberal democracy, or, really, fundamental human decency, is that it’s wrong to force people to do anything without a strong justification for doing so. Thus, proponents of compulsory voting bear a strong burden of proof. They must produce some reason why it’s permissible to force people to vote.

Does Compulsory Voting Lead to Moderation?

Galston argues that moderates are underrepresented. People belonging to ideological extremes are much more likely to vote than people with middle-of-the-road views. He claims that compulsory voting would thus lead to more moderate political outcomes.

He’s right that moderates vote less. Ample empirical work (e.g., see Ilya Somin’s Democracy and Political Ignorance for a review) shows that political moderates participate less than people with more extreme views. But, that same work also shows that this is because political moderates care less about politics, hold their beliefs more weakly, and also are less informed about politics.

But does compulsory voting actually lead to more moderate political outcomes? The available research (e.g., see Sarah Birch’s Full Participation for a review of the empirical literature) does not support this result. Perhaps it’s because the extremes already tend to balance each other out, and what we actually get from Congress or the president are moderate outcomes and compromise positions.

Indeed, it’s not clear compulsory voting does much of anything. It has no significant effect on individual political knowledge, individual political conservation and persuasion, individual propensity to contact politicians, the propensity to work with others to address concerns, participation in campaign activities, the likelihood of being contacted by a party or politician, the quality of representation, electoral integrity, the proportion of female members of parliament, support for small or third parties, support for the left, or support for the far right.[2]

Is Voting an Enforceable Duty?

Galston believes you have a duty to vote. I disagree,[3] but suppose he’s right and you do have a duty to vote. It doesn’t follow from the mere fact that something is a moral obligation that it’s permissible to force people to do it.

On the contrary, many moral duties—aside from duties to avoid violating others’ rights—are unenforceable. You might have moral duties to keep promises, to be nice to strangers, to buy your mom a birthday present, to be faithful to your boyfriend or girlfriend, to give to charity, to improve your moral character, to apologize for your past wrong-doing, to avoid becoming a member of the KKK, and to avoid using racist language. Nevertheless, these moral obligations are unenforceable—it would be wrong for the government to force you to fulfill these duties, even though they are (Galston and I both agree) moral duties.

So what makes voting special? Why is it an enforceable duty, rather than an unenforceable duty?

Galston says that voting is an expression of gratitude, which makes his defense of compulsory voting all the more perplexing. We often owe it to each other to express gratitude. If you buy me a present, I should say thanks. But in general, the duty is express gratitude is unenforceable. If I don’t send you a thank you note, you shouldn’t call the police and ask them to throw me in jail.

The Public Goods Argument: Are Non-Voters Free Riders?

In an earlier New York Times Op-Ed, Galston describes non-voters as free-riders: “Requiring people to vote in national elections once every two years would reinforce the principle of reciprocity at the heart of citizenship.[4] The idea here is that people who don’t vote are like people who don’t pay their taxes. Non-voters benefit from the good government provided for them by voters, but they don’t do their part in helping to provide that good government. That’s unfair. So, just as it’s permissible to force everyone to pay her fair share of taxes, maybe it’s permissible to force everyone to pay for good government by voting.

On the contrary, I think Galston has an overly narrow view of how citizens fulfill their civic obligations.

Imagine Superman were real. Now imagine Superman never votes or participates in politics. Imagine Galston said to Superman, “You’re a jerk. You free ride off of voters’ efforts. You benefit from good government but don’t do your part.” Superman could respond, “Remember all the times I saved the world? That’s how I did my part.”

Let’s take a less extreme case. Suppose there is a medical genius, Phyllis the Physician. Phyllis is such a genius that she produces new medical breakthroughs hourly. If Phyllis cares about serving the common good, helping her fellow citizens, or paying off some “debt to society”, she has little reason to vote. An hour at the voting booth is worth less than an hour at the lab. Now, imagine Galston said to Phyllis, “You’re a jerk. You free ride off of voters’ efforts.” Phyllis could respond, “No, I’ve paid voters’ back by producing my research. I don’t owe them anything more.”

Superman and Phyllis are extreme cases that illustrate a general point. Each of us in our daily lives as workers, artists, managers, parents, truckers, musicians, priests, teachers, or whatnot, does things that make distant others better off. We’re not just taking; we’re giving. We’re already doing things that make it so that the world and our fellow citizens are better off with us than without us.

There’s no obvious reason to assume that non-voters specifically owe a debt to voters, that the only way we citizens can “pay” for good government is to vote, or that the only way to avoid free-riding on voters’ efforts is to vote ourselves.  If we have a debt to society, or a duty to compensate voters for their efforts, we could instead hold that this debt can be paid, and that voters can be compensated, any number of ways. For any given citizen, given what other citizens are doing and are good at doing, there will be an optimal mix of political and non-political ways for her to pay her debt. For some citizens, this will mean heavy political engagement at the expense of other pursuits. For other citizens, it will mean complete disengagement so as to free the citizen to pursue non-political activities. For most citizens, the optimal mix will be some combination of political and non-political engagement.  Though each citizen might contribute in different ways, they can all pay their debts.

The Best Argument for Compulsory Voting

In the end, the best argument for compulsory voting begins by noting that under a voluntary voting regime, the people who choose to vote are unrepresentative of the population at large.

Voters and abstainers are systematically different. The old are more likely to vote than the young. Men are more likely to vote than women. In many countries, ethnic minorities are less likely to vote than ethnic majorities.[5] More highly educated people are more likely to vote than less highly educated people. Married people are more likely to vote than non-married people.[6] Political partisans are more likely to vote than true independents. In short, under voluntary voting, the voting public—the citizens who actually vote—are not fully representative of the voting eligible public. In general, the privileged are proportionately more likely to vote than the underprivileged. The worry, then, is that because the privileged are more likely to vote, government is likely to be unfairly responsive to their interests. Because the underprivileged are less likely to vote, governments are likely to ignore or underrepresent their interests.

As Galston summarizes the argument:

The second argument for mandatory voting is democratic. Ideally, a democracy will take into account the interests and views of all citizens. But if some regularly vote while others don’t, officials are likely to give greater weight to participants. This might not matter much if nonparticipants were evenly distributed through the population. But political scientists have long known that they aren’t. People with lower levels of income and education are less likely to vote, as are young adults and recent first-generation immigrants.[7]

Let’s put the argument in a more rigorous form. Let’s call this the Demographic Argument for Compulsory Voting:

1.     Voters tend to vote for their self-interest.

2.     Politicians tend to give large voting blocs what they ask for.

3.     When voting is voluntary, the poor, minorities, the uneducated, and young people vote less than the rich, whites, the educated, or older people.

4.     If so, then under voluntary voting, government will tend to promote the interest of the rich, of whites, and of the old, over the interests of the poor, of minorities, or of the young.

5.     Under compulsory voting, almost every demographic and socio-economic group votes at equally high rates.

6.     Thus, under compulsory voting, government will promote everyone’s interests.

7.     Therefore, compulsory voting produces more representative government.

8.     If compulsory voting produces more representative government than voluntary voting, then compulsory voting is justified.

9.     Therefore, compulsory voting is justified.

This argument appears powerful and persuasive at first glance. Nevertheless, as I’ll explain in my next post, it’s unsound. It rests on a number of false empirical assumptions.

Note, however, that Galston cannot consistently advance both the Public Goods and the Demographic Argument for Compulsory Voting. The Public Goods Argument treats voters as cooperators. One person’s vote tends to benefit others, while abstention comes at their expense. The Public Goods argument says that non-voters take advantage of voters. But the Demographic Argument treats voters as competitors. One person’s vote tends to harm other voters (by reducing the power of their vote), while abstention helps them (by strengthening the power of their vote).  The Demographic Argument assumes that non-voters advantage voters, while voters take advantage of non-voters.

At most, one of these arguments is sound. If the Public Goods Argument is sound, then when I (a privileged, upper-middle class, married, white, heterosexual, cisgendered male) abstain, most voters should be mad at me. But if the Demographic Argument is sound, then when I abstain, I do women, blacks, Latinos, the poor, the unemployed, and so on, a favor, by making it more likely the government will represent their interests rather than mine. Galston can’t have it both ways.

[1] http://www.newsweek.com/should-voting-be-compulsory-376905

[2] Sarah Birch, Full Participation: 140; Benjamin Highton and Raymond Wolfinger, “The Political Implications of Higher Turnout,” British Journal of Political Science 31 (1) (2001): 179-223, 179.

[3] See Jason Brennan, The Ethics of Voting (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), chapters 1 and 2.

[4] William Galston, “Telling Americans to Vote, or Else,” New York Times, 6 November 2011, SR9.

[5] In the United States, African Americans typically have a lower overall turnout than whites. However, there is some evidence that, once we control for socioeconomic status and other factors that influence voting turnout, African Americans actually vote in higher rates than whites. For instance, African Americans vote less than whites, because they are more likely to be poor, not because they are African American. However, this probably does not matter for the purposes of the Demographic Argument. See Jan E. Leighley and Jonathan Nagler, “Individual and Systematic Influences on Voter Turnout: 1984,” Journal of Politics 54 (1992): 718-40.

[6] For a review of the empirical literature establishing the claims of this paragraph, see Jocelyn Evans, Voters and Voting: An Introduction (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2004): 152-6.

[7] Galston, “Telling Americans to Vote”: SR9.

Ethicist Jason Brennan on why smart politicians say dumb things

Jason BrennanEthicist Jason Brennan, whose posts on the ethics of voting for our 2012 Election 101 series were enormously popular, will be writing a series of posts for the PUP blog offering unique perspectives on ethics, voting, not voting, democracy, public policy and strategy. He is currently Flanagan Family Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, and is writing Against Politics, under contract with Princeton University Press. We’re excited to have him back, and to kick it off with his first post. –PUP Blog Editor

Saying stupid things to would-be voters is a very smart thing to do.

The Onion jokes: Donald Trump is “an eccentric, megalomaniac billionaire still more relatable to average Americans than anyone willing to dedicate life to politics”. Every other day, he says something outrageous or blatantly false, and yet he continues to grow in the polls. He seems to be getting by on empty slogans, with no well thought out policy ideas.
 When you see a politician saying something outrageous or blatantly false, you might be tempted to decry the quality of our politicians. If only someone better came along.

But there’s a reason we have the kind of politicians we do, and it’s not because no one better is willing to step up to the plate. Nor is it because great and evil villains (insert the Koch Brothers or George Soros, depending on your political predilection) are keeping our saviors down. Donald Trump may or may not be an eccentric megalomaniac, and he has indeed said many substantively stupid things. But he’s not a stupid man, and saying stupid things to would-be voters is a very smart thing to do.

Politicians are trying to win elections. To win elections, they need to get the most votes. To do that, they need to appeal to as many voters as possible. In an election, what every smart politician is trying to do is behave in ways that he or she hopes will appeal to the typical voter. Politicians are like this because they respond rationally to the incentives democracy creates.

 If voters were well-informed, dispassionate policy-wonks, then political campaigns would resemble peer-reviewed economics journals. But few voters or potential voters are like that. As I’ll document at greater length in future blog posts here, most voters are poorly informed, passionate, biased, overconfident, and tribalistic. Most non-voters are not dispassionate truth-seekers; rather, they just don’t care much at all.

Voters are like this because they respond rationally to the incentives democracy creates. The problem is that our individual votes count for very little. Economists and political scientists debate just how to calculate the probability that your vote will make a difference. Still, even on the most optimistic estimate in the literature, your vote (in a presidential election) has a 1 in 10 million chance of making a difference, but only if you live one of handful of swing states and vote Democrat or Republican. Otherwise, your vote has no real chance of mattering. Polls show that citizens more or less realize this.

Voters do not consume much information, nor do they discipline themselves to think rationally about the information they consume, because their votes make little difference. As economists like to say, voters are rationally ignorant. Consider, as an analogy. Suppose a billionaire offers you a million dollars if you can ace the Advance Placement Economics and Political Science exams. You’d probably be willing to learn basic economics and political science for that price. But now suppose the billionaire instead offers you a 1 in 20 million chance of earning that million dollars if you ace the exams. Now it’s not worth your time—it doesn’t pay to learn economics or political science.

Indeed, it’s not clear that voters are even trying to change the outcome of the election when they vote.  One popular theory of voter behavior is that voters vote in order to express themselves. Though the act of voting is private, voters regard voting as a uniquely apt way to demonstrate their commitment to their political team. Voting is like wearing a Metallica T-shirt at a concert or doing the wave at a sports game. Sports fans who paint their faces the team colors do not generally believe they will change the outcome of the game, but instead wish to demonstrate their commitment to their team. Even when watching games alone, sports fans cheer and clap for their teams. Perhaps voting is like this.

When you see politicians saying dumb things, remember that these politicians are not fools. They are responding rationally to the incentives before them. They say dumb things because they expect voters want to hear dumb things. When you see that voters want to hear dumb things, remember that the voters are only foolish because they are responding rationally to the incentives before them. How we vote matters, but for each individual person, how she votes does not. Thus, most individuals vote as if very little is at stake.Trump’s popularity is an indictment of democracy, not a conviction (yet). Democracy may make us dumb, but that doesn’t mean that in the end, democracies always make dumb decisions.

Jason Brennan is Flanagan Family Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. He is the author of Markets without Limits, with Peter Jaworski (2015), Why Not Capitalism? (2014), Compulsory Voting, with Lisa Hill (2014), Libertarianism (2012), The Ethics of Voting (2011), and A Brief Hisotry of Liberty, with David Schmidtz (2010). He is currently writing Against Politics, under contract with Princeton University Press, and Global Justice as Global Freedom, with Bas von der Vossen.