Patterico's Pontifications

12/16/2014

A Conflict of Visions, Part 3: What Is Wrong With Our Politics?

Filed under: Books,General — Patterico @ 12:01 am

This is Part 3 of a continuing series on Thomas Sowell’s revelatory work A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles.

Question 15 in my quiz yesterday (if you haven’t taken it yet, please do!) reads as follows:

15.
a. The problem with America’s politics today is that the system incentivizes politicians to take actions that are in their best interest rather than that of the country as a whole. The solution is to change the incentives, because human nature rarely changes.
b. The problem with America’s politics today is that our leaders are self-centered and care only about themselves rather than the good of the country. The solution is to elect people who are more principled.

According to Thomas Sowell, the “constrained vision” concerns itself with incentives. Because those who adhere to the constrained vision do not believe that human nature is ever likely to change for the better, they favor organically developed systemic processes that provide incentives for people to act for the common good.

The free market is a good example, and the price mechanism of the free market is a process favored by those who subscribe to the constrained vision. Prices are created, not by a knowledgeable elite relying on the superiority of reason, but rather by the individual decisions of millions of individual actors, leading to price signals that, in turn, spur entrepreneurs to enter under-served markets, and exit oversaturated ones.

In this vision, like entrepreneurs, politicians are humans who respond to incentives, just like everyone else. The key, then, is not to elect better politicians, although that would be nice — but rather to improve the system to align incentives with the social good. However, those from the constrained vision reject human-designed processes for making social choices, in favor of organically created systemic processes and institutions such as the market, the family, and so forth. The end result is that any political system, being human-designed, is a poor system for making social decisions, and thus the scope of government should be limited to the extent possible.

The constrained vision is well illustrated by Hayek’s famous quote: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

By contrast, the unconstrained vision believes in the power of reason, and the unlimited potential of humans to improve their very nature — and, through deliberate design, the lot of men. The unconstrained vision puts great importance on the specialized knowledge of an elite few, who are presumed to have the necessary knowledge and wisdom to lead humans to a better society. Sincerity is critically important in this vision, and the improvement of society thus depends to a great degree upon the quality of the wise leaders who are chosen as surrogate decisionmakers for others in society.

Which am I? It seems, reviewing the record, I have made arguments that fit both visions. (Nobody is fully constrained or unconstrained.)

Here are a couple of examples of posts where I make the constrained argument in terms of political tactics. These quotes are taken from past posts that I wrote long before I ever heard of Sowell’s book.

From last month:

[P]oliticians are human beings, just like everyone else. They may have certain talents, ambitions, and other personality facets that set them apart, but they still tend to respond to incentives the same way other humans do.

We all sit around and decry the way politicians act, but we act as if the solution is to put better politicians in office. It’s not. The system itself is rigged, so that people who truly want to act in the public interest rarely (not never, but very rarely) get into office in the first place. And once they get there, they have to make compromises.

You see there the concern of someone who subscribes to the constrained vision, arguing that human nature is constant, and that the issue is restructuring the incentives that face humans. Similarly, here is a post of mine from 2010, discussing Christine O’Donnell vs. Mike Castle:

I was among those who supported solid conservative Tom McClintock over Arnold Schwarzenegger in the recall election for California governor. My reasoning: McClintock is a hell of an impressive guy, and if everyone who had preferred him had voted for him, he could have won. He was a victim of a “he can’t win” mentality. Plus, I didn’t see Arnold as such a great plus. (I still don’t.)

On the other hand, I am not a fan of throwing away my vote to send a message that the candidate in question isn’t conservative enough for my finicky tastes. As long as he (or she) is conservative enough to help us, that works for me.

There are those who seek to make “pragmatic” a bad word. These people often express disdain at the importance of having Republicans in power if they are not sufficiently attuned to their principles.

I have noticed that these very same people often rant and rave about particular Obama policies, like ObamaCare, that a sufficient number of Republicans in Congress could have stopped.

You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to complain about Obama’s policies, you can’t turn up your nose at a candidate who can help you fight those policies. Even — and this is important — even if that candidate is less than ideal.

Because every candidate is less than ideal.

So I’m good with trying to elect the more conservative candidate on the theory that the more conservative candidate has a chance. Personally, I’m not good with voting for that person as a protest vote when I know they can’t win.

I agree with William F. Buckley and the editors of the Wall Street Journal. The beat candidate is the most conservative one that can win.

Well, there you go. It’s Patterico the Constrained Guy, right?

Except, remember when Ted Cruz was arguing for shutting down the government? I was foursquare in favor of Cruz then — and guess who I was busy ripping apart? The very constrained Thomas Sowell! Here are three of my posts excoriating Sowell for criticizing Cruz’s radical tactics: here, here, and here. I thought I was right when I wrote those posts. I re-read them last night, and I still think I’m right.

Patterico, the Unconstrained! (I call Sowell philosophically “bipolar” in those posts, but maybe I was projecting, huh?)

So you see that the constrained/unconstrained dichotomy is not a simple left/right issue. It sheds light on one major fault line in the Republican party today. In one corner, we have the “principles” crowd that wants action today, and refuses to settle for half a loaf. In these people’s view, we just need more people with a spine, like Ted Cruz or Justin Amash. This, I submit, is a largely unconstrained vision, which believes that we can radically alter our country for the better, and should do so posthaste if possible — but in no event should we settle for half measures. In the other corner, we have the “trade-offs are necessary” crowd, which urges people to vote Republican even when the candidate is weak, because at least the Republican is better than the Democrat. This, I submit, is largely a constrained vision, which accepts that politicians are human beings who respond to incentives like everyone else. This person is willing to accept the fact that politicians will take imperfect actions in obeisance to electoral reality. They will vote for such politicians — if those imperfect politicians can deliver a reality that less wretched than the one offered by the opposition.

DRJ argued in comments last night that radicalism in trying to return to the constrained view of the Founders is arguably consistent with a constrained vision. Maybe so. But there is potentially a difference between constrained policies (small government, free market) and unconstrained tactics in politics (refusing to vote for the squishy candidate to send a message to the party).

DRJ says the Founders exemplified the essence of a constrained vision, and I agree. Yet their revolutionary tactics were radical. Does that mean, as DRJ contends, that those tactics could be considered constrained — coming as they did from men who shared the constrained vision, who were trying to implement policies consistent with that vision? Maybe. I can’t say for sure DRJ is wrong about that. But I don’t think Sowell would agree.

For one thing, Edmund Burke, whom Sowell holds up as one key philosopher epitomizing the constrained vision, was certainly a supporter of the Founders, but not necessarily of their revolutionary tactics.

And Sowell himself, in those columns I criticized, seems to decry the tactics of a Ted Cruz from the point of view of a pragmatist seeking a trade-off — just as Sowell has described the constrained vision. And in those columns, he makes the exact same point that he makes in the video that I just linked in the last post: people who think you can let the other side win and then capitalize on the backlash are like the Nazis who said the same thing about Hitler. Many of them died in the concentration camps, he says. In the video, he offers that as a reason to vote against Obama and for McCain. In his anti-Cruz columns, he offers them as a reason to oppose Cruz . . . because Cruz, by calling out Republicans, was making their re-election chances more difficult, and thus imperiled Republicans’ ability to retake the Senate and the Presidency and effect real change. (Or so says Sowell. I happen to disagree with him on that point.)

Again, in the video he says: “People ask me why am I going to vote for McCain over Obama. It’s because I prefer disaster to catastrophe.” That, I submit, is a quote from a hardened advocate of the constrained vision.

In summary, people like DRJ and I might favor radical tactics in favor of a constrained policy. Does that make those tactics unconstrained because they are radical? I’m not sure, but I think Sowell would say they are. Now, because in Sowell’s dichotomy the term “unconstrained” ends up sounding Pollyanna-ish and silly, I can understand wanting to argue that our position is constrained. But Sowell doesn’t seem to think so, based on my reading of his anti-Cruz columns, and watching the video I linked last night.

And here’s something else. I note that in my posts attacking Sowell, I resort to the rhetoric of “principle” more often. Which is interesting, in and of itself, isn’t it?

So, while I am open to being persuaded otherwise, I think that when you hear people say that the problem with our politics is that these terrible politicians lack a spine, they are (in my opinion) expressing an unconstrained view. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it helps you understand where they are coming from.

The more extreme the problems with our country get, the more I sympathize with the unconstrained tactics — largely, I think, because (as DRJ notes) they are part of an effort to get us to constrained, non-elitist, free market, small government policies. But if I am right that the radical tactics are unconstrained, the basic approach runs counter to a general constrained view of humanity in general, and politicians specifically, that runs deep in my psyche.

And, to the extent you generally subscribe to the constrained view in other areas, you might ask yourself whether a devotion to an unconstrained view of politicians make sense. Do you really believe in the potential of politicians to be uncharacteristically honorable, and ignore incentives to benefit themselves?

I still think we must press for radical change, precisely because I think we have reached a point of no return. Interestingly, the “point of no return” argument is the very same argument Sowell makes in favor of, say, voting for McCain, or against shutting down the government — but I say it counsels in favor of more radical tactics.

But I could be wrong. I’m willing to admit I could be wrong. And the very least, understanding the deep-rooted origins of the two different views might help each side understand one another better.

Patterico: bringing the Tea Partiers and the establishment together, courtesy of this blog post. Kumbaya! (This optimism I am expressing is rather . . . unconstrained, isn’t it?)

P.S. If it helps, I don’t really believe this post will do a damned thing to help anyone understand each other. Thus, my constrained bona fides remain intact — and I hereby stick my tongue out at you!

UPDATE: What’s a few more words in a post this long? DRJ links an article by Sowell on tactics which, while not using the words “constrained” and “unconstrained,” nevertheless invokes the constrained Burke in support of a position that approves of the Tea Party’s goals but disapproves of their tactics. I think the column supports my reading of Sowell pretty directly. Sowell says “Burke makes a key distinction between believing in a principle and weighing the likely consequences of taking a particular action to advance that principle.” Sowell goes on to argue that repeal of ObamaCare is critical, and justified by principle — but that the Tea Party tactics of trying to defund it with Obama still in office represented a result not within their power. Burke, he suggests, would have opposed the tactics if not the principle.

83 Responses to “A Conflict of Visions, Part 3: What Is Wrong With Our Politics?”

  1. Now the question becomes whether Republicans play by the Marquess of Queensbury rules.

    With Republicans retaking the Senate beginning in January, they have the option of restoring the filibuster. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), always ready to scuttle Republican priorities in favor of a chimerical comity, says that Republicans ought to give Democrats the filibuster that Democrats seized from Republicans. “I think it’s rank hypocrisy if we don’t,” he said. “If we don’t, then disregard every bit of complaint that we made, not only after they did it but also during the campaign. I’m stunned that some people want to keep it.”*

    happyfeet (831175)

  2. Too many things to do to give these posts the time and thought that others are,
    but I’ll chip in with my 2 cents on both/and, not either or.

    I agree that one cannot assume that people will always “live up to their better angels”, they won’t, so for there to be incentives for behavior that is good for all is a necessary thing.
    But I do not think that means we elect leaders ignorant of their personal virtue.

    John Adams said our government would only work for a virtuous people, I guess that in isolation would make him be “unconstrained”.

    Those who are more familiar with Sowell, does he hold to any particular religious views and do they inform his political thinking?

    MD in Philly (f9371b)

  3. The right to complain seems very important to Mr. McCain. Old people like to complain. In weak, thin voices. They would rather have their complaint than a remedy. Mr. McCain should go back to Arizona where the sun warms old bones and complain that his tea is too weak and his Metamucil is not orange flavored.

    I suspect that the North Vietnamese took the guts out of McCain with their torture. They broke him down and he never came back up. He can fake the showing of some spirit when he’s talking, but when it comes to a fight to actually get something done, the mewling, cringing pile of dirty rags and quivering bones that the North Vietnamese were kicking around and laughing at is all that shows up.

    nk (dbc370)

  4. Remember that Lehman was precipitated by a liquidity crisis and take a gander at S&P futures:

    http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user3303/imageroot/2014/12/20141216_ES.jpg

    Get up and answer the door, trouble has arrived.

    The political equilibrium established between the constrained and unconstrained prevailing during that tension we call ‘peace’ is dissolving.

    DNF (7b206c)

  5. Yeah, that kid that threw himself in front of a hand grenade, the one that just got the Medal of Honor, was thinking of his own best interest. I can imagine his incentive: “I’m going to get a medal!”

    I can fully well believe that there are people who behave according to what they perceive to be in their own best interests. There are words for them. “Selfish” is a good one. “Coward” fits others”. “Grifter” and “criminal” still others. Other men see them as natural hazards and take steps to avoid them or fight them. One of those steps is the formation of societies with informal mores and folkways and formal laws.

    As for Mr. Sowell, I just read this from him. http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2014/12/16/tortured-reasoning-n1932148 It’s about something that interests me and I bothered to learn a little about. That he picked that title for his article shows an extreme lack of self-awareness. His article is that and more. Shallow, dishonest, and dismissive; relying on assumptions he simply throws out; just plain polemicism. If it’s representative of his “thought”, please forgive me if I skip the rest of his work as TL:DR.

    nk (dbc370)

  6. FWIW, I know reporters do not write the headlines, editors do. I do not know about columnists. I’m guessing maybe they do give their pieces their titles, but maybe they don’t.

    MD in Philly (f9371b)

  7. On the notion of electing better politicians:

    Years ago in grad school the issue was examined in the context of public school teachers. The schools were obviously failing and the standard response was a call to attract better teachers to the profession with better individuals, better pay, and more respect.

    A striking contrast was noted in the optimistic values and attitudes of incoming teachers compared to the more resigned and cynical mind-set typical of teachers working in the profession for at least 3 years and longer. Which of course initially strengthened the case for attracting more high minded and well prepared individuals into the classroom.

    Trouble was follow-up research showed that within 3 years the values and attitudes of incoming teachers had become indistinguishable from those of veteran teachers. Better incoming teachers didn’t really have much of a positive effect. Overall, the teaching staff remained lethargic, cynical, and discouraged, and the schools were still failing to educate students at levels anywhere near expectations.

    Consequently, if we can extrapolate from school teachers to elected politicians, it’s reasonable to conclude that we can elect better, more responsive, politicians till we’re blue in the face, but as long as we send them to Washington they’ll have to operate in a well established and complex system of penalties and incentives that quickly turns them into the sort of arrogant self-interested disappointments we voted out of office. Until we change the incentives we’ll keep on getting the same unsatisfactory results.

    ropelight (1c7174)

  8. We are fighting against a condition that was attained by little step over a great length of time.
    Absent some great cataclysm that would upend current society with great costs, the only reasonable way to unwind our current condition is also through little steps over a great length of time – but with perhaps a few small significant giant leaps dealing with minor issues that can lay the foundation for a series of steps in the future.

    With 50+ years of political awareness to look back on, the “pragmatic” view I once espoused is IMO one of the things that has gotten us into our current condition, for we forgot principles in order to attempt to “make things better”. Things aren’t better, and we are without our principles too.

    askeptic (efcf22)

  9. Ah, nk. You know I respect you. And I always read what you write very carefully, and think about it more. I certainly don’t judge your point of view from one or two posts.

    You made me laugh out loud this morning.

    The right to complain seems very important to Mr. McCain

    And not just Senator McCain, as we often see in this comments section. I have long believed that people are too easily taken by what we call from the Left “Teh Narrative.” The Right has one, too. As you allude, the truth is more shaded.

    Which is why this made me sad, when you wrote about Tom Sowell:

    Shallow, dishonest, and dismissive; relying on assumptions he simply throws out; just plain polemicism. If it’s representative of his “thought”, please forgive me if I skip the rest of his work as TL:DR.

    Now, nk, there are many people on the Left who take one column or one idea, and the paint the author as Goldstein in “Nineteen Eighty Four” as the target for a Two Minute Hate. And you and have agreed many times that approach is empty headed and intellectually lazy. Because it is.

    Furthermore, you and I have agreed on multiple occasions that some people on the Right are guilty of the very things you write above…even some posters here. People whom you also like in other contexts, and whose other opinions you find valuable.

    I have read all of Thomas Sowell’s books. I don’t always agree with him. But there is much truth and value in what he writes.

    But as always, we all (me, too) need to guard against the very unfortunate patterns you rightly excoriate above. It’s a Greek tragedy sort of issue: to become what one dislikes. I fight it every day at work.

    Anyway, sorry to disagree with you, and I hope you have a good day.

    Simon Jester (50859e)

  10. “…attained by little steps …”

    askeptic (efcf22)

  11. I have trouble with these terms “constrained” and “unconstrained”

    I think it might be better to say:

    Perfectionist = utopian = unconstrained.

    Not perfectionist = limited = constrained.

    Sammy Finkelman (8bd44f)

  12. Ok, Simon. That was a description of his article, not of him. I will look at each of his proposals individually. I was going to, anyway. My deepest skepticism is that he has developed a monolithic theory. I am not convinced that he has. Regardless of whether I agree with parts of it or not.

    nk (dbc370)

  13. Question 15: I agree with both 15a and 15b.

    15a is more long term point of view, 15b is when you have a particular choice to make. In the longer run, there is no method of electing people who are more principled, so what you want is a system set up where it is easier to get better people chosen.

    In my opinion, the best general method of doing that is to have long, drawn-out elections, and anything that cuts the season down or limits choices is bad. (term limits, not so pradoxically, may increase choices in many circumstances.)

    Interestingly, I think unequal size districts, like the United states senate, provided they are essentialy random, is agood compromise, because when aconstituency gets too big it is too hard to organize or start a campaign, but when there are too many positions, each one is not important.

    Campaign “reform” is one of the worst things done. The 1974 law almost created PACs.

    McConnell is on the right side of that.

    Putting control of campaigns in the hands of few people, by strengthening the national parties, which is what has happened, is a very bad thing to do.

    Re: term limits: If I were drafting laws, I would not have exact term limits, but maybe provide that when anyone for a second term or more, a separate vote – in the same election – would be held on whether that person could run and also a second vote – in the same elction – in case he lost to choose the person to occupy the office in which the incumbement was ineligible. That could be manipulated too but only in areas where one party was extremely strong.]

    Sammy Finkelman (8bd44f)

  14. I have trouble with these terms “constrained” and “unconstrained”

    I think it might be better to say:

    Perfectionist = utopian = unconstrained.

    Not perfectionist = limited = constrained.

    I understand the desire to make this less complicated, but the book constantly rejects attempts to simplify the dichotomy. What you have described is only one aspect of a larger description of competing visions. It’s an important aspect, but not the only one. Really, reading the book is the only way to fully understand the dichotomy.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  15. Sowell wrote about principles and tactics in this November 2013 article, using the Tea Party as an example. He says the Tea Party is following constrained principles because it opposes unconstrained policies like ObamaCare. He also says any tactics used to oppose ObamaCare before the 2014 and 2016 elections would be ill-advised:

    It was virtually inconceivable from the outset that the Tea Party could force the Democrats who controlled the Senate to pass the defunding bill, even if the Tea Party had the complete support of all Republican senators — much less pass it with a majority large enough to override President Obama’s certain veto.

    Therefore, was the Tea Party–led attempt to defund Obamacare something that met Burke’s standard of a “rational endeavour”?

    With the chances of making a dent in Obamacare by trying to defund it being virtually zero, and the Republican party’s chances of gaining power in either the 2014 or 2016 elections being reduced by the public backlash against that futile attempt, there was virtually nothing to gain politically and much to lose.

    However difficult it might be to repeal Obamacare after it gets up and running, the odds against repeal, after the 2014 and 2016 elections, are certainly no worse than the odds against defunding it in 2013. Winning those elections would improve the odds.

    If the Tea Party made a tactical mistake, that is not necessarily fatal in politics. People can even learn from their mistakes — but only if they admit to themselves that they were mistaken. Whether the Tea Party can do that may determine not only its fate but the fate of an America that still needs the principles that brought Tea Party members together in the first place.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  16. UPDATE: What’s a few more words in a post this long? DRJ links an article by Sowell on tactics which, while not using the words “constrained” and “unconstrained,” nevertheless invokes the constrained Burke in support of a position that approves of the Tea Party’s goals but disapproves of their tactics. I think the column supports my reading of Sowell pretty directly. Sowell says “Burke makes a key distinction between believing in a principle and weighing the likely consequences of taking a particular action to advance that principle.” Sowell goes on to argue that repeal of ObamaCare is critical, and justified by principle — but that the Tea Party tactics of trying to defund it with Obama still in office represented a result not within their power. Burke, he suggests, would have opposed the tactics if not the principle.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  17. Good second post! It fleshes out a great deal more for me to consider. However I won’t be using any of the jargon Sowell introduces as it requires a level of assent on my part that I refuse to grant.

    felipe (b5e0f4)

  18. There is no constituency for the word NO. Politicians of every stripe feel (operative verb rather than think) are compelled to DO SOMETHING, and don’t ever take into account if government should be doing such things at all. And they never consider unintended consequences.New York city felt compelled to fight the evil menace of an otherwise legal product, cigarettes, by imposing absurd taxes on cigs. What happened was rampant smuggling, enforcement headaches and a drop in cig tax revenues. Don’t hear any pols reconsidering their stupidity evena fter the Eric Garner mess.

    Bugg (f0dbc7)

  19. I’m a bit behind on this, and just saw the cue to leave comments on this thread instead of the others.

    I scored a 55 on the quiz. Interesting. I see that carlitos scored a 40 and aphrael a 45. Did anyone else score higher than a 25? I didn’t see.

    Leviticus (f9a067)

  20. I’d be interested in the specific questions that you guys answered for which you received points. I gave mine on the other thread.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  21. From the world according to DRJ:

    Maybe Cruz is acting in an unconstrained manner in his efforts to oppose ObamaCare and Obama’s immigration plans. If so, then my reason for supporting Cruz is that nothing in Sowell’s theory says someone must be totally unconstrained or totally constrained. Instead, I think his theory suggests it’s rational to be willing to make trade-offs between the two ends of the spectrum.

    Furthermore, in the Sowell link on Tea Party tactics in comment 15, Sowell suggests that it’s not rational to employ tactics that cannot succeed. But I think it’s rational and even desirable — from a public relations standpoint — to take advantage of every opportunity to oppose extreme unconstrained policies (as Cruz has done) in order to demonstrate to the American people a commitment to opposing those policies. While these tactics may fail at times, they lay the foundation for public opposition to Obama’s policies. It’s irrational to wait and let Obama’s policies take hold through inertia.

    Finally, Sowell clearly believes in waiting until the “right moment” to oppose Obama’s policies. That’s an unconstrained view, isn’t it? To believe there is a specific time that wise men can identify as the perfect opportunity to act is no different than believing wise men should be trusted to run our economy, our government and our lives. Sowell would never argue that an economy run by wise men is superior to a capitalist economy, and I can’t embrace his efforts to impose an equally anti-capitalist vision on politics.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  22. From the world according to DRJ:

    DRJ (a83b8b) — 12/16/2014 @ 7:58 am

    LOL! At least you know it is a world and not a wasteland.

    felipe (b5e0f4)

  23. FWIW, even though my last comment was willing to consider Sowell’s theory applied to Cruz, I don’t think Cruz is unconstrained. I think Sowell dislikes Cruz’s tactics and wants to discredit them as irrational, but that doesn’t make it so.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  24. Leviticus, I would be very interested in exchanging notes as to where you and I agree and where you and I differ on this list; I think it could lead to a fruitful conversation. If you are interested and don’t want to hijack our host’s thread, please feel free to email me: my primary gmail account has the same username as my user name here. :)

    aphrael (ca6a52)

  25. “Sowell would never argue that an economy run by wise men is superior to a capitalist economy, and I can’t embrace his efforts to impose an equally anti-capitalist vision on politics.”

    DRJ – I agree. It would imply the omniscience which Sowell avers does not exist to run a centrally planned economy somehow does exist to govern the tactics and timing of activities in the political realm.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  26. 22- We have two years yet.

    askeptic (efcf22)

  27. daleyrocks:

    It would imply the omniscience which Sowell avers does not exist to run a centrally planned economy somehow does exist to govern the tactics and timing of activities in the political realm.

    Exactly.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  28. I also can’t imagine Sowell complaining when people make seemingly irrational decisions in their everyday economic lives, even though we all do at times and sometimes for rational reasons. Collectively, our actions still result in a better functioning economy. With that framework, I don’t understand why Sowell thinks it’s possible to control every aspect of political tactics, or why it even makes sense.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  29. DRJ – An apparent inconsistency.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  30. Patterico’s short version post:

    Tea Partiers believe we need to send the establishment a message: elect people who are sincere, whose intentions are pure, and who will reject trade-offs for bold policies that will fundamentally transform the country. This is an unconstrained view.

    No, no, no! That’s not how I see the Tea Party. My Tea Party wants to elect politicians who articulate conservative economic policies, and holds them accountable for their actions or inactions. I have no problem with trade-offs in trying to get to the goal, but it has to be a consistently-stated and pursued goal. I reject politicians who get in office and forget why they were sent there.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  31. Or, worse yet, politicians who reverse course on their campaign promises once they are elected.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  32. My kind of Tea Party candidates are constrained for at least two reasons: They embrace traditional conservative, capitalist policies and they keep their promises if elected to office.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  33. I’m clearly missing something in this discussion because I don’t see the Republican Party or the Tea Party as unconstrained. Some aspects of our policies and politicians may be unconstrained because we aren’t monolithic or rigid, but in general both the GOP and the Tea Party support policies that Sowell labels as constrained. The Democratic Party is the party that embraces many of the unconstrained aspects from Sowell’s theory.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  34. Balance is what’s needed. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

    Term limits, I forget which proposal number this would be: No one can be nominated for or appointed to a federal office from a State until they have established and maintained legal residency in that State for at least four years, and voted in that State’s General election while not holding a federal elected office. No one shall be nominated for a federal office which they hold at the time of nomination.

    I’d like something that recuses an official from voting on bills that affect his district but that could lead to some very nasty log-rolling.

    htom (9b625a)

  35. I think that each of Patterico’s test questions could lead to a great discussion here, and propose that he repost them as individual posts in the coming year, one a week or so.

    htom (9b625a)

  36. I’d like a law that requires politicians to read a bill before they vote on it. Even if they lie about having read a bill and vote anyway, it will make it harder for them to claim they didn’t know what the law provides. It could also slow down the number of laws that are passed.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  37. HTOM, at #35: I second that motion.

    aphrael (ca6a52)

  38. Jeb is in, and Romney’s Super PAC started yesterday. There will be several conservative Republicans running in 2016, and I think it will be good thing if the moderates also have some competition.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  39. I vote for htom’s idea at 35.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  40. Wasn’t it Edmund Burke who said bad laws are the worst sort tyranny? Didn’t he speak in Parliament against taxing the Colonies, calling it a form of legal slavery? If that’s Sowell’s idea of a principled, constrained politician, then he should applaud Ted Cruz.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  41. I scored a 15.

    If you are constrained, I’m constipated.

    papertiger (c2d6da)

  42. I think the mistake that Sowell makes in critcizing Cruz is that Sowell seems to think reversing 80 years of unconstrained folly (beginning with “Freedom from Fear”) will happen in a few years, and we need only wait until we have the White House, the Congress and the Supreme Court. I take the view that this is a war, and we need to start winning some small battles in strategic locations. This is what Grant did in the Civil War, and he was greatly despised by his superiors as he won the first significant Union victories in the war. All of his superiors except Lincoln.

    It will take a great deal of thought to identify these strategic victories, but we will recognize them as victories when we see them. Cruz has yet to show the needed level of discrimination in his selection of targets. But he is trying, which distinguishes him from the leadership of the Republican Party. And the victories might not be in the form of legislation. It might be in the realm of educating the electorate. Gruber comes to mind. Or they might take the form of defeating an illegal Obola initiative that would grant residency privileges to 5- to 20 million illegal immigrants. Preventing such a massive victory by the Democrats, which would undermine our country and throw millions more citizens onto welfare, may not seem like a victory, but it might be the best we can do.

    nk you made my day with your remarks about McCain. They were spot on. But I disagree with your assessment of Sowell in regards to his view of the torture issue. Megan Kelly interviewed the psychologist who oversaw the CIA’s enhanced interrogations (that were the subject of the despicable Senate Demcorat report) and he tells a very different story than what the LHMFM is now spinning. He will appear again tonight on the Kelly show, and I encourage you to watch the interview. It is important to remember that Obola’s buddies in the muslim world are murderous thugs who seek to overawe any who oppose them. In Pakistan today, these thugs have murdered 126 children and their teachers to celibrate the Nobel prize awarded to Malala Yousafzai. This included the usual beheadings that we now know are an integral part of the religion of peace that Obola extolls so heartily. The condemnation by other muslims around the world is underwhelming. We must conclude that these actions are either in accord with the views of ordinary muslim, or the reach of terror is effective beyond any reasonable expectation.

    bobathome (348c8a)

  43. 36. DRJ (a83b8b) — 12/16/2014 @ 8:44 am

    I’d like a law that requires politicians to read a bill before they vote on it. Even if they lie about having read a bill and vote anyway, it will make it harder for them to claim they didn’t know what the law provides. It could also slow down the number of laws that are passed.

    Maybe a law or rule limiting the number of words, or bytes, that could be in a single bill.

    @reading a bill – many bills are incomprehensible, (change this word in this law) or they disguise what they are really after, and for some things you have to know what court decisions say.

    It would be useful to post things online, so that it could be scrutinized by numerous people. But a delay could also prevent improving amendments.

    I’m thinking also of making standard off-the-floor votes, or at least preliminary votes – if something passes it gets a mandatory floor vote. Votes are fixed maybe at 3 am each business day.

    Of course, the leadership in Congress is committed to “regular order” meaning committees, which does not allow most members to have an influence on most things (this is at least better than drafting bills behind closed doors and springing them on people. Especially when there is some kind of deadline.)

    Things also get written in conference committees, which is not too good.

    Sammy Finkelman (8bd44f)

  44. htom (9b625a) — 12/16/2014 @ 8:39 am

    No one can be nominated for or appointed to a federal office from a State until they have established and maintained legal residency in that State for at least four years, and voted in that State’s General election while not holding a federal elected office.

    That would be an anti-carpetbagging amendment – no such rovision is in the U.s. Constitution now. The provision about voting would both test the sincerity of the residence and require a minimal amount of political involvement. It is probably not necessary if everything else is working right. Certaon good people might not have any way to get in, and maybe they should. in the UK residnce is not a requirement, but there’s been more and more of that.

    It may be just a way of pretending someone is not loyal to a party when it is voluntary. Was Greg Orman really better than Pat Roberts?

    No one shall be nominated for a federal office which they hold at the time of nomination.

    No re-election? Single term limits? Or resign halfway through the last year of a term?

    Sammy Finkelman (8bd44f)

  45. I think that the “constrained” idea of incentives can be used to sort out tactics.

    What if a system exists where short-term incentives favor “constrained” actions that prevent the accomplishment of long-term “constrained” goals?

    This explains the “ratchet”–progressive government is never undone, because that would require a radical disruption of the “unconstrained” type.

    So you have to decide if the end is more important than the means.

    Gabriel Hanna (64d4e1)

  46. I actually do have an “unconstrained” solution that would produce a “constrained” government.

    Fill government offices by lot, like jury duty. It should be temporary, and it should suck.

    That would prevent the creation of a political class.

    Office would “look like America”–fifty percent female, twelve percent black, etc.

    Rule by elite would be impossible.

    Would we get stupid people in? Yes, but we have that now. Would we get ignorant people in? Yes, but we have that now. Would we get crazy people in? Yes, but we have that now. Would we get corrupt people in? Yes, but we have that now.

    We would NOT have anyone able to make a career of government. They’d serve, and go back to their jobs.

    It might be easier to draw a body of, say, 10000 citizens by lot, and then those citizens could elect positions from among themselves, say, the state legislature.

    It’s been done before–the Republic of Venice had a good 1500 year run.

    Anyway, a highly constrained form of government, but the process of getting from here to there would be quite unconstrained.

    Gabriel Hanna (64d4e1)

  47. Gabriel Hanna (64d4e1) — 12/16/2014 @ 10:00 am

    the Republic of Venice had a good 1500 year run.

    Is that right? I don’t know enough.

    The state that lasted 1500 years, just about exactly, was the Roman Empire – from Julius Caesar (October 49 BCE) to Constantine XI Palaiologos (Κωνσταντῖνος ΙΑ’ Παλαιολόγος) in 1453 (May 29), although Wikipedia traces its beginning to Octavian (Augustus)

    That amounts to just a bit over 1500 years and 6 months. (Historians don’t have a year 0, although astronomers do)

    Sammy Finkelman (8bd44f)

  48. haven’t been reading all of the comments,
    this am on Bill Bennett I heard him interview a conservative congressman from SC (ya’ll know his name, I don’t remember)
    he mentioned that his staff (not just himself, but his staff in a split the work) did not have the opportunity to read the entire spending bill before he had to vote on it

    If that isn’t (expletive) revolting, I don’t know what is,
    that’s the whole (expletive) point!

    IDK whether one analyzes the idea of reading laws before you vote on them comes under constrained or unconstrained, was the will to vote on it an example of making compromises/reality, or a lack of having principles, being dishonest or?????

    Rushbo made the comment that perhaps there is an establishment/donor class Repub movement to get Jeb Bush in the running just to avoid a Tea-party conservative type with the nomination.

    In this very limited (well, heck, it’s just the fed budget…) issue, Boehner and Co. essentially did an ObamaCare repeat, and Sen. Specter found out how much the public liked his voting on things he hadn’t read.

    Will it ever be possible for Congress to write a law that not only they all can read before they vote on it, but that anyone with a “good” HS reading level can understand? associates degree? BS/BA? an advanced degree other than a JD or MS/MA in public policy?

    MD in Philly (f9371b)

  49. DRJ (a83b8b) — 12/16/2014 @ 8:44 am

    They should be required to sign an affidavit upon penalty of perjury that they have read, and understand, the legislation that they are about to vote on – for each and every bill.
    If they are found to be in violation of that affidavit, forfeiture of office and all pay and allowances involved – and constituent would have standing to bring a challenge.

    askeptic (efcf22)

  50. I have proposed it before, and I know it is impractical, but I propose it again now (or something like this). After every election, in some pre-designated period of time, say 3 months or 6 months, every politician has to survive a vote of confidence, and if they fail they need to run for reelection on the 1 year anniversary of their election; House, Senate, Pres, all of them.
    The American public will be able to remember campaign promises that long.

    MD in Philly (f9371b)

  51. Wikipedia says the Republic of Venice lasted from maybe 697, at the earliest, to 1797. That’s 1100 years, not 1,500.

    It was more of an autocracy, except there was the Great Council of 480 which had a veto over him.

    Later on they had a procedure for electing a new doge. It asn’t really fixed till 1268.

    http://faculty.apec.umn.edu/jcoggins/documents/Selected%20Publications/Majority.pdf

    Where basically a 64% majority was required. This goes on as to how that worked and how it is good.

    I don’t think this is detailed enough to understand except about the election of the doge.

    Wen it came to electing a doge, first, there were a limited number of people on the Great Council, which was basically a heriditary but grew over time.

    All members over 30 convened. There was a balloting urn with 30 gold balls and the rest silver. Anyone who drew silver ball went out. Anyone with a gold ball retired to an inner chamber. ll of his relatives left too, because of a rule that no more than one member of a family could serve on a nominating committee.

    The 30 now picked from an urn containing 9 gold balls and 21 silver.

    When they were reduced to 9, they chose 40 members, who could include people not even in the council. Each person nominated to the committee of 40 had to have at least 7 of the 9 votes. (78%)

    The 40 were then reduced by lottery to 12.

    The 12 nominated 25, each one requiring 9 votes. (67%)

    The 25 were then reduced to 9 and the 9 nominated 45 each one requiring at least 7 votes. (78%)

    The 45 were then reduced to 11 and they nominated 41 ducal electors (raised from 40 because once there was a tie vote) Each one of the 41 had to receive at least 9 votes. (81%)

    The 41 ducal electors wrote a name. A list was drawn up of all names. One name was drawn. The candidatem if present, and anyone else with the same surname, withdrew. They discussed him. He then was summoned to answer questions and given an opportunity to defend himself against any accusations.

    A ballot was held. 25 votes were needed to elect (61%) If the candidate did not get it, they went on to the next name drawn by lot.

    The great Council then had to approve him by a simple majority.

    The paper argues this complicated was exactly right, and 25 out of 41 was prefect mathematically to get a consensus choice.

    Sammy Finkelman (8bd44f)

  52. Much like what Scott Walker endured? This is not sarcasm.

    felipe (b5e0f4)

  53. MD in Philly (f9371b) — 12/16/2014 @ 10:20 am

    Will it ever be possible for Congress to write a law that not only they all can read before they vote on it,

    All they have to do is not spring it on people right before the deadline for a must-pass bill, or the end of the session. Of course that’s teh reason it is sprung on people.

    but that anyone with a “good” HS reading level can understand? associates degree? BS/BA? an advanced degree other than a JD or MS/MA in public policy

    Nobody probably understands everything, but if it posted on the Internet for a time, at least it is possible to get comments.

    Sammy Finkelman (8bd44f)

  54. bobathome (348c8a) — 12/16/2014 @ 9:27 am

    This included the usual beheadings that we now know are an integral part of the religion of peace that Obola extolls so heartily.

    Beheadings indicate loyalty to ISIS/ISIL/DAESH/the Islamic State/IS/Whatchamacallit.
    Two of the people killed in that Jerusalem synangue were beheaded. (Hamas may be flirting with it)

    Original al Qaeda ® ™ opposes beheadings.

    But it may be that these distinctions can’t entirely be trusted.

    Sammy Finkelman (8bd44f)

  55. 52. Scott Walker had to undergo a recall election because of a petition, not some kind of election.

    Sammy Finkelman (8bd44f)

  56. Yes, sammy, it was because of the bullet and not the finger that pulled the trigger. This is sarcasm.

    felipe (b5e0f4)

  57. @Sammy Finkelman:51.Wikipedia says the Republic of Venice lasted from maybe 697, at the earliest, to 1797.

    Venice for a long time was part of the Exarchate, territories held by the Eastern Roman Empire in Italy. I’m not sure what kind of government they had then, there’s not a lot of records from those days.

    But their system of self-governance didn’t spring up out of nowhere; much of their system may have been rooted in practices from the days of the Exarchate.

    At any rate, government by lot has been tried before, and worked as well as anything else.

    We’d definitely have problems; I can’t say for sure anything about them except that they’d not be the problems we have now, of a political class with widely divergent opinions from its constituents.

    Look at the lack of daylight between Republicans and Democrats on immigration, and then look at what the population thinks, for a perfect example.

    Gabriel Hanna (64d4e1)

  58. just another fox uncle tom who gets his paycheck signed by white conservatives. for black america the time is right for fighting in the streets! the rolling stones.

    anti fox toms (36b531)

  59. perry!!!!!!

    elissa (f700cf)

  60. I think Athens had some elements of lottery.

    Sammy Finkelman (d22d64)

  61. 56. I don’t understand what this refers to.

    Sammy Finkelman (d22d64)

  62. @Sammy Finkelstein: 56 is saying that the election to recall Scott Walker may have been held only because of a petition and not as a regularly scheduled election like you advocate, but that it wasn’t a good idea just the same.

    Gabriel Hanna (64d4e1)

  63. Sammy — oh c**p. I forgot about that. c/ nominated for, or appointed to/nominated for, appointed to, or elected to/

    The idea is that when you go into the House or Senate, you serve your term (or that fractional part remaining.) If you want, you then move to a different state, establish legal residency, wait for the General Election, vote, and then you could be nominated from that district, having been out of office for at least four years. If you move back to a prior State, you’d have to wait another four years, even if you lost.

    Picking (by lot) ten legal voters from each Member’s (House and Senate) district, forming two bodies to make nominations for each district for each party eligible to run a candidate in that election … such persons to serve from six months after a General Election to six months after the subsequent election. Pay is the national mode income, per month.

    htom (9b625a)

  64. Patterico and aphrael,

    I don’t wanna jack the thread, so I’ll email you guys my answers when I get home from work. Very interested to have this discussion.

    Leviticus (f9a067)

  65. I take the view that any tactic used that is defined by the system is a constrained tactic. Reid and the nuclear option, though outside the norm, was a permissible tactic within the political system created.

    However, Executive Actions are unconstrained tactics because they are not defined by our political system.

    So, Radical change can be constrainedly accomplished by changing the system, such as Amending the Constitution.

    Dejectedhead (ec3741)

  66. I still haven’t taken the quiz. I am far too traumatized by the decisions of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand juries. I can’t even ask for an extension, because I will not heal until our nation heals and I don’t know when that will be.

    nk (dbc370)

  67. A 55 puts me almost equally between constrained and unconstrained. I suppose the only logical conclusion is that I am strained.

    Leviticus (f9a067)

  68. Thought you were made of sterner stuff there nk.

    askeptic (efcf22)

  69. To answer the question in the lede:
    The thing that is wrong with our politics is the same thing it has always been:
    Our Politicians!

    askeptic (efcf22)

  70. I know, askeptic. I did take the quiz. If I throw out 4,7,10,12&14, where I can have either view depending on whether I’m eating a Hershey’s or a Nestle’s, I score 0. So, depending on your point of view, give me the benefit of the doubt or not, and score me either 25 or 0.

    nk (dbc370)

  71. Constrained in the membrane
    Constrained in teh brain

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  72. nk@67. You can’t imagine how traumatized the New York Times is:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/14/us/thousands-march-in-washington-to-protest-deaths-by-police.html

    Correction: December 13, 2014

    An earlier version of this article misidentified, on second reference, the person who was shot in Ferguson, Mo. It was Michael Brown, not Darren Wilson. An earlier version of this article also referred incorrectly to the shooting of Trayvon Martin. He was killed by a civilian, not by a police officer. In addition, an earlier version of this correction misspelled Trayvon Martin’s given name as Travyon.

    Sammy Finkelman (8bd44f)

  73. Overall, I probably disagree most on altruism. It depends on whether it’s smart altruism or stupid altruism to some extent I suppose — you want to throw yourself in front of the sabertooth to save your brother not in front of the spear to save the sabertooth — but overall, even if it does lessen the individual’s chance of well-being or even survival, it increases society’s.

    For a real life example, let’s take Bill Gates and Kent Brantly. For thirty years, Bill Gates worked at what he knew best, made a $100 billion, and gave $10 billion to fight disease in Africa. Kent Brantly went to Africa and treated Ebola under miserable conditions. I doubt if he will ever have $10 billion to give the way he picked to live his life. Both are just fine with me. Both equally praiseworthy. (Brantly maybe a little bit more because he did not give us Windows ME.) The constrained will point to Gates and say “See, that’s how it’s done”. I say “Meh! You’ve already lost your argument because by saying there’s a right way and a wrong way to be altruistic, you 1) accept the premise of altruism and 2) I thought you didn’t like telling people how to live thir lives.”

    nk (dbc370)

  74. I’m a 25. Yet, after reading the comments and seeing the differing opinions as to constrained and unconstrained, I’m surprised to find myself saying I agree with Sammy at 11. Perhaps, a firmer definition is needed?

    With that: But I think it’s rational and even desirable — from a public relations standpoint — to take advantage of every opportunity to oppose extreme unconstrained policies (as Cruz has done) in order to demonstrate to the American people a commitment to opposing those policies. Not just to demonstrate the commitment of opposition to the policy, but to expose the policy for its unconstrained self, which many voters won’t get or understand without it being so spelled out for them. Cruz’s actions put a necessary finer point on the issue(s) and making them undeniable in their potential for disaster.

    Dana (8e74ce)

  75. Does anyone know any crazy leftists willing to take this quiz? I want to see if I worded the answers well enough that they would choose the unconstrained options.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  76. I’m unsure of the differences, too. I am reminded of the old tale where someone suggests an intra-service plan, and the Army and Air Force ask “Where in the manual does it say we can do that?”, to which the Navy and Marine Corps reply “Where in the manual does it say we can’t ?

    These Eight words the Rede fulfill:
    “An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will”

    There are two hard parts to that:

    (1) Harming none is really hard; unintended and unknown consequences are included in “none”.

    (2) Doing what you will can be hard, too; all manner of ignorance and natural law get in the way.

    It seems that the constrained vision has fallen into the trap the Army and Air Force are in; change and new ideas are not allowed, tradition is to be followed at all costs; while the unconstrained vision is Navy and Marine, tradition can be tossed to win the battle, winning is the only thing that counts.

    Both the new and the traditions are needed at times, both need to be discarded at times, sometimes one should be in the lead, sometimes the other. Balance is the way to find the True Path.

    htom (9b625a)

  77. I suppose I could get my wife to take the quiz. Another day though!

    DejectedHead (5443cc)

  78. I responded to incentives and bought a used copy of his book. I’m too tired to read all the post and comments. I’m so ashamed.

    Mike K (90dfdc)

  79. Note on Venice.
    All that voting, and almost all offices, were confined to a relatively small group of elite families…about 1200 families IIRC. And a major reason Venice survived was that it was an island, difficult for a normal army to attack.
    If you never read Lord Norwich’s History of Venice, I suggest remedying that lack at some point.

    kishnevi (294553)

  80. Patterico, thank you for the implication that i’m not a crazy leftist 😛

    aphrael (ca6a52)

  81. I responded to incentives and bought a used copy of his book. I’m too tired to read all the post and comments. I’m so ashamed.

    Heh. I love it!

    I too would probably rather read a Thomas Sowell book than slog through one of my meandering stream of consciousness posts.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  82. you want to throw yourself in front of the sabertooth to save your brother not in front of the spear to save the sabertooth — but overall, even if it does lessen the individual’s chance of well-being or even survival, it increases society’s.

    nk (dbc370) — 12/16/2014 @ 4:00 pm

    Now that is the way to phrase your quiz questions!

    A) I would jump in front of a spear to save a sabretooth from a hunter.

    B) I would jump in front of a sabretooth to save a hunter.

    felipe (b5e0f4)


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