Patterico's Pontifications


Obama on ObamaCare: “Every prediction they made about it turned out to be wrong.”

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:08 pm

Wait: so if we like our doctor we can keep him?

Obama: Hey, How About Mandatory Voting?

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:41 pm

Now why would he think that having a bunch of low-information voters at the polls would benefit Democrats?

The president whose major policy achievement is mandatory health insurance thinks maybe voting should be mandatory, too.

Asked how to offset the influence of big money in politics, President Barack Obama suggested it’s time to make voting a requirement.

“Other countries have mandatory voting,” Obama said Wednesday in Cleveland, where he spoke about the importance of middle class economics, and was asked about the issue during a town hall.

“It would be transformative if everybody voted — that would counteract money more than anything,” he said, adding it was the first time he had shared the idea publicly.

The clout of millionaires and billionaires in campaign funding has been enormous, and many claim the uber wealthy have undue leverage in politics.

We all know what “many” means when used by Big Media types: “Me and the other guys at the water cooler.” (I explained this in March 2004.)

“The people who tend not to vote are young, they’re lower income, they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups,” Obama said. “There’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls.”

At least 26 countries have compulsory voting, according to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Failure to vote is punishable by a fine in countries such as Australia and Belgium; if you fail to pay your fine in Belgium, you could go to prison.

Placing to one side the propaganda we constantly hear about how important it is for all citizens to vote, low voter turnout is a wonderful thing. There is no need for me to explain this anew, when I already explained it over ten years ago, on March 15, 2004 (apparently March 2004 was a good month for common-sense posts at this blog):

If you know me, you know I am a big fan of low voter turnout. High voter turnout means people are voting who really have no business doing so. When voter turnout is low, the people who do vote tend to be better educated and informed.

But if you know me, you also know that I am not one to argue a point halfway, when I can pound you repeatedly over the head with other arguments.

So: you know how the article above mentioned that wonderful mandatory voting they have in Australia? Well, in a comment to a post Dana recently wrote about the brilliant (read: moronic) idea of Los Angeles city officials to pay voters to vote, our friend Milhouse made the following observation:

Australia has compulsory registration and voting, and therefore turnout is always around 90%. It has not led to more informed voting. In fact it’s produced what is known as the “donkey vote”; about 4% of voters will vote straight down the ballot, numbering all the boxes in strict order from top to bottom. Candidates used to be listed alphabetically, and this gave a clear advantage to those with names higher up in the alphabet. When the Australian Democrats started, in 1977, they took advantage of this by deliberately nominating people with names near the top of the alphabet; as a result, in 1984 the law was changed to have the order of candidates determined by lottery. In Tasmania they go one better and print batches of ballots with different orders. But my point is that if voting were not compulsory these “donkeys” would just stay home and the problem wouldn’t exist. Artificially high turnout doesn’t make things any better. Stupid voters are stupid, and more of them means more stupid results.

He’s right, you know.

Why, just this morning, I waxed on about the lack of incentives that voters have to do their research — and that’s the people who actually want to go to the polls. Here is a brief excerpt from my post, which I encourage you to review if you missed it:

For a voter . . . your feedback [from your decision to vote for a particular candidate] is weak and sometimes nonexistent. If your preferred candidate (the one for whom your voted) loses, you will never feel the consequences of your choice, good or bad. If your preferred candidate wins, he has no obligation to live up to his promises. And in any event, even if he does, some of the promises he carries out may offend you, unless you happened to agree with him on every single issue.

This is not a situation that incentivizes being an informed voter.

Indeed. The guy who wrote that really knew what he was talking about!

In fact, you could write a whole book about the myth of the rational voter. Oddly enough, two days ago, the following book arrived at the Patterico household: The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies.

Good title.

Democracy, frankly, is bad enough to begin with. (It’s just tough to find a better system.) Giving the vote to every Tom, Dick, and Harry is worse. But making these idiots vote? Absolutely not.

It’s an idea only a Democrat could love.

Marco Rubio Rebukes President Obama

Filed under: General — Dana @ 6:10 pm

[guest post by Dana]

Better late than never. According to the White House, President Obama called Benjamin Netanyahu today to graciously congratulate him and ended up embarrassing himself:


The call was apparently made right before Marco Rubio delivered a forceful rebuke to President Obama for his snubbing of Netanyahu and alienating our ally.

This Rubio is the best Rubio I’ve seen. Unwavering, direct and bluntly driving the point home.

“As far as I know … after this election, the president has yet to call the prime minister,” Rubio said. “That is unlike … the fact that in March 2012, he was among the first to call and congratulate [Vladimir] Putin in Moscow. Or that in June of 2012, he was among the first to call [Mohamed] Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood when they won the Egyptian presidency.”

“Or that in November of 2012, they called to congratulate the top Chinese communists on their new position, which by the way is not elected in the way you and I would consider there to be an election,” he added.

Rubio then recounted the several years of Obama’s attempts to slight Israel, which started from the day Obama took office until today. He also noted that while the Obama administration was quick to criticize the strident tone Netanyahu took while running this time, officials have said previously that the didn’t want to comment on Iran’s elections.

“So they will comment on the elections of an ally, calling the rhetoric of the election divisive, but when an enemy, which is what Iran is, has a fraudulent election and kills people that protest against it, we can’t comment,” Rubio said. “We can’t comment because that would be infringing on their sovereignty.”

Rubio also points out the danger of making irresponsible statements about Israel:

“Allies have differences, but when allies like Israel, when you have a difference with them and it is public, in emboldens their enemies to launch more rockets out of southern Lebanon and Gaza,” he said. “To launch more terrorist attacks, to go to international forums and delegitimize Israel’s right to exist.”

“This is outrageous, it is irresponsible, it is dangerous, and it betrays the commitment this nation has made to the right of a Jewish state to exist in peace,” he concluded. “If America doesn’t stand with Israel, who would we stand with?”

The speech is well worth watching in its entirety.

Throughout history and out of necessity, there have been some significantly uneasy and barely tolerable alliances between world leaders. Hopefully, Obama can overcome his petulance in the face of all that is Netanyahu: from his acceptance of Boehner’s invitation, to his bold, unwavering speech before Congress, and to his election victory. These are perilous times that demand the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu be one of true allies – in every sense of the word.


My Hopefully Final Response to Dan Gillmor on Net Neutrality: Why I Trust the Market Over Government, Every Time

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:44 am

Dan Gillmor and I have been having a debate about Net Neutrality, and there is one more point I would like to make. First, the links to what we’ve said so far:

I think we have recognized many points of agreement, and Dan summarizes those in his latest:

We agree there is currently no genuinely free market in providing Internet access. We agree that it would be great if a free market did exist, and support various measures that would help get us there. And we agree that government, in the form of the Federal Communications Commission, has behaved badly in the past. There’s more, but those are the highlights.

All correct. Gillmor also correctly identifies our main remaining point of disagreement: “We continue to disagree, firmly, on whether government can play a positive role in helping to ensure free speech on the Internet.”

I think it’s fair to summarize Gillmor’s argument as follows: the real problem is “Big Anything.” Gillmor sees both Big Government and Big Business as part of the same blob of Big Whatever. He believes citizens can band together to fight Big Whatever, and it doesn’t matter too much whether that pushback takes the form of consumers spending money elsewhere (in the case of Big Business) or voters voting for other politicians (in the case of Big Government). It’s all pushback. Indeed, he thinks that in some ways Big Government can be less dangerous than businesses, because (he says) the First Amendment protects us from government interference with content, while no similar principle constrains business.

Gillmor has indeed hit upon the crux of our disagreement. Now we’re getting somewhere. I think this is worth responding to in some detail, because I believe that, for the Net Neutrality crowd, the distrust of corporations is at least as great as the distrust of government. I want to discuss why I think this is completely wrongheaded, and symptomatic of a dangerous attitude that invites government regulation when market competition would be better.

The argument comes down to this: in a free market system, consumers’ ability to fight Big Business by choosing to spend money elsewhere is vastly superior than voters’ ability to fight Big Government by voting for someone else. Let’s look to public choice theory for some of the reasons, which (as you will see) are largely interrelated.

First, there is the issue of whether the actor is informed. Now, obviously consumers are not always as informed as they could be. However, when you compare an important purchase to an important election, a consumer’s incentive to research his purchasing options is much greater than a voter’s incentive to research politicians or political issues. Consumers mulling over a new computer or car or iPad are much more likely to spend time looking over resources containing detailed reviews and specifications about competing products, as compared to the time the typical voter spends researching a candidate. Part of the reason is that a purchase costs money. A vote costs nothing but the time it takes to cast.

Second, and related, is the issue of whether your action will have an effect. This can be expressed in terms of the existence and immediacy of incentives to make a good choice, and disincentives to make a bad choice. It is related to the first issue, because the lower your incentive to research, the less informed you are likely to be.

When you choose to spend your dollar on Product A vs. Product B, this has an immediate and undeniable effect on your well-being. You personally enjoy the benefits of your selected product, or feel the ill effects of its shortcomings. If your computer runs like a dream, or if your car is a lemon, these experiences provide immediate and concrete feedback to your dollar-spending decision. True, your one dollar or purchase will not make or break a company, but the incentive to reward good products and punish bad ones is clearly strong, and those strong incentives add up collectively.

For a voter, by contrast, your feedback is weak and sometimes nonexistent. If your preferred candidate (the one for whom your voted) loses, you will never feel the consequences of your choice, good or bad. If your preferred candidate wins, he has no obligation to live up to his promises. And in any event, even if he does, some of the promises he carries out may offend you, unless you happened to agree with him on every single issue.

This is not a situation that incentivizes being an informed voter.

Let’s compare apples to apples to show how stark the difference in incentives truly is. Imagine the following scenario:

You go to a store to buy a product for your company. Your company does not know you are the one making the purchase, so you will never be held accountable if the purchase turns out to be bad. Your purchase will cost you nothing, personally. Any effect the product’s quality has on your life will be so indirect that you will rarely think about it. The store policy is that you may not get the item you choose. If you do happen to get the item you choose, there is no guarantee it will work.

How much research are you going to do for that purchase, compared to the research you will do on a product you are buying for yourself?

Voters are also aware that, unless the election is tied and their vote breaks the tie — which never, ever, ever happens — their vote is utterly and completely meaningless. So voters rationally conclude it’s pointless to vote — and if they do, they rationally conclude that it is pointless to become informed.

All this leads to a pretty dismal reality. No company can consistently provide bad products and survive for long. But politicians can offer the same bad service, year in and year out, and people will routinely show up and vote for the least bad option. There is no real choice and your act has no effect.

So the free market wins out as regards your ability to effect change and your ability to be informed. But meanwhile, what about the supposed benefits of the First Amendment? Gillmor tells us that companies are not bound by the First Amendment (which is true) while the government is.

Me, I don’t trust the courts to protect my rights to free speech. Call me cynical, but that’s where I am. We live in a country where free speech rights have been violated by government since the very founding of the nation, with regularity and impunity. Yes, the First Amendment has protected us at times. Other times, it has not — just ask Eugene Debs.

I’ll take the market, thanks very much.

P.S. One final note: Gillmor says:

I like a lot of what libertarians say, but their free-market philosophy seems to go something like this: There’s really no such thing as a monopoly. Even if there is, the market will cure it. Even if the monopoly is so entrenched that the market takes decades to respond, that’s not our problem. Even if the market never responds, we’re all dead in the long run.

I believe there is no such thing as a monopoly in the free market, which is not the same thing as saying there is no such thing as a monopoly. Companies granted government privileges can be made monopolies. They cannot be taken out by competition, at least not anywhere near as easily as companies that do not enjoy special privileges from the government. Find me a company that, without government privileges, built and maintained a stranglehold on a market, limiting supply and driving up prices in a lasting fashion . . . and I’ll show you a unicorn.

I’ll have an easier time holding my end of that bargain than you will in holding up yours.

I thank Dan for the discussion.

Report: U.S. May Stop Backing Israel in U.N. After Bibi Offended Ol’ Selfie-Stick

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:10 am

Politico (link from Google Web cache, gives them no traffic):

In the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decisive reelection, the Obama administration is revisiting longtime assumptions about America’s role as a shield for Israel against international pressure.

Angered by Netanyahu’s hard-line platform toward the Palestinians, top Obama officials would not rule out the possibility of a change in American posture at the United Nations, where the U.S. has historically fended off resolutions hostile to Israel.

. . . .

While saying it was “premature” to discuss Washington’s policy response, the official wouldn’t rule out a modified American posture at the United Nations, where the U.S. has long fended off resolutions criticizing Israeli settlement activity and demanding its withdrawal from Palestinian territories.

“We are signaling that if the Israeli government’s position is no longer to pursue a Palestinian state, we’re going to have to broaden the spectrum of options we pursue going forward,” the official said.

This is obviously due to a sober re-examination of U.S. policy in light of recent statements by Netanyahu, and not at all because of any personal pique on the part of Obama that Bibi gave a speech to Congress. Right?

And yet I seem to remember someone in Obama’s administration saying: “He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.”

So: maybe we won’t back Israel when the world tries to condemn it for terrorism for the hundredth time, while pretending that Hamas doesn’t even exist. That’s what you do when you’re a semi-retired selfie-stick narcissist.

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