Post-Mortem, Episode II

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

— Benjamin Franklin, upon leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1787

I do not want to say much about the election today, but I do want to share a few thoughts.

I will begin by referring the reader to my post-mortem of the 2008 election. When I wrote that post, much was still unknown: how Barack Obama and his Democratic colleagues in Congress would govern; whether they would unite us or divide us; whether the campaign-trail talk of bipartisanship was at all legitimate or just so much smoke; and so on. Now, four years later, we know the answers. Obviously, half of the people who voted in the last few weeks liked the answers they came up with.  Others — nearly as many, in fact — did not like the conclusions that they reached, and so we are even more bitterly divided than we were four years ago.

As those who know me well — or read this blog — already know, I think last night was a catastrophe. But it was a catastrophe in the sense that a heart attack is a catastrophe for a person who has smoked heavily and drunk too often and too deeply for the first seventy years of his life: terrible, frightening, but hardly unexpected to anyone paying attention. The election was only a symptom of the nation’s condition, not an unforeseeable landslide or a paradigm shift.  This is simply true, whether or not you were happy with the outcome. People went to the polls, and they voted for what they believed in; they did not suddenly reach some new and startling conclusions in the privacy of a voting booth. The results are a symptom: either that we are recovering from many of our maladies, or that we have taken a turn for the worse. Either way, our course of treatment is largely set for at least two more years and arguably far longer.

The good news today is that, as I observed after the 2008 election, we still are a nation, and we have again chosen new leaders with essentially no bloodshed or rioting and with minimal (but not zero) fraud and voter intimidation. The framework set out in the Constitution and its handful of amendments has survived, at least in this sense, for another four years.

As for the bad news, there is plenty of it.  We are a deeply divided nation in countless ways, a reality that only got worse, not better, in the last four years. We are mired in debt, bitter factionalism, and debates that involve more ad hominem attacks than reasoned arguments. There are very few topics that we can talk about without someone hurling (meaningless) epithets such as “one-percenter,” “____-phobic,” “anti-woman,” “anti-child,” and so on. Measured without accounting gimmicks, our deficits and our debt are soaring and are already well beyond levels that can be bridged even with punitive levels of taxation. Indeed, our country’s credit, once seen as the safest in the world, has been downgraded and is on multiple watch lists for further downgrades. Our military is weakening and faced with further, eminent, and debilitating cuts unless action is taken quickly. Our foes are emboldened, while some of our most faithful allies no longer even question whether we can be depended upon; we have proven all too often that, at least for now, we cannot. I pray that our leaders — all of them — can work together to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and the people governed by it.

Whether we can overcome the challenges ahead, only time will tell. A look at the history of nations with such deep debts and deep divisions does not bode well. If we are to overcome the tests ahead, it will be a remarkable feat, and it will take all of our effort. As a start, please pray for this nation and her people. They do sorely need our prayers.

Reading List

A number of people have asked me lately what I’m reading on economics and the financial markets right now.  Truth is, I’m always reading such things, and no short list can even come close to covering the variety of material I try to read, from the scholarly and serious (e.g., Posner, Becker, Mankiw, etc.) to the popular and light.  That said, I thought my other readers might appreciate a list of some of what I’ve been looking at on the internet in the last few weeks, at least.  Without commentary, opinion, analysis, or even a particular ordering (in fact, the first list was intentionally randomized), here it is.  I express no public opinion on the accuracy, validity, merit, or usefulness of anything below; these are just links I have found interesting – in some cases because I think the contents to which I’m linking are totally wrong or even bordering on insane… but I think I’ll decline to say which ones.  Read the material for yourself, if you’re interested – it’s more likely to be useful, that way, anyway.

Sites or people with lots of information in general, some good, some bad, some possibly crazy:

Some interesting specific links:

Post-Mortem

So, America has elected its next President, its next Vice President, 35 Senators, 435 members of the House of Representatives, and thousands of state and local officers. We did it, again, without violence or bloodshed, with a minimum of intimidation, with a minimum of fraud, and, in general, with great dignity. There can be no doubt that the People have spoken. There can be no doubt that skin color no longer determines who may or may not participate in in our common public life, or at what level. We elected a man for what he believes and what he says, not for what he looks like, and that is, indeed, a milestone. Congratulations to America for those accomplishments.

Now, it will be no surprise to anyone who reads my musings regularly (or has read the site description at the top of each page) that I wish the outcome had been a different one ideologically. I did not and do not care about the race or gender of any candidate for any office, but I care very much what he or she says and thinks. If the latter are our primary concerns, this election was a clear defeat for conservatives. As a conservative, I think that constitutes a loss for the nation. Of course, I don’t think the Republican Party ever had much chance of holding ground in this election. For that matter, classical conservatives (as opposed to neocons) had even less. We were hoping for a better result, not an excellent one. Alas, it was not to be.

CNN tells me the U.S. chooses “change.” It’s not clear to me, yet – or, indeed, probably to anyone – just what change America collectively thinks it will get, much less what it will actually get. That said, change is coming. Indeed, in troubled times of war, economic turmoil – the worst of which I sincerely doubt is over – political division, and a deep moral divide on countless issues, change is inevitable. There was never any question that the United States of America will be different in 2012 from what it is in 2008. The world changes fast enough on its own to guarantee that. The question is, given that we can collectively control some of that change, what do we do with that power, which we have now entrusted in President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama? We will start hearing and seeing the answer today, I suspect.

I have one final thought I want to share in this election wrap-up. One of the common responses to the election and re-election of President George W. Bush was to say, “Well, he’s not my President.” Indeed, already, some are responding that way to Obama; others are embracing him as “my” President (Senator McCain took the latter approach). Here is my thought on this topic: George Bush is not my President, nor will Senator Obama be. Nor was any of Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, or Jimmy Carter. I don’t have a President, and never will.

We, the People of the United States of America, we have a President, and we have elected a new one. This Nation must stand or fall as one. The trend of claiming and disowning particular officeholders based on their political affiliations is, I think, an extremely dangerous one. Our nation is defined in large part by a simple phrase: e pluribus unum, “out of many, one.” We had better take hold of that concept, before we produce many from the one People and one Nation we have inherited. And we had better all own this new President and claim him not as “mine” or “theirs,” but as “ours.” We need to hold him – and all who claimed victory last night – accountable to the People for what our government does in the next four years.

Members of the military have a time-honored saying: “We salute the rank, not the man.” Likewise, we – all of us – can and should honor the President and the presidency of this nation, regardless of upon whom that burden rests.

We have a President. We have a Nation. We are a People. Let us celebrate that, and let us see if we can unite in respecting those institutions and working in and through them for another four years, so that we still have them at that time.

Where It All Gets… Interesting…

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking – far too much, actually – about this election. I am not going to blog here about the relative merits of each candidate – anyone undecided between these two extremely different candidates at this point hasn’t been paying attention. In fact, this will probably be my last election-related blog prior to the first results coming in. There are a few things bothering me, however, that I have to get off my chest:

1. Smoke and mirrors
2. Media spin
3. One party rule by super-majority: threat to checks and balances, or just another day in D.C.?
4. Who really pays

Continue reading “Where It All Gets… Interesting…”

Greg Mankiw’s Work Incentives

Greg Mankiw’s new post on his personal work incentives is required reading for anyone who wants to discuss taxes in this election cycle.

The idea is simple: our tax system uses marginal rates, meaning one rate applies to the first dollar earned and different rates kick in at different thresholds. (That is, unless you’re so economically productive or generous as to get stuck in the Alternative Minimum Tax system and get taxed at high flat rates.) The higher rate is called a marginal rate. This is the rate which applies to the last dollar a worker earns in a year. This rate is the rate which determines how much it’s worth to you to make the effort to earn that last dollar. If you’re acting rationally, it’s the rate which determines whether you take a second job, have a one- or two-income family, or start that business on the side you’ve been talking about.

Mankiw takes it one step further and asks how much he could leave for his kids out of that last dollar under each presidential candidate’s plan. You could do the same thing for any long period of time, of course, like saving for retirement or for your kid’s college education.

Do yourself a favor and read the post.

Skipping Down the Garden Path

I offer a final thought for the evening. Last night, a dear friend and I were discussing the state of the world and the nation, particularly with reference to some of the more extreme economic proposals made by politicians and pundits of varying degrees of skill. My friend is one of the most intelligent, well-educated, level-headed, and reflective people I have ever known. He noted that the proposals in question reflected a radical embrace of a radical degree of government control of private affairs. He said, “I fear for America. The people really won’t stand for democracy much longer.”

Coming from this source, that sent chills down my spine. I hope he’s wrong. But I think he might be right.

[Author’s note: In the spirit of my four other posts today, I choose not to explicate this post any further. As one of my favorite math professors used to say, “The proof of whether I’m right or wrong – and I’m right – is left as an exercise to the reader.”]

What Contest?

Given that Senator Biden has already said that Senator Obama is not ready to lead and that Senator McCain is, I found the following hilarious:

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, must have known it was coming, but he still sought divine intercession before tackling the question.

When a member of the audience here at a Gold Coast retirement compound asked him about Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, Senator John McCain’s designated running mate, Mr. Biden crossed himself before speaking. That drew a laugh from the overwhelmingly Jewish crowd of several hundred here at Century Village.

“The press has been asking me that question and I’ve not answered it for two reasons,” he said. “First of all, I don’t know the governor. There’s no reason not to respect her and I believe she’s qualified to be the vice president.

Draw your own conclusions.

Source: Biden: “Children Are Off Limits” – The Caucus Blog – NYTimes.com.

Ad of the Week

Says it all, really:

First of all, I think this kind of thing is entirely fair game. Secondly, it’s hilarious. Thirdly, ouch. What better way to make the point that, in fact, a man who has spent more time running for President than not since his election to the Senate is not qualified to win?

Hat tip: Michelle Malkin » It’s Smarmy and Smirky ’08!.

Obama’s Strategy: Interrupted Sleep Patterns?

So much for the build-up to The Announcement of The Pick. So…that Text Message came at 2:22am CDT | Jeff Emanuel online. Favorite line:

The promised Text Message from Barack, which was purported to be a way of having supporters be “the first to know” who he was “introducing to the world” as the campaign’s VP pick (funny, I’d heard of Joe Biden before this — several times, in fact, like when he said Obama was a dangerous candidate for POTUS because he’d need “on the job training,” when he observed that 7/11s always seem to be run by Indians, and when he called his new boss a “clean, articulate” black man), arrived at 2:22am CDT.