Logical consistency might improve political discourse

Why was Denmark a prison for Hamlet, while others didn’t see it that way? As the prince explains in Act II of Shakespeare’s play, this perception was the product of his own thinking.

Why, then, ’tis none to you [Rosencrantz], for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.

Similarly, political positions are often taken on an “I think it so it must be true” basis. Liberals may be particularly prone to do this, or so it seems, but conservatives aren’t entirely blameless. It’s far easier than hearing the other side out and then trying to offer demonstrably better arguments.

Several examples follow of the all-too-human tendency to shortcut rational debate; you readers can probably think of others.

A. Dynamic scoring – Liberals are quick to claim that government spending will stimulate the economy while downplaying the likelihood of offsetting reductions in private sector spending. Does government spending offset economic growth, Thomas Stratman & Gabriel Okolski, mercatus.org, 6/10/10.

In its 2009 assessment of the job effects of the stimulus plan, the incoming Obama administration used a multiplier estimate of approximately 1.5 for government spending for most quarters. This would mean that for every dollar of government stimulus spending, GDP would increase by one and a half dollars. In practice, however, unproductive government spending is likely to have a smaller multiplier effect. In a September 2009 National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) paper, Harvard economists Robert Barro and Charles Redlick estimated that the multiplier from government defense spending reaches 1.0 at high levels of unemployment but is less than 1.0 at lower unemployment rates. *** Another recent study [by NBER economist Valerie Ramsey] corroborates this finding.

On the other hand, liberals prefer to assess the revenue effect of tax increases or cuts on a static basis, e.g., if a 10% tax rate is bringing in $50 billion per year than a 20% tax rate should yield $100 billion.

Conservatives deem it logical to assume that tax increases will depress economic growth (thereby reducing anticipated revenue gain), while tax cuts will operate in the reverse fashion. With Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, the Congressional Budget Office switched to a dynamic scoring approach in 2015; the change was made over Democratic objections. House institutes “dynamic scoring” rule for budget analyses, CBS/AP,

Democrats say the shift to dynamic scorekeeping will drive up the deficit. "The bottom line is that this is a way to try to fast-track tax cuts for millionaires and make it look like there are not large costs," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee.

So far this is a rehash of old news, but here’s a twist that hadn’t occurred to us until it was pointed out by libertarian Richard Rahn. Liberals do appreciate the effects of tax levels on economic behavior, for they cite them when it suits their purposes.

Thus, liberals maintain that higher tobacco taxes will promote public health by reducing smoking. Makes sense, tax something if you want less of it, so long as bootlegging doesn’t soar.

Liberals also tout the economic benefits of tax reductions in “special economic zones,” which they often helped to put in place, even while ignoring the negative effects of high overall tax and spending levels. Thinking clearly about tax reform, Richard Rahn, Washington Times,

New York State has been running TV ads, claiming that it is a good place to do business because it offers special tax breaks for new businesses moving into the state. On one hand, these same people who gave New York some of the highest taxes in the country, in part, on the argument that it would not hurt job creation and growth, are also telling us that special tax breaks will create jobs and growth — talk about brain disconnect. The political leaders in Texas, Florida and a number of other states have better-connected brains because they figured out that not having a state income tax would attract more businesses as well as more and better jobs, and their states would grow faster than the high-tax states.

In sum, there seems to be a sound basis for dynamic scoring. Why don’t liberals concede the point, albeit resisting efforts to carry it too far? Here’s an example of what we would consider a balanced approach: A tax cut sounds appealing, but could we afford it?

B. Minimum wage – Setting and periodically raising a minimum wage has obvious advantages from a liberal standpoint. Not only does this represent a way to demonstrate one’s support for the economically disadvantaged in our society, but the cost doesn’t show up in the government budget so there is no need to pay for it by raising taxes.

But what about the “no free lunch” principle, which might suggest that someone must bear the cost of paying higher wage rates than would otherwise apply? Thus, one of the possible effects is to reduce the number of entry level jobs that are available, to the detriment of the low-income workers who are supposedly being helped. Pocketbook issues in an election year, section B,

A liberal might dismiss such a view as passé. Everyone deserves a decent standard of living, and the government should ensure a living wage for low-income workers so they won’t opt out of the workforce and go on welfare. Consider too what workers will do with the extra money, namely boost the economy by spending it. Welcome to the new normal in our 21st century economy.

Frustrated because Republicans were blocking a minimum wage increase at the federal level (currently $7.25 per hour), many states and communities began moving to raise minimum wages within their respective boundaries. A $15 per hour minimum wage has been widely heralded as the goal, albeit one to be achieved in stages.

In Seattle, for example, the minimum wage was hiked from $9.47 to $11 per hour in 2015 and to $13 per hour for larger employers in 2016. Further increases to $15 per hour were planned. Wonderful, except that low-income workers don’t seem to be benefitting as expected. Seattle’s minimum wage increase goes horribly wrong, Becket Adams, Washington Examiner,

Low-wage workers in Seattle have seen their earnings decline by an estimated $125 per month, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper titled, "Minimum Wage Increases, Wages, and Low-Wage Employment: Evidence from Seattle." That's an earnings decline of $1,500 per year. Several employers have reduced their payrolls, the study reported, adding that others have cut employee hours or the size of their staff.

According to the study, the first increase (to $11 per hour) didn’t cause much disruption but problems surfaced after the second increase.

Though the first phase of the ordinance appears to have had only a moderate effect on low-wage earnings, the second phase of the law seems to have gone too far, according to University of Washington economists Ekaterina Jardim [et al.]. "[W]e conclude that the second wage increase to $13 reduced hours worked in low-wage jobs by around 9 percent, while hourly wages in such jobs increased by around 3 percent," [the economists] wrote.

This could be taken to suggest that minimum wage laws don’t work as intended, and might as well be abolished. The minimum wage – science strikes back, Paul Jacobs, townhall.com,

Freedom for business owners and wage laborers works, so to speak. Better, certainly, than the self-proclaimed do-good interventions of politicians and experts.

Far from changing their minds based on the NBER study, however, many minimum wage advocates seem to be circling the wagons. Liberals try to refute Seattle minimum wage, Sean Higgins, Washington Examiner,

•Fight for $15, an activist group funded and run  by the Service Employees International Union, argued in a web posting that the study was "not credible" because it was "funded by a hedge fund manager's foundation who made a fortune at Enron." The group did not explain any relevance to the university's findings.

•The liberal Center for American Progress posted an article called "Five flaws in a new analysis of Seattle's minimum wage," while the liberal Economic Policy Institute published an even lengthier critique. Liberal economists such as Jared Bernstein weighed in as well.

•David Cooper, a fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, said the study was too far out of line with what other minimum wage studies had found. He argued that it didn't matter that no other studies had looked at rates as high as $13 because Seattle's increase wasn't that large relative to its prior level. 

Seattle’s mayor wasn’t buying the study’s findings either. $15 minimum wage raises incomes, Ed Murray, usatoday.com,

•Seattle’s economy is thriving and our employers are competing for workers. Hotels, retailers and restaurants are scrambling to find employees. Jobs commonly thought of as “low-wage,” such as dishwashing or food delivery, start at $15 or $20 per hour.

•Unemployment is at a historic low of 2.6%. Fortune 500 companies are relocating to Seattle. Tens of thousands of people are moving here. And incomes are rising.

Other observers inferred from the Seattle experience that minimum wage laws can backfire if pushed too far, too fast, but they didn’t take the next step and suggest that such laws don’t work. In “fight for $15,” Seattle loses, usatoday.com,

San Francisco, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Washington, San Marcos, Texas, and Missoula, Mont., are among the cities where a $15 minimum is set to go into effect in coming years. California has a statewide law being phased in. And New York will go to $15 an hour in and around New York City with a $12.50 wage upstate. Both states allow a suspension in the increases if they are found to cause economic harm.  There is just one problem to all of this. Minimum wage increases don't translate into big income increases for low-skill workers when taken to extremes.

In sum, the debate over the efficacy of minimum wage laws will continue indefinitely because conservatives think they don’t work while liberals want to believe that they do.

C. Voter fraud – After the presidential election in 2016, president elect Trump denied that he had – as indicated by the official election data – lost to Hillary Clinton by over 2 million in the national popular vote (NPV). More than 800,000 citizens may have voted in 2016 election, expert says, Fred Lucas, dailysignal.com, 11/28/16.

Donald J. Trump 
In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally
3:30 PM - 27 Nov 2016

Some observers dismissed this claim out of hand, but others agreed that there had been an appreciable number of illegal votes even though no one knew what the number was.

One might have expected the president to drop the point after being sworn in, but he saw fit to bring it up again. Clinton’s estimated NPV margin had risen to 2.8 million, by then, and Trump had adjusted his estimate of illegal votes accordingly. Trump tells top lawmakers 3-5 million illegals voted in election, Anna Giaritelli, Washington Examiner,

Although critics slammed Trump’s claim as unsubstantiated, it appeared that a substantial number of noncitizens had been registered to vote and could potentially have done so. Nearly 2 million non-citizen Hispanics illegally registered to vote, Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times,

The president announced that he would appoint a commission to investigate the situation, and he did so in May. Trump establishes panel to prove voter fraud, Fred Lucas, dailysignal.com,

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity was headed by Vice President Mike Pence, with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to serve as number two. It was charged with identifying the incidence of voter fraud, and also proposing measures to combat it.

Critics claimed that no such review was needed, and said or implied that the president was still refusing to admit that he had been bested in the NPV (even though this had no bearing on the outcome of the election). Other observers maintained, however, that the potential for illegal voting was serious and needed to be addressed before it got out of hand.

Thus, according to Logan Churchwell, speaking on behalf of the Public Interest Legal Foundation: “This order is a step in the right direction in response to widespread concern about failures in our election systems that can lead to fraud and other irregularities. The issues of faulty voter registration procedures and record maintenance are ripe for review. Perennial questions surrounding the actual scope of ineligible voters and their rates of participation can only be answered when federal offices share information.”

In late June, the PACEI sent a letter signed by Chris Kobach to all 50 states. The letter requested detailed information concerning voters on the rolls (full names, addresses, elections voted in since 2006, last four digits of social security numbers, felony convictions, military service, and more). The response from state officials was quick, and most of them said they did not plan to provide the information about voters that had been requested.

Some of the responses were downright insulting. Dem state officials refusing to cooperate with Trump voter fraud probe, Judson Berger, foxnews.com,

•VA Governor Terry McAuliffe: “At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump’s alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression.”

•CA Secretary of State Alex Padilla: He would “not provide sensitive voter information to a commission that has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally.” Also, “California's participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the Vice President, and Mr. Kobach.” 

•KY Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes: – “Kentucky will not aid a commission that is at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an attempt to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country.”

Our local newspaper published an editorial likening the professed concern about voter fraud to believing the Earth is flat, lauding the states for their principled refusal to cooperate, and impugning the president’s motives. VOTER FRAUD PROBE DOESN’T MATTER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP, News Journal,

With no proof or basis, “the President of the United States is calling the very core of our 241-year-old democracy a sham. He has called into question the legitimacy of his own election as well [as] countless others across the country. To what end?”

We won’t attempt to defend the president’s claim to have won the NPV, he had no way of knowing this and it had no bearing on the election outcome anyway, but his assertions about widespread illegal voting were hardly ridiculous and the problem will keep growing unless it is addressed. Growing pile of data shows that voter fraud is a real and vast problem, Jason Snead, dailysignal.com, 

Furthermore, the responses of state officials seemed rather defensive – particularly as the states have sold essentially the same data to political campaigns and consultants without asking a lot of questions about how it would be used or secured. Rebel states sell info they hide from Trump voter commission, Byron York, Washington Examiner,

In sum, the president’s critics seem to want to have things both ways: blasting the president for making unsubstantiated claims while opposing a plan to investigate the facts. Truly, as Hamlet said, “thinking makes it so.”
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