Friday, October 29, 2010

Pre-Election Mortem

Watching this election cycle has been like watching a movie that's really bad but you can't manage to walk out of the theatre. The Tea Party is the stupid friend who is funny (think Zach Galifianakis), the Republicans are the guys who seem alright but keep getting everyone else into the dumb situations (Mike Myers in Wayne's World), and the Democrats are supposed to be one of the main characters but you really have no idea what they're doing there (Gene Hackman in Heartbreakers).

The Tea Party has managed to nominate people with no political experience, or for that matter any experience, and single handedly made what should have been strong races for Republicans and turned them into toss ups. Harry Reid was behind more then ten points in generic ballots (at which point a politicians tombstone is usually being built), but has been able to make Nevada a close race. But he can only thank his opponent Sharron Angle who made demoralizing comments toward Latinos. Alaska shouldn't even have been a contest with the conservative Republican Lisa (spell my name) Murkowski, but I guess she wasn't obnoxious enough for the Tea Party. So instead, the nomination goes to Joe Miller whose claim to fame is being a lumberjack. And then there's Christine O' Donnell. Running for Vice President Joseph Biden's former seat, she lied about finishing college, her personal finances, and being a witch.

Since the Tea Party has become the main character the Republicans can't get rid of them. They need them for the movie to go on and to win on Tuesday. Even with this apparent hijacking, the Republicans can't say anything because they need the Tea Party. Unfortunately, most people don't vote in the midterm election, and less in the primary where the people listed above became famous, which give these small groups more influence.

After passing two historic pieces of legislation, the Democrats aren't able to come up with a strong message to tell voters. President Obama should be proud of what he's accomplished in the past two years. But part of being President is also being Communicator In Chief. While the debates for health care and financial reform were taking place, he should have been out there talking to the people and saying what he wanted passed in this legislation. He knows he will be compared to other Presidents like FDR, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. While on paper they've accomplished similar feats, Obama didn't use the bully pulpit like the others did to win the political points he needs right now.

My prediction for Tuesday: Democrats lose 23 seats in the House and the Republicans are one short of taking the Senate. The script for this disaster will be spun in two ways. Republicans will say it is a referendum on President Obama and his agenda. Democrats will say there were seats we knew we were going to lose, while historically, new Presidents always lose seats in the midterm elections. Democrats will look like they're giving excuses, and they are. I know I've said this before, but for a campaign that was so good at delivering a message and being clear as to what they wanted to accomplish, you almost wonder how they won just two years ago.

Not having a strong message explains the big difference between voter enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans. Liberals feel they worked so hard to elect a candidate they believed in and they still got the short end of the stick. But change has always been slow. With these types of movies there is usually a sequel or a spinoff, but it doesn't necessarily means it is as bad. Maybe next time the Democrats can figure out what to do.



Saturday, October 2, 2010

Capability vs. GDP

Goals are important. They give us something to strive for, get us to make the tough decisions that life requires to accomplish them, and in an ever complicated world, can help keep us focused on what is really important. For public policy purposes though, determining how to assess goals can be controversial. How can you count for hundreds of millions of people, and still implement public policies without interfering on what those same people want to accomplish for themselves?

Coincidently, in a time where many people are saying how economists are failing us, I completed my thesis on how new economic methods need to be used to assess a countries development. What economists are currently accounting for are inputs and outputs, how much it costs to produce the product, and how much money can be made by selling it. I don't want to say this is a bad thing. There are legitimate arguments out there on why these numbers are important. For businesses to hire people, they need an estimate how much they are going to make, and how much of a loan they need from a bank.

But while the Great Recession has been over for a year, the poverty rate in the United States has dramatically increased. The organization that punched these numbers is highly respected, and all they did was their job. They saw Gross Domestic Product (GDP) went up three quarters in a row and declared everything was fine. Unfortunately, there are millions of people out there who would tell these economists differently.

GDP only accounts for the health of businesses, not the population that keeps them thriving. Instead of assuming that if businesses are prosperous the people are too, economists need to develop new goals that take into account for what people need in order for them to achieve what they are working towards. My thesis focused heavily on the work of Amartya Sen and his Capabilities Theory. This theory focuses on human development, bringing it back to the basics of education, health care, housing, freedom, democracy, and other factors, in order to ensure people are given a chance to accomplish the goals they set for themselves.

In his recent struggles to get the democratic base out to the polls, President Obama stated that during the Bush administration personal family incomes had fallen. But still, most economists thought the economy was good because GDP was going up. The fact is recessions happen, whether in a time of strong regulations or weak ones. You just have to hope they're not as bad as the one we are in now and they don't turn into a depression. What is great about the Capabilities Theory is that when recessions do happen, policies are already in place to make sure people are protected. By having economists measure basic goals that all people need, individuals will still have the opportunity to decide what they want to accomplish for themselves because they were given the capability to do so.

Of course, while democracy is a important for the Capabilities Theory, there are numerous examples that can be used to show how politics can be really stupid. Gail Collins had a good piece today on how some of the major races in the coming election have been outright dirty, where the candidates have resorted to political mudslinging. While the politicians and their advisors may see attack ads necessary to get their base out, it turns just as many people off, and doesn't get any more people to vote for the person who put out the commercial. Even the numbers that economists come out with are at times manipulated to further a public officials agenda. But if new assessments of goals based on the Capabilities Theory were implemented, it would be harder to spin how many people are receiving a strong education, living in a safe neighborhood, and have what they need to support their families.

Elected politicians don't get reelected on what they say about their opponent, it's on their own record. By focusing on the people, instead of the corporations, elected officials will know what areas to focus on and try to do something about it. Then, it would be a lot harder for their opponent to come up with legitimate attacks.

This post may seem like a utopia to some people, but I am well aware there will always be socio-economic differences. But when I first learned about the Capabilities Theory, it was one of those things that just made sense, and hopefully after going through this tough time, more people will think it makes sense as well.