Deadlock and Partisan Bitterness

Why does American politics seem so deadlocked?  The media mostly focuses on issues where Democrats and Republicans refuse to compromise because they strongly disagree: immigration, guns, health care.  But American politics often seems deadlocked even when both parties agree.  For example, supermajorities of both parties want to protect DREAMers, but they’ve never reached an agreement to do so.  How is this possible?

1. Transactions costs.  Hammering out a deal is hard work, so many mutually beneficial deals don’t happen.

Critique: Economists routinely appeal to these alleged costs, but how high can they possibly be?  Seriously, why should it take more than a single day for the DREAM Act to become a law?  Vote, vote, sign, done.

2. The hold-out problem.  Suppose we agree that X is good, but you want X a lot more than I do.  In this situation, it makes sense for me to demand some “compensation” from you even though we basically agree.

Critique: This might make sense for a year or two.  But if we’ve failed to reach an agreement after many years of negotiation, you’d expect both sides to moderate their demands to cut their losses.  Yes, they could conceivably be investing in their reputations for intransigence to secure favorable terms in the future, but does anyone seriously expect to see the day when one party finally submits to the other?

3. Insincerity.  For example, perhaps Republicans only claim to want to protect DREAMers in order to seem nice and reasonable.  In fact, however, they never genuinely favored the DREAM Act in the first place.

Critique: This is often plausible, but it’s hard to see it as a general explanation.  Politicians have clear incentive to lie about their goals, but why would average citizens bother to lie in anonymous polls?

4. Partisan bitterness.  The two main parties intensely dislike each other.  Like a quarrelsome couple, they could find something to fight about at a fancy restaurant on Valentine’s Day.  As a result, the two parties have trouble cooperating procedurally even when they agree substantively.

Critique: This is my preferred story.  What I wrote about divorce a decade ago cleanly explains political deadlock as well:

Unfortunately, the Coasean argument overlooks a pretty obvious fact: Couples contemplating a divorce often hate, loathe, and despise each other. We’ve all heard of stories of divorcing couples deliberately destroying objects of sentimental value to each other. Indeed, many couples in this situation wallow in petty spite; they can’t stop bad-mouthing each other to anyone who will listen.

With these facts firmly in mind, how confident are you that Coase’s zero transactions costs assumption is remotely true? At risk of sounding Austrian, transactions costs are subjective: Bargaining with your mortal enemy hurts.

If this story seems grim, I should add that bitter politics has one major advantage over bitter divorce.  Namely: Partisan bitterness throws much-needed sand into the gears of the state.  Given public opinion, amicable government is likely to be big government.  As long as political antipathy is too shallow to cause civil war, both libertarians and pragmatists should welcome it.  Will Rogers once mused, “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.”  I’d add, “Be thankful we’re not even getting all the government both parties support.”

P.S. I’m well-aware that deadlock locks existing bad policies in place, too.  But I see little political support for repealing such policies, and broad political support for adding new bad policies.  Tragic, but that’s the world we live in.

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Guns, Cops, and Dissonance (19m) – Episode 002

Episode 002: Join Jared as he discuss the statist dissonance that voluntaryists deal with day-to-day.

Listen to Episode 002 (19m, mp3, 64kbps)

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John Lott: The War on Guns (1h13m)

This episode features a lecture and Q&A by economist and gun rights advocate John Lott from 2016 on his new book about the War on Guns and the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Purchase books by John Lott on Amazon here.

Listen To This Episode (1h13m, mp3, 64kbps)

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Uninformed, Misinformed, Brainwashed Statists

If you don’t watch “the news” you might be uninformed; if you watch it you will be misinformed.

“News” is opinion. There’s no such thing as just presenting the facts; there never was. There’s always going to be a slant to it. It’s almost always a statist slant.

If they don’t honestly portray cops as a gang, politicians as thieving thugs, government as religion, “laws” as slavery, they are not telling the truth. They are opinionizing. Lying. Covering up the truth to protect the bad guys.

Any bland “news” story about the “arrest” of a drug dealer, and the drugs, cash, and guns confiscated from him, is a nest of lies– opinions, if I were to be nice about it. It will assume statism. It will assume the legitimacy of prohibition, “taxation”, government police, “gun control” [sic], “laws”, the “justice system”, and a hundred other things which shouldn’t be assumed.

They are selling their opinion to people who mostly agree with them (even when they feel they are on the other side), or who they are trying to fool into agreeing with them. It largely works.

I think that’s why you see “Right” vs “Left” in almost all “news”/opinions. All “news” comes from one side or the other… yet the sides are really the same. They are statist, anti-liberty bigots to the core. So the “news” gets people to arguing over which of those identical twins is correct, when they are both wrong.

Statists live in a statist bubble, even if they sample statist opinions from the “other side”. It’s still only statism.

Libertarians don’t have the option of living in a bubble. We get exposed to the other sides. All other sides. Constantly. Whether we intend to or not. It’s unavoidable. That’s why we are better informed than the uninformed or the misinformed statists. And it’s why the statists try so hard to ridicule our position. They have to, otherwise they might realize they are losers going in circles, chasing hallucinations.

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“No-Knock Raid” is Just Another Term for “Violent Home Invasion”

On January 28, home invaders murdered 58-year-old Rhogena Nicholas and 59-year-old Dennis Tuttle of Houston, Texas. Nicholas and Tuttle wounded five of the (numerous) armed burglars before being slain.

That’s not how the news accounts put it, of course.  Typical headline (from the Houston Chronicle): “4 HPD officers shot in southeast Houston narcotics operation, a fifth injured.”

A number of claims relating to the fateful “no-knock raid” remain in dispute, not least whether or not Nicholas and Tuttle were, as the search warrant leading to the raid alleged, selling heroin from their home (their neighbors characterized them as quiet people who didn’t have lots of company, and scoffed at the notion that they might be drug dealers).

Setting aside those disputes, let’s give the benefit of doubt to Houston police chief Art Acevedo on two things.

Acevedo says that his officers “announced themselves as Houston police officers while simultaneously breaching the front door.”

And Acevedo admits that immediately upon breaching the front door, one of the officers shot and killed the residents’ dog.

Ask yourself this: If armed men break down your front door and shoot your dog, are you going to notice (if you can even hear) the invaders saying “police, police?” Are you going to just automatically believe the claim even if you do hear and notice it? Or are you going to act to defend yourself?

It was only after the officers’ violent entry and after one officer killed their dog that Tuttle shot and wounded the dog-killer and Nicholas attempted to disarm him. Both  paid with their lives for their forlorn resistance to a gang of armed invaders.

Naturally, Acevedo blames the victims — and the availability of guns with which mere civilians might conceivably defend their homes and their lives from violent intruders.

No, the cops didn’t find any heroin on the premises, although they did claim to have found marijuana and a white powder that Acevedo thought might be cocaine or fentanyl.

No, neither Nicholas nor Tuttle had  criminal pasts which might have justified a John Dillinger style takedown. Tuttle had no criminal record at all. Nicholas had a single (dismissed) bad check charge on hers.

The Houston PD brought guns, battering rams, and overwhelming force to what they didn’t even expect to be a knife fight. It was supposed to just be a quick episode of “law enforcement theater,” a show of force to show the mere mundanes who’s in charge.

That it went terribly wrong isn’t on the victims. It’s on Acevedo and company, and on Gordon G. Marcum II, the judge who signed a warrant specifying that police were “hereby authorized to dispense with the usual requirement that you knock and announce your purpose before entering” the residence.

Acevedo, Marcum, and the officers at the sharp end of the stick will never be charged with armed criminal action and conspiracy to commit same. But they should be. And we need a much higher bar for “no-knock” warrants, if they’re to be allowed at all.

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Sorry, Innocent Bystanders

The world is full of problems, and most people want government to solve these problems.  When government solves problems, however, they usually create some new ones.  If you’re lucky, the victims of the new problems are the very bad guys who created the original problems.  Serves them right!  Yet more often, the victims of the new problems are innocent bystanders.  They’ve done nothing wrong; they’re just caught in the crossfire.

Like who?  Let’s start with babies in Nazi Germany.  The babies didn’t start the war.  They’ve never hurt a fly.  But it’s hard to kill the Nazis without putting the babies’ lives in grave danger.

You don’t have to be a pacifist to realize that this is a tragic situation.  Imagine trying to justify it to the babies: “You’re totally innocent.  I get that.  But Nazism is so horrible that I’m going to put your lives in grave danger anyway.  I’m so sorry.  I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”  This is an intellectually honest position, but oh so bitter.  It’s far sweeter to invoke collective guilt, say “They had it coming,” and kill indiscriminately.

You might reply, “Well, the intellectually honest position is demotivating.”  But that’s not quite true.  Yes, acknowledging innocent bystanders demotivates indiscriminate killing.  But it strongly motivates the search for an approach with lower collateral damage.  Given humans’ ubiquitous in-group bias, this is a feature, not a bug.

Wartime naturally highlights the most gruesome abuse of innocent bystanders.  But many peacetime policies have the same structure.

Take gun control.  Suppose strict gun control would eliminate all mass shootings.  Who could oppose such a policy?  Most obviously, the vast majority of gun owners who never have and never will murder anyone.  Gun control supporters will naturally be tempted to demonize them.  The intellectually honest thing to say, however, is: “99.99% of you gun owners are perfectly innocent.  I get that.  But mass shootings are so horrible than I’m still going to take your guns away.  I’m so sorry.  I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”  Demotivating?  Well, it demotivates the promotion of strict gun control, but motivates the search for ways to reduce violence with lower collateral damage.

Or take refugee policy.  Suppose banning all refugees would eliminate all terrorism.  Who could oppose such a policy?  Most obviously, the vast majority of refugees who are not and never have been terrorists.  Opponents of asylum will naturally be tempted to demonize them (remember “rapefugees”?).  The intellectually honest thing to say, however, is: “99.9999% of you refugees are totally innocent.  I get that.  But terrorism is so horrible that I’m going to refuse asylum anyway.  I’m so sorry.  I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”  Intellectually honest?  Check.  Demotivating?  Well, it demotivates indiscriminate rejection of refugees, but motivates the search for anti-terrorism tactics with lower collateral damage.

War, gun control, and refugees.  I deliberately chose three radically different illustrations.  I suspect that readers will angrily object to at least one of them.  But I really don’t see how.  Denying the existence of innocent bystanders is convenient; if they don’t exist, we don’t have to fret about them.  Denying the existence of innocent bystanders is also pleasurable; what fun it is to unequivocally unleash your full arsenal against the forces of evil.  Yet denying the existence of innocent bystanders is, above all, blind.  Innocent bystanders exist.  They have rights.  You should think long and hard before violating them.  And if you find no alternative, at least have the decency to tell them, “I’m so sorry.”

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