Last night was pretty normal

Pew in June of this year reported 55% of Democrats say the Republicans make them “afraid”. 49% of Republicans say the same thing about the Democrats. Think about that. Half the country is afraid of the other half.

Trump won last night and half the country is afraid. The other half is happy. The same thing was said when George W. Bush won. And when Obama won. And when Lincoln won.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year reading up on Presidents, their administrations, their leadership styles, and the electorate at the time. One thing jumps out at me: we’ve always been crazy. Americans, and people in general, are not very good at assessing risk. I’m not sure yet that Trump’s election is anything too out of the norm.

In fact, a lot was normal last night:

  • Voter turnout was relatively low.
  • White people turned out to vote, because they always do.
  • The country swung back to the opposite-incumbent party. It always does that. “Three terms” is rare.
  • The stock market freaked out. It always does.
  • Half the country freaked out. That always happens.
  • Urban centers voted on a slew of progressive movements favorably.
  • Rural areas voted against liberalism. They always do.
  • Everyone complains about long lines and voter suppression. One news story on TV last night was a man complaining his vote changed to Democrats when he voted straight Republican. I also just saw a man at a restaurant hand his phone to another random man and ask, “Do you know how to use Facebook? I think I’ve just posted the same thing three times.” Those aren’t related, but computers befuddle people. Nothing new.

Here’s what’s not normal (yet):

  • You being insulated by algorithms that makes you think things are how you’d like them to be.
  • We increasingly have a government that’s so large in people’s lives any changes to anything throws legitimate fear, glee, or confusion into markets.

I always tell clients that ask for “samples of previous work” that “past work is no indication of future performance, but here you go.” The same holds true here. Trump has said so many things we don’t know anything about his governance style yet. He could defer to Pence for everything. He could buck his party all the time. We have no idea.

I do think, however, that many voters are pushing for an ideal they’re not going to get: being left alone.

Everyone must stop insulating themselves from the working class. You must stop treating them like a block of “others”. To say things like, “They like this and don’t do that” is only slightly helpful and immensely harmful at worst. You’ve failed to understand deeply.

I’ll give you an example. In the modern era, starting after WWII and expanding rapidly under Nixon, Carter, and Reagan, our government structure has begun to look like this:
fed-state-local1

Where large amounts of income flow to the federal government and then down to states and local governments. This is exactly backwards of how most people would reasonably want it to be. It should look more like this:

fed-state-local

Where our local government receives most of the income for things used in that community. Where the separation of powers and authority still applies. This makes cities truly more competitive against peer-cities. It ensures a greater allocation of resources (fewer “bridges to nowhere”), and makes sure people see the benefits, or lack thereof, of their money in their daily lives.

The fact that our government has become so large, so powerful a force in people’s individual lives, that people fear it or jump in glee when something as simple as a president is elected is the problem.  I wouldn’t be so worried about marriage rights if the government weren’t even in the business of marriage (instead opting for civil unions for all), for instance.

Today I woke up to see people saying they were unsure of what to tell their kids now that Trump is elected. Do you remember what you said when gay marriage was allowed by the Supreme Court? “You’ll tell them people can get married now.” The same response applies here: “You’ll tell them a guy like Donald Trump is President”. Because that’s what happened and like learning about gay marriage, they’ll go back to playing Pokémon.

People in my stream, left and right, are saying they’re scared for their lives. But remember that you, too, can arm yourself. You can protect yourself. Just like you can change your diet or learn something new. You may not want to, but you can. And you can, you know, talk to people. Invite them out for a beer or a cookout or something.

Today for a lot of people the ideal of a limited federal government is more appealing. For me it was always appealing. Because without a “strong” federal government you may never get Alabama and Mississippi to legalize gay marriage or expand health coverage. But it’s a lot easier to move from Alabama than it is the entire country. Despite half a century of federal intervention by progressives, none of them want to live in Alabama. And despite half a century of federal intervention by conservatives, none of them want to live in New York.

Voters are just saying they want to be left alone. I think progressives and conservatives alike can find a lot of reasons to say the same.

You probably are working harder and longer

Pete Ross, talking about Bernie and other countries that spend more domestically:

“That way no one has to live in fear of losing out in the lottery of life. That’s what social democracy is, and those of us who live in them recognize that what we have is pretty damn great.”

This sort of thinking is common outside America, and one that Bernie supporters hang their hat on. They’re not wrong insisting that instead of spending money on foreign matters we should spend it here. But a guy in Australia doesn’t get to claim a high horse for that country’s high domestic spending. The reality is Australia and other nations get to have high domestic spending precisely because the United States is picking up the tab for their defense. Canada, for instance, would be a much different place if they knew we weren’t here. Just as Indianapolis would be a much different place if Carmel would just pay for all our police officers.

This behavior is so pervasive even Barack Obama is pissed, urging NATO allies to increase their funding for defense based on their GDP (which is a really dumb measure: on what planet does it make sense to say “I must spend X% of my income on Y”? That’s like walking into a car dealership and saying, “I must spend $25,000.”)

Anyway, I was recently reading about the research of economists Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, “Measuring Trends in Leisure [PDF]”. They measured the stuff Americans do from day to day between 1965 and 2005.

“Aguiar and Hurst document what they call an increase in “leisure” that primarily affected men with low education. In the first survey, in 1965-66, men with college degrees and men who had not completed high school had nearly the same amount of leisure time per week, with just a two-hour difference. They were only an hour apart in 1985. Then something changed. “Between 1985 and 2005…men who had not completed high school increased their leisure time by eight hours per week, while men who had completed college decreased their leisure time by six hours per week.”

In other words, if you’re sitting around feeling like you’re doing a lot more work and others are doing quite the opposite, you’re probably right. More Americans, particularly low-educated men, are just plain spending more time goofing off. This research indicates college-educated people are working more hours and producing more, while the bottom has gone the other way. On a chart it almost looks like half the country is working twice as hard to make up for the opposite decrease on the other end.

And here in America, where our culture derives from four virtues of honesty, industriousness, family, and religiosity, goofing off pisses people off in the “industriousness” virtue and part of the “honesty” virtue. No one wants to work all day just so some other guy can coast along. That feeling is so pervasive a lot of people can’t get past the fact our own uncle is drowning in medical issues. This is why Trump/Cruz supporters are so mad, even if they’re the ones most likely goofing off the most.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m aware a lot of people don’t goof off and just have a hard time in life. But it doesn’t change the fact most people know more people who are plain lazy than people who have been bankrupted through medical bills or student loans. I say that as someone who lost a mother to a $2 million tumor.

And to be clear: this kind of leisure activity people are doing isn’t even what you could describe as active leisure, like reading a book or exercising. It’s mostly watching TV.

We’ve found ourselves in a cultural deadlock between not wanting to support lazy people and caring about the truly unfortunate. But apparently we spend all our time working to support a big military so every other country can have high domestic spending. This is a tough nut to crack in either direction for Bernie or Trump/Cruz.

And this increase in useless leisure on the low end and the decrease in available time on the high end probably leads us to a lot more problems, like low civic engagement, low community involvement, and less time building worthwhile relationships.

What an Obama and Romney Presidency might look like

On the morning of November 7, a reelected President Obama will do … nothing. For the next 53 days, nothing. And then, on January 1, 2013, we will all awake to a different, substantially more liberal country. The Bush tax cuts will have disappeared, restoring Clinton-era tax rates and flooding government coffers with revenue to fund its current operations for years to come. The military will be facing dire budget cuts that shake the military-industrial complex to its core. It will be a real-world approximation of the old liberal bumper-sticker fantasy in which schools have all the money they require and the Pentagon needs to hold a bake sale.

All this can come to pass because, while Obama has spent the last two years surrendering short-term policy concessions, he has been quietly hoarding a fortune in the equivalent of a political trust fund that comes due on the first of the year. At that point, he will reside in a political world he finds at most mildly uncomfortable and the Republicans consider a hellish dystopia. Then he’ll be ready to make a deal.

Via NY Mag

Pizza costs to rise due to Affordable Care Act

Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter says that Obamacare will result in a $0.11 to $0.14 price increase per pizza, or $0.15 to $0.20 cents per order, Pizza Marketplace, a trade publication, reports.

Under Obamacare, the company, which is the third-largest pizza takeout and delivery chain in the United States, will have to offer health care coverage to more of its 16,500 total employees or pay a penalty to the government.

Interesting question: is it better to have a lot of low-wage jobs that barely pay a livable wage and offer no benefits, or fewer low-wage jobs that barely pay a livable wage, but at least offer health care benefits? 

I’m not 100% convinced one way or another, but I’m leaning towards “fewer jobs, but at least they offer something substantive”. I suspect in the short-term the people that may be laid off would rather take the “low wage, no benefits, just give me something” approach. On the flip side, it remains to be seen if the ACA really puts a dent in the economy for the long-term. Still, I think getting rid of the cruft opens up more room for better stuff later. It’s the transition and short-term work that sucks.

About the only people that can afford to be minimum wage fast food employees are teenagers still living at home with their parents, or at least, people who only use the job as second income, not primary. Plenty of people probably do rely on these jobs as their only source of income, but I’m inclined to think those people are better than that.

Others still may get angry at the fact they have to pay more for a pizza, but I’d lump fast food in with cigarettes and alcohol and say that anything that may deter people from ordering a pizza may not be a bad thing overall. Plus, if .20 cents ruins your evening plans, you’ve probably got bigger problems at hand.

Then again, this is probably indicative of a lot of industries, particularly in the low-wage sector like fast food joints and restaurants. I suspect some places (i.e., McDonald’s) may further reduce the quality or portions of their food to keep profits where they are, and some places (Applebee’s, Olive Garden, etc.) may just raise prices and pass that cost on to the consumer. A massive cost shift in increased goods and services ultimately hurts average individuals with less money in their pocket, but at the same time, if you’re no longer worried about massive million-dollar medical expenses, maybe it’s worth it.

I still see this as a net-win all around for everyone. I think we’re repeating the debate about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, national public schools, etc. all over again. It’s hard to imagine a society without free public education on demand, or for senior citizens to imagine life without Medicare (have you ever heard an older person complain about Medicare?). Say what you will about public education, can you imagine America if we never had it?

My predictions for the ACA are simple:

  • We’re going to see a huge shift in people quitting jobs they stayed at “for the insurance”, to happier, more entrepreneurial jobs
  • Costs for cheap goods are going to go up, thus pushing some people to spend money a little smarter
  • In 30 years we’ll look back on this as a good thing for society that improved our overall health and ultimately saved people (actual individuals, not large non-human conglomerates) a lot of money.

Now if we can just take care of education costs, which has far outpaced the cost of healthcare in this country by nearly 2:1.

Obama: Could we not afford a tape measure?

The Washington Post:

“In the White House Situation Room on Sunday night, the president and his national security team watched a soundless video feed of the raid.

When bin Laden’s corpse was laid out, one of the Navy SEALs was asked to stretch out next to it to compare heights. The SEAL was 6 feet tall. The body was several inches taller.

After the information was relayed to Obama, he turned to his advisers and said: ‘We donated a $60 million helicopter to this operation. Could we not afford to buy a tape measure?’”