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Thursday, December 30, 2004

Let's End 2004 on a Positive Note

According to Radley Balko, there's actually a lot of good news to be thankful for:
  • America's kids are all right. Juvenile violent crime has fallen every year - and nearly halved - since 1995. The percentage of high school students who carry weapons to school is at a 10-year low. There were 14 homicides on school campuses in 2002-03, down from 34 10 years earlier. Teen birthrates are at a 20-year low, and high school dropout rates are at a 35-year low.
  • America is healthier. Life expectancy in the U.S. is at an all-time high among men and women, black and white. People at every age can expect to live longer than anyone at their age in U.S. history. Heart disease, cardiovascular disease and stroke have fallen dramatically in the last 15 years. Incidence of, and deaths from, cancer have dropped every year since 1990.
  • America is cleaner. Concentration levels of every major air pollutant have dropped dramatically since 1970, even as we drive more, consume more, and produce more. According to data analyzed by the Pacific Research Institute, U.S. water has been getting steadily cleaner for the last 20 years.
  • The world is less violent. In his book, "A History of Force," the historian James L. Payne argues that when you adjust for population increases, over the course of history, the average citizen of the world has grown less likely to die a violent death caused by government, war or his fellow man. War, murder, genocide, sacrificial killing, rioting - all have tapered off over time.
  • The trend continues even into recent years. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, there were just 19 major armed conflicts in 2003, down from 44 in 1995. Existing wars seem to be less violent, too. According to the Human Security Report, published by the University of British Columbia, 700,000 people died in battle in 1951. By the 1990s, the number had fallen to 40,000-100,000. In 2002, it was just 15,000. This, as the world's population increased.
  • The world is freer. According to the United Nations, as of 2002, 70 percent of the world's nations were holding multi-party elections. Fifty-eight percent of the world's population lived under a fully democratic system of governance. Both of these figures are at their highest points in human history.
  • The Freedom House think tank gave 89 countries containing 46 percent of the world's population a ranking of "free" in the 2003 edition of its annual Freedom of the World report. Both figures are at their highest in the 30-year history of the survey. Freedom House also reports that countries moving toward more freedom have outpaced countries moving away from freedom by three to one.
  • The world is less poor. Yale University's David Dollar has pointed out that since 1980, the total number of people living on less than $1 per day has actually fallen by 200 million, despite the fact that the world's population increased by 1.8 billion. It's the first time in recorded history that that has happened. The UN's 2004 Human Development Report notes that real per capita incomes in the developing world have more than doubled since 1975. In some provinces in China, incomes are doubling every few months.
  • The world is healthier. Between 1960 and 2000, life expectancy in developing countries increased from 46 to 63 years. Mortality rates of children under five are half of what they were forty years ago.
  • The world is getting cleaner. Most economists now endorse the concept of a "green ceiling", which means that although the transition from a developing economy to a developed one requires some environmental exploitation, there is a point at which a country becomes wealthy enough that its citizens will begin to demand environmental protection.
Note that there are numerous links in the original article for those who like to check sources.

Happy New Year! Here's hoping that 2005 continues the trend.

Monday, December 27, 2004

How Time Flies

I see I haven't posted for a while. I post three sorts of entries: responses, snippets, and essays. Responses are posts that respond to someone else posting to this blog or possibly some other blog. Since there haven't been a lot of posts from anybody else, I haven't had the opportunity to post any responses. Snippets are excerpts from articles I find interesting and want to archive here at Great Guys. Since the election, articles to excerpt haven't been as passionate and interesting to me. I'm sure after the holidays things will get more interesting.

I'm currently working on two essays, both of which are getting quite long and I have quite a ways to go before I'm finished. The first shows a plausible economic model in which moderate federal government budget deficits, to the tune of 2% of GDP per year, are actually beneficial. The second essay deals with self organized super intelligence, using the metaphor that a neuron is to a human brain as a human is to the super intelligence of the planet. This last one is a little spacey but interesting.

Both essays will be posted in parts, but I can't begin posting until I'm more or less finished to ensure that the overall essay is coherent (as possible) and consistent. Hopefully, I'll be able to start posting one or the other by the end of January.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Left2Right

I've been enjoying a new liberal blog called Left2Right. They describe themselves as follows:
We're a bunch of academics, mostly philosophers but also some lawyers, political scientists, and economists. We're interested in liberal ideas, though we are probably far from unanimous about what "liberal" means, and our being interested in liberal ideas doesn't entail that each of us subscribes to all of them. We think that political debate in this country has deteriorated into a shouting match, a food fight, a flame war -- call it what you will. We'd like to consider whether liberal ideas should be somehow reconsidered -- in some respects revised, in others perhaps merely re-stated -- with the aim of increasing the overall ratio of dialog to diatribe in the American political forum. Some of us will be trying out various ways of re-thinking and re-formulating those ideas; others may end up arguing that such attempts are unnecessary, even counter-productive. And in the course of our discussion, there will be plenty of digressions and asides of the sort that naturally occur at the margins of a group discussion.
They've invited people from the Right to comment on their posts. The gyrations have been quite amusing so far, I highly recommend it. Hopefully, they won't get discouraged as easily as some other bloggers I know.

Friday, December 10, 2004

American Ignorance

I've seen repeatedly the claim that Americans (especially conservative Americans) are ignorant, based on various poll questions. Indeed, the claim is that if only Americans weren't so ignorant, they would be able to understand the issues adequately to make informed choices and then they would, of course, vote for Democrats. For example, Allan Hazlett writes:
"There's a plethora of issues on which Americans are misinformed, and the issue is not one of a clash of normative beliefs, but simple ignorance of the facts."
I'll agree that Americans (and not just Americans) mis-regurgitate information all the time, but I'm less convinced that it's because they're "misinformed" or have a "simple ignorance of the facts." I think it's perhaps a "complex ignorance". Let me explain.

One's worldview is constructed as one absorbs many millions of factoids, some true, some false, over one's lifetime. Each new factoid causes an extremely small shift in the worldview. One can't possibly recall all of the factoids, indeed one can only recall a tiny, tiny fraction of one-percent of those factoids. Nonetheless, the factoids have been absorbed and incorporated into the worldview.

If I've been exposed to information, have considered it and allowed it to affect my worldview, but then forget the details, do I have a simple ignorance of those facts? I think not, since the information persists within my worldview. That's what I mean by "complex ignorance."

Now, some pollster (PIPA in this case) comes along and asks me some question. I sort of have a vague recollection that I've heard of these things before but I am hesistant to answer. The pollster encourages me to give it a try. I apply the answer most consistent with my worldview. It happens to be wrong. I am American and answered incorrectly, thus the poll makes Americans seem ignorant.

You might say "well, Kyoto is incredibly important, everybody should know all about that." I have two responses. The Kyoto treaty is hundreds of pages. Quick, off the top of your head, in the last English version, what are the points that are made in the second paragraph on page 97? What? You don't know? You don't remember? You didn't read it? But if it's so important, why not? Ahhh, because there are other things that are important too and it's an unimportant detail.

And I don't hold it against you. I don't consider you ignorant because you don't know those particular details. I'm fully aware that you can look up the information if needed. Just as the people being asked questions by the pollster. If they were given 5 minutes they could google it and come up with the right answer too. And the details of whether or not Bush supports Kyoto are probably really not that important to the average American on a day to day basis. Even in terms of who to vote for in the last election, that particular factoid would rank low relative to Iraq, moral values, the economy, healthcare, etc. for most people.

So I think the concern of conservative voters being ignorant and not having access to basic information is quite mistaken.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Lowering of Arms

Former Soviet dissident and hero Natan Sharansky has George Bush's ear. The following is an excerpt from an article Sharansky wrote for the National Review Online:
Our world has changed so much over the last fifteen years that it may be difficult for today’s reader to get a sense of the degree of skepticism there once was in the West over the possibility of a democratic transformation inside the Soviet Union. In the early 1980s, when some were actually arguing that the Soviet Union could be challenged, confronted, and broken, the possibility was dismissed out of hand. The distinguished historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., expressing the sentiments of nearly all of the Sovietologists, intellectuals, and opinion makers of the time, said that “those in the United States who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse, ready with one small push to go over the brink are wishful thinkers who are only kidding themselves.” [...]

In April 1989, just seven months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Senator J. William Fulbright, who had served for 15 years as chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, co-authored an article dismissing the views of those in the “evil empire school” who believed that Gorbachev’s reforms were “no more than the final, feeble, foredoomed effort to hold off the historically inevitable collapse of a wicked system based on an evil philosophy.”2 Instead, Fulbright offered insight into how the “d├ętente school,” in which he included himself, understood the changes that were then taking place behind the Iron Curtain:
We suspect that the reforms being carried out in the Soviet Union and Hungary may be evidence not of the terminal enfeeblement of Marxism but of a hitherto unsuspected resiliency and adaptability, of something akin to Roosevelt’s New Deal, which revived and rejuvenated an apparently moribund capitalism in the years of Great Depression.
If scholars and leaders in the West could be so blind to what was happening only months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, imagine what the thinking was in 1975. Back then, the suggestion that the Soviet Union’s collapse was inevitable, much less imminent, would have been regarded as absurd by everyone.

Well, almost everyone.

In 1969, a Soviet dissident named Andrei Amalrik wrote Will The Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?, in which he predicted the collapse of the USSR. Amalrik, to whom I would later have the privilege to teach English, explained that any state forced to devote so much of its energies to physically and psychologically controlling millions of its own subjects could not survive indefinitely. The unforgettable image he left the reader with was that of a soldier who must always point a gun at his enemy. His arms begin to tire until their weight becomes unbearable. Exhausted, he lowers his weapon and his prisoner escapes.

While many in the West hailed Amalrik’s courage — he was imprisoned for years and exiled for his observations — almost no one outside the Soviet Union took his ideas seriously. When he wrote his book, short-sighted democratic leaders were convinced the USSR would last forever, and according to many economic indicators, the Soviet Union appeared to be closing the gap on the U.S. Amalrik must have seemed downright delusional.

But inside the USSR, Amalrik’s book was not dismissed as the ranting of a lunatic. The leadership knew that Amalrik had exposed the Soviet regime’s soft underbelly. They understood their vulnerability to dissident ideas: Even the smallest spark of freedom could set their entire totalitarian world ablaze. That’s why dissidents were held in isolation, dissident books were confiscated, and every typewriter had to be registered with the authorities. The regime knew the volatile potential of free thought and speech, so they spared no effort at extinguishing the spark.

I was arrested in 1977 on charges of high treason as well as for “anti-Soviet” activities. After my own mock trial a year later, I was sentenced to thirteen years in prison. In 1984, my KGB jailers, swelling with pride, reminded me of Amalrik’s prediction: “You see, Amalrik is dead” — he had died in a car accident in France in 1980 — “and the USSR is still standing!”

But Almarik’s prediction had not missed by much. Within a few months of that encounter in the Gulag, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power. Faced with an American administration ready to confront him and realizing that the Soviet regime no longer had the strength both to maintain control of its subjects and compete with the West, Gorbachev reluctantly implemented his “glasnost” reforms. This limited attempt at “openness” would usher in changes far beyond what Gorbachev intended. Just as Amalrik had predicted, the second the regime lowered its arms, the people it had terrorized for decades overwhelmed it.

I think Sharansky is where Bush gets some of his "radicalism", in other words his belief that the world can be changed if you only try.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Cost Benefit Analysis of War

From the beginning of time, whenever an individual or the leadership of a group has perceived the benefits of using violence as outweighing the costs, they have utilized violence. This will continue till the end of time, almost by definition. Organizations such as the UN are supposed to raise the costs of violence but that basic premise still holds. Therefore, I consider the distinctions between offensive, defensive, preemptive, and preventive war a distraction to the real argument.

If all we're trying to prevent is a few thousand or even a few tens of thousands of U.S. citizens murdered and a few big buildings knocked down every few years, then the cost of invading Iraq may not have been worth the benefits.

But what about the value of civilization itself? It's not inconceivable that a few well placed nukes could so shake the faith people have in civilizations and its institutions that the whole thing collapses like a house of cards. For example, currency only has value because: a) people think it does and b) people think that the issuing government will be around essentially forever. The latter could possibly be called into question with an attack not all that much bigger than 9/11. Many of civilization's institutions are like that so the whole thing could unravel fairly quickly.

If civilization collapses, then what? The planet would probably struggle to support even one billion people living without the structure and efficiencies of civilization. That means at least five billion dead, of all races and ethnicities. If you estimate the probability at one in ten-thousand, that's still an expected value of 500,000 dead. Even at one in a million, that's still 5,000 dead. That's how I look at the utility analysis. Thus I'm pretty easy to convince to give war a chance.

Friday, December 03, 2004

A Nation of Bushes

Turns out the French don't read much:
Even though the French take great pride in the writings of their intellectuals, few people read newspapers compared to other European nations, and the numbers are declining further.
Bush should feel right at home there. :-)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Rational Adoption of Irrationality

It can be perfectly rational to adopt an irrational, incoherent, incohesive, and conflicting worldview. In order to do so, the adopter may have to reduce cognitive dissonance by ignoring, or at least not taking too seriously, the conflicting evidence.

How can it be rational? One argument could be that worldview X has worked for the past N years even when exposed to radical change and conflict in an unfathomably complex universe with essentially unlimited uncertainty. Thus worldview X is robust if non-optimal. Worldview X has known inconsistencies but since it's impossible to truly know which particular item is right or wrong, or that it even may be that the inconsistencies are inherent to the robustness of the system, tweaking worldview X is risky. Perhaps the tweaking of X creates a more optimal system, at least in the short term, but creates fragility where robustness once existed.

I personally am a risk taker, so I think tweaking is worth it, but I fully understand the other view.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Bush Stole the Election

Well, maybe not, but humor me for a moment. I have to say I was somewhat disappointed that Kerry conceded so easily. When I vote for a candidate, I expect him or her to press on till there's clearly no hope of victory, and I think Kerry gave up too soon. I'll admit that I'm probably particularly easily annoyed right this second since Donna Frye, a write-in candidate for mayor in San Diego, basically won and then bailed saying that she really didn't want to be mayor anyway. It would have been nice for her to point that out before I wasted my precious vote on her. Oh well.

So what's the evidence that Bush stole the election? Well, I'll have to admit it doesn't look terribly solid, but it is ample enough to make me think that it is a possibility, even if somewhat remote. The evidence consists mainly of a couple of statistical studies, coupled with the fact that electronic voting machines can be fairly easily hacked.

A study by Steven Freeman at the University of Pennsylvania looking at differences in exit polling results and counted votes states that
"As much as we can say in social science that something is impossible, it is impossible that the discrepancies between predicted and actual vote counts in the three critical battleground states [Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania] of the 2004 election could have been due to chance or random error."
Certainly, the exit polling methodology could be the problem (as opposed to the actual voting) and admittedly, Freeman concludes with
"Systematic fraud or mistabulation is a premature conclusion ..."
but still, I do wonder why there is such a significant discrepancy between voting and the exit polls. Perhaps we'll find out eventually, but until we do, we can only conclude that there is a discrepancy, not that there is any certainty of fraud.

The second statistical study is from UC Berkeley and concludes that irregularities associated with electronic voting machines may have awarded 130,000 - 260,000 or more excess votes to Bush in Florida. Unfortunately, the operative word is "may" in that there "may" also have been zero excess votes awarded to Bush. Also, there is the minor detail that Bush won Florida by almost 400,000 votes so even if the study is right, and the upper estimate is correct, Bush would have still carried Florida. In addition, there are a number of problems with this study, the most significant being that the authors needed to use a very complicated multivariate interaction model which, as Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University concurs, "lacks theoretical grounding", which in laymans terms means "what the heck were they thinking when they decided to use that bizarro model?" Basically, a simple, single, linear independent variable didn't show any discrepancy at all, so they had to try other models with more degrees of freedom to fit the data, whether or not those more complicated models made any sense. So I don't find this study particularly convincing, but the authors do, so maybe there's more to it than I (or Professor McDonald) think. Perhaps the authors will update their paper and explain why they think the model they used was a good choice and why it doesn't overfit the data and why the single independent variable model shows absolutely nothing of interest.

The evidence that the electronic voting systems can be hacked is fairly solid and disconcerting. It's especially disconcerting because there's no paper trail, so it can't be independently audited. Here in San Diego, they have electronic tabulators that count paper ballots that we mark with pens. Ballots that have errors are kicked out immediately and destroyed and the voter is told to go try again. I like our system. It can be counted by hand if need be, yet is completely automated. Voting systems without an audit trail just seem like a bad idea to me at this point in the technological development.

What will make it extremely difficult for the Kerry camp to make any headway, is that there is no hard evidence that anybody actually did commit massive voter fraud. It's not good enough to show that it could be done, it has to be shown that it actually was done, that fraud was actually committed by someone, and that the fraud was as massive as required to swing the election to Kerry. Even statistics with more confidence and fewer variables with the only possible explanation being vote fraud might not be enough, someone has to be caught who committed material fraud.

Because we can't just recount the votes. The electronic machines will give the same results. And we can't just say that there seemed to be fraud, let's give 500,000 votes to Kerry to distribute how he sees fit. There would actually have to be a re-vote. It would have to be in every state, not just ones that Kerry lost. That means Kerry might pick up Ohio but lose New Jersey instead. Or he might squeak out a win. Then what? Best two out of three? Best three out of five? You can sure the Republicans will find an anomaly or two in the second election and get a re-re-vote and perhaps a re-re-re-vote and a re-re-re-re-vote if necessary.

No, as much as I would like to see Kerry as President come January, I think it best to let this election go at this point (so maybe I shouldn't blame Kerry for conceding - but that was then, this is now). Then we should concentrate on making the voting systems better. Unfortunately, that's left to each State and I'm happy with mine so I'll have to count on Ohioians and Floridians to step up to the plate and fix their own.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Massive Deficits

Prior to the election, there was an argument that went something like this:

Premises:
A. The United States has massive federal deficits;
B. Massive federal deficits are devastating to an economy; and
C. Bush caused the massive federal deficits.
Conclusion:
D. Don't re-elect Bush (i.e., vote for Kerry)

I liked the conclusion, so prior to the election it seemed counterproductive to take issue with the premises. However, the election has come and gone and Bush has four more years, so it's as good as time as any to consider whether or not the premises are true.

Taken individually, each premise is true to a certain degree. Starting with premise A, it certainly would seem that a deficit that's larger than the entire GDP of all but a few countries on the face of the earth could be fairly described as "massive". Certainly, deficits that are massive enough would be devastating to an economy. And, at least in the short term, it could be argued that the Bush tax cuts contributed to the size of the deficits.

However, when looking at the data, premises A and B conflict. While the Federal Government's deficits are massive compared to the budgets of most entities, they are pretty modest compared to both the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the Debt of the United States. The remainder of this essay explains why.

Deficits are a budget shortfall. U.S. Government budgets span one year. Debt is the accumulation of deficits over time. It is usually more useful to consider debt and deficits as a percentage of income. For example, assuming a million dollar mortgage would be a problem for someone with a $20,000 annual salary, but no big deal for someone with a $5 million annual income.

A given amount of debt becomes a smaller percentage of GDP as GDP grows. As an example consider a scenario where a country has 5% nominal GDP growth, and government debt that is 60% of GDP. After one year, the country's GDP has increased by 5%. Instead of 60%, the debt from the previous year now represents 57% (.95 times 60%) of GDP. The government can incur a deficit of up to 3% of GDP without increasing debt as a percentage of GDP relative to the previous year.

This scenario is actually fairly similar to the current state of the economy and government debt in the United States. Consider the following table which spans the Clinton and Bush presidencies:

United States Debt
($ millions) Percent of GDP
Total Held by Total Held by
the public the public
1993 4,351,044 3,248,396 66.3 49.5
1994 4,643,307 3,433,065 66.9 49.4
1995 4,920,586 3,604,378 67.2 49.2
1996 5,181,465 3,734,073 67.3 48.5
1997 5,369,206 3,772,344 65.6 46.1
1998 5,478,189 3,721,099 63.2 42.9
1999 5,605,523 3,632,363 61.3 39.8
2000 5,628,700 3,409,804 57.9 35.1
2001 5,769,881 3,319,615 57.6 33.1
2002 6,198,401 3,540,427 60.0 34.3
2003est 6,752,033 3,878,438 62.8 36.1
2004est 7,320,769 4,166,061 64.8 36.9
2005est 7,837,499 4,386,515 66.0 36.9
2006est 8,353,379 4,602,648 66.9 36.9
2007est 8,857,525 4,796,647 67.6 36.6
2008est 9,387,680 5,002,947 68.3 36.4

The debt "held by the public" is:
All Federal debt held by individuals, corporations, state or local governments, foreign governments, and other entities outside of the United States Government less Federal Financing Bank securities.
The difference between "total" debt and debt held by the public is intragovernmental holdings:
Government Account Series securities held by Government trust funds, revolving funds, and special funds; and Federal Financing Bank securities. A small amount of marketable securities are held by government accounts.
Intragovernmental holdings are essentially debt the government owes itself. Social Security is an example of one of the Government funds that is currently running a surplus and loaning it back to the government. These are funds that will need to be replenished eventually. However, intragovernmental debt has no real effect on public debt or capital markets or interest rates.

As can be seen from the table, total debt went up every year. Since 1940, total debt has increased during more than 90% of the years. However, as a percentage of GDP, total debt dropped during five of those years. That's because, like the example above, nominal GDP growth more than made up for the absolute increases during those years. In this case, the 3% deficit equates to about $330 billion. The actual deficit for 2004 is estimated to around $450 billion and is somewhat higher, but has a relatively smaller effect on total government debt as a percentage of GDP.

In fact, the debt held by the public as a percentage of GDP is hardly budging this year. It's estimated to increase from 36.1% of GDP in 2003 to 36.9% of GDP in 2004 and level off and even shrink from there. Also note that the debt held by the public is projected to be substantially lower during the Bush years than it was during the Clinton years so it's highly unlikely that the debt will have a worse impact on the economy now than it did during the 1990s. Indeed, long term interest rates, both real and nominal, have fallen steadily since Bush took office and "caused" the "massive" deficits.

Government debt relative to GDP is changing little. Interest rates are falling. Core inflation remains low and stable. GDP growth and productivity growth are robust. Employment is steadily increasing. There seems to be scant evidence that the "massive" deficits are damaging our economy.

No doubt, if we continue to increase the total debt one or two percent every year, it will eventually be a problem. To get an idea of how long eventually might be, let's compare our 36% publicly held debt to other countries with highly developed economies. Here are a few estimates for 2003:
France: 68.8%
Germany: 64.2%
Japan 154.6%
We have lower debt than they do, much lower in the case of Japan. Their economies aren't great, but they are nowhere near collapse either. At the current rate of debt accumulation, it will take decades before our debt is as high as theirs.

How about relative to our own history? We're a bit below the middle of the range. The peak total debt was 121.7% of GDP in 1946. That year also marked the peak debt held by the public of over 100% of GDP.

How about the deficits relative to the debt markets? Here are a couple of statistics to give a feel for the massive size of those markets (I think the word "massive" is more appropriate here). For home loans:
Mortgage originations shattered previous records and reached $2.5 trillion in 2002. Including second mortgages, that works out to about 25 million loan originations, or 100,000 per business day.
The U.S. Treasury Bond Futures market on the Chicago Board of Trade have an annual volume representing about $5 trillion a year. A few trillion here, a few trillion there, pretty soon you're talking real money! In any case, the debt and capital markets dwarf the deficits and even total government debt. And again, the debt held by the public will actually shrink relative to GDP over the next few years.

In summary, you can describe the current deficits as massive, and you can say that massive deficits can wreck an economy, but it turns out the these massive deficits are simply nowhere near massive enough to hurt our economy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Moral, Believing Animals

Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture
by Christian Smith

"…this work argues that all people are at bottom believers whose lives, actions, and institutions are constituted, motivated, and governed by narrative traditions and moral orders on which they inescapably depend."

The author has a long list of terrific arguments and insights about human motivations, cultures and their many imbedded institutions.

Perhaps at some point I will post some excerpts. I give this book the HIGHEST recommendation!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Smart Democrats?

Prior to the election I read numerous essays claiming that Democrats are smarter and more educated than Republicans. For example, I received the following email from a friend:
OK, call me an elitist but this is disturbing:

Bush's Chief Advisor, Karl Rove has already said it: "As people do
better, they start voting like Republicans...unless they have too much
education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a
good thing." http://www.dailykos.com/story/2003/10/16/10516/074

Here's a chart that clearly indicates how stupid Republicans are
compared to Democrats...
I won't reproduce the chart here, but it shows the percentage of people with college degrees was higher in states that voted for Gore in 2000 than in those states that voted for Bush. What it doesn't show, and what doesn't seem to be true, is what the emailer claims: that Democrats are smarter than Republicans.

The problem is that a fairly complex multivariate analysis with far more data would be required to show that there is a relationship between state by state voting patterns, percentage of college graduates, and intelligence of voters based on who they voted for. To illustrate this, consider the following: let's say there are two states, state A and state B, that have identical distributions of intelligence within their respective populations. But let's say state A was poorer. Which state would you guess had more college graduates? I'd guess B. Let's say state A had a higher percentage of jobs in agriculture and manufacturing. Which state would you guess had more college graduates? I'd guess B.

There are numerous other factors as well. Average age of the population, ethnicity, state government grants for college education, etc. The influence of all of these other factors could easily outweigh an intelligence factor, if the intelligence factor exists at all.

So lets look at some more direct data. A quick look at exit polls tells us education levels for those voting for Bush relative to his opponents are very similar:
A more direct comparison of the parties' voters can be found in the 2000 exit poll, where Bush voters reported an average educational level negligibly greater than Gore voters. Gore did best among high school dropouts and those who had undertaken post-graduate studies, with Bush leading among those in-between. (Many Democrats with advanced degrees, by the way, are public school teachers with credentials in the easy field of Education.)

In the 2002 midterm elections, voters supporting Republican House candidates were particularly well-educated. The GOP won 58% - 40% among college graduates and even captured a majority among postgrads for the first time in many years.

In 2004, Bush's majority was more downscale. If you assume that high school dropouts averaged 10 years of schooling, high school grads 12 years, those who attended college but didn't graduate 14 years, college grads 16, and postgrads 18, then Kerry voters claimed 14.64 years of education and Bush voters 14.48 years, or only about six weeks less schooling.
Exit polls are notoriously unreliable, though, and I've heard it claimed that people tend to overstate their education level. However, there is no evidence that I've found that Republicans systematically overstate their education level more than Democrats, though anything is possible.

An interesting note is that white Bush voters do seem to be somewhat less educated, on average, than white Kerry voters:
White Voters:
High School Grad: 62% Bush
Some College: 61% Bush
College Grad: 58% Bush
Some Postgrad: 48% Bush
From this we can compute that the average white Bush voter had 14.6 years of school versus 15.0 years for white Kerry voters. This represents a difference of a little less than 5 months of school. However, I don't think white Kerry voters can take too much comfort in this since there were still significantly more white Bush college graduates than white Kerry graduates.

What about IQ studies? IQ is considered by some people to be the most direct measure of intelligence. I personally don't believe that IQ is particularly useful as a measure of intelligence except as a measure of relative intelligence within a very homogeneous subpopulation. Nonetheless, let's look at IQ and voting.

The Economist (May 15, 2004, p. 26) published a chart showing the average IQ of each state with Connecticut having a stratospheric 113 average IQ down to Mississippi having and subterranean average IQ of 85. The Economist printed a retraction in a subsequent issue after they realized they had fallen for a hoax. However, that same chart can be found on thousands of sites across the Internet and still appears in the mainstream media from time to time.

There has not been a nationwide IQ study with appropriate sampling by state. The best that can be done is to use SAT, ACT, or NAEP math and reading scores as a proxy for IQ and intelligence. There are numerous analyses. My favorite is this one. The bottom line is that there is no nationwide correlation of someone's IQ with which presidential candidate that person voted for. As I wrote here, it may be that very conservative Republicans and very liberal Democrats are more educated, on average, than more moderate members of both parties. Lastly, just like education, white Kerry voters were, on average, more intelligent than Bush voters. However, since many more white voters voted for Bush, significantly more above average intelligence white voters voted for Bush than Kerry.

In summary, the data does not support statements to the effect that Democrats are either more intelligent or more educated than Republicans. While there is some evidence that white Kerry voters are on average more intelligent and educated than white Bush voters, a majority of college graduates and a majority of above average intelligence voters voted for Bush.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Will Bret Fret? Nyet, not Yet!

Wednesday and Thursday after the election I was a little depressed, but perhaps that was more from the mild cold I had caught than from the election results. This week I'm more feeling the relief and serenity that I get from knowing that I voted for the losing candidate. No matter what Bush does, it's not my fault. I even tried to convince others to vote for Kerry. I did my best to support the political choice I thought best, so no matter how it turned out, I wasn't going to worry about it too much for too long.

How much confidence did I have that the world (or at least my world) would have been a better place after four years of Kerry instead of four more years of Bush? Not a lot. Being a numbers kind of guy, I estimate that my intuition assigned the probabilities of 52% to the world being a better place with President Kerry and 48% to the world being a better place with President Bush having a second term.

Why such a little difference? Given that a butterfly flapping its wings can completely change the weather patterns (the so-called butterfly effect), Bush as President versus Kerry as President will create wildly diverging futures for the entire Universe. However, my feeble brain is unable to predict and foresee all possible effects of the election results on the actions of six billion people in almost 200 nations with effectively infinitely complex interactions subject to the environment's unpredictable and continuing changes as the Earth continues about the sun. There are just so many unforeseen gazillionth order effects that make it impossible to have much of a clue regarding what the alternate "Kerry is President Universe" would have been like and how it would compare to the actual universe we inhabit.

I think Kerry would have been the better choice for me, but that choice is just one piece of a very, very complex puzzle.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Perhaps Bret Shouldn't Fret

Concerns by social liberals over the future course of events in this country have some merit. I think, however, that the situation is far from dire. While there does seem to be some movement back towards more traditional values amongst the populace, it doesn't look like your grandfather's conservatism to me. Even amongst many religious people there is a greater degree of tolerance for people who are different provided that pursuit of alternative lifestyles is not too "in your face." Furthermore, most evangelicals are not fundamentalists.

I've mentioned my views about the primacy of economic and political liberty. Ultimately all liberties are intertwined. Even social changes should be pursued within a framework known as the rule of law. This is the best assurance of preserving all kinds of liberty in the future (I would think that this is of great importance to Bret). It is the departure in practice from this concept that has contributed to many conflicts in this country. Bruce Bartlett points out the implications of such in this column. Here are some excerpts:
The truth is that the issue of values, which motivated many of Bush’s supporters according to exit polls, has much less to do with religion than Democrats believe. Ironically, the real problem is that liberals have imposed their beliefs on America in exactly the way they imagine what conservatives want to do. In many cases, the real frustration isn’t even with the liberal goals, but with the way in which they would achieve those goals.

Consider the most divisive issue of all: abortion. Had the courts left it alone, the states would gradually have changed their laws, with some being very permissive and others maintaining tight restrictions. This would have eventually led to one of two outcomes. Either it would have stabilized America, as people would move to states that suited their moral or religious beliefs, or it would have pressured Congress to adopt something that probably would look much like the trimester system we have today.

But the democratic process was not allowed to operate. It was too time consuming, too messy, and too uncertain for those who wanted legalized abortion immediately. So the Supreme Court imposed it by fiat, thus leaving those against abortion or even just uncomfortable with it feeling disenfranchised, as if their views count for nothing.

Moreover, the lack of a legislative solution also means that there is no way to tinker with the system to fix obvious flaws, such as the problem of partial-birth abortion, without reopening the whole question of abortion for debate.

A similar situation has arisen over gay marriage. Liberals are too quick to assume that all opposition to it is based solely on hatred of gays, when in fact it is based more on a fear that the courts will impose it by judicial fiat without the consent of the people.

Consequently, there are growing numbers of voters who are secular in their beliefs, but find themselves within the values coalition. They oppose making abortion illegal, but also oppose Roe v. Wade. They have no problem with gay marriage, but are appalled that a single court in our most liberal state is effectively imposing a national policy allowing gay marriage. Such people are not prudes, but they don’t want their children viewing nudity or listening to profanity on the public airwaves.

If Democrats conclude that there is nothing to the values issue except religion, they will be very mistaken. Unfortunately, they may conclude that they will have to rely even more on the courts to impose their agenda in the future, thus making the fight over Supreme Court appointments even more bitter.

Friday, November 05, 2004

More on Demographic Trends

Given the states he won, Bush won the electoral college vote. What's interesting, is that 40 years ago, winning the exact same states, Bush would have lost. Consider the following table from Samizdata:

1960 census (1964, 68 elections) -- Kerry 270, Bush 268
1970 census (1972, 76, 80 elections) -- Kerry 270, Bush 268
1980 census (1984, 88 elections) -- Bush 276, Kerry 262
1990 census (1992, 96, 2000 elections) -- Bush 279, Kerry 259
2000 census (2004, 08 elections) -- Bush 286, Kerry 252

In other words, not only was Kerry the "60s candidate", he would have won the election in the 1960s! It also shows another perspective of the trend, though slow, that favors social conservatives.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

A Tough Sell

Consider the following hypothetical situation. You walk into a store looking for some product. The salesman says little about the particular make and model of the product his store sells. Instead the salesman begins berating the competitor's product, calling it worse than horrible. He then states that anyone who has bought, or who would even consider buying the competitor's product, is a deluded moron.

Would this salesman's approach convince you to buy his product? Not me. Even if the salesman were right about how bad the competitor's product was, I would leave his store and never come back.

Yet the salesman's approach is exactly the same as the Democrats' approach to selling their party's candidates. I can't count how many times I've been told that Republicans are "deluded", "morons", or "stupid", with the frequency of such insults increasing immediately before the election. Many of these insults were accompanied by supporting "evidence". I found much of that supporting evidence to be very weak, even bogus.

While I'm convinced that these emails and posts didn't help the Kerry's cause, and I wanted Kerry to win, I decided that pointing out problems with them prior to the election would only make things worse. So I decided to lay low and wait for the election to complete. But now that the election is over, during the next couple of weeks I'll show my analysis of some of these emails and posts and point out where the supporting evidence for the Stupid, Deluded, Moron Republican/Conservative (StuDeMoRC) hypothesis is, at best, lacking.

But even if the StuDeMoRC hypothesis is true, it's too late now - those StuDeMoRCs happen to be our rulers. Consider this: if you had gone up to Saddam Hussein before the war and called him stupid and deluded to his face it probably wouldn't have turned out too well for you. The only question would have been whether he would have thrown you into the shredder feet first or head first. Back here in the United States, it's fortunate that insulting the StuDeMoRC rulers won't turn out quite so catastrophically. Nevertheless, call me crazy, but insulting those in power doesn't seem to me like the optimal way to win friends with power and influence them. In fact, it seems, um, er, well, rather stupid and deluded. But maybe that's just me.

Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to get rid of StuDeMoRC rulers anytime soon. As I've written before, demographic trends help Conservatives. Indeed, consider the following exit poll statistics:

The Democrat won the votes of single women by 63-36, even as Bush was winning 54 percent of married women to Kerry's 45 percent.

Single women don't have many children. The most likely predictor of your voting patterns is your family's voting patterns. Therefore, in another generation there are going to be even fewer liberals. Of course, part of the discrepancy above is explained by the fact that younger women are more likely to be both single and liberal. However, unlike previous generations, the current young generation is not particularly liberal: 45% of 18-29 year olds voted for Bush versus 52.5% for the rest of the population. Not much difference, really, and not enough to explain the 36% versus 54% difference between single and married women.

So instead of calling Conservatives "deluded morons", perhaps it's time that we rethink our strategy about how best to interact with them.

Grasping a new reality

Peggy Noonan gets it!

Who was the biggest loser of the 2004 election? It is easy to say Mr. Kerry: he was a poor candidate with a poor campaign. But I do think the biggest loser was the mainstream media, the famous MSM, the initials that became popular in this election cycle. Every time the big networks and big broadsheet national newspapers tried to pull off a bit of pro-liberal mischief--CBS and the fabricated Bush National Guard documents, the New York Times and bombgate, CBS's "60 Minutes" attempting to coordinate the breaking of bombgate on the Sunday before the election--the yeomen of the blogosphere and AM radio and the Internet took them down. It was to me a great historical development in the history of politics in America. It was Agincourt. It was the yeomen of King Harry taking down the French aristocracy with new technology and rough guts. God bless the pajama-clad yeomen of America. Some day, when America is hit again, and lines go down, and media are hard to get, these bloggers and site runners and independent Internetters of all sorts will find a way to file, and get their word out, and it will be part of the saving of our country.


Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Bummer for the Left

I've seen a number of essays and posts from centrists and conservatives that are surprised at just how upset and angry the Left is about the outcome of the election. For example, Michele Catalano writes:

Sure, it's easy for me to say those things while I'm sitting in the victor's chair at the moment. But I believe in my heart that if Kerry were today making a victory speech, I would feel the same way.

I certainly wouldn't be calling for violent action. I would not be threatening total strangers with death or wishing ill will on them.

A nice essay all in all, but I think it misses one major point: the Left had far, far more to lose in this election and they lost it. It may well be the beginning of the end of the social liberals' way of life, whereas the typical social conservative was only going to be marginally impacted by a Kerry victory, at least on the domestic front.

With a Republican President and solid Republican Senate, it seems likely that we'll have more social conservatives installed in the Supreme Court. In addition, the country is trending towards social conservatism (conservatives have more children and most immigrants are social conservatives). The furthering of the social conservative agenda is inevitable over the next 20 years or so, and the current situation will push it forwards significantly faster.

So what is this "scary" agenda the conservatives have? In addition to reproductive rights rollbacks (mentioned in a comment above), there's intolerance to non-religious people (note that it's already true that not a lot of atheists hold offices of any kind), funding of churches, legislation of sexual mores (e.g., gay marriage), legislation of other "victimless" behaviors (e.g., draconian punishment for trace amounts of marijuana), rollback of environmental regulations, more complete acceptance of American exceptionalism, etc.

None of these things will happen rapidly. But the foundation is laid for that sort of progression. I personally am getting older and I don't get too wound up about the conservative agenda anymore (I admit that it is easier to be a parent in a conservative society), but when I was young I would have been absolutely horrified by the outcome of this election. I would have felt that my future was taken away from me, and in some sense, it would have been true. I would definitely have considered it to be an example of the tyranny of the majority.

When a group loses at the ballot box and the majority imposes unacceptable conditions on the minority, the minority has no choice but to revolt. Fortunately, the unacceptable conditions will only be opposed slowly, over decades, so it seems unlikely that there will be any trigger event for any sort of violent revolution. It's sort of like boiling a frog alive by turn up the heat so slowly it doesn't notice.

Nonetheless, I think that it is critically important for Bush and the Republicans to work with the minority to prevent other negative consequences (admittedly, I have no clear idea what those negative consequences might be). The hatred and bile of the Left could easily be channeled into something very, very nasty. The Left is close to the point where they think they have nothing left to lose. Whether or not that is "objectively" true doesn't matter. It's still a very dangerous situation to have a large minority that feels both completely disenfranchised and terrified of the future.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

I Love This Guy

Are Europeans Lazy? No, just overtaxed. (EDWARD C. PRESCOTT, October 24, 2004, Wall Street Journal):
Why do Americans work so much more than Europeans? The answer is important because it suggests policy proposals that will improve European standards of living (which should give a boost to its gross national happiness, by the way). However, an incorrect answer to that question will result in policies that will only exacerbate Europe's problems and could have implications for other countries that are looking for best practices.

Here's a startling fact: Based on labor market statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Americans aged 15-64, on a per-person basis, work 50% more than the French. Comparisons between Americans and Germans or Italians are similar. What's going on here? What can possibly account for these large differences in labor supply? It turns out that the answer is not related to cultural differences or institutional factors like unemployment benefits, but that marginal tax rates explain virtually all of this difference. I admit that when I first conducted this analysis I was surprised by this finding, because I fully expected that institutional constraints are playing a bigger role. But this is not the case. (Citations and more complete data can be found in my paper, at www.minneapolisfed.org.)

Let's take another look at the data. According to the OECD, from 1970-74 France's labor supply exceeded that of the U.S. Also, a review of other industrialized countries shows that their labor supplies either exceeded or were comparable to the U.S. during this period. Jump ahead two decades and you will find that France's labor supply dropped significantly (as did others), and that some countries improved and stayed in line with the U.S. Controlling for other factors, what stands out in these cross-country comparisons is that when European countries and U.S. tax rates are comparable, labor supplies are comparable.

And this insight doesn't just apply to Western industrialized economies. A review of Japanese and Chilean data reveals the same result. This is an important point because some critics of this analysis have suggested that cultural differences explain the difference between European and American labor supplies. The French, for example, prefer leisure more than do Americans or, on the other side of the coin, that Americans like to work more. This is silliness.

Again, I would point you to the data which show that when the French and others were taxed at rates similar to Americans, they supplied roughly the same amount of labor. Other research has shown that at the aggregate level, where idiosyncratic preference differences are averaged out, people are remarkably similar across countries. Further, a recent study has shown that Germans and Americans spend the same amount of time working, but the proportion of taxable market time vs. nontaxable home work time is different. In other words, Germans work just as much, but more of their work is not captured in the taxable market.

I would add another data set for certain countries, especially Italy, and that is nontaxable market time or the underground economy. Many Italians, for example, aren't necessarily working any less than Americans--they are simply not being taxed for some of their labor. Indeed, the Italian government increases its measured output by nearly 25% to capture the output of the underground sector. Change the tax laws and you will notice a change in behavior: These people won't start working more, they will simply engage in more taxable market labor, and will produce more per hour worked.

This analysis has important implications for policy--and not just for Europeans, but for the U.S. as well. For example, much has been made during this election season about whether the current administration's tax cuts were good or bad for the economy, but that is more a political question than a policy consideration and it misses the point. The real issue is about whether it is better to tweak the economy with short-lived stimulus plans or to establish an efficient tax system with low tax rates that do not change with the political climate.

What does this mean for U.S. tax policy? It means that we should stop focusing our attention on the recent tax cuts and, instead, start thinking about tax rates. And that means that we should roll back the 1993 tax rate increases and re-establish those from the 1986 Tax Reform Act. Just as they did in the late 1980s, and just as they would in Europe, these lower rates would increase the labor supply, output would grow and tax revenues would increase.

I've been saying this for years. It's always nice to have a Nobel Laureate have the same opinion after having done extensive research.

Is Kerry Smarter than Bush?

I wouldn't count on it (John Tierney, 10/24/04, NY Times):
To Bush-bashers, it may be the most infuriating revelation yet from the military records of the two presidential candidates: the young George W. Bush probably had a higher I.Q. than did the young John Kerry.

That, at least, is the conclusion of Steve Sailer, a conservative columnist at the Web magazine Vdare.com and a veteran student of presidential I.Q.'s. During the last presidential campaign Mr. Sailer estimated from Mr. Bush's SAT score (1206) that his I.Q. was in the mid-120's, about 10 points lower than Al Gore's.

Mr. Kerry's SAT score is not known, but now Mr. Sailer has done a comparison of the intelligence tests in the candidates' military records. They are not formal I.Q. tests, but Mr. Sailer says they are similar enough to make reasonable extrapolations.

Mr. Bush's score on the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test at age 22 again suggests that his I.Q was the mid-120's, putting Mr. Bush in about the 95th percentile of the population, according to Mr. Sailer. Mr. Kerry's I.Q. was about 120, in the 91st percentile, according to Mr. Sailer's extrapolation of his score at age 22 on the Navy Officer Qualification Test.

Linda Gottfredson, an I.Q. expert at the University of Delaware, called it a creditable analysis said she was not surprised at the results or that so many people had assumed that Mr. Kerry was smarter. "People will often be misled into thinking someone is brighter if he says something complicated they can't understand," Professor Gottfredson said.

Gore was mostly likely smarter than Bush. From everything I've seen, Kerry and Bush are very close. This demonstrates the difference between being intelligent and being intellectual. Kerry is clearly more intellectual. However, I think that Bush would consider being called an intellectual and insult while Kerry would consider it a complement.

Friday, October 22, 2004

flu vaccine

This from Frontpage Magazine's war blog of October 22, 2004

WHY THIS FLU CRISIS IS HAPPENING
...

Almost half of the nation's flu vaccine will not be delivered this year. Chiron, a major manufacturer of flu vaccine, will not be distributing any influenza vaccine this flu season.Chiron was to make 46-48 million doses vaccine for the United States.Chiron is a British company. Recently British health officials stopped Chiron from distributing and making the vaccine when inspectors found unsanitary conditions in the labs. Some lots of the vaccine were recalled and destroyed.

Why is our vaccine made in the UK and not the US?

The major pharmaceutical companies in the US provided almost 90% of the nations flu vaccine at one time. They did this despite a very low profit margin for the product. Basically, they were doing us a favor.In the late 80's a man
from North Carolina who had received the vaccine got the flu. The strain he caught was one of the strains in that years vaccine made by a US company.

What did he do?

He sued and he won. He was awarded almost $5 million!After that case was appealed and lost, most US pharmaceutical companies stopped making the vaccine. The liability out weighed the profit margin.Since UK and Canadian laws prohibit such frivolous law suits UK and Canadian companies began selling the vaccine in the US. By the way...the lawyer that represented the man in the flu shot lawsuit was a young ambulance chaser by the
name of John Edwards.

I rest my case.


Thursday, October 21, 2004

If not intelligence then what?

I've obviously had some fun deriding intelligence. It is helpful within limits. Knowledge, temperment , emotional maturity can all be more important at the individual level. As an entrepreneur, I value persistence. Hence, my fondness for this quote from silent Cal.


Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
Calvin CoolidgeUS politician (1872 - 1933)

Intellectual Morons

Intelligence can be a helpful human trait. It is useful to remember that many other traits are important in the evolution and effective functioning of civilization. Genius can be very fragile, society needs robustness in order to be sustained. Traditions and trial and error approaches are far more robust than intellect.

Some liberal writers have pointed out, with disdain, that some conservative writers display a degree of anti-intellectualism in their works. There is some truth to the claim. Perhaps there is a good reason for this. First exhibit, this George Orwell quote, "There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them."

There may be some intellectuals infected by a right wing ideology, but many more are infected by a left wing ideology!

Additional exhibits are provided in this Frontpage Magazine interview with Daniel Flynn, author of the book Intellectual Morons. (emphasis mine)

Flynn: My purpose in writing Intellectual Morons is to get more people to think with their brain rather than their ideology.
The endless stream of recent scandals involving intellectuals rationalizing dishonesty in the service of a cause—Rigoberta Menchu, Betty Friedan, Michael Bellesiles, etc.—motivated me to write the book. It’s one thing for used car salesmen or politicians to lie. It’s
sort of a staple of those trades. But the mission of the scholar is to find the truth. Unfortunately, truth has taken a back seat to political agendas among intellectuals.

Flynn: The main idea behind Intellectual Morons is that ideology acts as a mental straitjacket. It blinds adherents to reality, breeds fanaticism, and rationalizes dishonesty. It makes smart people stupid.
It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are if you don’t use your
brain. Intelligent people aren’t necessarily rigorous thinkers. In fact, many of them are mentally lazy. Ideology provides a way for lazy people to respond to issues, ideas, people, and events without thinking. For the ideologue, ideology is the Rosetta Stone of everything. Why think when the system provides all the answers? Ideology is attractive to smart people because it flatters them by suggesting that a single idea from the mind of an intellectual has the power of explaining all of history or ordering the affairs of whole nations. No person is that smart; no idea that good.

My book is about how ideology overrides common sense among intellectuals.


FP: The Left continues its pathology in the War on Terror. Now we have leftist feminists showing up at demonstrations nude, wearing Saudi head-gear, and protesting Bush. Yet if they lived under the cultures and societies they are siding with, they would be exterminated within 30 seconds just for showing an ankle.

Overall, the Left has sided with a fascist enemy that extinguishes all supposed leftist values themselves: women’s rights, gays’ rights, separation between religion and state, etc. etc.

The Left's reflexive hatred for America and its allies overrides its genuflections to human rights. That's why they don't cheer human rights advances in Afghanistan, or Israel's tolerance of Arab homosexuals who would be severely punished for their behavior in their homelands.

FP: What would be your definition of "intellectual
moron"?
Flynn: An intellectual moron is someone who squanders his superlative cognitive abilities by relying on ideology rather than his mind to do his thinking. Next to this definition is a picture of Noam Chomsky.


In academia, Hollywood, the judiciary, and other strongholds of the Left, the prospects for conservative progress may appear bleak. But we've seen freedom triumph over totalitarianism, and conservative ideas gain at least a beachhead in the media. Progress has been made when concerted action has been taken. If conservatives focus on the campuses, for instance, in the way that they focused for many years on media bias, I think great things will happen. I'm an optimist.

FP: I hope you are right. But overall, as long as humans remain
who they are -- fallen and flawed -- I think the socialist impulse will never go away, and will remain the easiest thing for people to cling to. Indeed, as long as inequality exists, so will the impulse toward equality, and so millions more humans will be tortured, starved and exterminated.

Flynn: The idea that man can be perfected is the most dangerous delusion. Whether it's an Islamic terrorist attempting to establish Allah's earthly kingdom, a Nazi believing that a perfect race of men can be created, or a Communist looking to make Heaven on Earth, the motivation of these fanatics is the same. They are all utopians.

...I don't think the Left can ever really be defeated,
because the desire in many humans to believe in utopia on earth is stronger than acknowledging the limits of human hope.


Wednesday, October 20, 2004

At Least They Have a Sense of Humor

The Guardian, a left leaning British rag, decided that the the U.S. presidential election is too important to the rest of the world to be left to chance, so they decided to do something about. They got a list of voters in Clark County, Ohio, and set up a campaign for Guardian readers to mail letters to convince those on the list to vote for Kerry. While this sounds like a very creative, innovative, even brilliant idea, it hasn't necessarily worked out all that well.

The first problem was that the letter writers didn't seem to have a good handle on what sorts of things might convince those in Clark County to vote for Kerry. Here's one excerpt from such a letter, by a "Professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University":
Now that all other justifications for the war are known to be lies, the warmongers are thrown back on one, endlessly repeated: the world is a better place without Saddam. No doubt it is. But that's the Tony Martin school of foreign policy [Martin was a householder who shot dead a burglar who had broken into his house in 1999]. It's not how civilised countries, who follow the rule of law, behave. The world would be a better place without George Bush, but that doesn't justify an assassination attempt. The proper way to get rid of that smirking gunslinger is to vote him out.
For someone who's into public understanding, it's stunning that he doesn't understand that folks in Clark County have never heard of Tony Martin and that the odds are good that the letter's recipient may well believe in the right to defend one's home from intruders. Europeans are always claiming that Americans know nothing about Europe. The ignorance is mutual, I guess.

Or how about this excerpt, written by editor of "the Muslim lifestyle magazine emel":
I can see that you must be furious at the way the current administration has not only catapulted the US into a state of social decline, but has plunged your great nation into a state of perpetual insecurity. I know that you will not stand by and observe your country being hijacked by a select group of neo-conservative extremists who spread fear and loathing. I don't expect you to stand for the haughty suppression of your civil liberties threatened by the proposed Domestic Security Enhancement Act, which will enable the government to detain in secrecy anyone who supports a "terrorist" group and strip them of their citizenship.
If this happens to go to someone who already hates Bush, not much damage would be done to the Kerry campaign. But if you were a swing voter from Ohio and didn't happen to notice the social decline, perpetual insecurity, hijacking by neo-conservative extremists (whoever the hell they are), fear and loathing, and haughty suppression of civil liberties, you might wonder who the hell this muslim bitch is anyway, and why the hell she thinks it's okay to stick her nose into your business.

Almost needless to say, the Guardian's campaign doesn't seem to be particularly successful. Even the Kerry campaign is none too grateful:
Even John Kerry's own Democrats expressed horror at the campaign.

"We all feel it is not a good idea. I think it was unwise. It is so poorly thought-out," said Sharon Manitta, spokeswoman in Britain for Democrats Abroad.
But on the upside, at least the Guardian has enough of a sense of humor to print some of the responses. The title of the Guardian's article containing the responses is "Dear Limey Assholes". Note that some of the responses were positive:
Thank you, thank you, thank you! What a wonderful idea! I am a US citizen who is scared to death that Bush and Klan will get back in. We need all the help we can get to ditch this bunch of maniacs.
United States
So not everybody thought it was a bad idea. This next sample isn't so positive but it is friendly, subtle, and polite:
Dear wonderful, loving friends from abroad,
We Ohioans are an ornery sort and don't take meddling well, even if it comes from people we admire and with their sincere goodwill. We are a fairly closed community overall. In my town of Springfield, I feel that there are some that consider people from the nearby cities of Columbus or Dayton, as "foreigners"- let alone someone from outside our country.
Springfield, Ohio
Next, a rather sarcastic response:
My dear, beloved Brits,
I understand the Guardian is sponsoring a service where British citizens write to Americans to advise them on how to vote. Thank heavens! I was adrift in a sea of confusion and you are my beacon of hope!

Feel free to respond to this email with your advice. Please keep in mind that I am something of an anglophile, so this is not confrontational. Please remember, too, that I am merely an American. That means I am not very bright. It means I have no culture or sense of history. It also means that I am barely literate, so please don't use big, fancy words.

Set me straight, folks!
Dayton, Ohio
There are some, shall we say, less patient responses:
Go back to sipping your tea and leave our people alone.
Ohio
It starts to degrade quickly:
Hey England, Scotland and Wales,
Mind your own business. We don't need weenie-spined Limeys meddling in our presidental election. If it wasn't for America, you'd all be speaking German. And if America would have had a president, then, of the likes of Kerry, you'd all be goose-stepping around Buckingham Palace. YOU ARE NOT WANTED!! Whether you want to support either party. BUTT OUT!!!
United States
And some respondies thought the Guardian's actions way, way, way beyond the pale (where is that damn pale anyway?):
KEEP YOUR FUCKIN' LIMEY HANDS OFF OUR ELECTION. HEY, SHITHEADS, REMEMBER THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR? REMEMBER THE WAR OF 1812? WE DIDN'T WANT YOU, OR YOUR POLITICS HERE, THAT'S WHY WE KICKED YOUR ASSES OUT. FOR THE 47% OF YOU WHO DON'T WANT PRESIDENT BUSH, I SAY THIS ... TOUGH SHIT!
PROUD AMERICAN VOTING FOR BUSH!
So call me crazy, but I don't think the Guardian's idea turned out to be universally positive. Nice try though!

UPDATE: Here's some more:
Dan Harkins, a political activist in the vital swing state of Ohio, was excited when he first heard that the Guardian newspaper was recruiting readers to write to voters in his state in the hopes of giving foreigners a voice in the American election.

Yesterday, the first of about 14,000 Guardian readers' letters started arriving in the mailboxes of Clark County, Mr Harkins's home region - chosen by the British paper as a pivotal election district where President George W Bush and Senator John Kerry are neck and neck.

The first letters to be made public all urged Clark County voters to reject Mr Bush. As he watched the reaction of friends and neighbours, Mr Harkins was delighted.

He is the chairman of the Clark County Republican Party, and his neighbours' reaction was outrage. "It's hysterical," laughed Mr Harkins, showing off sheaves of incensed e-mails and notes from local voters.

The Republicans' delight compares with the gloom among local Democrats, who fear that "foreign interference" is hurting Mr Kerry.

Why is it that the Left worldwide has no marketing sense whatsoever?

Monday, October 18, 2004

Supply Siders Win Again

The United States federal deficit is going to be smaller than predicted due to supply side effects (strong corporate profits in particular):
The latest budget numbers closing out fiscal year 2004 show slower spending growth, stronger tax receipts, and a $413 billion deficit that came in about $100 billion less than the Office of Management and Budget predicted at the start of the year and $64 billion lower than the Congressional Budget Office estimate.

Overall, according the Treasury Department, tax receipts increased 5.5 percent in fiscal year 2004, compared to a 3.8 percent decline in fiscal year 2003. Income-tax withholdings gained 2.5 percent versus a loss of 2.2 percent in the prior year. Corporate tax collections exploded 43.7 percent on the shoulders of near-record corporate profits.

What's going on? It's clear: At lower marginal tax rates, the rising economy is throwing off a lot more tax revenues. Score one for the supply-siders.

Overall budget outlays increased 6.2 percent in the recent fiscal year, which is less than last year's 7.3 percent. Excluding spending for defense and homeland security, as well as entitlements for healthcare and Social Security, federal spending increased by a very moderate 3.4 percent in fiscal year 2004. If you remove net interest, then the budget increase was only 3 percent -- just a bit higher than the inflation rate.

As a share of gross domestic product, the deficit came in at 3.5 percent. That's the same fraction of national income as last year. This deficit share of GDP is also lower than Europe's and only about one-third of Japan's. This is more than acceptable. In the early 1980s, the deficit share of the economy was over 6 percent, but that didn't stop the Reagan boom, which followed large-scale tax cuts and deregulation measures.
There are lots of reasons not to vote for Bush, but tax cuts and deficits aren't among them, in my opinion.

Amusing tidbit

A young student is speaking passionately in his high school social studies class. After making it clear that he is against the war in Iraq because he is a pacifist, he goes on to say, "I hate George Bush. If I met him, I would kill him". My sixteen year old daughter raises her hand and says, "let me understand this. You're a pacifist but you want to kill a man you don't know and have never met"? The teacher, who is an independent, nearly hits the floor laughing. The Bush bashers in the class sit in silence. True story!!

Friday, October 15, 2004

Statistical Will

The purpose of an election in a democracy is to elect leaders according to the "will of the people". The definition of "the people" is limited; only adults who aren't felons who registered to vote in time for the election and who actually bother to show up and vote are considered. So it's a bit limited to start with, and that's ignoring further constraints like election rules, the electoral college, primaries, etc.

Those who vote provide a measurement of the "will of the people". Like all real-world measurements, it's not perfect. People accidentally mark the wrong candidate, chads are left hanging, ballots jam in machines that read them, ballot boxes get lost, and there's general election fraud (by Democrats and Republicans alike). I've seen error rate estimates by credible sources of one to five percent with the median being around two percent.

How many times have you heard someone state that Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 and therefore it was certainly the "will of the people" that Gore be president? I've heard it lots of times. But with a two percent error rate, the likelihood that the popular vote count as measured meant that the majority of voters actually intended for Gore to be President is only about 85%. In other words, there still about one in six chance that the "will of the people", according to the popular vote, was for Bush to be President.

Of course, the popular vote doesn't matter in our current election system. I only mention it as an example of how there is never certainty in an election process, and in a close election there is a lot of uncertainty. Once you look at Florida and other close states in the 2000 election, the only thing that's certain is that nobody can realistically be anywhere near certain what the "will of the people" was in the 2000 election.

Since it's clear that the "will of the people" can't really be known with much confidence in a close election, and that fraud (from both sides) may have overwhelmed the accuracy of the election measurements (counts), what's the best way to resolve the outcome of the election? Clearly the best way is for one side to concede the election to the other. That didn't happen last time. Neither Gore nor Bush had the grace to do so.

The only other ways to resolve the election are the courts and violence. Assuming the upcoming election is as close as I currently expect it to be, I wouldn't be surprised to see quite a lot of both.

Update: Here is a good article on vote fraud and contested elections.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Dirty Tricks

A couple of libertarian/conservative bloggers have recently threatened to vote Republican because of alleged dirty politics by the Democrats. First up is Eric Raymond, very well known in the Open Source movement, who writes:
For the first time in my life, I find that I am seriously considering voting Republican in a presidential election. What has pushed me to it is this report of shots being fired into a Bush-Cheney campaign HQ in Knoxville. TN.

It's not the first shot fired at the Republicans. And it comes on top of a frenzy of anti-Republican hate speech ...

Yes, shots were fired at Republicans, but nobody knows for sure whether or not it was Democrats who fired the shots. In fact, it could even be Republicans who wanted to elicit this sort of response.

Vodkapundit complains of a different set of Democratic tactics identified in the Drudge Report.

If Drudge has it right, then the Kerry-Edwards campaign is going to do its damnedest to turn our fine nation into a banana republic. [...]

[F]or the first time in 16 years, I'm going to vote Republican straight down the line.
The Drudge Report article claims that a manual for Democrat operatives contains instructions to call attention to past Republican frauds. The following is the "offending" page:

I look at it and still can't figure out what has Vodkapundit so upset. It just tells Democrats to call attention to past Republican abuses. I can't see why that's so terrible.

Even if it were terrible, it's hard for me to believe that either of these guys is so naive that they believe that Republicans as a group are any better. Have they never heard of Nixon and Watergate? Maybe they're not old enough to remember it.

There are lots of unethical people in the world. Some of them go into politics. Some of those end up Democrats and some end up Republicans. I doubt that one party breeds corruption substantially more than the other. To hear of one or a few incidents like those described above and change your vote because of it seems somewhat short sighted to me. Punish those that commit crimes through the legal system, not the political party they happen to belong to. Make your vote count.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

It gets even better...

In this post Bret points out that newly minted Nobel Economist Edward Prescott points out that the Bush tax cuts should have been even bigger. Apparently several other Nobel Economists prefer Bushonomics over Kerrynomics as this article serves as witness:

Leading economists have a message for America: “John Kerry favors economic policies that, if implemented, would lead to bigger and more intrusive government and a lower standard of living for the American people.”

That was the conclusion released in a statement Wednesday by 368 economists, including six Nobel laureates: Gary Becker, James Buchanan, Milton Friedman, Robert Lucas, Robert Mundell, and — the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics — Edward C. Prescott. The economists warned that Sen. Kerry’s policies “would, over time, inhibit capital formation, depress productivity growth, and make the United States less competitive internationally. The end result would be lower U.S. employment and real wage growth.”

Perhaps they know what they are talking about!

Economic news not being emphasized by the media - the good kind!

Here is the whole Lawerence Kudlow article from today's WSJ.

It's the Economy, Smarty Pants

By LAWRENCE KUDLOWOctober 13, 2004; Page A16

You'd think that a high-performance economy, producing above-average growth and below-average inflation, would be a re-election ace. After all, during the 10 recovery quarters since the end of the 2001 recession, real GDP -- the most comprehensive measure of the economy -- has averaged 3.4% growth, in line with the average post-World War II expansion rate. Since the supply-side tax cuts were passed in Spring 2003, real economic growth has jumped to 4.8%, putting it at the head of the class of the past 20 years.

Somehow -- blame it on many media outlets -- this message is muted. Yet over the past year:

• Inflation-adjusted consumer spending is up 3.6%.
• Residential housing investment is up 13.2%.
• Capital-goods investment by businesses is up 13.9%.
• Spending on machine tools for heavy-industry manufacturing is up a whopping 54.2%.
• Exports and imports are up nearly 11%.
• After-tax corporate profits are up 19.5%.
• Industrial production is up 5.2%.
• High-tech production is up 23.7%.
• Productivity has reached an astonishing 4.6% rate.
• Household wealth is up 11.1%, hitting a record high of $45.9 trillion.
• The GDP deflator is up only 2.2%.
• The core consumer-spending deflator (excluding food and energy) is up only 1.4%.
• Interest rates are at 45-year lows, with short-term rates at less than 2%.
• 15-year mortgage rates are just above 5%.
• Home ownership stands at a record 69.2%.

Impressive? No, remarkable, considering the economy was up against an inherited recession, a busted tech bubble, corporate scandals, 9/11, two wars and an oil-price shock. The strong performance also sharply contrasts with ongoing weakness in Europe. John Kerry may love Europe, but GDP there is growing at less than 2%, with unemployment between 9% and 10%.

Despite all this, the Kerry campaign has managed to define the economy in terms of a relatively weak set of jobs numbers taken from the non-farm payroll survey of established businesses. Team Kerry has flogged George W. Bush with the fact that payrolls have fallen (by 585,000) since the beginning of the president's term. Kerryites talk of a "Hoover" economy, even though two million payroll jobs have been recovered in the past 13 months.

In his own defense, Mr. Bush should highlight the household survey (the number of people actually working), which shows that 1.69 million more are employed today than when he took office. An additional 3.4 million have gone to work since the end of the recession, with 140 million Americans currently employed -- a new record. With all these new job entrants, the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.4%. This is no Hoover economy. But to make this point, Mr. Bush must use numbers on GDP and household employment. He must also stress personal income -- the best gauge of family spending power -- which is growing at a 5% pace. And he cannot be bashful about defending his tax cuts.

Mr. Kerry has already agreed with Mr. Bush on middle-class tax cuts. But when the senator from Massachusetts launches his class-warfare attack on tax cuts for the rich, Mr. Bush should inform debate watchers that taxpayers in the top 1% earn only 14.8% of the nation's income but pay 34.4% of individual income taxes. Similarly, taxpayers in the top 5% -- the biggest income losers during the downturn -- make a quarter of the income but pay over half the income taxes. Why not share tax relief with those who pay the most taxes?

Punishing successful earners and investors, as Mr. Kerry would do, is no way to grow an economy. Tax hikes on dividends and capital gains are nothing but tax hikes on the whole stock market and the 50% of households that own shares. And what good will it do to set up tax barriers for those who wish to climb the ladder to $200,000 salaries ($146,000 for single earners)? Mr. Kerry may say he likes jobs, but he doesn't seem to like the businesses that create them. By taxing capital investment more, business financing will shrink, as will the jobs that businesses create. (Who's the Hoover candidate now?) Mr. Bush will find that a few well-placed facts will go a long way in tonight's debate.

Mr. Kudlow co-hosts CNBC's "Kudlow & Cramer."

URL for this article:http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB109763214580043832,00.html

Who's the totalitarian?

I sometimes think of freedom as consisting of a trilogy: economic freedom, political freedom and civil liberties. The importance of preserving civil liberties often receives great emphasis. My take is that economic and political freedom are root and branch of the tree of liberty. Civil liberties are more of a blossom or flower. Complaints about the administration's real or imagined infringement on civil liberties while ignoring some groups attacks on free speech really miss this crucial point. It is particularly misleading when the President is compared to Hitler. The implication, I assume, is that somehow he is a totalitarian facist. This misses by a mile as the excerpt below demonstrates. (emphasis mine)

In this best of the web, James Taranto excerpts a Washington Post article.

The Democratic National Committee is attempting to use the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law to suppress a documentary critical of John Kerry. Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns 62 TV stations nationwide, plans next week to air "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," which features interviews with former prisoners of war who feel betrayed by Kerry's antiwar activism. The Washington Post reports:

Sinclair's decision . . . is drawing political fire--not least from the Democratic National Committee, which plans to file a federal complaint today accusing the company of election-law violations. "Sinclair's owners aren't interested in news, they're interested in pro-Bush propaganda," said DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, whose complaint will accuse the firm of making an in-kind contribution to the Bush campaign.

If this is an in-kind contribution, what is "Fahrenheit 9/11"? How about Bruce Springsteen's pro-Kerry concerts, or for that matter newspaper editorials endorsing one candidate or another?

All these things of course are constitutionally protected free speech, as is "Stolen Honor." McAuliffe's complaint is frivolous, though it does underscore the absurdity of campaign finance laws that attempt to silence some political speech while carving out an exception for the media.

As well, it underscores the authoritarian nature of the political left when it comes to political speech. Liberals are quick to cry"censorship" when others merely criticize far-left or anti-American speech (remember the Dixie Chicks?), but they are eager to use the force of government to silence those with whom they disagree.

Who's the totalitarian?!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Nobel Prize for Economics and Tax Cuts

This years Nobel Prize for Economics went to Edward Prescott and Finn Kydland "for their contributions to dynamic macroeconomics: the time consistency of economic policy and the driving forces behind business cycles." These are two economists who have specialized in the area of how economic policy such as tax cuts affect the business cycle. Here's what Edward Prescott has to say about tax cuts:
Edward Prescott, who picked up the Nobel Prize for Economics, said President George W. Bush tax rate cuts were "pretty small" and should have been bigger.

"What Bush has done has been not very big, it's pretty small," Prescott told CNBC financial news television.

"Tax rates were not cut enough," he said.

Lower tax rates provided an incentive to work, Prescott said.

Prescott and Norwegian Finn Kydland won the 2004 Nobel Economics Prize for research into the forces behind business cycles.

The American analyst, who is a professor at Arizona State University and a researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said a large tax cut in 1986 had lowered rates while collecting the same revenue.

But "in the early '90s the economy was depressed by the tax increase in '93 by about four percent, and it's right at that level now," Prescott said.

Bush, who is fighting to get re-elected November 2, has cut taxes by about 1.7 trillion dollars during his term.

The US leader accuses his Democratic rival John Kerry (news - web sites) of favoring tax increases, despite Kerry's promise to cut taxes for everyone earning less than 200,000 dollars a year.
So now we have an economist, who specializes in economic policy and won the Nobel Prize, who says that Bush's tax cuts were too small. There is now nobody with equal stature and specialization who takes the other side.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Bad News for Kerry

John Howard easily won re-election in Australia, even picking up a few seats. I think this makes life harder for Kerry for two reasons. First, Howard is a devoted ally in the War on Terror and a close ally of Bush. His re-election, as one of the groups described by Kerry as the alliance of the coerced and the bribed, makes it harder for Kerry to argue that Bush has no allies. Or, conversely, if Howard had lost, it would have provided a golden opportunity for Kerry to show that Bush had alienated even the Australians, our most loyal ally for the past 150 years. Kerry will now be unable to utilize that argument.

The second reason that Howard's re-election is bad news for Kerry is that the polls and media in Australia were predicting a very close race, with several of the them predicting a Howard loss. Instead, it was a strong Howard win.

The bloggers at Polipundit.com do extensive poll analysis and have shown numerous examples of polls and media predictions favoring democrats only to have the republicans do far better in the actual election. I've always taken their analysis with a grain of salt since they want Bush to win. However, in the light of seeing something similar occur in Australia, I'm begining to wonder. I'm not sure why this phenomenon exists, if it does, but it may be that the Left does better in polls and the media than they do in actual elections. That would imply that Bush is doing better than the polls are telling us.

The Bush futures contract on Tradesports rallied yesterday and today, perhaps reflecting the Australian election news. Of course, the elections in Afghanistan also occured yesterday and seem to me to be moderately successful, though it will take months before the full impact is known.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Good News for Kerry

Weak employment numbers in this mornings payroll survey as described by an Associated Press release:
Employment rises by 96,000 in September as jobless rate holds at 5.4 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) Companies added 96,000 jobs to their payrolls in September, fewer than economists forecast for the last employment report before Election Day. The figures underscored the modest hiring pace that has become an issue in President Bush's re-election bid.

The four hurricanes striking Florida and other coastal states the past two months appear ''to have held down employment growth, but not enough to change materially'' the overall jobs picture in September, the Labor Department said Friday.

The nation's civilian unemployment rate remained at 5.4 percent.

Job growth was weighed down by losses in manufacturing, retail and information services. September's net increase of 96,000 payroll jobs was less than August's rise, which was revised down in Friday's report from 144,000 to 128,000.

''I wouldn't want to be in President Bush's shoes. He had better prepare himself for an onslaught,'' said private economist Ken Mayland of ClearView Economics, noting Friday night's second presidential debate. ''The reality is that a 96,000 increase in a work force of a 131 million base is an anemic rise, and is in no way a satisfactory increase.''

The economy should be creating 250,000 jobs or more per month by now, he said. Economists predicted that about 150,000 new jobs would be added in September.

On Wall Street, the lackluster report pushed stocks lower. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 19 points in late morning trading, and the Nasdaq dropped almost 13 points.

With the new report, Bush heads into next month's election with a jobs deficit. Though 1.8 million jobs have been added to business payrolls in the past year, there are 821,000 fewer nonfarm jobs in the country than when Bush took office in January 2001. [...]
While very few people change their vote based on government statistics (and I personally view these particular statistics as practically meaningless), these statistics provide an opportunity for Kerry to hammer Bush in tonight's debate.

Perhaps that's why Tradesports' Bush presidential futures contract is trading down today, dropping below 60% chance of Bush winning. That's ironic because Donald Luskin has a column in the Nation Review Online that states:
Here's the record. From 1884 to 1940 -- the heyday of organized election betting -- there were 13 elections. In nine of them, the betting markets strongly favored one candidate by setting the odds at a 60% or greater probability a month before the election -- the favorite won in nine out of ten elections. Also, there were three very close elections, and the betting odds correctly put all three near fifty/fifty. For the remaining election, 1908, regulatory issues kept the betting markets from functioning until just before election day -- but the odds did call the winner correctly. [...]

Right now the election betting market makes George Bush the favorite to win re-election, with a probability of about 62%. That's above the threshold at which, a month out from the election, betting markets have only been wrong once in 116 years.

Today the dominant election betting market is Tradesports.com, a Dublin, Ireland-based web site where you can bet on all manner of sporting, political and current events. Presidential bets at Tradesports.com take the form of online futures contracts.
Now, of course the contract is below that threshold of 60% on the futures market, making it not such a sure thing that Bush is re-elected. In other words, Kerry's chances look better than they have in months. Bush is still favored, but maybe Kerry really is the strong closer everybody says he is. We'll see.