The Last Debate


    

Trump did very well, in the sense that if you hadn’t already known it, you might not have guessed he was a madman. But nothing could be more infuriating than to hear him pitch himself as the candidate of change.

For many decades, the federal government has become bigger and more intrusive. Hilary Clinton wants it to be even bigger and even more intrusive. So does Donald Trump. In this they do not differ. She more or less admits it; he flat out lies.

So let’s remind ourselves that Trump wants a government that is more dictatorial regarding who you can trade with, where you can locate your business, the wage contracts you can negotiate, and who you can invite into your living room. He has no problem with entitlement growth, and when asked what he would cut, has consistently answered “waste, fraud and abuse”, suggesting that he has no problem with any of the big ticket items — no problem with a federal government that maintains Departments of Commerce, Labor, Agriculture, Education, Energy, Transporation, and all the rest of it. Given ample opportunities, he’s never even been able to muster a word of opposition to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

And what could be more infuriating than all this business about how we’re going to have freer trade by negotiating better agreements? Free trade, by its nature, does not involve the negotiation of agreements. It involves not telling other people who they can trade with.

Yes, Clinton was also awful, but as I said, she’s a little more forthright about her awfulness — she wants free college, but at least she doesn’t try to say that free college is part of her plan to shrink the government.

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26 Responses to “The Last Debate”


  1. 1 1 nobody.really

    CLINTON: Honest. Bad. Policies.

    CLINTON: Bad Policies You Can Believe In

    CLINTON: No Hope. No Change.

    I’m With Her!

    (…yeah, I’m startin’ to see why Landsburg didn’t go into political consulting….)

  2. 2 2 nobody.really

    How credible are the accusations that Trump keeps reaching up women’s skirts?

    Well, the last three times I saw the guy alone with a woman, that woman wore a pantsuit. Draw your own conclusion….

  3. 3 3 Advo

    @SL:
    I’m not sure how “free college” is a bad thing aside from the fact that it costs taxpayer money.

  4. 4 4 Khodge

    umm…that pretty much sums it up. And the election held so much promise a year ago.

  5. 5 5 Roger

    You got the impression that Trump like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting? Not much chance of that, when he finds out what they say about him.

    Since you are against the trade agreements as anti-free-trade, I would think that you would like Trump. He attacks the trade agreements more than anyone.

  6. 6 6 iceman

    Advo 3 – about as clearly inefficient of a way to allocate a scarce resource as could be imagined. Kinda what economics is all about.

  7. 7 7 Advo

    Advo 3 – about as clearly inefficient of a way to allocate a scarce resource as could be imagined. Kinda what economics is all about.

    How so?
    I’d expect access to “free college” to be somewhat limited to people who can pass some kind of test or have grades that indicate that they will be able to actually graduate.
    Pretty much all other western countries have something like that.
    I suppose it is the biggest reason why social mobility is so much higher in many European countries than in the relatively class-bound US.

  8. 8 8 Zazooba

    Bottom line?

    Trump has had three chances to speak more or less directly to the public to get his positions across. Three times he hasn’t bothered to seriously think about how to present himself, how to couch his best points, and how to respond to distractions. It looks like he hasn’t even bothered to memorize a dozen or so prepared answers to obvious questions.

    I don’t think he was ever serious. I think he just likes to give speeches to cheering crowds. It looks like that’s all he actually does.

    He was, however, canny/opportunistic enough to pick up the $100-bill issue of immigration that was lying on the sidewalk. Perhaps none of the other candidates could pick it up because the donors would punish anyone who did pick it up.

    This is what happens when the political process suppresses a popular position on a hugely important issue.

  9. 9 9 Zazooba

    The issue of making college “free” has some interesting avenues of thought.

    A bright ray of sensibleness in Hillary’s acceptance speech was when she said we should do something for the many decent people who don’t/shouldn’t go to college. This is what Germany and Japan do. Most people aren’t suited for college, and those people should be treated decently.

    But, this conflicts with the free college proposal that will entice way too many people to go to college.

    If we did have “free college”, would colleges adjust so that “colleges” will develop for people who shouldn’t go to real colleges, where students will spend four years living away from home, growing up and finding themselves, or just having a good time? Maybe if we are freed from antique notions of what college should, the “curricula” of these “colleges” could evolve into something that would actually benefit these “college students”. This seems to already be happening to some extent. Maybe the country has gotten rich enough to provide four-year day for college graduates.

    If much of current “college education” is now wasted on students who shouldn’t be there, why do we want students with even weaker abilities to go to “college”?

    If these “colleges” aren’t real colleges in the traditional sense, couldn’t they be made much more cost effective by dropping the pretense and costliness of real colleges?

    Community colleges are already approximately free and do a perfectly good job of delivering basic college courses at low cost with minimal pretense. So, why do we need to make ALL colleges free?

  10. 10 10 nobody.really

    I’m not sure how “free college” is a bad thing aside from the fact that it costs taxpayer money.

    about as clearly inefficient of a way to allocate a scarce resource as could be imagined.

    Pretty much all other western countries have something like that.

    1. Advo invites comparison to other nations’ policies regarding college. I invite comparison to the US’s policies regarding K-12 education.

    Specifically, government provides free (no incremental cost) K-12 education. I can’t recall anyone objecting to how inefficient this allocation is. (Sure, some argue in favor of vouchers, but I haven’t heard anyone argue that vouchers should be sold instead of simply distributed.)

    I surmise an economist might justify this policy on the theory that this level of education generates sufficient positive externalities to offset the efficiency losses. Is this true of K-12 education? And if so, why would it not be true of college education? And even if it were true, could we devise a still more beneficial/efficient system? In short, can we articulate a policy about when government should subsidize education and when it shouldn’t?

    2. Well, here’s one: College grads tend to earn more than the median/average person. So when we subsidize college, we’re subsidizing the (relatively) rich. Does that make sense to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich?

    But perhaps this is not an accurate assessment. Arguably we shouldn’t compare the wealth of the average college grad to the average person in society, but of the weighted average taxpayer. If our tax system is sufficiently progressive, we might see that subsidizing college results in a net wealth transfer from the relatively rich to the relatively poor, because a very large share of tax revenues come from the very rich.

    3. But here’s a harsher objection: It is unclear whether we should subsidize things, even when they generate positive externalities, when we’re already getting enough of those things. Thus, as we recently discussed, parents arguably generate enormous social benefits–yet many seem to be willing to do this even without (additional) subsidies. Ergo, while I see nothing unfair about subsidizing parents, I’m not persuaded that it’s necessary.

    Similarly, the choice to subsidize college attendance should turn in part on whether we think the labor market demands more college grads. I honestly don’t know the answer to that question.

    But I’m leery of the Supply Side argument: It says, “Who cares whether there is a demand for more college grads? We have a supply of high school grads who need jobs, or need better jobs, and can’t get them! And historically, a college degree has correlated with getting better jobs. Ergo, we should stimulate the college degree machine.”

    This argument conflates two dynamics. Yes, with more training, ideally people become more productive, and thus can justify a higher compensation for their labors. That’s fine, as far as it goes.

    But no, a college degree is probably not the only thing that has contributed to college grads getting higher compensation in the past. Rather, society rewards certain intellectual/personal qualities, and colleges have historically been good at identify people with those qualities. That is, college does not make people productive; college just recognizes productive people, babysits them for four years, and then gives them a seal of approval (the so-called “Princeton Effect”).

    I embrace both the college-as-improver and college-as-marker theories. But how much of a grad’s compensation is due to the one, and how much to the other? Don’t know. If the former is large, then getting more people to go to college will help boost aggregate income. But if the latter is large, then getting more people to go to college won’t boost aggregate income much.

    Which isn’t the same as saying that it would have NO effect. The more people are competing for a position, the better the outcome for the person hiring–and perhaps for consumers. And if we can increase the pool of people competing, we might broaden the range of people who get jobs (i.e., improve opportunities for women and minorities, at the expense of men and majorities).

    So subsidizing college might make sense–or not.

  11. 11 11 James Kahn

    “Trump wants a government that is more dictatorial regarding who you can trade with, where you can locate your business, the wage contracts you can negotiate, and who you can invite into your living room.”

    I would make a distinction between trade and immigration. (It’s unfortunate that Trump doesn’t, but we can.) Free trade is pretty much an unambiguously good thing. Immigration is a bit more complicated. There are legitimate security issues, and even Milton Friedman acknowledged that open borders and a welfare state are not compatible. And, ironically, free trade can provide many of the economic benefits that open borders would bring. Finally, philosophically open borders is not the same as free trade. Yes, I should be able to trade with whomever I want. But open borders is not “inviting someone into my living room,” it’s inviting someone into my apartment building or gated community. Not even close to the same thing.

  12. 12 12 James Kahn

    nobody.really: “It is unclear whether we should subsidize things, even when they generate positive externalities, when we’re already getting enough of those things.”

    A more basic point is that an argument to subsidize is not an argument to make something free. College is already heavily subsidized, in that we have state universities, taxpayer-funded scholarship and loan programs, etc. That would be the main reason we may already have “enough,” or maybe even too much. The same goes for K-12, though the problems there are more from the fact that somehow the externality argument became a justification for provision by the state, which does a terrible job of K-12 education in many places.

  13. 13 13 Zazooba

    @James Kahn #11

    Yes, I should be able to trade with whomever I want. But open borders is not “inviting someone into my living room,” it’s inviting someone into my apartment building or gated community. Not even close to the same thing.

    Steve has used this analogy and similar analogies so many times, and the flaws have been pointed out so many times, that I think he undermines his credibility by using it yet again. I would be fascinated to hear an honest explanation of why he advances, what appears to me, to be an obviously flawed argument.

    To be fair, people advance horribly flawed arguments all the time. It is just that I come to this site for its abnormally thoughtful and honest commentary, and I often learn something. Bandying slogans, on the other hand, is boring.

  14. 14 14 iceman

    James Kahn frames the issue nicely. There’s at least attempting to determine the optimal level – and I only hear politicians ever suggest that everyone who wants to go should be able to, in which case we don’t have the capacity (BTW you acknowledge other countries don’t either) so the tuition spiral continues. There’s also why make something free for those who can afford it (in part or full)? We means test just about everything else. I agree the externality issue is stronger at the K-12 level.
    Comparisons to other countries are never a very compelling line of argument to me. I mean, someone has to carry the banner for freedom, liberty and economic growth (vs. redistribution), or who will the rest of the world free ride on? (See price controls on and reimportation of life-enhancing pharmaceuticals).

  15. 15 15 Steve Landsburg

    James Kahn (#11): But open borders is not “inviting someone into my living room,” it’s inviting someone into my apartment building or gated community. Not even close to the same thing.

    If my condo association imposes limitations on who I can invite into the building (and hence into my living room), it is acting as a government. I might or might not like the association’s policies, but if I like them, it’s because in this case I want more government, not less.

    So yes, there are circumstances in which it is at least reasonable to argue that governments should limit immigration. But it is a lot more of a stretch to say that the government should limit immigration in furtherance of the goal of minimizing government, which is what I’ve heard Trump say. You can be the candidate of smaller government, or you can be the candidate who thinks we need more government, but it’s hard to be both.

    (One could of course say that we need more govt in some areas and less in others. But that’s not Trump. He says he wants smaller govt across the board, but then whenever it comes to specific cases, he always wants the govt to be bigger and more intrusive.)

  16. 16 16 Ken B

    @Steve 15

    Asking that a government exercise its existing powers consistently is not really making it larger is it? Doing so can limit the discretion of officers(for god or ill), and at a more abstract level reduces the amount of information (in the Shannon sense) of governmental interaction. It might also, by reducing the need for follow ups and oversight, reduce the total amount of government interactions with citizens. I can imagine this being part of a more general small government approach. Switzerland for example has exceedingly strict immigration.

    Aside from that I think you are guilty of trying to take Trump literally rather than seriously (to steal a phrase I saw elsewhere.) Trump is not presenting his Lemma on Government Size. An objection beased on whether enforcing a rule more stricty is best characterized “more” or “less” feels like pettifogging.

  17. 17 17 nobody.really

    [Y]ou are guilty of trying to take Trump literally rather than seriously (to steal a phrase I saw elsewhere.) Trump is not presenting his Lemma on Government Size. An objection based on whether enforcing a rule more strictly is best characterized “more” or “less” feels like pettifogging.

    I’m reminded of the 1830 review of a book by Robert Southey, a popular poet and ignoramus regarding public policy. After pointing out the obvious implications of his text, the reviews conclude:

    “We do not, however, believe that Mr. Southey would recommend such a course, though his language would, according to all the rules of logic, justify us in supposing this to be his meaning. His opinions form no system at all. He never sees, at one glance, more of a question than will furnish matter for one flowing and well-turned sentence; so that it would be the height of unfairness to charge him personally with holding a doctrine, merely because that doctrine is deducible … from the premises which he has laid down. We are, therefore, left completely in the dark as to Mr. Southey’s opinions….

  18. 18 18 Steve Landsburg

    nobody.really: And this is as good a time as any to reiterate something I learned long ago from Don Boudreaux: One really ought to read and reread Macaulay, and especially Macaulay on Southey.

  19. 19 19 Harold

    “So subsidizing college might make sense–or not.”
    Spoken like an economist.

  20. 20 20 Ken Arromdee

    “But here’s a harsher objection: It is unclear whether we should subsidize things, even when they generate positive externalities, when we’re already getting enough of those things.”

    Nobody wants college enrollments as an end in themselves. They want them because they provide benefits to the students. In other words, we don’t want to maximize college enrollments, but rather the result of (benefits of college enrollments – cost of college). And we’re certainly not getting enough of that result.

  21. 21 21 nobody.really

    [W]e don’t want to maximize college enrollments, but rather the result of (benefits of college enrollments – cost of college). And we’re certainly not getting enough of that result.

    I expect this may be accurate, but I also expect to find diminishing marginal returns for all things. Today we have more people going to college than at nearly any time in history. At what point will the costs of getting one more kid into college exceed the benefit?

    I can tell you this for a fact: It is not true that nobody really has studied this question. So maybe we could hear from someone who has?

  22. 22 22 Dave H.

    The budget request for the National Endowment for the Humanities is $148 million. That budget includes literally thousands of projects (such as the US Newspaper project, that cataloged and microfilmed about 60 million pages of historic newspapers.)

    The budget request for the US Army alone was $148 billion. (That’s billion with a “B”.) The NEH budget wouldn’t even cause a rounding error in the US Army budget.

    All the discretionary programs you named, combined, are less than the US military spent on the four 2014 financial reforms (HQ management, BRAC, TRICARE reform, and “auditability”), which were all originally designed to save money, rather than spend it.

    If Trump had actually spent time going after the CPB and other small-potatoes items, I (for one) would have justifiably poked fun at his inability to understand proportion.

    Entitlement reform is a different question. Social Security is actually easy to fix. Once we admit that it is a benefit program supported by a tax, (rather than a savings account), balancing the trust fund is a simple exercise in math.

    The entitlement that is harder to fix is Medicare, and there are two very different ways to “fix” it. One is, you can simply cut benefits to the point where everyone has to maintain their own private insurance to pay for any real medical problem. (If we don’t do anything, then that is the path we have chosen.)

    The other is to create a single-payer system based on the model of Canada, or Europe, or whatever. The argument I keep hearing against that is that it is too expensive. But America already spends more per person on healthcare than any other country on earth. I find it disingenuous when people pretend to know that single payer will cost more. In point of fact, there is some evidence that single-payer would immediately slash many costs by up to 50%, such as certain hospital stays, simply by enforcing a single set of reimbursement rules.

    But you aren’t going to see that argued at a debate where name-calling is considered to be a winning tactic.

  23. 23 23 Ken B

    Dave H is characteristically sloppy. A single payer “on the model of …Europe”? Does Europe have a uniform single-payer system? And is it the same as Canada’s? France has a lot of private money, Canada not so much, and the Swiss system is very different from either. Never mind the Danes or Poles or an other inconvenient example. And what about whatever’s system? I am curious about how they do it in whatever. I confess ignorance here.

  24. 24 24 Richard D.

    Ken B:
    “Nobody wants college enrollments as an end in themselves.
    They want them because they provide benefits to the students.
    In other words, we don’t want to maximize college enrollments,
    but rather the result of (benefits of college enrollments –
    cost of college).
    And we’re certainly not getting enough of that result.”

    Serious problems plague your commonly held belief.

    First, the question of ‘benefit’. AS far as I can
    tell, this vague concept quantifies into lifetime
    earnings, rather than intangibles, so let’s go with that.

    Studies show that countries with higher spending on
    schooling, which equates to longer ‘state of
    studenthood’ by youth, correlate to higher GDP.
    hmmmm… I strongly expect that spending on amusement
    parks also correlates to greater prosperity, country
    vs. country. So… subsidize your kids’ indulgence in
    food, drink, and fun, in an escapist environment…
    send ‘em to Disneyland AND State U., both investments
    in their future! Mathematically proven!
    http://www.amazon.com/How-Lie-Statistics-1st-First/dp/B0077FBMVW

    In fact, no one has shown that college is anything
    more than a consumption item. Extended adolescence –
    delaying the drear of work and adult responsibility –
    is obviously appealing, and parents will pay the cost,
    to spoil their chidren. Indeed, spoiling one’s
    children is a major priority and motivation in nearly
    everyone’s life, which largely explains the drive toward
    a rising standard of living.

    But to repeat: no one has shown that extended adolescence,
    er I mean education, CAUSES such a rise, any more than
    Disneyland is causal, and the GDP correlations prove nothing.

    This is a crucial, unacknowledged point in all these
    “how much to spend on education” debates, as well as
    “we’re not getting enough bang for the buck” cavilling.
    (what about consumer utility?)

  25. 25 25 Richard D.

    oops, make that attribution:
    Ken Arromdee

  26. 26 26 Josh

    I’m surprised you think we don’t need a department of transportation. Who should maintain our interstates?

    I’m not sure what the department of commerce does.

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