Current Events

Against thinking independent voters must vote for your candidate

This is a general response to those that insist a vote for a third party is a vote for the “other” candidate–the one you are so convinced must be defeated–in this or any election.  (And ignores the view that no individual’s vote makes any difference to the outcome of an election.)

Insisting that people not vote for the candidate they prefer because you think it will hurt your candidate’s chance is basically saying democratic elections in the US are a bad idea. Maybe you believe that. In fact, I do–not because democracy is inherently bad, but because our version of it, at least in national elections, is awful.  The electoral college, gerrymandering of voting districts, and the idiotic Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), are all part of the problem, but I can’t here delve into any of them.

Here’s the thing: if you believe our quasi-democratic system is bad, you should come clean about it. Either tell the world you prefer that your party just pick the next president rather than bother with what masquerades here as a popular democratic election or encourage a change in the system. Work to end gerrymandering, the electoral college, or the CPD’s stranglehold on the presidential debates. Or push for some bigger change. In any case, don’t pretend to believe that our system is working well while bemoaning the fact the other half of the duopoly nominated such a terrible candidate (or, as I think, that both halves did).

In short, don’t take for granted that our electoral system has to be the way it currently is.  Until 1988, we had real debates between the leading nominees for president.  That system was changed as the Democrats and Republicans colluded to change their nature.  Part of that is how the supposedly non-partisan (but really partisan for the duopoly) CPD limits the debates to the two parties.  Yes, the CPD relies on polls done by others.  But those polls are frequently themselves problematic.  Sometimes the questions are framed as if there are only 2 candidates–making it near impossible for any third party candidates to score well.  Sometimes, the third party candidates are listed, but with their names prefaced with “third party candidate X”–with the likely result that X scores low since people want to think of themselves as supporting a top tier candidate, not someone thought of as in third place or worse–no matter how good that candidate is.  (I’m not suggesting intentional collusion between the duopoly and the polling companies.)

Some will say this is all silly because people should vote strategically to get the best possible candidate in office and that voting for the candidate that one happens to like is simply unnecessary luxury or, worse, a childish desire.  But there is reasonable debate about how one should vote–strategically, according to one’s conscience, etc–just as there is reasonable debate about what elected officials are meant to do–represent the stated interests of their constituents or act according to their conscience, etc. If you have an argument that we should not vote for the person we think best (or according to our conscience), then–but only then–you might have a case to tell others who to vote for.  Then again, you might have a case for just letting your party pick the winner.

To conclude here–almost certainly my last post about the current election–I think it’s clear that the current bad choices are the results of the terrible way the Democratic and Republican parties operate–including colluding to run the CPD and, worse, to incite passionate hatred of the other side amongst their rank and file members.  Given that, I do not think independent voters need to capitulate to the duopoly. If Democrats or Republicans want my vote–and I assume the same is true for many of those who think of themselves as independent, libertarian, green, or ….–they should put forward a good candidate.  For me, that requires that the candidate be willing to engage in honest debates where they actually respond to what their competitor says and work to make the best case for their candidacy and their policies on their merits, not emotions. 

Democrats and Republicans should not expect independent voters to solve the problem their parties are responsible for creating.  Whether a new party–or a thoroughly reformed version of one of those two–can make things better is another question.  I think the answer is yes, but I don’t see it happening from either Dems or Reps.

Criminal Justice Reform

Which is worse?

Consider each of the following scenarios:

Scenario 1: Police officer is riding along when he spots a car with a black male driver.  As he follows a policy of racial profiling, the officer checks the database and finds out that the car is not insured.  He thus pulls the car over. When he approaches the car, he smells marijuana; that gives him probable cause to check the vehicle and upon further inspection, he finds a firearm and cocaine.  He arrests the driver.  The marijuana possession is a misdemeanor, the cocaine possession is a felony, the firearm possession is a felony even though he is licensed to own the gun (because he has it in his possession while committing a felony—the possessing of the cocaine).

Scenario 2: Police officer is riding along and checks as many license plate numbers as he can as he passes cars.  He simply types in the plate numbers on his keypad conveniently located next to his steering wheel.  In one case, he finds out that the car is not insured.  He thus pulls the car over. When he approaches the car, he smells marijuana; that gives him probable cause to check the vehicle and upon further inspection, he finds a firearm and cocaine.  He arrests the driver.  Same charges as in scenario 1.

Scenario 3: Police officer is riding along in a new vehicle that has equipment that automatically gathers the license plate numbers of all cars in its vicinity, checks them on the database, and notifies the driver of the vehicle if any show up with problems.  The officer is notified of a car that is not insured.  He thus pulls the car over. When he approaches the car, he smells marijuana; that gives him probable cause to check the vehicle and upon further inspection, he finds a firearm and cocaine.  He arrests the driver.  Same charges as in scenario 1 and 2.

So which is worse? The racial profiling in scenario 1, the activity that seems very similar to texting and driving in scenario 2, or Big Brother’s presence in scenario 3?

Current Events

Follow Me On Twitter @DrToleration

Ideally, I will tweet about toleration–when I see it missing, where I see it mistakenly extended, etc.  More realistically, I’ll first be posting about the current presidential election.  Along the way, I’ll likely throw out some heterodox claims about other current events.  I doubt I’ll tweet more then once a day on most days (and sometimes less).  So follow me on Twitter @DrToleration.


Once more, dear friends: Johnson helps Clinton

On the one hand, I’m sure faithful BHL readers are sick of this. On the other hand, people are writing in widely-read political news sites that Clinton should go to extraordinary lengths to blow up the Johnson-Weld ticket. (Note: Actually offering a cabinet post in exchange for an endorsement would be a federal crime.) And the Washington Post editorial Board is repeating the claim that “Mr. Johnson takes more support from Hillary Clinton in three- and four-way polls than he does from Mr. Trump” as part of an ominous warning to Weld that he could be the Ralph Nader of 2016, swinging the election to the Republican.

So: unto the breach.

In the new Fox News poll Clinton leads by 5 in the 2-way race, by 3 in the 4-way race. Net of -2 from adding the third parties.

Stein polls at 4%. On any reasonable view of where her votes come from, she accounts for the whole loss to Clinton– probably and then some. Johnson’s 8% could be neutral, but most probably draws 1-2% net from Trump, making up some of the Stein effect.

And this is the pattern in almost every poll I’ve looked at that compares the 2-way and 4-way races. It’s the pattern in a large majority of states including most swing states. It’s the pattern you would expect from two former Republican governors running a ticket against a deeply unpopular (und un-conservative and unhinged) Republican nominee. It’s the pattern you would expect from the fact that (at this writing) six traditionally-Republican newspaper editorial boards, including the very conservative swing state New Hampshire Union Leader and the rock-ribbed Chicago Tribune and Detroit Free Press, have endorsed Johnson. I’m happy that Johnson and Weld have run a more leftward campaign than Libertarians usually do, and have emphasized Libertarians’ liberalism on drugs, crime, policing, imprisonment, and war. I’m happy that they’re bringing some young liberals into the movement, and I think that’s good for the future of libertarianism. But it’s still the case that the low-tax, free-market, free-trade candidates running against a protectionist Republican consistently bleed off a few more disaffected Republicans than they do Democrats. And the punditry, commentary, and strategy that pits Clinton’s interests directly against Johnson-Weld’s is mistaken.

The Post editorial mentioned above doesn’t itself offer any support for the claim that Johnson hurts Clinton. It just links to this John Fund piece as its footnote. But Fund provides no valid evidence for that claim, just a combination of ecological fallacies and fallacies of division. Johnson is strong among young people and out west, therefore… (without doing anything to see who those young people or westerners would otherwise support, or weighing their effect against those of other Johnson supporters). Clinton’s lead shrinks in a four-way race, therefore… (without distinguishing Stein’s effect from Johnson’s).

But what’s true of [Johnson + Stein] is not automatically true of Johnson, and in fact it is not true of Johnson. It’s the same mistake over and over again, in all these articles and commentaries, and now they’re feeding on each other, citing each other, and building a conventional wisdom out of something that isn’t true.

Update: We can quickly see the same thing in the Monday morning Morning Consult poll.
2-party: 46-39, Clinton +7
4-party: 42-36-9-2, Clinton +6

Yes, Clinton is hurt (net of -1) by including the third-party candidates. But on a reasonable assumption about where Stein’s 2% of voters go in the 2-party matchup, they fully account for that change of 1 point. That leaves Johnson somewhere between neutral and helping Clinton by 1 net point.


Epistocracy at Aeon

Another short piece introducing epistocracy at Aeon today.

Also at the PUP blog.

Of course, any epistocratic system would face abuse. It’s easy to imagine all the things that might go wrong. But that’s also true of democracy. The more interesting question is which system, warts and all, would work best. In the end, it’s a mistake to picture epistocracy as being the rule of an elite band of technocrats or ‘philosopher kings’. Rather, the idea is: do what democracy does, but better. Democracy and epistocracy both spread power among the many, but epistocracy tries to make sure the informed many are not drowned out by the ignorant or misinformed many.