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Politics and chance

After the New Hampshire primary Nadia Hassan wrote:

Some have noted how minor differences in how the candidates come out in these primaries can make a huge difference in the media coverage. For example, only a few thousand voters separate third and fifth and it really impacts how pundits talk about a candidate’s performance. Chance events can have a huge impact in politics and many areas. Candidates can win because of weather, or something they said, or a new news revelation. Nevertheless, I wonder if there’s a better way to handle this kind of thing when we are talking about close results in these primaries.

I replied:

Yes, but one reassuring perspective is that there’s arbitrariness in any case, as there are dozens of well qualified candidates for president and only one winner. Rather than arbitrariness, I’m more worried about systematic factors such as congress filling up with millionaires because these are the people who have the connections to allow them to run for office.

8 Comments

  1. Chris G says:

    > … there are dozens of well qualified candidates for president

    Dozens? I want to see the evidence which supports that hypothesis. (I’ve got 18 ft high stack to the contrary.)

    > Rather than arbitrariness, I’m more worried about systematic factors such as congress filling up with millionaires because these are the people who have the connections to allow them to run for office.

    More seriously – although my statement above was serious too – I also find that a greater concern. That and “rational ignorance” on the part of many voters resulting in some really shitty candidates being more successful than it’s good (for us) for them to be.

    Dan Drezner is more sanguine about rationally ignorant voters than I am:
    1) http://foreignpolicy.com/2011/01/14/blessed-are-the-rationally-ignorant/
    2) http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/11/14/the-low-down-dirty-truth-about-grubergate/
    3) https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/08/09/a-mild-defense-of-the-rationally-ignorant-voter/?utm_term=.88298cc291f3

  2. Rahul says:

    The “wealth” bias, hasn’t that always been there? Or is it more now?

  3. Bob says:

    Andrew wrote:

    I’m more worried about systematic factors such as congress filling up with millionaires because these are the people who have the connections to allow them to run for office.

    Do you think that connections are the primary effect of wealth on gaining political office in the US? It seems to me that connections are part of the story. But, wealth also allows one to take the time to run for office without missing a mortgage payment or losing a job. Moreover, political parties often open a variety of doors to donors. Finally, of course, the truly wealthy can self-finance a campaign.

    Bob

    Bob

  4. anonymous_ says:

    ” > … there are dozens of well qualified candidates for president “

    There are easily tens-of-thousands of well qualified candidates — if the qualification standard is that of previously elected Presidents (or that of the current Hillary/Trump gems).

    The U.S. President is merely a political figurehead with no objectively identifiable qualifications… other than age, natural citizenship, and political ability to gain a plurality of counted votes. Political figures just need followers, not dry qualifications.

    And it’s an absurd notion that any human could possess the abilities to actually manage the vast Executive Branch of the U.S. Government, as supposedly done by the elected Chief Executive Officer. The requisite knowledge/skills in law, economics, finance, personnel management, communications, science & technology, history, foreign affairs, military affairs, etc. …. are well beyond any personal capability, even with legions of staff & advisors.

    The office of the U.S. President is a heavily cultural, semi-religious institution of the American voting faithful… always emotionally seeking a great leader/savior, but never electing one.

    • Chris G says:

      > There are easily tens-of-thousands of well qualified candidates…

      No. “Candidate” means that you’ve pulled papers and that you’re on the ballot in at least one state. I’ll stipulate that there are thousands of people well-qualified to be President. The list of candidates is short.

  5. Plucky says:

    If you want fewer millionaires in Congress, pay them more. Congressmen get paid $174k right now, with a benefit package that’s probably worth $25k more than comparable private sector jobs. That sounds like (and is) a good paycheck in the grand scheme of things, but if you want your congressman to be smart, competent, and capable, that’s fairly meager. In big law, finance, medicine, and management-track corporate jobs, $175k is what you make in your early 30’s. I don’t know in detail what developers in tech make but I’d guess it’s similar. Congressmen are (usually) expected by their constituents to maintain their primary residence and family in their home district, which means they either have to maintain an apartment in the DC area or sleep in their office (which 40-60 members typically do, precisely because they can’t afford an apartment). If your spouse is a professional income-earner then it can work fine, but at the cost of your professional-job spouse being effectively a single parent for 225 days a year. Anyone who is the sort of person you’d want as a congressman is making a $100k/yr+ personal sacrifice and putting up with a seriously reduced quality of life. In addition, in order to run for congress in the first place you have to quit your existing job and go a year without an income with the odds stacked against you. In a safe partisan seat, you’re either challenging an incumbent in the primary or fighting 4-6 other candidates for an open seat, and if you’re in a competitive partisan seat, even when you get through the primary your odds of winning are 50/50. Unless you are in an area with a strong enough party organization to clear the field on your behalf (which is to say, you’re really well-connected), your odds of actually winning are at best 25%. So, running for congress involves a 75% chance of finding yourself in the position of having to find a new job after having gone a year with no income and probably also having put quite a bit of your personal money into your campaign. And if you do win, you get the deal mentioned above.

    The sorts of people who actually sign up for that are either exceptionally committed ideologues, exceptionally power-hungry and/or vain, willing to make up the difference on the side via corruption, mediocrities who aren’t actually capable of doing better elsewhere, or people who have become wealthy enough that the money doesn’t really matter anymore.

  6. Nadia says:

    The thing is money is not the only important incentive. Academia gets lot of brilliant people, despite not offering as much as law or finance. Moreover, an article on the super-gifted found that the median income was 82K in their early 30s. (Lubinski et. al “Tracking Exceptional Human Capital).

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