Political games

The vote- or seat-maximizing incentive for the Republican Party as a whole is to lay low, put forward no "Newt Gingrich" villain figure, and let Obama continue to take the blame for the ailing economy, while avoiding fights they can lose, because of the President's superior bully pulpit and media presence.

The incentive for individual Republican Congressmen is…different.

When it comes to marijuana legalization, I believe that the "anti-" forces will muster as many parental votes as they need to, to defeat it when they need to.  The elasticity of supply is nearly infinite at relevant margins.  Legalization may appear "close" for a long time, but in equilibrium it will not spread very far.  The "no" votes will pop up as needed.


"parental" is the right word and it ties with the "as a whole" vs individual incentives theme. An individual may agree that drug legalization is the better option for society yet not want it because they don't like the idea of their daughter getting high. Same thing goes for gay marriage. As long as someone sounds the alarm that society is going to pot enough people will show up with their parent faces on.

Clarification request: "elasticity of supply" of... parental votes? marijuana itself? I want to make sure I follow. Either way, I really really really hope your prediction is wrong.

The "Game" you propose--that the Republican party lay back and not create a "face" for the public to be its representative--assumes a passive game in which the other player does not react to or provoke.

Not a very realistic political game, this lying low or hiding. In fact, just pointing out that the other party is playing that game will only provoke those who voted for the "new" change to get mad at the new change agents. We are starting on another election cycle, and there will be a surplus of spokespersons, including Sarah P.

They will all be speaking on behalf of the "American People".

I wonder about Tyler's incentives when I read his political posts. His niche is clearly the "safe conservative", someone media outlets like NPR can have on to make listeners think they're unbiased, but someone they know wont say anything too "disruptive".

I always takes what he says with a grain of salt.

Will John Boehner and Mitch McConnell feel compelled by talk radio / Fox News / the Tea Party to play a high stakes game of poker with Obama over the funding of health reform in particular and the government in general?

I agree that the Republicans should lay low, otherwise an economy that is still perceived to be horrible- whether actually improving or not, perception is key- will make them look bad, after all the noise they've created in order to seize the house and make them seem more in control of the government.

However, I don't think they'll lay low.

BTW Tyler,

Can you point me to the Drug Prohibition Amendment in the Constitution? I eagerly await your reply.

Laying low is precisely what Democrats would like the Republicans to do, but I think that would just backfire. You don't get results like Tuesday unless the voters want you to change things, and if you lay low, that's not gonna happen. Better to be seen trying and failing (as Republican initiatives are stalled in the Senate) then to be seen not trying at all.

If the Republicans try and fail, they can blame the Democrats, and gain even more seats in 2012. If Republicans don't try at all, they can't blame the Democrats, and voters will be just as likely to try the Democrats again.

The pot bill failed in California because it was worse than the status quo. Without a minimum tax, a few towns would put the tax low to generate traffic. NH keeps its take lower on booze to maximize traffic from out of State, placing stores in the middle of border shopping meccas.

Plus it was probably a step too far and too fast for the Obama administration - after all Scalia was a strong supporter of Federal enforcement of pot laws, so no reason to piss him off. And there is no reason to expect Obama could win over Thomas who opposed Federal enforcement.

A better approach would be legalizing hemp for fiber by setting a limit on active ingredients below a marketable level.

mulp makes a good point on incrementalism, and with Doc Merlin's comment about the law prohibiting employment drug testing it just made me think of a key distinction. How is it that the moment something is tolerated the government mandates it? Whoever is pushing this in California doesn't care about expanding freedom, they just care about helping pot smokers. Until people understand there is a difference and choose the former there isn't much point in worrying about it.

I am certain you are totally wrong about the seat-maximizing lay low strategy.
But neither of us has data.

I'm also pretty sure most successful anti-incumbent newly elected will NOT lay low. I think you are too.
This leads me to suspect that you are preparing to claim, in the future, that laying low would have been better -- much like many think Castle would have won in Delaware had the TP folk not been so loud and successful in getting O'Donnell to run and win in the primary. Her primary win was far more inspiring to new candidates than her general loss was disastrous.

It would be more constructive of you to have your own list of "what should be cut, now", so that those who want to be loud about cutting might be able to copy, rather than re-invent.

"what should be cut, now"

Agreed. Add this to the podcast requests. We are sending $245K Hummers to Afghanistan. Not only that, but it's a political payback. Not a peep.

It's funny, there is plenty to be done, but if you are left speechless at Obama's audacity regarding medical spending then you don't want to compromise and have no good proposals. There is no compromising when someone comes to you with an "I win, you lose" proposition. And as we now know, "no proposal" was the correct position in the middle of a Great Recession. Obama could argue, and did, that addressing the long-term budget problem through medicare reform was going to help the economy, but we know now that was bullfeathers.

"When you come to the table with something sensible, we'll be happy to compromise. You can try to spin things, but it is because of your ram through tactics that we are here."

Both the Democrats and the Republicans are very unpopular at the moment. The Republicans won this election because they were out of power, just like the Democrats won the last two because they were (at the time) out of power. The best strategy for the Republicans right now is to... look like they're out of power. Just keep trying to do things that the President/Senate won't let you and you're home free unless the economy magically turns around in the next two years.

When everything looks like crap, make sure it's the other guys everyone is looking to fix it. Is this really that complicated?

It may or may not be that the best thing for the Republican party is to lay low. But who cares, unless you are a party hack? The past decade has clearly shown us that Republican =/= conservative. If the anti-incumbent newly elected lie low in order to help the election of RINOs in 2012, aren't we back where we started?

What's important is that Congressmen's incentives align with the national interest (however defined), not with a partisan one.

"Tyler clearly believes that the best thing for the Republican party is to be the loyal opposition. Sorry. We didn't do all that work to elect those candidates so they could go to dinner parties."

Sorry, Right Wing Nut, but they're talking about what's best for the GOP and not what's best for you.

Bush was going to do something for anti-abortion fanatics. What did he do? Eventually he proposed some Supreme Court nominees who were sort of anti-abortion. But what were the fanatics going to do about it? Vote Democrat? Republicans could promise them every election and they have no better choice than to vote GOP again and again. Like the carrot held in front of the mule he can't quite reach. If abortion does become illegal those guys might stop voting, so why speed it up?

I voted for Obama partly because he said he'd get us out of Iraq. He didn't say he'd get out of Afghanistan, which was bad, but compared to McCain he was the better choice. Now it's 2010 and we're still in both places and we're spending 2%+ of GDP on those wars. Suppose we spent that money on something that actually helped the economy. Or we didn't spend it at all? But it isn't my fault. I voted against McCain, who would probably have been even worse.

The GOP will do better to spend another 2 years looking like they'd do stuff for you if they could, Right Wing Nut, but they just aren't strong enough to do it yet. If you will only campaign harder for them next time, and get them more votes in the Senate and the Presidency, then they can spend two more years explaining why they can't do anything yet because the Democrats won't let them.

And what will you do about it? Vote Democrat?

I bought an ounce of pot here in SF yesterday, and I was surprised by the fact the price had gone down yet again. My dealer said the market is just flooded right now between the pot clubs, the medical industry, and the pressure from Prop 19. Plus, Arnold dropped the penalties to undercut 19.

I know I live in a bubble here, but I do think 19 is moving the ball forward. My wallet agrees!

As CA & the nation made it clear they do not want my tax money, I am looking to be more aggressive about actively seeking tax breaks. I am looking into some professional training to write off, and I gave NORML the largest tax deductible contribution I have ever made.

2012, here we come!

As stimulative as military/defense spending can be, the US defense budget can easily be trimmed big, without necessarily trimming much. Republicans will enhance their credibility (or, establish it) by not only keeping military spending cuts ON the table but by demonstrating the seriousness of the issue they cite (bloated Federal spending) in being certain to tackle Pentagon budget cuts FIRST (I speak as a conservative white Southerner who voted largely Republican last Tuesday). --with or without a new Base Re-Alignment Commission.

Curiously, for purposes of Prof. Cowen's post, I'd add here that Republicans are also in a perfect position to STEAL marijuana legalization from the progressives in California by ensuring its cultivation and taxation in Southern states where tobacco is no longer a cash crop (all because of the nettlesome intrusions made by public health activists, et al., dating from the US Surgeons General of the early 1960s). Cannabis cultivation cannot be seen in any way as morally inferior to tobacco production (which endures, just not nearly as lucratively for tobacco farmers as was the case a generation ago); even while it remains a controlled substance, cannabis kills fewer people in its illicit trade than tobacco products kill to this day. Cannabis cultivation offers former tobacco farmers in the South a new cash crop while offering beleaguered Southern state governments (and the head-in-sand Feds) a healthy new revenue source. Just as only Nixon could get to China, only the Republicans can legalize/decriminalize cannabis; they now have means, motive, and opportunity.

>>The elasticity of supply is nearly infinite at relevant margins. <<

I'm truly puzzled by that claim.
Can you provide any justification for it ?

This commentator from the "Who is IOZ" blog is worth reprinting:

"I am beginning to believe that the next step in evolution has already occurred. It's not computers or robots or nanotechnology, but the bureaucratic state which will become the supreme life form on this planet.

What we have now is a series of iterations in which the population bounces back and forth between the Welfare Party and the Warfare Party, allowing each party to assert a little bit more control over some aspect of our lives. Then the other party comes in on a wave of dissatisfaction with the previous party, but doesn't actually undo anything.

We're slowly painting ourselves into a corner. It's actually quite brilliant when you step back and admire it."

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