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2016 was a year of change, and 2017 will be the year much of that change starts to set in. There are no certainties, but we can clearly see the 2017 trends in American politics forming.

Republicans Rule Now

It is a staple of the American system of government that power is fractured between various divisions and levels of government. Unlike parliamentary systems, where the party with the most seats in the legislature gets to form the entire government, the House of Representatives, Senate and Presidency are all formed independently, and power is distributed between the Federal and State governments, which all have their own branches of government.

This distinction is less significant starting in 2017, because the republicans have taken everything.

Presidency

Donald Trump won the Presidency. What would be restraints on his authority are all controlled Republicans and he is riding the wave of continuous executive empowerment. Donald Trump will be the most powerful President in American history, with all the powers of Barrack Obama and none of the restrictions.

Congress

The 115th Congress will take office on January 3, 2017. Republicans will have 241 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives (55.4%) to the Democrats 194 seat (44.6%).

 

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Republicans will also control 52 of the 100 seats in the Senate, to the Democrats 48 seat (2 senators are registered independents who caucus with Democrats).

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This means that republicans control the whole of Congress and can pass any legislation that has republican support. The only obstacle to this is the filibuster in the Senate, which makes it necessary to have 60 senators vote for cloture to end debate and start a vote on a bill or confirmation.

Even that may be a dead opportunity for democrats. When they controlled the Senate before the 2014 elections, the filibuster continually frustrated them, as it was the chief tool of what they called “obstructionism.” It only requires 50 senators to change the rules of the senate, however, so the democrats changed the rules in 2013 to end the filibuster’s application to lower level executive appointments.

This, however, sets a precedent for the republicans to do the same thing, and modify senate rules to stop democratic obstructionism of President Trump. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in an interview with CNN “I wish it hadn’t happened [The Change in Senate Rules].” (more…)

The first Presidential Debate has come and gone and one thing most viewers will forget was the debate commission’s representatives’ and moderator Lester Holt’s repeated commands early on that the audience must remain silent and save their applause for the end. This makes sense because voters should make up their mind independently and not blindly follow crowd reactions.

The rule change was met with little compliance, though, as the audience cheered and laugh throughout the night. Despite this, the debates are not going to get rid of the studio audience any time soon, which is paradigmatic of a broader reluctance to make sorely needed, substantive changes to the debate structure.

The debates are more like theatre or reality television than reasoned intellectual discourse about policy. Things seem to have gotten worse over time, but this has always been the case. If you look at the debate events which have made history, you will find that they never have to do with substance or intellect, but rather chokes, jokes and zingers. This reflects what the voters truly get out of the debates.

This is unfortunate because of how important debate is. When candidates properly debate, they are incentivized to go deeper into the issues themselves in order to discredit their opponent as well as pressure their opponents to elaborate on their own points. Candidates could explore issues arranged by importance, as this would have the most impact. This more competitive mechanism could deliver important political knowledge to the electorate.

78d3c4cc2615bef01a5dd8dfba7b9146So why do our debates fail so badly at doing this? The rules and terms of the debates we have today aren’t constructed intelligently. Instead of being narrowly designed to produce and communicate political knowledge, they are designed to produce entertainment and pundit fodder. They are designed to be gladiatorial and promote superficiality. This structure incentivizes candidates to try and appear cooler, stronger, or sexier (or whatever traits poll well), than the other candidate, at the expense of arguing about who has better ideas.

Consider one rule that is a staple of every modern debate: the secrecy of the questions. Every debate, moderators and networks are always clear to stress that nobody has seen the questions, and that they are completely random. But why? If a debate is supposed to convey knowledge to the electorate, it would make much more sense to give the candidates the questions ahead of time so they can have the best answers to the question that they will face, and make their case with facts and logic. (more…)

Leaders of liberty must sometimes take a step back and reflect on the best ways to use their limited resources and local knowledge to reach their ultimate goals. Students For Liberty’s mission is “… to educate, develop, and empower the next generation of leaders of liberty.” To strive for this goal as efficiently as possible requires applying certain economic concepts, specifically marginalism.

The Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility states that every additional unit of a good consumed yields less utility to the consumer than the unit before it (assuming all other factors are held constant). This is important when considering the nature of value and helps to resolve apparent paradoxes.

Why does water, which is necessary for survival, cost so much less than diamonds, which only are only valued for their aesthetic appeal? Given the option of a single bottle of water or a diamond, a human being would choose the water since they could not live without it, but by thinking on the margin it’s obvious that eventually, if you keep giving them the same option, they will have enough water to survive and be healthy, at which point they will choose to take the diamond since the the utility of the diamonds outweighs the utility of that unit of water at the point of that decision. 

Water isn’t very expensive because most of us have plenty of it. The vital role it plays in our lives has already been filled, and then some, by previous units of water. However, we don’t have many diamonds so an additional diamond will provide us with more satisfaction because the satisfactory functions of a diamond have not yet been fulfilled by previous diamonds. This law is crucial to understanding and explaining economic decision making because it means that individuals consider the utility of the marginal unit of a good when making trade-offs, not the utility that type of good provides them in general.

peace-love-liberty-This principle is important to activists because just as there are decreasing marginal returns from goods consumed, there are decreasing marginal returns from activism. If we think of activism as a market, in which the public and future leaders consume education, development and empowerment in the ideas of liberty (utility), and activists supply materials, events and information (goods and services) which yield that education, development and empowerment, then we can see how marginal thinking matters when trying to accomplish our ends. The public and future leaders gain less education, development and empowerment from each additional unit of a type of activism they “consume” than they did from the last unit. (more…)