Bryan Caplan  

Why Hillary's Harmless

A Basic Divide... The $.30 Question...

A while back I argued that trade policy would be better under Hillary than Obama:

My assumption is that neither candidate would actively promote free trade, so the greater evil is the candidate who can "get things done." Given Obama's winning personality, and Hillary's divisiveness, I'm fairly confident that Hillary would do less harm. She may want moderately worse policies, but she'd have a lot more trouble getting others to go along with her. (In fact, I suspect that most Republican protectionists would start defending NAFTA just to spite her!) At minimum, Obama would have a one-year honeymoon period to do harm; Hillary would be lucky if her honeymoon lasted a week.
Now seems like a good time to generalize my argument. In terms of policy, Hillary and Obama look extremely similar to me; I prefer either to McCain because I think they're more likely to get the U.S. out of Iraq. But Hillary worries me a lot less than Obama because leaving Iraq is likely to be her only major political success. Hillary has a built-in army of enemies, and she's making more enemies every day. (I've talked to Obama supporters who hate her more than Rush Limbaugh does!) Obama, in contrast, is genuinely likeable. At least during his honeymoon period, he might be able to unite the country behind a long list of "progressive" reforms. And that's what makes him dangerous to liberty.

In short, people who hate Hillary's (domestic) policies should hope that Hillary beats Obama, because he's a lot more likely to deliver on her promises than she is.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (22 to date)
giesen writes:

I get the feeling that you are good at using this type of logic to rationalize absolutely anything.

This is just silly.

Selfreferencing writes:

If it really can rationalize almost anything, then that's some fine logic.

Scott Scheule writes:

Silly how?

dearieme writes:

Vote for Hitler, he's so obviously odious that he'd never get his way. Thank God that the former war hero Goering isn't their party leader: he has energy, intelligence and charm.

Admit it; you wanted someone to say that, you naughty boy.

Bryan Caplan writes:
dearieme writes:

Vote for Hitler, he's so obviously odious that he'd never get his way. Thank God that the former war hero Goering isn't their party leader: he has energy, intelligence and charm.

Actually, Hitler's a perfect example of the kind of charismatic demagogue that scares me.
Jason Briggeman writes:

Hillary obviously cares far more about health care than Iraq. So shouldn't you argue that health care reform, not an Iraq pullout, is likely to be "her only major political success"?

David N. Welton writes:
dangerous to liberty

One of the reasons I generally prefer economics blogs to straight up politics is that there is less hyperbole. Phrases like the above are out of line; unless you're talking about the current administration, of course.

mgroves writes:

Hillary has tried "health care reform" as you so incorrectly put it, before and failed. Why would she succeed this time?

John V writes:


Reactions here and here.

liberty writes:

Hillary also knows the ins and outs of politics; knows the administration officials well; comes off as "experienced" etc. She could possibly get far more done than Obama. Its hard to say. I would not bet either way, myself.

Barkley Rosser writes:

Regarding the trade issue, of course we had Obama's chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, reportedly meeting with some Canadians to tell them "not to worry," although that became a big embarrassment for Obama in Ohio (where he and Hillary were competing in embarrassing themselves over NAFTA). Austan Goolsbee is still around, so maybe Obama is not going to go on any hobby horse about undoing NAFTA, although I would not hold out any hopes of any new trade deals under either of them.

Something is going to be done by any of those running with health care. Hard to say what will come out of that, although noting that Hillary lost out before does not prove she will lose out again. She may have learned some lessons in how to get things done/through, although Bryan may be right, and Republicans will just filibuster in the Senate against anything she proposes, but might not do so against something Obama might put forward.

Regarding Iraq and foreign policy, it is not clear that Hillary would be better than McCain. He has not proposed a pseudo-NATO for the entire Middle East against Iran, nor has he talked of "obliterating Iran." Yes, she is talking about getting out of Iraq, and McCain is talking about staying in for 100 years, but she seems to be trying to prove that she is a tough, macho Margaret Thatcher type on foreign policy, and may well get taken in by all sorts of stories about what we need to do or not do and how we "cannot leave right now," whereas McCain, well, he could pull a Nixon in China routine and get out of Iraq whenever he wants to and maybe even cut a deal with Iran to boot, although I am not forecasting either of those out of him. But he has the hawkish credentials to make peace, if he wants to. After all, he was the one who gave Pres. Clinton the cover to diplomatically recognize Vietnam.

Jason Briggeman writes:

By the way... I only mean this half-seriously, but... Prof. Caplan, I think you have often expressed some sort of curiosity as to why "logical" or "intellectual" people are often disliked. I tend to think it's because one cannot rely on those sorts to stay friendly when the chips are down, because they're likely to suddenly become entranced with some new bit of logic their brain generates and -- in effect, if not in intent -- flip to the enemy as a result.

Why do I make that comment at this particular time? Well, Hillary Clinton has spent this week attacking economists. And whose side are you on in this time of sociopolitical crisis for your own profession, with your fellow economists under attack by a powerful politician? Hillary's, it would seem, as the result of your indulging a highly speculative (i.e., forward-looking and therefore deeply uncertain) chain of reasoning. Look, I get the argument, I get the subtlety, and I know that on the whole you don't like her. But have you still in some sense "flipped to the enemy"? Not deep down inside, no...but consider that there is no particular reason for you to have blogged this little logical exercise any more than any other argument that you could have blogged today. You went out of your way, in a moment your professional 'tribe' was under public attack, to give public comfort to her. That's the sort of thing people who are "too logical" do, and that's the sort of thing loyal friends don't do.

brian writes:

that's the sort of thing loyal friends don't do.

I like to think that truth should trump blind loyalty, but that's just me.

Matthew writes:

Just what we need -- the Democrats to control the white house, senate and HR. That's sure to deliver a font of libertarian policies, isn't it?

John Fast writes:

I got my B.A. in political theory over 20 years ago, but I hear that economists and other social scientists are into using data and crunching numbers these days. Say, Bryan, do you have some data about the relationship between a politician's likeability and their effectiveness in achieving their campaign promises?

John Thacker writes:

Well, I'd say that Hillary is pretty likely to sign a farm bill expansion increasing the price floor for sugar, since she promised to and Congress has already tried to pass such a thing (but the current Administration opposes). Sen. McCain this week said he would veto the current farm bill.

Of course, it's certainly possible that Sens. Clinton and Obama really know what's best and are pandering on the farm bill. However, people (including their advisors) seem to say the same thing on Iraq as well-- that both know that they can't really pull out within six months or whatever, and that they're just saying that to pander.

A lot of people seem willing to believe that "Sen. Obama (or Clinton) is smart and eloquent, so he must really agree with me about what's right for the country and is just pandering to those other people." Oh well, this always happens; disillusionment always happens after one gets the presidency.

Horatio writes:

If either Democrat is successful in making significant changes to the healthcare market, the costs would probably be far greater than staying in Iraq a few more years.

James A. Donald writes:

Each candidate is worse than all the others. No matter who wins, the Republic faces disaster. Trying to figure out which is the lesser evil will only drive you mad, and I think Bryan is going mad.

Vote Cthulhu.

Jason Briggeman writes:

I like to think that truth should trump blind loyalty, but that's just me.

Just because something is true doesn't mean that you choose to blurt it out at a given moment in time. The Wabash River borders Indiana to the west. There are a whole lot of truths out there.

John Thacker writes:

I'm also pretty darn certain that both Democratic candidates would sign (and Congress would pass) the Employee Free Choice Act, which takes away the secret ballot in union elections. (Elections to establish a union, of course, decertifying would still take a secret ballot.)

Barkley Rosser writes:


Really? You mean there is no way to be more like other countries, virtually every single one of which spends a lower percentage of their national income on health care than we do?

John Thacker writes:

Really? You mean there is no way to be more like other countries, virtually every single one of which spends a lower percentage of their national income on health care than we do?

I wouldn't say that there is no way, but considering that Medicare (and Medicaid) in this country also far outspends national health systems in other countries, I think it's unlikely. I think that politics would result in a US national health care system spending money like Medicare, not like other countries' systems. At the very least it seems difficult because problems with obesity et al. seem to be worse in this country.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top