Arnold Kling  

Three that Caught My Eye

Who Said It?... A Must-Read on Social Security...

1. William Easterly on the $320,000 kindergarten teacher story.

Under the project studied, there were random assignments of teachers and students to classes. The striking thing in the findings is the identification of "Good" and "Bad" kindergarten classes, as shown by more variation in the Kindergarten test scores than would occur with random variation. The "Goodness" of the classes then have significant effects on their members for all those later life outcomes...

Actually, Professor Chetty was very careful in the seminar to say that there was no decisive evidence that it was the teacher who was the cause of the "Good" classes

2. John Kay on regulatory capture. Read the whole thing. Thanks to Alex Tabarrok for the pointer. When you read the piece, think of banks and financial regulation. I continue to predict that the blessed Elizabeth Warren will prove to be a friend to incumbent banks, as financial innovations that threaten them are likely to be deemed unsafe.

3. Karl Smith points to demographic data that support my last-stand-of-the-WORST pre-mortem of the election.

Incidentally, I asked Bryan in an email why, if the median voter theorem ensures competitive parties, my county of Montgomery County, Maryland is a one-party state. His response is that in "small" polities (under 10 million), you can sustain groupthink, but not in larger polities.

Hmmm....I don't see our local politics as sustained groupthink, although there is that. I see it as a vicious cycle. Everyone knows that Republicans cannot win here, so no interest groups support Republicans, so Republicans cannot win. I do not see why that same phenomenon could not emerge at the national level. Maybe at a national level there is more richness, diversity, and conflict among interest groups, so that parties can compete for their allegiance. Here at a local level, once you've kissed up to the teachers' unions and solidified your relationships with real estate developers, you can lock up the county.

COMMENTS (10 to date)
Sohaib writes:

I would suggest that the phenomenon described in point 3 makes itself known constantly in national politics. Everyone knows a third party candidate can't win the presidency so no (or very few/very irrelevant) interest groups support third-party candidates, so third-party candidates cannot win.

Of course, the tea party has gained some headway. Whether it gathers more remains to be seen, but let's be honest, a lot of people whose ideologies would place them moreso amongst tea party'ers than anywhere else still will not support the tea party because they would rather place their support somewhere it has a greater chance of success. Also, they don't want to seem like kooks.

Stewart Griffin writes:

Would not the local Republicans in Montgomery country suffer from association with the national party?

The national party has no such constraints and can move with the changes in nationwide median voters.

frankcross writes:

California, Texas, and Illinois are pretty much one party states. It can't be smallness. My guess is that the party is associated with its national brand such that it's hard to overcome within a state by moving to the center. Kirk did it by appealing to the center, but that failed for White and has for California Republicans.

Doc Merlin writes:

Not Texas. The texas legislature was split almost 50-50, and had both democrats and republicans in leadership positions. This election of course changed that. Republicans no longer need Dems to pass laws or even to put constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Hyena writes:

I wish other parties had a real chance and I think our political system would do better that way. For one, it would reduce rational ignorance issues because the finer granulation allows you to guess the candidate's overall philosophy better by looking at the party affiliation.

MernaMoose writes:

Apparently you haven't taken a close look at European history. Perhaps France or Italy would serve as good starting examples.

When there are many parties, what you end up with is a government that has no idea which direction it's going. Or if it does pick a direction, it won't last long enough to matter.

The parties also tend to narrow their focus more. So you may get a party that's all into some slice of the domestic scene, but it's effectively got no foreign policy. But none of this matters because it's so unlikely that any one party is every going to get more than a little slice of the action anyway.

You would have to work pretty hard to convince me a multi-party system is in any real sense "better" than the train wreck we already have. Understand, the indecision of multi-party democracy is not the same as what the US calls grid lock.

The problem is not the number of parties we have. The problem is that we have entirely too much democracy.

For that I could blame Europe, but I suppose the finger pointing would just end up going all the way back in ancient Greece.

Peter St. Onge writes:

Bryan's explanation feels hand-wavey. My guess is you do have a two-party county, between 2 wings of the Democratic party. The national GOP is so far from the median Montgomery voter that the median voter is contested in the Dem primary.

To illustrate, San Francisco has a two-party system, this time between Greens and Dems, putting it one more step to the left of Montgomery county.

As to why the GOP doesn't swing left to compete in Montgomery, it seems obvious to me that the national leaders and national brand can't extend that far. It'd be like Microsoft going into margarine.

Piet le Roux writes:

It is quite possible to sustain groupthink in populations larger than 10million. South Africa has 50million residents (maybe 5million+ illegal) and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) consistently receives 65%+ of the vote, with the largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) at around 15%.

2009 Election: 23.18million registered voters, 77.3% turnout, ANC-->65,9%; DA --> 16,6%.

Lurkingowl writes:

Isn't this because the parties you're looking at are national parties? They end up calibrating to the median voter in the nation. There's some local variation, but that can only go so far without losing party cohesion.

If the two parties were really keen on Montgomery County, you can rest assured they would end up in a dead heat pretty quickly. In fact, I'd assume that whichever subgroup of the Dems wins is catering to the ideology of the median voter in the county, no?

I think you're right, there's nothing special about macropolities that support 2-party systems.

I analogize the robustness of our 2-party system today to the robustness of congressional rotation prior to the 20th century. It's a shared norm for whatever reason, that can go away (for whatever reason). Congressional rotation was a norm that lasted over 100 years, including through the transition to Jacksonian democracy. Then it went away. I think 2-party democracy in a big population can do the same.

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