My tendency towards policy nihilism should lead me to underestimate the value of elections generally. So, it is natural that I am missing the value of this one. Nonetheless, I offer for consideration that this is turning out to be an election in which not much is on the table and that is – as almost always – a good thing.

ObamaCare

There is some chance that this will be rolled back if there is a GOP sweep. I thought the whole thing was much ado about nothing in large part because I didn’t think that expanding health care would do much to improve health and I don’t think that the cost controls embedded in ObamaCare will work.

The major benefit I saw was that folks would not necessarily be driven to declare medical bankruptcy if they got really ill. This is an emotionally traumatic event for folks even if I am not sure the change in real resource distribution is that different.

In any case, during the GOP Google debate there was a poll that asked GOP voters if someone should be denied medical treatment because they could not afford it. 80% said no. This is the end of the major question in my mind. If you answer no then you have de facto signed on to socialized medicine through some means.

You could formally socialize through universal insurance or you could force hospitals to treat the sick regardless of ability to pay which just informally socializes it.

If you want to get into the weeds of public policy efficiency there is an argument here, but nothing like the national debate that people seemed to want to have.

Taxes on the Rich

At least in the near term highly punitive taxes on the rich are not likely to be passed by a Democratic majority. Over the long term if something is not done to raise the living standards of the bottom half of Americans more rapidly then there will be punitive taxes on the rich regardless. The GOP will shift on the issue and when it happens it will be fast and furious.

Trade

The anti-trade constituency is multi-party and at this point unlikely to wield any serious power.

Immigration

I am not actually sure how this even cuts. Though increases in Latin American immigration are more likely with Democrats in power. Increases in high skilled immigration may be more likely with the GOP in power, as I see a desire among the GOP to quiet the pro-immigration crowd without expanding Latin American immigration.

This means that some movement is actually more likely under the GOP, though the ideal is more likely under the Dems. I am just not sure which is better.

Abortion

I think the actual policy moves here are limited. A reversal of Roe vs. Wade, in my estimation, would destroy the pro-life movement. The chipping away strategy can work, but will happen regardless of who is in office.

 

Human Biological Research

This can matter but, neither Mitt Romney nor Newt Gingrich will stand in the way of cloning or other techs if they gather mainstream support. Right now I think both the right and the left intelligentsia is pushing this far more than the bulk of the population. If popular sentiment changes then neither intellectualist leaders from both parties will support more human biological research

 

War

I think it should be clear by now that the Democrats are no less hawkish than the GOP. I think the Bush administration was particularly wide-eyed and naïve about the costs of war, but my bet – maybe I am wrong – is that the broad swath of elite opinion on both sides has learned from Iraq.

 

The Welfare State

I just don’t take efforts to dismantle most of the welfare state seriously. People have been trying for 75 years and no one has made any progress. No Western Nation has instituted a Welfare State and then repealed it. I suggest this is because it can’t be done. Old people are a really popular, not just powerful, constituency. No one wants to see starving Grannies.

No one.

If you want to be policy wonkish about it you would say that what is really going on here is that people are paying for the positive externality of knowing that there grandparents are taking care of without actually having to take care of their grandparents themselves.

This is because people feel extremely guilty about not taking care of their grandparents but there is also an enormous amount of inter-family strife that imposes very heavy costs on the grandchildren.

Thus support for the state to take on this burden is huge. Even if it means very high taxes. What would you pay to know that your Nana was well fed but not have to listen to her constantly criticize your lifestyle choices? Probably well over half your income.

The only large welfare state program I can environ being cut is Medicaid. Here again I don’t think the provision of health insurance is that big of a deal and where it is – children and the elderly – I think you will see a backlash in favor of healthy doses of public support for these two groups.

 

Crime and Gun Control

Crime is falling and will likely continue to fall, irrespective of what the government does. I think its falling because there is less lead in the air and more estrogen in the water. This isn’t going to change anytime soon.

This also kills support for gun control. I don’t think anything is likely to change the status quo of a slow move towards less and less state control over guns.

 

The Deficit

See Atrios: No one cares about the deficit

 

Civil Rights and the Power of the State

This will continue to evolve in a direction that civil libertarians find unpleasant. I don’t think there is any popular support for stopping it and the elite is not interested in standing shoulder-to-shoulder in support of civil liberties. There may be a point where we hit an elite backlash, though I doubt there is any foreseeable point where we hit a popular backlash.

 

Gay Marriage

Gay marriage will be legal in almost all states and practically legal everywhere within 10 years. Political parties are irrelevant here.

 

Marijuana

Marijuana will be almost completely decrimalized within 10 years. It will not be made legal. By the time my son is a teenager, smoking pot will be looked upon like speeding or underage drinking. Everyone will do it. Everyone will know you are just not supposed to get caught. Political parties are irrelevant here.

 

Those are the long term issues and I don’t see much difference there. I see some difference on short term issues but it cuts opposite ways.

Near Term Demand Stimulation

Here is where I think there is some difference and I actually think your best hope here is that Mitt Romney gets elected president and the Republicans sweep the congress. If the economy is not in full rebound Romney will propose Keynesian tax cuts.

My hunch is that this time we will see more action around the payroll tax or other broad based taxes as this can win support from Republicans without risking raising the ire of the public.

Of course, the Bush tax cuts would be made “permanent” but I don’t think this in itself really means much because the path of taxes is always determined by what Congress at the moment is willing to tolerate. You’ll notice that the sunset on the Bush tax cuts did not actually make it really easy for them to go away.

If Obama is re-elected I see it as much more difficult for him to push any kind of demand side stimulus including tax cuts.

I know it upsets progressives because they are on the “correct side” of this issue, but the organizational discipline of the GOP means that in fact they are more likely to deliver here.  Its not “fair” but neither is life.

 

Bailouts

If additional bailouts are needed I think we have a better chance getting them through a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president. I get the impression that enough Congressional Republicans really are willing to tank the economy to stand on principle here. The likelihood of needing this seems relatively low at this point as I think a crisis could be handled by an aggressive use of Federal Reserve facilities, but nonetheless this is a big Damocles to hang over the economy.

 

Summary

So all-in-all it looks to me like practically speaking very little is at stake in this election. Yes, the absence of bailouts could be extremely bad for humanity but it is a low probability event balanced by the more high probability of tax cuts.

Since, its impossible to actually know what state of nature we will be in its impossible to say that at this point in time that one is more consequential than the other.

 

Technical Note:

I am horribly irregular about reading the comments. It depends on my mood and my willingness to take the abuse that sometimes appears in the comments. I am not proud of this fact, but it is true. If you have an important point that you want to make sure I see, email me.

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