The 2016 Election by the Numbers

 | 

In a previous essay I predicted the electoral demise of Donald Trump. Election Day is more than three months away, and a lot can happen in that amount of time. All human activity is fraught with uncertainty; no one can predict with absolute assurance what will happen tomorrow, much less who will be elected president in November. That said, I offer the reader my analysis of the Trump-Clinton race, with a state-by-state breakdown that I strongly believe reflects what will happen in November.

States that are almost certain to vote Republican

Any Republican, even Trump, should carry the following 23 states:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

These 23 states have 191 electoral votes, 79 short of the 270 needed for victory.

States that are almost certain to vote Democrat

The Democratic nominee will definitely carry the District of Columbia with its 3 electoral votes. She is all but certain to carry the following 20 states as well:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

These 20 states, plus DC, have 246 electoral votes, only 24 short of the total needed for victory. It’s possible but not likely that Michigan and Wisconsin will be competitive, given Trump’s appeal to blue-collar whites in the Rust Belt. Virginia could well have been a tossup state but for the selection of Tim Kaine as Hillary’s running mate. The popular senator and former governor has never lost an election in Virginia, and he’s not going to start this year.

The Tossup States (with electoral votes in parentheses)

  • Colorado (9)
  • Florida (29)
  • Iowa (6)
  • New Hampshire (4)
  • North Carolina (15)
  • Ohio (18)
  • Pennsylvania (20)

It really does come down to these seven states. Let’s leave the big three — Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida — for last.

COLORADO. A purple state that’s been trending Democratic. As in most other states, Democrats do well in the urban centers, and Republicans in rural areas. The Hispanic vote is significant, and it will tip the state to Clinton. Victory in Colorado brings her up to 255 electoral votes.

IOWA. Appears to be leaning toward Trump. Had Hillary picked former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, the current Secretary of Agriculture, for VP, she probably would’ve gotten Iowa’s six electoral votes in November. Vilsack appears to have been the runner-up to Senator Kaine in the Veepstakes. Virginia has 13 electoral votes, so Clinton’s choice was perhaps foreordained. Put Iowa’s six electoral votes in the Trump column. That gives him 197.

NEW HAMPSHIRE. Many mavens are calling the Granite State a tossup, but this New Englander believes it will go for Hillary. Almost any Republican but Trump would carry the state. Add four electoral votes to Hillary’s total, giving her 259.

NORTH CAROLINA. Barack Obama barely carried North Carolina in 2008; he lost the state to Romney in 2012. It’s a tossup state, but I think conservative white enthusiasm (yes, that’s something of a euphemism) will carry Trump to victory here. Give him NC’s 15 electoral votes, bringing him up to 212.

There will be voters who get off the couch on their own because they love the Donald, but perhaps as many (more?) who will do so because they loathe him.

OHIO. No Republican has won the presidency without carrying Ohio. Polls show the two candidates neck and neck, with Trump perhaps having a slight edge, thanks to his fulminations against free trade. At this point the state is simply too close to call.

PENNSYLVANIA. As in Ohio, polls show the two candidates separated within the margin of error. It’s a battle of the urban areas of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh versus everything in between — the in-between being, politically and socially, something like North Carolina. Turnout will be crucial. Most experts give the state to Hillary (it’s voted Democratic in the last six presidential elections), but this analyst, at this point, can only say it’s too close to call.

And so we come to the big enchilada — or grapefruit, I should say: Florida.

FLORIDA. The fourth largest prize with 29 electoral votes. A purple state which Obama won in both 2008 and 2012. But have the Democrats worn out their welcome here? This analyst sees the Hispanic vote as key to predicting who will carry the state.

Florida has about 12.3 million registered voters. About 1.8 million of them are Hispanics. Of these Hispanic voters approximately 30% are Cuban, and they traditionally vote Republican. But current polling shows Trump only up by about nine points among Cuban voters, while he’s very unpopular with other segments of the Hispanic community. Trump will win the non-Hispanic white vote, lose big among African-Americans, and do less well than a Republican should with Florida’s Hispanics. The Hispanic vote will give Hillary a narrow margin of victory in the state, making her the next president with a total of at least 288 electoral votes. Release the balloons.

It seems pretty certain that 288 electoral votes is the minimum number Hillary will get. I just wrote that Ohio and Pennsylvania are too close to call, and in a normal campaign that would be true, for the numbers in both states are within the margin of error. But one of the grave weaknesses of the Trump campaign is its lack of organization, of a “ground game” that can identify its voters and turn them out on Election Day. This weakness may be obviated, to an extent, by the passion the Trump candidacy has aroused; but passion in this election is a double-edged sword. There will be voters who get off the couch on their own because they love the Donald, but perhaps as many (more?) who will do so because they loathe him. At the same time, the less motivated part of the electorate will turn out in greater numbers for Hillary, simply because of her superior organization. In theory, Hillary should lose at least Ohio, but in practice both the Buckeye State and the Keystone State are likely to enter her column. That would give her 326 electoral votes, a victory comparable to Obama’s in 2012.

Two states, Nebraska and Maine, assign electoral votes on the basis of who wins in each congressional district, rather than following the winner-take-all rule. Trump could conceivably win an electoral vote in Maine, and Clinton one in Nebraska. But I don't believe the election will be close enough for these possibilities to matter.

Any major swing in the vote outside the numbers I’ve predicted here will almost certainly go against Trump. The potential always exists for Trump to say or do something so outrageous as to cause a backlash that would give the Democrat victory in some otherwise solid Republican states. Trump could turn a loss into a landslide defeat with his mouth alone. Should the Donald implode, Clinton could win 360 or more electoral votes.

If the Libertarian Party defies expectations and maintains its high single-digit support right through Election Day, Trump would suffer as a result. The LP would take considerably more votes away from Trump than Clinton. On the other hand, a strong LP vote would help the Republicans hold the Senate, since most Libertarian voters would support downballot Republican candidates. But my expectation is that the LP vote will dwindle to about 2% on Election Day.

The Green Party will take votes away from Clinton exclusively, but I doubt its candidate will receive more than 1% of the vote. Voters on the left remember 2000, and they certainly fear Trump more than they did George W. Bush. With Bernie on her side Clinton will be able to prevent any mass defection by the earthy-crunchy crowd.

If the Libertarian Party defies expectations and maintains its high single-digit support right through Election Day, Trump would suffer as a result.

The real wild card in this election may be the health and wellbeing of the two candidates. Trump is 70 years old; Clinton is 69. Although perhaps not likely, it would not be terribly surprising if one of them dropped dead or developed a disabling health problem during the campaign. In such an event the party national committee would select a new presidential candidate according to its own particular rules and procedures. However, if a candidate died or became disabled very late in the campaign — too late to print new ballots, for example — confusion and uncertainty would reign. What might happen then is anybody’s guess. At the very least Congress would have to pass special legislation delaying the election by weeks or even longer.

We also have to face the fact that in this election year passions have been aroused to an extent rarely seen in recent history. Many Americans not only perceive the nation as being in crisis, but literally hate one or the other of the presidential candidates, or both. We tend to avoid thinking about how violence has affected our politics since 1963. But in addition to the assassinations of the 1960s, George Wallace was shot and almost killed while campaigning in 1972, potshots were twice taken at President Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan was of course nearly killed by John Hinckley in 1981. The White House came under attack during both the Clinton and the Obama presidencies. It would not surprise me at all if some person or group tried to kill one of the candidates. And if would-be assassins try to kill a candidate, there’s always the chance they will succeed.

Let’s hope it’s a peaceful election. If it is, then Hillary’s your next president. What that may bring is cause enough for disquiet.




Share This


Two Evils

 | 

In odd-numbered years, there’s rarely much at stake electorally. One of the very few races of note in 2013 is in Virginia, where the gubernatorial race pits Republican attorney general Ken Cuccinelli against former Democratic National Committee head Terry McAuliffe. Both are odious; even among loyal party-line voters there will be very few unheld noses at the polls.

It was McAuliffe, you may recall, who pulled together the funds for Bill Clinton’s presidential run, reaching out to the most toxic corporations and associations — arms manufacturers, polluters, real estate shysters — for donations that would be paid off in regulatory favors down the line. It was McAuliffe, as well, who masterminded the infamous “Buddhist temple” (read: Chinese government) fundraisers for Clinton’s reelection, as well as brokering face time with the president and first lady, even sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom — for the right price.

After a public falling-out with Al Gore over the latter’s botched 2000 campaign (one of McAuliffe’s few good points is seeing Gore for the sanctimonious hypocrite he was and always had been), McAuliffe took over at the DNC as the party received its biggest gift in years: the presidency of George W. Bush. However, despite his undeniably effective, undeniably dirty fundraising, he could not oust Bush from office. After running Hillary Clinton’s 2008 bid into the ground, McAuliffe was out of national politics; “the best fundraiser in history” — as Gore himself had said in happier times — had lost his touch. Since he clearly had no intention of just going away, that left only one option: state politics.

In 2009, McAuliffe ran for governor of Virginia — though “ran” is probably the wrong phrasing; more accurate to say “fell flat on his face.” McAuliffe tried to ingratiate himself with the electorate by visiting “every corner” of the state, but he was only ever going to be regarded as a creature of the DC suburbs, a potentate of the despised northern counties. McAuliffe didn’t even make the general election; instead, he got thumped in the primaries by a state senator, Creigh Deeds, who would go on to lose handily to then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell.

McAuliffe pulled together the funds for Bill Clinton’s presidential run, reaching out to toxic corporations and associations for donations that would be paid off in regulatory favors.

And yet, despite all of this baggage, McAuliffe is running again in 2013, and to this point with a slight lead (4 to 6% in most polls) over his Republican competitor. Certainly McAuliffe hasn’t become any better of a candidate in the last four years. What could explain this shift in fortunes?

A few things. First, there is the ongoing, literal shift in fortunes toward the DC suburbs. Much of the wealth extracted by the federal government in recent decades has sloshed into northern Virginia, drawing lobbyists, bureaucrats, and other parasites who make their living off of others’. According to Forbes, half of the richest counties in America, as measured by per-capita income, lie in northern Virginia. The prosperity of these communities (not to mention their extravagant school systems, lavish pensions, and gold-plated healthcare plans) depends on the continuing bloat of the National Security Agency, the Department of Defense, and any number of other agencies situated there. They are as establishment as it is possible to be; they will support anyone and anything that maintains their privileged position — and McAuliffe is all about privilege and position.

Second, the Virginia Republicans are much weaker and more fragmented than they were last time around. In 2009, Bob McDonnell benefited from the ongoing recession, building a successful campaign around a pro-business message and, in the process, bringing the state’s social conservatives (who were behind him no matter what) together with its fiscal ones. However, once in office McDonnell quickly became enmeshed in corporate kickback scandals, culminating in criminal investigations into the governor’s alleged acceptance of gifts totaling upwards of $140,000. McDonnell also alienated the social libertarians among his base by breaking sharply right on several social issues, especially abortion (requiring an ultrasound prior to the procedure) and gay rights (blocking legislation extending health coverage to same-sex partners). With McDonnell blocked from running for reelection by Virginia statute — and potentially also by criminal conviction — the task of keeping the coalition together now falls to AG Cuccinelli.

Which brings me to point the third, Ken Cuccinelli himself. A true believer in the legislation of morality, Cuccinelli has never seen a moral cause he wouldn’t champion. He’s fought rearguard battles in favor of anti-sodomy and even anti-adultery laws, opposed any attempt to end discrimination against gays in public (note: as opposed to private) hiring, created a human trafficking taskforce with the intent and effect of cracking down on prostitution, pushed abstinence-only sex ed, and tried to give police and school administrators the power to search students’ cellphones to prevent sexting.

He has also — and he wasted his own money on this, so it’s in no way unconstitutional, but nonetheless telling — made up his own version of Virginia’s state seal, which features the Roman goddess Virtus, a personification of virtue, wearing a tunic that leaves one breast exposed, as she stands victorious over the vanquished Tyrannus. Never mind that a single exposed breast is often taken to signify modesty — even unobtainability. Never mind that the state’s own description for the seal states that Virtus is dressed in “Amazon” style; i.e., semi-robed. No, for Cuccinelli, as for all prigs, all flesh is prurient; therefore, he devised a seal with a breastplate to conceal the offending teat. If virtue is to conquer tyrants, she better do so in a PG manner.

As with any ideological conservative, Cuccinelli has his good points: he’s fought against eminent domain abuse, and he’s staunchly anti-tax, even leading the fight against a generally bipartisan gasoline tax increase. But stack against that his anti-immigrant stances, such as support for a “papers, please” law allowing police to investigate the residency status of any suspected illegal, as well as for language tests for laid-off workersseeking unemployment benefits. And add in also his embarrassing lawsuit against the University of Virginia relating to research performed on global climate change: Cuccinelli asserted that such research amounted to “fraud” against the taxpayers. Whatever your views on the subject, the prospect of a state’s attorney general wasting huge amounts on court costs in order to meddle with university research should prove chilling, and would have provided a fearsome precedent.

A true believer in the legislation of morality, Cuccinelli has never seen a moral cause he wouldn’t champion.

So Virginia’s voters must choose between the DC swamp slime, and the crusading prude — and these are the images that are drilled into their heads, over and over again, during every television and radio broadcast, on every website, in every newspaper, on every street corner, on and on and on and on. Huge amounts of money assure that this saturation will only get worse: McAuliffe’s taken in $20 million, Cuccinelli more than $13 million; every dollar’s being put to use in shouting at voters, telling them in so many words how the other guy is a scumbag, a misogynist, a bigot, a stooge; certainly unfit to take on the job presently occupied by a(n alleged) crook, and by many other crooks before him.

And the thing is, they’re each right about the other’s unworthiness.Little wonder that the two are polling between 80 and 85% combined in most polls, with huge portions of the electorate undecided, or at least unwilling to commit to either one.

What’s interesting is that, when Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis is included in these polls, he regularly pulls 8–10%. Sarvis’ campaign has been run on shoestrings: by the end of August he’d raised about $60,000, and spent only $45,000 of it. But I’d wager that by the next count, that number will have at least doubled: Sarvis is making good use of his intermittent time in the spotlight, hovering around the showing off his photogenic family, making a case for libertarianism both socially (gay marriage, drug reform) and fiscally (anti-tax, anti-subsidy and other manifestations of crony capitalism).

Sarvis has elaborated these positions while hanging around outside the interminable statewide series of debates between McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, debates to which he, as a third-party candidate, has not been invited. But that may change. On October 24 there is a debate scheduled in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech, with a ground rule that any candidate polling 10% in “major independent statewide polls” can participate. Cuccinelli, showing himself an abject coward, has requested that this bar be raised, to make it in effect impossible for Sarvis to participate. McAuliffe, knowing full well that Sarvis will take more votes out of the Republicans’ hide than the Democrats’, has already signed on, and I would speculate might even provide background support to help Sarvis reach or maintain the required numbers, and then dare Cuccinelli to back out of an event that the attorney general himself requested.

I don’t know what kind of debater Sarvis is, especially when placed up against two able manipulators of rhetoric. But he starts with the advantage of not being either one of them, so there’s every chance his message could be heard. On the other hand, Cuccinelli could prevail, succeeding in getting Sarvis barred from the event with the usual tack of snobbish bluster. If so, then Sarvis will definitely continue to get interviews — McAuliffe will make sure of that — but will lose the chance at a live audience.

Whatever happens, Sarvis has succeeded in injecting something approaching interest into this most dire of elections. Where once the only enjoyment available was looking forward to either Cuccinelli or McAuliffe losing, and savoring the schadenfreude of the concession speech — and there still will be that; my God, how I’m looking forward to watching one or the other spit out the words of defeat while having to drum up at least the pretense of respect for his opponent — now there is also the hope that a message of freedom might make its way into at least a few new hearts and heads.



Share This


The Huddled Masses Leaving En Masse

 | 

As it happens, business brings me to my favorite American travel destination, New York City. As an L.A. dude, I like Los Angeles’ great weather and more laid-back attitude. But Manhattan is something L.A. can never be, namely, a walker’s paradise. Happily ensconced in a very modest hotel in Midtown, I can take off in any direction and just walk, seeing the sites and working up my appetite, which can be sated at any number of superb (if somewhat spendy) restaurants.

So I couldn’t help noticing a Wall Street Journal piece about the exodus of New Yorkers from the state in general and the Big Apple in particular.

The US Census data show that over the last decade, about 1.6 million New Yorkers moved out of the state. The biggest chunk of these émigrés was from the city itself: 70% of New Yorkers moving out of state were from NYC, and another 10% were from Westchester and Nassau Counties, which are essentially suburbs of NYC.

These losses were offset in part by an influx of 900,000 foreign immigrants. But there was still a net loss of nearly 700,000 residents, and the number of foreign immigrants was the lowest in about four decades.

The three most popular destinations for fleeing New Yorkers are Arizona, Florida, and Nevada. This suggests that the desire for warmer weather may be a factor in peoples’ decisions to move. But two of those states have no state income taxes, which suggests that NewYork’s notoriously high taxes may be a powerful reason as well.




Share This


This Could Be the Start of Something Big

 | 

The first battle of the 2012 campaign has just ended — and it doesn’t bode well for the Democrats, in the short run at the state level, or in the long run at the federal level.

The location was Wisconsin, historically a stronghold of organized labor, the Democratic Party, and the Left generally. But the state has been trending rightward in recent elections, and last year it elected a Republican, Scott Walker, as governor, and a majority of Republicans to the state legislature. Interestingly, however, these are not the sort of Republicans you would expect from a somewhat purple state — RINOs (or Republicans in Name Only) — but honest-to-God RCCs (Republicanos con Cojones).

Governor Scott Walker clearly has a pair. During his campaign, Walker made it clear that he was serious about reducing spending, especially the outrageous compensation packages that public employee unions had negotiated in sweetheart deals with past Democratic administrations. The pattern in Wisconsin was similar to what happened in most other states: a vicious cycle of crony unionism. Public employees unionize, use their massive dues to elect sympathetic politicians, then in bargaining with those politicians receive lavish compensation packages. This enables the unions to collect even more dues, elect even more sympathetic politicians, and get even more of the taxpayers’ dollars. It’s very convenient — for the unions.

In the 2008 election cycle, unions (now predominantly unions of government employees) gave about $400 million to Democratic campaigns, especially Obama’s. Heck, AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the biggest government workers’ union) alone gave the Dems $90 million during the last (i.e., 2010) election cycle.

The public choice tipping point occurs when the pain inflicted on citizens by the rentseekers who have captured a government agency becomes too great to ignore.

So the money that taxpayers pay in salaries to the public employees provides (in the form of union dues) the funds that elect politicians who will in turn raise taxes and give more money to the public employees (and hence their unions). The public, rationally ignorant — that is, having better things than state politics to worry about (such as earning an honest living) — are typically oblivious to the corruption, until the deficits and taxes become outrageously high. That point, which you might call “the public choice tipping point,” occurs when the pain inflicted on the citizens (in increased taxes, increased costs of compliance, or decreased liberty) by the rentseekers who have captured a government agency becomes too great to ignore.

Perhaps the classic illustration was the transition to the all-volunteer army. We kept the draft going from World War II through the Korean War, and long past. It took the debacle that was Vietnam and the student protests it aroused to get the government to change from conscription to a volunteer services model.

Governor Scott took office with the state deficit already at $137 million, but slated to rise to $3.6 billion in the next two years. As he promised during his campaign, he introduced legislation that requires the state employees to contribute more to their health and pension funds. Specifically, his law requires public workers to pay 12.6% of their healthcare insurance premiums from their pay, and contribute 5.8% of their pay to the pension system — an amount that is still quite low compared to similar amounts in private industry.

In so doing, he went to the heart of the state’s fiscal woes. The public sector unions had sweet compensation packages, ones that include not only high pay but also incredible perks (tenure, virtually free healthcare, and pension plans requiring little employee contribution). The average compensation for Wisconsin public school teachers is over $101,000 per year — for essentially eight months of work.

But Walker also proposed to eliminate the power of government workers (except firefighters and police officers) to bargain collectively for non-salary compensation, and eliminate the state’s role of “enforcer” in collecting dues from employees for the union. His legislation further required annual union elections, in which a majority (as opposed to a mere plurality) of workers must approve the union.

Here, Walker showed real understanding of the problem: if he just asked for increased employee contributions to their health and pension plans, the unions might have gone along this year, but the minute the public’s attention was diverted, they would just get those concessions rescinded, especially if union dues elected a Democratic governor. Government worker unions fully understand rational ignorance.

A recent report shows that fully two-thirds of eighth-grade students in Wisconsin’s public schools can’t read proficiently.

Initially, the unions fought all the provisions of the law, but as the public learned about the lavish compensation packages government workers receive, public sympathy evaporated. Also responsible for reducing taxpayer sympathy was the report that emerged, just as the controversy was getting intense, that fully two-thirds of eighth-grade students in Wisconsin’s public schools can’t read proficiently. According to the US Department of Education, in last year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress tests only 2% of Wisconsin eighth-graders scored as “advanced” in reading, and only 32% as “proficient.” The remaining 66% were below proficient (44% rated “basic,” 22% “below basic”).

The taxpayers of Wisconsin have paid exorbitantly for this laughably lousy quality of education. They pay more per public-school student than any other Midwestern state.

So the unions modified their demands. They said they would agree to increased contributions to the healthcare and pension plans; they claimed that they objected only to the loss of collective bargaining “rights” — allegedly “natural rights” as fundamental as free speech. And with their PR plan in place, they went to war.

The unions employed all their classic tactics. Of course, teachers called in sick en masse, cancelling classes and snarling the schools. There were weeks of massive demonstrations, with as many as 100,000 demonstrators on the streets of Madison, occasionally closing the capitol down, with the usual chanting, screaming and pushing, all aimed at intimidating Walker and the Republicans into submission. Many of the demonstrators were paid for and bused in by the unions in a classic display of “astroturfing.” The protestors were egged on by the usual repellent, aged leftist icons, from Jesse Jackson to Michael Moore to Susan Sarandon. And the unions paid for endless ads aimed at demonizing Walker and the Republicans in the legislature.

In the meantime, the Democratic state senators left the state, in order to deny the Republicans a quorum for considering the governor’s legislation.

Also in the fight — while of course pretending to be above it all — was President Obama. He clearly viewed Wisconsin as the first battle in his reelection campaign, and promptly accused Walker of “assaulting” workers’ rights.

Against this formidable array of foes and this well-strategized campaign, Walker stood firm. After an extended period of what seemed like stalemate, the Republicans figured out how to separate the essential restrictions on unions and make them legislation not requiring a special quorum. They passed the legislation, and Walker signed it into law. The deed was done.

Walker took a major hit in his poll numbers, yet his victory should worry the Dems about the next election, and elections thereafter, at least at the state level.

One cause for worry is the fact that in the battle of Wisconsin the unions had to expend a lot of money — for ads, for demonstrations, for agitprop in general — cash that now isn’t available for the 2012 election cycle. Second, they face a loss of membership. Average yearly union dues are in the range of $700 to $1,000 in Wisconsin, and now that the government won’t be deducting those dues, members may decide they no longer want to pay. One suspects that fear of lost members and members’ dues is what really drove the unions to fight so furiously.

Many of the demonstrators in Madison were paid for and bused in by the unions in a classic display of “astroturfing.”

If similar battles occur in other states, such losses will bite the unions hard. And it may well happen. After all, if the economy in Wisconsin responds well to Walker’s actions, he will rise again in the polls, and that would encourage other governors to follow his lead. Indeed, similar battles have already been going on elsewhere. In Ohio, Republican Governor Kasich is trying to limit public employee bargaining “rights” and is facing demonstrations because of it. In Indiana, Republican legislators have introduced right-to-work legislation that will apply to all unions, and they also saw their Democratic colleagues walk out the door. (While Republican Governor Mitch Daniels doesn’t support this right-to-work movement by his colleagues in the legislature, he did manage to get a law restricting the right of public employee unions to bargain collectively back in 2005).

Republican leaders at the state level — in the face of burgeoning state budget deficits now totaling about $125 billion for the 50 states — seem to appreciate the urgent need for measures that limit the power of unions to game the system. The three most effective measures appear to be laws limiting the collective bargaining privileges of public employee unions, right-to-work laws allowing all workers the right not to be forced to support their unions, and paycheck protection laws that require unions to get the explicit consent of workers before using their union dues for political purposes. These types of laws are kryptonite to the unions.

All of this raises an interesting question. Why are Republican leaders suddenly so bold at the state level, but still so timid at the federal level? Why are some state Republicans willing to address growing deficits in their states, even at the cost of taking on the special interest behemoths that are the unions, while Republicans in Washington seem reluctant to address the federal deficit, which dwarfs into insignificance the state deficits?

A number of reasons explain the disparity. First, the 2010 Republican electoral triumph was manifested more on the state than the federal level. Yes, the GOP took back the House of Representatives, but (because of some unwise voter choices in the primaries, and the large numerical advantage that the Democrats had enjoyed in the Senate before the election) failed to get even a tie in the upper house. You can’t stop a devoutly leftist president — one willing to use the formidable power of the executive branch to keep increasing the size and regulatory scope of the federal government — when you don’t control Congress.

Second, most state constitutions require budgets to be balanced, whereas the federal constitution has no such requirement. This means that to handle the rapidly rising costs of public employee salaries, healthcare expenses, and pension payouts, most states can only raise taxes or float bonds. But taxpayers are already financially stretched to the limit, and bonds are costing more as investors find out how shaky state and municipal finances really are. The recent revelations that states and municipalities already have taken on $3 trillion in bonded indebtedness, and are about $3.5 trillion underfunded in pension and healthcare liabilities, have really hurt the market for muni bonds.

The federal government has a seductive option not open to the states: just print more money. This is of course precisely what the Fed is doing right now.

Add to this the possibility — dare I say the likelihood? — of a bankruptcy in a big city (my favorite candidate is my hometown, Los Angeles). In that event, or the event that a state defaults on its bonds (my favorite candidate is my home state, California), the market for muni bonds would dry up immediately, and with it the ability of states to borrow money at reasonable rates.

The third major difference between the challenges confronting state-level and federal-level Republican leaders has to do with competition. If the politicians in a state jack up taxes to solve a budget shortfall, the productive people (aka taxpayers) and businesses can and will move elsewhere.

This has already had an effect even in such historically high-tax states as New Jersey and New York, where there is now a broad awareness of how many of their productive people and businesses have fled to low-tax havens such as Florida and Texas. The old phrase “Gone to Texas” is now a frightening motto now to the high-tax states.

But the federal government faces no such competition. If I leave California for Florida, the cultural adjustment is minor. To move from America to another nation takes a major adjustment, one far too expensive for most people to make. And most other nations where American might otherwise want to live have equally statist governments.

The fourth major difference lies in the power to print money. Faced with deficits, states have only three options: borrow money, cut spending, or raise taxes. But the federal government has a seductive fourth option: just print more money. This is of course precisely what the Fed is doing right now. It allows all politicians at the federal level to avoid cutting programs and thereby incurring the wrath of special interests.

There is a fifth difference, and it is the most important. On the state level, the Republicans are moving to cut lavish government worker benefits, which are the major cause of the state budget problems, because most citizens are not themselves government workers. The other major choices — raising taxes and cutting programs — are politically unpalatable. Try convincing the average voter that we need to eliminate half the firefighters so that the few who are left can get lavish pay and retire at age 50 on a $250,000 pension for life.

But on the federal level, the programs most responsible for bankrupting this nation are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, not federal employee compensation (or defense spending or discretionary spending in general). Those programs are still popular among Americans, even Tea Party members. A recent poll reported in Policy Review is telling on this point. If you ask Americans where we should cut, the results are dismal. On Social Security, only 9% of the respondent’s would cut it, compared to 84% who would rather increase it or keep it the same. Medicare? Only 12% would cut it, compared to 82% who want to increase it or keep it the same. Medicaid gets only 15% support for cutting, versus 78% who want to increase it or keep it the same. About the only federal project that Americans want to cut is foreign aid.

So in the short term, it is doubtful that Republicans will step up to cut these programs, and if they did, they would probably be hurt politically. But long term, the fiscal crisis that many states are now facing will hit the federal government. The three programs I identified are estimated to face long-term underfunding to the tune of over $100 trillion. As each year passes, their deficits will only balloon. At some point, rational ignorance concerning them will tip into rational knowledge — to the grave damage of the political party that created, expanded, and repeatedly campaigned on them.




Share This
Syndicate content

© Copyright 2017 Liberty Foundation. All rights reserved.



Opinions expressed in Liberty are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Liberty Foundation.

All letters to the editor are assumed to be for publication unless otherwise indicated.