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The show just goes on, and on

December 11th, 2011

That’s the headline for my piece in the Fin on Thursday, looking at the clown show that is the Republican primary campaign. It’s amusing in retrospect to look at Alan Moran’s letter (republished at Catallaxy) in response to my last piece on this topic, touting the merits of Herman Cain and Rick Perry

The show just goes on, and on

For most of the eight months or so it has been running, the primary campaign for the US Republican Campaign has resembled nothing so much as a bad reality game show. But, as it turned out, the show had saved some surprise twists for us, and may have more to come.

The tone was set at the start when Donald Trump surged to an early lead. Trump came to fame as a property developer of a kind familiar to Australians, seemingly getting richer all the time, even as the companies he ran (and branded with his own name) repeatedly went into bankruptcy. But these days he is more of a professional celebrity and, inevitably, a reality game show host.

Trump’s candidacy was intended mainly as a publicity stunt for his latest show, a position that left him free to embrace the ‘birther’ conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the US and is therefore ineligible for the Presidency. Such nonsense would be fatal in a general election, but the Republican primary voters loved it. Trump scored a win of sorts by finally inducing President Obama to release his fabled ‘long form birth certificate’. Having secured the publicity he wanted, Trump graciously withdrew.

Over the next few months, a succession of contestants had their time in the sun, before pulling out or being voted off the island. At least three – Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin – were in the race for the same reason as Trump, to promote their books or TV shows and celebrity profiles.

Palin led her supporters on a merry dance, taking a bus tour around the nation, and coyly flirting with the idea of a full-scale run, before deciding against it and taking a lucrative gig with Fox News. Gingrich similarly interrupted his supposed campaign for a holiday, leading most of his campaign staff to quit in disgust. Cain carried on, plugging both his book and his 9-9-9 tax plan. Cain’s plan did not come anywhere near balancing revenues and expenditures. Still it was no worse in this respect than those of most of the other contenders, or the ‘official’ Republican plan produced by Representative Paul Ryan.

Meanwhile, candidates rose and fell, as their brief period in the limelight cruelly revealed their incapacity for the task. Michelle Bachmann flamed out when she claimed that vaccines cause brain damage. Rick Perry froze on camera for an excruciating 53 seconds, unable to remember which three government departments he wanted to abolish. Shortly after, Herman Cain, already in trouble over alleged sexual harassment, similarly proved himself ignorant of recent events in Libya.

A few weeks ago, it seemed the the show was reaching its pre-scripted end. With the last of the cartoon candidates, Herman Cain, on the way out, the way was clear for the unappealing, but competent Mitt Romney to win by default. At the cost of being branded a consummate flipflopper, Romney had been willing to say what the party faithful wanted to hear on climate change, immigration policy and abortion, contradicting his own previous statements in the past. The conservative base weren’t happy with him, but they had, it seemed, no choice.

Then came the return to the stage of Newt Gingrich as the final obstacle to Romney’s inevitable anointment. The much-married former Speaker, who left Congress under a cloud of corruption allegations in the late 1990s, can at least string a few sentences together in a coherent fashion, even if his arguments rarely stand up to close scrutiny.

Unsurprisingly, it soon came out that, throughout the 2000s, Gingrich had run a lucrative consulting business, pushing ideas favorable to some of the organizations most demonized by Republicans. In particular, he had made nearly $2 million working for mortgage insurer Freddie Mac, which he himself had later attacked in savage terms.

With Gingrich following the same pattern as the other non-Romney contestants, it seemed that the game was over. But a surprise twist was yet to come. The Republican base, by now inured to scandal, shrugged off the evidence that their latest favorite was the worst kind of Washington insider.

With only a few weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, Gingrich now has what looks like an unassailable lead in the polls. Perhaps he will flame out like all the others, but the show looks likely to run for some time to come.

In the meantime, there has been one last twist. It’s been announced that one last debate will be held before Iowa votes. The moderator? Donald Trump.

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  1. Ram Lau
    December 11th, 2011 at 02:15 | #1

    I find it hard to believe that any non-American conservative was crazy/stupid enough to defend the Republican party (which was already bad during Reagan’s days but still intellectually defendable).

  2. John Quiggin
    December 11th, 2011 at 08:54 | #2

    You don’t know the Institute of Public Affairs, for which Moran works. It’s Heartland Down Under.

  3. December 11th, 2011 at 15:08 | #3

    Don’t forget Ron Paul. He seems to be a favourite online with free marketers.

  4. Dan
    December 11th, 2011 at 15:48 | #4

    Ah, the perennial candidate, advocating a strange policy mix of too-sensible-to-be-enacted and too-batsh*t-insane-to-work. The rest of the field has only the latter.

  5. paul walter
    December 11th, 2011 at 23:52 | #5

    For a while I wondered if I was missing some thing as to this perception I’ve had of how bizarre their politics is. Too many new FB friends from the ‘States with daily horror stories about the Republican politicians from the primaries, with the budget lock down and then the healthy response of the Occupy movement to their weird suite of policies, which are largely about instigating and legitimising the biggest scam in history.
    The constant “Heat of the Night”/Mississippi Burning” attitude toward Obama and his wife, an utterly weird collectionof ideas about sex, mainly off a sado-authoritarian base, the valorisation of poverty as a deserving punishment for large sections of the “99%” and the outrageous attempts at the justification of the near criminal activities of Koch bros, Banks, Murdoch, etc when caught with their fingers in the till big time, at the expense of the rest.
    many oftheir policies appear so Draconian as to defy an adequate consideration of how they could still be in the election race, until you remember their constituency of crackers, racists, other ignoramii, weird fundamentalists, narcissists, fanatics and criminals in tandem developing a chip on the shoulder of such magnitude that it makes the Hansonist movement look rational compassionate by comparison and smaller than a speck of sawdust.
    A weird collection of theives and psychotics and policies that make Fantasyland look realistic.

  6. Dan
    December 12th, 2011 at 07:06 | #6

    ‘Near criminal’?

  7. David Irving (no relation)
    December 12th, 2011 at 11:14 | #7

    He may just mean “unproven”, Dan.

  8. Ram Lau
    December 12th, 2011 at 11:18 | #8

    ^I suspect Dan actually wanted to amend it to be “freakin’ criminal” instead.

  9. December 12th, 2011 at 11:22 | #9

    Honestly, the whole Republican primary thing is a joke. It’s amazing that they can’t find better candidates considering there is a real prospect of the Republican’s winning. Hard to believe that they are giving people a choice between a corrupt womaniser and a Morman. Some how I don’t see the bible belt voting for someone who thinks Joesph Smith is a prophet from god or that there is a language called New Egyptian.

  10. may
    December 12th, 2011 at 12:16 | #10

    slightly OT.

    tha fin.

    what can one say?

    pps 62-63 of the weekend effort.

    top p 62—”forcing banks to squeeze margins for political purposes would only lead to credit rationing”.ay??

    bottom p 62—–yet another blithering whinge concerning poor-old-sky vs meany ABC and the curious idea that the ABC is an institution that can be “rebranded”.
    hint–the ABC is not a commercial entity,if it engages in commerce,that activity is ancillary to its purpose.
    can some-one (any-one)please point out to the American evangelist on the board of the ABC that the ABC is a publicly owned and funded corporation.

    top p 63—–somewhere in the mess “the whole affair is a dreadful indictment of the decision-making processes of the government- and a symptom of its simmering (really?)underlying leadership tensions”.

    and last but bloody unbelievable.
    bottom (rock) p 63—-i have been informed by the writer that i, as a voter,am no better than a canine pack animal,prone to straining at the leash,getting fat and ugly,frozen in fear and hesitent to fetch,sit or vote .

    beat that .

  11. December 12th, 2011 at 13:52 | #11

    May, WTF are you talking about!

  12. Ken Fabos
    December 12th, 2011 at 15:53 | #12

    The power of spin over substance continues to astonish me. And the success of spinning the spin at the first hint of substance is even more remarkable. But the Americans I know personally are sane, moderate, decent, generous and honest. One said he has given up on voting – who would he vote for that can stop the descent? Obama is just the guy everyone can get to blame. Amazing he could get any policy (apart from sending troops overseas and channeling tax dollars to rent seekers) through their legislature.

  13. December 12th, 2011 at 19:37 | #13

    An NBC News poll , Josh Marshall, has Obama ahead of both Gingrich and Romney in South Carolina, although that state is expected to stay in the Republican fold. As the Republican candidates engage in the bidding for the primary voters, the president spends 12 per cent of his time raising money for the general election. Tom Engelhardt says:

    So stop calling this an “election.” Whatever it is, we need a new name for it.

  14. December 12th, 2011 at 19:40 | #14

    Opps!!! Here is the Tom Engelhardt link

  15. paul walter
    December 12th, 2011 at 20:18 | #15

    Dan, DINR, Ram; no, not unproven, merely unprosecutable..four legs good, etc- you know the drill.

  16. Freelander
    December 12th, 2011 at 20:36 | #16

    @may

    “Credit rationing” what a horror. In the US, (sensible) credit rationing, that is, not lending where the prospects of being repaid are remote, would have avoided the GFC in the first place.

    The government really ought to set up another bank, and this time, resist the urge to sell it off. A government owned bank, if operated to price without exploiting the variety of anti-competitive practices the big four currently use, could provide some real and effective competition for the incumbents. In a credit crisis, a government owned bank could resist the urge to radically contract its lending which would also put pressure on the others to follow suit.

    However, before setting up another government owned bank the government ought to get rid of an annoying piece of economic theology – competitive neutrality. The Orwellianly named ‘competitive neutrality’ subjects government owned entities to a raft of ‘divine’ regulation and regulating, that privately owned businesses are not subject to. If competitive neutrality were retained, operation of a government owned bank would be hide-bound in a tangle of ‘free-marketeer’ mandated red tape; ironically, the sort of completely pointless red tape the exact same free-marketeers spend their life railing against.

  17. Freelander
    December 12th, 2011 at 23:07 | #17

    Speaking of Moran’s, Stephen D. Williamson has written another review of Zombie Economics, this time appearing in the latest issue of Agenda (or maybe its the review that was intended for JEL). Like FoxNews, you will be unsurprised to find it ‘Fair and Balanced’.

  18. John Quiggin
    December 13th, 2011 at 02:10 | #18

    @Freelander Yes, I just saw this.

  19. Dan
    December 13th, 2011 at 08:59 | #19

    I wouldn’t worry about it too much. By the third line of page two, Williamson has offered a comprehensive demonstration that he is unable to distinguish between 3 and 5.

  20. Freelander
    December 13th, 2011 at 10:53 | #20

    The book ‘Cornered’ mentions that in 2005, an FOI request to the Small Business Association resulted in the release of information about the treatment of franchisees by their franchising company. Amongst the worst companies when it came to treatment of their franchisees was Godfather Pizza, the company that Herman Cain was CEO and co-owner of (CEO until 2002, co-owner until 2009). politico.com did a blind taste test with five pizzas including Godfather’s; Godfather’s placed last with comments like ‘gross’, “It looked bad, it tasted bad, it just wasn’t what you want from a slice of pizza”. Clearly, eminently qualified to serve the interests of his electors.

  21. may
    December 13th, 2011 at 11:47 | #21

    freelander gets it.

  22. Paul Norton
    December 13th, 2011 at 12:00 | #22

    If one takes Gingrich’s recent statement about the Palestinians, and substitutes the word “Kuwaiti” for “Palestinian”, one gets precisely the argument that was being put by some in 1990-91 for acquiescing in Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait.

  23. Freelander
    December 13th, 2011 at 12:27 | #23

    @Paul Norton

    And Saddam had the justification that Kuwait was drilling diagonally to pinch Iraqi oil, that the US had given him the green light to invade, and it was not as though Kuwait was a democracy anyway. (Iraq was, of course, a democracy. They got to vote for their dear leader every so often, just as they do now, and have, habitually, for a couple of hundred years, in the US. Hell, Saddam would have even let Kuwaities vote for him, every so often.)

  24. Chris Warren
    December 13th, 2011 at 17:13 | #24

    @Freelander

    These folks at Agenda are the bottom of the barrel.

    Who really believes that:

    Asset bubbles, as monetary economists understand them (see Williamson and Wright 2010, 2011) arise because of information frictions — limitations on recordkeeping and information flows.

    , or,

    The Phillips curve is indeed an ad hoc description of an aggregate relationship fitted to observed outcomes.

    or

    There is no doubt that an increase in the progressivity of the tax system has a negative effect on aggregate economic welfare by way of incentives.

    but this is the sort of stuff they fill their journals, and undergrad courses, with.

    Most of their ‘defence’ is just quoting similar stuff from their bedmates, with no effort at a deep, independent, evidence-based, validation of their fancies.

    Of course Quiggin’s Zombie Economics, was light on hard evidence and lacked deep analysis as well, but this is pretty stock-standard for most career academics in all humanities – not just economics. I assume a deep analysis based on evidence cannot be done in a time frame similar to that allocated for compiling Zombie Economics.

    If a prospective engineer chooses to become a plumber instead, it will not be because of marginal tax rates – Williamson really is in the slow lane.

  25. Tom
    December 13th, 2011 at 17:22 | #25

    @Chris Warren

    “but this is the sort of stuff they fill their journals, and undergrad courses, with.”

    My course textbook was written by Ben Bernanke, even though I disagree with most of the things in the textbook; I guess all economic course are owned by the right anyway. Lucky enough even though my knowledge isn’t that extensive I ain’t like other undergrads that gives no thought about the right or wrong of their course context. It really takes faithful neoclassical economic theory believe in these absurd things in the quotes

  26. Chris Warren
    December 13th, 2011 at 18:27 | #26

    Williamson obviously has not charted unemployment (ABS 6202) and CPI (ABS 6401).

    The result using standard Excel ‘scatter plot’ looks more like is a random walk, than any Phillips curve.

    Try it.

  27. Freelander
    December 13th, 2011 at 18:37 | #27

    @Chris Warren

    I also see that Williamson was out here for the Australian Economist Conference. Agenda is a creation by the usual suspects and the name ‘Agenda’, if I remember correctly, is about that most things that people might wish governments to do, ought not to be on the agenda.

    Anyway, when it comes to incentives you ought to give poor people less so the have more incentive to work and rich people more so they have more incentive to work. Much pundit analysis is pure sophistry and as ‘flexible’ as a true believers interpretation of holy scripture, every interpretation conveniently fitting with their innermost desires. More frequently people should say to some of these pundits “You’re just making stuff up!” Take the great ‘flexible labour market’ which has to be one of the great euphemisms. By flexible its meant all rights taken away from workers and every liberty afforded to employers. Fair and balanced. Don’t know what economics textbook they got that one out of. Or the need for ‘worker productivity’ before workers are given a pay increase even one that simply keeps pace with inflation. Not something derived from a text book. {The text book gives wages as determined by supply and demand, nothing to do, directly, with productivity. Productivity elsewhere can indirectly raise the demand for other things which can in turn result in an increase in demand for labour in an industry. That industry need not have a productivity increase itself. But all that analysis relies on the assumption of competitive markets.}

  28. paul walter
    December 13th, 2011 at 18:54 | #28

    The thing is, Freelander understands the point Warren makes, employing that first quote. That deals with ideological economics rather than anything that relates to efficient creation and distribution related to the wider needs of most of humanity.
    To say that frauds fail because of lack of information obviates further inquiry into mindset, goals agendas etc.
    In the end it reduces to, “should we taser the slaves, or just clobber them”.

  29. Peter Kirsop
    December 15th, 2011 at 05:56 | #29

    Prof Quiggin and others here, can you please get out to the public the information you produce here- things like the Phillips curve (which I learnt about in the 70s in under grad economics) no longer being true. We need people fighting the libertarians, so that every time the Institute of Public Affairs produces some ‘paper’ the facts showing its falsity are there to counter it.

  30. Dan
    December 15th, 2011 at 08:45 | #30

    @Peter Kirsop

    Yeah, PrQ should write a book or start a blog or something.

  31. Peter Kirsop
    December 18th, 2011 at 21:02 | #31

    Dan he has a book and blog, but its not getting out to many people.

  32. Dan
    December 18th, 2011 at 21:43 | #32

    Little slips of paper with a URL scrawled on make wonderfully inexpensive Christmas gifts :P

  33. Peter Kirsop
    December 19th, 2011 at 07:17 | #33

    Dan, what I would like to see is every time one of the IPA people spruik is something like this “The speaker is from the Institute of Public Affairs”the founder of which failed Agrciultural Science (which at the time required the lowest entry mark of any university course in Australia), he went on to achieve a BA at Macquarie University. None of the “Scholars”at the IPA have had any position at a recognised university; none of their articles are peer reviewed by competent economists from universities or other mainstream organisations. This particular speaker lacks credentials in that…….(details) The speakers view that….”and then debunk it. The first sentence is completely true, the second sentence is I believe from a quick search against the IPA team on Wikipediea (some dont appear there) also true. And Prof Quiggin has done something like this in his comments on Wolfgang Kaiser in Quiggin v Williamson. IT just needs more promotion. Perhaps we can then get back to the tried and true method that Kaiser debunked, the prosperity we had under Menzies and McEwan, the prosperity for all, and not for just some.

  34. Peter Kirsop
    December 19th, 2011 at 07:19 | #34

    PS will someone show this technologically challenged person how to paragraph in this blog? Please!

  35. Dan
    December 19th, 2011 at 08:47 | #35

    @Peter Kirsop

    Don’t forget that highly-qualified academic economists come up with plenty of garbage as well (RBC, anyone?) which is what Zombie Economics is really about in many ways.

    I certainly agree that bad ideas need to be called on being bad ideas, but… I don’t think you can argue from authority that easily (for the record, I have no idea why the ABC keeps enlisting those two-bit clowns from IPA – is this their ‘balance’ mandate in action?). Also I’m afraid there is a little part of me that says that if people are stupid enough to be taken in by this guff, they deserve to be – although that is ultimately mitigated by the fact that many people who aren’t are nonetheless affected by the dubious policy prescriptions thus emerging.

    I’m not even sure that a series of public debates would do the trick, because right-wing economics lends itself to (completely misleading or downright incorrect) soundbites – comparing national to household debt, for instance.

  36. Peter Kirsop
    December 19th, 2011 at 16:42 | #36

    @ Dan, you’re quite right, the argument from authority is almost ad hominem, but not quite. And it is but a start to the main argument which would be to attack the ideas.

    And it’s not the right wing economics that is bad (see my reference above to Menzies and McEwan) but the libertarian clap trap we are fed these days. Everywhere on the news one hears “The markets…”as if they were some sort of oracle. And so many who listen to the news and who try to keep up to date with world events hear little but the libertarian prattle. We need more than balance because the large businesses (Fox News? the miners?) are always pushing their own barrow.

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