The show just goes on, and on

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.

36 thoughts on “The show just goes on, and on

  1. 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.

  2. @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.}

  3. 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”.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. @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.

  7. @ 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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