"Our Country!
In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right;
but right or wrong, our country!"

    --Commodore Stephen Decatur

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

National Popular Vote: An Alternate History

The Prolix Patriot has written in the past on the virtues of the Electoral College system, but the liberal campaign to institute a popular vote for presidential elections is in the news again. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is a proposal whereby participating states agree to give their electors to the winner of the popular vote, regardless of the votes cast for either candidate within the state. The compact will automatically go into effect if enough states join it to give the NPV states control of at least 270 electoral votes.

The election of 1960 was razor thin. Thanks to shenanigans in Chicago and other major Democratic strongholds in the Northeast, Kennedy won the popular vote by a margin of about 100,000 votes, but because of the Electoral College system enshrined in the Constitution by our founding fathers, Kennedy had a clear mandate of 303 electoral votes to Nixon's 219. Now, let's pretend the NPV had been in effect.

Polls in Nixon's home state of California close a full two to three hours after those in Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. As reports come in that Nixon is only down by a small margin (less than 0.25%), the Nixon campaign pushes organizers and supporters in California to get a few more voters out to the polls in Republican-leaning precincts to swing the national popular vote over to Nixon's favor.

When California finally begins tallying votes, voila, the final count comes in with Nixon ahead by 500 votes. Even though Kennedy should have a clear victory in the Electoral College, the NPV rules require Kennedy strongholds of Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland (all current NPV compact members) to give all their votes to Nixon. Given the slim margin, both the Kennedy and Nixon campaigns start requesting recounts and filing legal challenges, counter-suits, and injunctions in almost every state in the Union.

California, Texas, Illinois, and New York are simultaneously adjusting their vote tallies when it becomes clear that Kennedy may still win the popular vote. Nixon supporters in California react by launching a signature drive for a ballot initiative to leave the NPV interstate compact. Meanwhile, disgusted with the possibility that a Republican may take the election, Mississippi's unpledged electors announce they will give their votes to Kennedy.

Lawsuits galore are now headed to the Supreme Court, and then, as an added twist, Kennedy supporters and the press start a campaign to pressure Eisenhower's Supreme Court nominees to recuse themselves from any election-related cases, because Nixon served as an advisor to the Eisenhower administration's nomination and vetting process. By the time the dust has settled the decision on how to resolve the crisis is left in the hands of only four justices with a real possibility of deadlock.

As popular outrage builds with the escalating crisis, Eisenhower convenes all 50 governors at an emergency meeting in Dallas to consider the possibility of deploying the National Guard to maintain order. While traveling from the airport to his hotel, he is assassinated by a disgruntled Communist sympathizer named Lee Harvey Oswald. Nixon is sworn in as acting president while the results of his own election are still being litigated and tabulated. Massive riots and violence break out across the nation and Nixon declares "temporary emergency measures" in an attempt to bring the situation under control.

We are used to thinking of such a constitutional crisis as a preposterous and impossible scenario, but if the NPV ever goes into effect, this is exactly the sort of crisis that could happen in the very near future. In fact, the Heritage Foundation and the State Leadership Foundation hosted an event this morning with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell which examined just these sorts of problems. As former Federal Election Commission Chairman Bradley Smith once observed, “We are so accustomed to stable, generally good government that we sometimes forget that failure of government structures is historically much more common than success.…[W]e tinker with our success at our peril.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Power of Inequality

In Soviet Union, Winter Occupies YOU!

As the Occupy Wall Street movement fizzles out with the approach of colder weather, it is worth revisiting the Occupiers’ central argument. Namely, that income inequality between the top 1% and the rest is somehow relevant to the present economic crisis. However, this is a dangerous diversion from the heart of the problem. Instead of focusing on income inequality, we as a society should be focused on improving economic growth.

Income inequality is an inescapable reality. Even in famously egalitarian countries like Sweden or Norway, there is no such thing as perfect equality. Whenever people engage in economic activity together, there is some element of wealth creation over what could be achieved if each person had to fend for himself. Although on a small scale it is possible to apportion wealth creation evenly to all participants, history has shown time and time again that it is more efficient to apportion the rewards of economic activity in proportion to individual contributions.

Furthermore, according to recent economic data from the CIA Factbook, there is no real correlation between income inequality and economic growth. As an example, both South Korea with a low Gini coefficient of 31.4 and Mexico with a very high Gini of 51.7 have similar growth rates. Conversely, Japan and India have similar Gini coefficients, but the annual GDP growth for India is more than double that of Japan. Indeed, an academic paper on the subject concludes that, “Evidence from a broad panel of countries shows little overall relation between income inequality and rates of growth and investment.”

Worst of all, policies which are intended to promote income equality are not always successful and almost never contribute to greater prosperity. When pursued on a large scale, such policies can result in economic disaster as was the case during Stalin’s infamous five-year plans and Chairman Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” both of which lead to crop failures and the deaths of tens of millions of people from starvation.

Income inequality is a distraction from policies which contribute more directly to promoting prosperity. Numerous studies have demonstrated the relationship between strong property rights and economic growth. As the evidence shows, Americans do not need the government to tell them how to live their lives. If the government fulfills it central purpose of protecting our long-cherished rights of personal liberty and private property, Americans will be free to pursue their own aspirations of happiness and prosperity in whatever way they see fit.