Posted by on July 16, 2017

Although I have been heavily distracted by Roger Federer potentially rolling to his 19th Grand Slam title, and recovering from my mysterious illness (which turned out to be some muscle and tendon damage from my recent weekend warrior escapades – very annoying), I still have time for some random thoughts and observations.

Power Corrupts

There is scientific support for this old saying, as Reason has recently reported in an article entitled “Science: Power Causes Brain Damage.”

Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, has been studying politicians and other powerful people.  His conclusions?

Subjects under the influence of power, acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.

My own research has found that people with power tend to behave like patients who have damaged their brain’s orbitofrontal lobes (the region of the frontal lobes right behind the eye sockets), a condition that seems to cause overly impulsive and insensitive behavior. Thus the experience of power might be thought of as having someone open up your skull and take out that part of your brain so critical to empathy and socially-appropriate behavior.

His conclusions are backed up by the work of Neurologist Sukhvinder Obhi, who uses brain imaging to study mental processes.  He found diminished “neuron mirroring” (whatever that means) in powerful people, which he claims leads to bad decisions and less understanding.

We have all shaken our heads in disbelief at the latest actions of some tone-deaf political or business leader who acts as if he or she is exempt from the rules, not to mention common sense and decency.  The Clintons made a career of this.  Eliot Spitzer is another outstanding example, and we won’t even talk about Anthony Weiner or Steven Schwarzman.   Now we know why.

Trump Voters

Dr Emily Ekins, a scholar from the Cato Institute, has recently reported on her analysis of the 2016 presidential election.  The study used survey data from 8,000 respondents gathered by the non-partisan Democracy Fund Voter Study Group.

The survey asked for voters’ opinions on various policy issues, such as immigration (including the Muslim ban), free trade, moral issues (eg., abortion and same-sex marriage), taxation, etc.  The survey also captured basic demographic data – such as income levels, employment and education  – and voting patterns.  There were also questions about political knowledge and involvement, and personal habits.  Ekins took these data and subjected them to “latent class analysis,” a statistical method that finds clusters with similar characteristics.  The results were five different types of Trump voters.

The largest group (31%) were the “Staunch Conservatives.”  These are classical Republican voters, fiscally conservative and morally traditional.  This group tends to be “stale, male and pale,” with incomes in the upper middle class and moderate education levels.  Their first choice among the primary candidates was Ted Cruz.  I think that it is safe to say that this group voted for the Republican Party and not Donald Trump.

The next largest group was the “Free Marketers” (25%).  These are basically the libertarians.  They are the most highly educated and highly paid of the groups.  They tend to be tolerant and are the most likely to have LGBT friends.  They are also the group that watches the least TV and is least likely to smoke.  They are, like the Staunch Conservatives, highly politically engaged and informed.  According to Ekins, “[t]heir vote was a vote primarily against Clinton and not a vote for Trump.”

Another group was the “Anti-Elites” (19%).  This group leans economically progressive, with many supporting Clinton in 2012 but turning against her in 2016.  The Anti-Elites “believe that moneyed and political elites take advantage of the system against ordinary people and they support increasing taxes on the wealthy.”  The group was the least likely to vote in the Republican primaries, but when they did, they supported John Kasich.  Although Ekins did not report on this, it is possible that this group contains some disgruntled Sanders supporters.  This group is lukewarm on Trump and it is easy to see this as another vote against Clinton, the quintessential Washington insider.

The “Disengaged” (5%) skewed younger and female.  They don’t know much and, in any case, they don’t think they can change much.   The only notable convictions they have are against immigrants in general and Muslims in particular, which is probably why they went for Trump.

This leaves the last 20% of Trump supporters, a group that Ekins calls the “American Preservationists.”  This group comprises “the core Trump constituency that propelled him to victory in the early Republican primaries.”  Here are some of their characteristics:

  • They have the least loyalty to the Republican Party, with nearly half having a positive view of Clinton in 2012
  • They have the lowest levels of formal education and income among the Trump voters – and non-Trump voters, too.
  • They are the most likely to say religion is “very important” to them, but the least likely to attend church.
  • They are the most likely to be on Medicaid or to report a disability that prevents them from working, and also the most likely to smoke cigarettes.
  • They watch the most TV, but are the least politically informed and knowledgeable.
  • They are the most likely to have a strong sense of their own racial and religious identity, and to want to live among the same type of people.
  • They have the most restrictive views on both legal and illegal immigration.
  • They are skeptics on trade and generally resemble Democrats on domestic economic issues, particularly with respect to income re-distribution, entitlement programs and Wall Street.
  • In general, they feel powerless against the wealthy and politically connected, and tend to distrust other people.

Ekins is too polite to say it, but I am not: the American Preservationist core of Trumpism is basically poor white trash aspirationally voting for rich white trash.

Now, why is this important?

The first thing is that America is not as nuts as the election of Trump would otherwise lead many to conclude.  Trump got 46.1% of the popular vote in 2016.  Multiply this by the percentage of American Preservationists and we have slightly over 9%.  As I said way back in my first blog on Trump, this is more or less equal to, and probably largely overlapping with, the percentage of Americans who think that the moon landings were faked.  Every country has its looney fringe.

The second reason is more important.  The Democrats are hard at work tarring all Republicans with the Trump brush.  This should not be allowed.  As I have pointed out before, the voters who swung key states (such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana) into the Trump win column were very often American Preservationists who had voted for Democrats in the past.  And the Democrat’s nomination of the appalling Hillary Clinton was a key factor for almost half of Trump’s voters, although this is not to imply that Sanders would have been a better choice.

Single Payer Healthcare

One of my greatest concerns is that the Republican’s flailing attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare will serve only to support the false narrative that “free market” healthcare[1] has failed and must be replaced by a single-payer system.  In preparation for this battle, it is instructive to look at some recent state attempts to institute this policy.

Vermont considered it back in 2014.  The effort failed when the numbers – which were being run by Jonathan “Call It The Stupidity Of The American Voter” Gruber – showed that an additional $2.5 billion of tax revenue would be needed.  Vermont’s total state tax collection is only $2.7 billion.

Legislative efforts in California and New York are currently trundling along.  The California plan is generous; it would, among other things, even cover illegal immigrants.  The projected bill is $400 billion, of which about $200 billion could be covered by “re-purposing” existing federal, state and local funds.  The $200 billion net figure is roughly equal to the entire state budget.  Broadly the same results come from New York: its plan is projected to cost $91 billion, which is over 110% of the total tax revenue of the state.

California is the state with the highest maximum income tax rate in the country at 13.3%.  There are only four states with higher maximum income tax rates than New York (8.82%) and Vermont (8.95%).  New York has the worst ratio of in-migration to out-migration in the country (with 65 people moving in for each 100 moving out).  California has, since 2000, lost 1.75 million net domestic migrants.  Vermont has had negative migration since at least 2011.

Medicare, when it started in 1966, cost $3 billion.  The government projected it to cost, with inflation, $12 billion by 1990.  In 1990, it actually cost $107 billion.  Fast forward to FY2016 and the total cost is $673 billion.

As a libertarian, I believe that individuals, and in fact entire states, should be free to commit suicide.  So, if the voters of California, New York and Vermont want to go this way, I say: please do it quickly.  So the rest of us can benefit from your bad example.

The West Wing

While nursing my injuries, I started to watch this TV series.  I have now stopped.  The writing and characters are great.  But the general atmosphere of smug self-congratulation is just too nauseating.  And probably too realistic.

Roger Barris

Weybridge, United Kingdom


I Wish That I Had Said That…

“The internet makes me feel sentimental about old-time lynch mobs” by Gilbert Gottfried, the comedian, commenting about the chilling atmosphere of political correctness

“Science advances one funeral at a time” by Max Planck, the German physicist, in a popular paraphrase

“Like almost all military men who testified, [General Westmoreland] testified against a volunteer armed force.  In the course of his testimony, he made the statement that he did not want to command an army of mercenaries.  I stopped him and said, ‘General, would you rather command an army of slaves?’  He drew himself back and said, ‘I don’t like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves.’  I replied, ‘General, I don’t like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries’” by Milton Friedman, referring to his work on the presidential Commission on the All-Volunteer Force, which contributed to the abolition of the draft in 1973


[1] The myth that America has a free market in healthcare is one of the most successful bits of left-wing propaganda.  See here.

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